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Your Environment. Your Health.

2018 News

Superfund Research Program

April 12, 2018 New

Workshop Takes Next Steps with Lancet Commission Report

Philip Landrigan

Landrigan, a former SRP grantee, co-authored the Lancet Commission report with Suk and others.
(Photo courtesy of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)

Environmental health experts gathered March 1 - 2, 2018, in Seattle, Washington, to create a strategic framework for addressing global pollution using the 2017 Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health report. The workshop was convened by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project's Pollution and Health Initiative.

Several current and previous Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees attended the workshop, including Philippe Grandjean, Ph.D., from the University of Rhode Island SRP Center; Philip Landrigan, M.D., from the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Howard Hu, M.D., from the University of Toronto; and David Bellinger, Ph.D., from Harvard University. Landrigan, one of 40 international authors of the Lancet Commission report, discussed plans to establish a Global Pollution Observatory that will collect and curate data on pollution and pollution-related disease to share with the scientific community.

According to the report, 16 percent of all deaths worldwide can be directly linked to pollution, such as air pollution, lead, neurodevelopmental toxicants, and climate change. The economic costs associated with pollution were estimated at more than $4.6 trillion per year.

"We realized that it was important to document not only the health impacts of global pollution, but also the measurable costs of pollution as an economic burden," said SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., an author on the report. "This is the first analysis to comprehensively report both aspects."

The GBD workshop and related efforts are exploring ways to enhance data collection, improve communication with decision-makers, and reduce pollution to decrease the burden of disease and associated economic costs around the world.

March 27, 2018 New

Iowa SRP Center Model Enables Accurate Air Pollutant Measurements

PUF-PAS Sampler in New Bedford Harbor

Iowa SRP Center researchers use PUF-PAS samplers to measure PCBs in air, including in New Bedford Harbor, shown here.
(Photo courtesy of the Iowa SRP Center)

The University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (SRP) released a Web-based application to help researchers and regulators more accurately determine pollutant concentrations in air using passive air samplers. The application is designed to predict the sampling rates and volumes captured by passive air samplers equipped with polyurethane foam (PUF-PAS), which are frequently used to capture and measure airborne persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

The Web-based application helps users understand how much air went through a PUF-PAS sampler, which is needed to predict the airborne POP concentration. It uses a mathematical model based on user-entered deployment dates of the passive sampler and the compounds of interest. The model uses publicly available hourly meteorological data and the physical and chemical properties of the target compounds to predict the sampling rate and sampling volume for gas-phase compounds captured by the sampler. It can be used to accurately predict the sampling volume of passive air samplers deployed anywhere in the world.

This interface was developed based on research described in an Iowa SRP Center publication led by Keri Hornbuckle, Ph.D. In a 2017 Risk e-Learning webinar, Hornbuckle described this work, as well as other methods for accurate and reproducible measurements of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a type of POP, in air, water, soil, sediment, pore water, plant tissue, and human blood serum.

March 20, 2018 New

SRP Researchers Create Ultrastretchable Nano Barrier for Numerous Applications

Screenshot of ACS Nano article titled, Ultrastretchable Graphene-Based Molecular Barriers for Chemical Protection, Detection, and Actuation

Novel textured coatings made from graphene can act as ultrastretchable barriers to stop chemicals and other molecules from passing through, according to new research from the Brown University Superfund Research Program Center. The authors suggest these novel films could be used to create multifunctional fabrics and responsive devices, including personal monitoring equipment, wearable electronics, and soft robotics.

The research team used graphene nano-sheets that can change shape by folding and unfolding to mimic a more elastic behavior, which improves upon traditional approaches that create a material that is quite stiff and cracks easily. The stretchable technology also can function as a sensor to detect certain chemicals and to act as either an impassible or selective barrier. These characteristics will make the material useful for a variety of future cutting-edge applications.

March 19, 2018 New

SRP Grantees Work to Improve Water Quality for Native Communities

Johnnye Lewis

Lewis pictured in the UNM College of Pharmacy's monthly magazine
(Photo courtesy of the UNM College of Pharmacy's Lobo Script)

Researchers at the University of New Mexico's Superfund Research Program Center (UNM SRP Center) are studying the effects of exposure to uranium and mixed metals mining waste in water on Native Americans in the southwest. Funded in the fall of 2017, their work is already making headlines. Center Director Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., was recently featured in the UNM College of Pharmacy's Lobo Script monthly magazine and in the Albuquerque Journal.

Lewis described how UNM SRP Center researchers are investigating the health impacts of mixed metals and uranium exposures on Native Americans, how these contaminants move through the environment, and how they can be stabilized to decrease their movement into surface water and to protect human health.

