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Your Environment. Your Health.

Justification of Budget Request

Fiscal Year 2014 Superfund Budget

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

Budget Authority (BA)

FY 2012 ActualFY 2013 CRFY 2014 President's BudgetFY 2014 +/-
FY 2012

FTEs are included with the regular NIEHS appropriation.

Program funds are allocated as follows: Competitive Grants/Cooperative Agreements and Other.

Director's Overview

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Program is essential in the national effort to protect human health and the environment from hazardous substances. The Program targets human health effects, assessment of risks, detection technologies, remediation approaches relevant to hazardous substances, and training workers in hazardous waste operations and emergency response. The NIEHS Superfund Program is comprised of two components – the Superfund Research Program (SRP) and the Worker Training Program (WTP).

SRP is designed to seek solutions to the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation's hazardous waste sites. The major objective of the WTP is to train workers in how best to protect themselves and their communities from exposure to hazardous materials encountered during hazardous waste operations, hazardous materials transportation, environmental restoration of contaminated facilities, and chemical emergency response.

The NIEHS Superfund Program successfully applies current science to resolve and prevent harmful health effects from environmental hazards. SRP research has resulted in improved techniques for the remediation of contaminated sites, greater knowledge concerning the fate and transport of hazardous materials in the environment, and interventions that have improved the health of those exposed. WTP utilizes knowledge gained from SRP research to update and tailor safety and health training so that it addresses the actual hazards faced by workers today. Immediately in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, WTP activated its emergency responder training resources to assure protection of response and cleanup workers. Site-specific training resources and responder pocket guides were distributed to increase safety awareness.

SRP advances the NIH mission to translate fundamental biomedical discoveries into improved public health. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) may be tiny, but these short pieces of RNA regulate important human genes which are very sensitive to environmental exposures. In a new study, researchers found disruption of miRNAs can affect neurobehavioral development in zebrafish. Other recent SRP research has found further indication of adverse health effects in newborns and infants from particulate matter (PM) exposure. Researchers exposed seven-day-old rats to a level of PM similar to that found in Fresno, CA, which resulted in biological changes not found in adult rats, including markers of cellular toxicity. Another study found that adults exposed to the solvent perchloroethylene (PCE) during gestation or early childhood exhibited poorer visual function than unexposed individuals. This study is the first to demonstrate the need for further investigation into the association between early-life PCE exposures and adult vision impairment.

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

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

Additionally, SRP programs have yielded engineering advances that have led to numerous discoveries that achieve economic benefits and create new technologies while ultimately protecting public health. SRP funded researchers have discovered:

  • A new treatment combination that delivers a one-two punch to eliminatetrichloroethylene (TCE) contamination in groundwater. For a greener approach to remediation, the method can be driven by solar power.
  • A plant-based remediation that produced a 60 percent reduction in hazardous arsenic and chromium-laden particulate matter, providing the nearby mining-impacted community with an effective and sustainable intervention technology – using native plants to reduce potential exposures to harmful substances found in mine tailings.
  • A method to stop toxic discharges at Superfund sites by removing hazardous substances, including metals that are profitable once extracted. This remediation technology creates an economic driver to promote environmental cleanups and is particularly valuable for the many abandoned mines throughout the U.S. that leak toxic acid rock drainage and previously had no economic incentive to remediate.

The success of Superfund programs relies heavily on partnerships between NIEHS Superfund-supported grantees and other federal, state, and local agencies. These partnerships maximize the use of tax dollars and provide more effective interventions. WTP has created partnerships throughout the country in the support, development, and initiation of training programs on hazardous waste operations and emergency response. For example, the Alabama Fire College collaborates with the Mississippi State Highway Patrol whose training coordinator for the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area provides insights into meeting the hazardous materials training needs of the law enforcement community. In New York, the partnership of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), a member of the WTP New England Consortium, with the Nassau County Sewer Department has resulted in significant savings in training costs, while the City of Auburn and the Village of Suffern have both seen reductions in their insurance costs after a peer-training program introduced by CSEA resulted in reduced workplace injuries. In Illinois, training by OAI, Inc. assisted the Beach Park Public Works Department, a small 11 employee agency, in resolving safety citations by the Illinois Department of Labor. Key to these partnerships is the flexibility that WTP awardees bring in designing and modifying curricula and delivery to meet the actual needs and schedules of these agencies. 

NIEHS Superfund Program grantees communicate their findings to workers and communities to intervene or prevent environmental health related disaster or disease. SRP researchers are working closely with Tribal Nations in the Pacific Northwest and have elucidated the source of high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in fish prepared according to traditional methods and have identified mechanisms to reduce the formation of these PAHs. WTP grantees in Pennsylvania are using the latest research, including nanotechology approaches, to help workers prevent hazardous substance emergencies and to protect workers and communities should such accidents occur. This research and training provides health benefits for the broader community.

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

Overall Budget Policy: The FY2014 President’s Budget request for NIEHS Superfund is $79.411 million, an increase of $0.483 million, or 0.6 percent above the FY 2012 Actual level.

