e•Bulletin: 2013 - Issue 5

Agency Profile | UW-SRP Investigator 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 Community Engagement Core Director, Dr. Tom Burbacher, invite you to please read and enjoy the stories that catch your eye.


Agency Profile - The South Seattle Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group

Duwamish Park Plan

The South Seattle Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group was formed a few years after the Lower Duwamish Waterway in Seattle was officially named a Superfund site. The group came together in response to requests from communities for improved communications between local and federal agencies, organizations working on environmental health issues and impacted community members. Public Health - Seattle & King County and the Environmental Justice Coordinator at EPA Region 10 organized the inaugural meeting of the group. Morgan Barry, Health Education Consultant from Public Health- Seattle & King County, has continued to convene and coordinate quarterly meetings.

The working group meetings include representatives from community-based organizations, as well as representatives from 'potentially responsible parties' for Superfund Cleanup (including industries and local and regional governments), the EPA and the State Department of Ecology (agencies tasked with planning for site cleanup), along with faculty and staff from University of Washington.

Recent South Seattle Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group efforts include:

  • Creating and maintaining a communication tool through Public Health- Seattle & King County for group members to post documents and resources on an interactive calendar.
  • Hosting and facilitating an urban open space exercise that used the lens of equity. Both the city and the county have implemented equity and social justice policies. A ‘mock charette’ (the charette is a collaborative approach used to solve design problems) was created; members were divided into three teams each with a different fictional park design proposal to redevelop South Park's Duwamish Waterway Park. The King County 'Equity Impact Review Tool' was used to consider the equitable impact of each design.  The Equity Tool guided each team through several determinants of equity: social, economic, physical and health, to consider the likely impacts each design might have on community health. Brenda Snyder, a landscape and urban designer, created and presented the three urban park plans.
  • In April, Linn Gould, lead researcher for the 'Duwamish Valley Cumulative Health Impact Analysis' presented findings which confirmed that the ethnically diverse, low income neighborhoods of the Duwamish Valley are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards with significant health disparities. The Interagency Group is just beginning to discuss the role it could play in addressing these issues. "Over the years, group members have built connections and relationships that I believe have increased our capacities to create a healthier Duwamish Valley,” said Morgan Barry.

UW-SRP Investigator Profile: Dr. Judit Marsillach

Judit Marsillach with Ed HsiehA new approach to identifying and characterizing an individual's exposure to organophosphorus (OP) compounds has been developed by researcher Judit Marsillach and her colleagues in the Superfund Research Program laboratory of Dr. Clement Furlong.1 OPs are among the most common causes of poisoning worldwide, with three million cases of pesticide poisonings per year.2,3 Recent gains in effective biomonitoring of human agricultural OP exposures allow for improved assessment of exposure risks leading to the protection of human health. Although OP compounds were initially developed as toxic nerve agents in wartime, today OP compounds can also be found in flame retardants, plasticizers, jet engine lubricants and pesticides.

Dr. Marsillach's innovative use of mass spectrometry (MS) to analyze protein modifications (OP-adducted enzymes), for detection of exposure will most likely replace the current standard method of measuring blood cholinesterase inhibition by activity measurements. This new MS protocol has advantages over blood cholinesterase characterization methods as it eliminates the need for a pre-exposure blood draw for measuring an individual's baseline activity. More importantly, with the single draw, a very accurate determination of the percentage modification of the OP adducted biomarker protein is obtained, offering a much more accurate analysis than the existing two blood draw enzymatic protocol.

Agricultural workers in both Washington State and California are part of state monitoring programs for individuals who are at high risk for OP exposure. The Furlong lab protocol includes a simple finger stick blood sample, dabbed onto a collection paper and mailed in an envelope to a laboratory for analysis. With the higher sensitivity that MS analysis of biomarker proteins provides, accurate information is obtained about low-level exposures; and with the use of a second, longer-lived biomarker protein, the time window for analysis is extended almost three-fold.


1Marsillach J, Hsieh EJ, Richter RJ, Maccoss MJ, Furlong CE. 2013. Proteomic analysis of adducted butyrylcholinesterase for biomonitoring organophosphorus exposures. Chem Biol Interact 203(1):85-90.

