- BU SRP Researchers Team Up with Other Scientists to Study Breast Cancer and the Environment
- Contaminated Water Linked to Pregnancy Complications, BU SRP Study Finds
- SRP Researchers Receive Awards at EMGS
- Brown SRP Staff Talk with Environment and Energy Leaders
- SRP Research Shines at ISEE Annual Conference
- If Cells Could Talk, What Would They Tell Us About Environmental Exposures?
- Applying SRP Tools to Detect Environmental Contaminants in California
- SRP Staff Discuss Innovation, Engagement, and Partnerships with EPA Administrators
- Elizabeth River Gets Clean-up Help from VIMS SRP
- Duke SRP Scientists Attend Furniture Flammability and Human Health Summit
- More Field Testing Funded for Water Clean-Up Research
- EPA Adds Seven Hazardous Waste Sites to Superfund's National Priorities List
- SRP Grantee Discusses Need to Regulate Triclosan and Triclocarban in New Paper
- Brown SRP Co-Hosts Risk Communication Workshop
- Dellinger Receives National Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology
- SRP Well Represented at the SOT Meeting
- Folt Delivers 2014 NIEHS Spirit Lecture Encouraging Women in Science and Leadership
- Discover the Chemicals in your Sofa with New Duke SRP Study
- Superfund Researchers Featured in Environmental Health News
- Addressing Health Risks and Regulation of 1,4-Dioxane in Massachusetts
- Using Teeth to Uncover Developmental Susceptibility to Chemical Mixtures
- Research Supported by NIEHS Informs Policy and Regulatory Discussion
- High-throughput Screening Examines Multiple Effects of 1060 Compounds on Zebrafish
- Smith Wins 2014 Alexander Hollaender Award for Environmental Exposure Research
- Study Identifies Novel Compounds More Mutagenic than Parent PAHs
- Abdo Describes Innovative 1000 Genomes Toxicity Screening Project at NIEHS
- Eighth Graders Get Real Life Science Experience with OSU SRP
- MSU Jumpstarts Community Engagement in the Michigan Tri-Cities Area
BU SRP Researchers Team Up with Other Scientists to Study Breast Cancer and the Environment
Five renowned researchers, led by Boston University Superfund Research Program (BU SRP) director David Sherr, Ph.D., are joining forces to better understand the man-made chemicals that contribute to breast cancer, according to the Boston Globe. The researchers were awarded a three-year, $5 million grant from ART beCAUSE, a breast cancer foundation, to examine whether commonly found chemicals are contributing to high nationwide rates of breast cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute , breast cancer will be the second-most-diagnosed and the third-deadliest form of cancer in 2014. According to the American Cancer Society , more than 90 percent of breast cancer cases cannot be linked to a hereditary cause.
“I think what we’re going to be doing is adding the weight of evidence that environmental chemicals contribute significantly to [breast] cancer, more than most people expect,” Sherr told The Boston Globe.
The team also includes BU SRP Bioinformatics Core co-leader Stefano Monti, Ph.D.
Sherr and Monti are collaborating with Gail Sonenshein, Ph.D., and Charlotte Kuperwasser, Ph.D., of Tufts University School of Medicine, and David C. Seldin, M.D., Ph.D., of the Boston University School of Medicine on the project.
Visit The Boston Globe for more on the collaborative research.
Contaminated Water Linked to Pregnancy Complications, BU SRP Study Finds
Prenatal exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE) in drinking water may increase the risk of stillbirth and placental abruption, a complication in pregnancy, according to a new study led by Boston University Superfund Research Program (BU SRP) researcher Ann Aschengrau, Ph.D.
The study , published in the journal Environmental Health, compared 1,091 PCE-exposed pregnancies and 1,019 unexposed pregnancies among 1,766 women in Cape Cod, MA, where water was contaminated between the late 1960s and early 1980s by the installation of vinyl-lined asbestos cement pipes. Pipes with vinyl lining, containing PCE, were installed to correct taste and odor problems found in the previous pipes. While the PCE in the lining was expected to evaporate during the pipe installation, testing in 1980 revealed large amounts of PCE in the drinking water supplied by the pipes. PCE exposure was estimated using water-distribution system modeling software. Data on pregnancy complications were self-reported by mothers.
