About the MIT Superfund Research Program

The MIT Superfund Research Program was created in 2017 to be responsive to communities who live near Superfund Sites. In particular, the MIT team leverages scientific research, community engagement, and educational experiences to support people who are concerned about hazardous chemicals in their environment.

One contaminant of concern is N-nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA. In the 1990’s, it was discovered that there was a childhood cancer cluster in Wilmington, MA, just minutes from MIT. Wilmington is home to the Olin Chemical Superfund Site, at which millions of gallons of chemical waste was disposed of on-site. The community was particularly concerned about NDMA, a potent carcinogen in animals models, because it was found to be a contaminant in their public water supply. To be supportive of the community, under the leadership of Professors Bevin Engelward, John Essigmann and Noelle Selin, a team was assembled and a solutions-oriented program was developed to study inter-individual variation in susceptibility to NDMA, mutagenic consequences of NDMA, and to develop sensors to detect NDMA in the environment. The team has had many successes, including identifying a key DNA repair gene whose levels dictate the disease consequences of NDMA, discovering the mutational finger print of NDMA, and creating an NDMA sensor based on carbon nanotube technology. Meanwhile, a recent report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health showed an association between NDMA and childhood cancer. Relevance of this work has been described in an Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis Commentary and in a blog.

In addition to NDMA, the team is also focused on another class of alkylating agents, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are potent carcinogens that are a concern of the Micmac Tribe in Maine. Land owned by the Tribe includes a Superfund Site, and the MIT team has been working on developing tools to detect and predict the environmental fate of PAHs in their environment. Work also includes studies of PAHs in water and in air, which is relevant to millions of people around the world. Key work includes predicting levels of PAHs and their breakdown products with high resolution, and predicting their health consequences.

The work of the MIT Superfund Research Program is made possible by an exceptional team of students, postdocs, faculty, and leaders in data management, education and engagement. To learn more about the mission of the program, and accomplishments of interdisciplinary research, please see our blogs.

The MIT team is excited to continue their work, and to bring in new talented researchers who will help to shape the future impact of the MIT Superfund Research Program.