e•Bulletin: 2012 - Issue 3

Agency Seminar Series | UW-SRP Profile | Community Partners | Collaborations

Welcome to the University of Washington's Superfund Research Program (UW-SRP) e*bulletin! We offer a few snapshots highlighting some our program's recent work, as well as providing links to interesting upcoming talks and events. Our Principal Investigator, Dr. Harvey Checkoway, and Research Translation and Outreach Core Director, Dr. Tom Burbacher, invite you to please read and enjoy the stories that catch your eye.


Agency Seminar Series

Agency Seminar Series

In May, Dr. David Ehrenfeld from Rutgers University was the invited speaker at the UW-SRP Agency Seminar at EPA Region 10. His presentation was entitled, “Predicting the Effects of Technology: When Risk Assessment is Risky.” Dr. Ehrenfeld is well recognized for his writing and expertise in sustainability, globalization and energy conservation; he is founding editor of Conservation Biology and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The audience included staff from the Washington State Department of Health, EPA Region 10, the state’s senate committee on the environment, the University of Washington and independent environmental consultants.

With advances in technology we are now able to make profound changes in the world in an increasingly short period of time, and thus our need for dependable predictions has grown significantly. Recognizing the importance of determining when predictions are reliable has become essential to the health and welfare of life on the planet.

Speaking as a biologist with an interest in the interactions of nature, technology and society, Dr. Ehrenfeld pointed out that certain risk assessments involve complex systems that have many interactive, tightly bound and coupled subsystems. He provided six characteristics that may indicate when complex system risk assessments may be of questionable value: 1) when proposed strategies for preventing problems or reducing damage have never been or cannot be tested under real conditions; 2) when there are many complex interacting systems involved, particularly ecological and human social systems; 3) when there are features of the system beyond our present comprehension or inspection; 4) when a prediction model used is extended unrealistically far into the future; 5) when the potential downsides are already identifiable and known to be serious; and 6) when there is no provision within the assessment for a follow-up with the possibility of adaptive management.

This presentation was video recorded and may be viewed at the UW-SRP website; you will also find the link to Dr. Ehrenfeld’s sources for his presentation and suggested readings at the same web address.

The UW-SRP sponsors regular seminars held in Seattle at the regional EPA headquarters. These seminars are directed toward an audience of agency staff involved with risk assessment and communication at Superfund sites, such as EPA Region 10 and the Washington State Departments of Health and Ecology. The series provides a forum for intra-agency discussions with scientists about current research and applications of the science.

Pictured Above (Left to Right): Dave McBride (DOH), Katie Frevert (UW-SRP), David Ehrenfeld (Rutgers U), Tom Burbacher (UW-SRP), Marc Stifelman (EPA) & Kira Lynch (EPA)


UW-SRP Profile: Harvey Checkoway and Jing Zhang

Harvey Checkoway and Jing ZhangParkinsonism, the term for a movement disorder syndrome that includes Parkinson’s Disease, is clinically characterized by slow movement, rest tremors and rigidity. The syndrome is estimated to affect up to 40 percent of the population over sixty years of age. Manganese, an essential element, can cause nervous system damage and contribute to parkinsonism risk as a result of long-term occupational exposure. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal public health agency that works to prevent harmful exposures and diseases related to toxic substances in hazardous waste sites, has said there is clear evidence from studies of humans occupationally-exposed to manganese that inhalation of high levels of manganese can lead to a series of serious and ultimately disabling neurological effects.

Welders are a group that routinely experience high-level exposures to manganese. In two related projects in the UW Superfund Research Program, Drs. Harvey Checkoway and Jing Zhang are studying parkinsonism risks in relation to manganese exposures from an epidemiological and basic science perspective in a large group of professional welders. The results thus far from the epidemiological component show an excessive frequency of clinically-determined parkinsonism among the welders. Dr. Zhang’s lab has evaluated several proteins, typically related to Parkinson's Disease, in blood samples of welders, revealing unique alterations.

