Reagan's Superfund research must get back to Bush II funding levels
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Congress should continue to support President Reagan's Superfund Research Program (SRP) in the fiscal 2017 and 2018 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bills and restore SRP funding to the levels during the George W. Bush administration.

Continued and appropriate funding of the SRP program is an important investment in education, public health and job creation.

The SRP was created by Congress in the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 to improve health by funding research that explores ways to combat diseases associated with chemicals on current and former industrial properties. It launched in 1987 as a signature Reagan environmental program. 

Annual SRP funding by Congress is determined independent of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. While most of NIH experienced a budget increase, SRP research project grants saw a decline in funding since 2006, with a drop from $50.6 million to $46.8 million (out of a total of $77.3 million for SRP).

SRP funding has remained flat for the last four fiscal years and is the lowest it has been in a decade.

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Increasing SRP funds to Bush administration levels is needed to support public and private universities and small businesses across more than 35 states and will continue the SRP track record of creating jobs by developing technology and techniques that improve the environment and public health.

 

SRP research also has a proven track record of saving millions of taxpayer dollars by developing less expensive and more effective ways to clean up polluted property.

For example, an SRP researcher developed a natural soil acid strategy to accelerate remediation of an arsenic-contaminated site at the Vineland Superfund Site in New Jersey, potentially saving taxpayers an estimated $2.4 billion. Small businesses funded by SRP developed devices to treat gasoline contamination in water using a unique microwave technology at McClellan Air Force Base. And SRP researchers are currently developing solar-powered systems to provide clean water to rural communities.

Beyond restoration, SRP research developed innovative risk-reduction strategies that lead to significant savings in medical costs.

For example, SRP work to increase environmental awareness of expecting mothers in Puerto Rico contributed to a reduction in preterm birth rates on the island from close to 20 percent in 2009 to 11.4 percent in 2015, which translates to an estimated annual savings of $135 million in medical costs for the baby's first year of life

SRP innovations have also played important roles in addressing natural and manmade disasters. SRP-developed devices were used to measure biological responses from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. SRP-developed technologies were also used to measure biological responses from the Elk River chemical spill in 2014. And SRP research continues to explore the short- and long-term health effects of 9-11.

The SRP begun by the Reagan administration received bipartisan support for three decades as a model for multidisciplinary research that pursues discoveries at the boundaries where science meets and innovation. Continued funding for the SRP program will carry on forward-thinking strategies by launching new companies, supporting job training programs and funding graduate-level education across the country.

Restored SRP funding will continue the exemplary SRP track record of:

  • Creating jobs by allowing development of abandoned, otherwise unusable land;
  • Developing innovative technologies that reduce health care costs by developing protective mechanisms that reduce toxic exposures and prevent disease;
  • Accelerating removal of National Priorities List Superfund sites and allowing redevelopment for industrial use;
  • Training workers to safely clean up and redevelop abandoned contaminated land; and
  • Providing community-based assistance and interventions that train an advanced next-generation of interdisciplinary scientists.

Ultimately, restored funding of the SRP program to George W. Bush-era levels is an important investment in education, public health and job creation.

This piece was revised on March 15, 2017 at 1:05 p.m.

Rebeccca Fry is an associate professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and director of the UNC Superfund Research Center funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program (SRP).

Akram Alshawabkeh is the George A. Snell Professor of Engineering and associate dean for research in the College of Engineering at Northeastern University, and director of the PROTECT Superfund Research Center funded by the NIEHS SRP.

Elizabeth Glass Geltman is an associate professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health, secretary of the Environmental Section of the American Public Health Association and director of the Atlantic Emerging Technologies and Industrial Hygiene Training Center funded by the NIEHS SRP.


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