Brief Summary of Major Accomplishments during 2011
Highlights for 2011:
Arsenic Removal Via ZVI in a Hybrid Spouted Vessel/Fixed Bed Filter System
This Highlight is based on the Senior Honors Thesis of Lakshmi Madhavan (Sc.B. Honors Graduate in Chemical Engineering, 2011) and the Masters degree thesis of Johannes Kirchner (2010).
Removal of aqueous arsenic species with zero-valent iron (ZVI) is an abiotic process that occurs on ZVI materials as they corrode in water. Arsenic ions are removed from solution via a mechanism involving adsorption, co-precipitation, and surface complexation with ZVI-generated iron oxides, hydroxides, and oxyhydroxides. The most positive feature of this method is that it can be applied in various environments in a relatively simple manner as a passive treatment technique. One of the primary problems with ZVI, however, is that it can be quite slow, depending on the nature of the ZVI source, particularly at low arsenic concentrations, and especially for static or “barrier-type” systems where the corrosion/arsenic product complex layer builds up over time and acts as a diffusion barrier that inhibits further arsenic removal, and ZVI utilization. It is also known that colloidal-size iron corrosion products (i.e., micro/nanoparticles) can be very effective for arsenic removal, primarily due to their high specific surface area, but they are also more difficult to use due to handling problems.
We have been exploring the use of spouted vessels for the enhancement/improvement of arsenic removal with ZVI. The spouted vessel circulates particles by entraining them in a liquid jet that moves them upwards in a high velocity “draft tube”, and then downwards onto an inverted conical distributor as the liquid velocity decreases above the draft tube. The distributor moves the particles to the periphery of the vessel where they fall onto a moving bed of particles that collect on the vessel bottom that as they make their way back to the entrainment point at the center. The particles in the dense moving bed on the vessel bottom are in continual contact with one another, which produces an abrasive action among them. This “self-polishing” action continuously generates new colloidal iron corrosion products from the material that forms on the particle surfaces, which then circulates with the water in the vessel. This also acts as a “surface renewal” mechanism that continuously exposes fresh iron to form new corrosion products. It was determined that the circulating colloidal corrosion products do remove arsenic from the solution, but relatively slowly due to their dilute nature.
However, when a filter was installed within the spouted vessel to remove the colloidal material from the circulating water, it was found that the initial rate of arsenic removal increased dramatically to about 2 µg/L/min. The drinking water MCL of 10 µg/L was achieved in about 45 min., and then to less than detectable limits in about 50 min. The marked increase in removal rate is attributed to concentration of the colloidal material in the filter to such an extent that the process becomes arsenic concentration-limited (that is, an excess of complexation sites) with little or no mass transfer resistance due to the high relative velocity between the concentrated colloidal material and the liquid within the filter.
The novel hybrid character of the system lies in its dual-function nature, whereby colloidal material is continuously generated in the moving bed on the spouted vessel bottom, and arsenic removal occurs primarily in the fixed bed filter in a high rate, kinetically-controlled regime. This method of generation of colloidal corrosion products is capable of utilizing essentially all the ZVI material, which can be introduced hydrodynamically into the spouted vessel as it is consumed, in a continuous or cyclic manner.
Operation of the hybrid system is simple. It requires essentially no attention other than periodic backwashing of the filter, which can be readily automated. With the current system, under the operating conditions used, the filter begins to plug after about 28h on stream. This cycle time is sufficient to remove essentially all the arsenic at an initial concentration of 100 µg/L to less than detectable limits from about 800 L of water, or about 7-8 gal/h in a relatively small device. It can also be readily scaled-up (e.g., with greater filter and liquid capacities, etc.). Moreover, it is expected that potentially significant improvements in performance beyond those reported here can be achieved via system optimization, such as more optimal filter types/capacities, geometry/operating conditions of the spouted vessel, pH control to maximize corrosion product formation, etc.
PROJECT 1: Mechanism of Toxicant-induced Testicular Sensitization
Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D.
