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UTHSC programs capture state environment award

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) will receive a coveted state award next month for its development of environment-friendly programs.

The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission is bestowing the Texas Environmental Excellence Awards May 7 in Austin. Gov. Rick Perry announced that UTHSC is to be honored for a new dental waste-recycling program and for its South Texas Environmental Education and Research Program (STEER), which teaches students and health professionals about occupational and environmental issues that impact health along the Texas-Mexico border.

STEER, led by UTHSC personnel in Laredo, educates health care professionals, including medical residents and students, public health students and nursing students. Topics include sociocultural issues, water quality, infectious diseases, zoonoses (diseases carried by insects and animals), outdoor and indoor air quality, hazardous materials, food sanitation and pesticides.

"STEER serves as a magnet for health professionals who are concerned about their patients' environments with the goal of preventing illness," said Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., STEER director and associate professor of environmental and occupational medicine in UTHSC's department of community and family medicine. STEER also was recognized during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics with the Olympic Spirit of the Land Award.

The UTHSC Dental School will receive the Texas Environmental Excellence Award for its program to recycle mercury-bearing waste from amalgam dental fillings. It was the first comprehensive mercury dental amalgam management program in Texas. Chair-side traps in the UTHSC Dental Clinic, in combination with amalgam separation units, are capturing the mercury waste. "This program uses the waste management, recycling, pollution prevention and pollution controls espoused in the U.S. Pollution Prevention Act," said Michael A. Charlton, Ph.D., director of UTHSC's department of environmental health and safety. "In an environmentally sensitive area such as San Antonio, we want to take these precautions and increase the environmental stewardship of current and future dental professionals."

Recent American Dental Association (ADA) statements reaffirmed the use of dental amalgam. "Although mercury in some forms is a known toxin, the process by which amalgam is made renders the mercury component stable and therefore safe for use in accepted dental applications," said ADA Executive Director James B. Bramson, D.D.S. "Dental amalgam is the most thoroughly researched and tested restorative material among all those in use. It is inexpensive, easy to use and durable relative to other materials and remains a valued option for dentists and their patients."

More information about the Texas Environmental Excellence Awards is available at

Contact: Will Sansom or Aileen Salinas