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Superfund Grantees Begin Work on Documentary Series

By Melissa Fabiano-Scheuer
February 2009

The tour organizers
The tour organizers, foreground, are shown with the APHA tour group at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo courtesy of Hiram Sarabia and UCSD)

The new fence snakes along the border separating California and Mexico.
The new fence snakes along the border separating California and Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Hiram Sarabia and UCSD)

With support from the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP), researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are following a road less traveled in order to translate their scientific research into policy and public health information. Working with the UCSD-TV Public Affairs Office, researchers Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., and Hiram Sarabia are now at work on a television documentary inspired by a special tour they conducted for attendees at the 2008 American Public Health Association annual conference, "Public Health without Borders," held in San Diego October 25-29, 2008.

Pezzoli and Sarabia's research stresses the importance of furthering global environmental health partnerships related to vulnerable tribal communities and the sustainable development of low-income settlements on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The documentary, focusing on global environmental health (GEH) issues, will incorporate the tour of the San Diego-Tijuana U.S.-Mexico border and is projected to air during the fall of 2009. The APHA tour was led by UCSD's Urban Studies and Planning Program and the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies (CILAS) in partnership with Peter Ashley, Dr.PH., of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jenny Quintana, Ph.D., of San Diego State University's Graduate School of Public Health, and Oscar Romo of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The tour highlighted the impacts of rising irregular settlements and rapid population growth in the city of Tijuana, with particular emphasis on the public health and ecological impacts of environmental toxicants and cross-border flows in the border region. The documentary's ultimate goal is to increase public awareness of these important issues and highlight international collaboration and local efforts to protect the regions' public health and coastal ecosystems from environmental toxicants.

As their studies continue, Pezzoli and Sarabia maintain efforts to work in conjunction with tribes, government agencies, researchers and community organizations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. This collaborative network builds on the groundbreaking work of the University of Arizona's SBRP and U.S.-Mexico Binational Center for Environmental Studies and Toxicology. Pezzoli and Sarabia's current research highlights GEH challenges, emphasizing environmental exposure to pathogens and toxicants, sustainable communities, and ecosystems. The U.S.-Mexico border poses unique challenges, in part, because its watersheds are bisected by international boundaries. This makes it difficult to manage waste flows, ecosystems, and scarce natural resources like water.

In addition to Pezzoli and Sarabia's research on the U.S.-Mexico border region, they and their colleagues at UCSD will work along with the Global Planning Educators Interest Group, Worldwide Universities Network and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to promote sustainable city-region development in other parts of Latin America and beyond. The documentary they are working on, the first in a series, will focus on integrated research and action to address issues at the water/climate/poverty nexus in vulnerable human settlements along the U.S.-Mexico Border.

(Melissa Fabiano-Scheurer is a communications specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS SBRP and the Worker Education and Training Program. She is a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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