Welcome to STEEP

By Rainer Lohmann, STEEP Center Director, University of Rhode Island

Welcome to the 1st newsletter from the STEEP Center (Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFAS) led by the University of Rhode Island, in collaboration with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and Silent Spring Institute. Active since last fall, the initiative has already received support and engagement from the Cape Cod community toward the multidisciplinary, collaborative research that the Center embodies. We are delighted to share news of our Center activities. Like all Centers, we have been busy, but co-Director Philippe Grandjean (HSPH) keeps us motivated with chocolates from his homeland of Denmark.

PFAS have been in the news lately – be that locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. In the U.S., several states have established drinking water guidelines on key PFAS, while at the federal level, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control (ATSDR) has finally released its own (draft) assessment of PFAS. The European Food Safety Authority is expected to release new guidelines soon that recommend substantial decreases in exposure limits. These recent initiatives all point towards safe drinking water concentrations on the order of 10 ng/L for PFOA and PFOS. In 2016, EPA issued a (non-binding) drinking water health advisory (70 ng/L combined for PFOA and PFOS). In view of the human health concerns surrounding PFAS, we expect that EPA will review its current drinking water advisory for PFOA and PFOS, and assess further PFAS that have already been targeted by several states and countries. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure that the best available science is used to protect citizens across the U.S. from undue PFAS exposure.

The STEEP Center itself consists of two biomedical and two environmental engineering/chemistry projects, plus four cores. On the biomedical side, epidemiological research with birth cohorts on the Faroe Islands (PI: Philippe Grandjean, HSPH) is complemented by detailed rodent model studies on PFAS effects (PI: Angela Slitt, URI) and molecular partitioning studies into PFAS transport (PI: Geoffrey Bothun, URI). On the environmental engineering side, STEEP combines studies of environmental transport of PFAS in groundwater on Cape Cod (PI: Elsie Sunderland, HSPH) with the development of passive sampling tools for PFAS (PI: Rainer Lohmann, URI).

The science team is complemented by STEEP’s strong cores. The Research Translation Core (PI: Judith Swift, URI) has established numerous communication tools to reach out to diverse audiences about STEEP progress and products. On the Community Engagement side URI (co-PI: Alyson McCann) partners with the Silent Spring Institute (co-PI: Laurel Schaider) to work with affected communities on Cape Cod. STEEP’s Training Core (PI: Bongsup Cho, URI) organizes opportunities as well as intellectual and professional activities for fourteen trainees, including a semester long colloquium on PFAS. Thank you, Martha McConnell (URI), for managing the Administrative Core this year to ensure the smooth and productive working of the STEEP Center. We welcome Wendy Lucht as the new STEEP Coordinator. Meet the STEEP team.

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