Chemical Exposures

Overview

Modern society has seen an explosion in the commercial use of new chemical compounds. An estimated 80,000 industrial chemicals are in everyday use but only a small fraction of these have been tested for basic human health effects and we have even less data about which chemicals people are exposed to on a daily basis. Another challenge is evaluating how multiple chemical exposures and various social factors can interact to increase health risks. Much work remains to be done with historically recognized toxicants such as heavy metals and common industrial solvents. Many of these compounds are persistent in the environment, and bioaccumulative in the body, creating concerns about long-term and transgenerational health risks. Nations around the world face thousands of contaminated locations from previous industrial activity or waste disposal that must be remediated in some manner, many in low income or minority communities. The result is a combined set of difficult scientific and social challenges.

Chemical exposures infographic

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Purdue’s Approach

Our work in this area seeks to better understand the human and environmental consequences of chemical contaminants. We are linking traditional toxicology with cutting-edge biomedical engineering tools and methods to provide a clear mechanistic understanding of the toxicity of various chemical contaminants at sequential levels of biological organization (molecular-cellular-organ-organism). Here, the goal is to quickly and effectively predict adverse outcomes resulting from exposures to chemicals. Others are gathering data about multiple chemical exposures and studying the public health implications of these exposures in a variety of populations. Our researchers also focus on understanding the fate and transport of chemical contaminants in the environment, and they are developing novel remediation technologies. In addition, our faculty are working to develop less hazardous alternatives for some of these chemicals of concern, and to effectively communicate scientific risks with the public and local communities.

Projects

Nanoparticles in the Environment

PI: Chad Jafvert
Funding: National Science Foundation

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are currently used as bulk additives in many structural materials, and many new applications and consumer products containing CNTs are expected in the future. The environmental impact of widespread use of these materials, however, is largely unknown. This project investigates how long CNTs persist in the environment, and what processes lead to their transformation and/or mineralization in the environment, in order to better understand the risks posed by these engineered nanoparticles. 

Defluorination of Perfluoroalkyl Acids (PFAAs)

PI: Linda Lee
Funding: National Science Foundation

PFAAs have been widely used as commercial or industrial products, such as lubricants, stain-resistant treatments, and flame retardants. The unique chemical characteristics of these compounds make them especially useful in fire-fighting foams. The use of the foams at over 550 military training centers has resulted in repeated short-term releases of perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs). Of the military training sites recently surveyed, groundwater in nearby aquifers consistently contained two PFAAs of greatest concern, perfluorooctanoic sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in concentrations several orders of magnitude above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Provisional Health Advisory values. Due to exceptional stability, most conventional remediation techniques are not effective at destroying PFOA and PFOS in ambient environments. This project is the first to evaluate the use of nano-zero valent bimetal particles (e.g., Pd0/Fe0, Ni0Fe0) synthesized and supported on materials such as activated carbon as part of a treatment train to remediate PFAA-contaminated groundwater.

Development of Amphibian Poly/perfluoroalkyl Acids (PFAASs) Toxicity Reference Values for use in Ecological Risk Assessment at Aqueous Film-Forming Foam Sites

PI: Marisol Sepúlveda
Funding: SERDP

The research team is studying how amphibians are affected by PFAAs. The researchers will study the effects and uptake of these chemicals throughout larval development and metamorphosis in amphibians, which are especially sensitive to water-borne contaminants. These chemicals are thought mainly to affect the thyroid gland, which controls rates of metabolism, growth and development. The thyroid is integral to metamorphosis in amphibians, so a chemical that affects the thyroid could cause developmental changes or delays in these animals. The information gleaned will help delineate the main driver of toxicity among all the PFAAs, which we hypothesize will be PFOS, thus facilitating regulatory decision making and management. Although the focus of this project is on effects to amphibians, when coupled to the work being done defining PFAA toxicity with the zebrafish (a model used to evaluate toxicity mechanisms in humans) by other Purdue researchers, we will also gain a better understanding of developmental toxicity and potential long term impacts to human health.

Affiliated Faculty

Lalatendu Acharya

Consumer Science

Dr. Acharya's research focuses on communication campaigns, behavior change and consumer participation. He studies and evaluates the meanings behind the design, construction and implementation of different health, nutrition and other communication campaigns specifically in vulnerable and marginalized communities. His research investigates and analyzes the lack of community voices, lack of community participation and the absence of cultural and contextual understandings in the myriad communication interventions that result in marginalization, vulnerabilities and creation of health disparities and inequities.

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Chip Blatchley

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Chip Blatchley is a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. The focus of his research is on physico/chemical processes of environmental engineering, with emphasis on disinfection processes. He works on the development of fundamental photochemical reactor theory, including computational and experiment-based methods for simulation and quantification of photochemical reactor performance. His work has addressed swimming pool chemistry and appropriate technologies for water treatment in developing countries. The focal point of the latter has been the development of continuous-flow, solar UVB disinfection. This approach offers benefits of using a naturally available resource to accomplish treatment, while not requiring electrical power. Blatchley earned his Ph.D. in Civil (Environmental) Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Timothy Filley

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Agronomy

Tim Filley is a professor of stable isotope biogeochemistry in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He is also U.S. Director of the U.S.-China EcoPartnership for Environmental Sustainability. Broadly, Filley’s research focuses on the fundamental processes controlling the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in soil, litter, and streams within natural and managed ecosystems, and the implications of such biogeochemistry to the fate of emerging pollutants. Using natural abundance and highly enriched stable isotopes and biomarker tools his group investigates how perturbations to ecosystems (e.g., woody plant encroachment, invasive species, storm events and intensive management) interact with soil and microbial properties to stabilize or destabilize soil organic matter. A primary goal of this work is to develop a stronger scientific basis for understanding the vulnerability and resilience of soil organic matter to intensive management. Filley received his B.S., chemistry, from Loyola University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in isotope geochemistry from the Pennsylvania State University.

