$11.3M NIH Superfund Award Addresses Environmental Health Issues Caused by VOCs

Wayne State University Leads Interdisciplinary, Multi-Institutional Team

Wayne State University received approximately $11.3 million in awards over five years from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health to create a new Superfund research program, the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR). This center focuses on the adverse birth outcomes and serious developmental health problems associated with urban environmental exposure to volatile organic chemicals, a special class of pollutants found underground in post-industrial cities like Detroit. We are committed to understanding and mitigating

Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) are a group of aromatic or chlorinated organic compounds that turn into vapors or gases. They are the source of indoor air pollution in urban environments. Commonly encountered VOCs include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, trichlorethylene and tetrachlorethylene. Nationwide, VOCs pose a potential threat to human health through a process known as ‘vapor ingress’. Vapor intrusion occurs when subterranean man-made chemicals vaporize and rise underground, eventually migrating above homes and buildings through structural cracks in walls, floors and building foundations. .

CLEAR offers new methods for assessment, testing and mitigation that can help reduce toxic exposure and improve health. It also provides an important training component for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, offering hands-on field and laboratory studies, micro-internships, and graduate certificate opportunities in urban environmental health.

Headquartered on the Wayne State University campus, CLEAR will focus on Detroit as its primary research hub. The CLEAR team is made up of engineering and biomedical scientists, educators, and community partners.

Melissa Runzi Morris, MD

Detroit has the highest preterm birth rate in the United States. The city also has a large number of locations where environmental pollution (brownfields) by VOCs has been confirmed. The CLEAR team found that VOC exposure via vapor intrusion early in life not only induces an inflammatory response in maternal tissues, but also develops offspring that reprogram the immune system and other vital systems, leading to premature birth and/or related complications. hypothesized to set the stage for adverse health outcomes.

The CLEAR research team is led by Melissa Runge-Morris, M.D., professor of oncology, and Carol Miller, M.D., who co-leads the One Health Initiative at Wayne State University. Dr. Runge-Morris is Director of the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors at Wayne State University. Miller is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wayne State University and Director of Healthy Urban Waters, which is funded by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. Her innovative CLEAR program integrates engineering and biomedical approaches to detect, quantify and eradicate health risks resulting from environmental exposure to VOCs and their mixtures. The research team consisted of her 31 faculty members from her six colleges and schools at Wayne State University, along with researchers from Henry Ford Health, Michigan State University, Ann Arbor Technical Services, North Carolina State University, and the University of Florida. increase.

Dr. Runge-Morris said, “Five integrated environmental science and engineering and biomedical research projects investigating toxicity mechanisms, exposure pathways, biomarkers, and strategies to prevent exposure and improve public health outcomes. We plan to implement it,” he said. “This includes new detection methodologies, including phytoscreening, a screening method used to identify bioactive substances in plants. Detect, rapidly respond to, and mitigate and remediate toxins from contaminants.Apply advanced analytical methods and tools to determine the impact of VOC exposure on preterm birth and other adverse health effects.”

The CLEAR team recently presented new evidence linking preterm birth outcomes to Detroit VOC contamination. This study showed the association between VOC exposure and adverse birth outcomes noted in other studies in the United States, Canada, France, Brazil, and Spain. The team also found a link between VOC exposure and maternal inflammation, as well as changes in placental gene expression.

“Detroit has the largest minority population in the Great Lakes region and a number of health and environmental injustices,” Miller said. “These are associated with aging infrastructure and prevalent legacy pollutants. It’s important to find out: This research will help assess, test, and mitigate measures to reduce exposure to toxic substances and improve the health of vulnerable communities not only in Detroit, but in the United States and many other cities around the world. It is important for researching and developing new methods.”

The project number for this National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences award is P42ES030991.

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