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Your Environment. Your Health.

2014 News

April 16, 2014 New

SRP Well Represented at the SOT Meeting

Christopher Barnhart at SOT
University of California, Davis SRP trainee Christopher Barnhart (center) won an award for the Pacific Northwest section of SOT.  Barnhardt discussed his poster with SRP Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., (left) and his advisor SRP grantee Pamela Lein, Ph.D. (right) during the poster session.

(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees from all over the country gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., for the 2014 Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting. Several grantees gave talks and presented posters during the meeting March 23-27

SRP Program Administrator Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., chaired two workshops during SOT: “New Concerns and New Science Addressing Environmental Asbestos Exposures” and “Developmental Toxicity from Chemical Mixtures: Research to Application in Susceptible Populations.”

Michigan State University (MSU) SRP Center Director Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., chaired a special symposium on the first full day of the SOT meeting featuring NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. The format of the session was conversational and welcoming, with Birnbaum and Kaminski seated on stage and about 200 people in attendance. Queries ranged from predictive toxicity efforts, arsenic, and droughts, to peer review of grants and the new collaboration between NIEHS and the World Health Organization.

Jay Goodman, Ph.D. and Joe Graziano, Ph.D., were among the many SRP grantees that received awards during the meeting, including several others, from poster awards to career achievement awards. MSU SRP grantee Goodman was awarded the SOT Merit Award, which recognized his career of distinguished contributions to toxicology. Columbia University SRP Director Graziano was chosen as the recipient of the 2014 Career Achievement Award from the Metal Specialty Section of the SOT and was honored with a special reception. A paper by OSU SRP grantees was also chosen by a committee of the Risk Assessment Specialty Section of the SOT as one of the Best Papers Published in 2013.

Sloane Miller at SOT
Sloane Miller, an undergraduate with UNC SRP grantee Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., discusses her work on toxic metals with Birnbaum.
Natasha Catlin at SOT
Brown University SRP trainee Natasha Catlin, Ph.D., won two awards for her poster on mixtures.

(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

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April 16, 2014 New

Folt Delivers 2014 NIEHS Spirit Lecture Encouraging Women in Science and Leadership

Carol Folt address the audience
Folt noted how coming from a science background poised her for a leadership position. Decision making tactics acquired through the practice of science become helpful when complex problems require critical thinking and leadership.

(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS welcomed University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Chancellor Carol Folt, Ph.D., March 20 to present the 2014 Spirit Lecture in Rodbell Auditorium. Folt, formerly a Superfund Research Program (SRP)-funded researcher at Dartmouth College, described her journey from school girl to woman scientist and leader, encouraging her listeners to embrace challenge, diversity, and change in their lives.

Folt discussed how the SRP was a major factor in her development as a scientist. When the Dartmouth SRP began in 1995, Folt led a project in which she studied how metals, such as mercury and arsenic, move through aquatic environments and into the food chain, ultimately influencing the potential for human exposure to metals by eating fish.

According to Folt, the SRP helped pave the way for a new kind of leader that supports cross-disciplinary research and training and emphasizes application of science. As a female in science at a time when few women were on the faculty, she appreciated that the SRP fostered diversity and required teams to be built around trust. Being part of a new program is both challenging and extremely rewarding in terms of learning limitations, constructing teams, and overcoming challenges, said Folt.

“The future rests on big ideas,” Folt said as she introduced an impressive catalogue of heroes, role models, and Carolina Firsts, both male and female. They ranged from Dartmouth chemist Karen Wetterhahn, Ph.D., who died of accidental methyl mercury poisoning in the course of her Superfund research, to current compelling thinkers Daphne Koller  , Ph.D., Muhammed Yunus  , Ph.D., and Bill and Melinda Gates  .

Folt also touched on the importance of balancing family with work. As a mother, Folt learned that she couldn’t do it all. When forced to make choices, she was able to discern the projects at work that were most important, which helped her prioritize and become more efficient at work and at home. She encouraged women in science to ask questions and take opportunities. Folt emphasized the importance of not being afraid to like something different and, when given the opportunity, to be a part of a project, or even a field, that is just beginning.

For more on the talk, see the NIEHS Environmental Factor .

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April 16, 2014 New

Discover the Chemicals in your Sofa with New Duke SRP Study

child playing on floor wiht sofa in background

Scientists at the Duke University Superfund Research Program (Duke SRP) are testing for flame retardant chemicals in furniture and can help you find out what may be in your furniture at home. Duke SRP is asking the general public be part of a study by submitting foam samples.

