USC Research and Innovation (R&I) has selected researchers from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences of Keck School of Medicine and the Viterbi School of Engineering of USC for the President’s Sustainability Initiative Award. The nominated study led by Lida Chatzi, MD, PhD, and Max Aung, PhD, received $433,310 dedicated towards “PFAS ACT: Addressing the PFAS Drinking Water Crisis in Southern California.” The transdisciplinary project brings together experts from across USC to examine the health effects of pollutants such as PFAS on human health.
As climate change worsens droughts and jeopardizes water imports, California has been forced to rethink water sustainability. This is coupled with an emerging water quality crisis fueled by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, which has been proposed as a Superfund hazardous substance. These ‘forever chemicals’ are a class of synthetic fluorinated persistent organic chemicals that have been used in industrial applications and consumer products for more than 60 years. However, recent research reveals they pose a great risk to human health including chronic liver disease.
“It is critical that we assess sources of PFAS exposure in environmental justice communities and resulting health risks to better inform equitable solutions to protect these communities,” asserts Aung.
PFAS water contamination is a major concern in California, especially among environmental justice communities in Southeast Los Angeles. Local environmental justice organizations are concerned of water quality due to multiple point sources of pollution. The plan to improve water security in LA through a proposed industrial-scale wastewater groundwater recharge facility, seeks to convert groundwater into potable quality, but much of LA’s groundwater is already highly contaminated raising questions of environmental risk factors on chronic illness.
To better understand this complex issue, this project has been designed through a holistic approach, drawing on varied expertise:
- The first project, led by Chatzi and Aung, is an exposure assessment study which aims to conduct assess PFAS contamination in environmental samples in Southeast LA communities.
- The second project led, by Lucy Golden, PhD, Ana Maretti-Mira, PhD from Keck School of Medicine of USC, aims to determine the association of PFAS exposures with health outcomes specifically through biomarker signatures of liver injury and metabolic disorders.
- The third project led by engineers Adam Smith, PhD, and Daniel McCurry, PhD, will look at emerging PFAS that have not yet been identified, and investigate and develop technology for PFAS degradation.
“Through our solution-oriented research, we are engaging stakeholders and community organizations so that they can understand the importance of our research on pollutants and the health implications in Latino communities,” emphasizes Chatzi. To kick off this project, the researchers held their first workshop in May. They convened to discuss the current state of PFAS water contamination in southern California and explored community perspectives and concerns. The research team plans to leverage resources from this opportunity to apply for the USC Superfund Program to address communities heavily affected by environmental pollution.
Other investigators involved in this study at Amy Childress, PhD, Jesse Goodrich, PhD, Matthew Salomon, PhD, Rob McConnell, PhD, and David Conti, PhD.