The testis is an important target organ for chemical-induced toxicity. Little is known at the mechanistic or practical level about the effects of complex low dose exposures on the testis. This research project seeks to understand how exposure to one testicular toxicant alters the susceptibility of the testis to injury by a second testicular toxicant, and to develop sperm biomarkers of low dose testicular toxicant exposure. This is highly relevant to hazardous chemical sites, where complex low dose exposures are the norm.
We have shown that exposure to a Sertoli toxicant, altering the supportive function of the seminiferous epithelium, protects against a subsequent germ cell toxicant exposure. This striking observation suggests the presence of protective mechanisms within germ cells that are activated in response to harsh environmental conditions rendering them less vulnerable to toxicant injury. To date, we have identified muted responses in pro-apoptotic pathways in this co-exposure setting, explaining the protective effect.
Much progress has been made during this past year in the development of sperm biomarkers. A major publication in PLoS ONE first-authored by graduate student Sara Pacheco showed that alterations in human sperm DNA methylation status and mRNA content are associated with low motility. This work involved Andy Houseman (Analytical Core), and Karl Kelsey and Carmen Marsit (Project 8). In recent yet unpublished work using a rat model to develop subcellular sperm biomarkers to augment traditional sperm measures, we evaluated low dose exposures to two cell-type specific testicular toxicants (2,5-hexanedione [HD] and 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane [DBCP]) for 90 days followed by a 90 day recovery period. Rats exposed to HD for 3 months had specific mRNA transcript changes in sperm (n=138) that resolved after 3 months of post-exposure recovery. Rats exposed to DBCP for 3 months had no altered sperm transcripts. A time course was performed to determine the kinetics of the HD effect, and time-dependent alterations were observed for 10 candidate transcript biomarkers. We conclude that sperm molecular signatures are more sensitive than traditional endpoints used to assess testicular toxicity, are predictive of low-dose testicular injury, and may be persistently altered for months after an exposure has ended.
Project 2: Toxicity Of Metallic Nanoparticles And Carbon Nanotubes
Agnes Kane, M.D., Ph.D.
Project 2 investigates potential toxicity of commercial nanomaterials. Graphene-family nanomaterials (GFNs) are a new family of engineered nanomaterials and there have been limited studies of their potential toxicity. These materials are manufactured using thermal or chemical exfoliation of graphite producing potentially respirable dry powders. Incomplete uptake of high aspect ratio nanomaterials as well as GFNs with large lateral dimensions has been linked with toxicity. In collaboration with Robert Hurt (Project 6) and Huajian Gao in the School of Engineering and Yang Qui supported by the Training Core, we used molecular dynamics modeling to study the biophysical mechanism for near-vertical entry of carbon nanotubes, metallic nanowires, and asbestos fibers into target cells. This collaborative work was published in Nature Nanotechnology. The mechanistic implications of incomplete uptake of high aspect ratio one or two-dimensional carbon nanomaterials is incomplete packaging in lysosomes and disruption of lysosomal membrane integrity. We have demonstrated that two commercial samples of carbon nanotubes, but not spherical carbon black nanoparticles, disrupt the lysosomal membrane allowing release of a neutral protease, cathepsin B, into the cytoplasm. This protease cleaves procaspases resulting in cell death by apoptosis. Ongoing studies in collaboration with Paula Weston (Molecular Pathology Core) are investigating the packaging of carbon nanomaterials in cytoplasmic vesicles and the integrity of intracellular organelles using a combination of confocal microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and focused ion beam microscopy.
The research involving metallic nickel nanomaterials was completed during the past year and published in Toxicological Sciences. This is a collaborative study between Projects 2,4 and 6 with assistance from the Analytical and Molecular Pathology Cores. This paper raises concerns about potential lung carcinogenicity of nickel and nickel oxide nanoparticles and was highlighted in a News Forum in Environmental Health Perspectives 119:A512, 2011.
