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January 28, 2002

Team examines environmental exposures in Alabama

By Tia Webster


At-risk children in Alabama’s 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 project’s 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 Emory’s 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 children’s 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 children’s health.

Core physicians in the PEHSU include specialists in occupational and environmental medicine, developmental pediatrics, pediatric pulmonary disease and medical toxicology.




Back to Emory Report January 28, 2002