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University of California-Berkeley

Superfund Research Program

Toxic Substances in the Environment

Center Director: Martyn T. Smith
Grant Number: P42ES004705
Funding Period: 1987-2027

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Summary (1995-2000)

The dominant theme in this program centers on the relationship between toxic substances in the environment and their consequential effect on human health and ecosystem viability. The program stresses mitigation of such substances, specifically organic compounds (trichloroethylene (TCE) and benzene), and heavy metals (arsenic and lead), in order to reduce their impact. The program is comprised of eleven research projects (eight biomedical, three nonbiomedical) and four cores.

The biomedical component of the program focuses heavily on biomarker research, and on the role that individual susceptibility plays in understanding the health effects of toxic chemical exposures. Three projects aim at the development and application of exposure biomarkers (i.e., DNA and protein adducts) for benzene and TCE at low doses. These projects are using sensitive detection systems such as accelerator mass spectrometry, 32P-postlabeling, and mass spectrometry. Other projects focus on the development of biomarkers for genetic damage, including micronucleus assays and chromosome specific alterations using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), important to the pathogenesis of leukemia. These projects are assessing genetic polymorphisms in glutathione-s-transferases for potential use as human susceptibility markers. Such biomarkers would be characterized for gender and ethnicity differences so as to be able to investigate the interactions between genes and environmental exposure.

There are three molecular epidemiology studies. One project focuses on the relationship between environmental exposures and the risk of childhood leukemia in the greater San Francisco area. Researchers are using molecular endpoints to demonstrate if exposures correlate with genetic changes, and the temporal nature of occurrence of these changes. Another project consists of a case-control biomarker study of bladder cancer. This study is investigating the relationships between arsenic exposure from drinking water and molecular alterations in bladder tumors as a function of exposure dose. The third project is using a sperm aneuploidy assay to investigate the relationship between genetic defects in sperm and the probability of fathering a chromosomally defective child. This project is also examining factors affecting rates of aneuploidy in sperm.

The three nonbiomedical projects concentrate on research in fate/transport and remediation. One project is investigating conditions which contribute to acid rock drainage and is working on developing an abatement method using biocides. Another project is focussing on the development and application of thermal techniques for removing, immobilizing or detoxifying volatile contaminants. A third project is directed toward identifying conditions under which toxic combustion products are formed. This project is establishing kinetic mechanisms that identify major pathways of formation, and to develop intervention and control systems by generating reliable realtime monitoring techniques and instrumentation.

The outreach core consists of the Children's Environmental Health Network, (CEHN) which is the first national project with a multidisciplinary and multi-cultural perspective focusing on prevention of childhood exposures to environmental hazards.

Collaborating institutions include: Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory, U.C. at San Francisco, California Public Health Foundation, Children's Hospital of Oakland, University of Washington, Lawrence-Berkeley Laboratory, California Department of Health Services, Impact, Inc., Univesity of Minnesota, University of Southern California, Duke University, San Diego State University, California Pacific Medical Center.

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