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Your Environment. Your Health.

Collaborations Between Scientific Communities in the U.S. and Mexico

Superfund Research Program

The 2,000 mile border between the United States and Mexico is a unique arid region spanning four U.S. and six Mexican states. Environmental concerns along the Border arise from a complex combination of regional, national, and international forces, including patterns of economic growth and trade, urbanization, public policies, and demographic and social dynamics. Families living in this region are at risk of exposure to a wide variety of environmental contaminants including arsenic, trichloroethylene, lead, pesticides, combustion gases, and the particulate pollutants resulting from increased vehicle traffic between the two nations. Mexico's National Institute of Ecology estimates that approximately 1 million tons of hazardous waste cross the Border annually, and reports that Border industries often engage in uncontrolled disposal of hazardous waste that impacts the shared aquifers in the Border region. Residents of Border communities frequently have too little knowledge and too few resources to adequately protect their health.

In addition to funding basic and applied research projects relevant to environmental contamination issues, the SRP supports outreach and communication efforts that have direct impact on the environmental and public health of affected communities. The SRP believes that outreach is a critical mechanism which allows the Program to work with broader audiences, to expand its vision, and to translate research findings into strategies and solutions that can improve public health. The SRP would like to highlight this aspect of the SRP Program, and to acknowledge the accomplishments of Dr. Dean E. Carter who retired from his leadership role at the University of Arizona (UA) SRP.

Dean Carter
Dr. Dean Carter

Since 1990, SRP-funded researchers at the UA have worked to build an Outreach Core to address U.S.-Mexico Border health issues. This Core was established to build close ties with Mexico concerning Border health issues, and to create a pipeline for science information transfer and for training Mexican toxicologists, hygienists, and environmental engineers/scientists. This effort was initiated and led by Dr. Dean Carter whose foresight and interest in U.S.-Mexico Border health issues resulted in the establishment of the U.S./Mexico Binational Center for Environmental Studies and Toxicology. Dr. Carter's philosophy, beginning more than 20 years ago, emphasized that any effort to make significant improvements would require a collaborative effort between the U.S. and our Mexican neighbors. In his words, "We share a border, share environmental problems, and we must share the solutions as full partners."

Dr. Carter began with the vision of building a program that could serve as a research and information resource and move research results from the laboratory and into the public and private sectors in the border region. UA scientists have partnered with Mexican scientists to build closer collaborations between scientific communities in the U.S. and Mexico; exchange and transfer environmental expertise; develop coordinated strategies to determine levels of exposure and characterize health effects; develop preventive measures that both countries can use; and apply remediation technologies to remove/destroy hazardous wastes.

Dr. Carter continually stresses the importance of outreach to communities facing critical environmental problems but lacking access to the training, tools, and resources to address them. Dr. Carter's team has applied a three-pronged approach involving education, scientific conferences, and research collaborations.


Education: Education and training efforts in Spanish undertaken by the UA researchers are focused to develop necessary expertise in Mexico, and to reach Spanish-speaking communities in Mexico and the U.S. UA approaches include:

  • $300,000 of funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Association Liaison Office for University Cooperation in Development (ALO), U.S.-Mexico Training, Internships, Exchanges and Scholarships(TIES) via a project entitled U.S.-Mexico Higher Education Partnership for Environmental Sciences and Toxicology. The project will fund 12 two-semester fellowships for Mexican graduate student training, 6 thematic workshops to be held in Mexico and three binational meetings.

  • Training Mexican pre- and post-doctoral students at UA facilities. As the result of their scientific collaborations with Mexico, UA researchers have established a "pipeline" of Mexican graduate students and research fellows who are located throughout Mexico. The students receive their training in toxicology, environmental sciences, public health, or environmental engineering. The graduate students either receive their degrees from the UA, or the UA researchers serve on the student's graduate committee at their Mexican university or institute. When the students return to their Mexican university or institute, they remain as collaborators and help build the environmental infrastructure needed between the U.S. and Mexico.

