Superfund Research Program
The University of Kentucky SRP held a workshop on "Nutrition and Superfund Chemical Toxicity" on November 18, 2005. The workshop was organized under the umbrella of the University of Kentucky SRP Research Translation Core. Experts in the fields of nutritional sciences, medicine and environmental toxicology were invited to the University of Kentucky to present exciting evidence on the paradigm that nutrition and dietary regiments can modulate toxicological insults and associated disease states. As Bernhard Hennig (Director of the University of Kentucky SRP) mentioned, "nutrition may be the most sensible means to develop intervention and prevention strategies of diseases associated with many environmental toxic insults". The following speakers presented their research findings:
- Ronald J. Jandacek, University of Cincinnati, "Enterohepatic circulation of organochlorine compounds: a site for nutritional intervention."
- Sung Koo, University of Connecticut, "Flavonoids (green tea catechins) modulate absorption of lipids and lipid-soluble compounds."
- Craig McClain, Ohio State University, "Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): toxic interaction and nutrition intervention."
- Harold Seifried, National Cancer Institute, NIH, "Oxidative stress and antioxidants: a link to disease promotion and prevention."
- Adrienne S. Ettinger, Harvard School of Public Health, "Dietary calcium supplementation lowers blood lead levels during pregnancy and lactation."
- Allen Silverstone, SUNY Upstate Medical University, "Targeting AhR activation: the good, the bad, and the ugly."
- Bruce Watkins, Purdue University, "Food and inflammation."
Following the presentations, there was an extended discussion session. It was concluded that there is a great need to further explore this nutritional paradigm in environmental toxicology to improve our understanding of the relationship between nutrition or diet practices, exposure to environmental toxins and the pathology of associated chronic diseases.
Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have been awarded a $10 million grant from National Cancer Institute (NCI) to conduct a chemoprevention trial of 4,500 adults in Bangladesh who were exposed to very high levels of arsenic in drinking water. Dr. Habibul Ahsan, Columbia University Dept. of Epidemiology, will lead this research effort to focus on reducing the high rates of skin cancer and other cancers in this population, which are believed to be a result of arsenic exposure.
The NCI grant includes funding for patient recruitment, questionnaire, clinical data assessment, and follow-up of 4,500 patients for the five-year intervention period. The study builds on some of the activities developed in coordination with the NIEHS-funded Superfund Research Program, led by Dr. Joseph Graziano, whose primary goal is to elucidate the health effects and geochemistry of arsenic. The work of the Superfund involves studies at four sites in the U.S., and also focuses on carcinogenic, reproductive, and childhood effects of arsenic exposure in drinking water in Bangladesh.
As the environmental health research institute of the National Institutes of Health, the NIEHS is uniquely positioned to provide information on the sources and the potential human health impacts of those exposures and we are committed to supporting emergency responders with useful and readily accessible information. The NIEHS Katrina response website provides environmental health information to frontline public health and safety workers deployed to impacted communities. SRP researchers from University of California-San Diego, Duke University, University of Kentucky, and Columbia University are making major contributions to this effort.
Hydro Geo Chem, Inc., in collaboration with University of Arizona SRP investigator Dr. Eric Betterton, has received a Phase 1 SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Grant. The title of the grant is "Catalyzed Redox Destruction of Halogenated Organic Vapors." The grant has been funded from July 11, 2005 to December 31, 2005.
The first goal of this research project is to demonstrate the practical applicability of catalytic reactors for treating gas-phase VOCs under redox conditions. To accomplish this goal, emphasis will be placed on: (1) identification and use of inexpensive reductants, such as natural gas, methane, and propane to replace more expensive hydrogen gas, (2) optimization of reactor scale-up and heating requirements, (3) design and operation of a hydrochloric acid by-product scrubber, (4) identification of major and trace by-products, and (5) demonstration of reactor performance over extended periods of operations at two field sites in the Tucson area, Park-Euclid and Page Ranch.
The second goal of this research project is to gain a more detailed mechanistic understanding of the process that will allow refinements and optimization of the catalytic redox treatment operations in the field. Bench-scale laboratory experiments in support of field operations will be conducted to investigate the utility of the catalytic reactor for treating chlorofluorocarbons, which accompany the chloroform vapor at the Page Ranch site. Bench-scale experiments will also investigate the effects of potential catalyst poisons, particularly sulfur-containing gases.
