Superfund Research Program
Duke University Superfund Research Center - Developmental Co-Exposures: Mechanisms, Outcomes, and Remediation
Center Director: Heather M. Stapleton
Grant Number: P42ES010356
Funding Period: 2000-2027
Research conducted within the Duke University’s Superfund Research Center (DUSRC) studies the neurodevelopmental health impacts of early-life co-exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals. Metals (particularly lead) and PAHs are among the top 10 contaminants identified at both Superfund and Brownfield sites, and they often co-occur. Therefore, exposure to mixtures of these contaminants is very common. And unfortunately, the communities that are often more impacted by these exposures are people of color, which can further contribute to the growing health disparities in the United States. Despite their co-occurrence, evaluations of their risks typically neglect the impacts of co-exposures. As a result, site management strategies often try to discretize the multi-contaminant problem, leading to remediation targets that are based on health risks associated with a single exposure rather than real-world mixtures.
The overarching goal of the DUSRC is to investigate co-exposures that “replicate the human experience”, as described by NIEHS’s Strategic Plan to advance environmental health science. More specifically, the Center studies the impacts of multiple contaminant exposures in humans and ecological models of neurodevelopmental health, elucidate neurotoxic mechanisms that occur from these co- exposures, and develop remediation and treatment strategies that target the highest risk contaminants without increasing the risk of other contaminants. This integration is central to evaluating the true risk from exposure to hazardous substances. The DUSRC directly addresses the program mandates by investigating health effects and risks and remediation of hazardous substances in an interdisciplinary fashion. DUSRC’s interdisciplinary team of toxicologists, exposure scientists, environmental chemists, engineers, epidemiologists, and community based environmental managers, provide the Center with a unique opportunity to address and examine this complex problem using a systems approach. In addition to responding to SRP mandates, the DUSRC’s research, research translation, and community engagement activities are also highly relevant to numerous stakeholders at the local, regional, and federal levels.