N.C. A&T Awarded $1.3M EPA Grant for Children’s Health Research

By Jordan Howse / 08/12/2021 Research and Economic Development, College of Science and Technology, Built Environment

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Aug. 12, 2021) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University $1.34 million for research to better estimate children’s chemical exposures from soil and dust ingestion.

North Carolina A&T is one of seven research institutions receiving a total of $9.27 million to examine children’s ingestion rates for soil and dust.

A&T’s research will be led by Alesia Ferguson, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Built Environment in the College of Science and Technology. She will work with University of Miami’s Helena Solo-Gabriele, Ph.D., and University of Arizona’s Paloma I. Beamer, Ph.D.

“North Carolina A&T is very excited to receive this prestigious EPA STAR Award,” said COST Dean Abdellah Ahmidouch, Ph.D. “I am very proud of Dr. Ferguson and her team, who are working diligently on research to protect our children’s health. This award will allow the N.C. A&T team to expand further its work on improving estimates of children’s ingestion rates of potentially harmful chemicals such as lead and mercury and will contribute to enhancing measures in risk reduction and prevention.”

Young children may ingest significant quantities of soil and dust because they often play on the ground and put their hands and other objects into their mouths that can have dust or soil on them. For children, soil and dust ingestion can be a major route of exposure to chemicals such as lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos.

Ferguson will use the grant to collect data on dust loading on various objects and surfaces in surfaces and floors of children’s homes across three states, along with dust loadings on their hands. The team will also conduct videorecording of children ages six months to six years to look at activity patterns (e.g., rates of hand-to-mouth and object-to-mouth contacts). They will also conduct computer-aided investigations and modeling about children’s hand contacts and mouthing patterns across multiple studies using previous data collected.

“The more we know about the habits of children, the better we can protect them in and around the home,” Ferguson said. “These studies will allow the EPA to make better risk-estimates that can inform reduction and prevention measures.”

Ferguson and Solo-Gabriele previously researched the extent and effect of oil spill chemicals on children by studying the habits of children on the Gulf of Mexico beaches. In addition, she, Beamer and other researchers pioneered the use of video recording and modeling at Stanford University to study children’s activity patterns.

“It is our duty to protect the health of those most vulnerable among us, including our children,” said Wayne Cascio, acting principal deputy assistant administrator for science in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The researchers receiving these awards will improve our understanding of how children are exposed to chemicals, which will inform future actions to reduce these exposures and better protect their health.”

The other six researchers receiving funding through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program to help improve children’s health are:

· Emory University, Atlanta, will conduct a community-based research study to understand and mitigate chemical contaminant exposure among children in neighborhoods with high lead and heavy metal contamination in soils around West Atlanta.

· Florida International University, Miami, will estimate soil and dust ingestion rates in children by identifying specific tracers of dust and soil exposure combined with relevant environmental information.

· Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, will create an integrated and innovative portfolio of tools and approaches to assess dust and soil exposures for children ages six months to six years via activity pattern and tracer studies.

· New York University, New York, will evaluate specific home environment factors and practices that lead to elevated levels of individual toxic substances ingestible by infants. They hope to evaluate mitigation strategies to reduce infants’ exposure to harmful chemicals in household dust.

· University of California Davis, Davis, California, will develop an innovative method for determining children’s dust ingestion rates using unique tracer compounds identified in household dusts.

· University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, Nevada, will develop a behavior-driven dust and soil ingestion model to predict the dust and soil ingestion rate from children’s microenvironmental features and behavioral factors.

EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program aims to stimulate and support scientific and engineering research that advances EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. It is a competitive, peer-reviewed, extramural research program that provides access to the nation’s best scientists and engineers in academic and other nonprofit research institutions. The STAR program funds research on the environmental and public health effects of air quality, climate change, environmental justice, water quality and quantity, hazardous waste, toxic substances, and pesticides.

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu

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