$11 Million Superfund Award Addresses Volatile Organic Chemicals Research


Wayne State’s Melissa Runge-Morris and Carol Miller have received an $11.3 million award from NIEHS for a new Superfund Research Program. Credit: Alexis Wright, Wayne State University undergraduate student, College of Fine, Performing and Communication ARts

Key Points:

  • An $11.3 million award from the NIH to Wayne State University has set up CLEAR—the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research.
  • The center will focus on understanding and mitigating adverse birth outcomes and serious health problems due to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs),
  • The research will first focus on Detroit, as it has the highest preterm birth rate in the United States.

Wayne State University (Detroit) has received a five-year, approximately $11.3 million award to create a new Superfund Research Program—the Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR). The center will be dedicated to understanding and mitigating adverse birth outcomes and serious developmental health problems that have been associated with urban environmental exposure to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), a special class of pollutant found in the subsurface of post-industrial cities like Detroit.

Focusing on Detroit, CLEAR will provide new methods for assessment, testing and mitigation to help reduce toxic exposures and improve health outcomes. Detroit has the highest preterm birth rate in the United States. The city also has a very large number of identified sites of environmental contamination (brownfields) with VOCs.

The CLEAR team hypothesizes that VOC exposure through vapor intrusion early in life incites inflammatory responses in maternal tissues as well in the developing offspring that reprogram the developing immune system and other critical systems, setting the stage for preterm birth and/or associated adverse health outcomes.

The interdisciplinary CLEAR team comprises engineering and biomedical scientists, educators and community partners.

Team leader Melissa Runge-Morris, M.D., says CLEAR will have five research projects that will investigate “toxic mechanisms, exposure pathways, biomarkers and strategies to prevent exposures and improve public health outcomes.” This will include new detection methodologies including phytoscreening, a screening method used to identify bioactive substances in plants. Runge-Morris says the team will also integrate Internet of Things and edge computing for real-time contaminant detection, rapid-response, mitigation and remediation of toxins.

CLEAR, supported by the award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, will also offer a training component for Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows, providing hands-on field and laboratory research, microinternships, and a graduate certificate in urban environmental health.

Information provided by Wayne State University.



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