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Your Environment. Your Health.

Justification of Budget Request

Fiscal Year 2012 Superfund Budget

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

Budget Authority (BA)

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FY 2010 Appropriation Annualized FY 2011 CR FY 2012 Budget Request FY 2012 +/-
FY 2011
$79,212,00 $79,212,000 $81,085,000 +1,873,000

FTEs are included with the regular NIEHS appropriation.

Superfund Director's Overview

The goal of NIEHS' Superfund Program, which is tightly integrated with those of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), is to improve human health by addressing and preventing diseases and injuries associated with environmental contaminants.  The Superfund Research Program (SRP) and the Worker Training Program (WTP) exemplify the link between public health and economic health.  For example, scientifically rigorous public health research and intervention play a key role in the redevelopment of environmentally contaminated urban and rural property.  SRP provides the scientific research used by WTP and other Federal and state agencies to train hazardous waste workers, to accelerate remediation efforts, and to prevent health consequences related to toxicant exposure.  These programs have provided the safety tools and training to transform contaminated sites (such as Superfund and Brownfield sites) into new opportunities for residential, industrial and commercial ventures – which means new jobs for the surrounding community and new sources of revenue for state and local governments. 

SRP and WTP complement each other in realizing the economic benefits of focused, strong science.  SRP’s remediation technology research leads to the development of clean-up technology that surpasses the more expensive “dig and haul” or “pump and treat” approaches of the last century.  The Southern California Edison Superfund site in Visalia, California was removed from the National Priorities List thanks to remediation technology developed with SRP funding.  The Steam Enhanced Extraction (SEE) technique uses steam to remove chlorinated organic contaminants.  SEE achieved cleanup standards faster than existing “pump and treat” technologies and saved nearly $80 million. The result: the drinking water supply for Visalia’s 62,000 citizens is now protected.  In addition, SRP scientists have developed other cost-saving remediation alternatives.  For example, SRP funds research on a photocatalysis device that remediates dioxin and volatile organic compounds 40 times more cost effectively than existing techniques.

SRP and WTP programs maximize partnerships between grantees and other federal agencies as an efficient and effective means to utilize resources to prevent harmful environmental exposures. This past year, WTP partnered with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to hold the first national Hispanic safety and health conference aimed at reducing the epidemic of deaths and injuries among Spanish-speaking workers.  Similarly, WTP joined EPA in holding a national conference on environmental justice, with a strong focus on hazardous waste cleanup job training.  On the Gulf Coast, WTP staff and awardees provided oil spill response training, curricula, and training resources as part of a coordinated effort with the United States Coast Guard, EPA, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and OSHA.

SRP, in its 2010 Strategic Plan, emphasized the key role of stakeholder involvement for attaining relevant science.  Building on basic research that identified a human gene variant related to Parkinson’s Disease, an SRP grantee has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a community-based activity to assess the efficacy of this new biomarker in identifying disease risk among individuals exposed to pesticides. [i]  Having successfully partnered with EPA to test a new monitoring device in the Portland Harbor Superfund Megasite, an Oregon State University researcher teamed with numerous State and Federal Agencies along the Gulf Coast to deploy her passive sampling device to monitor movement of the Gulf Oil Spill.[ii]  An SRP small business innovative research grantee developed partnerships with EPA at the Summitville Superfund Site (Rio Grande County, Colorado) to pilot-test an innovative process that uses an electrical current to remove metal from mine waste and then convert it into useful copper ore.[iii

Through its high quality, science-based safety and health training, WTP has provided a model for the prevention of workplace injuries, deaths, and illness in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific Territories.  The WTP program ensures that this model is continuously updated based on on-going evaluation of the impact of its courses and its programs and incorporation of lessons-learned.  The model is also helping to lay a foundation for a national safety culture during disasters, for example, through a series of feedback sessions for workers involved in cleaning up the Gulf oil spill.  Focused on their actual work experiences and their relation to the training, this lessons-learned activity will have an impact throughout the federal response community.  Finally, this program continues to be forward-looking. Environmental cleanup and response is an evolving field - training needs and audiences continually change, requiring flexibility and innovation.  In September, WTP funded the University of Texas at Houston to provide an innovative program for training injured military veterans for appropriate employment in the field of environmental remediation.  This is truly meeting the needs of our returning heroes.