In the next project year, Projects 2 and 6 will continue this collaboration and systematically assess the impact of geometry, stiffness, lateral dimensions, and layer number of GFNs on toxicity using human lung epithelial cells as target cells. A panel of GFNs will be fabricated and characterized and assessed for cellular uptake, compartmentalization in lysosomes, lysosomal membrane integrity, and toxicity over a range of doses and exposure times. Systematic assessment of dimensions, shape, and surface chemistry of GFNs with respect to these toxicological endpoints will guide design of safer GFNs with decreased potential to induce lung toxicity and adverse environmental and human health impacts.
On October 13-15, 2011, Agnes Kane participated in the Libby Amphibole Research Symposium held in Libby, Montana. The town of Libby is on the National Priority List due to widespread contamination with amphibole asbestos fibers associated with a local vermiculite mine. This symposium included Libby residents and high school students, researchers, and representatives from government regulatory agencies to discuss this important public health problem. Agnes Kane’s talk summarized her research funded by SRP on “Comparative Genotoxicity of Crocidolite and Libby Amphibole Asbestos”. She also moderated two discussion sessions on Mechanistic Research and Summary of Research Gaps and Collaborative Research Opportunities
Project 3: Genetic Stress and Toxicant-induced Pregnancy Disruption
Surendra Sharma, M.B.B.S., Ph.D.
Epidemiological observations suggest that exposure to a commercial preparation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) through food chain or environment causes reproductive anomalies such as premature and low birth weight deliveries. In these reports, offspring born to PCB-exposed mothers also developed neurological and learning morbidities. Recent observations also suggest that exposure to PCBs causes hypertension and transgenerational defects. These studies raise two important questions. First, no direct or experimental evidence is available in support of epidemiological observations. Second, it is not clear which PCB congeners, dioxin-like or non-dioxin-like, elicit these effects. Although PCBs exert serious health risks in humans and wildlife, no anti-PCB factors have been identified. Importantly, no mechanistic studies have been performed to delineate the targets and pathways affected by PCBs.
We have reported that Aroclor 1254 when injected i.p. in pregnant IL-10-/- mice induces preterm delivery, amniotic fluid increase and loss of righting reflex in newborns. PCB exposure did not cause pregnancy anomalies in wild type mice, suggesting a gene-environment type of effect in IL-10-/- mice. To delineate the mechanism(s) for these observations, our laboratory has recently identified a novel target of PCBs, aquaporin 1 (AQP1), in the mouse and human placenta that regulates angiogenic activities, amniotic fluid and fetal development during pregnancy. Importantly, AQP1 protein content is significantly reduced in uteroplacental tissue, and this effect could be reversed by IL-10. These data suggest that IL-10 could function as a potent anti-PCB agent. Our recent results suggest that PCB 126 (dioxin-like) and PCB 153 (non-dioxin-like) cause hypertension in pregnant, but not non-pregnant, mice. PCB 126, not PCB 153, causes preterm delivery and low birth weight. Since PCBs cause preeclampsia-like effects (hypertension disease in pregnant women) and since AQP1 is an angiogenic protein, our results invoke the role of the Notch-dll4 axis in the anti-angiogenic potential of PCBs where PCBs disrupt endovascular cross talk between placental trophoblast cells and uterine endothelial cells. We are currently investigating the effect of different PCB congeners on uterine immune cells, particularly NK cells and regulatory T cells, important regulators of pregnancy. Our results for the first time provide experimental support for the epidemiological observations.
Project 4: Biological Dosimetry of Hexavalent Chromium
Anatoly Zhitkovich, Ph.D.
Human exposure to chromium (Cr) usually involves a mixture of Cr-3 and Cr-6, two oxidation forms with dramatically different toxicological profiles. Cr-6 (hexavalent chromium) is a potent human carcinogen whereas Cr-3 is nontoxic and noncarcinogenic. The extent of exposure to Cr-6 cannot be assessed by chemical speciation analyses because of a rapid conversion of Cr-6 to Cr-3 in human tissues. A promising biodosimeter of Cr-6 are DNA-protein crosslinks (DPC), which have been found to be elevated in environmentally and occupationally exposed human populations. One important limitation of DPC as a biomarker is our limited understanding of their toxicological significance and cellular processing. We have performed a series of biochemical and cell biological studies focused on the determination of stress signaling responses to this superbulky class of DNA damage. We have found that the formation of DPC in human cells results in a potent activation of the transcriptional factor p53, which engages cellular death programs. ATR kinase was identified as a sensor of DPC in human cells and the primary cause of p53 activation. Despite their bulky nature, DPC were detected by genome surveillance mechanisms only in S but not other cell cycle phases. The inability of human cells to detect DPC outside the S phase helps explain their persistence in nondividing cells, such as peripheral blood lymphocytes used in biomonitoring studies.
