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Northeastern University

Superfund Research Program

Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PRoTECT)

Center Director: Akram N. Alshawabkeh
Grant Number: P42ES017198
Funding Period: 2010-2025

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Summary (2010-2014)

Preterm birth is a major health problem in the United States. In Puerto Rico, the preterm birth rate has increased to nearly 20% of live births and there is sufficient evidence that exposure to Superfund and related contaminants are a contributing factor. The theme of the PRoTECT Program is to use Puerto Rico as a test site with dynamic exposure pathways through karstic aquifers to study Superfund and related contaminants and their contribution to preterm birth. The two goals of the Program are to:

  1. Define the relationship between exposure to Superfund and related contaminants and preterm birth; and
  2. Develop new technology for discovery, transport characterization, and green remediation of Superfund and related contaminants in karstic aquifers.

To achieve these goals, the PRoTECT program uses a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach that ultimately leads to a better understanding of causal relationships between the exposures and preterm births, and allows development of innovative remediation strategies to reduce short-term contaminant exposures, and long-term public health impacts. The five objectives of the Program are:

  1. Increase the evidence that Superfund and related contaminants contribute to preterm birth, identify the causative chemicals, and learn how to remediate these chemicals in karstic aquifers by a green process.
  2. Build a better understanding of the potential role, mechanisms and relevance of pollution induced oxidative stress in preterm birth.
  3. Discover and understand risk factors and their interactions for preterm birth by developing and mining an integrated, centralized, indexed data repository for Puerto Rico that includes epidemiological, hydrogeophysical, environmental fate and transport, and environmental exposure data.
  4. Determine the effect of episodic transport on patterns of exposure through highly mobile karstic aquifers and develop adaptable remedial actions.
  5. Improve and apply nontargeted chemical analysis including bioassay-directed chemical analysis to biological samples and environmental samples.

The PROTECT Program conducts targeted and nontargeted studies to evaluate the contribution of exposure to Superfund and related contaminants to preterm birth. The targeted studies focus on chlorinated solvents and phthalates because they are suspect and model contaminants and because they are found in many Superfund sites in the US and Puerto Rico. The cross-disciplinary approach employs the data-rich centralized data repository and integrated modeling/analysis capabilities to better understand complex interrelationships between multiple risk factors.

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