Annual Report 2010

UI Superfund Research Program receives $16 million grant to study pollutants

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Larry Robertson, Ph.D.
Professor, Program Director

April 22, 2010

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has awarded the University of Iowa Superfund Research Program (isrp) a five-year, $16 million grant to study the health effects of environmental pollutants, especially polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in water, former industrial sites and the atmosphere.

The isrp investigators – 22 scientists representing the UI Colleges of Public Health, Medicine, Engineering and Pharmacy – measure sources, transport and environmental exposure of PCBs, their impact on animals and humans, and novel methods of clean-up, including the use of plants to remove PCBs from soil, groundwater and air.

Current studies also include a community-based project near Chicago assessing exposures to residents who live or work in the vicinity of sources of PCBs.

“This award ensures the continuity of research that is addressing critical health concerns in the Midwest and the nation,” said Larry Robertson, professor of occupational and environmental health and Superfund program director. Robertson also directs the UI interdisciplinary graduate program in human toxicology.

The grant will fund research activities as well as salaries of 78 faculty and staff members, undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars.

In 2006, UI researchers received a four-year, $12 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to establish a Superfund Research Program. With this latest grant, which took effect April 1, the isrp has received a total of $28 million for this research effort.

Superfund is the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, while the research program here at Iowa is the basic research arm of that effort, and is administered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. The Superfund Research Program is a network of university grants that are designed to seek solutions to the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation's hazardous wastes.

Why Study PCBs?

Is the fish on your plate safe to eat?

People in the Great Lakes region must ask this question. Studies have found elevated levels of semi-volatile Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in contaminated waters associated with former industrial sites.

Many faculty in Iowa’s human toxicology graduate program are also involved with the Superfund Basic Research Program at The University of Iowa (ISBRP). ISBRP studies the consequences of atmospheric sources and exposures to semi-volatile PCBs, and it deals with volatilization, transport, and exposure levels of lower halogenated PCBs, especially those PCBs that are associated with contaminated waters, former industrial sites, and other atmospheric sources.