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Your Environment. Your Health.

2016 News

Superfund Research Program

Table of Contents
December 20, 2016

Some Fish Quickly Adapt to Lethal Levels of Pollution

Mark Hahn in the lab

In this latest finding, Hahn, a BU SRP Center project leader, says it does not seem to be just one gene that appears to be responsible for the resistance. It is a group of genes that are all part of the same pathway.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Evolution is working under pressure to rescue some coastal fish from a lethal, human-altered environment. Now, a new study has revealed the complex genetic basis for the Atlantic killifish's remarkable resilience.

The new findings, published Dec. 9 in the journal Science, build on decades of research into the killifish's ability to survive industrial contamination. Superfund Research Program (SRP)-funded scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) collaborated on the new multi-institutional study, which was led by the University of California, Davis. WHOI biologists and study authors Mark Hahn, Ph.D., and Sibel Karchner, Ph.D., have been studying killifish resistant to contamination in New Bedford Harbor since 1995 as part of the Boston University SRP Center.

WHOI is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education. WHOI has had a longstanding collaboration with the BU SRP Center and has housed an SRP-funded research project related to the mechanisms of chemical sensitivity and resistance since 1995.

While environmental change is outpacing the rate of evolution for many other species, killifish living in four polluted East Coast estuaries turn out to be remarkably resilient. These fish have adapted to survive levels of toxic industrial pollutants that would normally kill them, tolerating concentrations up to 8,000 times higher than sensitive fish. To better understand the genetic basis for this adaptation, the research team sequenced the genomes of nearly 400 individual killifish from four non-polluted sites and from four polluted ones. Since the 1950s and 1960s, these polluted sites have been contaminated by industrial chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Genetic analysis identified hundreds of "hotspots": regions of the genome that appeared to have undergone natural selection in the pollution-resistant killifish. Several of the strongest hotspots, which appeared in all four resistant populations, included genes involved in the previously identified aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling pathway, which is involved in regulating a number of biological responses.

For more information about the study, see the WHOI News Release.

December 16, 2016

2016 Annual Meeting Celebrates Trainees

Gwen Collman and Elizabeth Martin

NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., left, announced Elizabeth Martin, right, as the 2016 Wetterhahn Award winner.

(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) Annual Meeting on December 5 in Durham, North Carolina highlighted trainee accomplishments and provided a forum for presentations and discussion in areas critical to the Program's mission to address human and environmental health challenges related to hazardous waste sites. This included exceptional research presentations by SRP trainees and a panel that explored data sharing opportunities.

2015 KC Donnelly Winners

The 2015 KC Donnelly winners discussed findings from their externships. For more information about each winner, visit the 2015 KC Donnelly Winners webpage.

(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Elizabeth Martin, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received the 2016 Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award. Martin discussed her cutting-edge research to understand the epigenetic mechanisms underlying the negative health effects associated with exposure to metals. The meeting also included talks from the seven 2015 KC Donnelly Externship Award winners, who each described his/her experiences and results from an SRP-funded externship at another SRP Center or federal/state agency.

Six graduate students also received awards for their posters during the graduate student poster session, which featured more than 80 entries.

In the environmental sciences and engineering category, the winners were:

  • 1st Place: Ruben Spitz, Brown University
  • 2nd Place: James P. Sanders, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • 3rd Place: Elisabeth Feld-Cook, Louisiana State University

In the health sciences category, the winners were:

  • 1st Place: Elana Elkin, University of Michigan
  • 2nd Place: Stephanie Kim, Boston University
  • 3rd Place: Hao Wang, University of Washington

The SRP Annual Meeting was held in conjunction with the NIEHS Environmental Health Science FEST (EHS FEST) December 6 - 8 in Durham. SRP staff and grantees also contributed significantly to the planning and presentations at EHS FEST. With more than 1,200 participants, EHS FEST brought together a diverse group of researchers, community engagement teams, trainees, and young investigators supported by NIEHS, which led to several days of excellent scientific dialogue and facilitated collaborations among grantees. SRP grantees presented their innovative research findings on a variety of topics, including the interactions between environmental toxicants and food, interventions and technology-based solutions to reduce environmental exposures, chemical exposure-induced host susceptibility, and the impact of chemical mixtures on the environment and health. Several SRP grantees also demonstrated their groundbreaking sensors and data analysis tools in a sensors and technology fair.

December 15, 2016

Toxicologists Share Novel Insights at NCSOT

Danielle Carlin

SRP Health Scientist Administrator Carlin was among colleagues and friends as she led the meeting.

(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The annual meeting of the North Carolina Chapter of the Society of Toxicology (NCSOT) explored how innovations in the stem cell and epigenetics fields could be applied to toxicological research. The Oct. 25 meeting, hosted by NCSOT at NIEHS, featured a career panel for trainees, four plenary speakers, a networking lunch, and posters and presentations by trainees. About 135 attendees packed the auditorium for the fast-paced event.

NCSOT currently enjoys strong leadership from NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) scientists, as well as scientists from other North Carolina research organizations. The president, Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., is a Superfund Research Program (SRP) health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.

"NCSOT is a great way for toxicologists, both professionals and trainees, from different regions of North Carolina to get together every year to discuss cutting-edge toxicological research," Carlin said. "It also benefits those researchers that may not be able to make it to the national Society of Toxicology meeting."

Visit the NIEHS Environmental Factor article to read more about the meeting.

November 30, 2016

Grantees AxNano and NC A&T Host Kickoff Meeting with NIEHS

AxNano and NC A&T Kickoff Meeting Participants

Collaborators at AxNano and NC A&T discussed the scope of their work and commercialization efforts for their innovative remediation technology with SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. Pictured left to right: Stephanie Luster-Teasley, Alexis Carpenter, Nafisa Sirelkhatim, Heather Henry, Colm Humphreys, and Charlie Gause.