Project 5: Development of Novel Electrochemical Techniques for Heavy Metals Removal and Remediation
Joseph Calo, Ph.D., P.E.
Work with the novel Cyclic Electrowinning/Precipitation (CEP) system continued in two directions:
(1) Separation of specific metals on different, dedicated sets of particles, as a means of recovery from aqueous solution mixtures. Experiments were conducted in a “batchwise” fashion on different particle sets at specific points in the CEP cycle in order to simulate a comparable continuous process. Both binary and ternary mixtures of the metals Cu, Ni, and Cd were successfully separated on the different sets of particles.
(2) Contaminated soil samples were obtained from the bank of the Seekonk River at Butler Hospital in Providence at low tide. The riverbank at Butler Hospital and Angel St. is an old landfill site, and a municipal sludge discharge point is located on the bank at Pitman St. All the samples were found to contain significant levels of Hg, Cd, Cr, Cu, and Ni. The Pitman St. samples exhibited higher concentrations than the others, especially Cu which was consistently found to be > 500 ppm. Leachates from these samples are currently being run in the CEP system.
A technique has been developed for the electrodeposition of selenium on carbon substrates for enhanced mercury capture from aqueous solutions, while eliminating Se leaching. Both blue, uniform Se films at high reduction potentials (~0.5V), and red, rough Se films at lower reduction potentials (~0.6V) were produced. The blue films are more strongly bonded to carbon than the red films and also exhibit high sensitivity to aqueous Hg(II) concentration at ppb levels, which may lead to the development of a sensitive Hg(II) (aq) detector. The Se/C materials show promise for the development of “high performance” sorbents for mercury removal from aqueous solutions. Mercury-containing solutions produced from contaminated samples (described above) are currently being used in aqueous mercury remediation studies.
A spouted vessel/fixed bed filter system has been developed for the removal of arsenic from water. The system utilizes zero-valent iron (ZVI) particles circulating in a spouted vessel which continuously generates active colloidal iron corrosion products via the “self-polishing” action between ZVI source particles rolling in the moving bed that forms on the conical bottom of the spouted vessel. This action also serves as a “surface renewal” mechanism for the particles that provides for maximum ZVI utilization. The colloidal material produced in this fashion is continuously captured and concentrated in an internal fixed bed filter wherein arsenic complexation occurs. This system is has been shown to reduce 100 µg/L of arsenic to below detectable levels (<<10µg/L) in less than an hour. The apparent kinetic behavior of arsenic in systems where colloidal (i.e., micro/nano) iron corrosion products are dominant can be complex and may not be explained by simple first or zero order kinetics.
Project 6: Nanomaterial Design for Environmental Health and Safety
Robert Hurt, Ph.D.
Project 6 investigates the fundamental interactions of nanomaterials with biological and environmental systems, and seeks principles of nanomaterial design that support both function and safety. In 2011 we collaborated extensively with the group of Agnes Kane (Project 2) to study the biological responses to carbon nanomaterials. The Kane and Hurt groups collaborated with the molecular modeling group of Dr. H. Gao at Brown to show both experimentally and theoretically that long and thin nanotubes enter cells in a “tip-entry” mode. Uptake of nanotubes is initiated when rounded tube caps contact the cell membrane and mimic particles that activate receptor-mediated endocytosis. The early stage of uptake is followed by tube rotation to the vertical driven by asymmetric elastic strain in the cell membrane. In this vertical tip-entry mode, the cells cannot sense the total fiber length and can attempt to ingest materials that are in fact too long, leading to cellular frustration and toxicity. The results are described in a 2011 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.
