Environmental Scientists at the NIEHS Center at UNM Study Important Public Health Issues

Environmental scientists examine the effects of naturally occurring and manmade chemicals on human health, experimental models of disease and injury, as well as the overall complexity of ecosystems in which we live.

The New Mexico Center for Environmental Health Sciences at UNM and Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute perform research on important public health issues that affect New Mexicans and people across southwest communities. It also delivers educational and outreach programs to teachers, students, and community groups throughout the region.

The New Mexico Center for Environmental Health Sciences, funded by a P30 Center grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, concentrates on environmental health issues that face the Southwest. There are 23 other NIEHS centers around the country studying the effects of environment on health.

"New Mexico is an extraordinary place with many unique environmental, social, and economic issues," said Dr. Scott Burchiel, director of the NIEHS center. "People in New Mexico live in both urban and rural environments and environmental chemical exposures come from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and through skin contact."

Current studies include airborne contaminants (e.g., particulate matter or PM, gases and metals) from vehicle and industry emissions that are thought to produce lung and heart disease.

They also explore the effects of arsenic, which is naturally present in relatively high concentrations in our drinking water, and its combined effects with sunlight (UV) exposure to understand our high rates of non-melanoma skin cancer. New Mexico also faces many concerns that stem from the uranium and metal mining industry that likely disproportionately affect local communities.

The center has partnerships with tribes, state and local agencies and communities around the state and plans to develop projects and programs along the U.S. Mexico Border. In southern New Mexico, West Texas (El Paso), and the Juárez region, there appears to be an increasing incidence of childhood asthma that may have an environmental link. NIEHS members will soon start environmental epidemiology studies to try to understand the environmental, social economic and behavioral factors that contribute to asthma in children in this region.

Contact: Angela Heisel, 272-3322

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