Superfund Research Program
- SRP Trainees Host Super FUN: Science for a Safer World Booth at Cal Day
- SRP Researchers Shine at American Chemical Society Meeting
- Northeast SRP Researchers Gather to Discuss Research and Opportunities for Collaboration
- SRP Grantees Present at NAS Workshop
- Airlift Environmental Participates in Commercialization Accelerator Program
- SRP Brings Solution-Oriented Science to SOT
- In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Jim Hunt
- Duke SRP Center Project Leader Featured in NSF Science Video
- Dartmouth SRP Project Leaders Featured in Science Magazine News Highlight
- NIEHS Distinguished Lecture Series Features SRP Grantee
- UNC Team Meets with WIC Program to Enhance Communication of Fish Advisories to Vulnerable Populations
- Using Zebrafish for Chemical Screening and Sustainable Chemical Design
SRP Trainees Host Super FUN: Science for a Safer World Booth at Cal Day
On April 22, trainees from the University of California (UC) Berkeley Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center hosted a booth, "Super FUN: Science for a Safer World," at the annual Cal Day celebration. The popular event, which promotes various programs and activities at UC Berkeley, attracts thousands of people, including students, faculty and staff, families, and school groups
Trainees in engineering and biology collaborated to create fun and educational materials to share the mission and achievements of the UC Berkeley SRP Center. Attendees learned what Superfund sites are, how researchers study the health effects of potentially harmful chemicals, and how they develop innovative technologies to reduce the levels of these chemicals in the environment.
Trainees also developed engaging hands-on activities. For example, visitors conducted a fun and messy experiment wherein water was first contaminated with green food coloring and then filtered through sand or activated charcoal to visualize effective remediation strategies. Older children and adults learned about the UC Berkeley SRP Center from a handout that was designed by trainees. Participants then tested their knowledge in a fun trivia challenge. Younger children learned through coloring books illustrating different aspects of the environment.
SRP Researchers Shine at American Chemical Society Meeting
Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees from all over the country gathered for the 2017 American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in San Francisco this April. Presentations and posters by SRP grantees highlighted innovative SRP-funded research including technologies to detect and remediate potentially harmful chemicals in the environment.
Moving Technologies to the Field
SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., co-chaired an ACS symposium titled “From the Bench to the Field: Evaluating Innovative Remediation and Detection Technologies,” with Souhail Al-Abed, Ph.D., of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The symposium featured six SRP trainees, four small business grantees, and three SRP researchers. The presenters shared their experiences of the often iterative process of applying new technologies to complex field environments. They also discussed how they have used those experiences to further optimize their tools.
Among the trainees, University of California (UC) Berkeley SRP Center postdoctoral fellow Ray Keren, Ph.D., presented his work on understanding the genes and other biological elements involved in communities of bacteria that can degrade trichloroethylene (TCE), a human carcinogen that has been found in underground water sources and surface waters. Another UC Berkeley trainee, Jean Van Buren, described her research to understand the byproducts that may be produced when contaminants are treated with persulfate, which her research team is investigating as a method to remove contaminants in the environment. Other SRP trainee presenters included Lauren Redfern from Duke University, Angela Gutierrez from the University of Kentucky, and Lisandra Santiago Delgado from Oregon State University (OSU).
During the small business talks, Anthony Miller, Ph.D., from the SRP-funded Entanglement Technologies, discussed his company’s work to develop an air monitoring device to measure TCE and other contaminants that can volatilize into the air. SRP small business grantee David Battaglia, Ph.D., of Lynntech, described his company’s tool to develop membranes for water purification and recycling. Presenters from two other SRP-funded small businesses, Picoyune and Microvi Biotechnologies, also presented as part of the session.
In another talk, Neal Durant, Ph.D., a scientist at Geosyntec Consultants and collaborator on an SRP-funded individual research project at Johns Hopkins University, described the 20-year development of a tool to treat chlorinated pollutants in clays and silts. The presentation included findings from early work by current Northeastern University SRP Center Director Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D. In another presentation, Tim Mattes, Ph.D., from the University of Iowa, provided an update on using bacteria to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from sediments.
