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Your Environment. Your Health.

Wayne State University

Superfund Research Program

Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research

Center Director: Melissa A. Runge-Morris
Co-Investigator: Carol Jean Miller
Grant Number: P42ES030991
Funding Period: 2022-2027
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

Summary (2022-2027)

Evidence suggests that exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX), trichloroethylene (TCE), and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), is an important determinant of maternal-offspring health, with implications for preterm birth (PTB) and associated adverse health outcomes. VOCs emanate from landfills, brownfields, and Superfund sites, contaminating shallow soils and groundwater below residential, commercial, and industrial properties, leading to exposures via vapor intrusion. The Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR) is dedicated to understanding and mitigating this serious environmental health problem with a focus on post-industrial urban centers. Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, CLEAR uses Detroit as a study site, which has the highest PTB rate in the country (15.2%) and is located in a state where 37 of the 67 Superfund sites must manage VOC contamination. CLEAR hypothesizes that VOC exposure through vapor intrusion during early life incites inflammatory responses in maternal tissues and/or the developing offspring that re-program the developing immune and other critical systems, setting the stage for PTB and/or associated adverse health outcomes. Five integrative environmental science and engineering and biomedical research projects, supported by five cores, investigate toxic mechanisms, exposure pathways, biomarkers, and strategies to prevent exposures and improve public health outcomes by:

  • Developing and testing new detection methodologies, including phytoscreening (Building Aboveground Strategies to Identify and Address Belowground Hot Spots for VOC Vapor Intrusion in Complex Urban Settings); sensor technology that integrates Internet of Things and edge computing for real-time contaminant detection and rapid-response, mitigation, and remediation (Integrated IoT Sensing and Edge Computing Coupled with a Bayesian Network Model for Exposure Assessment and Targeted Remediation of Vapor Intrusion); and a controlled toxicity bioassay using WSU-designed sealed chambers for evaluating reproductive, neurological, behavioral, immunological and multigenerational responses in zebrafish (Developmental VOC Exposure in Zebrafish: Toxic Mechanisms and Biomarkers)
  • Studying mechanistic effects of VOC exposure in a pregnant mouse model (Impact of BTEX Chemical Exposure During Pregnancy to Maternal and Fetal Well-Being)
  • Applying epidemiologic methods for estimating exposure effects via human biological specimen analysis (Epidemiological Study of Volatile Organic Compounds and Preterm Birth in Detroit); applying advanced chemical analysis, statistical approaches and visualization tools to obtain and integrate project data (Chemical Analysis Core and Data Management and Analysis Core), thereby establishing the impact of VOC exposures on PTB and associated adverse health outcomes
  • Creating an innovative model for transdisciplinary education and workforce diversity by engaging new trainees to solve complex environmental health problems (Research Experience and Training Coordination Core)
  • Engaging stakeholders and the community to inform inquiry/analysis, participate in sampling, and employ health interventions (Community Engagement Core)
  • Uniting around an Administrative Core that conducts targeted research translation to ensure a legacy of scientific awareness and supports the Superfund Research Program to improve public health in urban centers impacted by environmental contamination to protect affected communities.
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