  • Numerous presentations and short courses to Mexican universities and research institutes along the U.S.-Mexico border on topics such as risk assessment, toxicology, and remediation technologies.

  • A bar graph showing how page requests per month increased dramatically from less than 20,000 in February 2001 to 140,000 in May 2004
  • Preparation of instructional materials, in Spanish, for high school, undergraduate and graduate students; teachers; professional engineers; public health workers and government officials. Of special significance is a textbook on environmental toxicology, targeted to professional engineers involved in hazardous waste management; journalists and government personnel responsible for informing and protecting the public; and university students pursuing a degree in science, particularly toxicology. An online version of Toxicologia Ambiental: Evaluacion de Riesgos y Restauracion Ambiental is available for free download from the UA website. The text has been accessed extensively, with over 140,000 hits per month from Spanish speaking countries around the world. The UA group is currently preparing a remediation, risk assessment, and toxicity profiles (e.g. arsenic, TCE) documents in Spanish that will also be made available on their website.

Scientific Conferences: Dr. Carter's team has organized a series of meetings in an effort to lay the groundwork for collaborative interactions between U.S. and Mexican scientists so they can work together to define common environmental problems and health hazards, determine approaches to resolving these problems, define the infrastructure needed to handle these common concerns, and assess shortfalls in personnel and technology needed to address these common issues. These meetings have acted as a catalyst for other SRP-sponsored "border meetings" in Texas, New Mexico, California, and Mexico City.

Research Collaborations: SRP-funded scientists at UA carry out research in concert with scientists at universities and government agencies in Mexico. Collaborative studies concerning the impact of mining and smelters on exposure of children to lead, and exposure of adults to arsenic and pesticides through drinking water are examples of such efforts. These collaborations have resulted in numerous presentations and publications with Mexican scientists as co-authors and full partners in the research. These collaborations frequently serve as the foundations of grant applications with the Mexican colleagues as co-investigators.

The efforts of UA SRP investigators to collaborate with Mexico on common environmental problems led to a Memorandum of Understanding between UA and CONACyT (Mexico's ministry of science and technology) entitled "U.S./Mexico Transborder Consortium for Environmental Studies." The goal is for UA scientists to collaborate with a consortium of Mexican universities to establish a Binational Center for Environmental Studies and Toxicology. The Centro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados (CINVESTAV), an institute of graduate studies and member of the Mexican National Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutes, has been selected as the consortium coordinator. Goals for the Center include:

  • Building capacity to address common environmental problems;

  • Conducting collaborative research to address environmental problems common to Arizona and Mexico, focusing on areas agreed upon by researchers and community activists;

  • Pursuing technology transfer through both the use of techniques at sites and efforts to create companies in Mexico to implement new technologies; and

  • Implementing research results in impacted communities.

Dr. Carter is an innovator who understands that environmental contamination in border areas results in complex science and culture issues, and that realistic solutions require input from diverse disciplines. Dr. Carter's work on U.S.-Mexico border health issues has been groundbreaking and productive in the areas of education, scientific meetings and research. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been that he has been able to stimulate Mexicans, in both government and non-government positions, to recognize that they have the same needs in the area of environmental health as we do in the United States, and that working as partners we will accomplish more than working alone. This has led to the development of real solutions for communities at risk of exposure to environmental contaminants. The SRP would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Carter for his remarkable contributions.

With the retirement of Dr. Carter, a new team of individuals has stepped forward to coordinate the U.S.-Mexico efforts.

  • James Field - Director of Superfund Outreach

  • Jay Gandolfi - Director UA-SRP

  • Joaquin Ruiz - Dean of Sciences - facilitator and supporter

  • Mariano Cebrian - counterpart in Mexico - CINVESTAV

The University of Arizona's Administration has supported the outreach program's request for Federal legislation for a U.S.-Mexico Binational Center. Arizona federal legislators - Kolbe, Grijalva, Pastor, are supportive of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Center - due to Homeland Security concerns.

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