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Local Scientists Awarded Research Grant to Study Health of Our Fresh Water

Three local scientists will be co-investigators on an important new research project awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science to Achieve Results Program (STAR) to use innovative approaches to study the health effects of chemical contaminants, including those in the waters of the Great Lakes. They will do it with the help of zebra fish. 

The 3-year study will assess the neurotoxicity of PFAS and other bio-pollutants. The researchers are Diana S. Aga, PhD, Professor and Chair, G. Skin-Atilla-Gokcumen, PhD, Professor and Associate Chair of the UB Department of Chemistry, and Krishna Rajan, ScD, Empire Innovation and Distinguished Professor and Erin Bloch Chair of the Department of Material and Design Innovation at the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. They are joined by Associate Professor Howard Sirotkin, PhD of Molecular Genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Stony Brook University. 

PFAS are called "forever chemicals" because they don't break down in the environment. Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are known dangerous bio-pollutants that have been in a wide variety of everyday household and commercially used products. They continue to leech into ground water and mix with other contaminants including phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), disinfection by-products (DBPs) and other well-characterized mixtures. The call for proposals from the EPS's STAR program recognized the need to learn more about the effects of these mixtures on our health. 

In related research published in March, 2022, researchers detected PFAS in regional freshwater streams, rivers and in the Great Lakes. 

The toxicity of PFAS is believed to cause neurologic damage in marine life and in humans. 

Currently, only concentrations of PFAS in waterways are relevant to regulators, not total amounts detected. The bigger the waterway, the more PFAS are considered acceptable. Researchers aim to challenge that model. 

The zebra fish research will study the bioactivity and neurotoxicity of PFAS and other mixed contaminants. The health affects of the contaminants on the zebra fish at various stages of development will help answer the questions of how dangerous the mixtures are to life in and around our freshwater.

[T]here is a need to assess the toxicity of chemical mixtures and understand how their combined effects on our health and the environment differ from what we know about individual chemicals. ~ EPA's STAR Program