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Your Environment. Your Health.

March 2018 Superfund Research Program Science Digest

Superfund Research Program Science Digest
Balancing Scientific Excellence with Research Relevance


SRP materials promote research dissemination and engagement

Getting science into the hands of people who can use it is an essential element of the Superfund Research Program (SRP). As part of this effort, SRP grantees have developed materials that can be used to explain scientific research and inform communities about potential health threats from pollution. The products are used to describe research findings, visualize data, and promote training and environmental education.

The SRP has a strong history of working with communities and proactively communicating scientific accomplishments to other researchers, industry, government agencies, and the public. Materials developed by SRP grantees support the exchange of knowledge and encourage community participation in science. This feature provides examples of products developed by SRP grantees to move SRP-funded research beyond scientific journals and into tangible products for stakeholders, from the public to the greater scientific community.

Describing sources of contaminants and ways to reduce exposure

SRP-funded researchers have developed materials to explain how people are exposed to pollution and how they can prevent or reduce their exposures. These materials include information from SRP-funded research on the movement of contaminants in the environment, as well as their health effects. For example:

  • Arsenic in food and water: Arsenic and You,
    Arsenic and You website

    The Arsenic and You website clearly explains arsenic exposure and provides specific examples of ways to reduce that exposure. Concrete actions described on the site include cooking rice like cooking pasta — using extra water and then draining the cooked rice can get rid of about half of the arsenic.
    (Photo courtesy of the Dartmouth SRP Center)

    developed by the Dartmouth SRP Center, provides a wealth of information on how people are exposed to arsenic and steps they can take to reduce exposures. The website answers questions about arsenic in food, water, and other sources.
  • Chemicals in household products: Northeastern University’s Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) resource center, PROTECT Yourself: Keeping Harmful Chemicals Out of Your Life, informs users about potentially harmful chemicals in a variety of everyday products—like food storage containers, detergents, and cleaning products—and provides tips on how to adjust eating, living, and purchasing habits to limit exposure.
  • Pollutants in food: A University of Kentucky
    Body Balance

    This University of Kentucky SRP Center fact sheet explains how simple actions, such as trimming fat from meat, are effective ways to reduce exposure to chemicals like PCBs and pesticides.
    (Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky SRP Center)

    SRP Center fact sheet, Body Balance: Protect Your Body from Pollution with a Healthy Lifestyle, provides tips on how to cut down environmental pollutants in one’s food.
  • Environmental concerns near contaminated sites: The University of Arizona SRP Center put together a series of community information sheets in English and Spanish to provide both community members who live near contaminated sites and the general public a basic introduction to environmental issues. The series includes information about specific chemicals, as well as more general information about mine waste, outdoor dust, risk assessment, and remediation.

Researching and explaining risks from specific chemicals

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

The Oregon State University SRP Center focuses on identifying PAHs in the environment and determining how they affect human health. Its website includes resources to learn more about PAHs.
(Photo courtesy of the Oregon State University SRP Center)

These educational materials and infographics often focus on chemicals being investigated by SRP grantees or were developed in response to specific community concerns. These include:

  • PAHs: The Oregon State SRP Center describes the sources and effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in its informational website, All about PAHs, which provides helpful facts and guidance, using infographics and videos. Users can learn about what happens to PAHs in the environment, how one might be exposed, and the connection between PAHs and human health.
  • Metals: In response to community-driven
    Arsenic and lead fact sheet

    The fact sheet includes graphics to explain the complicated concept of bioavailability.
    (Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona and University of North Carolina SRP Centers)

    requests to understand the concept of bioavailability, the University of Arizona (UA) and University of North Carolina (UNC) SRP Centers worked together to develop several innovative educational materials on the bioavailability of arsenic and lead. Both metals can vary in their bioavailability, or the amount of the metal that is absorbed into the body following skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation. This topic is important for communities impacted by metals contamination because the bioavailability of metals has implications for cleanup decisions. The UA and UNC team created a fact sheet, a slide set, and a demonstration with a facilitator guide that can be used to explain bioavailability.
  • PCBs: New Bedford Harbor is a federally designated Superfund site because of high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PCBs) and heavy metals in its sediment, water, and fish. To inform nearby communities about the risk, the Boston University SRP Center put together a reference guide on PCBs for New Bedford Harbor residents.
  • Arsenic: The Columbia University SRP Center’s New Jersey Arsenic Awareness Initiative informs New Jersey private well owners about the need to test their wells and the importance of treating drinking water for arsenic when results show levels exceeding state standards.
  • Flame retardants: The Duke University SRP Center is examining the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture and inviting U.S. residents to submit foam samples from their homes. After submitting a sample to What's in my foam?, residents receive a report detailing the presence or absence of seven common flame-retardant chemicals, as well as information about potential health effects from exposure.

Reaching target audiences

SRP grantees create materials about environmental health topics for a variety of audiences. Tailoring information to specific audiences may improve the effectiveness of outreach and engagement.

  • Health care professionals: The Northeastern PROTECT Center developed a Reproductive Health Bulletin for health care professionals, which presents up-to-date research about exposures to environmental chemicals and preterm birth.
  • Anglers in North Carolina: The
    Fishing sites

    The Eat Fish, Choose Wisely brochure includes a color-coded guide to fishing sites, which correspond to specific advisories on the consumption of fish in those areas.
    (Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina SRP Center)

    Eat Fish, Choose Wisely brochure and website, created by the University of North Carolina SRP Center, helps local anglers identify fish that are safe to eat in North Carolina’s Research Triangle region. The resources combine information about possible contaminants and their health effects with an emphasis on the importance of eating fish as part of a healthy diet.
  • Anglers in Michigan: The Michigan State University SRP Center created a mobile app that gives the public easier and faster access to the state’s Eat Safe Fish program, which provides a guide to find out if one is at risk from chemicals in fish.
  • Industrial hygienists: University of Minnesota grantees are developing a comprehensive Web-based curriculum on occupational hygiene, focusing on applications to worker health and safety in emerging technologies. Their YouTube channel includes narrated lessons, hands-on activity demonstrations, and short learning videos.
  • Tribes: The Oregon State University SRP Center created videos to train members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation on how to use personal air samplers. Tribal volunteers use the personal air samplers while they are smoking fish and other food to investigate potential exposures, like PAHs, that occur during the smoking process.

Mapping and data visualization

PFAS map

The Brown model uses information about potential PFAS sources, which can help screen potentially contaminated areas to target for testing.
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Guelfo)

SRP grantees also have developed resources that can be used by other researchers or agencies to visualize data, from mapping contamination sources to individual exposure risk. These include:

  • Identifying potential PFAS sources: Researchers at Brown University have developed a framework to predict areas with potential per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) groundwater contamination using publicly available data. The geospatial framework, which was described on a 2017 SRP webinar, is used to map data of potential PFAS sources.
  • Mapping disease risk from study data: The Boston University SRP Center has developed computational resources to visualize and test different combinations of data and to examine how the contributions of risk factors, exposures, and underlying geographic patterns may interplay to increase disease risk.
  • Spatial analysis of Superfund toxicants: The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) SRP Center is collaborating with the UCSD Spatial Information Systems Lab to create an open-access Web application for scientific mapping and spatial analysis of Superfund toxicants. This technology enables scientists and planners to combine existing publicly available data sources on geographic features and exposure data and display it spatially as multiple layers on clickable maps.
  • Mapping high-risk areas for garden contamination: Duke SRP Center members are developing maps that indicate locations in North Carolina with a potentially high risk of soil contamination. This will help gardeners choose lower risk areas for community gardens to reduce exposure to soil contaminants and pesticides.