Recognizing SRP Grantee Jerrold Schnoor
A symposium on April 3 honored the work of Jerrold Schnoor, Ph.D., a former editor of Environmental Science and Technology, an ACS journal, and current SRP grantee at the University of Iowa. The symposium featured research on pollutant modeling and transport, remediation of pollutants using plants, and transport of nanoparticles. According to the symposium announcement, Schnoor has had a profound impact on environmental chemistry through his leadership in the field and his contributions to improving environmental health education.
During the symposium, Henry discussed Schnoor’s work as a project leader with the Iowa SRP Center since 2006, where he has focused on how plants can degrade PCBs, a contaminant found in soil, groundwater, and air.
Highlighting Achievements in Environmental Chemistry
UC Berkeley SRP Center grantee David Sedlak, Ph.D., led a symposium highlighting innovative findings in environmental science and technology. Among the presenters, OSU SRP Center project leader Staci Simonich, Ph.D., described her research using bacteria to remove polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from contaminated soil.
Northeast SRP Researchers Gather to Discuss Research and Opportunities for Collaboration
On April 4 and 5, SRP researchers from institutions across the northeast gathered in Boston for the Northeast Superfund Research Program (SRP) Meeting. The event was hosted by the Northeastern University PROTECT SRP Center and co-sponsored by SRP Centers from Boston University, Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The meeting began with an overview of the six northeast centers. Subsequent sessions focused on regionally important topics, such as reducing exposure to arsenic in drinking water, SRP-community interactions, the use of big data in environmental science research, and perspectives on the health risks of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. The sessions were very well received and resulted in engaging dialogue. A reception and poster session provided SRP trainees the opportunity to present their research and to network with others in the northeast SRP community.
The event concluded with a brainstorming session on how the northeast SRP Centers can engage in future collaborative activities. Ideas included offering workshops on environmental health topics, holding informal lightning talks, and planning science cafés where trainees and researchers can communicate their findings to the public.
Directors of the six northeastern SRP Centers plan to hold this meeting annually to share ideas and promote regional collaborations.
SRP Grantees Present at NAS Workshop
Four Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees were involved in the Advances in Causal Understanding for Human Health Risk-Based Decision Making workshop, held March 6 - 7 in Washington, D.C. The workshop explored how modern advances in bioinformatics can be incorporated into human health decision making. Hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) Standing Committee on Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions (ESEHD) and sponsored by NIEHS, the event opened with remarks by ESEHD co-chair Kim Boekelheide, Ph.D., from the Brown University SRP Center.
Novel bioinformatics and molecular approaches have advanced our understanding of how exposure to environmental agents influences pathways and networks that are involved in disease at the molecular level. However, since public health risk assessments rarely consider these molecular insights sufficient to establish causality, regulators still rely primarily on traditional endpoints from animal studies.
During a session on case studies of current approaches for determining causality, University of California, Berkeley SRP Center Director Martyn Smith, Ph.D., discussed key characteristics of carcinogens that provide a basis for an objective, systematic approach for identifying and evaluating mechanistic data. Michigan State University SRP Center Director Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., participated in a simulated debate regarding the use of human cells in toxicity testing. In the debate, Kaminski was tasked with challenging the traditional use of animal models and presenting the advantages of using human cells.
The NAS workshop brought together leading environmental health experts, including toxicologists, statisticians, sociologists, epidemiologists, regulators, and others to discuss the current thinking around causal models and how to move these ideas forward in decision making to better protect human health.
Airlift Environmental Participates in Commercialization Accelerator Program
Superfund Research Program (SRP) small business awardee Airlift Environmental LLC was recently accepted into the National Institutes of Health Commercialization Accelerator Program (CAP) and participated in a FeedForward session March 16 - 17 in Washington, D.C. FeedForward provides critical industry and customer feedback on each participant's product and commercialization strategy.
The competitive CAP program helps some of the agency's most promising small business awardees transition their SRP Small Business Innovation Research / Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR/STTR)-funded technologies into the marketplace. CAP requires significant effort on the part of the small business, including the creation of a commercialization strategy tool kit, but provides selected participants with individualized assistance to achieve market readiness. This includes individual mentoring and consulting sessions, training workshops, and access to domain experts both remotely and through in-person events. SRP Program Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., participated as an onsite mentor in the FeedForward session.
