The Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) Program
Supported with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Superfund Research Program, the PROTECT Center will study exposure to environmental contamination in Puerto Rico and its contribution to preterm birth (less than 37 completed weeks of gestation). PROTECT also seeks to better understand the phenomena affecting fate and transport of hazardous substances in karstic aquifers and to develop green remediation strategies that attenuate and mitigate exposure to protect human health and ecosystems. Through integrated analytical, mechanistic, epidemiology, fate-transport, and remediation studies, along with a centralized, indexed data repository, PROTECT will deliver new knowledge and technology in the area of contaminants of interest to the Superfund Research Program as a potential cause of preterm birth. The new knowledge and technology will also be useful more broadly in the overall field of environmental health.
PROTECT strives to assist in reaching the “Healthy People 2010” (http://www.healthypeople.gov/) objective of reducing preterm births to 7.6%. Preterm birth is a major and costly health problem in the United States. Resulting in significant infant and maternal morbidity and mortality, it is the leading cause of neonatal mortality in the US, contributing to over one-third of infant deaths. 1 In 2005, the estimated annual cost associated with preterm birth in the US was at least $26.2 billion. 2
Puerto Rico has been selected as a testsite because it has the highest rate of preterm birth (~20%) among the states and territories of the U.S., and because of the extent of hazardous waste contamination on the island. Puerto Rico has more than 150 contaminated sites that include 14 active Superfund sites. Although Puerto Rico is an island with an unusually high burden of pollution, including a considerable density of Superfund sites, this project is the first to investigate the causal relationships between environmental pollutants and preterm birth in this at-risk population.
PROTECT is a multi-project, multi-institution collaboration that involves five primary institutions: Northeastern University, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, University of Georgia, and University of Michigan. PROTECT is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary and involves significant interaction and sharing of samples, testing and results among the disciplines of analytical chemistry, epidemiology, engineering and toxicology.
1. Callaghan WM, MacDorman MF, Rasmussen SA, Qin C, Lackritz EM. “The contribution of preterm birth to infant mortality rates in the United States.” Pediatrics. 2006 Oct;118(4):1566-73.
2. Behrman, R. E., and Stith Butler, A., eds. (2007). Preterm Birth: Causes, Consequences, and Prevention. Committee on Understanding Premature Birth and Assuring Healthy Outcomes, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.”