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Dartmouth College

Superfund Research Program

Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Exposure Assessment of Metals

Project Leader: Margaret R. Karagas
Grant Number: P42ES007373
Funding Period: 1995-2021

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Project Summary (2014-2021)

This biomedical project is an integral component of the Dartmouth Superfund Research Program. Over the past 18 years, project researchers have designed and tested methods of measuring environmentally relevant levels of exposure to metals and applied novel biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, and early response to large-scaled, population-based epidemiologic studies in the US. To date, project researchers have tested more than 8,000 households for arsenic (As), of which over 3,500 had private water systems. A GIS analysis of the data (performed in collaboration with the Trace Element Analysis Core) revealed distinct “clusters” of high household water As levels. Over the past five years, the researchers successfully established a pregnancy cohort of women who use private wells in one of these cluster regions. Of the household tap water samples tested thus far, approximately 15 percent exceeded the maximum contaminant level for As established by the US EPA of 10 µg/L. Over the next five years, project researchers are recruiting in another cluster region that is adjacent to planned and existing Superfund sites.

While evidence suggests that As is related to adult onset diabetes and hypertension, its effects on these outcomes during pregnancy are uncertain. Thus, the researchers are determining whether As influences glucose and blood pressure control during pregnancy and identifying potential genetic susceptibility loci for these effects. Additionally, are testing pregnant women and newborns for markers of systemic inflammation and vascular endothelial dysfunction that have been previously found to relate to As exposure among adults in more highly exposed regions. Their hypothesis is that pregnancy and fetal development represent "windows" of susceptibility to the effects of As on cardiometabolic outcomes. To the researchers’ knowledge, their study is one of the only molecular epidemiologic investigations of pregnancy and early life exposure to As in vulnerable subgroups of the general population of the US.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, and the risk for this disease begins early in life. Thus, the research team is capitalizing upon their work in the previous grant period to fill critical gaps in their understanding of the lifelong health impacts of early life exposure to As, one of the leading environmental chemicals of concern.

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