(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

On November 9, NIEHS Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grantee AxNano, LLC and collaborators at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) gathered with NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) staff in Greensboro for a program Kickoff Meeting. Meeting attendees discussed the program's scope of work and their recent remediation technology commercialization efforts. They also took a tour of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, a collaborative project of NC A&T and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Two members of the AxNano team are former Duke SRP trainees. Grant Principal Investigator Alexis Carpenter, Ph.D., trained under Mark Wiesner, Ph.D., and Colm Humphreys, Ph.D., trained under Richard Di Giulio, Ph.D. The AxNano team, in partnership with investigators at NC A&T, was awarded a Phase I STTR grant earlier this fall to develop and commercialize a slow release technology for remediating contaminated water while improving safety and efficacy.

Their proprietary platform technology, called controlled release polymer structure (CRPS), improves an existing advanced remediation technology called In Situ Chemical Oxidation (ISCO). While ISCO is incredibly promising for groundwater pollution remediation, the current methods used are time- and resource-intensive, do not work well under all conditions, and potentially place workers at risk because of the use of strong oxidizers in the process. Unlike current liquid and gaseous ISCO methods, the new CRPS technology uses a solid phase material to limit the risk of exposure to workers and is designed to treat specific contaminated zones under a variety of natural conditions.

Once CRPS technology for ISCO remediation has been optimized, AxNano and their collaborators at NC A&T plan to evaluate the system's performance, determine scale-up design, and transition the technology into a commercial product.

November 30, 2016

Brown SRP Center Hosts Seminar to Bridge Gap Between Science, Arts, Humanities, and the Public

Challenges and opportunities for communicating scientific ideas in K-12 education

Participants at the seminar discussed challenges and opportunities for communicating scientific ideas to high school students, as well as communicating between academic disciplines and with the public. "STEAM" represents Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Mathematics.

(Photo courtesy of Shelby Wilson)

Researchers and staff at the Brown University Superfund Research Program (Brown SRP) Center hosted an informal tour and seminar that was attended by local artists, high school teachers, and community activists from the Providence, Rhode Island area. Held on October 12, the seminar gave participants an opportunity to observe, in some cases for the very first time, the inner workings and culture of a toxicology laboratory.

The event was largely orchestrated by local artist and activist Holly Ewald and Lab Technician Shelby Wilson from the laboratory of Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D. The collaboration was facilitated by the Brown SRP Center's Community Engagement Core State Agency Liaison Christina Ergas, Ph.D., to fulfill the aim of enhancing long-term, mutually beneficial, bi-directional communication. One of the goals of this exercise was to enable the Center's scientists to understand better the social context of their research and for community members and youth to understand the relevance of Brown SRP Center research findings to their local environment.

The seminar included background information on the Mashapaug Pond Superfund site and Brown SRP's work there, as well as presentations by two of the lab members. Participants had a chance to talk and ask questions about specific research topics, model systems used in the lab, and how lab findings related to Mashapaug Pond. The group discovered the challenges of translating scientific information to individuals in different academic disciplines and to the public.

Moving forward, Wilson hopes to use a hands-on art project wherein participants can interpret science artistically. She also noted that one of the ways scientists can begin to bridge the communication gap is by stepping out of the lab and becoming actively involved in community projects. Both of these strategies should prove useful in promoting two-way communication and building stronger interdisciplinary relationships in the community.

October 21, 2016

Alumni Duke SRP Trainees Present at ITEHP Career Symposium

Speakers at the ITEHP Career Symposium
Former Duke SRP trainees Alicia Timme-Laragy, Ph.D., (presenting in the top photo) and Elena Craft, Ph.D., (presenting in the bottom photo) at the ITEHP Career Symposium. Also pictured at top: Ashley Parks, Ph.D., (left) and David Volz, Ph.D., (right); at bottom, from left to right: Yuxia Cui, Ph.D., Tom Augspurger, Ph.D., and Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D.

On September 30, Duke University alumni, including former Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center trainees, presented at the Duke University Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program (ITEHP) Career Symposium. The event included several informal networking sessions and featured 11 alumni presentations.

Two of the presenting ITEHP alumni, Alicia Timme-Laragy, Ph.D., and Elena Craft, Ph.D., are former Duke SRP trainees and recipients of the NIEHS-supported Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award, which recognizes one outstanding SRP trainee each year. Both discussed their career paths and presented thoughtful, career-focused talks. Craft is currently a senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin, Texas, and Timme-Laragy is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The symposium, which drew 75 attendees, kicked off with four Career Affinity Group meetings, giving current students the opportunity to meet with alumni working in industry, academia, non-profits, and government.

October 20, 2016

UA SRP Researcher Visits ATSDR

Eric Betterton

Eric Betterton, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Director of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Arizona.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona)

Eric Betterton, Ph.D., a project leader at the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) Center, traveled to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in Atlanta to provide information about his research and to foster collaborations between UA SRP and ATSDR. During a seminar on September 22, Betterton discussed his work developing tools to predict contaminant transport by dust and aerosols from mining operations.

The talk, organized by Olivia Harris in the ATSDR Office of Science, encouraged ATSDR staff to explore how Betterton's research related to their work and provided ample opportunity for questions and discussion. ATSDR staff members also were given the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Betterton to brainstorm mutual interests and to consult with him for technical advice.