Over the past 10-15 years, scientific evidence has shown that some of the flame retardants used in furniture are released and accumulate in indoor environments. People can be exposed to these chemicals through inhalation and unintentional ingestion of dust particles. The use of one flame retardant known as PentaBDE was phased out in 2004 due to concerns about the chemical’s persistence, its tendency to concentrate in human tissues, and potential human health effects.

Other chemicals are currently used to meet flammability standards, but little information is available on how people are exposed to these new flame retardants, or if there are potential health effects. Because manufacturers are not required to label products with the flame retardant applications used, consumers cannot determine without laboratory testing if flame retardants are in their products.

Data collected from this testing will help the research team understand which flame retardant chemicals are currently being used in furniture. Once they have a sense of what chemicals are being used, they will be able to investigate how people are exposed to these chemicals in the home and understand if the chemicals may impact human health.

If you are interested in sending Duke SRP a sample of your foam for analysis, please complete the sample submission  process. Visit the Duke SRP Analytical Chemistry Core website  for more information about the project.

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March 28, 2014 New

Superfund Researchers Featured in Environmental Health News

Two stories on Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees were published late February in Environmental Health News (EHN), an independent news organization that reports and distributes stories on environmental topics. The articles report on innovative SRP research related to contaminants in commonly used products, including paint pigments and tents.

Investigating PCBs in yellow pigments

paint roller wiht yellow paint on it

One EHN article  featured work on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), led by Iowa University SRP grantee Keri Hornbuckle, Ph.D. Last year, Iowa researchers reported that PCB-11, a certain form of the chemical, can disrupt cell signaling  . While there has been no evidence of fish or wildlife contamination, Iowa SRP studies suggest that people are widely exposed. Sixty percent of 85 women from East Chicago, Ind., and Columbus Junction, Iowa, had traces of PCB-11  in their blood.

All PCBs were banned in the United States in the late 1970s because they were building up in the environment and in the bodies of people and wildlife. However, certain forms of PCBs that are by-products of manufacturing are allowed as unintentional contaminants.

The EHN article describes new research that found that PCB-11, an unintentional by-product of pigment manufacturing, is also leaching out of clothing and print materials, which builds on previous findings from Hornbuckle. Iowa SRP researchers discovered inadvertent PCBs in commercial pigments  commonly used in paint but also in inks, textiles, paper, cosmetics, leather, plastics, and food.

Flame Retardants in Tents May Rub Off on Hands

camping tent

Another EHN article  features recent findings  findings from a study, led by Duke University SRP grantee Heather Stapleton and BU SRP researcher Thomas Webster, conducted at a North Carolina campground. According to the article, researchers have identified flame retardants used in manufacture of tents and found that they are likely rubbing off on campers’ hands.

Ten of 11 tents tested contained flame retardants. Four had the brominated flame retardant known as DecaBDE, making it the most commonly detected additive in the study. DecaBDE was used in some electronics and textiles. But in 2009, industry began phasing out DecaBDE because it persists in the environment, potentially causes cancer, and may impact brain function, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Three tents contained tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate, known as TDCPP, which has been used widely as a substitute for phased-out brominated flame retardants. Studies have suggested that TDCPP also may harm the developing brain and alter hormones.

To test whether the chemicals were coming off on campers’ hands, the researchers compared wipe samples from campers’ hands after they assembled their tents to wipe samples taken from the tent walls. According to the authors, the results suggest that individuals are exposed to flame retardant chemicals following contact with treated textiles and further studies are needed to better understand this route of exposure.

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March 27, 2014 New

Addressing Health Risks and Regulation of 1,4-Dioxane in Massachusetts

Boston University (BU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees Madeleine Scammell, Sc.D, and Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Ph.D. were featured as part of an update on the Eastham landfill at the Eastham Town Hall in Eastham, Mass., on Feb. 11. The update covered topics from the landfill’s opening in the 1930s to a recent discovery of 1,4-dioxane in a monitoring well that led the town to start inspecting private wells in the area. Scammell and Heiger-Bernays presented to the standing room only crowd of townspeople and town officials on the health risks and regulation of the contaminant 1,4-dioxane.

1,4-dioxane, a widely used solvent affecting groundwater supplies across the U.S., comes into water resources primarily from industrial use as a solvent stabilizer. It is also found in many common products, paints paint strippers, varnishes, detergents, shampoos, and deodorants. Chronic exposure may result in dermatitis, eczema, and liver and kidney damage.

Scammell and Heiger-Bernays were invited to present at the Landfill Community Update Forum by the Town Health Agent as part of BU SRP’s ongoing community engagement and risk communication related to the Eastham landfill. The Eastham Board of Health coordinated an extensive monitoring program when 1,4-dioxane was recently identified in private drinking wells. A major source of 1,4-dioxane is the municipal landfill, followed by potential contamination by septic systems.