Lewis explained that an estimated 40 percent of surface water in the western U.S. is contaminated with uranium, and tribes in these regions rely much more heavily on surface water than do other populations for not only drinking but also for irrigation, livestock watering, and cultural uses.

Lewis is also part of a collaboration aiming to reach the World Health Organization's goal of providing clean drinking water to all people by 2030. Organized by the United Nations Children's Fund, the Global Water Challenge, Stanford University's Water in the West program, and the U.S. Water Partnership, the collaborative is identifying barriers and developing a roadmap to ensure the U.S. meets the 2030 goal. Lewis' work in this collaborative is focused on providing clean drinking water for Native Americans and others in the southwest, where infrastructure is deteriorating and unaffordable for many communities.

February 26, 2018

SRP Grantees Participate in Federal PFAS Information Exchange

On February 5 - 6, Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees provided their expertise and perspectives during the Federal Information Exchange on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Bethesda, Maryland. PFAS chemicals have received increasing attention because they have been found in several drinking water systems and have been linked to reproductive, developmental, liver, kidney, and immunological effects.

Hosted by the Toxics and Risks Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, the workshop provided a forum to share emerging data and key knowledge gaps in the sources, pathways, treatment, and health effects of PFAS. SRP grantees Raymond Ball, Ph.D., Jennifer Guelfo, Ph.D., and Angela Slitt, Ph.D., participated in the workshop.

"The meeting was informative and underlined the magnitude of the PFAS problem," said Ball, president and principal engineer at the NIEHS-funded small business EnChem Engineering. As part of his SRP project, Ball's team is developing a technology to expedite the removal of PFAS from soil and groundwater.

The meeting opened with remarks from senior government officials, including NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health Director Patrick Breysse, Ph.D. Following talks from researchers about new findings in their areas of expertise, federal employees and federally funded researchers participated in breakout sessions to discuss current scientific knowledge and future directions.

"The meeting provided a platform for researchers and employees across federal agencies to hear how each is engaged in science and decision-making regarding PFAS," said Guelfo, a researcher at the Brown University SRP Center. Her recent work has focused on using publicly available data to develop models that predict areas with potential PFAS groundwater contamination.

"Given that PFAS includes thousands of compounds, one recurring theme was the need for methods for prioritizing compounds and the need to understand the influence of mixtures," Guelfo added. "There was also a lot of discussion about developing standard methods for PFAS analysis."

In addition to discussions about routes of exposure and treatment methods, time was set aside to discuss the current understanding of the health effects of PFAS. Slitt, a grantee at the University of Rhode Island SRP Center, is studying whether PFAS exposure increases the risk for obesity-induced fatty liver disease and metabolic disorders.

In the final session, participants discussed risk assessment, consideration of data needs for protecting human health, and ongoing coordination and communication across federal agencies. The workshop was immediately followed by a closed Toxics and Risks Subcommittee meeting to discuss how these findings will inform agencies moving forward.

February 15, 2018

Improving Site Characterization to Assess Contaminant Removal

Mark Brusseau

Brusseau is a professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arizona.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Brusseau)

A computational model can be used to measure how different factors influence the removal of groundwater contaminants at hazardous waste sites, according to a study from the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program Center. Researchers led by Mark Brusseau, Ph.D., developed the predictive model and found that their contaminant estimates from the model compared well to measurements taken at a Superfund site.

Their model uses the relationship between reductions in contaminant discharge and removal as the metric to examine remediation efficiency. Characterization methods such as this may help researchers more easily understand factors that may impact the distribution of contaminants at a site, which can provide more information about the effectiveness of remediation efforts.

Building on these findings, the research team used the model to examine factors that influence contaminant removal in large groundwater contaminant plumes. Specifically, they looked at areas with low groundwater flow adjacent to large aquifer systems, which is common at many hazardous waste sites.

They found that the location of pump-and-treat wells, relative to contaminated water, can have a significant impact on how effectively contaminants are removed and how they persist in large groundwater systems. Based on well configuration, zones may be formed where contaminants remain stagnant, which reduces the effectiveness of pump and treat. This illustrates the need for dynamic system operations in which the system is routinely monitored and operational conditions are modified to maintain peak performance.

In a 2017 Risk e-Learning webinar, Brusseau described this work, as well as other efforts to improve characterization methods to understand the factors contributing to the persistence of contaminants in groundwater.