Betterton, who studies emissions from both the Iron King Mine / Dewey Humboldt Superfund site and the ASARCO Hayden Smelter site, focused his discussion on his UA SRP Center project to develop models to predict airborne particulate matter, arsenic, and lead concentrations downwind of the contaminated mining sites. Contaminants in airborne dust and aerosols can be transported rapidly and over relatively long distances compared to contaminants transported via water. Mining operations are potential sources of airborne metal and metalloid contaminants through direct smelter emissions as well as wind erosion of mine tailings and other deposits. Betterton's research is providing quantitative information about dust and aerosol emissions from contaminated mining sites at a local scale, incorporating local conditions associated with dust and aerosol transport and local weather forecasting.

October 18, 2016

Boston University SRP Grantees Present at LINCS Consortium Meeting

Ami Li and her poster

Ami Li stands by her poster at the 2016 LINCS Consortium meeting.

(Photo courtesy of the BU SRP)

In September, Boston University (BU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees attended and presented at the Library of Network-Based Cellular Signatures (LINCS) Consortium meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. The BU SRP receives funding through a LINCS supplement and aims to bring more knowledge from NIEHS and grantees into LINCS to continue to build on the consortium's work.

LINCS aims to create a network-based understanding of biology by creating a publicly available catalogue of changes in gene expression and other cellular processes that occur when cells are exposed to a variety of perturbing agents.

BU SRP Center Director David Sherr, Ph.D., and Core Co-Leader Stephano Monti, Ph.D., participated in the meeting. SRP graduate student Amy Li also presented a poster describing their collaborative work with the Connectivity Map (CMAP) team at the Broad Institute.

BU SRP also received supplemental SRP funding for its work to develop a cost-effective genomic analysis platform to predict the carcinogenicity and toxicity of environmental chemicals. The supplement supports a collaboration between BU SRP's Monti and Sherr, NIEHS molecular toxicologist Scott Auerbach, Ph.D., and the CMAP team led by Aravind Subramanian, Ph.D.

The BU SRP poster, "Generation and analysis of transcriptomic gene signatures and carcinogen-associated pathways in liver carcinogenesis," drew substantial interest from meeting attendees. The work undertaken by BU SRP and CMAP provides insight into the molecular mechanisms of action of Superfund chemicals. The computational models developed through this collaboration also will be incorporated into the LINCS Data Portal, making the results immediately accessible to SRP members, NIEHS scientists, and the research community.

September 29, 2016

UA SRP Grantee Receives NSF Grant to Initiate Citizen Science Project

Monica Ramirez-Andreotta

Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona.

(Photo courtesy of the UA SRP)

Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, Ph.D., was recently awarded more than two million dollars by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance informal environmental health learning through a citizen science program. As the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) Center Research Translation Core leader, Ramirez-Andreotta works to provide evidence-based information on arsenic, mining, and other potential hazards in the Southwest U.S. and their impacts on human health and the environment.

With the NSF grant, Ramirez-Andreotta and co-investigators will build a citizen science program coupled with a peer education model to increase environmental science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) literacy. The project targets historically underrepresented populations who are likely to be disproportionately impacted by climate change, water scarcity, and food insecurity.

Using gardens irrigated by harvested rainwater as hubs for environmental health education efforts, the team will conduct research that advances our understanding of how public participation in scientific research can increase environmental health literacy and the evidence base for how to broaden participation in STEM learning in informal environments. The project also will facilitate the co-generation of a robust dataset that will not only inform guidelines and recommendations for harvested rainwater use but also will build capacity in underserved communities and inform the safe and sustainable production of food sources.

In previous UA SRP work, Ramirez-Andreotta initiated Gardenroots, a project to determine whether home garden vegetables grown in a town near the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund site had elevated levels of arsenic and other contaminants. By building co-created public participation in a scientific research program, this project also looked to educate, build human capacity, and increase community networking regarding resource-related issues. Ramirez-Andreotta was also the recipient of the 14th annual SRP Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award in 2011.

September 14, 2016

Lili He Recognized as Member of the 2016 Talented 12 by the American Chemical Society

Lili He, Ph.D.
Lili He, Ph.D., professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and collaborator on a Superfund Research Program (SRP) small business project, was selected as one of the top young chemists in the nation by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The feature in the latest issue of Chemical and Engineering News, highlights skilled young scientists that the ACS considers rising stars in chemistry. Lili He worked with Wayne Weimer, Ph.D., of Agiltron, Inc. as part of an SRP small business grant to develop a portable detector for trace-level polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on Superfund sites. She is also developing similar detection methods to measure and monitor dangerous bacteria and unwanted nanomaterials in food.

Since starting her own lab, she has also pioneered a technique for studying the depth at which pesticides can penetrate spinach leaves. Regulators worry that washing the leaves might not be enough to get rid of pesticides, potentially exposing consumers to harmful levels of the chemicals.

Visit the Lili He’s webpage as part of the Talented 12 story to learn more about her and her research.

September 07, 2016

UCSD Professor and Nobel Prize Winner Roger Tsien Dies

Roger Tsien

Roger Tsien, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and founding member of the UCSD Superfund Research Program Center since 2000, died on August 24 in Oregon. He was 64.

"Roger's vision was vast and yet incredibly precise," David Brenner, vice chancellor at UCSD Health Sciences and dean of the UCSD School of Medicine, said in a statement. "He saw both the big picture, but also the incredible need to see and understand — in glorious color — all of the infinitesimal details that make it up, that make up life."

Tsien is best known for his work on green fluorescent protein (GFP) for which he earned a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008. With Osamu Shimomura, Ph.D., an emeritus professor at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Martin Chalfie, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences at Columbia University, Tsien helped scientists peer within living cells and organisms as never before, earning not just the 2008 Nobel Prize but scores of subsequent awards and accolades.

