University of Rhode Island
Superfund Research Program
Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFASs (STEEP)
Center Director: Rainer Lohmann
Grant Number: P42ES027706
Funding Period: 2017-2022
The University of Rhode Island-led Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFASs (STEEP) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center is addressing the emerging and expanding problem of poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) contamination. PFASs are industrial compounds that have been manufactured since the 1950s for use in a myriad of products due to their unique oil and water repellent properties. The environmental dissemination and the human health effects of PFASs are only beginning to emerge. In the 2015 draft ToxProfile, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry highlighted uncertainties and disregarded recent reports on adverse human health effects of PFAS exposures from epidemiological studies. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency belatedly published chronic drinking water health advisories for PFASs at 70 parts per trillion (70 nanogram per liter) for the sum of PFOA and PFOS. EPA's health advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, though. Thus, the need for improved risk characterization is urgent and timely.
STEEP aims to better understand the pathways of PFAS contamination from entry into the environment through groundwater contamination, dispersal through the food web, and distribution to vulnerable human populations during early development, in part through breast milk. Specifically, STEEP is characterizing sources of PFAS through in situ groundwater measurements combined with geochemical modeling to assess transport and fate as part of the Exposure Assessment and Chemometrics of PFASs project. The biomedical studies are assessing the relationship of PFAS to risk of immune dysfunction and metabolic abnormalities, to be used to derive benchmark doses levels for PFASs for improved risk characterization. Due to the hyper-susceptibility during early development, the research focuses on the impact of in utero and early postnatal PFAS exposures on sensitive indicators of organ dysfunctions through parallel human epidemiologic studies, through the Inflammation and Metabolic Changes in Children Developmentally Exposed to PFASs project, and rodent model studies, as part of the PFAS Compound Effects on Metabolic Abnormalities in Rodents project. Environmental engineering and chemistry research is supporting the development and deployment of in situ passive sampling techniques for PFAS and their precursors in water in the Developing Passive Samplers for the Detection and Bioaccumulation of PFASs in Water and Porewater project. STEEP is thereby addressing limitations in the current understanding of human exposure to PFAS by combining targeted human exposure assessment with chemometric approaches to characterize existing PFAS sources.
To ensure a legacy of scientific awareness, the dissemination of broadly accessible research findings, and practical application by affected communities, STEEP Cores match the intensity and rigor of the research projects. STEEP Cores serve to a) prepare the next generation of interdisciplinary emerging contaminant researchers (Training Core), b) translate scientific findings generated by STEEP projects for dissemination to various internal and external stakeholders (Research Translation Core), and c) engage Cape Cod communities on the front lines of PFASs exposure through drinking water contaminated by Aqueous film forming foam use at Joint Base Cape Cod (Community Engagement Core). The Administrative Core, led by its directors, and guided by Internal and External Advisory Committees, ensures the integration of STEEP's projects and cores.