Oregon State University
Superfund Research Program
PAHs: New Technologies and Emerging Health Risks
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors only 16 priority PAH compounds at Superfund sites out of the hundreds to thousands of PAHs present. These PAHs differ dramatically within and between sites. The analytical challenge of identifying and quantifying these complex mixtures is formidable, while characterizing the toxicity of the actual mixtures in vivo is impossible by current approaches. Furthermore, toxicity studies have focused primarily on DNA damage and cancer as endpoints for regulatory purposes, although many PAHs are known to cause cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, behavioral anomalies and other adverse health effects that are not addressed in current risk assessments.
Remediation at Superfund sites can further increase the complexity and bioavailability of PAH mixtures, particularly with remediation strategies involving oxidation, UV exposure and other chemical transformations. These actions create oxy-PAHs and other uncharacterized species that may be more soluble and potentially more toxic than the original parent compounds. EPA lacks validated tools to assess the presence, bioavailability and biological effects of these byproducts of remediation and the information needed to assess what would be the most appropriate remediation strategy at different Superfund sites.
The Oregon State University Superfund Research Program (OSU SRP) is multi-investigator, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional. In partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, and other stakeholders and collaborators, OSU SRP seeks to develop new technologies to assess polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found at many of the nation's Superfund sites and assess the risk they pose for human health.
OSU SRP is pursuing a number of innovative and high impact research goals including:
- The first ever study of how humans take-up and excrete carcinogenic PAHs at environmental levels of exposure
- Physiologically Based Pharmacokinetic (PBPK) models for risk assessment of PAH mixtures
- Determination of developmental toxicities of PAH mixtures and PAHs formed in the environment using a zebrafish model
- Passive sampling devices to assess bioavailable PAHs at Superfund sites and the effectiveness of remediation strategies
- New analytical approaches to assessing chemical changes in PAHs in solids and sediments at Superfund sites over time.