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Environmental Factor, April 2012

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Seminar series marks ATSDR/Superfund collaboration

By Rebecca Wilson

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Staci Simonich, Ph.D.

Simonich holds a joint appointment in the department of chemistry and department of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University, where she heads a research lab supported by NIEHS SRP funding. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

More than 50 staff members from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) gathered Feb. 15 in Atlanta, and online, for a presentation by Staci Simonich, Ph.D. Simonich, an NIEHS-funded Superfund Research Program (SRP) researcher, shared findings from her work tracking air pollution from China to the west coast of the United States.

Simonich’s presentation was the latest in a seminar series that connects SRP researchers with government regulators and researchers in sister agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

ATSDR is a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Like NIEHS, which is one of 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health, ATSDR and CDC are part of HHS.

Simonich’s talk, “What Goes Around Comes Around: Chasing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons from the Beijing Olympics to the U.S. West Coast,” detailed sources and environmental detection methods for more than 150 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), an airborne contaminant of major importance in ATSDR field work. After her presentation, Simonich received a tour of the ATSDR facility, met with airborne contamination experts about their research needs, and discussed opportunities for collaboration.

Forming interagency partnerships to advance public health

The SRP ATSDR seminar series began in 2007, when University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill SRP researcher Frederick Pfaender, Ph.D., was invited to ATSDR to give a seminar about the role bioavailability plays in determining pollutant exposure. The presentation was so well received that other researchers were invited to present in 2008, and a series was launched. Since then, 16 investigators have presented their research to an ever-growing audience of regulators and researchers.

“The SRP seminar series at ATSDR has become a signature communication tool that provides SRP grantees a window into the ATSDR and an understanding of the challenges it faces,” said Beth Anderson, program analyst for the SRP. “At the same time, it is a venue to advance the use and utility of the SRP research findings. It is a nice match for both the SRP and the ATSDR.”

SRP researchers report that they have benefited from giving seminars, as well. “I very much enjoyed my conversations during my visit,” said Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., of her 2011 visit and presentation. “I felt like it brought some practical aspects to my research.” Pennell, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, researches how gaseous pollutants seep into buildings and pollute the air inside.

These seminars have also led to long-term collaborations. Clement Furlong, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, presented his research about the neurological effects of exposure to organophosphates in 2008. Organophosphates are found in pesticides used in commercial farming practices, and exposure to them can cause neurological damage. The seminar allowed Furlong to collaborate with scientists at ATSDR and they now work together to develop biomarkers to test for exposure. One biomarker assay has been created and three more are under development. Furlong said they plan to collaborate on a poster, presenting their research at a conference this summer.

An additional seminar is planned for the fall of 2012 . Abstracts from previous seminars are available on the SRP/ATSDR seminar series Web page.

(Rebecca Wilson is an environmental health information specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program and Worker Education and Training Program.)

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