We also began work on the cellular interactions of graphene, again in collaboration with Project 2, and wrote an invited review article on graphene toxicity and safety for the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology. We found that much of the potential for exposure and risk arises not from monolayer graphene but to related commercial materials such as few-layer-graphene. Few-layer-graphene is often produced as a dry powder using thermal exfoliation, which can lead to inhalation exposures. Graphene materials can be either benign or toxic to cells depending upon variations across the material family in layer number, lateral size, stiffness, hydrophobicity, surface functionalization, and dose. We also initiated experimental studies in this area and report size-dependent uptake into macrophages, and the ability of graphene to cause in vitro artifacts due to adsorption from cell culture media and the quenching of molecular probe dyes, both related to the ultra-high surface area of these atomically thin plates.
A second thrust focused on the environmental and biological transformations of nanosilver, which is one of the highest volume nanomaterials on the market today. Although silver is a noble metal, the nanoparticle form may undergo profound chemical transformations in the environment that mediate its fate, transport, and toxicity. In 2011 we studied two possible routes for nanosilver transformation in the environment: (i) oxidation to free ions and soluble complexes, and (ii) oxysulfidation to silver sulfide nanoparticles, which have been found in the products of water treatment plants. We carried out a study of nanosilver oxysulfidation under environmentally relevant but controlled laboratory conditions. We observed the formation of silver sulfide nanostructures similar to those observed in the field and reported quantitative reaction rates and stoichiometries in a paper in Environmental Science and Technology. The formation of silver sulfide nanoparticles has important implications, because the sulfide phase sequesters toxic silver, and its formation can reduce the environmental and human health impact of nanosilver releases.
Project 7: Low Concentration Vapor Exposures in Complex Systems and
the Problem of Vapor Intrusion
Eric M, Suuberg, Sc.D., P.E.
Project 7 supports three different activities centered on characterization of exposure routes to organic chemicals of concern.
Property Measurements on Organic Compounds of Concern. We continued to obtain thermodynamic data of relevance to environmental scientists modeling fate and transport of organic chemicals of concern. In 2011 we have published papers on the properties defining the behavior of tar materials of concern at many contaminated sites. We have also given attention to the thermodynamic properties of halogenated aromatics, including publishing on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a class of flame retardants of increasing environmental health concern. This portion of the project is motivated by practical aspects related to a need for the kinds of property data being measured, in order to understand how these materials can move in the environment. Such data can also be useful in design of thermally-based remediation strategies for contaminated soils- they allow answering the question of just how severe heat treatment needs to be in order to remove the contaminants from the soil.
Vapor Intrusion Modeling. Our laboratory continues to develop models that can guide the investigation and assessment of contaminated sites on which there is concern regarding entry of vapor contaminants into structures built atop those sites. The effort at Brown has been primarily aimed at developing a computational fluid dynamics methodology to permit those involved with such sites to better understand the processes occurring on the sites. Our aim has been to show how readily available commercial mathematical modeling packages can be used to show key aspects of the vapor intrusion process. We have used these methods to publish papers illustrating when simpler, widely used modeling packages (e.g., Johnson and Ettinger, as implemented by the EPA) are successful/unsuccessful in capturing relevant behavior. This modeling effort has been supplemented by a field study now based at UMass Dartmouth (through an ARRA supplement), in which data from a site in Massachusetts are being examined in the context of these models.
Evaluation of Passive Samplers for Establishing the Bioavailability of Contaminants in Sediments. Another supplement-funded project involves collaboration with the EPA ORD/NHEERL Atlantic Ecology Division Laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island. This project has considered the relative performance of different polymer-based passive samplers for establishing the bioavailability of contaminants in sediments. Normally, to gauge the ecological and potential human health hazard associated with uptake by marine organisms of contaminants from sediments, certain standard organisms were employed in testing regimens. Often field testing with organisms has been difficult due to other, uncontrolled environmental factors that confounded the analysis of the data. By use of various polymer model systems, the variability associated with use of organisms can be avoided. In this project, three common materials or device types, PE, POM and SPME, were compared under identical actual field conditions. The results obtained pointed to the specificity of certain types of samplers for certain types of compounds (e.g., PAH and PCB uptakes are higher in PE as compared to POM, but the reverse was true for PBDE.
