March 13, 2019

This past week, 18 Science and Technology Liaisons (STL) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to a 2-hour training offered by our Superfund Program. Dr. Stacey Harper (Co-coordinator, Research Translation) welcomed the participants to Oregon State University. She and Michael Barton (Research Translation) previewed the new visualization tool being developed in our Superfund; a network analysis tool that can visualize connectivity between SRP projects.

Dr. Diana Rohlman (Co-coordinator, Research Translation) provided an overview of the SRP report-back and dissemination tools, to include multiple infographics.

Dr. Molly Kile (Leader, Community Engagement Core) discussed a potential project with the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI). This organization provides research ethics and compliance training for researchers. Working with CITI, Dr. Kile would develop a training module specific to working with Indigenous communities.

Dr. Robyn Tanguay (Director, Superfund Research Program; Leader, Systems Approach to Define Toxicity of Complex PAH Mixtures) spoke about the innovative use of zebrafish to evaluate toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, amongst many other chemical classes.

Lisandra Trine (Lab manager, Simonich lab, Formation of Hazardous PAH Breakdown Products in Complex Environmental Mixtures at Superfund Sites) discussed the ongoing research to predict and measure hazardous PAH breakdown products following remediation of Superfund sites.

The second hour of the training was devoted to laboratory tours of Dr. Kim Anderson’s laboratory (Bridging Superfund Site Based Bioavailable Extracts with Biology) and Dr. Staci Simonich’s laboratory. The STLs learned about the passive sampling technology and tools used by Dr. Anderson, and the partnership between Dr. Simonich and Pacific Northwest tribes to evaluate ambient air quality.

OSU Disaster Research Highlighted at Upcoming NIEHS Community-Based Participatory Research Workshop in India | February 26-28, 2019. New Delhi, India

Workshop Agenda available here:

The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences recently released their new strategic plan. Three dominant themes emerged:

  1. Advancing Environmental Health Sciences
  2. Promoting Translation – Data to Knowledge to Action
  3. Enhancing Environmental Health Sciences through stewardship and support.

As part of the final theme, NIEHS is committed to capacity building in global health. In February 2019, NIEHS leadership will partner with researchers and leading public health officials to host a community-based participatory research workshop in New Delhi, India. The workshop is titled “Advancing Environmental Health Science Research and Translation in India through Community Based Participatory Research Workshop.” It will focus on three major environmental health concerns; air pollution, pesticides and disaster response.  A handful of US scientists were selected to speak at this workshop. Workshop organizers reached out to Drs. Anderson and Rohlman to participate. The two have worked collaboratively since 2014, most recently on disaster response research. Dr. Rohlman and Carolyn Poutasse (Anderson graduate student) will attend the workshop. Dr. Rohlman will highlight community-engaged research and research translation specific to disaster response research, using the recent Hurricane Harvey as a case study.

The work conducted by Dr. Anderson and Dr. Rohlman utilizes the passive wristband sampler developed by the Anderson laboratory, paired with individualized reports. Dr. Anderson began responding to environmental disasters in 1999, most notably the Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010. Since then she has initiated studies following oil train derailments, wildfire smoke exposures and chemical exposures following hurricane-related flooding. Working with Dr. Rohlman and using resources from the NIH Disaster Research Response (DR2) repository, they developed one of the first university standing disaster Institutional Review Board protocols. This enables them to respond within 48 hours of a disaster. Dr. Rohlman began work on research translation within the OSU Superfund Research Center, as part of the Research Translation Core and the Community Engagement Core. A trained toxicologist, she developed plain language reports that utilized graphics to convey the results of studies.

Initially, Drs. Anderson and Rohlman began small-scale community-engaged projects, reporting back results for up to 62 chemical analytes at a time. Dr. Anderson’s laboratory continued to explore the potential of the passive wristband sampler. The sampler is now capable of detecting 1,530 unique chemicals.  This posed a unique challenge. How best to report back results from a study wherein each individual was tested for 1,530 chemicals? Drs. Anderson and Rohlman integrated community-engagement into each study, working with study participants and community liaisons to develop a comprehensive report that is designed to convey results, increase knowledge of ambient air pollution and increase awareness of risk mitigation strategies. The report is continuously improved based on participant feedback, and is evaluated based on the CDC Clear Communication Index.

