BCM-RICE Superfund Research Program


About the Program


The preterm birth rate (PTB) in Harris County, Texas is an alarming 13.6 percent (the national average is 9.6 percent), and in areas surrounding Superfund sites, the PTB rate is even higher (>:20 percent). There are 15 Superfund sites in Harris County, posing a significant health risk to people living in the vicinity. PTB often leads to many complications, including chronic lung disease, also termed bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), and some of these patients develop neurocognitive deficits later in life. One of the possible risk factors for PTB is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), present in contaminated soil, sediments, and water at various Superfund sites across the United States, including in the greater Houston area.

The Baylor-Rice Superfund Research Program was established to examine maternal exposure to Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are present in Superfund sites. The program has established studies designed to lead to reduction of health burden associated with PAHs in Superfund sites, and should also help in risk assessment strategies by partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Texas Department of Health.


Program Activities


The overall goal of the BCM-RICE Superfund Research Program is to reduce the health burden associated with PAHs in Superfund sites. The program will focus on the following:

  • Developing ultrasensitive detection and identification strategies (e.g., surface-enhanced Raman Spectra (SERA) and surface-enhanced Infrared Absorption spectroscopy (SEIRA) for primary and secondary PAH-based compounds in air, water, and soil based on optically active engineered nanomaterials. This method is highly innovative and because it can detect PAHs at 1 ppb levels, it is very helpful for risk assessment.
  • Determining molecular mechanisms by which maternal exposure to PAH mixtures increases the risks for PTBs, which, in turn, leads to BPD and neurocognitive deficits.
  • Developing novel remediation technologies to treat sediments from Superfund sites in a manner that completely removes the health risks while adding value to the impacted media. This research should help in risk assessment.
  • Developing novel strategies to prevent and reduce the health burden associated with PAHs present in Superfund sites (e.g., Patrick Bayou, San Jacinto River Waste Pits) through the Community Engagement Core.
  • Developing partnerships with primary stakeholders (i.e., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), NIEHS, investigators within the Center and other Centers and to explore commercialization possibilities through the Administrative and Research Translational Core.
  • Training students and postdoctoral fellows in a cross-disciplinary manner, so next-generation scientists, engineers, and physicians can make fundamental contributions to environmental health.
  • Supporting the management and integration of assets across all the projects and cores of the Center. The biomedical and environmental science projects are well-integrated, and they are supported by the Administrative Core, Research Support Core, and Data Management and Analysis Core.
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