foster interdisciplinary research grant applications;
- hold a regular seminar series that will help participating faculty to become better acquainted;
- provide a support infrastructure that will facilitate collaboration on interdisciplinary activities;
- promote linkages between community grassroots organizations/leaders and University researchers, particularly in areas related to environmental justice;
- facilitate communication and collaborating research among UA faculty and faculty from other academic institutions in the region and the nation who are concerned with Health and the Environment;
- promote interdisciplinary training of graduate students;
- serve as a bridge to professional staff in the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation, Health and Transportation, and in the Empire State Development Corporation, NYSERDA etc., with regulatory responsibilities in these areas; and
- promote interdisciplinary international activities in the broad area of health and the environment.
It is well recognized that many factors contribute to health and illness, such as socioeconomic conditions, individual lifestyles and behaviors, culture, genetics and access to health services. Changes in the natural environment caused by chemical pollution, rapid industrialization, war and climate changes are dimensions that, until recently, have been largely overlooked as having a significant impact on human health. For instance, there is mounting evidence that communities located near hazardous waste sites are more likely to report increases in birth defects, cancer, neurological deficits and immune deficiency. The living environment is also a major factor for both physical and psychological health.
In response to these concerns, agencies such as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) have established common objectives of fostering research that promotes multidisciplinary basic and applied research, and to establish partnerships with members of affected communities.
The major goal of the Institute for Health and the Environment is to promote interdisciplinary research among faculty of the University at Albany and other local academic and research institutions who have interest in the broad area of environmental science, ecology, environmental policy, environmental health, environmental law, geographic information systems, hazardous waste management, occupational health, risk assessment, management and communication, urban environmental health and the social and psychological aspects of environmental pollution in regard to human behavior.
This Institute will focus both on factors that produce physical injury and illness, but also on those factors that lead to the development of slums, blighted and contaminated areas, and policies which encourage and prolong the deterioration of these areas. The Institute will study policies and technical advances for dealing with hazardous waste sites and "brownfields". It will promote research on injury and deaths resulting from accidents, crime, tragedies and disasters, evaluating technologies, environmental conditions, changes in behavior, public services, market incentives and changes in official regulations which can influence the frequency and impact of these events. It will promote study of those personal choices which promote injuries, such as alcohol use and other substances of abuse, and study those factors that cause or promote personalities prone to impulsive and violent behavior.
It will promote research on the health advantages of walking, gardening, biking, jogging and athletic activities, and the health impact of making exercise opportunities more widely available in the community. The Institute will promote the use of geographic information systems (GIS) mapping and analysis to investigate the relationships between the spatial distribution of environmental variables, the mobility and other characteristics of the population and the spatial distribution and social incidence of morbidity and mortality. While the primary mission of the Institute is to promote interdisciplinary research, there will also be a major effort at training for both domestic and international students.
Since a major goal is to promote interdisciplinary research, the Institute will establish a mechanism whereby the members of the Institute become acquainted and knowledgeable of each other's research expertise. This will be promoted by a monthly seminar series, in which each Institute member presents his/her work. The seminar series is open to the greater University community.
Another major goal of the Institute is to facilitate interdisciplinary grants and contracts, and this includes interdisciplinary training grants. Another goal of the Institute is to organize and sponsor symposia and conferences. Several members have considerable experience in planning and obtaining support for symposia.
Another primary goal is to promote interdisciplinary training of graduate students who have interest in the environment and health. Because many departmental requirements become a barrier for interdisciplinary education, the Institute will promote attempts to obtain funds for student support through grants. The Institute will promote training grant applications and involve faculty from different departments and schools. Training of international students is also a priority, building from the current Fogarty International Center grant which supports students from Romania, Uzbekistan, Russia and Mongolia.
Another major goal is to provide resources to its members for grant-related activities. This will include provision of a central clearinghouse for grants and contracts, especially those that are interdisciplinary and involve multiple investigators. In addition, the Institute, under optimal conditions, will provide secretarial support and assistance in writing grant applications through the non-technical boilerplate that is a component of all applications. While some of this is already done through the Office for Research, expansion of these activities will require support for personnel that have this as a major responsibility.
The Institute will promote electronic communication among its faculty, and to bridge with other funding sources the development of electronic communication and instruction, both in domestic and international sites. Likewise, specific topics in a seminar series may be telecommunicated to other institutions. Several international initiatives are currently underway, including one which will develop an international distance learning site in the School of Public Health, UAlbany. This site will be available to the members of the Institute, and will be used for local, as well as international activities. Another initiative is to develop courses in basic environmental health, environmental policy and use of GIS software for environmental assessment for international settings.
The Institute will promote linkages between community grassroots organizations/leaders and University researchers. One aim of the Institute is to facilitate the process of establishing partnerships with communities on issues related to the environment and health. This may be accomplished by establishing an External Advisory Board consisting of prominent community leaders and grassroots community organizations interested in such issues. Several faculty already have close interactions with the environmental justice communities, both locally and nationally.