At-risk children in Alabamas Calhoun County are being targeted
for an early detection/ early intervention program that is being
developed by the Southeast Pediatric Environ-mental Health Specialty
Unit (PEHSU) at Emory. The program will address the impact of the
environment on the health and development of children in an area
known for its widespread hazardous exposures.
Pediatric specialists plan to track the children from birth through
their school years to identify individuals who demonstrate problems.
Researchers will then connect the children with appropriate therapeutic
and educational services to help them overcome adversity and develop
to their full potential, according to Leslie Rubin, associate professor
of pediatrics in the School of Medicine.
Some of the children are at risk for developmental and learning
disabilities, attention-deficit disorder, behavioral problems and
school failures, Rubin said. This program will intervene
to make them successful adults and contributing members of society.
The team of Emory physicians working with the PEHSU capped off
a year of meetings and planning sessions with a working conference
in December. The meeting assembled stakeholders and officials from
Anniston, Ala. (Calhoun County seat), including Mayor Chip Howell,
to introduce the proposal as a community initiative. The Emory team
will meet again with the Anniston community to discuss plans for
the projects design and funding.
This program will present an unparalleled opportunity for
research on the health effects of environmental exposures,
said Howard Frumkin, associate professor and chair of environmental
and occupational health in the Rollins School of Public Health.
For more than a year, PEHSU faculty have studied the complexities
of a number of hazardous exposures in and around Anniston. Residents
were exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury from
a former Monsanto plant that manufactured PCBs for nearly 50 years
until 1972. They also were exposed to lead from a large metalworking
industry. To cap it off, they recently learned that chemical weapons
stored at the Anniston Army Depot soon will be incinerated on site.
A report released in September 2001 by the federal Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) warned of the need for increased
education and screenings for preventing lead exposure. Results from
a lead screening report by the ATSDR showed that 25 percent of children
in Calhoun County showed blood levels that indicated evidence of
ongoing lead exposure.
This project, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and
ATSDR, demonstrates how Emory plays an active and constructive role
in improving the health and well being of communities at the same
time as demonstrating the methodology as a model for other communities.
The Southeast PEHSU is a joint project of Emorys schools
of public health and medicine. One of 10 such organizations in the
country, the Southeast PEHSU serves the southeastern states of Georgia,
Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Its mission is to improve childrens health in the southeast
with respect to environmental exposures and to inform families,
communities and health care providers about environmental hazards,
their effects and practical ways to protect childrens health.
Core physicians in the PEHSU include specialists in occupational
and environmental medicine, developmental pediatrics, pediatric
pulmonary disease and medical toxicology.