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Partnering with US EPA to Improve Community Understanding of Metals Bioavailability

The UNC SRP Research Translation Core (RTC), along with the University of Arizona (UA) RTC, recently released several innovative education materials on the bioavailability of arsenic and lead, two of the most common contaminants of concern found at Superfund National Priorities List sites. Both metals can vary in their bioavailability, or the amount of the metal that is absorbed into the body following skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation. It is important for communities impacted by metals contamination to understand the concept of bioavailability as it has implications for cleanup decisions. The EPA incorporates oral bioavailability information to refine risk estimates and cleanup levels while maintaining human health protectiveness. The materials were developed through UNC and UA SRPs’ participation in the EPA pilot Partnerships in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP).

Children are vulnerable to toxic metals like arsenic and lead often found in soils at Superfund sites.

Children are vulnerable to toxic metals like arsenic and lead often found in soils at Superfund sites.

“Bioavailability is truly at the core of many environmental issues – whether the discovery of toxicity, or related to decisions about cleanup,” says NIEHS Superfund Research Program Officer Heather Henry who recently used project materials with teachers at an NIEHS-sponsored teacher workshop. “The materials developed through this project provided an easy-to-understand framework to illustrate the concept of bioavailability while also explaining the concept of cleanup goals based on bioavailability.”

As PTAP pilot partners, SRP grantees apply their unique research strengths to voluntarily assist EPA in responding to community technical assistance needs. Working collaboratively, the UA and UNC RTCs developed a fact sheet, a hands-on demonstration and an accompanying slide set designed to help residents of impacted communities understand the concept of bioavailability, learn how the bioavailable concentration of a contaminant can influence cleanup levels at hazardous waste sites and learn actions individuals can take to limit their exposure to these contaminants. The materials developed for this project were reviewed by EPA’s Bioavailability Technical Working Group and were designed to be used by remedial project managers and others working directly with communities impacted by metals contamination.

“This work represents an opportunity for the UNC and UA SRPs to have a positive impact on people dealing with arsenic and lead contaminated sites across the country,” says RTC Leader Kathleen Gray. “Given that one of our research projects is focused on informing risk assessment by understanding the bioavailability of contaminants in soils, sediments and water and also how bioavailability might affect remediation, we look forward to utilizing these resources as we work with communities in NC including those that are addressing toxic metals in their well water.”

Resources

Bioavailability Fact Sheet | Facilitator Slide Set | Bioavailability Demonstration Facilitator Guide

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