Administrative Core (Core A)
Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D.
Our SRP hired two State Agency Liaisons; their appointments began June 1, 2011. Marcella Remer Thompson, our Environmental Health State Agency Liaison, and James Rice, our Engineering State Agency Liaison, will serve our SRP by communicating basic research results to key constituents of the Rhode Island state agency professionals and the community, and by expanding the scope and relevance of our environmental health and engineering research within Rhode Island.
Our annual retreat was held on 01/21/11 at Brown’s Laboratories for Molecular Medicine Building. The theme was “Future Directions of SRP-funded Research.” Presentations by project and core leaders emphasized research highlights and translational impact. The retreat ended with a social mixer and poster session. Participants included SRP faculty and students, key administrators at Brown University, interested members from the Brown community and our External Advisory Committee.
Our SRP helped launch and organize an annual New England Superfund Research Program Meeting, held on April 25, 2011, at Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA. The focus of the meeting was on identifying potential areas of collaboration among the New England SRPs in areas of science as well as community engagement and research translation.
Research Translation Core (Core B)
Eric M, Suuberg, Sc.D., P.E.
Our Research Translation Core (RTC) effort has expanded beyond that originally proposed and funded. Eric Suuberg continues as Core Leader, working with the grant-funded State Agencies Liaison (SAL, Jim Rice, replacing Kelly Pennell, now a faculty member at UMass Dartmouth). This SAL position is principally focused on RT associated with the non-biomed projects and a second newly created SAL position (funded by Brown University, held by Marcy Thompson), is focused on RT efforts related to environmental health. Both SALs serve as bridges to relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, policymakers, professional organizations, and other SRPs. We continue collaboration with Kelly Pennell, and through an ARRA supplement that she directs, with Boston University, and the Massachusetts DEP. This latter project combines field research and translation activity in the area of vapor intrusion, and involves work in a residential neighborhood of Somerville, MA.
Recently, the RTC has worked with regulators, developers, and consultants at two regional NPL sites. Together with our Analytical Core and the Fisherville Redevelopment Company, Jim Rice leads an effort aimed at providing analytical information to assess (bio)remediation efforts at the Fisherville Mill NPL site (Grafton, MA). Jim has also met with EPA, RI DEM, RI DOH, community activists, lawyers, and media regarding the Centredale Manor NPL site (North Providence, RI). Earlier involvement at this site was through the Community Engagement Core (CEC, led by Phil Brown), but as remediation efforts continue at this site, we see opportunities for research. For example, we are looking into partnering with the EPA labs at Narragansett Rhode Island to determine how the remediation influences bioavailability of the sediment contaminants being remediated.
James Rice is working with Professor Jillian Goldfarb (University of NH) on organizing a Superfund-related symposium entitled, Addressing the Complex Site: Chemistry, Toxicology, and Fate of Mixed Pollutants Across Environmental Media, which has been accepted by the American Chemical Society and will be part of the Fall 2012 ACS National Meeting. This forum will allow SRP researchers and others from around the world to share SRP-relevant findings at a major international meeting.
We continue partnering with local and regional stakeholders, including the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting and the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association. Professors Robert Hurt and Agnes Kane will speak to regional waste-site-cleanup workers and regulators about fate, transport and toxicology of nanomaterials via webinar on January 24. This past September Professor Suuberg presented a webinar/seminar hosted by the PROTECT Northeastern University SRP, on the topic of vapor intrusion research.
Brown hosted an Epigenetics and Fetal Origins of Health and Disease Symposium in October 2011. Some 79 professionals from the RI Department of Health, academia, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations attended the event and 23 Registered Nurses received continuing education credits.
