Supported with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Superfund Research Program, the PROTECT Center studies exposure to environmental contamination in Puerto Rico and its contribution to adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth (less than 37 completed weeks of gestation). Rates of preterm birth and infant mortality in Puerto Rico are among the highest of all US states and territories.

There are 19 Superfund sites in Puerto Rico, and evidence of contamination of the drinking water is extensive. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, or flooding, may also result in elevated exposures to Superfund chemicals. Although Puerto Rico is an island with an unusually high burden of pollution, PROTECT is the first project to investigate the causal relationships between environmental pollutants and adverse pregnancy outcomes in this at-risk population.

The PROTECT Center seeks to understand the mechanisms by which exposure to mixtures of suspect chemicals contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes. To conduct these analyses, the PROTECT Center develops new statistical methods and data mining, machine learning, and visualization tools. The Center also investigates the impacts of extreme weather events on contaminant transport and exposure, and new water treatment technologies are being developed for portable and robust water treatment systems. The PROTECT Center continues to employ innovative approaches to engage and educate the community, involve study participants, report data, and communicate with stakeholders.

PROTECT is a multi-project, multi-institution collaboration that involves five primary institutions: Northeastern UniversityUniversity of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences CampusUniversity of Puerto Rico, MayaguezUniversity of Georgia, and University of Michigan. Collaborators also include Cornell UniversityWest Virginia UniversitySilent Spring Institute, and EarthSoft Inc.

About the Superfund Research Program

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) is a network of university grants that are designed to seek solutions to the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation’s hazardous waste sites. The research conducted by the SRP is a coordinated effort with the Environmental Protection Agency, which is the federal entity charged with cleaning up the worst hazardous waste sites in the country.

The SRP is federally funded and administered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health.