Center Focusing On Environmental Health, Toxins in Products and Food Produced Globally, Established at Colorado State University

Colorado State University today announced the formation of a new international environmental medicine center looking at tainted food and other consumer products at home and abroad. The Center for Environmental Medicine will be launched during Gov. Bill Ritter’s trade mission to Asia next week when the university signs rare research and education partnership agreements with Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, which is Japan’s equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and Gifu University’s School of Medicine.

The center will focus on research that could mitigate the effects of chemicals and infectious agents that contaminate food, consumer products and the environment. While global in mission, the center will begin work immediately looking at environmental health issues related to commerce in Asia. The center’s partnership with Japan allows it access to products manufactured there and in other countries with high exports. For example, along with the United States, Japan is one of China’s largest importers of goods, although many products from both countries are exported globally. Anticipated initial projects  in Asia include research and educational efforts into issues such as melamine in food products; heavy metal levels in water sources for agricultural products that are distributed globally including soybeans; and the quality and purity of vitamin C. About 90 percent of the world’s vitamin C is produced in China.

The center is closely aligned with the goals of the university’s newly established School of Global Environmental Sustainability. The school was established in July as the first of its kind in the state and will be a national leader to focus on research to guide human-environment interactions in sustainable ways. The school, which encompasses more than 100 faculty and programs from all CSU colleges, will harness the university’s expertise and capabilities in environmental studies and research. The school will train students to address pressing environmental global challenges.

"The mission of the Center for Environmental Medicine to protect the health of people, animals and the larger ecosystem of the planet – from pollution and toxins – is critical in today’s global marketplace. In response to an urgent need that has become all too familiar in today’s headlines, this unique center will play a crucial role in educating businesses and bringing together government agencies to better agree on and monitor health and safety product standards," said Colorado State Interim President Tony Frank.

Frank also stated that the center will serve the public through research, outreach and new services such as toxicity testing and will provide tomorrow’s environmental health leaders with one-of-a-kind international experiences. The center capitalizes on decades of research at Colorado State into the etiology of disease related to environmental contaminants.  

Neither China nor Japan has the equivalent of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, and center officials expect to play an international role in education and team building between countries.

"This partnership is unique in that the memorandums of understanding that we are signing with Japan very specifically lay out mutual activities that Japan and CSU have agreed upon that will benefit research, education and public health in both countries through cooperative interactions," said William Hanneman, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences and the director of the new center. "We’ll engage countries as consumers and producers of goods and take a hard look at the products we exchange and the environments in which they were created and which they create."

Hanneman cited future projects such as the use of pesticides in foreign countries that are banned in the United States for agricultural products but that are used on foods that could be imported into the U.S. and Japan.

In addition, the center will provide extraordinary national and international opportunities to students.

"This partnership gives our students the opportunity to lead the world in solving some of these critical issues," said Dr. Lance Perryman, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "It brings together world-class educators and researchers to provide students with graduate-level degree programs, arming them with the skills needed to address environmental health and toxicology issues around the world and, in the future, helping to prevent tragic illnesses such as those reported recently from melamine in products."

"The work this center proposes will have a significant impact on the health of the environment, people and animals," said Diana Wall, director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State and a biology professor in the College of Natural Sciences. "Its creation helps to launch work in several important areas of emphasis that are linked with the goals of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and further capitalizes on the strength of the university’s research, teaching and outreach in environmental topics."

The Center for Environmental Medicine will provide:

–     International exchange of tenured faculty lines, which has never before been done by an American university. The center will boast faculty with global experience and connections.

–     A one-of-a-kind international learning center, between two Japanese institutions and a U.S. university.

–     The combined resources and access to non-United States produced foods and products will create a research and educational powerhouse to investigate the impacts of environmental contaminants on consumers of food and products.

–     A heavy metal research and client services laboratory to evaluate levels of heavy metals in water sources, foods and products and their impact on animal and human health and the environment.

–     Increased toxicology services currently offered to the public through the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, expanding the current capacity to test for heavy metals in products, foods and water with the establishment of a heavy metal analytical laboratory that can detect minute levels of toxicity. The college’s current Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory already runs about 11,000 tests a year for high levels of chemical and metal toxicity; the new laboratory will be able to run more sensitive tests as a service to businesses, individuals and groups. The laboratory will be one of only a handful with such capability in the nation.

–     Access to equipment and environments for research not currently available to researchers from both countries, such as access to the state-of-the-art heavy ion cancer treatment and research center run by Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences. Cyclotrons, of which there are five in the world, accelerate particles to extremely fast speeds.

–     Access to the production of foreign products and manufacturing plants in other countries not normally granted to the United States.

–     A new masters program in toxicology will be the cornerstone for the new Center for Environmental Medicine. It will allow CSU to recruit and train national and international students in environmental health sciences that can then be translated to partnering institutions around the world.

The Center for Environmental Medicine will be part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. For more than 30 years, the department has fit a unique research and education niche studying the etiology of disease related to environmental toxins and pollution.