Superfund Research Program

September 2023

Kelly Pennell
Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., became director of the UK SRP Center in 2020. Under her leadership, the center has partnered with community partners to reduce contaminant exposures from drinking water in Eastern Kentucky and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Pennell).

As a high schooler, Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., was inspired by environmental and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa to help people affected by environmental exposures. Now, as director of the University of Kentucky (UK) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, she is working to protect public health from exposures to toxic substances like PFAS, trichloroethylene (TCE), and tetrachloroethene (PCE).

Pennell’s current research examines how chemicals travel from one place to another, particularly vapor intrusion – the movement of gas-forming chemicals into buildings from contaminated groundwater and soil. Recently, her team began researching PFAS and developed a diagnostic map to visualize PFAS hotspots.

“We aim to conduct the best science that is relevant, credible, and moves knowledge forward,” Pennell said. “Science is a process, and if we don’t keep growing, we don’t innovate, and we stagnate.”

Under Pennell’s leadership, UK SRP also works with communities to respond to their concerns about chronic diseases and environmental pollutants. The team partnered with community members to reduce contaminant exposures from drinking water in Eastern Kentucky. Pennell continues to address public concerns and believes UK SRP is equipped to handle complex community needs in the future.

Read more in her NIEHS Grantee Highlight.