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History of CEC Programs and Accomplishments

Since its inception in 1997, the CEC has developed a number of novel mechanisms to communicate and disseminate research findings to communities and to establish networks of stakeholders to facilitate meaningful multidirectional communication.  While our programmatic emphases have changed over time in response to evolving community and Center foci, earlier initiatives served as the foundation for our current programs, and in many instances, provided the infrastructure necessary to make the more recent efforts possible.  Following is an overview of key activities the CEC has been instrumental in leading or supporting, which illustrate our evolution and increasing capacity to develop and conduct meaningful and responsive programs.

1997 – 2016   Bench Tutorials:  Scientific Research and Design Program, is an advanced training program for qualified high school students who spend one year in the laboratories of Center and UTMB scientists for full Texas Education Agency credit.  Initially funded by a CET pilot program and the SCEHM, “Bench” is now underwritten by continuing support from the Bromberg Charitable Trust Fund and the SCEHM, largely due to the unique opportunities the program affords our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to engage in mentoring and teaching. Now in its 18th year, Bench remains the model molecular biology training program for Texas high school students and, by 2015, had enrolled 360 high school and UTMB students, many of whom have gone on to college to pursue a science track.

1999 – 2007   The Youth Environmental Studies (YES!) Laboratory School was an intensive summer school for middle school students in environmentally themed reading, writing, science, and math, using university academic faculty as well as local Galveston Independent School District (GISD) teachers. YES! was featured in the University of Texas System’s series for Public Television, State of Tomorrow.  The school was discontinued in 2007 to align with new NIEHS programmatic priorities.

2000 – 2009   Asthma Coalition of Texas:  In 2000, the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) collaborated to assess the increasing burden of asthma in the state. DSHS convened a statewide Asthma Summit to initiate broad-based communications and investigations to identify major issues and potential strategies to address them.  Results included the Texas State Asthma Plan, as well as the consensus to form the Asthma Coalition of Texas (ACT), which largely served to implement the Plan.  A founding member of ACT, Dr. Croisant served as its President and member of the Board of Directors and as an author of the first and subsequent versions of the Plan, which led directly to her work in asthma surveillance.

2002 – 2004   Coastal Ozone Action Strategies for Texas (COAST) In response to residents concerns about air pollution, Dr. Croisant initiated the COAST study withFlag System the Galveston County Beach Patrol.  The findings revealed that deleterious effects of particulate matter and ozone were transient but occurred at pollutant levels far below national standards, suggesting that even low levels of exposure may have small but significant effects on healthy individuals.  Important for the Galveston community, and the six million annual visitors to its beaches, the CEC used the results to inform public health education and policies through an “environmental alert” program as a part of the public notification flag system deployed on the city’s beaches.  The distinctive pennant warning of adverse environmental health conditions is displayed whenever air or water quality is of concern, along with guidelines posted for practical steps to ensure health.

2003 – 2008   Project COAL: NIEHS Environmental Justice (EJ) study in which CET investigators partnered with de Madres a Madres, a non-profit community service center in Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood, to assist residents with identifying childhood health risks from exposure to lead and environmental asthma triggers in their homes, learn to minimize exposures, obtain assistance in abatement, and to communicate findings to inform policy and programs. This project concluded in 2008, but provided the CEC with a blueprint for disseminating CET findings to a community at high risk of childhood asthma and environmental exposures.

2004 – 2009   Breathe Easy: Air Quality Index Notification System (BEAQINS) is a school-based program designed to reduce children’s health risks from exposures to ozone and other outdoor air pollutants and to evaluate use of an educational and early warning system to effect risk reductions.  BEAQINS employed a multi-colored flag system as an indicator of outdoor air quality at each school and educational programming to reduce student exposures to unhealthy air, to inform school districts of the need to limit prolonged outdoor exertion and provide alternative indoor activities during periods of poor air quality.  This program was transitioned into an outreach system implemented in area schools by a local community organization.

2005 – 2016   Disaster Response: In September 2005, the CEC was asked to lead national relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  When Hurricane Rita made landfall only three short weeks later, multiple NIEHS Centers joined UTMB in a national effort to provide assistance to hurricane victims of Louisiana and Southeast Texas.  This fostered long-term associations between the CET and coastal community groups that form the basis for the Center’s current community-based research and the establishment of a Gulf Coast environmental health network.

2007 – 2009 LEAD: Lead Education And Development:  In 2007, an investigation of local childhood lead poisoning prompted CEC’s involvement in a county Task Force to improve prevention and response to lead poisoning. The CEC partnered with Dr. Prochaska—then affiliated with UTMB’s Center to Eliminate Health Disparities—and the Departments of Pediatrics and Family Medicine, GISD, and the Galveston County Health District (GCHD) to implement initiatives to hasten acquisition of blood lead level testing results and streamline communication between agencies. The resultant report, Childhood Lead Exposure in Galveston, Texas 2006-2008, documents lead poisoning rates among children, changes in monitoring and reporting, and training for children, families, and health providers. 

2008 – 2010   Hurricane Ike:  The CEC’s previous experience with hurricane disaster response provided the impetus to analyze sediment sludge deposited throughout 75% of Galveston Island’s homes and businesses following Hurricane Ike’s storm surge-related flooding.  In response to community concerns over deleterious exposures, a UTMB-community partnership was formed to assess risk associated with cleaning flooded buildings and develop outreach and education efforts informed by results.  This collaboration resulted in a study to collect and analyze sediments for toxicants.  Results of this study, described in the report, Analysis for Toxic Materials in Sediments from Hurricane Ike in Galveston, TX, were used to develop a series of safety training sessions for more than 2,000 college students who participated in Ike clean-up activities.

2008 – 2016   Annual EJ Encuentro:  In collaboration with Texas Southern University (TSU) and local EJ groups, the CEC has annually convened an EJ Encuentro, a community meeting to support exchange and engagement on community concerns related to environmental health.  In anticipation of CEC Program Director John Sullivan’s retirement, responsibility for hosting the Encuentro has largely been transitioned to the School of Public Affairs at TSU.  The CEC will remain actively involved in the planning and conduct of the Encuentro, given that many of our stakeholders represent communities who continue to be affected by environmental, social, and economic injustice.

2008 – 2016   Community Science Workshops:  CSWs are based upon the paradigm of the European Union’s “Science Shops,” which bring biomedical, physical, and social scientists together with community partners, regulatory agencies, and the public, for the purpose of co-designing and developing community-based research projects and formulating sound public policy.  The CET utilized a CSW framework in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster to establish a consortium and develop a U19 proposal utilizing CBPR principles, focused on understanding the long-term human health effects attributable to the spill. Drs. Elferink and Croisant serve as co-PIs of the NIEHS-funded Gulf Coast Health Alliance: health Risks related to the Macondo Spill (GC-HARMS) study, which focuses on the potential human health effects of exposure to contaminated seafood. Outcomes of this work include the development and dissemination of a seafood consumption calculator for the Gulf region, the involvement of Dr. Croisant in the NIEHS-led national Disaster Research Response (DR2) initiative, and the acquisition of a Mobile Clinical Research Unit to be used in future population-based research.

2012 – 2016   GISD Student Surveys:  In 2012, Croisant took over the Galveston Children’s Report Card, a surveillance effort based upon the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.  In 2013, the CEC collaborated with the GISD, the UTMB Departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology, and local service providers to identify additional topics for inclusion in surveillance of teens to improve interventions and reduce vulnerability based upon behavior.  The Galveston Youth Risk Student Survey was administered through the GISD Teen Health Clinic in 2014, and included sections on asthma and environmental health, among others.  This assessment will inform future CEC outreach endeavors.