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University of Rhode Island

Superfund Research Program

Assessing the Contribution of Polyfluoroalkyl Precursors to Diverse PFAS Exposures near Contaminated Sites

Project Leader: Elsie M. Sunderland
Grant Number: P42ES027706
Funding Period: 2022-2027
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

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Project Summary (2022-2027)

Hundreds of U.S. sites are contaminated by poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been associated with harmful effects on immune function, metabolism, and endocrine health.

This research project provides a critical link between the biomedical and engineering projects by focusing of PFAS exposure sources of concern near contaminated Superfund sites (air, water, and fish). It directly addresses the SRP mandate to develop methods and resources to detect hazardous substances and assess the risks they pose to human health through the development of novel mechanistic and statistical tools to support PFAS exposure assessment and innovative environmental measurements in collaboration with Passive Samplers in Support of Remediation, Detection and Bioaccumulation of PFAS using a suite of analytical techniques to close the PFAS mass budget.

Most prior work has focused on a limited suite of PFAS analytes, transport through aqueous media, and drinking water as the main vector of exposure. However, abundant polyfluoroalkyl precursors that degrade into terminal PFAS have been detected in environmental samples, atmospheric deposition is increasingly recognized as a major PFAS transport pathway, and contaminated seafood is another important vector for human exposure. The central hypothesis of this research is that environmental PFAS exposures have been substantially underestimated due to large quantities of undetected polyfluoroalkyl precursors present in air, water, and biota.

Researchers investigate the propensity of PFAS precursors for bioaccumulation in aquatic food webs using field research in Cape Cod, MA, downstream of aqueous film forming foam- contaminated sites. New knowledge of PFAS bioaccumulation mechanisms from field research and collaboration with Mechanisms of Exposure aims to formalize a mechanistic food web model, compared to traditional SRP contaminants of concern (e.g., polychlorinated biphenyls and methylmercury), that can be applied to understand time trends in seafood exposures for Faroese children in Critical Effects Associated with Developmental PFAS Exposure Profiles. The researchers develop modeling tools for characterizing atmospheric source-receptor relationships for PFAS across the contiguous U.S. and enhance statistical approaches for predicting private wells likely to have PFAS contamination in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey.

This work is conducted in partnership with many stakeholders including the Mashpee-Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, MA in partnership with the Community Engagement Core (CEC) and state program managers and scientists in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey. All modeling and data management practices for new measurements and model output will be supported by the Data Management and Analysis Core (DMAC). This research and engagement with multiple states will provide ample training opportunities through the Research Experience and Training Coordination Core (RETCC).

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