Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., an University of Kentucky assistant professor and Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantee, was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for her project “Vapor Intrusion, Knowledge Brokers, and Environmental Health—A Three Dimensional Perspective.” The CAREER Award, one of the NSF’s highest awards, supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
Pennell, a former Brown University SRP member, credits her experience with two SRP centers in helping her achieve this major accomplishment. Her work is focusing on how to predict vapor intrusion, the transport of below-surface vapors into indoor air spaces, which is an important but often overlooked source of indoor air contamination. An SRP supplement at Brown was her first involvement with vapor intrusion, and her new NSF project will build on these early SRP experiences.
“The research I am conducting through my NSF CAREER grant will extend my previous research to investigate how natural and mechanical building ventilation systems, as well as utility infrastructure and atmospheric effects can influence inhalation exposures at vapor intrusion sites,” Pennell said.
This research project will bridge the gap between air transport modeling of above ground spaces and below-surface spaces. The research introduces a novel approach—a volatile organic chemical (VOC) vapor intrusion model—that incorporates atmospheric, indoor, and below-surface domains in an effort to address preliminary field data and field observations in the literature that has previously been unexplained. Pennell is currently collecting field data at the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman Superfund site in Mountain View, California for vapor intrusion related sewer gas exposures. She is also leading community engagement and consultation activities at a contaminated site in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
As part of the award, Pennell will also train undergraduate and graduate students as knowledge brokers to build bridges between academic researchers and key stakeholders, such as regulators, professionals, legislators and community members. Pennell and her students will organize and host a training workshop to provide professional stakeholders (e.g. regulators and practitioners) access to cutting edge research related to vapor intrusion.