Airlift Environmental, in partnership with Steve Comfort, Ph.D., from the University of Nebraska, received an SRP-funded STTR grant to develop slow-release oxidant-paraffin candles that dissolve and capture contaminants in groundwater. This technology provides an efficient, cost-effective method to clean up groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene, as shown in a recent five-year performance review. As a CAP participant, they are working to develop a solid plan for commercializing their SRP-funded technology.
SRP Brings Solution-Oriented Science to SOT
Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees from all over the country gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for the 2017 Society of Toxicology (SOT) Annual Meeting March 12 - 16. Grantees and staff gave talks and presented posters highlighting SRP-funded research advances in toxicology. The meeting also provided a forum to share information and to learn about new findings.
SRP Health Scientist Administrator Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., co-chaired a historical highlights section with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) SRP Center Director Rebecca Fry, Ph.D. The session, which focused on cutting-edge science and innovative technologies, highlighted the ways in which the SRP takes a problem-solving, solution-oriented approach combining laboratory, field, and population-based studies to improve our understanding of exposure to pollutants and how to minimize their potential health effects. The session included presentations by SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and Center Directors Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., from the Oregon State University SRP Center, Stephania Cormier, Ph.D., from the Louisiana State University SRP Center, and Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D., from the University of Kentucky (UK) SRP Center.
Students were represented from a variety of SRP Centers and also received several awards. Among them, Fabian Grimm, Ph.D., a trainee at Texas A&M University under the guidance of UNC SRP Center grantee Ivan Rusyn, Ph.D., received an SOT best postdoctoral publication award and a Syngenta fellowship award in human health applications of new technologies. Michigan State University (MSU) SRP Center trainee Kelly Fader received a student travel award and was a finalist for the Mechanisms Specialty Section Carl C. Smith Award. An abstract by Duke University SRP Center trainee Anthony Luz was selected as one of ten high quality abstracts authored by students or postdocs. Yvonne Chang, an Oregon State University SRP Center trainee, was awarded a best abstract award in the mixtures specialty section. An MSU SRP Center paper was also awarded Honorable Mention in the SOT Toxicological Sciences Paper of the Year category.
NIEHS SRP staff members Carlin, Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., Heather Henry, Ph.D., Brittany Trottier, and Suk were on hand to meet with grantees, view their posters, and discuss their innovative research. Carlin also organized a Research Funding Insights Room. This provided an opportunity for current grantees and applicants to speak with program officers or scientific review officers from NIEHS, other NIH institutes, and other agencies regarding the grants process.
In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Jim Hunt
James Hunt, Ph.D., emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and former Research Translation Core co-leader for the UC Berkeley Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, passed away on February 20 after a brief illness. Hunt served on the faculty at UC Berkeley for 33 years, where he was widely admired by students and faculty for both his professional contributions and his kindness.
An expert in groundwater transport of organic contaminants, Hunt initiated and led a research project at the UC Berkeley SRP Center to understand how perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel waste, moves through soil into groundwater. His work demonstrated how dense contaminants sink through an aquifer and diffuse into what is called a lower-permeability confining layer and ultimately into groundwater.
Fellow UC Berkeley SRP Center co-leader David Sedlak, Ph.D., spoke warmly of Hunt. "Jim was my faculty mentor and role model," he said. "He taught me the importance of being a critical thinker, especially when it seems like the accepted approach to solving a problem doesn't seem to be working. Leading by example, he also showed us the importance of selflessness and putting the interest of students first. We miss him."
Jim served the campus in numerous leadership roles, including service as a member of the Budget Committee and Divisional Council and as associate vice provost for Academic Planning and Facilities. He also directed the Berkeley Water Center and the Institute for Environmental Science and Engineering. He was appointed to the Lawrence E. Peirano Endowed Chair in 1999, which he held until his retirement in 2013.
Duke SRP Center Project Leader Featured in NSF Science Video
Duke University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center project leader Mark Wiesner, Ph.D., members of his lab, and other Duke SRP Center collaborators were recently featured in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science360 Video about nanomaterials.
