Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

July 2016

Brown SRP addresses contamination in the Northeast

The Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) held two events May 23 to further its mission of tackling environmental health and cleanup concerns in Rhode Island. Both activities brought together community stakeholders who shared an interest in improving the health of people in the Northeast.

At one event, Sen. Jack Reed., D-R.I., and Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, met with researchers from the center to discuss ways to reduce exposures and improve health outcomes for people in Rhode Island. On the same day, Brown SRP scientists hosted a workshop for hazardous waste management officials, sharing information about polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), which are contaminants of concern in the region.

Birnbaum and Sen. Reed at Brown SRP

Reed and Birnbaum sat down with researchers from Brown SRP to discuss ways to tackle environmental health and cleanup concerns in Rhode Island. The Brown researchers, who focus on complex environmental contaminant issues in Rhode Island, emphasized the success of partnerships with academia, government, and community organizations to address issues of site contamination by complex mixtures.

Brown SRP Director Kim Boekelheide, Ph.D., kicked off the meeting with a presentation on how the program is making an impact in Rhode Island. He discussed development of tools and approaches to better understand mixed toxicant exposures and their health effects, as well as work they are doing with partners to help address contaminated sites in the state.

On an earlier visit to Brown, Reed said, “Putting people to work to reduce the negative impacts of abandoned hazardous waste sites is a smart investment to protect public health, the environment, and our economy. I am pleased that Brown’s federally funded Superfund Research Program is working through targeted research and community outreach to address health concerns and design novel techniques to reduce toxic chemicals at Superfund sites in Rhode Island.”

PFAS workshop for waste managers

The second event was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Brown SRP members held a workshop with the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA). In the last 12 months, several communities in the area have discovered PFASs in their public and private drinking water supply wells

The workshop drew 130 attendees, including staff from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regions 1 and 2, along with state and local regulators from recently impacted communities, such as Hoosick Falls, New York; Merrimack, New Hampshire; and Bennington, Vermont.

Jennifer Guelfo, Ph.D., the SRP program’s engineering liaison to state agencies, explained the uses, chemistry, and terminology associated with PFASs. She also outlined PFAS subsurface fate and transport, and discussed treatment and cleanup issues. Other presenters covered the toxicology of PFASs, as well as an overview of sampling and analysis.

State regulators then shared their experiences with PFAS contamination and lessons learned, followed by a roundtable on treatment and cleanup at contaminated sites. During a discussion session, workshop participants identified priorities for additional research in PFAS cleanup, fate, and transport.

The workshop is a first step in helping regulators in the region get the information necessary to efficiently manage PFAS contamination and minimize risks to human health. Responding to participant requests, the Brown SRP program will co-organize a series of follow-up webinars and another workshop with NEWMOA to further explore topic areas such as sampling and analysis.

(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)


Linda Birnbaum with Brown SRP Graduate students

Birnbaum, center, met with Brown SRP graduate students. The program provides interdisciplinary opportunities beyond basic research, including community outreach and communication, and field work. (Photo courtesy of Brown SRP)

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