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Your Environment. Your Health.

Justification of Budget Request

Fiscal Year 2015 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 2013 ActualFY 2014 EnactedFY 2015 President's BudgetFY 2015
FY 2014

FTEs are included with the regular NIEHS appropriation.

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

Director's Overview

In 1986, through the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, Congress established two Superfund Programs at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).  The NIEHS Programs respond to a crucial need to address challenges posed by environmental contamination such as health risks, prevention and intervention strategies, emergency response efforts, and cost-effective remediation related to hazardous waste found throughout the United States.  The NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) fosters multidisciplinary research, fundamental creative discoveries, and innovative research strategies focused on solving problems related to Superfund sites.  The NIEHS Superfund Worker Training Program (WTP) provides health and safety training to hazardous waste cleanup workers and emergency responders.

The NIEHS SRP seeks innovative strategies and technologies to provide solutions to the magnitude and complexity of the nation’s hazardous waste site assessment and remediation as well as better ways to respond to national disasters.  The major objective of the NIEHS 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 emergency response.  The NIEHS SRP and WTP constitute a shared effort to improve human health and the environment through reducing or eliminating the harmful health effects from hazardous environmental exposures.  

The NIEHS SRP work informs environmental risk assessment, develops technologies that measure or improve remediation of hazardous chemicals, and provides outreach and translation activities to engage communities and other stakeholders.  From basic biomedical researchers to field engineers, it also pushes the bounds of technology by creating innovative tools to assist in cleanup of harmful waste in faster, cheaper, and more effective ways.  The NIEHS SRP funds a wide range of grants across such areas as health effects, risk assessment methodology, detection technologies, and remediation.  Program highlights below demonstrate that this research and its application lead to transformational discoveries that improve health, safeguard the environment, and promote economic growth.

NIEHS SRP grantees have been studying AhR, a key receptor involved in regulating normal homeostatis which also interacts with some environmental chemicals.  The researchers have found that AhR is involved in both early and late events during breast cancer development.  This suggests the exciting possibility that targeting this receptor might be an effective treatment for all forms of breast cancers. Patents for these novel AhR-targeted therapeutics have been filed and they have been licensed to a drug development company.

NIEHS SRP grantees joined an interdisciplinary effort to test the Eco-Machine, the only bioremediation unit in the country that uses fungi, plants, and bacteria to reduce oil and other contaminants in water.  Initial results show that the Eco-Machine reduced petroleum hydrocarbons in Rhode Island’s Blackstone River by as much as 90 percent.  

The other component of the NIEHS Superfund Programs, the NIEHS WTP, utilizes knowledge gained from NIEHS SRP research to update and tailor safety and health training so that it addresses the actual hazards faced by workers today for both Superfund site cleanup and emergency response. Their training activities save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce costs.

Every day NIEHS SRP researchers seek solutions to complex environmental hazards, while  NIEHS WTP-trained workers safely address those hazards.  NIEHS SRP science, including improved remediation techniques, has benefited many people, communities, and industries.  Similarly, NIEHS 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 FY 2015 President’s Budget request for NIEHS Superfund is $77.349 million, the same as the FY 2014 Enacted level.

Program Descriptions and Accomplishments

Superfund Research Program (SRP)

NIEHS SRP researchers identify critical public health issues and work to develop solutions, improving our health and the environment while promoting economic development. The NIEHS SRP is a network of university research projects designed to problem solve complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation's hazardous waste sites. It bridges biomedical and engineering fields to tackle environmental, public health, and scientific challenges. Its robust interdisciplinary training program provides valuable graduate and advanced training opportunities in a wide variety of subjects such as biomedical and environmental health, cleanup technologies, engineering, ecology, and geosciences.

NIEHS SRP research mitigates exposures through innovative cleanup 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. Presently, NIEHS SRP grantees work at 217 hazardous waste sites, have developed over 98 patented inventions, have contributed over 8,100 publications to peer reviewed journals, and support 1,400 professionals and more than 680 trainees involved in research. NIEHS SRP researchers are currently studying over 20 hazardous substances to understand more than 20 disease endpoints.

In one of the first human epidemiologic studies designed to address exposure to multiple chemicals, NIEHS SRP-supported research at Harvard demonstrated that lead toxicity was greatest when it occurred in the context of high exposure to manganese. These researchers also have demonstrated that urine cadmium predicts potential learning disabilities and the need for special education.

