Penn Researchers Receive $10 Million Grant to Study Asbestos

June 26, 2014

Researchers at Penn's Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET) have been awarded a $10 million grant from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. Faculty from Penn Arts and Sciences and the Perelman School of Medicine will conduct the research, which will study asbestos exposure pathways that lead to mesothelioma, the bioremediation of this hazardous material, and mechanisms that lead to asbestos-related diseases.

Established by the grant, the Penn Superfund Research and Training Program (SRP) Center evolved as a direct consequence of concerns from the community living near the BioRit Asbestos Superfund site in Ambler, Pa., about 20 miles north of Philadelphia. CEET is the academic home for the Penn Superfund Center.

The environmental projects centering on the remediation of asbestos particles will be conducted by Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Jane Willenbring and Professor of Biology Brenda Casper, who will use mycrorrhiza fungi to break down asbestos to a new non-toxic mineral form. Studies on the mobility and fate of asbestos particles in streams and rivers will be conducted by Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Douglas Jerolmack and Willenbring. Although these projects evolved in response to the Ambler community’s concerns, the results could be readily translated to the 15 other Superfund asbestos sites in the U.S.

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