Of the more than 2,000 pregnancies during the study period, 9 percent were complicated by pregnancy disorders associated with placental dysfunction. Pregnancies among women with high PCE exposure had 2.38 times the risk of stillbirth and 1.35 times the risk of placental abruption, compared to unexposed pregnancies. Also, the study found an elevated risk of vaginal bleeding in pregnancies where women had PCE exposure greater than or equal to the sample median.
Lead researcher Aschengrau, professor of epidemiology at the BU School of Public Health, said the study findings support a small body of prior research indicating that PCE exposure may impact placental function and fetal growth. However, further investigation of related disorders is needed, she said.
"We need to have a better understanding of the impact of this common drinking water contaminant on all aspects of pregnancy," said Aschengrau, who has led numerous prior studies on the health effects of PCE.
Researchers used data from the Cape Cod Family Health Study, a population-based retrospective study designed to examine the influence of prenatal exposure to PCE-contaminated drinking water on multiple outcomes during pregnancy and childhood. Women were considered eligible for the parent cohort if they gave birth to at least one child between 1969 and 1983 and were living in one of eight Cape Cod towns with some contaminated pipes at the time of the child's birth.
The full study is available on the Environmental Health journal website.
SRP Researchers Receive Awards at EMGS
Superfund Research Program (SRP) staff, grantees, and students were well represented and received a number of awards at the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) Annual Meeting September 13-17 in Orlando, FL. The meeting provided a broad scientific forum for basic and applied researchers to share current scientific advances and integrate knowledge on detection and characterization of DNA damage from exposures in the environment, the molecular mechanisms of DNA repair processes that respond to such damage, and the mechanisms of heritable changes that occur when damage persists. The meeting also focused on the genomic and epigenomic interaction with environmental factors and application of this knowledge to assess the risks for adverse health consequences.
"The meeting was a great way to coordinate with SRP grantees and learn more about the interesting research they are doing," said NIEHS Health Scientist Administrator Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., who attended the meeting. "It also serves as an excellent forum to catch up on the most recent research in the field related to integrating environmental, genomic, and health research."
SRP grantees received several awards at the meeting. University of California, Berkeley researcher and Center Director Martyn Smith, Ph.D., won the prestigious Alexander Hollaender Award from the EMGS for his contributions to the field of environmental toxicology. Vyom Sharma, a student at the University of North Carolina SRP Center, won a 2014 EMGS Student and New Investigator Travel Award. Oregon State University SRP postdoctoral trainee Tod Harper, Ph.D., won second place in the New Investigator Poster Presentation category for his poster on the analysis of dibenzo[def,p]chrysene DNA adduct formation in a transplacental chemoprevention model.
The EMGS mission is to foster scientific research and education on the causes and mechanistic bases of DNA damage and repair, mutagenesis, heritable effects, epigenetic alterations in genome function, and their relevance to disease and to promote the application and communication of this knowledge to genetic toxicology testing, risk assessment, and regulatory policymaking to protect human health and the environment. For more on EMGS and the Annual Meeting, visit the EMGS website .
Brown SRP Staff Talk with Environment and Energy Leaders
Faculty and staff from the Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) presented their work to policymakers, regulators, and community groups at the Fifth Annual Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day on Sept. 5. Brown SRP was invited by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who convened the annual meeting.
“We are here to talk about how our research focuses on toxicity of environmental contaminants and the technical challenges associated with them,” said James Rice, Ph.D., an engineering postdoctoral researcher. He was joined by Eric Suuberg, Sc.D., professor of engineering and SRP co-director, and Marcella Thompson, Ph.D., liaison to state agencies for environmental health, to represent Brown SRP.
Rice said one example is that they study vapor intrusion of chlorinated solvents — the movement of man-made contaminants from the water table beneath a home or a business up into the air inside. “We look at the engineering aspects, but we also look at the toxic effects of exposure.”
