Texas A&M Superfund Center Addresses Communities’ Environmental Chemical Concerns During Houston Event

Story by Megan Myers, CVMBS Communications

Participants from the community town hall to discuss findings from a survey and environmental sampling take a photo together.
Town hall attendees and hosts

The Texas A&M Superfund Research Center recently hosted a community town hall in Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward neighborhood to discuss findings from a household health survey and environmental sampling conducted by Superfund researchers over the past two years.

The event was held on the evening of July 20 at the Faith Revitalization Community Event Hall and was co-hosted by the Rev. James Caldwell, from the Coalition of Community Organizations (COCO), one of the Superfund Center’s partners.

Four members of the Superfund Center’s Community Engagement Core attended the town hall: Dr. Garett Sansom, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health; Dr. Benika Dixon, a visiting assistant professor at the School of Public Health; and Superfund trainees Ruby Hernandez and Leanne Fawkes.

The community health survey, which was completed by 183 residents, and environmental sampling were conducted at the request of COCO and the Impact Fifth Ward community group after a cancer cluster was discovered in the area by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Superfund investigators tested soil and water from residents’ homes for the presence and concentration of lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a class of chemicals that result from burning coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco.

At the town hall, they discussed the survey findings and where the lead and PAHs came from, as well as their health implications, and then spent an hour answering questions from community members.

Texas A&M Superfund staff discuss findings with Houston residents.

“The town hall was very positive; we saw overwhelming support for the work,” Sansom said. “While many of the results (particularly the PAHs) were well within expected urban levels, there was certainly some concern over the amounts of lead in soils, particularly at homes with young children. Everyone who attended this event had the opportunity to receive a free water filter, and we also went over some standard, personal things you can do to reduce their risk of lead exposure from soil and water.”

In addition to more than 100 community members, town hall attendees included representatives from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), the Houston Health Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Defense Fund, Texas Southern University, and Texas Lonestar Legal.

“I am very impressed with how our colleagues in the School of Public Health and Superfund Center demonstrate continued engagement and commitment to addressing community concerns,” said Dr. Ivan Rusyn, Superfund Center director and a University Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS). “Their work, overall, and this event, in particular, are excellent examples of translating science to the residents and helping them identify actionable strategies to identify and remedy the issues.”

“Dr. Sansom and his team not only made sure the science was rigorous but also worked hard to effectively communicate risks to communities, which is both vitally important and highly challenging,” said Dr. Weihsueh Chiu, deputy director of the Superfund Center and professor in the CVMBS’ Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences.

The Superfund Center has currently published one manuscript on PAHs in the neighborhood and another on water quality and has several forthcoming papers related to their research in the Greater Fifth Ward area.


For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216

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