Scammell and Heiger-Bernays addressed requests to understand the health risks of 1,4-dioxane and its regulation. Scammell also provided an overview of the safe drinking water act, how water standards are set, and the current guidelines for 1,4-dioxane. Heiger-Bernays, a toxicologist by training, talked about health outcomes associated with the contaminant and provided additional information on levels of risk related to 1,4-dioxane. Heiger-Bernays then fielded questions from the audience.

For more on the community forum, visit the BU SRP website  . Courtesy of the Town of Eastham, a video recording of the forum  is also available online.

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March 11, 2014

Using Teeth to Uncover Developmental Susceptibility to Chemical Mixtures

Manish Arora, Ph.D.
Arora is an assistant professor of Preventive Medicine and Dentistry, and Director of Exposure Biology, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. He is an NIEHS R00 Early Investigator grantee and former postdoctoral trainee at the Harvard University SRP Center.

(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Environmental health dentist and exposure epidemiologist Manish Arora, Ph.D., discussed his research at a recent NIEHS lecture saying that analysis of teeth can reveal exposure information. The event was hosted by William Suk, Ph.D., director of the Superfund Research Program (SRP).

“A good way to think of this research is to consider teeth as an encrypted hard drive,” said Arora. “We are trying to break down that encryption and look at different layers of information on each tooth. Some layers give us information on environmental pollutants, others on diet and I believe there are many more layers of information to uncover”

Teeth start developing prenatally and carry an imprint of daily circadian rhythm. During development of a tooth, rings are formed, much like the rings of a tree. Arora’s research team has developed methodology that combines detailed analysis of the layers of teeth corresponding to specific life stages. They can then use this information to reconstruct exposure to individual chemicals and chemical mixtures in the second and third trimesters of prenatal development, in early childhood, as well as cumulative exposure during this time period.

Samples for these early-life exposure studies can also be collected non-invasively because most children shed their baby teeth between the ages of 6-13 years.

In his work to map early-life exposure intensity and timing from children’s teeth in cohorts in Mexico and the United States, Arora is working to better understand how chemical mixtures affect children differently. Looking at more than 10 chemicals at 50 developmental time points per individual, Arora’s research team is revealing potential critical windows of susceptibility to chemical mixtures. Arora and his team are also investigating how disruptive conditions such as stress can change how chemical exposures affect the body.

Arora touched on some of his recent innovative findings related to chemical distributions in teeth, such as a May 2013 study  in the journal Nature. For more information about the study, see the June 2013 issue of the NIEHS Environmental Factor.

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March 06, 2014

Research Supported by NIEHS Informs Policy and Regulatory Discussion

Rolf Halden, Ph.D.
Halden is a professor of environmental engineering. “Public health engineering saves lives and money,” he said. “More than half of humanity’s health problems are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on environmental factors.”

(Photo courtesy of Rolf Halden)

NIEHS-funded researchers found themselves, this winter, at center stage in the national discussion concerning policy and regulatory issues related to environmental public health.

In an article   released Dec. 24, 2013, underscoring the long-term effects of environmental exposure on major public health problems, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1994-2001) pointed to three large-scale studies, two of them led by NIEHS in-house scientists and grantees. Whitman’s editorial, “Assessing the long-term costs of ignoring the environment,” appeared in NJ Spotlight, an online news service that features insights and information on issues critical to New Jersey.

A Dec. 16, 2013, New York Times feature story,  “F.D.A. questions safety of antibacterial soaps,” looked behind the scenes of the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirement that manufacturers demonstrate the safety of antimicrobial soaps, citing research by scientists supported by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP).

The story included an interview with SRP grantee Rolf Halden, Ph.D.,  director of the Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University. Along with SRP grantees Bruce Hammock, Ph.D.,  and Isaac Pessah, Ph.D.,  of the University of California, Davis, and Robert Tukey, Ph.D.,  of the University of California, San Diego, Halden is one of several NIEHS-funded scientists who have conducted interdisciplinary studies on the extent of environmental pollution by the antimicrobials triclosan and tricloban, and their potential effects on human health.

To read more about the FDA decision and SRP research, visit the NIEHS Environmental Factor website.

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February 26, 2014

High-throughput Screening Examines Multiple Effects of 1060 Compounds on Zebrafish

Each well, above, contains a zebrafish embryo. “This was an enormous study that required a multidisciplinary team composed of mechanical engineers, software engineers, toxicologists, statisticians, and informatics specialists to complete,” Tanguay said.

