School signs water institute relocation agreement, creates water quality Center of Excellence

As a commitment to improve drinking water quality in the United States and worldwide, the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health signed an affiliation agreement with the Institute for Public Health and Water Research (IPWR) to relocate the institute to College Station. Additionally, the school announced the creation of the Center for Excellence in Public Health and Water Research (CPWR)...

COLLEGE STATION, TX, Oct. 21, 2008 -- As a commitment to improve drinking water quality in the United States and worldwide, the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health signed an affiliation agreement today with the Institute for Public Health and Water Research (IPWR) to relocate the institute to College Station. Additionally, the school announced the creation of the Center for Excellence in Public Health and Water Research (CPWR).

One of several recipients of IPWR funding, the center will expand the school's water research programs. The collaborative effort between IPWR and the CHWR will build an international infrastructure supporting improved water quality.

"The purpose of the collaboration is a unique opportunity to build on the activities that IPWR already has helped energize and to partner with our faculty who have such a strong base of research, community outreach and teaching," said Nancy Dickey, M.D., President of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the Texas A&M University System. "When we put those two groups together, we'll develop rapid solutions to existing water problems. In some places, there isn't enough water. In other places, it's the quality of water. For all of us who depend on being able to turn that tap, it's making sure we have a continuous supply of water."

Currently located at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, the IPWR was incorporated in 2005 as a not-for-profit, independent science and education organization. Its mission is to improve public health through the consumption of quality drinking water.

The Institute of Public Health and Water Research provides scientific direction, funds and other support to investigators to encourage research, publications and meetings. IPWR distributes information and organizes discussions with appropriate groups for public education and outreach about water and health. Its goals are to identify and promote opportunities to construct an integrated research agenda; directly fund research that expands knowledge on water and health; and produce technical and non-technical information on water consumption and health.

"It is our view that many of the groups tackling the technical challenge of installing a new water supply are missing the fine details of ensuring the new systems are integrated within the context of the local communities," said Professor Paul R. Hunter, M.D., M.B.A., chair of the IPWR Executive Board of Directors. "Critical cultural factors may be overlooked -- for example, some societies may traditionally allow their livestock to drink from the same well they do -- and a solid education in operating and caring for the system is often absent."

"All of society has a responsibility to look after the less fortunate," Professor Hunter continued. "The Institute for Public Health and Water Research and the School of Rural Public Health are committed to a vision of a world where everyone, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances, has access to and can enjoy the benefits of clean drinking water."

Following the affiliation signing, Professor Hunter gave an hour-long lecture to more than 200 people on "The Impact of Water Quality on Population Health in Times of Natural Disasters." Professor Hunter is a professor of health protection in the School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. A practicing physician and international authority on water and health, he has investigated many food and waterborne outbreaks.

"The Texas A&M University System exemplifies the hallmarks we seek in establishing the first Center of Excellence in Public Health and Water Research," said Jennie Ward Robinson, Ph.D., IPWR executive director. "With its broad range of resources -- including programs in engineering, agriculture, veterinary medicine, business and health sciences -- leading accomplishments in water purification and conservation, a large and diverse student body, and experienced faculty, the Texas A&M Health Science Center offers the ideal platform on which to build a fully-integrated research program to support IPWR's long-range goals."

Vincent Nathan, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of environmental affairs for the City of Detroit and director of the new program, will join Dr. Ward Robinson in leading the IPWR efforts at the school. They also will be associate professors of environmental and occupational health in the HSC-SRPH.

One of several recipients of IPWR funding, the Center for Excellence in Public Health and Water Research augments more than 25 years of HSC-School of Rural Public Health environmental and occupational health faculty's research, teaching and community service activities nationally and internationally. Through the center, the HSC-School of Rural Public Health will address the problem of contaminated drinking water, which causes infant mortality in developing countries. Researchers also will explore solutions such as water conservation and safe reuse of water in water-stressed communities in the United States.

The current primary focus of HSC-School of Rural Public Health water research is disease prevention. For example, in collaboration with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department, faculty members are coordinating a study to investigate potential causes of liver cancer. Another joint federal study is using Seattle to monitor water quality in an industrial area.

Outside the United States, a study in Shanxi, China, is probing potential causes of birth defects in a population exposed to coal combustion products. Exposure to hazardous materials is being measured in Azerbaijan, because one of its cities, Sumgayit, has been described as one of the world's 10 most polluted cities.

Along with these studies, professors and researchers from the HSC-School of Rural Public Health are actively involved in teaching. Frequent lectures are given in research communities, as well as continuing medical education to physicians and nurses. Several health education courses have been delivered to families in the Texas-Mexico border region. Reports are prepared and translated about families in research studies, and faculty and staff travel to research communities to train staff at local health departments and hospitals.

HSC-School of Rural Public Health water quality research has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for a Center for Environmental and Rural Health and for the Superfund Basic Research Program. Other research sponsors are the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health Resources and Service Administration.

"The Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health is honored to have been selected from a prestigious group of academic institutions for the relocation of the Institute for Public Health and Water Research," said Roderick McCallum, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs for the HSC and interim dean of the HSC-School of Rural Public Health. "The institute considers issues that most people believe are associated only with Third World countries. They have determined, however, that those issues are universal, and water quality is a worldwide issue. We look forward to a very successful collaboration"

The Institute for Public Health and Water Research was launched with an unrestricted research and educational grant from The Brita Products Company to advance the understanding of the relationship between water and health.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its seven colleges located in communities throughout Texas are the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, the College of Medicine in College Station and Temple, the College of Nursing in College Station, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, and the School of Rural Public Health in College Station.

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