Shimomura identified the crucial jellyfish protein and revealed that it glowed bright green under ultraviolet light. Chalfie showed how it could be used as a biological marker. Combining his deep skills in chemistry and biology, Tsien found ways to make GFP glow more brightly and consistently; he then created a full palette of fluorescent proteins that scientists could use to track different cellular processes at the same time.

GFPs have become a fundamental fixture in life sciences labs around the world, allowing researchers to look into cells or whole animals, to watch molecules interact in real time, and to ask questions once thought impossible.

"He was ahead of us all," said Tsien's wife, Wendy. "He was ever the adventurer, the pathfinder, the free and soaring spirit. Courage, determination, creativity, and resourcefulness were hallmarks of his character. He accomplished much. He will not be forgotten."

Visit the full UCSD press release for more about Tsien's life and work.

August 18, 2016

NIEHS Anniversary Event Highlights SRP History and Research

Timeline posted on a wall

A timeline of NIEHS, WTP, and SRP history at the meeting shows milestones over the last 50 years.

(Photo courtesy of the BU SRP Center)

NIEHS staff, grantees, and partners gathered in Boston July 18 - 20 to celebrate 50 years of NIEHS and three decades of the Superfund Research Program (SRP), directed by William Suk, Ph.D., and the Worker Training Program (WTP), directed by Joseph "Chip" Hughes, Jr. More than 150 people attended the NIEHS conference, which was co-hosted by the Boston University (BU) SRP Center and the New England Consortium - Civil Service Employees Association (TNEC-CSEA).

Presenters discussed the origins of the SRP and WTP and how the programs linked research with translation into practical applications. Current NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and former NIEHS director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., both spoke during the meeting, reflecting on the history of the SRP and WTP. Birnbaum welcomed the group and noted how both programs work to protect health from toxicants and toxic chemicals.

SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., gave opening remarks and moderated a panel of grantees, including David Christiani, M.D., and Robert Hurt, Ph.D., who shared SRP history through their perspectives and experience. Christiani, from Harvard University, led a 35-year longitudinal study of respiratory disease in cotton-textile workers in Shanghai, China. He had early interactions with SRP during the early 1990s and conducted research on genetic susceptibility to occupational exposures.

Michael Petriello and Linda Birnbaum

University of Kentucky SRP Center trainee Michael Petriello, Ph.D., (left) also attended the meeting and presented a poster related to exposure of dioxin-like pollutants. At the poster session, he discusses his work with Birnbaum (right).

(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Hurt, from the Brown University SRP Center, said that they used the mandated SRP research translation core to initiate conversations and professional workshops leading to the recognition of vapor intrusion as a pathway of contamination. The Brown SRP Center has also recently taken on a coordinating role to better understand poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in response to stakeholder needs. In the last 12 months, several communities in the Northeast have discovered PFASs in their public and private drinking water supply wells. In response to concerns about the chemical, the Brown SRP Center recently held a workshop on PFASs with the New England Waste Management Officials' Association. PFASs are also present in firefighting foam, an area of interest for WTP, which wants to ensure that firefighters are not being exposed to additional hazards.

Other NIEHS grantees highlighted the SRP's emphasis on integrating multidisciplinary research with community engagement and real-world solutions. BU SRP Deputy Director David Ozonoff, M.D., described how the SRP filled a need for crucial research with a meaningful community focus. Northeastern SRP Center researcher David Kaeli, Ph.D., discussed the use of big data and encouraged the workshop participants to think about how information produced from research can be managed so it is easily shared with communities.

People listening to speakers

Attendees hear from GreenRoots on the banks of Chelsea Creek.

(Photo courtesy of BU SRP)

The workshop kicked off with a tour of Chelsea, Massachusetts, where the BU SRP Center is working to raise awareness of environmental and public health research and concerns and to support residents in efforts to achieve cleaner and healthier environments. As part of the community tour, attendees heard from GreenRoots, a local grassroots environmental justice organization, and saw first-hand the disproportionate environmental threats facing the city. BU SRP Community Engagement Core leader Madeleine Scammell, Sc.D., served as the local host for the tour as well as the meeting itself, where she welcomed participants and shared her experience with the SRP program, as both a former trainee and a current investigator.

A recent NIEHS Environmental Factor article highlights additional information about the meeting.

August 16, 2016

Bioavailability Fact Sheet Now Available

Bioavailability Fact Sheet

An educational fact sheet on bioavailability of arsenic and lead in soils at Superfund sites is available for use, thanks to a partnership between the University of Arizona (UA) and the University of North Carolina (UNC) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Centers. The fact sheet provides information on how arsenic and lead present in soil can pose a risk to health, how risk is addressed at Superfund sites, and how to take simple steps to reduce exposure to arsenic and lead from soil and dust.

In 2015, the UA and UNC SRP Centers were invited to participate in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Partners in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP) to develop innovative educational materials on the bioavailability of arsenic and lead in soils at Superfund sites. PTAP expands opportunities for cooperation between EPA and colleges and universities, with the shared goal of assessing and addressing the unmet technical assistance needs of impacted communities near Superfund sites. In this project, the UA and UNC SRP Centers were recruited to help explain the concept of bioavailability in soil and dust to communities near contaminated Superfund sites.

Bioavailability refers to how much of a contaminant is absorbed into the body following contact with contaminated soil. Not all of the arsenic and/or lead present in the soil is bioavailable, or in a form that will be absorbed into the body. A contaminant must be able to move into the body (exposure) and then be absorbed inside the body to have an effect on health.

