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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Superfund Research Program

MIT Superfund Hazardous Substance Basic Research Program

Center Director: William G. Thilly
Grant Number: P42ES004675
Funding Period: 1987-2000

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Summary (1995-2000)

MIT Program Summary

This program is concerned with mechanisms responsible for the hazardous effects of chemicals found at Superfund sites, with particular reference to the Aberjona watershed. The program exhibits close connections between laboratory and field studies, and the research is providing valuable information on transport, transformation, and human exposure to environmental contaminants at low concentrations. Each project provides an integrated approach by using the human population and the area of the Aberjona watershed, (a 63 square kilometer watershed with a population of about 50,000 people), which serves as an environmental laboratory. The overall program consists of twelve projects (three biomedical and nine nonbiomedical) and a laboratory core.

There are six projects which deal primarily with the fate and transport of hazardous chemical contaminants, particularly semivolatile organics, chromium, and arsenates. These projects utilize the multidisciplinary specialties of hydrogeology, environmental chemistry, computer, math, and conceptual modeling, and geophysical imaging Two projects focus on understanding the processes leading to human exposure to toxic substances via drinking water. Two other projects are examining the processes involved in the transport of arsenic and other metals in the watershed. Of the remaining two projects which study transport and fate, one is developing the capabilities to predict the delivery of semivolatile organic contaminants to nearby streams. The other project is generating 3-D representations of subsurface conditions, including the effects of rock fractures on contaminant transport.

The three remediation projects focus on improvement and toxicological evaluation of chemical destruction technology. One project seeks to understand and control the chemistry responsible for mutagen formation during the pyrolysis and oxidation of wastes from Superfund sites. A similar project aims at developing a quantitative understanding of the destruction of hazardous chemicals by oxidation and hydrolysis in sub and supercritical water, and will use human cell assays to determine mutagenic characteristics of incomplete products of such oxidation. A third project is providing new scientific and engineering understanding for safely applying thermal treatment to soil decontamination.

The three biomedical projects involve the development and application of technology to measure chemical reaction products and genetic changes directly in human blood and tissue samples. Research efforts are concentrated on determining mutational spectra for river sediments and chromium and arsenic mixtures in cell lines. The developed methodology will be applied to blood samples obtained from 5 multi-generational families living in several communities, to discover if specific mutational spectra are observed in chromium-exposed residents. In a related endeavor, new biomarkers of exposure for detecting and measuring protein and DNA adducts formed by contaminants in the Aberjona watershed are being developed.

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