Another Superfund team, in collaboration with industry, led to the development of a biologically based method to degrade a suspected carcinogen, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). MTBE is a contaminant that can leak into groundwater from underground gas tanks at abandoned gas stations. The method resulted in a 10-fold decrease of MTBE in just two months, and eventually brought treated aquifers into compliance.

Other NIEHS SRP-funded researchers are testing new approaches for treating emerging contaminants that are difficult to remove with existing technologies, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA does not occur naturally in the environment and has been detected in industrial waste, stain resistant carpets, house dust, water, food, and some cookware. PFOA has been associated with altered immune function, adverse developmental effects, and increased risk of chronic kidney disease and liver cancer.

Superfund grantees have received international acceptance of an ovarian cell bioassay for endocrine disrupting chemicals. This recombinant cell bioassay can detect estrogenic/antiestrogenic endocrine disruptors, which may interfere with the endocrine (or hormone system) and cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. In addition to its international use, the assay has been adopted by the U.S. EPA as part of their screening program for estrogenic chemicals.

NIEHS SRP awardees are developing new technologies to make immunoassays faster, cheaper, and more sensitive. These new technologies involve collaboration with researchers and engineers using the latest technologies such as nanoparticles. For example, NIEHS SRP grantees are studying triclosan, a high-production-volume chemical used as a bactericide in personal care products and a pollutant of growing concern to human and environmental health. In response to this concern this group developed an immunoassay for triclosan that permits rapid detection so that exposures can be reduced.

To address emerging technologies, the NIEHS SRP announced a new initiative: Occupational and Safety Training Education Programs on Emerging Technologies. The intent of the program is to train the next generation of health and safety professionals in the areas of advanced and emerging technologies, persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals, alternative (green) chemistry, and other hazardous substances that pose a risk to human health.

Budget Policy:  The FY 2015 President’s Budget estimate for SRP is $49.168 million, the same as the FY 2014 Enacted level.

Program Portrait: Protecting Public Health

FY 2014 Level:$1.5 million
FY 2015 Level:$1.5 million
Change:$0.0 million

NIEHS 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 health. One theme that crosses each of these research arenas is the concept of “bioavailability,” or the portion of a contaminant that is capable of getting into living systems. Because contaminants in the environment can become tightly bound to particles in soil, sediments, and bedrock, there is a great incentive to prioritize cleanup efforts for the bioavailable portion. In many cases, it is more protective of human health to leave the non-bioavailable portion in place.

The results of NIEHS SRP research have shown improvement in risk assessment and detection as well as changes in policy that affect public health. NIEHS SRP awardees working with a state government to investigate discrepancies in the lead concentrations in soils near water towers (painted with lead-based paint that were not maintained and flaked off) found that if remediation efforts only assess and remove surface contamination then the higher concentrations residing 6 – 12 inches below surface are missed and create the potential for ongoing and significant hazardous environmental exposures.

An NIEHS SRP-funded group, Coastal Marine Mercury Ecosystem Research Collaborative (C-MERC) brought together a group of 50 scientists and stakeholders who worked together to provide information on the fate of mercury from its environmental sources to seafood consumers. Mercury, particularly its organic form (MeHg), is a global contaminant and toxicant of major concern for humans and wildlife. C-MERC stakeholders identified major environmental and health policy issues associated with MeHg, and provided scientists and decision makers with an understanding of the links between environmental processes that affect MeHg levels in aquatic ecosystems and human MeHg exposure and health risks. These links are critical to predicting how local and global changes in environmental mercury levels will ultimately influence MeHg contamination of seafood and human exposure risk.

NIEHS SPR researchers have developed devices that enhance risk assessment and detection of harmful environmental exposures. In one study, researchers have created a tool that allows for improved efficiency and accuracy of bioavailability measurements used to evaluate the effectiveness of remediation operations and predict changes in human exposure. Building on this theme, the NIEHS SRP has announced a new initiative, Biogeochemical Interactions Affecting Bioavailability for in situ Remediation of Hazardous Substances. This initiative will expand upon important bioavailability research and assessing human exposure to hazardous substances.

NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP)

The primary objective of the NIEHS WTP is to fund non-profit organizations with a demonstrated track record of providing occupational safety and health education in developing and delivering high quality training to workers who are involved in handling hazardous waste or in responding to emergency releases of hazardous materials. Since 1987, NIEHS WTP has developed a strong network of non-profit organizations that are committed to protecting workers and their communities by delivering high-quality, peer-reviewed safety and health curriculums to target populations of hazardous waste workers and emergency responders. Last year alone, NIEHS WTP awardees conducted over 8,600 courses for over 142,000 workers and since the inception of NIEHS WTP, over 2,500,000 workers have been trained.

