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UT Health Science Center signs education and training accord with Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(6-05-02)

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) signed a major initiative May 29 — a pact that will enhance the education and training of physicians and researchers about the unique environmental health issues and toxicology of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center, and Peter McCumiskey, deputy assistant administrator of the ATSDR, signed a memorandum of understanding in San Antonio. Dr. Cigarroa expressed gratitude for the ATSDR's initiative to work more formally with the Health Science Center, especially with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), to incorporate training in environmental toxic exposures and response to situations in which environmental exposures might occur. UTHSCSA operates the medical education and medical research divisions of the Regional Academic Health Center.

"We look forward to new opportunities in which our faculty, residents and students can engage in scientific exchange visits with the ATSDR and its partner federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," Dr. Cigarroa said.

Steven A. Wartman, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for academic and health affairs and dean of the UTHSCSA School of Medicine, voiced support for cooperative environmental health projects and future grant opportunities with the ATSDR. The RAHC's regional dean, Leonel Vela, M.D., said the agreement "opens the door to new partnerships, better surveillance and enhanced scientific research opportunities for the RAHC and all our partners in the Lower Rio Grande Valley."

McCumiskey and Juan Reyes, director of the ATSDR's office of regional operations, said they have collaborated with several UTHSCSA researchers, including Claudia S. Miller, M.D., director of the South Texas Environmental Education and Research Center (STEER), a Laredo-based program under the auspices of the UTHSCSA department of family and community medicine. They said that the agreement would pave the way for new partnership opportunities, especially with the RAHC's community medicine connections.

"We hope that many RAHC faculty and other health care partners who work with the RAHC in the Lower Rio Grande Valley will become active participants via this agreement to help the ATSDR fulfill its mission, part of which is to better protect the health of the people of South Texas," McCumiskey said.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is chartered by the U.S. Congress to investigate the health effects of toxic substance sites and works cooperatively with the EPA and CDC. The ATSDR conducts public health assessments of waste sites, provides health consultations concerning specific hazardous substances, administers health surveillance and registries, responds to emergency releases of hazardous substances, and conducts education and training concerning hazardous substances. For additional information about the ATSDR, see http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/about.html.

Additional information about the UTHSCSA's RAHC and STEER programs can be found at: http://rahc.uthscsa.edu/ and http://steer.uthscsa.edu/.

Contact: Chuck Rodriguez or Will Sansom