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Jennifer Freeman

Health Sciences

Jennifer Freeman is an associate professor of toxicology in the School of Health Sciences. Freeman’s research interests are in molecular and environmental toxicology, cytogenetics, genomics and epigenomics. Current research efforts in the Freeman laboratory are defining the underlying genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of developmental exposure to environmental chemicals, including pesticides and metals, with a focus on drinking water contaminants. These projects are defining the immediate adverse outcomes of developmental exposure, the lasting impacts of developmental exposure throughout the lifespan and the analysis of subsequent generations linking genetic, epigenetic and phenotypic assessments. These studies are investigating a developmental origin of adult disease pathogenesis and transgenerational consequences with a specific focus on cancer, reproductive dysfunction and neurological disease. The goal of this work is to understand the role of exposure to the environmental stressors in these adverse health outcomes. All projects are currently utilizing the zebrafish vertebrate model system as a tool to investigate toxicity. Freeman received her Ph.D. in environmental toxicology and molecular cytogenetics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

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Inez Hua

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Inez Hua is a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. Her research is in the field of environmental engineering. She has published extensively in the areas of water pollution control, water quality and environmental photochemistry. She earned her Ph.D. in environmental engineering science at the California Institute of Technology.

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Chad Jafvert

Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering

Chad Jafvert is a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering. Much of his research is on chemical and physicochemical fate processes of anthropogenic substances in natural and engineered environments. His interests include remediation strategies for contaminated sediments; real-time water quality monitoring, drinking water treatment in developing countries; and aquatic photochemistry of pollutants. His work on drinking water treatment has taken him to Colombia, Kenya and Tanzania to construct slow-sand water filters. Jafvert received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and was an NRC postdoctoral fellow and an EPA research engineer prior to his faculty appointment at Purdue.

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Cliff Johnston

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Agronomy

Cliff Johnston is a professor of environmental soil chemistry in the Department of Agronomy. Johnston is a physical chemist working on basic and applied problems and soil and environmental science. He is currently in his seventh year of funding on a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Project looking at the fate and bioavailability of dioxins in soils and sediments. Johnston received his Ph.D. in soil chemistry from the University of California, Riverside. He taught for nine years at the University of Florida in the Soil and Water Science Department prior to coming to Purdue.

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Linda Lee

Agronomy

Linda Lee is professor and associate head in the Department of Agronomy, program head for the Ecological Sciences and Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Program, and a faculty affiliate in the Division of Environmental Ecological Engineering. Her research focuses on quantifying the processes that govern environmental fate and remediation of contaminants in soils, sediments, biosolids, streams and groundwater for use in mitigating contamination, decision tools and management guidelines for industrial and agricultural settings. Her current research centers on contaminants of emerging concern, such as poly/perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol alternatives and compounds associated with pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry; a master’s degree in environmental and engineering sciences; and a Ph.D. in soil chemistry and contaminant hydrology from the University of Florida.

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Marisol Sepulveda

Forestry and Natural Resources

Marisol Sepulveda is a professor of ecotoxicology and aquatic animal health. She has conducted extensive research evaluating the sublethal effects of a wide range of environmental contaminants on the physiology of numerous aquatic species. She studies the health effects of environmental contaminants in populations of free-ranging fish and wildlife and understanding the effects of pollutants on reproduction and early life-stage development. Sep?lveda earned a DVM in veterinary medicine from Universidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile, and a Ph.D. (veterinary sciences with a toxicology concentration) from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

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Ron Turco

Agronomy

Ron Turco’s research is concentrated on understanding how the behavior of microorganism and the processes they control in natural systems, is influenced by human activity. In particular his group has used enzyme activity, phospholipid analysis, and molecular techniques to understand community structure and function as impacted by management and introduction of materials. His current projects are divided across three theme areas: understanding the fate of introduced E. coli in soil and water and the role these processes play in food contamination, developing a better predictive capacity to understand the environmental fate of manufactured nano materials (fullerenes, single wall carbon nanotubes and nanometals) in soil and water and defining the unintended consequences of using our soil resources for biofuel production.

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Ellen Wells

Health Sciences

Ellen M. Wells is an Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational health. Dr. Wells conducts environmental epidemiology research related to metal and endocrine disruptor exposures and their relationship with neurologic and cardiometabolic health, particularly among children. She teaches courses in public health, epidemiology, environmental epidemiology, and environmental health science. Dr. Wells received a B.A.in Biology from Oberlin College in 1998, a M.E.M (Masters of Environmental Management) in Environmental Health Policy and M.P.H. (Masters of Public Health) in Environmental Health from Yale University in 2004, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2009.

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