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Your Environment. Your Health.

Justification of Budget Request

Fiscal Year 2013 Superfund Budget

 

Authorizing Legislation: Section 311(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, as amended, and Section 126(g) of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986.

 

Budget Authority (BA)

FY 2011 ActualFY 2012 EnactedFY 2013 President's BudgetFY 2013 +/-
FY 2012
$79,054,00$78,928,000$78,928,000$0

 

FTEs are included with the regular NIEHS appropriation.

 

Superfund Director's Overview

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Program has two components – the Superfund Research Program (SRP) and the NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP). The SRP is a network of university grants that are designed to seek solutions to the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation's hazardous waste sites. The major objective of the WTP is to prevent work related harm by assisting with the training of workers in how best to protect themselves and their communities from exposure to hazardous materials encountered during hazardous waste operations, hazardous materials transportation, environmental restoration of contaminated facilities, or chemical emergency response.

 

Our health and our economy rely on understanding how to safely produce, use, and dispose of many thousands of chemicals.  In addition, past chemical releases that resulted in harm to health and the environment must be effectively and safely contained or cleaned up.  The NIEHS Superfund Program successfully applies current science to resolve and prevent environmental hazards.  For SRP, results-oriented, technology-driven research has resulted in improved techniques for the remediation of contaminated sites, greater knowledge concerning the fate and transport of hazardous materials in the environment, and interventions that have improved the health of those exposed.  The WTP utilizes knowledge gained from SRP research to update and tailor safety and health training so that it addresses the actual hazards faced by workers today.  

 

It is important to recognize that this science-based approach to environmental hazards has remarkable economic benefits.  The research supported by SRP, the remediation workers trained through WTP, and partnerships developed by the Superfund program with other federal and state agencies have combined to turn former contaminated sites into new housing, commercial, and industrial ventures.  A problem is solved; an opportunity created.  One example is the work by SRP-supported small businesses that have developed landscape plantings to successfully remove arsenic from soils in residential areas in Washington D.C. and central Virginia.  These activities enhance the private marketplace and broaden opportunities for economic development in communities with contamination problems.

 

SRP programs have yielded engineering advances that have led to numerous discoveries with patents pending.  For example, investigators from several universities have created safe nanomaterial filters to remove arsenic from drinking water, trichloroethylene (TCE) from groundwater at a Department of Energy site, and mercury vapors from air. The latter study led to the formation of a new small business in Rhode Island.  Another SRP project at Columbia University is testing a strategy to speed the cleanup of groundwater at the Vineland Superfund site in New Jersey.  By injecting a plant-derived chemical (oxalic acid) underground, they increased the speed at which arsenic was removed during treatment.  This new strategy greatly reduces the cleanup time, saving taxpayers an estimated $2.4 billion 1 over the life of the project.

 

Partnerships between NIEHS Superfund-supported grantees and other federal agencies are of key importance to the success of the Superfund programs.  These partnerships maximize the use of tax dollars and provide more successful interventions.  They also extend to the state and local level, meeting environmental response needs and providing properly trained workers.  Partnership benefits are also realized in the WTP minority worker training program, such as in Los Angeles where training  on how to work safely with hazardous materials during construction, reconstruction, and retrofitting  projects was provided by University of California–Los Angeles to 40 young workers, which resulted in their employment in the remediation and retrofitting of dozens of municipal buildings; and in Independence, Missouri, where trainees from OAI, Inc. provided asbestos abatement as the first step in a city housing redevelopment project.  In South Carolina, a different audience was served: the Mount Pleasant Fire Department was trained by NIEHS-funded instructors from Jefferson State Community College to be able to rescue, if needed, workers using hazardous materials in a confined environment to preserve an historic aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown.

 

SRP advances the NIH mission to translate fundamental biomedical discoveries into improved public health.  From brain cancer to diabetes, SRP researchers have been in the forefront of enhancing our understanding of the effects of contaminants on health.  For example, a study shows PCBs induce the migration of tumor cells across the blood brain barrier, which suggests PCB exposure may potentiate brain metastasis.  SRP basic research also identified linkages between a mitochondrial dysfunction and a known dioxin toxicity pathway which may explain, in part, the link between dioxin and metabolic disorders such as type II diabetes.  Another SRP-funded basic research breakthrough was the identification of proteins that regulate DNA methylation, a process that tells a gene when to turn on and off.  Because toxic substances alter DNA methylation patterns, this discovery is pivotal in our fundamental understanding of environmental toxicology.  This could also provide cancer researchers with a way to reactivate tumor-suppressor genes that had been silenced by DNA methylation.  Other SRP investigators determined inflammation as a possible cause for cardiovascular dysfunction in PCB-exposed cells, and then went on to identify a substance in green tea that has anti-inflammatory properties effective in the pathways perturbed by PCBs, thus reversing their effects.  These are critical findings, since cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  

 

The NIEHS Superfund programs do not have a “one size fits all” approach because certain populations, such as Native Americans, require a more specific focus. For example, SRP funded public health research with tribal partners identified biomarkers and biosensors as novel systems for improved exposure assessment, risk assessment, and environmental monitoring and restoration. The WTP effort is also broad-based, with awardees providing training to tribal employees of natural resource, law enforcement, emergency medical, fire service, and public works agencies.

