$11.3 Million Award from NIH Superfund to Address Environmental Health Problems Caused by VOCs – Research and Discovery


Melissa Runge-Morris, MD and Carol Miller, Ph.D., of Wayne State, have received an $11.3 million NIEHS award for a new Superfund research program. Art by Alexis Wright, WSU student.

Wayne State will lead a multidisciplinary, multi-organizational team

Melissa Runge-Morris, MD

DETROIT – Wayne State University received an award of approximately $11.3 million over five years from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health to create a new Superfund research program, the “Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research (CLAIR). The center will be dedicated to understanding and mitigating the adverse birth outcomes and serious developmental health problems that have been associated with urban environmental exposure to volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), a special class of pollutants found in the subsoil of post-industrial cities like Detroit.

Carol Miller, Ph.D.

VOCs are a group of aromatic or chlorinated organic compounds that convert to vapor or gas. They are a source of indoor air contamination in the urban built environment. Commonly encountered VOCs include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, trichlorethylene and tetrachlorethylene. Nationally, VOCs pose a potential threat to human health through a process called “vapor intrusion”. Vapor intrusion occurs when man-made chemicals in the basement vaporize, rise through the basement and eventually migrate into overlying homes and buildings through structural cracks in walls, floors and building foundations. CLEAR will provide new assessment, testing and mitigation methods to help reduce toxic exposures and improve health outcomes. It will also offer an important training component for the doctorate. students and postdoctoral fellows, providing opportunities for hands-on field and laboratory research, micro-internships, and a graduate certificate in urban environmental health.

Based on the campus of Wayne State University, CLEAR will focus on Detroit as the primary study site. The CLEAR team is made up of biomedical engineers and scientists, educators and community partners. Detroit has the highest premature birth rate in the United States. The city also has a very large number of identified sites of environmental contamination (industrial wastelands) by VOCs. The CLEAR team hypothesizes that exposure to VOCs via vapor intrusion in early life causes inflammatory responses in maternal tissues as well as developing offspring that reprogram the developing immune system and other systems. critical, setting the stage for premature birth and/or adverse health effects.

The CLEAR research team is led by Melissa Runge-Morris, MD, and Carol Miller, Ph.D., who also co-lead the One Health Initiative at Wayne State University. Runge-Morris is the director of the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors (IEHS/CURES) at Wayne State University. Engineer Miller is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Wayne State University and director of Healthy Urban Waters, funded by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. The innovative CLEAR program integrates engineering and biomedical approaches to detect, quantify and eradicate the health risks that arise from environmental exposure to VOCs and their mixtures. The research team is made up of 31 professors from six colleges and schools in Wayne State, as well as researchers from Henry Ford Health System, Michigan State University, Ann Arbor Technical Services, Inc., North Carolina State University and the University of Florida.

“We will have five integrative environmental science and engineering and biomedical research projects that will investigate toxic mechanisms, exposure pathways, biomarkers and strategies to prevent exposures and improve public health outcomes,” Runge said. – Morris. “This will include new detection methodologies, including phytoscreening – a screening method used to identify bioactive substances in plants. Additionally, we will integrate the Internet of Things and edge computing for real-time contaminant detection, rapid response, mitigation and toxin removal. We will apply advanced analytical methods and tools to determine the impact of VOC exposures on preterm birth and other adverse health effects.

The CLEAR team recently published new evidence linking premature births in people to VOC pollution in Detroit. The study demonstrated positive associations between VOC exposures and adverse birth outcomes that have been noted in other studies in the United States, Canada, France, Brazil and Spain. The CLEAR team also found a positive association between VOC exposure and maternal inflammation as well as changes in placental gene expression.

“Detroit has the highest minority population in the Great Lakes region with issues of numerous health and environmental injustices,” Miller said. “These are linked to aging infrastructure and widespread legacy contaminants. With the highest rate of preterm birth in the United States, it is essential to examine the etiological factors that play a key role in this public health emergency. This study is critical to the research and development of new assessment, testing, and mitigation methods to reduce toxic exposures and improve health outcomes for our vulnerable community in Detroit as well as many other cities across the United States. and of the world.

The project number for this award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is P42ES030991.

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s leading urban public research universities. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, Michigan and around the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.



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