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Your Environment. Your Health.

Emerging Contaminants and Issues of Concern Program

Public Health Significance

Wildfires, chemical spills, and unforeseen exposures to novel toxicants are examples of emergency situations and human health concerns that arise unexpectedly, yet regularly. In such events, decision makers depend on timely access to high-quality, actionable information to protect public health. However, with an increasing number of accidental exposures, discoveries of industrial contamination, and natural disasters, the general population may be increasingly exposed to substances for which toxicological data are limited.

Effective and rapid mobilization of scientific resources in response to such situations can be challenging due to their unpredictable nature. Programs that intend to be responsive to these concerns must have capabilities, capacity, and communication with pertinent organizations that enable rapid generation of translationally relevant data for public health decision-making.

High-quality, reliable data are necessary to assess which substances have hazard potential so that measures can be taken to limit exposure and risks to the public. Engagement with affected communities and translation of data, particularly when those communities would be most exposed or most susceptible if exposed, are necessary so that actions such as intervention, remediation, and litigation will be well informed.

Program Objectives

The Emerging Contaminants and Issues of Concern (ECIC) Program objectives include the following:

  1. Address emerging issues to which the NIEHS Division of Translational Toxicology (DTT) may apply capabilities and expertise to effectively respond to public health concerns in a timely way. Projects may include:
    • Emergencies that require a rapid response when the public has been exposed to a toxicological hazard for which there are insufficient data to adequately characterize potential harm.
    • Emerging contaminants or issues of concern for which there are insufficient toxicological information available for understanding key aspects of risk to human health for contemporary environmental issues requiring a prioritized response.
  2. Use “horizon-scanning” or scoping activities to identify ECIC, especially those affecting historically marginalized and underserved populations, and develop projects to proactively address the needs of our stakeholders.
  3. Formulate and apply strategic approaches, leveraging the breadth of DTT capabilities, which allow for fit-for-purpose research responses to emerging contaminants, diseases, disasters, or other concerns. Development of response strategies is an iterative process and will include coordination and regular communication with internal and external organizational stakeholders and allow for the identification of capabilities and research gaps.

Background

Lessons learned from past DTT responses to emerging contaminants, such as the West Virginia chemical spill at Elk River, have shown that success depends on a prioritized, coordinated response with adherence to timelines. Ultimately, this program will strengthen the science base around ECICs, promote the use of DTT resources to effectively respond to environmental health emergencies, and facilitate coordination with other federal programs.

Emerging contaminant exposures or health conditions are typically highly visible issues that can be affected by outside factors, including political, legal, and societal considerations. While there are challenges in addressing time-sensitive issues of concern, there are also substantial rewards, including benefits to public health, the advancement of science, and expansion of collaborations.

Engaging with other organizations focused on emerging contaminants will help to identify ECIC and knowledge gaps that might be amenable to potential collaborations. Continued discussions on national and state levels will enhance the use of limited resources by avoiding duplication of effort, increasing productivity, and identifying and engaging communities and groups advocating for scientific solutions to critical health concerns.

Select Studies

Study Description Findings/Supporting Files
Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu) Retrospective systematic review of National Toxicology Program database to explore similarities in renal histomorphology and pathogenesis between rodent and human pathologies.
Glyphosate
  • Evaluate whether glyphosate causes genotoxicity, or damage to DNA.
  • Examine whether glyphosate induces oxidative damage.
  • Compare the effects of glyphosate on measures of genotoxicity, oxidative stress, and cell viability with the effects of glyphosate-based formulations.
Glyphosate & Glyphosate Formulations
MC-LR Evaluate the chronic low dose effects of microcystin exposure associated with drinking water. Testing Status of Microcystin LR M000056
Sulfolane Evaluate the toxicity of sulfolane, focused on effects on development, reproduction, and immune systems function. Sulfolane Reasearch Topic
Tungstate Evaluate the chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity due to potential human exposure via contaminated drinking water and assess human health implications of elevated exposures. Testing Status of Sodium Tungstate Dihydrate M030038
Synthetic Turf/Recycled Tire Crumb Rubber Conduct research to enhance understanding of the chemicals released from synthetic turf, with an emphasis on the crumb rubber and the potential for health effects. Synthetic Turf/Recycled Tire Crumb Rubber Research Topic
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