Grant Money Helps Brown Study Superfund Pollution

By ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — With a new federal grant of nearly $10.8 million over the next five years, Brown University researchers and students in the Superfund Research Program (SRP) will be able to advance their work studying how toxicant exposures affect health, how such exposures occur, how nanotechnologies could contain contamination, and how to make sure those technologies are safe.

“There is more research to be performed,” said Kim Boekelheide, program director, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and fellow of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES). “Our scientific theme is integrated biomedical and engineering solutions to regulatory uncertainty, using interdisciplinary approaches to attack the really difficult contamination problems that matter.”

The program is pursuing four integrated projects. In one led by Boekelheide, a team is looking at the physiological effects of exposure to toxicants such as trichloroethylene on the male reproductive system. In particular, he hopes to find the subtle differences in biomolecular markers in sperm that could allow for very early detection of exposure.

In another line of research, Eric Suuberg, professor of engineering, is studying how vapors from toxic material releases can re-emerge from the soil entering into buildings built at or near the polluted sites — and why it’s hard to predict at what level of exposure will inhabitants of these buildings suffer.

In another project, Robert Hurt, an IBES fellow and professor of engineering, is studying how graphene, an atomically thin carbon material, can be used to block the release and transport of toxicants to prevent human exposures.

Hurt also is collaborating with Agnes Kane, an IBES fellow and chair and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, who is leading a study of nanomaterial effects on human health, so they can be designed and used safely in environmental and other applications.