2World Health Organization. Informal consultation on planning strategy for the prevention of pesticide poisoning. Geneva, 25-29 November 1985. WHONBC/86.926.(Geneva: WHO, 1986).

3World Health Organization. Public health impact of pesticides used in agriculture. (Geneva: WHO, 1990).

Pictured above, left to right: Drs. Ed Hsieh and Judit Marsillach at the Mike MacCoss Laboratory in UW Genome Sciences.

Community Partners - The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition Technical Advisory Group

Duwamish River

Region 10 EPA says it in their publications: “Your comments on the proposed plan are important. Your comments may make a difference.” The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition Technical Advisory Group says it to newscasters, in editorials and at public meetings: “Public comments regarding EPA’s proposed plans have changed the plan and improved cleanup.”  The word is out and it’s written in the multiple languages spoken in the area: “There are 20 Days left to make a difference, the public comment period closes on June 13th!”

The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition Technical Advisory Group (DRCC/TAG) is EPA’s recognized community advisory group for the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site. Their mission is to ensure a Duwamish River cleanup that is acceptable and beneficial to the community and is protective of fish, wildlife and human health. The Coalition seeks a cleanup that: a) offers the most certainty- a strong cleanup plan, where pollution sources are controlled and toxicants are removed; b) ensures a permanent solution; and c) creates health equity- addresses the harmful health impacts for those who are most vulnerable to exposures.

The DRCC/TAG would like the EPA’s final plan to encompass the removal of all of the ‘highly and moderately toxic’ sediments and to increase the ‘enhanced recovery treatment’ area to include all ‘low-level’ toxic sediment. The EPA plan leaves much of the area to ‘natural recovery’ that involves river sedimentation processes alone. The DRCC/TAG also seeks a cleanup that stops recontamination by upstream sources. Practically speaking, this effort must be clearly identified through goals with enforceable actions that will penalize those responsible for contamination from upstream.

The DRCC/TAG strongly supports hiring ‘locally’ during the cleanup and advocates for posting fishing ‘alternatives’ rather than continuing a less effective posting of fishing ‘advisories.’ They would also like to see the creation of a fund to help those who are most heavily impacted by health hazard related to exposures.

Play a role in guiding the cleanup of Seattle’s River! Check these sites for information and opportunities:

(photo credit: Paul Joseph Brown, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Collaborations - The Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition

Northwest Toxic Communitties Coalition Logo

The Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition (NWTCC) is composed of independent community organizations in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington working on local hazardous waste and environmental issues. The members communicate regularly and meet face to face at annual Coalition Summits that began in 2005. (Summits are supported in part by the UW-SRP Research Translation / Community Engagement Core). Just over a year ago, the Coalition worked with Region 10 EPA and the UW SRP program to develop a regional outdoor air workshop called the Northwest Regional Outdoor Air Quality Workshop for Communities.

Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition members have a strong knowledge base rooted in decades of work and experiences. They are well versed in federal environmental regulations and laws. Their interests are best served with focused discussions that are timely and relevant to their needs. To this end, the Coalition asked the UW-SRP Core to assist them in launching an in-depth series of webinars for the membership.

The first webinar held in December, 2012 focused on the environmental laws of the Clean Water Act and ‘Superfund’ designated sites (Superfund is the common term associated with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act). The invited speaker was law professor and practicing environmental lawyer, Daniel Mensher from Lewis and Clark University in Portland, Oregon. The second webinar was held in April 2013 and explored pro se Citizen Appeals, Motions & Declarations. The presenter was attorney Claire Tomry with the Seattle law firm Smith and Lowney, PLLC.

Webinar participants are surveyed to assess the perceived value of the event, its educational value and relevance to participants’ needs and interests. Response to the webinars has been highly positive, with members responding that they gained a more detailed knowledge of enforcement powers of the Clean Water Act and achieved a greater understanding about citizens’ ability to pursue environmental issues. To learn more about the resources, activities, and events of Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition, refer to their website above.



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