Superfund Research Program
SRP Researchers Create Ultrastretchable Nano Barrier for Numerous Applications
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.
SRP Grantees Work to Improve Water Quality for Native Communities
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.
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.