Presenting at Sen. Whitehouse’s annual event is valuable for the program, Rice added, because it provides a chance to network with policymakers and community stakeholders who might not be following research advances that are reported on in the academic literature. The team can both talk about what SRP does and get feedback about what research would matter to the stakeholders.
For more on the event and Brown SRP, visit the Brown University news page .
SRP Research Shines at ISEE Annual Conference
NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) researchers were well represented at the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology Conference (ISEE) August 24-28 in Seattle, WA. SRP-funded staff, students, and project leaders presented work related to epidemiology and exposure science studies from all over the world.
NIEHS SRP Program Administrator Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., gave an informative talk about environmental epidemiology and complex mixtures. She discussed key cohorts and epidemiological findings from the SRP and how they contribute to mixtures research. She also highlighted SRP tools with potential to address challenges in epidemiology and future directions of the SRP to understand the health effects of complex chemical mixtures.
SRP researchers chaired sessions and presented on a wide range of research including the health effects of water contaminants, environmental factors and birth outcomes, and novel exposure assessment approaches. Several SRP trainees also gave oral presentations, including K.C. Donnelly Externship Award Supplement winners Shoreh Farzan, Ph.D., and Andres Cardenas.
Oregon State University SRP scientist Molly Kile, Sc.D., was the co-chair of the ISEE conference and worked tirelessly to keep everything running smoothly as participants moved from one session to another. Visit the ISEE website for more information about the conference.
If Cells Could Talk, What Would They Tell Us About Environmental Exposures?
In a two-part web-based seminar, researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) and the University of California (UC) Davis Superfund Research Program (SRP) Centers described how they use cell methods to study exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment, including dioxin-like compounds and nanoparticles. UC Davis scientist Michael Denison, Ph.D., and UA scientist Scott Boitano, Ph.D., presented to an audience of more than 250, including stakeholders from state and local governments, consulting firms, academia, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other federal agencies.
Denison focused on the development, validation, and screening of the Chemically-Activated LUciferace eXpression (CALUX) cell bioassay , a tool he and his team developed to detect and measure chemicals in a variety of sources, including water and food. The CALUX assays are tailored to light up according to the amount of a certain chemical in a sample, such as dioxins, dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls, and hormonal mimics. Denison described how the approach works, how they confirmed that it is sensitive and effective, and current research to improve analysis of small sample volumes with low levels of contamination.
Boitano described his use of the xCELLigence real time cell analyzer to understand how chemicals affect the respiratory system, specifically in the airway. To more effectively evaluate changes in airway cells in response to exposure to chemicals, Boitano and his team adapted a human airway epithelial cell line for use in the xCelligence platform. Boitano said his findings allow for better understanding of the toxic effects of nanoparticles, metals, and other toxicants on airway health and disease.
The presentations were very well received and resulted in a number of questions related to the methods and how the systems can be applied to detect and study different chemicals. For additional information, and to listen to an archive of the presentations, visit the EPA Clean-Up Information website .
Applying SRP Tools to Detect Environmental Contaminants in California
A Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantee presentation has shown how biochemical tests can be shared. University of California, Davis (UC Davis) SRP project leader Shirley Gee explained how the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) can apply UC Davis immunoassay technologies to detect environmental chemicals. The presentation was part of the DTSC Environmental Chemistry Lab Seminar Series in July.
An immunoassay is a rapid and cost effective biochemical test that uses antibodies to bind to a molecule of interest, and a variety of labels are used to detect this binding. Gee leads a project with Senior Investigator and UC Davis SRP Center Director Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., to develop immunoassay tools that can monitor exposure to environmental contaminants. Over the years, Hammock and colleagues have developed more than 40 immunoassays to detect pesticides, pesticide metabolites, environmental degradation products, and other environmental contaminants.
As a result of the presentation, partners at UC Davis SRP and DTSC are working to identify studies where they can utilize immunoassay technologies to improve environmental detection as part of DTSC’s work in California.
“We are keeping in mind the opportunities where our immunoassay technologies might be useful for the needs of DTSC to measure a specific contaminant,” said Candace Bever, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Hammock’s lab and the UC Davis SRP Research Translation Core leader. “We discussed with DTSC the advantages and disadvantages of immunoassays and how the immunoassays can be used for analytical screening purposes.”