(Photo courtesy of Robert Tanguay)

An investigation  led by Oregon State University Superfund Research Program grantee Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., used high-throughput screening to analyze 1,060 unique compounds for 22 possible effects on zebrafish embryos.

Researchers said this is one of the largest systematic in vivo toxicological studies to date. The model system, zebrafish, can be used to test a large number of chemicals with known structures to look at a large number of biological effects, which can allow for the ability to identify groups of chemicals that may share the same mechanism of toxicity.

Those chemicals that show a response in zebrafish can then be verified and further studied using other systems, such as cell-based testing.

“Our study demonstrates that it is now possible to rapidly evaluate the bioactivity of a large number of chemicals in the whole animal,” said Tanguay. “The ability to screen more of the chemical space will help the field move closer to relevant whole animal chemical structure-response relationships for predictive toxicology.”

A comprehensive screening approach

Using their new approach, the researchers conducted developmental and neurotoxicity screening of 1,060 unique ToxCast chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Center for Computational Toxicology Toxcast program  is assessing a large number of chemicals, using a diverse set of in vitro tests, with the goal of developing cost-effective ways to prioritize the thousands of chemicals for which there is no toxicity information.

Of the 1,060 unique chemicals evaluated, 487 showed significant biological responses. The scientists continue to refine their experimental approach and to expand the number of chemicals tested. They are working with the EPA, the National Toxicology Program, and others to compare their zebrafish findings with data collected from mammalian cells and whole animal models. The results will allow them to determine the chemical classes for which the zebrafish model is predictive, and to identify the limitations of the model.

The highly automated and streamlined screening approach developed by the researchers is detailed in a paper   published in the January issue of Toxicological Sciences. Visit the NIEHS Environmental Factor website for more on the screening approach.

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February 21, 2014

Smith Wins 2014 Alexander Hollaender Award for Environmental Exposure Research

Martyn Smith, Ph.D
Smith has led the Superfund Research Program at UC Berkeley since its inception in 1987.

(Photo courtesy of Martyn Smith)

Martyn Smith, Ph.D., professor of toxicology and Director of the University of California (UC) Berkeley Superfund Research Program, was awarded the 2014 Alexander Hollaender Award by the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) for his contributions to the field of environmental toxicology. The award recognizes outstanding contributions in the application of the principles and techniques of environmental mutagenesis and genomics to the protection of human health.

“Given the mission of the EMGS and Dr. Smith’s contributions to understanding the human health risks associated with environmental exposures, it is appropriate that Dr. Smith’s contributions be recognized with the Alexander Hollaender Award,” Ofelia Olivero, Ph.D., president of EMGS, wrote in a statement.

The EMGS is a scientific society whose mission is to foster scientific research and education on the causes and basic mechanisms of DNA damage and repair, mutations to DNA, heritable effects, alterations in genome function, and their relevance to disease. The society also promotes the application and communication of this knowledge to genetic toxicology testing, risk assessment, and regulatory policy-making to protect human health and the environment.

The award will be presented to Smith during the EMGS annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, on September 16, 2014.

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February 07, 2014

Study Identifies Novel Compounds More Mutagenic than Parent PAHs

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have discovered novel breakdown products that form when specific high molecular weight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) chemically interact with nitrogen. These nitrated-PAHs (NPAHs), which were not previously known to exist, are more mutagenic than their parent PAH compounds.

Grilling Meat

NPAHs are produced by certain types of chemical reactions, such as those found in grilling meat.

(Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

Mutagens are physical or chemical agents that change the genetic material of an organism, increasing the frequency of mutations. Because many mutations cause cancer, mutagens are likely to also be carcinogens, or agents directly involved in causing cancer.

“Some of the compounds that we’ve discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation,” said Staci Simonich, Ph.D.  , professor of chemistry and toxicology in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Superfund Research Program (SRP) researcher.

According to the OSU press release  , NPAHs raise further concerns about the health impacts of heavily-polluted urban air and dietary exposure, although it has not yet been determined in what level the compounds might be present, and no health standards now exist for the compounds.

The study  , led by Simonich, was published in January in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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January 30, 2014

Abdo Describes Innovative 1000 Genomes Toxicity Screening Project at NIEHS

Photo of Nour Abdo speaking at NIEHS
Nour Abdo at NIEHS

(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) toxicology student Nour Abdo visited the NIEHS main campus in December to present her work on the largest-ever population-based in vitro cell toxicity study. The data comes from her work with the 1000 Genomes Toxicity Screening Project, a collaboration among NIEHS, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and N.C. State University.

