UNCW Receives Substantial Grant from EPA

Friday, August 14, 2015

The University of North Carolina Wilmington is among six universities selected to receive funding from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the ecological impacts of manufactured chemicals.

UNCW will receive a $399,884 STAR (Science to Achieve Results) grant for research to develop an estuarine and marine model for measuring ecological impacts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The grants are part of the EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability (CSS) research program’s efforts to develop new methods to improve chemical evaluation and support environmental sustainability. This research will use innovative methods to understand the negative effects of chemicals in ecological and human populations.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to conduct research that will directly inform efforts to reduce the toxic load that estuarine and marine fish are exposed to on a daily basis,” said Susanne Brander, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology & Marine Biology and the principal investigator for the study. “Disruptions to hormone function caused by pollutants are known to impact fish reproduction and ultimately can reduce population size. By detailing specific effects over several generations in an estuarine fish species, we hope to shed further light on the longer-term impacts of chemical exposure.”

Brander will be working with co-principal investigators Will White, assistant professor in the biology and marine biology department; Richard Connon, an assistant adjunct professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine: Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology at the University of California, Davis, and Alvine Mehinto, molecular toxicologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project in Costa Mesa, Calif.

The EPA awarded a total of $4 million for the study. All the projects will develop and apply innovative methods and models to better understand and predict the biological and ecological consequences of exposures to chemicals in the environment. Other schools receiving funding include: 

  • University of California, Santa Barbara: To develop a model to enhance the understanding of how the effects of exposure to chemicals are expressed within an organism;
  • Harvard University: To demonstrate how existing data and models can be integrated into a framework that links an initiating event to a regulatory outcome of interest;
  • Michigan State University: To develop an adverse outcome pathway for neurological function in fish that can be used to predict effects of chemicals;
  • Oregon State University: To develop an approach to define adverse outcome pathways for flame retardants;
  • Texas Tech University: To develop an approach to understand and predict individual-to-community level ecological effects of chemicals.

“This innovative research will provide new approaches to evaluate how chemicals influence the health of ecological systems. These approaches can help predict and, more importantly, prevent chemical impacts,” said Thomas A. Burke, the EPA’s science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This knowledge will help us more effectively protect the environment from adverse impacts of chemicals over time.”

For more information about these awards, visit