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Research in contaminant bioaccessibility and bioavailability examines the solubility of contaminants from various environmental matrices into the human gastrointestinal tract. The focus at ESG is primarily on the bioaccessibility and bioavailability of inorganic elements from soil. Bioaccessibility refers to the amount that is soluble in gastric and intestinal fluids and therefore available for uptake, and bioavailability is the amount that is absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed to organs. Bioavailability is typically measured using animals, whereas bioaccessibility can be estimated with a laboratory extraction.  We have developed and continue to develop bioaccessibility tests. These types of estimates may be used in risk assessment, another area of ESG research.

The state of bioaccessibility testing in Canada and the incorporation of bioaccessibility test results  into risk assessment is a topic that has been addressed in great detail over the past several  years within a research consortium, Bioaccessibility Research Canada (BARC), of which ESG director Dr. Ken Reimer is the chair. ESG has been involved in promoting guidance for the use of bioaccessibility in risk assessment, as well as for facilitating round-robin experiments to assess the variability that arises from using different bioaccessibility testing methods.

Bioaccessibility is fairly well understood for arsenic and lead, the two most commonly studied elements. Current research is focused on the bioaccessibility and bioavailability of less studied elements. Other elements that can be of great concern at some sites (e.g., mercury, which is third on the 2011 ATSDR Substances Priority List) have been studied very little and therefore require more research.

For the risk assessment of orally ingested soil contaminants it is often unknown how much of the contaminant is taken up by the human body and able to exert a toxic effect. As a consequence risks can be overestimated substantially resulting in unnecessary cleanup costs. Research by ESG is helping to identify test methods that best predict the amount of contaminant that is absorbed following exposure to contaminated soils.

Contaminant bioaccessibility

  Current areas of research

Arsenic transformation in the environment

Contaminant bioaccessibility

Emerging contaminants

Treatment wetlands

Zero valence metals: synthesis and environmental applications

Fate and effects of nanoparticles in the environment

Microbial community structure and function in the environment