PhD Research Projec: NERC CENTA - Hot stuff? Evaluating the human exposure hazard presented by land

United Kingdom
Nov 30, 2016
Jan 23, 2017
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

Chemical flame retardants (FRs) such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and chlorinated organophosphates (e.g. tris (2-chloroisopropyl)phosphate – TCIPP) have been used extensively in a wide range of applications worldwide. Substantial evidence exists that this has led to environmental contamination following emissions during their manufacture, incorporation into products and materials, as well as during their use and disposal. However, while a small number of studies have characterised the presence of PBDEs in urban and rural soils and sediments in the UK; very little is known about the existence of hotpots of FR contamination that may present specific local human exposure hazards. Moreover, very little information exists about the extent to which human contact with such contaminated land may influence concentrations in the body. This project thus has two principal objectives. The first is to characterise a range of FRs in soil from a range of potentially contaminated sites across the UK. These will include: landfills, e-waste processing facilities, and facilities where FRs are incorporated into goods, such as furniture foam manufacturers etc. These data will be placed in context against previous surveys of soil contamination in the UK and elsewhere, augmented where needed by fresh measurements in soils from “control” locations in the UK. The second objective is optimise and apply in vitro bioaccessibility/bioavailability models to evaluate human uptake from contaminated soil. At the University of Birmingham, we will use cultured human skin equivalent models to study dermal uptake, while at BGS, the (Fed ORganic Estimation human Simulation Test- FOREhST) gut bioaccessibility model will be applied to evaluate uptake via ingestion of soil. Data generated in addressing these objectives will be combined with information on human health impacts, to aid assessment of the risk arising from human exposure arising from the presence of FRs in soil.

We will test the hypothesis that hotspots of FR contamination of soil exist and represent a human exposure hazard. To do so, we will measure concentrations of halogenated FRs in topsoil from locations potentially impacted by putative source activities such as waste treatment facilities. We hypothesise that concentrations in soils from these sites will exceed significantly those in soils taken from locations not directly impacted by such activities. We will then use in vitro models to evaluate the efficiency of uptake of FRs from contaminated soil as a result of intake via dermal contact and ingestion. This work will test hypotheses about the influence on contaminant uptake efficiency, of various parameters including properties of the contaminants, environment, and soil. Data produced will be input into existing models of human exposure to contaminated land (e.g. CLEA) and interpreted in the context of prevailing exposure guidelines to evaluate the potential risk to human health.

Funding Notes

In addition to completing an online application form, you will also need to complete and submit the CENTA studentship application form available from

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.

Annual stipend, set at £14,296 for 2016/17
Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000

CENTA students are required to undertake from 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement.


(1) Stubbings, W.A. & Harrad, S. (2014). Extent and mechanisms of brominated flame retardant emissions from waste soft furnishings and fabrics: A critical review. Environment International, 71, 164–175.
(2) Abdallah, M. A-E., Pawar, G., Harrad, S. “Evaluation of in vitro vs. in vivo methods for assessment of dermal absorption of organic flame retardants: A review”. Environment International, 74, 13-22 (2015).
(3) Abdallah, M. A-E., Pawar, G. Harrad, S. “Effect of Bromine Substitution on Human Dermal Absorption of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers.” Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 10976−10983 (2015).
(4) Abdallah, M. A-E., Pawar, G., Harrad, S. “Evaluation of 3D-human skin equivalents for assessment of human dermal absorption of some brominated flame retardants”, Environment International, 84, 64-70 (2015).
(5) Harrad, S. “A meta-analysis of recent data on UK environmental levels of POP-BFRs in an international context: Temporal trends and an environmental budget”, Emerging Contaminants (2015),
(6) Cave, M.R., Wragg, J., Harrison, I., Vane, C.H., Wiele, T.V.D., Groeve, E.D., Nathanail, C.P., Ashmore, M., Thomas, R., Robinson, J., Daly, P. “Comparison of Batch Mode and Dynamic Physiologically Based Bioaccessibility Tests for PAHs in Soil Samples”, Environmental Science & Technology, 44, 2654-2660 (2010).
(7) Van de Wiele, T. R., Oomen, A. G., Wragg, J., Cave, M., Minekus, M., Hack, A., Cornelis, C., Rompelberg, C.J.M., De Zwart, L.L., Klinck, B., Van Wijnen, J., Verstraete, W., Sips, A.J.A.M. “Comparison of five in vitro digestion models to in vivo experimental results: Lead bioaccessibility in the human gastrointestinal tract” Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A, 42, 1203–1211 (2007).

Similar jobs

Similar jobs