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Environmental Toxicology Center Part of Group to Analyze Seafood Safety Following Gulf Oil Spill

September 27, 2011, Volume 58, No. 03

Emmett Penning

Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET) is part of a consortium that has been awarded $7.85 million from National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to determine seafood safety following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The consortium is led by the Environmental Health Sciences Core Centers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). 

Dr. Edward Emmett, professor of occupational & environmental medicine, will co-lead the Community Based Participatory Based Research Project (CBPR) and the Community Outreach and Dissemination Core (CODC). Dr. Emmett is an authority on the principles and practices that underlie the CBPR approach and will use this to translate possible human health concerns from the oil spill to affected communities. Dr. Trevor Penning, CEET director, will co-lead the project’s investigation on the toxicological properties of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the oil, and will focus on how they are metabolized and whether they mutate DNA, which could lead to cancer and birth defects.

“As soon as CEET learned of the Gulf oil spill, we had an immediate concern about the safety of seafood since potentially carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the oil could bioaccumlate in shellfish and enter the food chain. The vicinity of UTMB to the oil spill coupled with our unique expertise in study ing PAH toxicology provides a strong foundation for this inter-center collaboration,” said Dr. Penning. “What is remarkable is that we know very little about the toxicology of PAH from oil and how these agents may affect human health.”

Results of the study will help shape monitoring programs for the health of exposed individuals and can be applied to studying the health effects of  oil spills in the future. Investigators from other universities are also participating in the Gulf Coast Health Alliance: Health Risks related to the Macondo Spill (GC-HARMS) consortium: Texas A&M University at Galveston, Louisiana State University and the University of Arizona. Community groups involved at primary research sites include southeast Louisiana’s United Houma Nation; the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese American Fisherfolk and Families; and the Center for Environmental and Economic Justice, based in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Almanac - September 27, 2011, Volume 58, No. 03