The researchers will accomplish the above goals through a combination of field-based, pilot-scale trials and bench-scale laboratory experiments. The fundamental studies being performed by Dr. Betterton’s research group (UA SRP Project 6) will support the fieldwork conducted under the SBIR grant.
Milton P. "Milt" Gordon, an SRP-funded researcher since the inception of the Program, died in his home on July 5, 2005. Dr. Gordon worked at the University of Washington for 45 years as a professor in the Department of Biochemistry. For over 30 years, Dr. Gordon collaborated with Gene Nester, developing a technique to use Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a natural genetic engineer, to introduce foreign genes into plants. The technique has become a common method for the genetic engineering of plants and scientists have used it to make plants more nutritious as well as herbicide and insect resistant.
As an SRP Principal Investigator, Dr. Gordon played a pivotal role in the development and implementation of phytoremediation techniques – the use of fast-growing plants for remediation of soil and groundwater contaminated with organic and inorganic pollutants. He led or participated in research teams that worked on sites contaminated with persistent organics including TCE, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), formaldehyde, trichloroethane, ethylene dibromide, chlorobenzenes, and pesticides. Dr. Gordon also worked to develop transgenic plants, capable of significantly higher rates of metabolism of specific contaminants. By introducing a mammalian metabolizing gene (cytochrome P450) into tobacco plants, Dr. Gordon engineered plants with profoundly increased rates of TCE metabolism. The gene raises enzyme levels to such an extent that the plants removed produced 600 times the amount of metabolites as the non-transformed plants.
The United States spends more than $5 billion per year to clean up organic pollutants. Dr. Gordon believed that up to half of organic pollutants could be cleaned up using phytoremediation at a cost of only 25 - 30% of standard methods. Dr. Gordon was elected to the Academy of Microbiology for his research, informally known as "the green solution to pollution."
"I’ve had the best possible career — great colleagues and students," Dr. Gordon said.
The June 2005 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives focuses on "Arsenic: An Element of Suffering." The cover article describes various aspects of the arsenic issue including global exposure, the arsenic-cancer equation, susceptible populations, and the health effects of low-level exposure. This issue also includes a guest editorial, "Reducing Arsenic esposure from Drinking Water: Different Settings Call for Different Approaches," by Drs. Joseph H. Graziano and Alexander van Geen of the Columbia University SRP. NIEHS News updates the Columbia program's efforts to "dig deeper into the arsenic dilemma." Other articles provide information on the West Bengal & Bangladesh Arsenic Crisis Information Centre and a possible link between arsenic exposure and cutaneous melanoma. In Environews - Innovations, recent developments in arsenic adsorbent technology by ADA Technologies (an NIEHS SBIR grantee) are highlighted, and Dr. Joshua Hamilton, director of the Dartmouth College SRP, provides perspective by noting that the landfilling of spent iron-based sorbents needs to be further investigated to determine the long-term stability of the arsenic they contain. Access this issue of EHP on the EHP web site.
Drs. Mark Brusseau and Jim Field will receive Technology & Research Initiative Funding (TRIF) for a research project entitled: "Screening Tools to Assess the Feasibility of Monitored Natural Attenuation for Remediation of Chlorinated-Solvent Contaminated Groundwater." The researchers have effectivly leveraged SRP funds to conduct this research. In addition, Dr. Brusseau presented a summary of the project objectives at the Arizona Water Quality Center Spring Meeting, held in Tucson, Arizona, on May 16, 2005.
Additional information for this project can be found on the University of Arizona SRP website. Dr. Thomas B. Boving, a former graduate student within the University of Arizona SRP, was recently granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor of Geosciences in the College of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. Additional information on Dr. Bovings research interests can be viewed on the University of Arizona SRP website.
Featured on the cover of the May 2005 National Geographic magazine is "Poison: 12 Toxic Tales," a collection of stories about the effects poisons have had on humans throughout history. The article begins with the story of two toxicologists in "The Poison Paradox: too much can kill, a little can cure," which chronicles the tragic accidental poisoning death of Dr. Karen Wetterhahn. Dr. Wetterhahn was the director of the SRP program at Dartmouth College in 1996 when she spilled a tiny droplet of dimethylmercury on her latex glove covered hand. The poison was volatile enough to penetrate the glove, and within three weeks she had slipped into a coma. Karen Wetterhahn died five months later. Her story is contrasted with the beneficial effects of exposure to "poisons" as in the case of Dr. Michael Gallo, of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. In February 2004, Dr. Gallo was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and his oncologist put him on a four-month intravenous diet of toxins - also known as chemotherapy. Six months and thousands of milligrams of toxic drugs later, Gallo's doctor gave him the all clear. The lymphoma is in remission. "The tale of two toxicologists ends tragically for one, happily for the other. Karen Wetterhahn lost her life to poison. Michael Gallo owes his life to it."