SRP continues to make headway in understanding the linkages between environmental exposures and our health – information that can drive both exposure prevention and therapeutic approaches to disease prevention.  For example, building on SRP-funded basic research on pesticides, University of California – Davis researchers are working to develop a therapeutic agent to prevent heart attacks that are associated with environmental contamination.  In pre-clinical studies with a mouse model, the drug showed promising results.[iv]  Another SRP study revealed the linkage between lung cancer and low to moderate levels of arsenic in drinking water among a New England population.[v]  These findings have the direct potential to benefit our health through therapeutics and are also critical to agencies responsible for setting exposure level standards. 

These are but a few highlights of NIEHS’ vital Superfund activities aimed at preventing exposures and protecting the health of our nation’s citizens.

Overall Budget Policy: The FY 2012 request for NIEHS Superfund is $81.085 million, an increase of $1.873 million, or 2.4 percent over the FY 2010 level.

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Program Descriptions and Accomplishments

Superfund Research Program (SRP)

SRP's goal is to gain a better understanding of how toxicants affect human health in order to help environmental managers and risk assessors protect the public from exposures to hazardous substances.  SRP works to accomplish its goal through research conducted at universities across the country, including research to develop cost effective approaches to detect, remove, and/or reduce the amount of toxic substances found in the environment.  In a recent cross-sectional study supported by SRP, researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health reported a link between blood serum levels of polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.  Given the prevalence of exposure to PFCs among children in the U.S. and the slow rate at which this compound is eliminated from the body, these results highlight the importance of further research in this area.[vi]  

Budget Policy: The FY 2012 budget estimate for SRP is $51.543 million, an increase of $1.191 million, or 2.4 percent over the FY 2010 level.  Resources will be used to support high priority and scientifically rigorous single and multi-project research grants, covering the diverse areas of science needed to solve complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation’s hazardous waste sites.  Support of SBIR grants for the development of innovative technologies for monitoring and remediation of hazardous substances in the environment will continue in FY 2012.

Program Portrait: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals - Reducing Risk through SRP Research

FY 2010 Level: $10.8 million

FY 2012 Level: $10.8 million

SRP has advanced our understanding of health effects, disease risk, and remediation techniques for endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs).  SRP-funded research led to the weighted potency or “Toxic Equivalency” (TEQ) approach, the first accepted method for quantifying the overall risk of mixtures of dioxin-like compounds.[vii]  SRP has investigated numerous health effects directly or indirectly attributed to EDCs, including reproductive problems, brain and behavior problems, impaired immune functions, and various cancers.  Dartmouth University researchers were the first to show arsenic interferes with hormone signaling pathways, offering an explanation for arsenic’s exposure leading to various cancers, diseases, and developmental problems.[viii]  University of Kentucky researchers discovered that PCBs are linked to obesity and cause vascular changes leading to atherosclerosis, findings that may explain cardiovascular disease incidence.[ix]  Brown University studies report PCBs potentiate pre-term births in mice by suppressing placental blood vessel growth resulting in a number of issues including preterm delivery and reduced cognitive function in offspring.[xSRP aims to prevent EDC exposures by developing strategies to clean sites contaminated with PCBs, dioxins, and other EDCs.  For example, researchers are using electric currents to stimulate PCB bioremediation in contaminated sediments from Wisconsin’s Fox River (Neenah, WI).[xi]  Other researchers have developed specialized non-toxic pellets capable of cleaning PBDEs, PAHs, and PCB-impacted sediments in sensitive wetland areas. [xii] [xiii]  In addition, SRP has funded cost-effective technologies, such as the dioxin-detector known as “CALUX,” which reduces the cost of site assessment up to 40%.[xiv]  SRP’s plant-based remediation approaches have brought a cheaper and “greener” alternative to EDC cleanups.  New SRP research is under way to understand the implications of EDC exposure and identify possible solutions.  Investments in EDC research by SRP will continue to improve our understanding of this complex issue, and the multi-disciplinary approach promises effective solutions to these problems.

