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School of Public Health professors lend their expertise in Taiwan

Garett Sansom and Thomas McDonald travel to Taiwan to share their knowledge of environmental hazards following disasters

The impacts from disasters continue to be around us on what seems to almost be a daily basis. From natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes to man-made disasters such as oil spills and wildfires, the effects can be long-lasting and costly.

How communities respond following disasters and, more importantly, how they proactively prepare for them is a continual learning process throughout the United States and the world.

Garett Sansom, DrPH, assistant professor and Thomas J. McDonald, PhD, Regents Professor, both from the Texas A&M University School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, recently traveled to Taiwan to share their expertise in these areas with Taiwanese elected officials and faculty members from two universities in Taiwan.

The trip was part of a joint project with the Taiwan Environmental Protection Agency, the National Taiwan University, the National Cheng Kung University, and the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Center (Superfund Center).

Sansom and McDonald were part of a delegation from the Superfund Center that trained approximately 100 individuals on how to perform environmental sampling, laboratory analysis, risk assessment and hazard response efforts.

“We had the opportunity to learn a lot from the struggles that Taiwan is going through, and we also were able to lend our expertise,” Sansom said. “It was a success, and we will probably be going back to continue the partnership and they will probably be coming here. I am excited to see how this turns out in the next few years.”

Sansom and McDonald spent time in Taiwan conducting workshops on chemical and biological methods for supporting regulation mixtures and complex substances, teaching rapid risk assessment and environmental sampling, and conducting hands-on environmental sampling exercises.

The need for such training in Taiwan has increased over the years. As an island, Taiwan is susceptible to natural disasters. According to Sansom, however, the rapid growth of industry in Taiwan and the proximity of communities to industrial pursuits is a major driving force in the need for an improved approach to protect human health.

“All of the models predict we will be experiencing more of these types of hazards, be it anthropogenic like petrochemical fires or human caused fires, or natural events like hurricanes and flooding,” Sansom said. “We are going to need the research efforts that the Superfund Center provides to be better prepared moving forward.”

In addition to Sansom and McDonald, Ivan Rusyn, MD, PhD, director of the Superfund Center and Weihsueh Chiu, PhD, deputy director of the Superfund Center, were part of the trip and presented during the workshop.

The Superfund Center comprehensively evaluates the complexities of hazardous chemical exposures, potential adverse health impacts, and potential hazards of exposures to complex mixtures through a series of multi-disciplinary projects that derive from a case study utilizing Galveston Bay.

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