Theme IV - Emerging Environmental Issues and Preparedness
Theme IV has a diverse portfolio of projects under the umbrella of emerging hazards and preparedness and aims to address issues of public concern. The Aims include:
To develop methods to assess emissions from waste fires and biomass-fuelled power stations; investigate the toxicity of microplastics in in-vitro models; investigate the effects of environmental exposures on fertility; collect data on the health impacts from exposures to perfluorinated chemicals and establish emergency preparedness through method development for quantification of emerging environmental hazards with an initial focus on fentanyls.
Theme IV Projects
Project outline: Perfluoroalkyls and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) are a large class of anthropogenic chemicals, consisting of around 4000 individual compounds that repel water and oils and have been used in a wide range of surface coatings from cooking utensils, food packaging to clothing, furniture and carpets. PFAS are persistent in the environment and are bioaccumulative. Although exposures to the UK public are expected to be low there is limited data on the toxicity for most PFAS. This project will address this emerging issue.
Project outline: Over time discarded plastic degrades into microplastic particles that enter the food chain resulting in oral human exposure. Microplastic particles and fibres released from fabrics are also aerosolised and there is a possibility these cause lung injury following inhalation. There are public concerns that microplastics have detrimental human health effects. We will investigate the effects of microplastics on human intestinal and airway cells using high-throughput toxicity assays. Connected projects include S Wright’s fellowship, T Gant and S Wright’s PhD project (oral toxicology), and the new HPRU PhD project (respiratory toxicology). The aim of this theme is to identify potential toxicological effects of microplastics on the human airway and gut.
Project outline: Co-use of fentanyl with heroin substantially increases the risk of overdose and death. Addiction to these prescription opioids is increasing. Fentanyl-related deaths in the UK are relatively rare at around 105 in 2018 when compared with the USA where 55 fentanyl-related deaths/day were reported in 2016. However, there are concerns that incidents in the UK may follow those in USA and this project will investigate the potential use of waste water sampling to monitor trends in fentanyl use. In addition, fentanyls could potentially be used in a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) attack. Establishing capacity through analytical method development for fentanyls and their urinary metabolites at NIHP will enable preparedness for such an incident.
Project outline: The UK is shifting electricity generation towards “renewable” energy sources including biomass. DEFRA (2017) advise that burning biomass “could have adverse air quality impacts”, particularly through PM and NO2 associated health outcomes, including acute exacerbations of asthma and COPD. We will model the ground-based exposures to air pollutants and investigate potential health impacts near biomass electricity generating installations using spatio-temporal epidemiological methods applied to SAHSU (Small Area Health Statistics Unit) data.
Project outline: A current front-line NIHP issue is understanding the health consequences of waste fires on local populations. Toxicant generation by fires under controlled laboratory conditions is well documented but there is little understanding of the toxicant emissions from waste fire incidents making management challenging. We will investigate toxicants formed by waste fires to inform the front-line management. In the first year, an evidence review for toxicant generation from waste fires will be conducted and methods to sample and quantify toxicants in air and particulates will be established.
Project outline: The incidence of male and female infertility has increased in recent years. Advanced maternal age is known to be the leading factor responsible but other factors that affect both men and women including air pollution, may contribute. Epidemiological evidence suggests linking exposure to ambient air pollution with fertility disorders in men (i.e. reduced sperm quality) and women (e.g. reduced fecundity demonstrated by time to pregnancy, TTP) is still inconsistent with many study limitations. We will evaluate the association between exposure to ambient air pollution and reduced fecundity by using UK COSMOS, an ongoing study that provides information on many potential confounding variables.