Superfund Research Program
Impact of Airborne Heavy Metals on Lung Disease and the Environment
Center Director: Veena Antony
Grant Number: P42ES027723
Funding Period: 2020-2025
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Superfund Research Program (UAB SRP) addresses environmental airborne pollution with heavy metals and its impact on respiratory health and environmental degradation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed that the 35th Avenue Superfund site, located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, be placed on the National Priorities List. The contaminants of potential concern identified by the EPA include cadmium, arsenic, and manganese, which are being studied in the UAB SRP. The site is home to nearly 20,000 people and is close to coke furnaces, steel mills, and other industry. The population is predominantly composed of African Americans who recall their recent civil rights struggles in Birmingham and request environmental equity as well as answers to their concerns about their respiratory health. The prevalence of chronic lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma in children, and lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) is significantly higher in the affected area compared to the neighboring control area irrespective of smoking, socioeconomic status, or demographics. The EPA is in the process of remediating the area, removing soil with high arsenic levels from several homes. The UAB SRP consists of three biomedical projects and two environmental/engineering projects that focus on both human lung health and the health of the environment. All biomedical projects involve direct study of subjects from the affected area with a focus on COPD, asthma, and LRTI. The environmental projects include the development and use of an optical nose" to measure toxicants in the field. Remediation via nano-micro hybrid fibrous material for contaminant removal is being studied. Transparent, bidirectional communication with the community is fostered through the Community Engagement Core and the Administrative / Research Translation Core. The innovative, problem-based, solution-oriented UAB SRP is providing a deeper understanding of the health of the environment and directly impacting the lung health of the residents of Birmingham, Alabama.