Research projects - UNC Superfund Research Program

Our research is divided into two broad categories:

Biomedical projects

Our biomedical researchers are using interdisciplinary research and collaboration to explore the impacts that Superfund chemicals have on human health. We conduct research to improve the accuracy of risk assessments, reduce potential exposures to toxic chemicals, and protect human and ecological health. The biomedical research projects focus on four major classes of chemicals: chlorinated solvents, halogenated hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Project 1

Biomarkers of exposure versus effect

Leader: James Swenberg
UNC-Chapel Hill

Dr. Swenberg and his team are exploring how polyhalogenated hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pentachlorodibenzofuran (PeCDF) can contribute to oxidative stress and lead to DNA damage.

Project 2

Liver and kidney toxicity of trichloroethylene

Leader: Ivan Rusyn
Texas A&M University

Researchers in Dr. Rusyn’s lab are exploring how genetic differences can influence an individual’s susceptibility and risk, while working to improve our ability to evaluate risk from low-dose exposures.

Project 3

Cadmium-induced toxicity and disease

Leader: Rebecca Fry
UNC-Chapel Hill

Researchers in Dr. Fry’s laboratory are examining how prenatal exposure to cadmium can effect the signaling of inflammatory response genes and influence newborn birth outcomes.

Our priorities are to:

Our priorities are to:

  • Develop biological markers that indicate when a person has been exposed to a chemical;
  • Improve our ability to evaluate risk from low-dose exposures;
  • Apply new tools using a systems biology framework to understand the pathways of environmental disease and how chemicals can cause changes to our DNA;
  • Understand how individuals differ in their susceptibility and risk, and how our genes play a role in the development of disease;
  • Identify mechanisms of genotoxicity using advanced analytical tools in collaboration with the Chemistry and Analytical Core; and,
  • Evaluate gene-environment interactions using advanced statistical and bioinformatics methods with the Biostatistics Core.

Environmental science & engineering projects

Through highly integrated research, our environmental science and engineering investigators are developing tools to assess the level of contaminants in the environment and devising new ways to cleanup contamination by focusing on evaluating complex microbial communities in bioremediation systems and quantifying the chronic exposure and bioavailability of toxic compounds in environmental systems.

Project 4

Measuring chronic exposure to and bioavailability of organic chemicals

Leader: Damian Shea
NC State University

Researchers in Dr. Shea’s laboratory are developing a universal passive sampling device to detect hundreds of chemicals in the environment and estimate chronic exposures.

Project 5

Beyond parent compound disappearance in bioremediation of PAH contaminated soil

Leader: Michael Aitken
UNC-Chapel Hill

Dr. Aitken and his team are evaluating factors that can influence the toxicity of soil during and after bioremediation and are working to identify which PAH-degrading bacteria are most likely to influence the removal of PAHs and reduce toxicity.