Working collaboratively, the two SRP Centers developed a fact sheet, slide set, and hands-on activity designed to help residents of impacted communities understand the concept of bioavailability and how the bioavailable concentration of a contaminant can influence cleanup levels at hazardous waste sites. The Bioavailability Fact Sheet, which is now available for use, explains the concept of bioavailability and how contaminated soil often contains different forms of arsenic and lead that pose different risks to health. The fact sheet also provides simple ways to reduce potential exposure, such as washing hands after handling soil and taking shoes off at the door

August 03, 2016

PROTECT Expands to Investigate Zika in Infants and Pregnancy

Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT)

When the first case of Zika virus was confirmed on the island of Puerto Rico in January 2016, the Northeastern University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center team was uniquely situated to investigate the reproductive outcomes of Zika infection with its existing cohort of pregnant women and infants. Thanks to recent supplemental NIEHS funding, the Northeastern SRP Center, Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), is hitting the ground running to establish the first site of the multi-country Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP) study.

Through the Puerto Rico study site, the PROTECT team will be the first to collect samples and to begin assessing the risk of birth defects and neurodevelopmental disorders among infants of infected mothers. Results from the Puerto Rico site, along with those from other countries as the study expands, will help inform strategies to protect pregnant women and their children from the impacts of Zika virus. The overall goal of the ZIP study is to enroll 10,000 women over the age of 15 in places where the Zika virus is prevalent, such as Brazil, Columbia, and countries in Central America. This large prospective study, which will include women in their first trimesters of pregnancy and follow them through at least one year after childbirth, will provide valuable data and insight into the Zika virus epidemic.

Zika virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and through sexual contact, and it can pass from a mother to her developing child. Zika infection among babies of infected mothers has been connected to microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small heads and often accompanied by severe developmental delays and disabilities. The full range of Zika's possible health effects is not yet known. Currently the virus is being transmitted in 60 countries and territories, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Puerto Rico has 1,800 confirmed cases.

In 2010, PROTECT established its research cohort to assess the relationship between environmental exposure to hazardous waste contamination and Puerto Rico's disproportionately high rate of preterm birth. Preterm birth (defined as occurring before 37 weeks of gestation) is a major health problem in the United States resulting in high rates of infant and maternal morbidity and mortality, as well as significant related healthcare costs. In addition to its research on preterm birth and Zika virus, the team also is reaching out to study participants, healthcare professionals, and local communities to provide education and support to help minimize the risk of Zika exposure to pregnant women. For more information on their outreach efforts, see a recent SRP news story.

June 27, 2016

SRP Small Businesses Featured at International Biotech Convention

At the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention June 6 - 9 in San Francisco, two Superfund Research Program (SRP) small businesses, OndaVia, Inc. and Picoyune, were among the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grantees selected to exhibit in the BIO Innovation Zone. OndaVia was also one of the first NIEHS small business grantees chosen to give a presentation during the meeting. Each year, the convention attracts about 15,000 biotech leaders from 65 countries, covering a wide spectrum of life science innovations.

Jay James, Merwan Bernhabib, and Jeffrey Crosby

Picoyune project leaders Jay James, Ph.D., (left) and Jeffrey Crosby, Ph.D., (right) with OndaVia representative Merwan Bernhabib, Ph.D., (center) in the BIO Innovation Zone.

(Photo courtesy of Jay James)

The BIO Innovation Zone was an exhibit space dedicated to showcasing NIH and National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grantees, with a primary focus on biomedical technologies. SRP SBIR grantees OndaVia and Picoyune both had booths in the exhibit space.

OndaVia provides analytical instrumentation for rapid, on-site, laboratory-grade testing of aqueous samples. Its Raman-spectroscopy-based approach can measure nearly any contaminant down to part-per-billion levels. Its current catalog of tests includes kits for arsenic, amines, triazine, lead, and selenium. Its SRP-funded research focuses on developing methods for fast, quantitative analysis of the industrial solvent trichloroethylene in water.

Picoyune is developing a powerful and portable mercury analyzer by combining a nanoparticle-based detector with a thermal sample introduction system. They hope to replace current complex equipment with a nanoparticle-based plasmonic mercury sensing system that is inexpensive, ultra-sensitive, and ideal for portable applications.

"NIH strongly believes in supporting innovative life science technology development through the SBIR program. The SBIR companies showcased in this year's Innovation Zone highlight some of the most promising technologies in our portfolio that we hope will achieve commercial success and significantly advance and improve human health," said Matthew Portnoy, Ph.D., the NIH SBIR program coordinator. The SBIR program provides U.S. federal funding to small businesses engaged in research and development with the potential for commercialization

June 15, 2016

Suk Joins Team of Environmental Health Leaders to Address Pollution

Global Commission on Pollution, Health, and Development

The Commission seeks to provide actionable solutions to policy-makers to control pollution and distribute their findings widely to the public.
(Photo courtesy of the Global Commission website)

SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., is providing scientific leadership as a member of the Global Commission on Pollution, Health, and Development. The aim of the Commission is to reduce air, soil, and water pollution by communicating the extraordinary health and economic costs of pollution globally, providing actionable solutions to policy-makers, and dispelling the myth of pollution’s inevitability. It is comprised of many of the world’s most influential leaders, researchers, and practitioners in the fields of pollution management, environmental health, and sustainable development.

The Global Commission is addressing the full health and economic costs of air, water, and soil pollution. Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Commission’s goal is to reveal pollution’s severe and underreported contribution to the global burden of disease and uncover the economic costs of pollution to low- and middle-income countries. They will also inform key decision makers around the world about the burden that pollution places on health and economic development, and about available pollution control solutions and strategies.

In October 2015, the Commission was announced in an editorial in The Lancet. The Commission members, including Suk, are currently working together to develop a report analyzing and communicating the massive scope of the health and economic costs of air, water, and soil pollution.

