2010 Progress Report: Effects-Based Cumulative Risk Assessment in a Low-Income Urban Community near a Superfund Site

EPA Grant Number: R834577
Title: Effects-Based Cumulative Risk Assessment in a Low-Income Urban Community near a Superfund Site
Investigators: Levy, Jonathan , Ezzati, Majid , French, Robert , Fuentes, Freddie , Hammitt, James K. , Korrick, Susan A. , Rosario, Maria , Subramanian, S V
Current Investigators: Levy, Jonathan , Ayala, Arlene , Fabian, Maria Patricia , French, Robert , Korrick, Susan A. , Peters, Junenette , Pina, Jordan , Rosario, Maria
Institution: Boston University , Channing Laboratory , NorthStar Learning Centers
Current Institution: Boston University , NorthStar Learning Centers
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: September 1, 2010 through February 28, 2014 (Extended to February 28, 2015)
Project Period Covered by this Report: September 1, 2010 through August 31,2011
Project Amount: $749,662
RFA: Understanding the Role of Nonchemical Stressors and Developing Analytic Methods for Cumulative Risk Assessments (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Health Effects , Human Health Risk Assessment , Health


The primary objective of our study is to develop and apply novel statistical and analytical methods for cumulative risk assessment, focusing on a low-income community (New Bedford, MA) living near a Superfund site. We will focus on specific neurobehavioral and cardiovascular outcomes and consider contributions of multiple chemical stressors to these outcomes in the presence of significant non-chemical stressors.

The study will leverage data from public databases and an ongoing birth cohort study in the New Bedford area to predict exposures as a function of individual and neighborhood characteristics. We will develop dose-response functions for key chemical and non-chemical stressors, and will link this information with baseline disease data and exposure models. The resulting health risk characterization will include geospatial and demographic variability, and the outputs will be communicated to community partners in a manner that informs future studies or intervention strategies.

Progress Summary:

Early activities for the grant included hiring staff and obtaining IRB approval. We initiated monthly team meetings in which the project scope and timeline were finalized. We also used group discussions that combined outputs from literature reviews and insights from the community to determine the final list of outcomes for our effects-based cumulative risk assessment. For ADHD, we decided to use continuous metrics of ADHD-like behaviors, given available epidemiology and issues with focusing on clinical diagnosis given complexities of diagnostic criteria and variability in diagnosis across populations. For cardiovascular disease, we decided to focus on blood pressure, which can be characterized continuously and has been readily characterized in NHANES and other databases.

Given these outcomes, we conducted literature reviews to determine candidate stressors, influenced in part by our ability to build exposure models in New Bedford (either using data from Dr. Korrick’s cohort or based on public databases). For ADHD-like behaviors, our preliminary list included PCBs, lead, and mercury as chemical stressors; and demographic factors (gender, age, SES) and maternal smoking as non-chemical stressors. Many of these factors were evaluated in multivariate models in Dr. Korrick’s New Bedford cohort, allowing for their inclusion. For blood pressure, a literature review led to a lengthy list of non-chemical risk factors (including demographics, exercise, smoking, diet, and obesity) and a few key candidate chemical risk factors (including lead, mercury, cadmium, and environmental tobacco smoke). Upon evaluation of the epidemiological literature for blood pressure, we determined that the studies conducted to date did not provide adequate insight about multi-stressor effects, so we decided to construct new epidemiological models from NHANES data using appropriate statistical techniques for cumulative risk assessment (e.g., structural equation models).

We also started building the databases necessary for exposure modeling. This included multiple geospatial datalayers related to housing characteristics, Superfund sites, major roads, and demographics. We also obtained data from the New Bedford Police Department that allowed us to geocode the locations of major crimes, as a potential proxy for psychosocial stress related to community violence. As housing data was lacking for public housing developments (which are not represented in tax assessor databases), we established communications with the New Bedford Housing Authority and obtained extensive data about housing structures and population characteristics. Finally, after receiving final IRB approval, we obtained the geocoded addresses for all New Bedford cohort members, allowing us to start to build regression models of exposure to chemical and non-chemical stressors as a function of geospatial datalayers and other available data.

Along with these research activities, we engaged in some outreach efforts. Ms. Mojica and colleagues at NorthStar Learning Centers started to establish connections with community groups in New Bedford who might be interested in hearing about our work, including groups with longstanding interests about the Superfund site. We also met with the New Bedford Board of Health and talked to reporters from the New Bedford Standard-Times and Boston Globe. We presented at a webinar by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and at the International Society for Exposure Science, and we presented our work in multiple internal working groups.

Future Activities:

In Year 2 (September 1, 2011 – August 31, 2012), we plan to finalize our exposure models for key stressors related to ADHD-like behaviors, leveraging data from Dr. Korrick’s cohort study. We also plan to complete a new epidemiological investigation using NHANES data to examine associations between multiple chemical and non-chemical stressors and blood pressure. These efforts should yield the first publications from our study. Given the stressors across these two investigations, we will start constructing a detailed population database with individual demographic and geographic characteristics relevant for the identified exposures and outcomes. Subsequent activities will include developing the final multi-stressor dose-response models for ADHD-like behaviors; developing the exposure models for stressors linked to blood pressure; conducting the cumulative risk assessments; and engaging in regular outreach to the local community.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 20 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

ADHD, blood pressure, cadmium, cumulative risk assessment, lead, mercury, non-chemical stressor, PCBs, Superfund;

Relevant Websites:

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011102130328 Exit
http://articles.boston.com/2011-07-27/lifestyle/29821462_1_public-health-sciences-study-harm Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2011 Progress Report
  • 2012 Progress Report
  • 2013 Progress Report
  • 2014
  • Final Report