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 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 18 Superfund sites in PR, and evidence of contamination of the drinking water is extensive. In addition, extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, or flooding, may result in elevated exposures to Superfund chemicals. Although Puerto Rico is an island with an unusually high burden of pollution, this project is the first 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 will develop new statistical methods and data mining, machine learning, and visualization tools. The Center will also investigate the impacts of extreme weather events on contaminant transport and exposure, and new water treatment technologies will be developed for portable and robust water treatment systems. Throughout the study, the PROTECT Center will continue to employ innovative approaches to engage and educate the community, involve study participants, report-back 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.