Environmental Factor – December 2022: NIEHS Director tours the Texas community and speaks at a research center event

Rick Woychik, Ph.D., Director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, traveled to Texas A&M University (TAMU) on October 27-28 for a Superfund Research Center event celebrating the renewal of the Superfund P42 grant Research Program (SRP) of TAMU was celebrated. Woychik spoke at the event about the future of environmental health sciences, visited faculty and graduate students in the toxicology and genetics programs, and explored Houston’s TAMU Institute of Biosciences and Technology.

Group photo of Texas A&M University Superfund Research Center members and Michelle Heacock, Ph.D.  from NIEHS, and Director Woychik. A group photo of members of the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Center and Michelle Heacock, Ph.D. from NIEHS, and Director Woychik (center, front row) at the October 27 renewal ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine)

“It was a real privilege to have Dr. Woychik as a guest,” said Ivan Rusyn, director of the TAMU Superfund Research Center, MD, Ph.D. “We were pleased to show him the range of topics in our environmental health portfolio.”

Supporting community partners in developing resilience to climate change, developing alternatives to animal testing, and a variety of research efforts into the environmental causes of disease are just some of the efforts of TAMU, which NIEHS co-funds, according to Rusyn. The TAMU Superfund Research Center, that is one of 25 SRP-funded centers(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/srp/programs/index267.cfm) at universities in the USA, focuses on climate-related disasters and complex mixtures and is part of the Disaster Research Response (DR2) community of practice.

A toxic neighborhood tour

The TAMU Superfund Research Center works with a large number of community organizations to find solutions for climate and environmental justice. One of these community partners, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), facilitates community-based participatory research projects with the university.

Juan Parras, Founder and CEO of TEJAS(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/translational/peph/grantee-highlights/2021/index.cfm#a923383), runs what he has termed “toxic tours” through at-risk communities in the Houston area. Woychik took part in one such tour.

Rick Woychik attended one "Toxic tour" and had lunch with the TAMU team. Woychik took part in a “Toxic Tour” that included Unidad Park in Baytown, Texas. He then had lunch with Parras and the TEJAS team and listened to their concerns about environmental and climate justice for the region. (Photos courtesy of Ivan Rusyn/TAMU)

“I’ve seen neighborhoods with families and playgrounds for their children in close proximity to the industrial sites,” Woychik said. “The research that NIEHS supports in these communities can help identify potential health effects associated with living in these communities.”

A frequent stop on these toxic tours is Unidad Park in Baytown. Baytown is a Houston suburb that is home to several industrial plants. Local residents have expressed concern about high levels of air pollution in the area, particularly creosote contamination. Creosote is a coal or wood taralso known as sootaffecting the respiratory tract and skin.

Other SRP Center celebrations

The University of Rhode Island’s PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects program has also been extended for another five years.

Rick Woychik, Ph.D. “Looking to the Future of Environmental Health Sciences” was the title of Woychik’s presentation. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine)

Two new Superfund research centers were also funded.

  • Wayne State University will launch a new Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR). The center will focus on indoor air pollution and health impacts related to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). VOCs are man-made chemicals used and produced in the manufacture of paints, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants. according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Yale Superfund Research Center, Emerging Water Contaminants: Investigating and Mildering Exposures and Health Risks, will study the link between emerging water contaminants and liver cancer.

The SRP 35th Anniversary Annual Meeting will be held December 14-16 in Raleigh, NC. For more informations, Visit the event’s website.

(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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