The Commission is an initiative of The Lancet, the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with coordination from the United Nations Environmental Program and the World Bank. For more information about the Commission as well as a list of commissioners and other resources, visit the Global Commission website.

June 07, 2016

UA SRP Talks Mining Reclamation on Capitol Hill

Speakers at the STEM session

Maier (right) with Leigh Freeman of Leigh Freeman consulting, another expert speaker at the STEM session.
(Photo courtesy of UA SRP Center)

Raina Maier, Ph.D., University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) director, was invited to speak at the Science, Technology, Education, and Math (STEM) session of the 2016 Capitol Hill Policy Briefing Series. This series consisted of meetings organized and moderated by graduate fellows in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

The session focused on creating an emerging and diverse workforce to reclaim abandoned mine lands and increasing Hispanic participation in the environmental sciences and geosciences. Maier talked specifically about the ties between legacy mining and the Southwestern U.S., providing the 2015 Gold King Mine spill of Colorado as an example of the pressing need to manage legacy mining sites. Maier also noted that the three million gallons of acid mine drainage released from the Gold King Mine is dwarfed by other legacy sites known to be contributing five million gallons per day of acid mine drainage into the waterways of the Western U.S.

Maier also urged that funding be made available to train a diverse workforce to build the capacity to address all relevant aspects of the U.S. mining legacy. She also emphasized the need for long-term research at legacy sites to determine the lasting effectiveness of mine land reclamation approaches.

Researchers from the UA SRP Center also recently provided expert testimony at a congressional hearing on the Gold King Mine Spill. For more information on the event on Capitol Hill, see the UA SRP Center website.

June 01, 2016

SRP and EPA Collaborate to Highlight Technical Support for Communities

SRP Session Presenters

Session presenters discussed how they provided technical support to communities faced with an urgent need for coordinated assistance to assess and address issues of chemical and other environmental contamination. Presenters included (from left): Kaiser, Kravitz, Pennell, McKernan, Dodmane, and Henry.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) has a strong history of sharing research findings with communities impacted by hazardous waste sites and providing scientific expertise in response to their questions. Heather Henry, Ph.D., from the SRP and J. Phillip Kaiser, Ph.D., from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized an interactive session at the annual Toxicology and Risk Assessment Conference (TRAC) to highlight successful academic and federal activities to address community concerns. Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., from the University of Kentucky SRP Center participated with EPA presenters Marian Olsen, Dr.P.H., Puttappa Dodmane, Ph.D., John McKernan, Sc.D., and Mike Kravitz. Each presented a case study showing how technical support can help communities understand and accept risk assessments. Pennell also discussed a collaborative project with the Boston University SRP Center to characterize vapor intrusion pathways in a neighborhood located near a contaminated groundwater plume by comparing modeled predictions and field observations.

Approximately 70 people attended the session with diverse expertise ranging from academic research, state government public health programs, and federal agencies with interests in environmental public health. Each presentation led to engaging interactions with the audience members. Many of them shared their own experiences working on sites with challenging risk assessment situations, and how they utilized technical support centers to overcome those difficulties.

TRAC provides attendees with an overview of current research, methodologic, and practice issues that are the focus of toxicology and risk assessment efforts in various federal agencies, academic institutions, industry, and other organizations. TRAC 2016 included federal agency representation from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the U.S. Army Public Health Center, EPA, the U.S. Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

June 01, 2016

SRP Grantees Present at Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable

FRTR Roundtable Participants

Participants at the FRTR included SRP trainee Hilda Fadaei Khoei, Ph.D., (second from left), and SRP grantees Ghosh (third from left), Lorah (fourth from left) and SRP Amar Wadhawan, Ph.D. with Geosyntec (third from right).
(Photo courtesy of Upal Ghosh)

Superfund Research Program (SRP)-funded researchers Michelle Lorah, Ph.D., and Upal Ghosh, Ph.D., were featured at the Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable (FRTR) meeting on May 11. The FRTR meeting brings together federal agencies involved in hazardous waste site cleanup to share information, learn about new technologies, and discuss future directions.

Lorah, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as a co-leader on an SRP-funded individual project based out of Johns Hopkins University, gave a presentation on using reactive barriers for the passive remediation of chlorinated solvents in sediments. She also discussed her approach to evaluate natural and enhanced biodegradation using the reactive barriers. She included information on her SRP research investigating chlorinated benzene-contaminated groundwater at the Standard Chlorine Superfund site in Delaware.

Ghosh, a professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, presented on porewater concentrations and bioavailability. He explained pollutant bioavailability in sediments and discussed how to measure porewater concentrations. He then explained how porewater concentrations influence contaminated sediment remediation and how incorporating porewater concentration measurements into models allows better prediction of contaminant uptake in fish. Ghosh also leads an SRP individual research project.

At the meeting, participants shared information and learned about technology efforts of mutual interest related to hazardous waste site cleanup. FRTR members include the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

May 27, 2016

PROTECT Hosts EPA Region 1 Administrator

EPA and Northeastern University Personnel

From left: Northeastern PROTECT Center Director Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D., with Spalding, PROTECT project leader Phil Brown, Ph.D., and EPA Section Chief Meghan Cassidy.

(Photo courtesy of Northeastern University)

On May 9, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 Administrator Curt Spalding visited Northeastern University and presented a talk as part of the Northeastern Superfund Research Program's Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) "Collaboration for Innovation" webinar series. Spalding's talk focused on innovation and collaboration within the EPA Region 1 Superfund program, especially in regards to working with local governments and communities.