Dr. Rohlman will present in the plenary session, “Indian and US case studies on environmental disasters – floods and hurricanes” along with Dr. Upasana Ghosh, a senior researcher at the Indian Institute of Health Management.

Scientific research is designed to build knowledge and explore. Sometimes, that means changing previous ideas. In the US, we have a system that reviews and updates toxic chemicals. In 2017, benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) was updated. BaP is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) ( It is also a carcinogen. Exposure to a carcinogen may increase cancer risk.

The review of BaP found it to be 7 times less toxic than previously thought. However, it is still a carcinogen. This change may impact Superfund sites that have PAHs as pollutants. Why? Because BaP is used as a standard of toxicity for 6 other carcinogenic PAHs. When the toxicity of BaP changes, it changes these other PAHs. This means that BaP and 6 other PAHs will be considered 7 times less carcinogenic. We developed a one-page infographic describing this change ( The Portland Harbor Superfund site has BaP and other PAHs. Only BaP and 6 PAHs will be affected by the change in toxicity. Other PAHs will not be changed.

Want to learn more about PAHs? Check out our newest research:


The Research Translation Core, represented by Dr. Diana Rohlman, was invited to attend and present at the 14th summit of the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition. Dr. Rohlman’s talk highlighted the innovative tools, methodologies and approaches used by the Superfund Research Program at Oregon State. One of the presented case studies highlighted the work being done at the Portland Harbor Superfund site. More information  can be found here.

Excerpted from the event summary: “Dr. Diana Rohlman kicked off the day with an introduction to research being done by the Oregon State University Superfund Research Program. Her talk emphasized the complexity of pinning down risks from manmade chemicals like Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (which are chemicals released from burning substances or during oil spills and also used in consumer goods like air fresheners) when environments like Portland Harbor are contaminated differently over time and when the effects of a given chemical often depend on which other chemicals are present or on the specific sensitivity of the exposed individual. She also pointed out that bioremediation can be problematic because chemicals are sometimes broken down into even more toxic metabolites. This means that bioremediation may sometimes successfully eliminate one compound from an environment only to replace it with something even more toxic.” Read the full article here.

Hurricane Harvey and hazardous exposures

Following a disaster, we tend to be worried about finding food and shelter, reuniting with families and pets, and cleaning up the damage left behind. We don’t tend to think about toxic chemical exposures. With Hurricane Harvey, it’s a different story.

Harvey flooded at least 13 Superfund sites flooded. Millions of pounds of hazardous chemicals were released. In addition, small explosions and chemical spills were reported. The New York Times created maps showing  the magnitude of the disaster. For example, this image from the New York Times shows flooded or damaged Superfund sites, in orange.

Only days after Harvey, OSU SRP researchers partnered with Texas A&M, University of Texas – Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine. The goal of the partnership is to place personal samplers on individuals living in and near hurricane-damaged areas. The passive sampling wristband is the perfect tool.  It doesn’t need batteries or the internet. Additionally, the wristband can detect over 1,500 different chemicals.

Disaster Research Response

Oregon State University has been preparing for disaster research for several years. This year, Oregon State received their first ‘Disaster IRB.’ This allows Oregon State researchers to deploy quickly, with appropriate controls in place to ensure participants are safe and their information is confidential. SRP investigators Drs. Kim Anderson and Rohlman worked carefully with the Oregon State Institutional Review Board to develop this IRB.

The Superfund Research Program is supporting this response effort. In the image below, SRP trainees are preparing wristbands for a September 20th deployment. We hope to enroll several hundred individuals. The results of this study will help us better understand the potentially toxic chemical exposures that could result following natural disasters.