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January 11, 2002


Alabama's Hazardous Calhoun County Draws Attention of Pediatric, Public Health Specialists from Emory University

Children at-risk in Alabama's Calhoun County are being targeted for an early detection/early intervention program that is being developed by the Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) at Emory University. 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.

Emory pediatric specialists plan to track the children from birth through their school years. They hope to identify those who demonstrate problems and then connect them with the appropriate therapeutic and educational services to assure that the children overcome adversity and develop to their full potential, says Leslie Rubin, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine.

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 Anniston stakeholders and officials, including Mayor Chip Howell, to introduce the proposal as a community initiative. The Emory team will meet again with Mayor Howell on January 16 and with the Anniston community in late January to continue discussing plans for the design and funding of the project.

"This program will present an unparalleled opportunity for research on the health effects of environmental exposures," says Howard Frumkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. For more than a year, the Emory PEHSU faculty have studied the complexities of a number of hazardous exposures in and around Anniston, Alabama. Residents were exposed to PCBs and mercury from a former Monsanto plant that manufactured PCBs for nearly 50 years until 1972. They were also exposed to lead from a large metalworking industry. To cap it off, they recently learned that chemical weapons stored at the Anniston Army Depot will soon be incinerated on site.

"Some of the children are at risk for developmental and learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorder, behavioral problems and school failures," Dr. Rubin explains. "This program will intervene to make them successful adults and contributing members of society."

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 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) at Emory University serves the southeastern states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. It is one of 10 PEHSUs in the United States.

It is a joint project of the Rollins School of Public Health and the Emory University School of Medicine. Their mission is to improve the health of children in the southeast region with respect to environmental exposures and to inform families, communities, and health care providers in the southeast region about environmental hazards, their effects, and practical ways to protect children's health.

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

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