The video highlights research in Wiesner's lab that uses controlled laboratory systems simulating the natural environment to better understand how nanomaterials move through and impact wetland ecosystems. The video also features work from Duke SRP Center project co-leader Heileen Hsu-Kim, Ph.D., and project leader Richard Di Giulio, Ph.D., to understand how nanoscale materials affect living things, including fish and wildlife.
Wiesner, director of the NSF-funded Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) at Duke University, also co-authored the recently released Second Edition of Environmental Nanotechnology: Applications and Impacts of Nanomaterials with a team of leading experts from around the world. This comprehensive reference text provides an in-depth look at nanomaterial technologies, their use in engineering applications, and how some nanomaterials may impact the environment. The Second Edition provides up-to-date information on a rapidly developing field and references research conducted by Duke SRP Center investigators. Wiesner's research with the center focuses on how to use nanomaterials safely to clean up contaminated water without negatively affecting the environment.
Dartmouth SRP Project Leaders Featured in Science Magazine News Highlight
On February 17, Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center project leader Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., spoke at a special session at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Attended by 60 people, including the press, the session was highlighted in a Science Magazine news feature.
Organized by fellow Dartmouth SRP Center project leader Mary Lou Guerinot, Ph.D., the session addressed how arsenic is taken up from soil and water by food crops and ends up on people's plates. It also included discussion of emerging health outcomes and challenges for translating new research on dietary arsenic exposure to public health policy, which historically has focused only on exposure to arsenic from contaminated drinking water.
Part of the session was based on the Dartmouth SRP Center's Collaborative on Food with Arsenic and associated Risk and Regulation (C-FARR), which includes researchers, policy stakeholders, and program leaders working together over a two-year period to gather and analyze data on human exposure to arsenic from food. One of the C-FARR initiatives is to inventory foods that contain arsenic and to share that information with members of the public so they can make better choices to reduce their intake of foods containing higher levels of arsenic.
After the session, at a special news briefing, Dartmouth SRP members launched Arsenic and You, the first website to provide comprehensive information on arsenic in food, water, and other sources. They developed the site collaboratively with the Columbia University, University of Arizona, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Kentucky SRP Centers. Arsenic and You is a valuable resource for families, caregivers, and vulnerable populations, and it can be easily accessed on mobile devices.
NIEHS Distinguished Lecture Series Features SRP Grantee
During an NIEHS Distinguished Lecture on February 7, Ronald Evans, Ph.D., discussed how a large family of molecules discovered in his lab, called nuclear hormone receptors, respond to hormones, lipids, vitamins, and xenobiotics, and how they can be used as targets to treat disease.
Evans, Director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences and a University of California, San Diego Superfund Research Program (UCSD SRP) Center project leader, highlighted a variety of the innovative findings about these receptors from his lab over the years. As part of the UCSD SRP Center, Evans and his team are focusing on nuclear hormone receptors to investigate molecular mechanisms of toxicity from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Among the receptors discussed was the vitamin D receptor. Although it is widely studied for its role in calcium balance and bone health, Evans discovered and probed its unique role in repairing damaged cells, particularly in the liver.
When the liver is damaged – which can happen via hepatitis virus infection, excessive alcohol consumption, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – specialized liver cells called hepatic stellate cells are signaled to create fibrous scar tissue around the damaged site. As fibrosis progresses, healthy liver cells are replaced by scar tissue until eventually the liver can no longer function.
Vitamin D receptors are uncommon in liver tissues, but Evans and his team discovered they are expressed at very high levels in hepatic stellate cells. They found that a synthetic form of vitamin D, called calcipotriol, activates the vitamin D receptor and turns off the fibrotic response in the livers of mice by blocking activation of the hepatic stellate cells. Unlike natural vitamin D, the synthetic ligand is less susceptible to breakdown and is therefore not depleted quickly in the body. His team also recently identified another therapeutic target for liver fibrosis called BRD4.
In addition to identifying potential therapies for liver fibrosis, Evans and his team are advancing the field of molecular genetics by identifying novel targets of pharmacological treatment for a wide range of diseases, including pancreatic cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, atherosclerosis, prostate cancer, obesity, leukemia, asthma, osteoporosis, and hypertension.
