Center for Leadership in Environmental Awareness and Research

Program Summary

Logo for the Center for Leadership, Environmental Awareness and Research at Wayne State UniversityDetroit is a post-industrial city with the highest preterm birth rate among 100 US cities with the greatest number of births. Urban legacy and emerging environmental contaminants are implicated as etiologic factors in adverse reproductive health effects. Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, the Center for Leadership, Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR) working group posits that environmental exposure to VOCs such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX), trichloroethylene (TCE), and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), is an important determinant of maternal-offspring health, preterm birth (PTB) and associated adverse health outcomes.

  • VOCs emanate from landfills, brownfields, and Superfund sites, contaminating shallow soils and groundwater below residential, commercial, and industrial properties, leading to exposures via vapor intrusion.
  • CLEAR hypothesizes that VOC exposure through vapor intrusion during early life incites inflammatory responses in maternal and/or offspring tissues that reprogram the developing immune system and set the stage for adverse birth and/or associated health outcomes.
  • Five integrative research projects, including two from environmental science and engineering (E1, E2) and three from biomedical science (B1, B2, B3), and supported by five cores, investigate toxic mechanisms, exposure pathways, biomarkers, and strategies to prevent exposures and improve public health outcomes.
    • Environmental science projects include phytoscreening applications for detection of subsurface VOC "hot spots" (E1) and sensor technology that integrates Internet of Things and edge computing for real-time contaminant detection and rapid-response mitigation and remediation (E2).
    • Biomedical projects utilize animal research models and a population study to determine the health impacts of VOC exposure. Project B1 conducts controlled toxicity bioassays for evaluating reproductive, neurological, behavioral, immunological and multigenerational responses in zebrafish; project B2 investigates the mechanistic effects of VOC exposure in a pregnant mouse model; and project B3 is an epidemiology study in an at-risk human population.
  • The Chemical Analysis Core (CAC) and the Data Management and Analysis Core (DMAC) apply advanced chemical analysis technologies, statistical approaches and data visualization tools to assess and integrate project data, thereby establishing the framework to understand the impact of VOC exposures on PTB and adverse health outcomes.
  • CLEAR creates an innovative model for transdisciplinary education and workforce diversity by engaging new trainees to solve complex environmental health problems (Research Experience and Training Coordination Core); engages stakeholders and the community to inform our inquiry/analysis, participate in sampling, and employ health interventions (Community Engagement Core); and completes targeted research translation in supporting the Superfund Research Program to improve public health in urban centers impacted by environmental contamination (Administrative Core).