Superfund Research Program
SRP Grantees Discuss Kidney Disease at NIH Workshop
Clinicians, basic scientists, epidemiologists, and public health officials met June 25 – 26 to develop a coordinated research agenda for a growing epidemic of chronic kidney diseases. The workshop, held in Bethesda, Maryland, was jointly sponsored by NIEHS and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Participants discussed current gaps in knowledge and a path forward to better understand the causes of – and potential treatments for – chronic kidney diseases in agricultural communities. SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and SRP Health Specialist Brittany Trottier were members of the organizing committee and attended the meeting, largely organized by Bonnie Joubert, Ph.D., of NIEHS.
Presenters included SRP grantees Ana Navas-Acien, Ph.D., from Columbia University, and Madeleine Scammell, D.Sc., from Boston University. Navas-Acien described the link between exposure to metals, such as cadmium, lead, and arsenic, and chronic kidney disease. Scammell discussed a unique epidemic of chronic kidney disease that disproportionately affects young male agricultural workers in El Salvador. She explained how her team has been working closely with the impacted community and the importance of building trust.
"This workshop gathered experts from across disciplines to discuss a complex environmental health problem and how to address it," said Suk. "SRP has supported a number of researchers examining the connection between environmental exposures and kidney disease, and funded early workshops in Costa Rica and Sri Lanka that really put kidney disease on the NIEHS radar."
PCTech Graduates from Competitive Commercialization Program
In early June, Superfund Research Program small business grantee and Wyoming-based start-up Pollution Control Technologies (PCTech) completed a nine-month NIH Commercialization Accelerator Program (CAP). The competitive program provides NIH's most promising small business grantees with expert mentors to help them establish market and customer relevance, build commercial relationships, and focus on revenue opportunities.
PCTech is in the process of commercializing its X-FA system, a cost-effective tool to capture mercury emissions. The X-FA tool is composed mainly of fly ash, a waste product at power plants that usually requires its own special management. Using an innovative method, PCTech deposits a thin coating of activator material around the recycled fly ash particles to create an X-FA sorbent that can chemically bind to mercury. The X-FA sorbent, which is less expensive than traditional mercury removal technologies, can be produced on-site at power plants and can capture large amounts of mercury.
In a closeout webinar on June 11, PCTech presented its accomplishments during the CAP, as well as its future plans. As part of the program, PCTech created a commercialization strategy toolkit and received individualized mentoring on ways to achieve market readiness.
"NIH CAP benefited us substantially through advising, conference calls, and connections in the industry sector," said PCTech project leader Kaspars Krutkramelis, Ph.D. Krutkramelis and his team are actively beta testing their product with several energy utility companies.
"The program also helped us to brainstorm new ideas related to mercury capture that reaches past our current product," Krutkramelis added. Based on suggestions to seek alternative customers and products for the active chemical compound, PCTech has started testing its product in commercial air purification filters. The company also plans to introduce its product to other sectors that use mercury, such as dentistry, where it is used in dental amalgams.
"NIEHS encourages small business grantees to take advantage of NIH's CAP program," said SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D. "Participation requires an investment of time; however, we've noticed that small businesses make real breakthroughs as part of the CAP process, resulting in an expanded customer base. PCTech's exploration of the commercial air filter market is a great example of this."
SRP Grantees Share Findings and Resources with Stakeholders
Members of the Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center have actively engaged community members, regulatory partners, and lawmakers by sharing research results and resources they can use. In keeping with the SRP's strong emphasis on community engagement and research translation, the Dartmouth SRP Center has taken steps to ensure its research findings are shared with stakeholders in a useful and informative manner.
Arsenic in Food and Water
Dartmouth SRP Center members have developed materials to explain how people are exposed to arsenic and how they can prevent or reduce their exposures.
The team provided fact sheets and magnets promoting their Arsenic and You website to partners at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS). The materials were used in a community presentation aimed at private well users to help answer questions about arsenic in food, water, and other sources.
NHDES and NH DHHS cited Dartmouth SRP Center research in a series of press releases coinciding with National Drinking Water Week, beginning May 7. One press release stressed the importance of testing wells for arsenic, quoting Center researcher Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., and her team's work to understand the health impacts of exposure to low levels of arsenic.
The team also provided information to a U.S. Representative's office about arsenic found in food and rice. The information was related to a set of five publications out of the Dartmouth SRP Center about the sources and pathways of arsenic in food.
Addressing Mercury Contamination
Dartmouth SRP Center researchers have explored how environmental factors, such as temperature, salinity, and microbial activity, influence the movement of mercury from sediment and water into the food web and ultimately to humans.
Project leader Celia Chen, Ph.D., shared her experience working with collaborators across the globe to produce four papers for a special issue of the journal Ambio describing the latest science about mercury. As part of an invited talk at Plymouth State University, she used this work to explain how science can help inform environmental policy. The papers will inform activities under the Minamata Convention, a global treaty on mercury that was ratified in 2017.
Center researchers also have formed partnerships to help reduce exposure to mercury. For example, several researchers, core leaders, and coordinators from the Dartmouth SRP Center met with partners from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who manage remediation at two Superfund sites. They provided updates on their research related to mercury and discussed how Center activities could better support cleanup efforts at the sites.