UNC Team Meets with WIC Program to Enhance Communication of Fish Advisories to Vulnerable Populations
On January 18, members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center presented information on contaminants in fish in local waterways to a group of 22 nutritionists and case managers with the Lincoln Community Health Center WIC Program in Durham, North Carolina. UNC SRP Research Translation Core (RTC) leader Kathleen Gray described local fish consumption advisories (FCAs) and effective ways to communicate them to the general public, focusing on key messaging and how communication can be improved.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC nutritionists and case managers are responsible for providing nutrition information to clients in the program. Since about half of the meeting participants share information about fish consumption with WIC recipients at least weekly, the group was interested in obtaining more information and resources for communicating the risks of fish consumption while balancing and highlighting the health benefits of eating fish.
Residents of North Carolina who receive benefits from federal assistance programs like WIC are eligible to receive subsistence fishing waivers. In recent years, more than 79,000 North Carolina residents obtained such waivers, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Since fish make up a larger portion of the diets of these individuals, they are at higher risk of exposure to contaminants compared to typical fish consumers. Previous research by the UNC RTC near a local Superfund site points to the need to communicate FCAs and associated health information in culturally sensitive, low-literacy, and bilingual formats.
At the meeting with WIC staff, Gray piloted new outreach materials developed for low-literacy and non-English speaking audiences and received feedback and input from the participants. WIC staff expressed interest in working with the RTC to collaboratively develop materials that could be shared with their clients. WIC classes offering information on nutrition and health, such as FCAs, have shown successful retention rates compared to written materials alone. This partnership also offers an evidence-based path to reach women of childbearing age who may not be aware of relevant FCAs.
Moving forward, Gray and the UNC RTC team are pursuing similar training opportunities with nurses, nutritionists, and case managers in other local WIC programs. Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, and partnerships with WIC staff will help inform families about local FCAs and educate them on making the best choices among locally available fish. For more information about the possible contaminants in fish and their health effects, as well as local FCAs, visit the UNC SRP Eat Fish, Choose Wisely website and see a recent NIEHS Environmental Factor article highlighting this work.
Using Zebrafish for Chemical Screening and Sustainable Chemical Design
A recent review out of the Oregon State University Superfund Research Program (OSU SRP) describes how zebrafish have become an important model to screen for chemical toxicity. The article, published in the journal Green Chemistry, points to major advances in testing methods that have positioned zebrafish as an applicable model for chemical safety evaluations and efforts to develop more sustainable chemicals.
According to the authors, led by OSU SRP Center investigator Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., there is a growing recognition that the use of traditional test models and empirical approaches is impractical to screen the toxicity of thousands of chemicals in the environment and hundreds of new chemicals introduced each year. This has prompted efforts to implement more predictive approaches to evaluate chemical toxicity early in product development.
The use of zebrafish has accelerated recently in genetic toxicology, high throughput screening (HTS), and behavioral testing. HTS technologies with zebrafish enable the screening of large chemical libraries for bioactivity early in the development of new chemicals. Previous research has shown that many toxic responses are shared among fish and mammals owing to their generally well-conserved development, cellular networks, and organ systems. These shared responses have been observed for chemicals that impair endocrine functioning, development, and reproduction, as well as those that elicit cardiotoxicity and carcinogenicity, among other diseases.
With zebrafish, researchers are able to characterize toxic effects of chemicals in a variety of cellular processes and compare those processes to changes in the fish, such as developmental malformations. Zebrafish also can be used to assess the toxicity of real-world multi-chemical exposures.
Tanguay leads an OSU SRP Center project that uses systems approaches in zebrafish to understand the mechanisms of toxicity of complex mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are routinely found at Superfund sites. Several studies have shown increased incidence of lung, skin, and urinary cancer in humans exposed to PAH mixtures. Many individual PAH compounds also have been classified as probable or possible carcinogens. Because PAHs are widespread in the environment as mixtures, it is difficult to tease out exposure and toxic effects. Researchers led by Tanguay are using zebrafish to identify environmentally relevant PAH mixtures that pose a hazard and to identify the gene responses that drive the toxic endpoints.