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Your Environment. Your Health.

Progress Reports: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: Research Translation Core

Superfund Research Program

Research Translation Core

Project Leader: Kathleen Gray
Grant Number: P42ES005948
Funding Period: 2006-2018
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

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Progress Reports

Year:   2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2009  2008  2007  2006 

Empowering communities to reduce exposure to toxic metals. Since 2016, the UNC SRP Research Translation Core (RTC) has partnered with community leaders in Stokes and Wayne Counties, NC to reduce exposures to toxic metals in private well water. In addition to the RTC and community partners, the team included the Elucidating Mechanisms of Heavy Metal-Induced Toxicity and Disease led by Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., the Chemistry and Analytical Core, and Duke University’s Environmental Stable Isotope Laboratory led by Avner Vengosh, Ph.D. At the outset, the RTC surveyed over 130 private well owners to understand how residents used well water and inform development of a sampling plan. Then scientists and RTC staff sampled 60 residents' soil, tap and well water. Samples were analyzed by the SRP Chemistry and Analytical Core (kitchen tap water), Vengosh's lab (well water), and the EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory (soil). The RTC shared individual results with residents using a report-back protocol that included: (a) easy-to-read graphics comparing results to relevant federal/state guidelines, and (b) information about potential health risks of exposure to contaminants exceeding guidelines. Fry presented aggregated results at community meetings, placing individual results in a larger context. Next, the team focused on reducing harmful exposures using evidence-based, affordable solutions, such as pitcher filters capable of removing arsenic and other metals from water. Residents whose samples had high levels of arsenic or lead received filters. Analysis of samples at UNC revealed that the pitchers effectively removed arsenic, lead, and other contaminants to levels well below the relevant EPA Maximum Contaminant Levels.

Improving communication of fish consumption advisories with vulnerable populations. In June 2017, the UNC SRP Research Translation Core (RTC), in collaboration with the Center for Human Health and the Environment at NC State University, convened 15 stakeholders involved with fish consumption advisories (FCAs) in North Carolina to discuss opportunities to improve FCA messaging and communication, particularly for vulnerable populations such as subsistence fishermen. Participants included representatives from NC Cooperative Extension, NC Department of Environmental Quality, NC Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, several environmental nonprofits, and a fishing association. Following the meeting, RTC Leader Kathleen Gray met individually with 24 stakeholders across the state to learn how FCAs are currently communicated to the public, understand challenges to effective communication, and identify opportunities for creative approaches and partnerships that could improve FCA communication. As a result, the RTC also gained insight into science teaching practices and beliefs of informal science educators, which may have implications beyond North Carolina for individuals and organizations that educate the public about FCAs as well as for understanding approaches to fostering environmental health literacy. The UNC SRP research team is developing a case study highlighting the efforts of several stakeholders who appeared to be successfully enhancing environmental health literacy among fishing populations in their communities. In the coming year, the researchers expect to reconvene the group and develop recommendations for improved FCA communication and coordination among stakeholder agencies. They also anticipate working with select partners to pilot test an expansion of successful strategies identified during the stakeholder interviews.

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