Also in "The Poison Paradox," Dr. Joshua Hamilton, current director of the Dartmouth College SRP, describes the difference between a poison and a drug. When asked, "Is arsenic a poison or a drug?," he replies "It's both - it depends: Are you talking to a Borgia, or are you talking to a physician?" Dr. Hamilton was making reference to the importance of dose when considering the effects of exposure to any substance. Arsenic is a well-known therapeutic agent when administered in careful doses; but has been used for centuries as a poison in higher doses.
There is an excerpt of the National Geographic article on the National Geographic website .
Dr. Michael Karin, of the University of California-San Diego, has been elected to the National Academies of Science . The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln that calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.
The National Academy of Sciences today announced the election of 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 14 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Additional information about the institution is available on the National Academies website . A full directory of members can be found on the National Academy of Sciences website.
Dr. James Farrell's (University of Arizona) SRP supported research on the electrochemical remediation of arsenic and chromium has recently received several honors. Based on this research, Dr. Farrell was asked to deliver the keynote talk entitled "Ab Initio and Force Field Modeling of Environmental Sorption Phenomena" at the Rio Grande Water Sciences Meeting. This meeting was held in Albuquerque, NM on March 5, 2005.
In addition, Dr. Farrell was asked to write a review article for the book: Engineering Applications of Zero-Valent Iron for Water and Ground Water Pollution Control. Dr. Farrell's review article is entitled: "Hexavalent Chromium Removal from Water using Zerovalent Iron Filings".
Dr. Farrell's graduate student, Dhananjay Mishra, has also received attention for his research on electrochemical remediation of arsenic and chromium. Dhananjay received an Outstanding Paper Certificate of Merit for his presentation: "Understanding Nitrate Reactions with Zerovalent Iron Media in Permeable Reactive Barriers", at the 228th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia, PA on August 24, 2004.
Jeff Burgess (University of Arizona), MD, MPH, presented the findings of his Community Based Prevention Intervention Research (CBPIR) project on arsenic to Ajo, Arizona residents at a community forum held February 16, 2005 at the Salazar-Ajo Branch Library. Approximately 45 people attended the 1:00 p.m. information session and another 20 attended the 6:00 p.m. session. The University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public Health donated a new computer to the Salazar-Ajo Branch Library. The computer contains educational software and will have information about how to test well water.
The mining/smelting town of Ajo receives exposure to arsenic by drinking the groundwater. An increased risk of developing skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and stomach cancers are associated with excess exposure to arsenic. Although arsenic levels in the Ajo groundwater meet the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, the arsenic levels will soon be higher than the new drinking water standard.
The CBPIR study was designed to examine the Ajo population prior to and after substitution of bottled water for the arsenic-laden drinking water. Forty Ajo households participated in the drinking water study. Dr. Burgess informed residents that after a year of substituting bottled water for tap water, a 21 percent drop in urinary arsenic concentrations was observed. Although this drop in urinary arsenic concentrations was statistically significant, the drop was smaller than predicted. Dr. Burgess suggested that a possible reason for the smaller than predicted drop was that Ajo residents continued to use tap water for food preparation and for making coffee and tea.
The career of Dr. Walter Weber, of the University of Michigan (Michigan State University SRP), was featured in a cover article in the November 15, 2004 issue of Environmental Science & Technology. This retrospective highlights his contributions to environmental engineering as scientist, educator and mentor. You can read the full article "Walter J. Weber, Jr.'s Unique Legacy" by Rachel Petkewich in Environmental Science & Technology A-Pages; 2004; 38(22); 434A-439A.
Dr. Sylvia Daunert was recently honored by the University of Kentucky with the Distinguished Professor Award. This award represents the university's highest professional recognition. It is bestowed on the basis of outstanding research, effective teaching and distinguished professional service.
Among other research accomplishments, Dr. Daunert has worked to produce fiber optic sensors that use bacteria genetically engineered to glow in the presence of low but dangerous levels of toxic substances. This bioluminescence was created by altering the same proteins that make fireflies and jellyfish glow. The technology has been used to detect arsenic-polluted waters in Pakistan.