Ongoing and future research on these projects will determine whether there is a quantitative relationship between manganese and other welding fume metals with parkinsonism and whether similar associations are observed between these metals and parkinsonism-related blood proteins. There have been numerous previous studies of welding exposures in relation to parkinsonism, yet none has approached the level of clinical and basic science rigor achieved in the UW-SRP research. Ultimately, this research has very good potential to add important new information to the causes and early detection of parkinsonism that can benefit disease prevention programs. Insofar as metals that are toxic to the nervous system, such as manganese, copper, and lead, are widespread environmental contaminants, this research should have broad public health implications.



Community Partners

Port Angeles

The Olympic Environmental Council (OEC) is a non-profit organization whose work focuses on environmental issues important to North Olympic Peninsula communities in Washington State. In 1997 the OEC worked with thirteen other non-profit organizations and concerned citizens to petition the US EPA to determine if the Rayonier Mill and three associated landfills based in residential neighborhoods in Port Angeles were candidates for Superfund cleanups. After months of investigation, the Rayonier Mill site did receive Superfund clean up status. Two of the landfills are also identified on the Superfund listing but remain under the oversight of Clallam County and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The OEC continues to play a key role in communicating cleanup progress, educating impacted community members and interfacing with the agencies that control cleanup efforts related to historic pollutants of the Rayonier Mill site. Today the OEC is actively opposing a City of Port Angeles plan to build a combined sewer–storm water pipe conveyance system along its shoreline and at the site. Follow this link to learn about the OEC position on the current plan.

The OEC and the Washington State Chapter Water Sentinel Committee set up a series of public forums that ran from November 2011 through February 2012 on the subject of storm water overflows. The UW-SRP was able to provide financial support to the OEC for publicity informing the community about these educational forums. The goal of the forums was to educate and encourage community members to be involved and communicate with the City of Port Angeles, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Puget Sound Partnership, that these decision-makers should be encouraged to actively protect Puget Sound and the waters that empty into it by implementing natural and green technology methods to reuse and recycle storm water.

Research Translation Outreach Core staff were introduced to the Olympic Environmental Council in 2005 when attending EPA-sponsored Environmental Justice meetings. In the same time period, the Core and the Olympic Environmental Council were at the table during initial discussions by community organizations concerning common interests in regional hazardous waste site issues. It was from these meetings that the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition began to take shape and define itself.



Air Workshop

EPA Region 10, the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition and the UW-SRP held a successful, collaboratively developed workshop with over 50 community participants in April this year. The outdoor air quality workshop was free to attendees and designed to provide a clearer path for community members to effectively engage with agencies on important outdoor air quality concerns. Planners had asked registrants to identify air quality topics in advance of the workshop, these included: urban corridors, CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), coal transport, data farms, ports, pesticides and permitting of facilities. Planners recognized the importance of increasing information access to communities and that regulations intended to meet the Clean Air Act are notoriously complex. The training was developed with case study scenarios drawn from a composite of regional issues that involved a variety of regulatory authorities.

The workshop was held at Region 10 EPA offices in Seattle with remote ‘live-video’ feed to attendees in Portland, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. Air agency staff from Idaho, Oregon and Washington provided their expertise and experience from the local, regional, state and federal level. EPA regional staff from the Community Engagement and Environmental Health Unit and staff from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) also participated. ATSDR works with state and federal agencies to prevent exposure to hazardous substances. The agency conducts public health assessments and provides health trainings in communities impacted by hazardous waste. Attendees also included independent consultants and interested individuals from academic institutions. Sessions of the conference were video recorded and may be viewed here.

Workshop evaluation indicated that respondents were experienced with air quality issues and that over 80% had previously spoken to agency staff about a local air concern. More than 86% indicated they would recommend the case study approach for future workshops. The case study that described the federal government’s role scored highest for providing information participants could use in the future. In addition, feedback indicated that their participation in the workshop will inform the individual’s future actions to improve air quality. The UW-SRP and the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition plan to seek future opportunities to collaborate with EPA on regional community workshops that follow the model established by this event.



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