Southwest Ag Center, Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health at UTHCT recently receive renewal grants

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Two federally funded organizations with headquarters at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler that address, respectively, agricultural safety and children’s environmental health issues recently had their funding renewed.

The Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education has been awarded $5.44 million in funding for the next five years, said Jeffrey Levin, director of the center and chair of UTHSCT’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Department. This is among the largest competitive awards of external funding that UTHSCT has received during its history.

Since it was founded in 1995, the Southwest Ag Center has been awarded about $12.6 million to conduct programs of research, prevention, intervention, education, and outreach designed to reduce occupational injuries and diseases among agricultural workers and their families.

The Southwest Ag Center is one of only six centers devoted to agricultural health and safety issues in the United States to receive five years of funding in this grant cycle. This is the third time the Southwest Ag Center has been funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which started the centers. The Southwest Ag Center was founded in 1995 and serves Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

“Our funding agency wants to see the impact of our research on specific agricultural populations. Our new projects are based on previous work done by the Southwest Ag Center,” Dr. Levin said.

Newly funded projects include:

  • Reducing on-the-job safety and health hazards faced by Vietnamese shrimpers along the Gulf Coast, in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard and Area Health Education Centers;
  • Evaluating the health of adolescent migrants in two counties in the lower Rio Grande Valley, along Texas’ border with Mexico, in collaboration with Texas A&M University and its School of Rural Public Health;
  • Improving occupational health for migrant farmworkers, in collaboration with the National Center for Farmworker Health in Buda, Texas; and
  • Establishing a Navajo Model Farmer program, in collaboration with the University of New Mexico.

Besides Dr. Levin, others at UT Health Science Center involved with the agricultural center include center administrator Karen Gilmore; Sara Shepherd, database analyst; Amanda Wickman, special projects coordinator; and Teresa Walker, administrative assistant.

An advisory board composed of academic and business people from the five states served by the agricultural center helps plan its programs. Board members are academicians, community-based program leaders, and corporate leaders.

In addition, the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health (SWCPEH) has been awarded $128,000 for its seventh year of operations from the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, said Larry Lowry, Ph.D., coordinator and co-director of SWCPEH. The other co-director is Jeffrey Levin, MD, chairman of UTHSCT’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Department; Debra Cherry, MD, serves as a medical consultant.

SWCPEH funds are provided through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additional funds are supplied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The mission of the SWCPEH is to educate health professionals and community groups about environmental health issues and their impact on children’s health. It provides clinical consultations for patients through their personal physicians or public health clinics. The center, one of 13 in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, also provides telephone consultation services through a toll-free hotline.

Health professionals, public health officials, and individuals in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico may call this hotline for information about environmental issues that affect children. Questions raised by callers range from the health effects of traces of arsenic and lead in the soil to black mold to how smoke from burning sugar cane fields affect children who inhale the smoke.

Recent programs by the SWCPEH include community education conducted in collaboration with the Northeast Texas Public Health District on lead, secondhand smoke, and hand washing, as well as teaching a special course in pediatric environmental health for nurses.

“Our children are precious to us. It is important to educate parents, caregivers, school nurses, day care centers, and public health officials about the impact of a child’s environment on his or her health,” Dr. Lowry said.

NOTICE: Protected health information is subject to electronic disclosure.