PHILADELPHIA – The Community-Campus Partnership for Health (CCPH) has honored the partnership between the School of Medicine and the Decatur, Ohio Community Association as the recipient of the 7th annual CCPH Award. The Award, announced last month at the third Community-University Exposition in Victoria, B.C., Canada, recognizes exemplary partnerships between communities and higher educational institutions that build on each other’s strengths to improve higher education, civic engagement, and the overall health of communities.
“We are proud to share this award with the members of the Decatur, Ohio Community Association,” says Edward Emmett, MD, Professor of Occupational Medicine and Deputy Director of Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology. “The collaboration between Penn’s expertise in environmental scientific research and the Association’s commitment to community action exemplifies what research institutions and communities can accomplish when they work together to address public health issues.”
In the summer of 2002, Hong Zhang, MD, a resident in the Penn Occupational and Environmental residency training program working in Parkersburg, West Virginia, along with Dr. Emmett, learned that a chemical called C8 was contaminating water of the Little Hocking Water Association (LHWA) in Southeastern Ohio. C8 is not found in nature and is likely to have come from a production facility in nearby West Virginia. C8 is the name given to the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and is used in the production of Teflon, among other things.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared C8 a probable human carcinogen, yet information disparities existed between the community, regulators and industry. As a result, the Environmental Justice Partnership was formed between Penn, the local community, and the local physician Dr. Zhang.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded the research study of the Partnership with an Environmental Justice Grant. The study found that the C8 levels in residents were far above normal and the major source of C8 was residential drinking water. On the day of the community meeting to report results of the study, DuPont announced it would supply free bottled water to LWHA water users. In 2006, the partnership performed a follow-up study of 65 percent of the original participants, which found that over 95 percent had made some change in their water supply and the blood C8 levels had fallen an average of 25 percent.
The findings were first released to study participants, followed by the broader community, and lastly, published in scientific journals, including the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
“The results of putting the community’s interests first were amazing,” says Dr. Emmett. The sustainability of this work is demonstrated by regulatory changes in states such as Minnesota and New Jersey, concerning new water standards for C8 levels.
Dr. Emmett notes, “We believe that the success of empowering the community, reducing information disparities and community distrust, and promoting collaboration will be sustained long past the effects of this particular study. Our experience has demonstrated that a Community-Campus Partnership is a powerful tool for successfully overcoming social injustice.”
PENN Medicine is a $3.5 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Penn's School of Medicine is currently ranked #4 in the nation in U.S.News & World Report's survey of top research-oriented medical schools; and, according to most recent data from the National Institutes of Health, received over $379 million in NIH research funds in the 2006 fiscal year. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals — its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S.News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center — a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.