SRP Staff Discuss Innovation, Engagement, and Partnerships with EPA Administrators
Superfund Research Program (SRP) staff traveled to Washington, D.C., on July 16 to meet with Mathy Stanislaus, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), and other EPA administrators to discuss bridging the gap between SRP research and EPA cleanup programs.
In his introductory remarks, SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., stressed the importance of partnerships between the EPA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) programs such as the SRP, to better understand environmental risk, clean up environmental contaminants, and protect human health.
SRP staff highlighted the Program’s research and discussed ways for the EPA OSWER and the SRP to work together to bring innovative SRP discoveries from the bench to the field. Stanislaus was particularly interested in the transfer of SRP-funded technology to use on EPA cleanup sites, and the group discussed ways to facilitate getting innovative tools into the hands of EPA Remedial Project Managers and others who assess and clean up hazardous waste sites.
Much of the discussion focused on SRP efforts to promote community engagement and to work with partners to communicate risk effectively and improve risk assessments. Stanislaus was particularly enthusiastic about the progress that has been made in the SRP-EPA Partnerships in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP) and is looking forward to its expansion.
PTAP’s overall objective is to expand opportunities for cooperation among EPA and colleges, universities, or nonprofits with the shared goal of assessing and addressing the technical assistance needs of communities impacted by hazardous waste sites. Through PTAP, SRP grantees cooperate with EPA and voluntarily commit to assist communities with technical assistance needs.
Elizabeth River Gets Clean-up Help from VIMS SRP
Data from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Superfund Research Program (VIMS SRP) will help guide the detailed design of a remediation project for a portion of the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake, Virginia. In early June, VIMS SRP grantees met with some of the leading U.S. remediation design engineers to review field data. During the meeting, the VIMS SRP grantees led by Mike Unger, Ph.D., provided the design engineers with data from SRP research on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations in the Elizabeth River.
The VIMS SRP project is developing a sensor that measures PAH concentrations in water to predict how PAHs accumulate in oysters from contaminated sediments. During field studies, they documented PAH concentrations in sediment, water, and oysters at various sites in the Elizabeth River.
Data from the project is proving useful for evaluating the success of previous remediation efforts in the Elizabeth River, and is now being used to target specific areas for future remediation work. The researchers plan to continue discussions with the remediation designers over the next few weeks to finalize summer sampling sites that best fit their research objectives and to also provide additional data to help guide the future remediation plans.
Duke SRP Scientists Attend Furniture Flammability and Human Health Summit
Duke University Superfund Research Program (Duke SRP) grantees Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., and Eileen Thorsos attended the 2014 Furniture Flammability and Human Health Summit in Atlanta, the second such conference about flame retardants, furniture, and human safety.
The use of one flame-retardant mixture, known as PentaBDE (PBDE), was phased out in 2004, due to concerns about its tendency to build up in human tissues and lead to potential human health effects, including thyroid disruption and memory and learning problems. Many other chemicals, including mixtures such as Firemaster 550 , are currently used to meet flammability requirements, but relatively little information is available on how they affect people’s health.”
To help fill some information gaps, conference organizers brought together environmental chemists and toxicologists, flame retardant manufacturers, fire safety researchers, environmental health advocates, firefighters, flammability standards developers, and leaders from along the furniture manufacturing supply chain.
Stapleton is a researcher seeking answers. She’s conducting a variety of studies on exposure to flame retardant mixtures, which are released from furniture and other household items. (For more on Stapleton’s research, see the April Issue of the NIEHS Environmental Factor).
“There is a lot of misinformation out there about flammability standards and chemicals used in household products,” said Stapleton. “Some furniture manufacturers don’t even know what is in their foam, because the mixtures are proprietary. We are continuing to measure foam samples from household products to track human exposure and inform about health risk.”
For more about the summit, visit the Duke SRP Blog .
More Field Testing Funded for Water Clean-Up ResearchNIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantee Airlift Environmental, LLC recently received a Nebraska Economic Development award to supplement its SRP Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant. These additional funds will allow the business to expand the number of sites where it will conduct field-scale demonstrations and test its products for improving the treatment of contaminated water.