 

Every day SRP researchers are seeking solutions to complex environmental hazards and WTP-trained workers are working safely as they address environmental hazards.  The science from basic to applied, including improved remediation techniques, has benefited many people, communities, and industries, with remarkable success. Similarly, WTP has provided training throughout the country that has increased the safety of our workers and has provided a core of skilled responders during times of national crisis – from the World Trade Center to Katrina, from the recent flooding in New York to the Gulf Oil spill.  These two programs complement each other, in creating a healthier nation, providing economic benefits, and better preparing us to assist our partners in facing and solving a wide array of environmental health and cleanup issues.

 

Overall Budget Policy: The FY 2013 President’s Budget request for NIEHS Superfund is $78.928 million, the same as the FY 2012 Enacted level.

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Program Descriptions and Accomplishments

Superfund Research Program (SRP)

SRP researchers identify the critical issues and work to develop solutions, improving our health and the environment.  SRP research mitigates exposures through innovative clean-up strategies; develops new biomarkers of exposure for public health interventions; identifies clues of early onset of disease due to exposure to environmental hazards; and improves our ability to predict whether a person might come in contact with a contaminant.  Furthermore, SRP-supported research and its outcomes are generalizable, addressing issues throughout the United States.  For example, engineers at University of California-Davis developed a modeling technique that improves the ability to predict the movement of chemicals, such as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), from contaminated groundwater to drinking water supplies.  SRP researchers also invented an in-home sampling “teabag” that extracts from urine trace chemicals that can indicate recent exposures to specific environmental hazards. This tool will be used by in-home nurses involved in a study of pre-term births in a Hispanic population. Ongoing research at a mining site at the juncture of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri provides critical information on human exposure risk, providing evidence that dust from nearby toxic mine wastes (containing lead, arsenic, and manganese) gets into homes. University of Arizona researchers are testing a sustainable solution on another mining site that uses a combination of native plants and special microorganisms to prevent the spread of toxic heavy metals in tailings, thus allowing for better management of existing mining sites and ensuring safer exploration of new resources.  A team of investigators found that levels of PCBs in air around Chicago and Lake Michigan are high enough to promote significant oxidative stress in prostate cells; however, they also identified natural human anti-oxidants which appear to reverse these effects.  

 

Budget Policy: The FY 2013 President’s Budget request for SRP is $50.172 million, the same as the FY 2012 Enacted level.  Resources will be used to support high priority and scientifically rigorous single and multi-project research grants, covering the diverse areas of science needed to solve complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation’s hazardous waste sites.  Support of SBIR grants for the development of innovative technologies for monitoring and remediation of hazardous substances in the environment will continue in FY 2013.  


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Program Portrait: Early-life Exposures Affect Health Throughout a Lifetime

FY 2012 Level:  $11.2 million
FY 2013 Level:  $12.6 million
Difference:  $1.4 million

 

During in utero development, the groundwork for physical and mental functioning is put in place through complex cellular processes. When environmental contaminants affect these developmental processes, the consequences could be detrimental not only for the birth outcome, but also could lead to disease and disability later in life and, potentially, for future offspring. SRP has contributed to our understanding of the effects of environmental hazards on early human development. SRP researchers have been investigating preterm birth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes in numerous U.S. populations, including women in the Northeast exposed to mercury and arsenic. In a study that builds on pilot data from an epidemiological study showing a linkage between phthalates (chemicals used in plastics) and preterm birth, SRP investigators are recruiting pregnant women in Puerto Rico to provide more insight into the incidence of exposures, preterm births, and possible mechanisms of toxicity. In another study, researchers are assessing cadmium-induced signaling of inflammatory response genes to determine its association of pathway modulation with birth weight in a Southeastern U.S. population exposed to contaminated well water. Low birth weight greatly increases the risk for long-term health disabilities. SRP research has identified exposures during pregnancy that not only affect the birth outcome, but also the course of childhood and adult life. Two studies reveal evidence that a variety of childhood neurological effects (including developmental disorders of learning, attention and vision) are related to early life exposures to contaminants such as tetrachloroethylene (a dry cleaning chemical) and heavy metals. In separate studies, SRP researchers have found that fetal exposure to arsenic has many later life consequences, including lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and a suppressed immune system. Another critical discovery is the linkage between one’s genes, fetal exposure to pesticide, and later life diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. SRP studies show that environmentally-induced damage during fetal development may lead to a lifetime of irreversible harm. By understanding exposures and their toxic consequences during in utero development, we can target prevention strategies such as environmental remediation and public health outreach to pregnant women.