February 05, 2018

SRP Research Finds Ancestry-Based Differences in Telomere Length Genes

People with different ancestries may inherit telomere length differently, according to a new study from the Columbia University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center. Telomeres are segments at the end of DNA, and telomere length plays an important role in aging and aging-related diseases. This study provides new information about the genes associated with telomere length across populations and highlights the importance of including diverse populations in genome-wide association studies (GWAS).

Although telomere length is a heritable trait, it still can vary considerably between individuals and populations, leading scientists to study how it is passed between generations. Previous studies that have investigated how telomere length is inherited have relied primarily on populations of European descent. In this study, researchers used samples from the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study cohort in Bangladesh and found important ancestry-based differences in how telomere length might be passed on.

In addition to replicating some findings from other genome-wide association studies, such as those showing that gene regions called TERT and TERC are related to telomere length, the researchers also identified a new association. The study reports a link between telomere length and a gene region called RTEL1 and, importantly, a distinct second region of RTEL1 that had not been previously identified in relation to telomere length. This specific region of RTEL1 is common in South Asian populations but less so in other populations.

January 31, 2018

SRP Grantee Featured in Science Friday Video

Karletta Chief, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center was recently interviewed on Science Friday. Her interview coincided with the release of the sixth and final installment of a short video anthology, "Breakthrough: Portraits of Women in Science," which follows women working at the forefront of their fields.

Bitter Water, the last film in the anthology, featured Chief and her SRP-funded work to address the concerns of the Navajo community after the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. In both the video and the interview, Chief explained how her research team helped identify more than 100 unique cultural uses of the river that were not previously considered in exposure estimates. They also studied how metals and other potentially toxic contaminants moved through the river’s sediment and water. Chief further shared her personal history and experiences leading her to become a hydrologist.

The Breakthrough anthology from Science Friday and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute blends the personal stories of women in science, technology, engineering, and math with highlights of their innovative scientific research and accomplishments.

Karletta Chief
Chief collects a sediment core sample from the river to measure the concentration of various contaminants after the mine spill.
(Photo courtesy of Science Friday)

January 19, 2018

Fish Adaptation to TCDD Seen at the Genome Level

Long-term exposure to environmental toxicants can affect the genome of Hudson River tomcod much more than previously expected, according to researchers led by Isaac Wirgin, Ph.D., at the New York University School of Medicine. A recent study led by Isaac Wirgin, Ph.D. and his team sheds light on the effects of exposure to the pollutant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) on the genomes, or full set of genes, from two tomcod populations 86 miles apart with distinctly different exposure histories.

Atlantic tomcod

A mature Atlantic tomcod collected from the Hudson River.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Mattson, Normandeau Associates via Science/AAAS)

The recent findings build on Wirgin’s Superfund Research Program (SRP)-funded work. The Hudson River Estuary in the New York City Metropolitan area has a long history of pollutants from both local and distant sources. In a study in the journal Science in 2011, funded in part by the SRP, Wirgin and his team describe how Atlantic tomcod in the Hudson River have genetically evolved to withstand the effects of pollutants, primarily polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in the river.

In the new study, the researchers used larvae from both the pollutant-resistant Hudson River tomcod population and a non-resistant nearby Shinnecock Bay population. They exposed the two groups of larvae to TCDD and then compared the global expression of genes in the resistant and non-resistant tomcod.

They observed differences between the two populations in the number of genes that were expressed differently at all doses of TCDD. At the two lowest TCDD doses, 250 and 1,141 genes were differentially expressed in Shinnecock Bay larvae compared with only 14 and 12, respectively, in Hudson River larvae. At the highest dose, 934 genes were differentially expressed in Shinnecock Bay larvae and 173 in Hudson River larvae, but only 16 percent of affected genes were shared among both populations.

“I think the data is pretty dramatic in demonstrating just how great the effect of Hudson River-borne pollutants has been on the evolution of its tomcod population,” said Wirgin. “Pollutants can have far greater effects on exposed populations than we ever imagined.”

According to the authors, understanding differences in gene expression will allow them to better understand the toxic impacts of exposure and evaluate their mechanistic basis.

January 09, 2018

SRP Grantee Takes Cleanup Technology to the Field

Dibakar Bhattacharyya

Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantee Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky was recently awarded funding to help the Chevron Corporation remove metals and other potentially harmful contaminants from wastewater created during oil production.

Bhattacharyya's SRP-funded work was critical in laying the foundation that provided the opportunity to transfer his technology from the laboratory to the field. His team at the University of Kentucky SRP Center pioneered the development and use of specialized membranes to break down toxic organic compounds, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, trichloroethylene, and napthenic acids in water.

These membranes, which are embedded with nanoparticles in the lab, also can be used to capture metals like arsenic and mercury, making them ideal for the work with Chevron.