Superfund Research Program
SRP Research Highlighted at Drought Summit
Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., program administrator with the Superfund Research Program (SRP), presented drought-related research from SRP Centers during the National Drought & Public Health Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, June 17.
She highlighted the drought focused work from SRP Centers, including:
- The University of Arizona SRP Center studies phytostabilization, a method that uses drought-resistant plants to capture and store wind-blown toxic dust. The researchers found that compost enhances plant growth, stabilizing arsenic and lead in dust.
- At the University of New Mexico SRP Center, researchers study how uranium and vanadium combine with dust at abandoned mining sites and travels through the environment to neighboring communities.
- A new technology developed by researchers at University of California at Berkeley SRP Center uses manganese-coated sand to remove pollutants from stormwater before it enters groundwater.
- A collaboration between Darmouth College SRP Center and University of California at San Diego SRP Center identified protein transporters that help plants resist toxic metals and increase drought tolerance.
- University of California at Davis SRP Center researchers analyzed ash samples in the aftermath of the 2017 Northern California Firestorm to identify compounds that may pose risk to human health.
- Texas A&M University SRP Center researchers test for contaminants in water, air, and soil following natural or man-made water disasters, including hurricanes and floods.
The summit sought to bring attention to droughts and their effects on public health among government, tribal, non-profit, and academic participants. By learning about these projects, meeting participants may be better able to deal with health hazards associated with droughts.
Carlin also explained the SRP mission and how SRP-funded Centers work with communities of semi-arid and arid regions to improve long-term health outcomes.
Second National PFAS Conference Held in Boston
The 2019 Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Second National Conference, held June 10–12 at Northeastern University in Boston, brought researchers from diverse disciplines together to discuss cutting-edge PFAS research and strategies to protect human health.
Funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Superfund Research Program (SRP) Centers at Northeastern University and the University of Rhode Island (URI) helped organize the event, which was attended by 275 people.
PFAS are man-made chemicals that are impermeable to grease, water, and oil, so they tend to be used in a wide variety of products including fire-fighting foams and consumer products. Manufactured in the United States since the 1940s, there are nearly 5,000 types of PFAS. PFAS contamination in the environment, including in drinking water, is being discovered across the country.
Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS director, gave the keynote address about current research at NIEHS on PFAS exposures, including findings by SRP grantees, as well as key questions for future studies.
The conference brought together an array of stakeholders, who may not otherwise interact, for three days to network and share updates on the state of the science. People living in communities with PFAS contamination also had opportunity to share their experiences with scientists, regulators, and others working on related issues.
In conference sessions, researchers discussed methods of detecting these chemicals in our bodies and the environment, ways of tracing them back to their source, innovative methods to clean them up, and how research is informing the development of PFAS regulations.
Several SRP grantees from the URI Center, including Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D., Laurel Schaider, Ph.D., and Angela Slitt, Ph.D., spoke at the conference. Lohmann and Schaider's presentations concentrated on PFAS sources and reducing exposures.
Slitt focused on how exposure to PFAS may harm human health. Though research in this area is preliminary, PFAS are linked to altered kidney and thyroid function, low infant birth weight, developmental issues, and cancer.
Key Characteristics Help Researchers Understand Male Reproductive Toxicants
New research from the University of California, Berkeley Superfund Research Program (UC Berkeley SRP) Center identifies a set of eight key characteristics for male reproductive toxicants (MRTs) – chemicals that cause negative effects on the male reproductive system. Key characteristics explain the actions of certain chemicals inside the body.
Martyn Smith, Ph.D., director of the UC Berkeley SRP Center and co-leader of the Research Translation Core, explained key characteristics and the benefits of identifying them at the Converging on Cancer Workshop in Washington, D.C.
"A cancer hallmark is the biology of the cancer cell, while a key characteristic is what makes [that] biology happen," said Smith. He then explained how key characteristics can be used to make predictions about different chemicals.
His earlier work on key characteristics of human carcinogens paved the way for the development of key characteristics for MRTs. Collaborating with a group regulatory experts and scientists, the team used lists of chemicals known to target the male reproductive system, including toxins like cadmium and phthalates, pharmaceuticals, and drugs of abuse like opiates. Then they analyzed outcomes reported in numerous research studies.
Some of the key characteristics they identified included causing DNA damage, causing inflammation, and altering the function of hormones. They noted that chemicals showing evidence for one or more key characteristics are likely, though not guaranteed, to be harmful to male reproductive health.
By identifying key characteristics, researchers will be better able to identify, organize, and summarize the potential health risks of different chemicals. According to the authors, the approach may also be useful in a data science approach to prioritizing chemicals for further study.