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UW-Eau Claire ENPH Alumni Controlling Public Health Risks in Hurricane Devastated Areas

RELEASED: Oct. 5, 2005

UW-Eau Claire ENPH students on a field tripEAU CLAIRE — Graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's environmental public health programs are making significant contributions in evaluating public health risks in several recent high-profile crises, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Graduates of our programs are extremely well-trained and knowledgeable," said Dr. Crispin Pierce, assistant professor of public health professions and coordinator of the ENPH programs. "If there is a major event that involves public health concerns, you're likely to find one of our graduates there offering their expertise."

The National Environmental Health Association has recognized the quality of UW-Eau Claire's ENPH programs by granting them accreditation, Pierce said.

"The contributions of ENPH alumni to environmental public health domestically and internationally reflect the national importance of the undergraduate and graduate programs," Pierce said. "National accreditation of both programs highlights the need for the programs for the country's future, in which evaluating and managing health risks — such as those now being experienced in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — will be increasingly needed."

ENPH graduates typically work for regulatory agencies and industries concerned with environmental quality, Pierce said. Their work is directed toward controlling environmental health hazards, he said. "They protect the lives of others by making sure that food isn't contaminated or drinking water doesn't contain infectious organisms," Pierce said.

Lt. Cmdr. Craig R. Ungerecht, who earned his master's degree in environmental public health from UW-Eau Claire in 2000 and now works for the U.S. Public Health Service, is an example of an ENPH graduate who has done exceptional work in difficult situations, Pierce said. Ungerecht was among those deployed to the coast of Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina.

"Four days after Hurricane Katrina hit, I was deployed to the coast of Mississippi for 15 days with 34 environmental health officers from the U.S. Public Health Service," Ungerecht said. "We assisted the Mississippi Health Department. For many of the residents, we were the first government responders they talked to and we heard some heart-wrenching stories of survival."

Ungerecht and other health officers performed numerous services while in the region, including assessing hospitals; assessing shelters for diseases and food safety; evaluating water systems; disinfecting wells; establishing a lab for testing drinking water; evaluating food distribution centers; assessing damage to day care facilities; and evaluating food establishments.

Ungerecht also responded to the 2001 anthrax bioterrorism incident in Washington, D.C.

"When the anthrax incident occurred in Washington, D.C., I was the site safety officer for night operations. I was responsible for ensuring the acutely hazardous operations proceeded safely and in a timely manner," Ungerecht said. "I conducted training sessions for personnel entering the hot zone, evaluated protective gear and assessed the building decontamination plan to assure the surrounding community the operation could proceed safely.

"These activities were instrumental in ensuring the safety of 300-plus contractors, Capitol Hill staff, the federal agency personnel working at the five anthrax-contaminated facilities, and in assessing 26 buildings, including the United States Capitol."

Other examples of alumni involved in high-profile public health activities include:

  • Susan Muza, a 1987 graduate, is the senior regional representative for the South Pacific region for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. She plans to assist with environmental health issues caused by recent hurricane disasters. Muza, known for her work in protecting school children in Libby, Mont., from exposure to asbestos, is involved in the first joint ATSDR/EPA investigation of community exposure to naturally occurring asbestos. Oak Ridge High School in California was inadvertently built in an asbestos-containing geologic formation, exposing children to asbestos prior to the intervention.
  • Jennifer Baker, a 2003 graduate who works in the Indian Health Service Office in Minnesota, plans to go to hurricane-damaged areas to help revive water/sewer lines and lift stations, and to repair water treatment mounds and drain fields.
  • Lt. Jon Blonk of the U.S. Public Health Service, who earned ENPH degrees in 1994 and 2000, was recognized for his work on the Hopewell Precision Area Contamination Site, a site polluted by hazardous substances affecting about 150 people. He provided technical information and communicated potential health risks to the public.

Currently 40 students are enrolled in UW-Eau Claire's undergraduate and graduate ENPH programs. There are 2.2 full-time faculty teaching the ENPH courses. Pierce expects the numbers of students and faculty to grow with increased demand for the accredited programs.

"It's an exciting time in the ENPH program," Pierce said, noting that accreditation will mean greater national and international recognition of the programs. "Our graduates, students and faculty are all being recognized for their significant contributions to the public health field."

Recent student and faculty successes and recognitions include:

  • ENPH graduate student Julie Freidhoff received one of two top honors in the 2005 NEHA National Student Award Competition.
  • Pierce was invited by National Environmental Health Association President Ron Grimes to serve on a select national committee to develop student recruitment materials, to be presented at the NEHA meeting in June 2006.
  • Pierce published a graduate student-faculty research paper on xylene toxicokinetics, which is the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of this commonly used solvent.

For more information about the ENPH programs and its graduates, contact Pierce at (715) 836-5589 or piercech@uwec.edu.

-30-

JB

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