Airlift, along with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, developed two types of oxidant-paraffin cylinders, called candles, to remove chlorinated solvents and petroleum products from contaminated aquifers. The candles are about 3 feet long made with paraffin and other materials that slowly dissolve in water. The candles are lowered below the surface to reach contaminated groundwater where they slowly dissolve, releasing the materials that can capture the contaminants over time. This new technique reduces the need for expensive equipment and is specifically designed to provide a cost-effective and efficient technology to clean public water supplies that contain chlorinated solvents and petroleum products.
The first demonstration of the technology is in progress at a former Solvent Site in Grand Island, Nebraska, where groundwater is contaminated with high levels of vinyl chloride, a human carcinogen. Scientists from Airlift and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have installed six monitoring wells and are currently putting the Airlift products in the ground and collecting data to see if the products are working effectively in the field. For more on the project, visit the SRP project summary.
EPA Adds Seven Hazardous Waste Sites to Superfund's National Priorities ListThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it added seven hazardous waste sites that pose risks to people's health and the environment to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. In addition to the seven sites, EPA is also proposing to add five more sites to the list. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled, or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country.
The new sites include former oil refinery sites, former chemical manufacturer sites, and ground water plumes in Arkansas, Maine, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee.
With all NPL sites, EPA first works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting significant cleanup at the site. More information about the new and proposed sites is available in the EPA press release .
SRP Grantee Discusses Need to Regulate Triclosan and Triclocarban in New Paper
A new feature article shows how decades of widespread antimicrobial use has left consumers with no measurable benefits. Rolf Halden, Ph.D., a Superfund Research Program (SRP) individual research project grantee from Arizona State University, compiled evidence that also suggests lax regulation has caused widespread contamination of the environment, wildlife, and human populations with compounds that appear more toxic than safe, according to recent scientific research.
The article , published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, presents a timeline of scientific evidence and regulatory actions in the U.S. related to triclosan and triclocarban, and a potential path forward to judicious and sustainable uses of synthetic antimicrobials, including the design of greener and safer next-generation alternatives.
Antimicrobial soaps are very effective if used properly in health care settings. However, according to the review, in households hardly anyone uses them as originally intended. To be effective, public health officials recommend scrubbing your hands with the soap for about 20-30 seconds.
Halden explains that consumers use antimicrobial hand soap for far too short a period of time, six seconds on average. Not only does this pattern of use void any potential health benefits, he adds that it contaminates the environment and exposes humans and wildlife for a lifetime. Acute and chronic health effects of triclosan and triclocarban observed in humans and animals range from irritation to eyes and skin to developmental and reproductive toxicity.
Using state-of-the-art technology and detection methods pioneered by his lab team, Halden has examined both human health and environmental consequences of widespread use of antimicrobials. Halden and his research team have made a variety of findings, such as determining that triclosan and triclocarban are the most abundant drugs in wastewater treatment plant sludge, do not degrade easily and have persisted for more than 50 years in U.S. sediments, and contaminate lakes and rivers.
See an article featured in ScienceDaily for more on the paper and Halden’s research.
Brown SRP Co-Hosts Risk Communication Workshop
The Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) partnered with the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) to host a workshop on communicating risk to the public March 27 and 28. The audience of 150 registrants included state and EPA regulators and consultants typically involved in waste site cleanups.
At the workshop, representatives from Brown SRP and partners from other SRP centers and organizations offered their expertise on what to consider when communicating with the public and how to manage and deliver messages related to risk from hazardous substances. Brown SRP Research Translation Core (RTC) State Agencies Liaison Jim Rice, Ph.D., worked with NEWMOA Project Manager Jennifer Griffith to host the workshop.
“The council of state managers in the northeast region came to Griffith with the need for more training related to risk communication,” said Rice. “Because of our ongoing partnership with Griffith, she suggested that Brown SRP could provide expertise on this topic. That led to us working together to develop an agenda and invite speakers relevant to those involved in waste site cleanups in the northeast.”
