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Texas A&M University

Superfund Research Program

Experimental and Computational Engineering of Novel Optimized Multicomponent Sorbents for Toxic Mixtures

Project Leader: Timothy D. Phillips
Grant Number: P42ES027704
Funding Period: 2022-2027
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Project Summary (2022-2027)

The effects of hazardous substances in the environment can be compounded by their mobilization and redistribution in polluted sediment, soil, water, and air following natural disasters and emergencies. Of immediate concern is the safety of water and food supplies. Other threats include soil contamination (lawns, community gardens, parks, and recreational areas), along with increased risk of human dermal and inhalation exposures near the site of the impact. A major challenge associated with these emergencies is protecting vulnerable communities and neighborhoods, first responders to the disaster, frontline personnel, and those involved in the management and cleanup of the site. Thus, the ability to rapidly minimize hazardous substance effects during disaster events is a critical need.

In Aim 1 of this project, multicomponent sorbents are synthesized from diverse materials and compounds that are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), and these sorbents tightly bind environmental chemicals and design mixtures with high capacity and affinity. The reaction kinetics, thermodynamics and fundamental mechanism(s) involved in interactions between the surfaces of selected sorbent materials and hazardous environmental chemicals and mixtures are determined using currently available in vitro methods. Computational methods are used to validate and provide fundamental insights, as well as to predict sorbent properties and screen for optimum GRAS amendments, thus providing feedback and integration with all experiments. Well-established animal and plant organisms that possess a low tolerance for environmental chemicals in water, soil, and sediment include the Cnidarian model system (Hydra vulgaris), the Lemna minor (duckweed) assay, and the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode assay. These living (in vivo) model systems are used to predict the toxicity of polluted samples and to validate the efficacy of selected sorbents and in vitro and in silico results.

In Aim 2, multicomponent sorbents are being developed to remove hazardous substances from contaminated food, drinking water, and soil. Novel barrier formulations are being developed for skin protection and for filter inserts in protective masks to reduce dermal and inhalation exposures to chemicals.

In Aim 3, the team’s in vivo models are used to evaluate real-life environmental samples from disaster sites and well-characterized superfund sites. In these studies, optimal sorbents and levels of inclusion that result in detoxification of hazardous substances are determined. Existing collaborations with the Community Engagement Core, well-established technology transfer expertise, and interdisciplinary interactions in this project add an important capability and dimension to the overall center. The project-to-field pathway for the development of broad-acting sorbents and formulations for hazardous chemicals during the study has been firmly established. Relevant stakeholders and vulnerable communities were identified who may benefit from these products. It is expected that sorbent and barrier technology developed in this research will result in reduced chemical exposures in people and animals during disasters and emergencies.

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