Marcella Thompson recently attended the 2011 Health Impact Assessment Practitioners Summer Training Course in Oakland, CA. She now serves as a local specialist on the topic, and has presented on the subject for audiences at both the RI DOH and the RI DEM.
Analytical Core — Chemistry and Biostatistics (Core C)
David Murray, Ph.D. Zhijin Wu, Ph.D. (Biostatistics)
The Analytical Core - Biostatistics personnel have been working closely with research project personnel to provide statistical consulting, data analysis and manuscript preparation. Houseman has been supervising the research by Devin Koestler, a SRP trainee, on developing statistical methodology for semi-supervised clustering of high-dimensional genomic data. The methodology under development is particularly useful for the type of epigenetic data generated in Project 8. Semi-supervised recursively partitioned mixture models for identifying cancer subtypes is published in Bioinformatics. Devin Koestler’s PhD thesis, titled Enhancements for Model-based Clustering of High Dimensional Genomic Data, was completed in 2011.
The Analytical Core – Chemistry personnel have been active maintaining instruments used for research projects as well as training project personnel to perform measurements with these instruments. In addition to routine analyses on the Graphite Furnace AAS (GFAAS) and ICP-AES devices, the mercury vapor and liquid analyzers have been used extensively to assess remediation techniques of mercury removal from vapors and liquid waste streams. We established a facility to clean and digest nail clippings and processed over 5000 samples of toenail clippings from Bangladesh for trace metal analysis. The Analytical Core facility is being used to analyze metals and organic contaminants in cores for Narragansett Bay as part of collaborative projects (NIH-INBRE and NOAA/SeaGrant) to examine mercury cycling and reconstruct changes in environmental conditions in Narragansett Bay and the surrounding watershed. Core personnel helped develop techniques and worked with undergraduate students to analyze polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediment samples. Brown senior, Sara Kinslow, is using these techniques for her senior thesis project, supervised by Murray and Huang. In collaboration with James Rice and Eric Suuberg of the Research Translation Core, Dr. Huang is leading the laboratory effort to analyze petroleum hydrocarbons in soil and water samples from the Fisherville Mill site in Brockton, MA as part of a project in site remediation.
In a partnership with William Suggs from Chemistry, Murray and Huang received funding to develop a class on instrumental analysis that will be offered for the first time in the Spring 2011. A major thrust in the class will be a group-based project to design a sampling plan and analyze samples from a local contaminated site using various analytical techniques available in the Analytical Core facility. Huang has also incorporated a final project in his environmental geochemistry class where students conduct research and report on remediation efforts and land reuse at a chemically contaminated site.
Molecular Pathology Core (Core D)
Mary Hixon, Ph.D.
Analyses performed include:
Project 1 (Kim Boekelheide, PI) – tissue processing, paraffin embedding, sectioning, staining and TUNEL assays for a variety of tissue types.
Project 2 (Agnes Kane, PI) – transmission and scanning electron microscopy for cultured cells treated with nanomaterials. Developing a protocol for Focused Ion Beam Technology to improve the quality of high resolution images.
Project 3 (Surendra Sharma, PI) – Routine staining for placental tissues and trouble shooting for various staining techniques.
Non-SRP labs: In addition, we continue to service research labs outside of the Superfund umbrella and clients outside of Brown University.
Community Outreach Core — Environmental Health and Justice (Core E)
Phil Brown, Ph.D.
We continue to coordinate programs with the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. The Community Environmental College provides a free 8-week summer program that educates Providence high school students on environmental justice, toxicants, air pollution, waste, food, and climate change. In 2011, its third summer, 47 students graduated from three courses: environmental justice, food justice, and leadership, media and arts.
ECO Youth is a new year-round after-school with public education workshops, demonstration projects and multi-media projects. Students converted a bus to run on vegetable oil as part of the Green Drive project to raise awareness about sustainable transportation. We initiated a mentorship program between Brown students and ECO Youth participants to help them with college applications and, for our first “graduates,” adjusting to their first year of college.