Recently, NIEHS WTP-trained workers in Kentucky were called upon due to a chemical leak caused by an overturned tractor trailer that led to a complete shutdown on a major road, threatening nearby schools and neighborhoods. These NIEHS WTP-trained workers handled the cleanup and the situation was safely resolved for both the responders and the community.

The NIEHS WTP not only saves lives but builds livelihoods. Take the case of Steven B., a graduate of the NIEHS WTP Minority Worker Training Program in Saint Paul, Minnesota. After graduation from the NIEHS WTP program, Steven went to the State of Minnesota and established his own construction business. A short time ago, Steven was awarded several contracts in the environmental remediation industry and has been able to hire other graduates. Steven has said that he owes the NIEHS WTP a great deal of thanks for allowing him this opportunity. In his words, “Without their guidance and mentoring, I would probably still be another unemployed person. Now, I am a business owner, equipped with the tools, skills and certifications to be successful with a bright future. Now I have options.”

NIEHS WTP is an asset that employers utilize when creating jobs, both through direct, targeted training and, as indicated above, through reference to our programs. NIEHS WTP awardees are flexible. Their training is not off-the-shelf, one size fits all. Rather it is modified, indeed tailored, to the needs of the customer – for instance, the cleanup contractor whose site is a complicated mixture of chemical and physical hazards and who needs to expand his workforce and have them trained.

NIEHS WTP-trained workers also assist in hazardous waste remediation. After remediation, the land is revitalized and is available for redevelopment and reuse, which increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, and both improves and protects the environment. Overall, hazardous waste remediation is an economic and environmental achievement.

NIEHS WTP-funded trainers also assist residents, volunteers, and businesses during natural disasters by providing the latest information on best practices for the protection of volunteers, homeowners, and cleanup workers. NIEHS has developed a Mold Remediation Guidance Document, a PowerPoint presentation, and pocket guide booklets in various languages to provide key health and safety information for workers and volunteers in mucking, gutting, remediating, and rebuilding damaged housing. The educational materials address identification and control of environmental hazards that include mold, asbestos, carbon monoxide, raw sewage, and safety hazards. These NIEHS WTP materials and web-assets were utilized during the recent Colorado flood recovery efforts.

NIEHS WTP, with its links to the chemical industry, is also preparing for new cybersecurity threats to our chemical manufacturing facilities. The United Steelworkers Union, for example, is developing preparedness training for workers in these high-hazard facilities and for telecommunications workers who are called upon to restore communications during and immediately after such disasters. In addition, WTP staff work in conjunction with the National Response Team under the National Contingency Plan and coordinate activities through the Worker Safety and Health Committee under the National Response and Recovery Frameworks. Disaster response and hazardous waste training provided by NIEHS WTP grants have been used in many instances of emergency need across the U.S., including responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Midwest and New England floods, western wildfires, the Gulf oil spill, and the 2001 World Trade Center attack.

Budget Policy: The FY 2015 President’s Budget estimate for WTP is $28.181 million, the same as the FY 2014 Enacted level.  In keeping with its five year competitive award cycle, NIEHS WTP will be releasing a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) during 2014 and expects to make approximately 20 awards in July 2015.

Program Portrait: Global Harmonized System

FY 2014 Level:$0.2 million
FY 2015 Level:$0.2 million
Change:$0.0 million

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals, particularly those with international operations and trade, the past mixture of warning labels, plaques, and pictograms was a language with which no one was comfortable. Today, with participation from American business, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard is now aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This update provides a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets; it improves the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, making it safer for workers. In addition, this update will help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses. Yet for this standard to be effective, worker training is required.

As of December 1, 2013, employers covered by OSHA are required to have trained all employees on the new label elements, pictograms, and safety data sheet. For over a year, NIEHS WTP awardees have met this challenge: developing curricula and training materials, including on-line courses; conducting classes; and working with their customers and partners to successfully meet this challenge. Thus, GHS updates and materials were provided within a range of courses and reached over 34,000 workers in this year alone. The NIEHS WTP is a model that steps up to a challenge. GHS-specific training will continue to be an important part of training during the next several years.

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