During his talk, Spalding highlighted contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). Recent science has suggested some CECs can be toxic to humans or the environment, but all the ways in which they may cause harm is often unclear. This lack of clarity can present challenges for engaging with communities, who are frustrated and looking for solutions, not uncertainties. CECs in New England include perfluorinated compounds, which have contaminated several areas in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Spalding finished the discussion with a question and answer period, during which he addressed some of the struggles pertaining to community engagement and regional cleanup. Prior to the presentation, Spalding met with Northeastern PROTECT Center researchers and core leaders for a discussion about regional and Superfund-related issues. For more information about the webinar and discussion, see the full story on the Northeastern PROTECT Center website.

April 14, 2016

Northeastern SRP Center Releases New Reproductive Health Bulletin for Health Care Professionals

The Northeastern University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), and the Northeastern Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico collaborated to produce a Reproductive Health and the Environment Bulletin, which presents up-to-date research about environmental exposures and preterm birth.

The bulletin focuses specifically on the body of evidence that shows how various chemicals may affect reproductive outcomes, including early-onset puberty, decreased fertility, and preterm births. It provides a comprehensive overview of research on health outcomes associated with exposure to pesticides, bisphenol A, perfluoroalkyl substances, phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, air pollution, lead, and polychlorinated biphenyls. In addition to the broad overview of chemicals and their health effects, the bulletin also outlines PROTECT’s findings to date, including a study on the associations between phenols and parabens with oxidative stress and inflammation that may cause adverse birth outcomes.

The bulletin also provides a list of resources and steps to take to avoid exposures. This includes a list of concrete steps health care professionals can take to educate patients and help prevent, diagnose, and treat health problems. See the Reproductive Health and the Environment Bulletin for more information.

April 12, 2016

Special Issue Highlights Invited Reviews from the Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health

Reviews on Environmental Health

A special issue of the journal Reviews on Environmental Health highlights the 16th International Conference of the Pacific Basin Consortium (PBC) for Environment and Health with invited reviews from conference presenters. This issue, which includes articles from Superfund Research Program (SRP) staff and grantees, contains reviews on issues related to the Pacific Basin, such as exposure to electronic waste, metals, and other hazardous wastes; water and ecosystem health; natural disasters and a changing environment; children’s health; and emerging issues in the region.

The NIEHS SRP was a sponsor of the PBC International Conference, held August 10 - 13, 2015, at the University of Indonesia. SRP staff and grantees were involved throughout the conference, which focused on the most pressing environment and health issues of our time, cooperative research, and innovative strategies for addressing these issues.

The issue includes an editorial by NIEHS SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., on the history of the PBC, what it has helped accomplish, and new directions for the Consortium. In a review, Suk highlights models for reducing the burden of disease with changing exposures in a changing world. NIEHS SRP Health Scientist Administrator Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., was also featured with her review on the growing global problem of electronic waste and next steps for addressing this problem.

An article by Jeffrey Crosby, Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer of Picoyune, an SRP-funded small business, highlighted lessons learned transferring a mercury sensor from the bench to the field. SRP supported the sensor’s initial development as part of the University of California (UC) Berkeley SRP Center. An article by Dartmouth SRP Center researcher Celia Chen, Ph.D., discusses connecting mercury science to policy through her work on uptake of mercury into seafood. A review by UC San Diego SRP Center researcher Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., discusses creating healthy and just bioregions and rethinking strategies to improve public health, especially in disadvantaged communities where the cumulative impacts of toxicant exposure and other environmental and social stressors are most damaging.

To read more from the conference, see the Reviews on Environmental Health Special Edition.

March 25, 2016

Chemical Discovered at UC Davis May Be New Tool for Depression Therapy

Bruce Hammock

Hammock is a distinguished professor of entomology with a joint appointment at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

(Photo courtesy of UC Davis)

A chemical discovered at the University of California (UC) Davis may be a new, innovative tool to control depression, a severe and chronic psychiatric disease that affects 350 million people worldwide.

The research, led by UC Davis Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center Director Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., involves studies of an inhibitor of soluble epoxide hydrolase in rodents. Soluble epoxide hydrolase, or sEH, is emerging as a therapeutic target in humans that acts on a number of inflammatory or inflammation-linked diseases.

"The research in animal models of depression suggests that sEH plays a key role in modulating inflammation, which is involved in depression," said Hammock. "Inhibitors of sEH protect natural lipids in the brain that reduce inflammation and neuropathic pain. Thus, these inhibitors could be potential therapeutic drugs for depression."

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the role of the potent sEH inhibitor known as TPPU. The researchers found that TPPU displayed rapid antidepressant effects in rodents. They also found that expression of sEH was higher in key brain regions of chronically stressed mice than in control mice. For more information on the study and its authors, see the UC Davis press release.

March 03, 2016

PROTECT Mobilizes to Minimize Risk of Zika Virus

Aedes aegypti

Aedes aegypti is an aggressive mosquito species that frequently breeds in standing water and is most active during the day.

(Photo courtesy of James Gathany from

With the arrival of Zika virus in Puerto Rico, the Northeastern Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), is reaching out to study participants, healthcare professionals, and local communities to provide education and support to help minimize the risk of exposure to pregnant women.

In early January, Puerto Rico confirmed the first case of Zika contracted domestically. Since then, 19 cases have been confirmed. Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. While Zika typically causes only mild flu-like symptoms in its hosts, it has been implicated in Brazil's sudden spike of newborn microcephaly cases in 2015. Microcephaly is a rare condition, occurring in about two per 10,000 livebirths, in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other babies the same age. The condition is linked to severe developmental delays and lifelong disability.