Worker Training Program (WTP)

WTP is an assistance program for training workers engaged in activities related to hazardous waste removal, containment, and emergency response. Grant recipients are non-profit organizations with demonstrated access to appropriate worker populations and experience in implementing and operating worker health and safety education training programs.  Through competitively awarded cooperative agreements, WTP has supported the development of training programs throughout the country to help employers meet OSHA requirements under 29 CFR 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response. This model program also encourages innovation for training difficult-to-reach populations by addressing issues such as literacy, appropriate adult education techniques, training quality improvement, and other areas not currently addressed by the private sector.  The program enhances and complements private sector training responsibility by demonstrating new and cost-effective training techniques and materials.

The sharing of resources continues to be central to the success of the WTP mission.  Among WTP awardees the sharing of curricula, subject matter experts, and best practices avoids duplication of effort and expense.  Within NIEHS, WTP has shared its resources in developing metrics for the new Partnerships for Environmental Public Health and in providing community and labor contacts for the NIH Gulf Oil Study. 

During the past training year (August 1, 2009 – July 31, 2010), WTP awardees trained a significantly higher number of workers, an increase to 172,000 from 149,000, which represents over 1.5 million contact hours of training.  The funding to support the increase in training is attributable to ARRA supplemental funding.  The fact that so many more workers sought training may be due in part to the economic downturn that resulted in widespread layoffs and business closings which forced many workers to seek new skills and training.

The WTP Minority Worker Training Program focuses on the needs of communities with low-income neighborhoods where past industrial practices have left a legacy of environmental contamination, often called “Brownfields Communities.”  The program trains local at-risk students for well-paying careers as environmental technicians; 65% of the 531 students trained in these communities during the past year are now employed.  This model training intervention combines environmental cleanup training with construction skill training and life skills mentoring.  The placement rate is one of the highest achieved among comparable programs.

Budget Policy: The FY 2012 budget estimate for WTP is $29.542 million, an increase of $682 thousand, or 2.4 percent over the FY 2010 level.  During FY 2012, WTP will continue to support occupational safety and health training for workers who are or may be engaged in activities related to hazardous waste removal, containment or chemical emergency response.  WTP will also fund comprehensive training to disadvantaged urban youth in order to prepare them for employment in the construction and environmental cleanup fields.  WTP plans to continue its support of small businesses through its innovative SBIR e-learning for worker safety and health training program.  WTP will also continue to pursue pre-deployment strategies and development of training materials on a number of issues of key national response concern.

Program Portrait: A Network Responds

FY 2010 Level: $0.1 million

FY 2012 Level: $0.0 million

On the evening of April 20, 2010, 11 workers died in a tragic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Within days, it was clear that thousands of barrels of oil were spewing from the damaged wellhead one mile below the surface.  Immediately the NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) went to work. Through the use of its Emergency Support Activation Plan, WTP and its awardees began mobilizing their experienced national network of worker safety and health experts, trainers, and support staff to assist in the recovery of the Gulf coast.  The WTP network gained much of its experience in day-to-day work remediating hazardous waste sites and from previous responses to Hurricane Katrina, and the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, and anthrax terrorist attacks.  Through the evaluation of the lessons learned in those disasters, the WTP network developed mechanisms for getting needed safety and health resources into the field: teams of trainers and subject matter experts, printed training materials, on-line electronic learning tools, personal protective equipment and other training supplies, tailored training for reaching underserved minority workers, and even useful 'extras' such as safety awareness “podcasts,” audio training tips available through easy download to trainers in the field. Over time, a consensus developed that such training does not impede rapid response and recovery, but rather saves lives, prevents injuries, and enhances the overall response.  This past summer saw a remarkable first, as an attempt was made to provide safety training to every single worker involved in the response to the Gulf Oil spill.  WTP is proud to have assisted in this effort and will continue to build upon the new lessons from this oil spill.

The recent successful re-competition of the WTP program has expanded significantly the expertise and training capacity within the WTP awardee community in all its program areas, including hazmat disaster, hazardous waste, and minority worker training. 

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