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Texas A&M University

Superfund Research Program

Mitigation of Chemical and Mixture Effects Through Broad-Acting Sorbents

Project Leader: Timothy D. Phillips
Co-Investigator: Phanourios Tamamis
Grant Number: P42ES027704
Funding Period: 2017-2022
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Project Summary (2017-2022)

People and animals can be unintentionally exposed to complex mixtures of hazardous chemicals following natural and man-made disasters. A major challenge associated with these emergencies is the protection of vulnerable communities and neighborhoods located near the site of impact, first responders, and those involved in management and cleanup of the site. Of immediate concern during hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, acts of terrorism, and chemical spills is the associated re-distribution of contaminated sediment and soil and its impact on the safety of the municipal water supply and food being consumed near the site. Potable water can be rapidly depleted and food can become contaminated during these events, increasing the risk of unintended exposure to hazardous substances. Thus, the ability to minimize human and animal exposures to complex chemical mixtures during disaster events is an attractive option.

As part of the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Program (TAMU SRP) Center, this project focuses on developing and testing the efficacy of broad-acting entero-sorbent materials for prioritized Superfund chemicals and chemical mixtures from several sites where hazardous substances may be mobilized and contaminate food and water during disaster events, such as the Galveston Bay/Houston Ship Channel area. The research team is also characterizing the thermodynamics and fundamental mechanisms involved in the resulting chemical/surface interactions between these sorbent materials and chemicals. They are developing sorbents with high affinity, capacity, and enthalpy for complex mixtures of commonly occurring polychlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons, PCBs, dioxins/furans, high use industrial solvents, plasticizers, pesticides and metals. They also use a Cnidarian model system (Hydra vulgaris) to predict the toxicity and efficacy of sorbents at the whole animal level against reconstituted ("design") and "real-life" chemical mixtures. Hydra possess a very low tolerance for environmental chemicals (including PAHs, organic solvents, plasticizers, pesticides and metals) and their aquatic nature makes them ideal for assessing the toxicity of contaminated water.

The long-term goal of this work is to deploy the novel entero-sorbent materials developed in this project in communities at risk of unintended exposure to hazardous substances during disasters, in order to decrease the bioavailability of toxic environmental contaminants in the gastrointestinal tract and reduce the adverse health effects of exposure during disaster emergencies. The researchers anticipate that the optimal sorbents developed in this project can be included in food (such as snacks), condiments, and flavored water, or delivered by sachet or capsule. This project works closely with the TAMU SRP Center Community Engagement Core and Research Translation Core to gauge interest within at-risk populations and the feasibility of using entero-sorbent materials to minimize the health hazards posed by unintentional exposures from water and food during chemical emergencies.

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