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New Center Will Receive $5 Million to Study Effects of Exposure to Toxicants in Fish
by Jim Barlow, UI News Bureau

The College of Veterinary Medicine is home to a new federally funded center that will study the effects of exposure to toxicants in fish being eaten in large quantities by Laotian and Hmong refugees in Green Bay and Appleton, Wis.

[Dr. Susan Schantz]Dr. Susan Schantz, professor of veterinary biosciences and of psychology, will direct researchers from five institutions in the center's work, which will include developing outreach programs to help the refugees reduce their consumption of the fish contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and methyl mercury.

"This center will build on several already established research collaborations and will be organized around refugees we have been recruiting in this area," says Dr. Schantz. "A large percentage of these refugee families is at high risk for PCB exposure. While methyl mercury levels are not as high, we want to know if methyl mercury exposure has adverse health ramifications, either separately or in combination with PCBs." She says that members of the refugee groups have been involved in the design of the study and will have continuing roles.

The FRIENDS Children's Environmental Health Center was among four new children's environmental health research centers announced October 25. They were established under a joint program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. The centers each will receive about $1 million per year for the next five years.

FRIENDS stands for Fox River Environment and Diet Study. The Fox River, which cuts through Green Bay, Wis., is the single largest source of PCBs entering Lake Michigan.

Researchers will be looking specifically at the effect of eating contaminated fish on the motor, sensory, and mental development of the refugees' children. They also will study, in laboratory rodents, the mechanisms by which the pollutants cause neurological harm. (See Heavy consumption of tainted fish curbs adult learning and memory for more on recent research findings of Dr. Schantz.)

In addition to studying the health impact of chemicals in the fish, researchers will be educating the communities about safe fishing locations, which species of fish are safe to eat, and preparation and cooking methods to limit exposure to the toxicants.

The center also will involve researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Michigan State University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the New York State Department of Health, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

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