CHAPEL HILL -- As part of the nation's Superfund research and clean-up efforts, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, has awarded $16 million to scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The grant will enable the public health and engineering experts to continue work begun with NIEHS support in 1991 for another five years.
"We're trying to understand the human health and environmental risks associated with hazardous waste sites and to devise strategies for cleaning up such sites to minimize public health concerns," said Dr. James A. Swenberg, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC-CH School of Public Health and Superfund Basic Research project director. "We have created an interdisciplinary group of scientists leading eight research projects and five cores supporting studies of the health consequences of exposure to toxic substances. These dedicated people are examining the potential of neutralizing hazardous wastes and developing new strategies for cleaning up Superfund sites."
Swenberg's group, for example, is trying to determine how chemicals such as trichloroethylene and polychlorinated biphenyls found at Superfund sites damage health through a process known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when electrically charged molecules called free radicals damage nucleic acids, proteins, fats and enzymes.
"We are developing new techniques to measure the level of oxidative stress in the body through use of biomarkers, which are biological indicators of damage or disease in the body," Swenberg said. "We're also developing a dose-response model, which predicts how levels of exposure to chemicals correspond to the amount of oxidative stress in the body. Another area of research is how genetic traits may make certain individuals more susceptible to oxidative stress."