Letter from the Director

Photo: John Balmes
John Balmes

The Northern California Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) has a mandate to provide education, research, and service towards the goal of making workplaces and communities safer. Our success in fulfilling this mandate needs to be periodically assessed. This issue of Bridges highlights achievements in each of the three areas of our work.

In education, the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry (BCGC) recently won awarded an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) grant to promote interdisciplinary training in methods to evaluate the health and environmental hazards of chemical products and develop new products that are less hazardous and manufactured in a more sustainable way. The COEH has been one of the primary sponsors of the BCGC and two of its principal leaders, Michael Wilson and Megan Schwartzman, are graduates of our programs. In addition to his BCGC work, Wilson is Director of the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP), a key component of the COEH with the mission of training workers and community members about health and safety. Wilson is now working to integrate training in principles of green chemistry into programs of the LOHP.

COEH faculty continue to be highly successful in multiple avenues of research. In this issue, we turn to our UC Davis component and show how Irva Hertz-Picciotto and colleagues have learned much about potential environmental risk factors for autism and related disorders. And, because we strive to conduct studies that will have a real-world impact, the workshop organized by Robin Baker showcased how research to practice (r2p) can be achieved.

In the area of service, several COEH faculty and professional staff have recently been appointed to influential positions in state government. UCSF Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM) faculty member Gina Solomon was appointed to be deputy secretary for science and health at the California Environmental Protection Agency. I am also pleased to report that OEM program graduate and current clinical faculty member, Rupali Das, has been appointed executive medical director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation in the California Department of Industrial Relations. Two long-time program leaders at LOHP also received important appointments: Laura Stock as a member of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board and Juliann Sum as special advisor to the Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations. Together these appointments demonstrate that the COEH continues to play a leadership role in the development of state policy in both occupational and environmental health arenas.

We would not be able to train students, conduct research, nor develop policy leaders without adequate resources. I have reported previously that a key resource of the COEH, our Education and Research Center (ERC) support from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is in danger of being eliminated. The current budget stalemate has led to a continuation of our ERC funding for the 2012-2013 academic year at last year’s level, but the long-term status of this funding is completely up in the air and will depend on how Congress addresses the deficit.

We appreciate the support of our alumni and community partners who understand the value of the COEH and have spoken out in support of continued funding. We will keep you posted as the budget battle unfolds.

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