The Healthy Corner Store Initiative promotes the availability of healthy food and fresh produce in small, racially and ethnically diverse food stores in Providence and Pawtucket. The project involves healthy “makeovers” to local food stores, and a policy stakeholder task force to pursue legislative food. We worked with 15 stores this past summer to carry healthier snacks including fresh fruit cups in barrel coolers that students designed.
The Weatherization Open Houses brought neighbors together to help 8 families weatherize their residences. This reduces energy consumption,, offers useful skill building, and makes retrofitting more affordable.
We work with EJLRI and residents living next to the former Gorham Manufacturing Site. Achievements in 2011 include approval of a remediation plan; quarterly meetings with all stakeholders to ensure progress and transparency in the cleanup; subslab air testing and installation of ventilation systems by the responsible party in four of the homes tested; and education about the remediation effort to students, parents and staff at Alvarez high school.
With our partner Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council we are working on the EPA restoration plan of the Centredale Manor NPL site and engaging resident groups in the public comment and design processes.
We support the efforts of our community partner Neighborhood Awareness Committee of Tiverton to ensure a thorough remediation of manufactured gas production waste. We are writing an article about the community’s experience and lessons learned, providing recommendations to other communities facing toxic cleanups.
Our monthly “Science Café” series brought experts together with the public to discuss issues such as climate change education, breast cancer and environmental pollution, extended producer responsibility, and healthy hospitals.
We initiated, along with the Children’s Environmental Health Center, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment in Rhode Island, a statewide coalition of hospitals, professional associations, nursing schools, unions, academic institutions, government agencies, local food groups, and environmental groups which promotes cost-effective, healthy and sustainable health care institutions. We organized a successful conference with 80 participants. A second, is now in planning for April 2012. We do visits with hospitals to aid them in setting up “green teams.”
Our student-led GreenStage after-school theater program empowered high school students to investigate local environmental health issues through creative exercises, theatre games, personal reflection, and public performances.
Training Core (Core F)
Agnes Kane, M.D., Ph.D.
The Training Core continues to support interdisciplinary research, educational, and community outreach activities related to this SRP grant and Brownfields in Rhode Island. N. Gozde Durmus is a Biomedical Engineering graduate student working with Agnes Kane (Project 2) on genotoxicity of carbon nanotubes. David Ciplet is a Sociology graduate student working with Phil Brown (Community Outreach Core) on community environmental health engagement activities. He is actively involved in Eco Youth, a collaboration between the SRP Community Outreach Core and its nonprofit community partner, the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. He is actively engaged in the Community Environmental College now in its third year of providing free eight-week programs to high school students in Providence. Yang Qui is an engineering graduate student working on toxicity of graphene family nanomaterials in collaboration with Agnes Kane (Project 2) and Robert Hurt (Project 6). These graduate students are active participants in the SRP monthly seminar series and in the SRP Student Round Up where they give research presentations to an interdisciplinary audience.
The core sponsored an Environmental Research Ethics Seminar on June 20, 2011 that was led by Phil Brown (Community Outreach Core) and Diane Quigley. Two case vignettes were presented related to cultural competence and informed consent. A total of 22 faculty and trainees attended and participated in this discussion. Stephanie Malin, PhD. was recruited as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. She will offer a graduate-level course, Human Health, the Environment, and Public Policy in the spring semester, 2012. This course will examine the intersections between human health, collective action for environmental justice, and responses from public policy institutions. Case studies will be discussed including environmental uranium contamination in the American Southwest and asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana which is on the National Priority List.
Finally, Agnes Kane, Training Core Director, is serving as the faculty advisor for a medical student Scholarly Concentration. Clay Wiske is a second-year student who is focusing on the benefits and risks of nanotechnology in medicine. He pursued a research project in Dr. Anubav Tripathi’s laboratory in the School of Engineering in the summer, 2011 and was a guest lecturer in a course on Environmental Toxicology and Human Health offered at Pfizer by Brown University. He will continue to pursue his interests in nanotechnology and nanomedicine during his third and fourth years of medical school. This SRP grant provides a unique opportunity to educate the next generation of health professionals about environmental toxicants and human health impacts.