The Northeastern SRP Center also recently brought together experts and community members at a conference in Puerto Rico to discuss groundwater contamination and public health. They discussed developing a conceptual framework for how contaminants are transported in groundwater and identifying adverse public health outcomes. They also focused on prevention strategies related to contaminated groundwater. For more on the conference, visit the Northeastern SRP Center website.

The PROTECT team is contacting healthcare providers in several ways to ensure that PROTECT study participants—about 150 pregnant women—are informed about the virus and have all of the materials they need, such as bug repellant and mosquito nets, to minimize the risk of exposure. PROTECT also is distributing mosquito nets for both pregnant mothers and newborn children.

On February 11, PROTECT and the Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE) co-hosted an information session for local physicians, nurses, and healthcare professionals at the Manatí Medical Center, a clinic affiliated with both research centers.

Both PROTECT and CRECE collaborated with the March of Dimes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Puerto Rico Department of Health in a presentation to physicians and healthcare professionals from 32 hospitals in Puerto Rico. They spoke about best practices for avoiding exposures and the warning signs of both Zika and microcephaly.

PROTECT researcher José Cordero, M.D., joined Here & Now, a program on National Public Radio, on February 3 to discuss what Puerto Rico is doing to halt the spread of the Zika virus. Visit the Here & Now website to listen to his interview.

February 29, 2016

SRP Scientists Cited Among the World's Most Influential Scientific Minds

Eight Superfund Research Program scientists are among the 2015 listing of The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds, an annual compendium of "Highly Cited Researchers" by Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass-media and information company.

The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds (2015)

The listing represents a review of approximately nine million researchers producing upwards of two million published studies around the world each year. The authors and their works are recognized as those most often cited by fellow scientists.

The following current SRP grantees were cited in the listing:

  • James R. Cole, Ph.D., Michigan State University
  • Michael Denison, Ph.D., University of California, Davis
  • Michael Karin, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
  • Julian I. Schroeder Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
  • Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., Duke University
  • James Tiedje, Ph.D., Michigan State University
  • Roger Tsien, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
  • Mark Wiesner, Ph.D., Duke University

The approximately 3,000 highly cited researchers listed in the 2015 report were selected by analyzing citation data over a recent 11-year period (2003-2013) and identifying those who published the largest number of highly cited papers. They also identified hot researchers, whom Thomson Reuters describes as being authors of papers published during 2013-2014 that were cited immediately after publication at extraordinarily high levels. This type of recognition by peers in the form of citations makes highly cited or hot researcher status meaningful. The identification of these individuals is rooted in the collective, objective opinions of field experts within the scientific community.

February 08, 2016

NIEHS's Papers of the Year include three manuscripts from the UCSD SRP Center

Three papers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center were selected by senior NIEHS staff as 2015 Papers of the Year. The three papers were chosen out of more than 2500 published manuscripts from extramural and intramural NIEHS funding to represent three of the 13 papers from research funded by grants. All UCSD SRP Center papers were about toxicant-induced liver damage, including fibrosis and cancer, which are focus areas for the UCSD SRP Center.

In one paper, researchers led by UCSD SRP Center Scientific Director Michael Karin, Ph.D., discovered a population of liver cells that are better at regenerating liver tissue than ordinary liver cells, or hepatocytes. The study is the first to identify these so-called hybrid hepatocytes and show that they are able to regenerate liver tissue without giving rise to cancer. (Synopsis)

In another paper, researchers led by David Brenner, M.D. found that bacteria and other microbes in the intestines prevent liver fibrosis, or scarring, in mice. It is the first study to show a beneficial role of intestinal microbiota in maintaining liver homeostasis and preventing fibrosis from chronic damage to the liver. (Synopsis)

Finally, researchers led by Robert Tukey, Ph.D., the UCSD SRP Center Program Director, with partners at the UC Davis SRP Center, report that mice with long-term exposure to the antibacterial agent triclosan experienced fibrosis and acceleration of cancer development in the liver. These findings add to earlier reports that this widely used antimicrobial agent can disrupt hormones and impair muscle contraction. (Synopsis)

Tukey also recently published a comprehensive review on the environmental and human health effects of triclosan as an environmental toxicant.

The UCSD SRP Center’s high-impact scientific publications foster research translation and suggest new opportunities for collaboration among researchers in environmental health science, environmental science, and engineering.

February 02, 2016

SRP Researcher Uncovers History of Industrial Sites and Green Spaces in Providence

A Brown University team, led by Community Engagement Core (CEC) leader Scott Frickel, Ph.D., is working to uncover the history of green spaces in Providence, Rhode Island. Green spaces are regarded by many as beneficial to the health of urban dwellers.

With funding from an SRP grant, Frickel added Providence to an existing study that looks at how industrial sites have changed over decades in New Orleans, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon. In the study, he is including how green spaces are changing, and he sent a team of students to document four Providence neighborhoods. For nearly a year, they photographed and noted the location of any kind of green space. With this information, they plan to map the data to understand how green spaces are organized and distributed across neighborhoods.

"[They are looking at] abandoned lots, forested nooks and crannies, and hillsides that are just there unused – maybe fenced, maybe not – to get a sense of what kind of green space actually exists in a neighborhood and whether that varies from one neighborhood to another," said Frickel.

Frickel also wants to document the origins of these green spaces. In the other four cities, Frickel found many parks, playgrounds, and even daycare centers were once industrial sites. A similar record may be a concern for Providence, a port city with a long history of industrial pollution.

Frickel's research team now has two historical databases: one for industrial sites over the past 50 years and another for urban green spaces since the 1930s. The project is in its early stage. Frickel and his students will begin making sense of the collected data in the spring of 2016.

For more information on the project, visit Rhode Island Public Radio.

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