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Program Descriptions and Accomplishments

Superfund Research Program (SRP)

SRP researchers identify critical public health issues and work to develop solutions, improving our health and the environment. SRP research mitigates exposures through innovative clean-up strategies; develops new biomarkers of exposure for public health interventions; identifies clues of early onset of disease due to exposure to environmental hazards; and improves our ability to predict whether a person might come in contact with a contaminant. In terms of detection technologies, SRP scientists used their novel passive sampling devices to make before-and-after comparisons of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at four sites affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Their results suggest a continued need for monitoring of residual oil and dissolved PAHs in the Gulf of Mexico. SRP-supported research and its outcomes are generalizable, addressing issues throughout the United States. For example, SRP researchers were the first to show that trichloroethylene (TCE) can be quantified in breast milk among a population of U.S. women living in an area with TCE-contaminated water. TCE, a degreasing agent, is one of the most common groundwater contaminants in the United States.

Budget Policy: The FY 2014 President’s Budget estimate for SRP is $50.479 million, a $0.307 million, or 0.6 percent increase above the FY 2012 Actual 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 2014.

Program Portrait: Arsenic

FY 2012 Level:  $12.8 million
FY 2014 Level:  $12.8 million
Change:  $0.0 million

Arsenic ranks highest on the National Priority List (NPL), indicating its frequency at Superfund sites, toxicity, and potential for human exposure. The SRP-funded studies have identified mechanisms of arsenic-induced disease, such as cancer of the skin, lung, bladder, kidney, and liver. Seminal epidemiological research revealed the astonishing long-term effects of in utero and early childhood exposure to arsenic through a study of adults who were exposed to arsenic in their drinking water as children. They found early life exposure may be related to increased risks for several types of cancer and other diseases during adulthood. Researchers also isolated genes involved in arsenic-related cancer and diabetes. Researchers used a genome-wide RNA interference screen to identify human genes that mediate cellular stress induced by arsenite, the most common form of arsenic found in groundwater. Responses to this type of stress, called endoplasmic reticulum stress, have been implicated in cancer and diabetes.

SRP research also seeks solutions. A large body of epidemiologic evidence, based on the formation of arsenic-induced skin lesions, suggests that some people are genetically less likely to develop the lesions. Putting that knowledge together with findings that folic acid nutritional supplementation also provides people with natural protection, SRP researchers found a potential intervention for lowering blood arsenic concentrations. In another example, researchers developed a new groundwater remediation approach that uses a plant-derived chemical (oxalic acid) to increase the rate arsenic is removed from aquifer solids, allowing tremendously improved efficiency for each volume of water pumped out for treatment. Based on pilot testing at the Vineland Superfund site in New Jersey, the researchers estimate a reduction of the cleanup time from 600 years to 4 years, saving taxpayers $2.4 billion. 1

SRP research has increased our understanding of the sources and severity of arsenic exposures. The investment in arsenic by SRP researchers has solidified the linkage of arsenic exposures and consumption of common foods; demonstrated adverse health effects from low levels of exposure; showed the mechanisms behind some of arsenic's health effects, including early life exposures and later life consequences; and suggested strategies for reducing exposure through intervention and remediation.


NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP)

WTP funds a national network of over 100 non-profit safety and health training organizations. Organized into 20 consortia, in FY 2012 they trained 146,000 workers who handle hazardous materials or are involved in hazardous substance emergency response. WTP provided over 9,100 courses, resulting in more than 1.4 million contact hours of training. This is approximately an eight percent increase in classes over the previous year. WTP trains workers to protect themselves while containing countless spills of hazardous materials, to rescue workers trapped in toxic environments, and to respond to natural and man-made disasters. WTP has provided trainers, curricula, and training materials, and has trained responders to hurricanes, floods in the Midwest and New England, wildfires in the West, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and numerous other sites, and the World Trade Center attack. As part of the National Response Framework, WTP has developed publically accessible training tools for responders to these disasters. These materials have had a far reaching impact. For example, radiation cleanup materials have been utilized during the Japan disaster and earthquake materials were used by responders in Haiti. WTP utilizes the results from research conducted by its sister program, SRP, and other agencies to develop safety and health training guidelines. A recent example of this is the WTP guidance for training workers on the risks of nanotechnology.  This peer-reviewed guide is one of the first to address training workers who are creating and handling nanomaterials about the hazards they may face – in laboratories, manufacturing facilities, at hazardous waste cleanup sites, and during emergency responses. Given the limits in the current understanding of nanotoxicology, workplace exposures, and success of control strategies, defining effective training is particularly problematic, but workers clearly have the potential to be exposed and need to know about the risks they face.

Budget Policy: The FY 2014 President’s Budget estimate for WTP is $28.932 million, a $0.176 million, or 0.6 percent increase above the FY 2012 Actual level. During FY 2014, 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: Jobs for Our Nation’s Veterans
February 28, 2011
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