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University of Iowa

Superfund Research Program

Research Experience & Training Coordination Core

Project Leader: James Ankrum
Co-Investigators: Jonathan A. Doorn, Gregory LeFevre, Rachel F. Marek, Brian Westra
Grant Number: P42ES013661
Funding Period: 2006-2025
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Project Summary (2020-2025)

The 20th century brought the chemical revolution and the steady increase of large-scale production of chemicals. Only later did the problem of environmental persistence of some of these new and useful chemicals become evident, and only recently did the team discover the magnitude of the negative health effects caused by these pollutants, including brain diseases and metabolic syndrome, cancer, fertility problems, reduced immune system function, and even hearing loss and autism. Moreover, these pollutants may volatilize and contaminate indoor and outdoor air. Environmental health and engineering professionals must now deal with these legacy contaminants in multiple dimensions to protect humans and the environment, and to prevent future contamination. As a consequence, the traditional training approach designed to produce specialized experts in individual, narrow disciplines is clearly inappropriate to prepare trainees for leadership roles in environmental health and technology. Instead, future scientists and engineers need thorough training in their specific fields, supported by basic knowledge of diverse areas (socioeconomics, policy, engineering, and science), along with communication and collaboration skills to work with specialists in other disciplines and with varied stakeholders and affected communities. To properly prepare students and post-docs, the Iowa Superfund Research Program (ISRP) Research Experience and Training Coordination Core (RETCC) will: 1) identify, promote, evaluate, and track interdisciplinary training approaches; 2) coordinate training in ISRP methods and applications; 3) develop opportunities for trainee participation in the ISRP Community Engagement Core and in research translation activities; 4) interact with the ISRP Data Management and Analysis Core to provide training in data management, analysis, and data sharing; and 5) offer opportunities for professional career development. In the last funding circle (April 2015–November 2018), 48 graduate students and postdocs (24 ongoing) obtained such training. To build on this success, the Center is creating and coordinating a unique set of courses, seminars, workshops, community outreach, and research translation experiences, so all ISRP trainees can gain insights into health effects, risk, detection, and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the needs of stakeholders and affected communities, and how to build a successful career. ISRP researchers make this possible through established, successful, supportive collaborations with colleagues representing diverse areas such as toxicology, occupational and environmental health, medicinal pharmacology, environmental and medical engineering, and urban and regional planning, along with extraordinary support from the University of Iowa Graduate College. The RETCC’s unique resources will ensure its future success of preparing a new generation of scientists and engineers to solve the environmental pollution challenges of the 21st century.

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