Superfund Research Program
Brown SRP Database Helps Identify Areas of Toxic Waste Contamination
Researchers from the Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center designed a geospatial tool and database to map and identify areas in Rhode Island that are likely to be contaminated with toxic waste.
Modeled off research by Community Engagement Core Leader Scott Frickel, Ph.D., tracking industrial hazards in four cities, the team looked at historical data to identify areas of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) and other hazardous waste contamination in Providence, Rhode Island. PFAS can result from the use of aqueous film forming foams at airports, military installations, and firefighting training sites and also have been used in consumer products. PFAS, which are very stable and do not readily break down in the environment, have been found in several drinking water systems and have been linked to potential reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological health effects.
Frickel was joined by Brown SRP trainee Tom Marlow, who worked with collaborators to create the algorithm, and former Engineering State Agencies Liaison Jennifer Guelfo, Ph.D., who led the sampling effort and worked with Marlow to develop a risk index. A risk index refers to the criteria for labeling different areas as high or low risk for contamination. The algorithm extracts data from historical directories to map toxic waste sites.
This new tool helped the team understand how the geography of hazardous waste changes over time, where contaminants remain, and how populations have changed, leading some groups to be more highly exposed than others. Working with the Brown SRP team, the Rhode Island Department of Health used this analysis to select sites to sample and test for PFAS contamination.
Moving forward, the team plans to replicate its study in Ohio and to use its findings to inform decision making related to ecology, hydrology, and transportation.
Socioeconomic Status Contributes to Arsenic-related Diabetes Risk
A new Superfund Research Program (SRP) study showed that arsenic-exposed Chileans with lower socioeconomic status (SES) were more likely to develop diabetes than those with higher SES. According to the authors, these results suggest that low SES individuals may be more vulnerable to some of the harmful effects of arsenic exposure, such as type 2 diabetes.
The study, led by SRP trainee Stephanie Eick, a 2018 SRP KC Donnelly Externship Award winner, stems from her externship work with Craig Steinmaus, Ph.D., at the University of California (UC), Berkeley SRP Center.
During her externship, she used data collected from a cancer study in Northern Chile to evaluate links between arsenic, diabetes, and socioeconomic status. The study population gets their drinking water from municipal sources that have been monitored for arsenic for many decades, with wide ranges in concentrations during that time. Because of the comprehensive records of past arsenic water concentrations, the researchers can estimate lifetime arsenic exposure.
Both arsenic and low SES have previously been linked to type 2 diabetes, so Eick set out to evaluate whether arsenic-related diabetes risks differ between people with low and high SES. She used data from a self-reporting survey to estimate SES, which collected information such as ownership of household appliances and cars. The researchers also collected information about participants' sex, diet, weight, and other health conditions.
Eick determined that within the group with below average SES, people with the highest arsenic exposure had 2.2 times greater risk of type 2 diabetes than people with the lowest arsenic exposure. Within the above average SES group, arsenic exposure did not substantially change their risk of type 2 diabetes. According to the authors, these findings contribute to the growing body of literature suggesting that low SES is an important risk factor for environmentally-induced diseases.
SRP-Funded Small Business Gears Up to Hit the Shelves
CycloPure, Inc., a small business funded by the Superfund Research Program (SRP), has announced a major advance in their cost-effective water filtration technology called DEXSORB. Their new product, DEXSORB+, works to rapidly remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from contaminated water supplies. PFAS, which have been used in consumer products and aqueous film-forming foams at airports, military installations, and firefighting training sites, do not break down and can accumulate in the environment.
CycloPure recently announced that in addition to SRP funding, they had raised an additional $3.5 million to accelerate the commercialization of their DEXSORB products. This will allow them to make the technology available to consumers and municipal drinking water plants impacted by PFAS and other contaminants.
The company's line of DEXSORB adsorbents are based on innovative technology that converts renewable cyclodextrins, derived from corn starch, into highly-adsorbent materials capable of eliminating a variety of pollutants from drinking water. In their new DEXSORB+ product, they created a new process that enhances the binding ability of DEXSORB and found that it resulted in a seven-fold improvement in the removal of 20 short and long chain PFAS compounds, including GenX. For example, according to the company, DEXORB+ can remove more than 95% of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) even at low concentrations in only 30 minutes.
According to CycloPure Chief Executive Officer Frank Cassou, they are working to make eco-friendly DEXSORB available for home use, in portable water bottles, and for municipal drinking water treatment. They aim to launch their first DEXSORB+ product later this year.