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Worker Training Program (WTP)

The WTP funds a national network of over 100 non-profit safety and health training organizations.  Organized into 20 consortia, last year they trained 143,000 workers who handle hazardous materials or are involved in emergency response to incidents involving hazardous materials.  The WTP provided over 8,400 courses, resulting in more than1.3 million contact hours of training. The WTP trains workers to protect themselves while containing countless spills of hazardous materials, to rescue workers trapped in toxic environments, and to respond to natural and man-made disasters.  WTP has provided trainers, curricula, and training materials, and has trained responders to hurricanes, floods in the Midwest and New England, wildfires in the West, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and numerous other sites, and the World Trade Center attack.  As part of the National Response Framework, WTP has developed publically accessible training tools for responders to these disasters.  These materials have had a far reaching impact.  For example, the radiation cleanup materials have been utilized during the Japan disaster; the earthquake materials by responders traveling to Haiti.  WTP utilizes the results from research conducted by its sister program, SRP, and other agencies to develop safety and health training guidelines.  A recent example of this is the WTP guidance for training workers on the risks of nanotechnology.  This paper is one of the first to address how workers who are creating and handling nanomaterials should be trained about the hazards they face – in laboratories, manufacturing facilities, at hazardous waste cleanup sites, and during emergency responses. Given the limits in the current understanding of nanotoxicology, workplace exposures, and effectiveness of control strategies, defining effective training is particularly problematic, but workers clearly have the potential to be exposed and need to know about the risks they face.  This document provides peer-reviewed guidance for developing site-specific training.

 

Budget Policy: The FY 2013 President’s Budget request for WTP is $28.756 million, the same as the FY 2012 Enacted level.  During FY 2013, WTP will continue to support occupational safety and health training for workers who are or may be engaged in activities related to hazardous waste removal, containment or chemical emergency response.  WTP will also fund comprehensive training to disadvantaged urban youth in order to prepare them for employment in the construction and environmental cleanup fields.  WTP plans to continue its support of small businesses through its innovative SBIR e-learning for worker safety and health training program.  WTP will also continue to pursue pre-deployment strategies and development of training materials on a number of issues of key national response concern.


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Program Portrait: Facing the Safety and Health Gap

FY 2012 Level:  $0.7 million
FY 2013 Level:  $0.8 million
Difference:  $0.1 million

 

It is a hard truth that workers paid the least are often hurt the most; Hispanic workers have significantly higher injury rates than do other workers; and it is difficult for the residents of far too many communities to see justice in a system that is slow to address the environmental contamination that surrounds them.  The issues of occupational health disparities and environmental justice are entwined, both in understanding the problems and in seeking solutions.  Recently, WTP co-sponsored (with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) a national conference, “Eliminating Health and Safety Disparities at Work.”  Key to this conference was consideration of the success WTP has had in several areas.  First, recognition that workers have a right to quality safety and health training that they can understand.  This means training in their native language that recognizes cultural and other factors that affect workplace behavior.  Last year, for example, the WTP Western Region Universities Consortium developed a manual and curriculum entitled, “The Right to Understand.”  It directly assists training organizations in meeting this challenge.  Second, serving Hispanic workers has become a priority of the WTP awardee community.  This 2010 goal of the WTP is now a reality. By using a programmatic approach that includes instructor and curricula development, administrative support, and ongoing instructor, student, and program evaluations, WTP awardees have shown that barriers to training Hispanic workers can and are being overcome. Third, it is now clear that the WTP Minority Worker Training (MWT) program serves as a model for addressing the ongoing legacy of environmental injustice and occupational health disparities in communities of color across the nation.  By focusing on unemployed and underemployed residents, often young, in communities surrounding Superfund and Brownfields sites, this program has provided training that has led to employment. It is a difficult task, yet even during this economic downturn, 73 percent of those trained are now working in construction and environmental remediation jobs. This program has been recognized for the quality of its graduates.  Recently, the state of Louisiana recognized the MWT Center to Protect Workers’ Rights New Orleans program by granting it pre-apprenticeship certification, the first in the state and an important step for students seeking a well-paying career.  During the upcoming year, in each of its program areas (hazmat disaster, hazardous waste, and minority worker training), WTP will continue to address the three legs of this successful triangle.  


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