N.C. Agromedicine Institute obtains health research grant
Perspectives On Line: The Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

NC State University

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North Carolina Agromedicine Institute:  Partners for Health & Safety In Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

 



N.C. Agromedicine Institute
obtains health research grant


Dr. Greg Cope (left) and Dr. Ernest Hodgson are N.C. State's representatives among the leaders of the NCAI.  (Photo by Art Latham)

Farming, timbering and fishing, always known as hazardous occupations, exact a human toll: Timber workers struck by falling trees, dehydrated field workers felled by humidity and the blazing sun or by exposure to toxic pesticides, young farm machinery operators lost in highway collisions, fisherfolk plagued by skin diseases.

Dr. Billy Caldwell, who retired in 1999 after 24 years as an administrator and crop scientist with N. C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, thinks on-the-job agricultural accidents aren’t inevitable, but can be prevented through education.

When an ongoing health and safety research and education consortium – the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute (NCAI) — recently received a $3 million federal research grant to establish the Southern Coastal Agromedicine Center (SCAC), Caldwell saw one of his long-time dreams come true.

“This was Billy Caldwell’s vision,” said Dr. Greg Cope, the NCAI’s and SCAC’s N.C. State coordinator. “He did the early work and set it in motion.”

The center that Caldwell and Dr. Paul James of East Carolina University’s medical school helped create promotes safer conditions for Southeastern agricultural, forestry and fisheries workers and their communities in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Puerto Rico, Cope said.

Caldwell recently recalled the days when he and James tried to jump-start a multi-campus agricultural workers’ health initiative.

“We finally got the momentum going, but it was lonely out there for the first couple of years,” he said. “Our major goal, to establish an agromedicine center, was accomplished in 1997, when UNC system President Molly Broad granted permission to plan the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute.”

That entity, now headquartered in a 27,000-square-foot building at the former Voice of America site west of Greenville on ECU’s West Campus, is the SCAC’s umbrella organization.

“The recent grant is a culmination of another of the goals we set: to attract major funding support. It’s a recognition of the team that worked on the project since the early ’90s,” Caldwell said.

SCAC’s $1 million first-year funding sponsors several vital projects, Cope said. An aquatic toxicologist and department extension leader in the College’s Environmental and Molecular Toxicology Department, Cope also facilitates research, education and extension activities among the NCAI’s three participating colleges and 24 departments on N.C. State’s campus.

The center’s project core leaders and their areas of responsibility include Dr. Ernest Hodgson, N.C. State toxicologist, research; Dr. Alton Thompson, dean of N.C. A&T’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, education; and Dr. David Griffin, ECU, prevention and intervention.

Hodgson, as research core leader, sees the grant as providing a unique opportunity.

“We have a chance to help resolve both short- and long-term problems in the farm community, from anticipating health effects from pesticides only now being introduced into production agriculture to farm vehicle accidents and everything in between,” he said.

Cooperative Extension programs at N.C. State and N.C. A&T already provide outreach in farm safety, pesticide education and environmental management, Cope said.

“We should be able to achieve a modest 10 percent reduction in North Carolina’s occupational injury and illness through application of existing and newly developed interventions,” he said. “The reduced injuries alone would save more than $20 million a year in direct medical costs in North Carolina. The reduction in loss of life, limb and human costs in rural work places is priceless.”

—Art Latham

 


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