What to Consider when Communicating Risk
Rice kicked off the talks with a presentation on the social, psychological, and economic considerations when communicating risk. He explained how different people may approach a topic in different ways and that perception of risk combines the hazard as well as the level of outrage surrounding the topic. His presentation was followed by Kim Boekelheide, Ph.D., the Brown SRP Center Director, who gave an overview of toxicology to help inform risk communication. He explained how numbers are calculated in toxicology testing and the need to communicate the uncertainty associated with toxicity tests in mice and other animals.
Laurie Rardin from the Dartmouth SRP Center talked about controlling and managing messages. When Dartmouth SRP published the paper , “Arsenic, organic foods, and brown rice syrup,” they did not expect the level of attention it received from the public and the media. She described how they handled the situation and what they could have done to keep the message clear and simple. She also explained the need to set up a two-way dialogue to build trust within a community.
Learning from Others
Brown SRP Community Engagement Core co-leader Robert Vanderslice presented challenges and lessons learned from his work at the Gorham Silver Site, a hazardous waste and vapor intrusion-impacted site in Rhode Island.
“Participants were really able to engage in discussion with Vanderslice. He got people laughing and the participants were able to connect and relate to his experiences,” said Rice. “The registrants came from six states in the northeast and don’t often get to hear from regulators in different states so they value this time to hear from others."
Partners from the Metcalf Institute and the Center for Public Environmental Oversight also gave talks on understanding today’s news media and provided practical steps for delivering a message to a community. The workshop concluded with a presentation by Boston University SRP RTC leader Madeleine Scammell, Ph.D., who discussed the planning process for risk communication and how to move forward to identify goals, assess knowledge, and develop appropriate messages.
“We got a lot of positive feedback with several people requesting that we do a second part to the workshop, or offer it again as a two-day session,” said Griffith. “Based on the feedback we received, participants felt that the speakers were very informative, clear, concise, and interesting. There were also comments that the workshop had a high degree of applicability to situations regulators encounter frequently, even daily.”
Dellinger Receives National Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology
Louisiana State University (LSU) chemist and Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center Director Barry Dellinger, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2014 American Chemical Society (ACS) Award for Creative Advances in the Environmental Science and Technology. Dellinger was honored at an awards ceremony on March 18, in conjunction with the 247th ACS National Meeting in Dallas.
Dellinger received the honor for his pioneering research on the sources, origin, and environmental chemistry of combustion-generated polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF). The award is based on nominations from fellow scientists and further vote from the ACS Nomination Committee. The award is meant to encourage creativity in research and technology, to provide a scientific basis for informed environmental decision-making, or to provide practical technologies that will reduce health risk factors.
Dellinger’s research focuses on the environmental aspects of combustion. Although combustion and industrial thermal processes are essential to everyday life, they can produce a myriad of harmful pollutants. PCDD and PCDF are particularly toxic combustion byproducts, inducing tumors and birth defects in humans.
“While the biomedical research community is hard at work understanding the health impacts of pollution, and the engineering community is developing methods for pollution control, surprisingly little is known about the mechanisms of formation of combustion-generated pollutants,” said Dellinger. “Our research places pollution prevention on a sound scientific basis, and provides a critical interface between engineering and biomedical research.”
Visit the NIEHS Environmental Factor for more on Dellinger’s work and his award.
SRP Well Represented at the SOT Meeting
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.
Folt Delivers 2014 NIEHS Spirit Lecture Encouraging Women in Science and Leadership
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 .
Discover the Chemicals in your Sofa with New Duke SRP Study
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Using Teeth to Uncover Developmental Susceptibility to Chemical Mixtures
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.
Research Supported by NIEHS Informs Policy and Regulatory Discussion
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.
High-throughput Screening Examines Multiple Effects of 1060 Compounds on Zebrafish
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.
Smith Wins 2014 Alexander Hollaender Award for Environmental Exposure Research
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.
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.
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.
Abdo Describes Innovative 1000 Genomes Toxicity Screening Project at NIEHS
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 .
Eighth Graders Get Real Life Science Experience with OSU SRP
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
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).
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.”