Abdo's project includes toxicity screening of 1,086 different human cell lines exposed to 179 widely used environmental chemicals. She collected data on the changes in DNA in response to the chemicals to better understand how genetics influence toxicity across a diverse human population.

In this study, Abdo is also evaluating how useful a population-based system would be for toxicity testing. Furthermore, she is identifying those genes that may be related to chemical susceptibility.

Abdo just began her fourth year as a toxicology Ph.D. student with Ivan Rusyn, M.D., Ph.D., at UNC. Abdo, a Jordan native, received her Bachelors of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (equivalent to a D.V.M.) in Irbid, Jordan. She also received a Masters of Public Health from New Mexico State University before she began her Ph.D. at UNC.

For more information about research led by Rusyn to improve the link between exposures and adverse health effects, visit the Rusyn Laboratory of Environmental Genomics website  .

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January 27, 2014

Eighth Graders Get Real Life Science Experience with OSU SRP

students in a science lab
Students do several background activities to learn about the science needed to solve the problem. Topics include reading labels, toxicity testing, analyzing pumps, soil texture and permeability, and decision analysis.

(Photo courtesy of the Sage School)

Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) investigator Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., connected with an eighth grade class in Massachusetts to describe SRP research and explain concepts related to a problem-based environmental health science curriculum.

The OSU SRP became involved with the class through the OSU Hydroville Curriculum Project  , an NIEHS-funded project that uses real-life environmental health problems to stimulate interest in problem-solving, environmental health science, decision making, teamwork, and social responsibility. In the Hydroville Pesticide Scenario  , students work in teams to examine and clean-up a large accidental pesticide spill near a river.

In the scenario, students take on the roles of an environmental chemist, environmental toxicologist, soil scientist, and mechanical engineer. This allows students to learn about environmental careers and how different disciplines work together to solve problems.

“I was very pleased with how involved my students were in their roles. Since they were responsible for their own area of expertise, they took ownership of the skills and information that they learned,” said eighth grade science teacher Lisa Troy. “The students also enjoyed fitting their solution into the constraints of a budget, as well as considering stakeholders’ varying viewpoints.”

As part of the collaboration, Tanguay had a Skype session with the class. He described his research and answered questions directly from students. Tanguay and his research team work to better understand the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other chemicals on human development. Students learned how Tanguay is using zebrafish as a model of human response to chemicals.

Read more about OSU’s collaboration with the eighth grade classroom in . OSU SRP’s blog 

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January 17, 2014

MSU Jumpstarts Community Engagement in the Michigan Tri-Cities Area

Michigan State University (MSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Director Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., presented to the Saginaw-Tittabawassee Rivers Contamination Community Advisory Group (CAG) in November to explain the history and mission of the SRP and provide an overview of the MSU Program. The meeting, which took place in Saginaw, provided a starting point for MSU SRP’s community engagement work in the Michigan Tri-Cities area (Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City).

Because of the dioxin contamination in the Tittabbassee River, local residents are very interested in the health risks associated with exposure. The photo shows the aerial view of the river and contamination levels.

(Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality)

The CAG advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about issues related to the local Superfund site  , which includes the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River, and a portion of Saginaw Bay. Pollution at the site includes historic releases of dioxins, chemical by-products of various industrial processes, and other contamination from The Dow Chemical Co. in Midland.

The MSU SRP has a history of working to better understand how dioxin and dioxin-like compounds move through the environment, how the chemicals affect our health, and ways microbes may be used to degrade dioxins in the environment.

At the meeting, Kaminski familiarized the group with the SRP, which funds multidisciplinary research that addresses complex human and environmental health issues surrounding hazardous waste sites, and highlighted past successes of the program. He also explained results and ongoing research at MSU SRP related to dioxins and plans to engage communities in the Tri-Cities area to enhance the public's knowledge on the current state of environmental science and dioxin-associated health risks.

“The members of the CAG were all very interested in the Program and were very excited about the proposed community engagement activities,” said Kaminski. “They also provided excellent feedback to ensure that we aren’t reinventing the wheel and duplicating efforts that have already been done by groups in communities near the Superfund site.”

MSU SRP is currently developing a curriculum to explain the state of the science surrounding dioxins and provides problem solving activities for high school science classrooms. They are working with Midland High School to present the curriculum to students in the spring.

“The curriculum will provide Midland high school with the resources to teach students about the contamination along the river in their city and how to minimize exposure,” said Kaminski. “It may also provide an excellent opportunity for our SRP trainees to participate in the presentations and help improve the curriculum.”

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