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Extramural Update

Extramural Update: NIEHS Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Superfund Programs


This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the establishment of the two NIEHS Superfund programs, the Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP) and the Worker Education and Training Program (WETP). NIEHS plans two anniversary celebrations of the programs, which were created under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986. The first Superfund awards were made in 1987.

NIEHS will hold a meeting December 3-5 at Durham's Washington Duke Inn, titled "Superfund Basic Research Program: 20 Years of Success and a Vision for the Future." The Institute will co-host a second event April 3-4, 2008 on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.

These programs were designed to develop a better understanding of the health effects of hazardous substances, to develop better remediation strategies and to train a work force that can safely clean up hazardous waste spills or respond to emergency spills. Using different, but complementary approaches, the SBRP and WETP have worked to minimize the potential for environmental contamination to impact human health and the environment.

SBRP: For 20 years the SBRP has funded basic research that provides a solid foundation of knowledge that can be used by remediators, health professionals and political leaders to make scientifically informed decisions. SBRP-funded researchers have made significant contributions within and across multiple environmental health disciplines:

  • Multidisciplinary Research - SBRP was among the first federal programs to require multidisciplinary research that spanned the biomedical and environmental engineering fields. The collaborative efforts have led to significant discoveries about sources of arsenic exposure, impacts of benzene exposure and strategies to reduce exposures to contaminants in drinking water.
  • Arsenic - SBRP-funded researchers have made seminal discoveries about the modes of action and pathways of metabolism and detoxification; identified impacts on intellectual development of children; developed analytic methods and screened hundreds of thousands of wells in Bangladesh; and contributed to development of remediation technologies to remove arsenic from drinking water.
  • Analytic methods - Before a contaminant can be studied in the human body or in the environment, sensitive and accurate analytic methods are required. SBRP-funded researchers have developed analytic tools to detect and quantify metals, pesticides and organic compounds. They have applied these technologies to design bench and field-applicable methods.
  • Remediation - Understanding that prevention of exposure is the best strategy for minimizing the impacts of environmental contamination, the SBRP has funded the development of innovative biological, chemical, physical and nanotechnology methods that effectively remove and/or reduce the amount of hazardous wastes in sediments, soil and other environmental media.

WETP: Since its inception, the WETP has funded non-profit organizations to provide occupational safety and health education to target populations of hazardous waste workers and emergency responders. The WETP has provided science-based safety and health training for nearly 2,000,000 such workers. As a cooperating agency named in the National Response Framework's Worker Safety and Health Support Annex, the WETP can provide high quality site and disaster specific training during national emergencies.

  • World Trade Center (WTC) Terrorist Attacks - In response to the attacks, the WETP sent personnel to assist in coordinating WETP grantee activities at the WTC site, assess the safety and health status at the WTC site, evaluate the site safety and health plans, and conduct a preliminary assessment of training needs.
  • Hurricanes Katrina and Rita - In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the WETP, its awardees, and the WETP National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training developed training materials for response workers; established a field office in Baton Rouge, La; fielded teams of highly skilled trainers, and conducted safety and health training in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Nearly 30,000 responders received training because of this effort.
  • Avian Influenza - WETP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) recently sponsored a 3-day conference on protecting Avian Influenza responders attended by nearly 300 industry, labor and government representatives.

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December 2007 Cover Page

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