The College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) celebrated the scientists from across the Texas A&M University campus, and the nation, who will be working over the next five years to understand and mitigate the health and environmental consequences of exposure to hazardous chemical mixtures during a Superfund Launch Ceremony on Oct. 17.
TAMU System Chancellor John Sharp, President Michael Young, interim vice president for research Karen Butler-Purry, and former vice president for research Glen Laine, as well as National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program director William Suk, shared their thoughts on the Texas A&M Superfund Research Center and the importance of the four projects that will be conducted under the leadership of CVM professor Ivan Rusyn.
The Texas A&M Superfund Research Center will examine chemicals found within the sediment in Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel to understand the complexities of hazardous chemical exposures and potential adverse health impacts.
As the leader of the Commission to Rebuild Texas, which is working to restore communities in the aftermath Hurricane Harvey, Sharp said he sees the merit of the work the researchers will be doing in keeping people safe if and when another hurricane hits the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay.
“You folks looking at what those contaminants are, what the risk of those contaminants are, and trying to save lives, particularly the lives of the children of who live in the vicinity of where those contaminants are, is what Texas A&M University is all about—it’s all about public service and selfless service,” Sharp said. “I’m constantly in awe of the investigators and researchers at this university.”
Young emphasized the significance of bringing the Superfund program back to Texas A&M, which had its first successful program from 1989-2008, as “an important moment for our university” in its ability to bring together researchers from across campus and around the world to address the same problem.
“What I love about this team effort is that it allows us to look at this challenge across a tremendous spectrum of disciplines that will help us think through what we will do about the problem, how we will identify it, how we will prevent it, how we will solve it, and how we will prevent it in the future,” Young said.
“What’s so powerful about Texas A&M University and the research that goes on here is that it makes a difference, that it matters, that it is consequential because it is addressing great challenges; it addresses the problems we face, large and small, and it’s addressing solutions to those problems,” he said. “This is a moment. This is an important day for the university because we’re seeing the true paradigm of what a true research program looks like.”
Butler-Purry also praised the group in its efforts post-Hurricane Harvey and reiterated that the Superfund grant represents Texas A&M research at its most impactful.
“Out of this tragedy comes opportunity; it is an opportunity for Texas A&M university to show every Texan the true measure of our faculty to the state and its residents,” she said. “All across our campus and the A&M system we see examples of researchers and their teams applying their expertise and resources to solve the very real problems created by Hurricane Harvey. None is more significant than the effort being formally launched today.
“There are 51 Superfund sites in the state of Texas. Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, in particular, with hundreds of years of spilled chemicals leached into the sediment, pose a complex threat,” Butler-Purry continued. “Funding for the Texas A&M Superfund Research program began on Sept. 1, and they wasted no time; our researchers were out in the field the same day collecting mud, soil, and water samples, because we all know there is no time to waste on this issue.”
Rusyn thanked the Texas A&M administration at all levels for its support of the project in bringing it to fruition; he also recognized the investigators and other team members who will lead the four individual projects and the cores that will facilitate and accentuate the work being done.
“I’m truly humbled by the words of kindness to both me and to the center, because, truly, as everyone said, this was a team effort,” said Rusyn, a professor in the CVM’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences. “I am very grateful for Chancellor Sharp and President Young and vice presidents for research Dr. Butler-Purry and Dr. Laine, and our gracious host, Dean Green, for challenging us, as faculty, to do better, and not just do better but to also have a vision.
“Vision 2020 is a big reason why I came here three years ago. The vision challenged us to put additional emphasis on biomedical research and team science, because grants like this are really the magnets that attract additional funding,” he said. “Visionary universities are not only able to attract additional talent and faculty but they are willing to bring people who are team players, who are able to put together projects that are much bigger than individual investigators.”
The four Texas A&M Superfund Research Center projects will stem from a case study of a major storm coming through the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay areas; major storms such as hurricanes can dislodge and mobilize the legacy chemicals found in the sediment and deposit it onto land, contaminating homes, parks, and other areas where humans interact and potentially exposing humans to those toxic chemicals.
The ultimate goal of the program is to create packages that will serve as “how-tos” for affected areas during any form of environmental emergency situation, from weather-related disasters, to chemical spills, to industrial accidents.
The center is also led by Tony Knap, professor of oceanography and director of the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group in the College of Geosciences, and includes researchers representing Texas A&M’s Colleges of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Medicine, Geoscience, Engineering, and Science; the School of Public Health; and the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Partners also include North Carolina State University, the University Carolina—Chapel Hill, Baylor College of Medicine, and the federal Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
“This NIEHS Superfund grant not only demonstrates a commitment to one health by Texas A&M University and the CVM, but also takes an innovative and timely approach to offer solutions to potential environmental disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, to mitigate the health and environmental consequences of exposure to people and to animals,” the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M Eleanor Green said. “I am so excited to witness the impact that the research achieved through this Superfund grant will have on not only the state of Texas, but also our nation for the health benefit of people and animals.”
Established in 1987, the NEIHS Superfund Research Program is a highly competitive grant-based program that funds a network of 16 university-based multidisciplinary research teams that study human health and environmental issues related to hazardous chemicals, with a goal of understanding the link between exposure and disease.
The Superfund Launch Ceremony was held in the Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex’s Mark Francis Room and was followed by a reception in the VBEC Faculty Commons. To see more pictures of the event, visit the CVM’s Flickr account.
For more information on Texas A&M’s Superfund Research Center, visit superfund.tamu.edu.