As the environmental health science field strives to better understand the complexity of personal chemical exposures, NIEHS-funded researchers at the Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) led by Kim Anderson, Ph.D., have developed a simple wristband and extraction method that can test exposure to 1,200 chemicals.
In the past few years, our Center has been conducting research to learn more about oxygenated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (OPAHs). OPAHs are one of the degradation products of parent PAHs. OPAHs are studied because they are present in the environment and pose an unknown hazard to human health.
Focus on this class of compounds has really increased in the last few years, although it’s interesting to note that there were reports of some of these compounds in the 1970’s and earlier. There are several reasons researchers want to study these compounds. OPAHs seem to be found in similar concentrations to the highly studied parent PAHs in a variety of samples ranging from diesel exhaust to urban air. Additionally, not a lot is known about the toxicity of these compounds, although early evidence suggests that they may be on par with PAHs. That’s why the OPAH research of students Andrea Knecht and Britton Goodale in Dr. Robyn Tanguay’s Lab (Project 3) has been so important.
Why measure OPAHs at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site?
It makes a lot of sense to try and measure OPAHs at Portland Harbor Superfund. PAHs have been responsible for remediation at some sites for years now, and are the precursors of OPAHs. In some cases, remediation approaches employ ultra violet (UV) light to try and degrade PAHs and thereby cleanup that site. However, it is possible that PAHs could degrade to OPAHs during the process. If no one is monitoring the products of this UV treatment, the site could remain hazardous. That’s why Norman Forsberg’s upcoming paper and Marc Elie’s work with ultra violet light in the Anderson laboratory (Project 4) is so interesting.
What still needs to be understood?
The formation and concentration of these compounds in the environment at contaminated sites are poorly understood. It is important to continue three areas of research that have been going on at OSU.
Detection: If the compounds are not present, then there’s less to worry about.
Toxicity: Addresses concerns over compounds that are detected in environmental samples.
Processes by which OPAHs are made or degraded.
With that knowledge, it will become easier to understand potential risks with this compound class.
Why is this paper important in advancing the science?
My paper is very analytical. If you watch the television series Bones, I would be most like Hodgins, except there would be less talk of “particulates” and more talk of cleaning instrumentation. But seriously, by providing two methods on very different instrumentation to measure over 20 OPAHs, I provided a helpful platform for other scientists to use and build upon to measure this compound class in a variety of applications.
Norm Forsberg received his PhD this year and has moved on from the Superfund Research Center and Project 4. One of his projects that received much attention was when he collaborated with the Community Engagement Core to research the effects of fish smoking and dietary exposure to PAHs. He published and also presented at numerous conferences.
I am currently working as a post-doctoral researcher with Oregon Department of Energy. I primarily provide technical guidance to the multi-agency Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council during their ongoing natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) of the Hanford Site. The Site, established by the federal government in 1943, is located in southeastern Washington and was the site of the world’s first plutonium production facility. More than 40 years of operation resulted in the generation of large amounts of radioactive and chemically hazardous wastes at Hanford – wastes which were released to the natural environment through direct soil discharges, subsurface injections, unplanned spills, and storage tank leaks. My efforts are largely focused on collaborating with Trustees to develop and implement fit-for-purpose contaminant concentration thresholds to help identify and quantify natural resource injury, characterize natural background levels of contaminants, identify and synthesize key ecotoxicity data from the scientific literature, and help the Trustees peer review and develop new studies to fill key knowledge gaps.
As part of our focus on PAHs, we sampled the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in air and water in the Gulf of Mexico related to the oil spill. The level of PAHs in crude oil varies between 0.2 and 7%, depending on location. Although this seems like a small percent, PAHs are a significant toxicological health concern.
Sampling was accomplished by the research staff of Project 4 using passive sampling devices (PSDs).
Initial research crew in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Pictured left to right: Kevin Hobbie, Dr. Kim Anderson,
Sarah Allan, Lane Tidwell
The Superfund Research Program is federally funded and administered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS grant #P42 ES016465), an institute of the National Institutes of Health.