Story by Megan Myers, CVMBS Communications
June 6, 2022
The Texas A&M Superfund Research Center recently participated in three stakeholder meetings in Austin to promote the center’s newest capabilities and discover future collaborative opportunities.
Eight Superfund members from multiple colleges at Texas A&M attended meetings on May 20 with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), both of which contribute to the Superfund Center’s External Advisory Committee.
The center’s first two meetings were with the air monitoring and toxicology divisions of the TCEQ, a state agency promoting clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste in Texas. Attendees particularly explored collaborative opportunities with the Superfund Center’s new mRAPiD air quality testing van and TCEQ’s similar SMART testing vans.
“TCEQ is a critical stakeholder in our present and future work, and we are very pleased to receive encouragement for partnerships from across the agency,” said Dr. Ivan Rusyn, director of the Superfund Center. “Our visit was focused on building engagement and capacity in the science of mobile air monitoring, as well as our studies of potential environmental effects of hazardous substances in marginalized communities. Our team learned a lot from the discussions with the TCEQ’s monitoring and toxicology divisions, and we see many opportunities to collaborate on potential future projects.”
They also discussed a biomedical project led by Dr. Natalie Johnson, a Superfund investigator, with the goal of developing novel tools to characterize pediatric respiratory health risks from exposure to air toxics.
“Working with TCEQ will allow us to validate mobile measurements taken by our mRAPiD van and interpret pollutant concentration data in the context of human health risks,” Johnson said. “Additionally, getting to know each other now, can advance coordination between our teams’ air quality testing after future potential environmental disasters.”
Mariana Saitas, a trainee in Texas A&M’s Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program, attended the meeting with TCEQ’s air monitoring division to provide her perspective as someone who uses the mRAPiD van in the field.
“It was very much a learning opportunity for me because the TCEQ uses a different PTRMS (proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry),” she said. “When we toured their mobile vans, we saw that our mRAPiD van and their SMART vans each offered their own advantages; there were things that I could see that we could improve with our van, such as installing AC units.”
The meeting also gave Saitas the opportunity to see some familiar faces, as she had previously spent three summers interning with the TCEQ.
“I am really thankful for the opportunities to join such important meetings and go to conferences across the U.S.,” she said. “These experiences are awesome learning opportunities.”
In attendance from the TCEQ were chairman Jon Niermann; deputy executive director Ramiro Garcia Jr.; director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement Craig Pritzlaff; deputy director of the Monitoring Division Cory Richard Chism; and more.
During their meeting with the EDF, Superfund Center representatives provided updates on their community engagement activities in Houston and mRAPiD’s new air monitoring capabilities.
In addition to Rusyn and Saitas, the Superfund Center was represented at the meetings by Drs. Weihsueh Chiu, Thomas McDonald, Natalie Johnson, and Garett Sansom; trainee Leanne Fawkes; and center manager Arlean Rohde.