Risk Characterization of Environmental Samples Using In Vitro Bioactivity and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Concentrations Data.
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Methods to assess environmental exposure to hazardous chemicals have primarily focused on quantification of individual chemicals, although chemicals often occur in mixtures, presenting challenges to the traditional risk characterization framework. Sampling sites in a defined geographic region provide an opportunity to characterize chemical contaminants, with spatial interpolation as a tool to provide estimates for non-sampled sites. At the same time, the use of in vitro bioactivity measurements has been shown to be informative for rapid risk-based decisions. In this study, we measured in vitro bioactivity in 39 surface soil samples collected immediately after flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey in Texas in a residential area known to be inundated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contaminants. Bioactivity data were from a number of functional and toxicity assays in 5 human cell types, such as induced pluripotent stem cell-derived hepatocytes, cardiomyocytes, neurons, and endothelial cells, as well as human umbilical vein endothelial cells. Data on concentrations of PAH in these samples were also available and the combination of data sources offered a unique opportunity to assess the joint spatial variation of PAH components and bioactivity. We found significant evidence of spatial correlation of a subset of PAH contaminants and of cell-based phenotypes. In addition, we show that the cell-based bioactivity data can be used to predict environmental concentrations for several PAH contaminants, as well as overall PAH summaries and cancer risk. This study's impact lies in its demonstration that cell-based profiling can be used for rapid hazard screening of environmental samples by anchoring the bioassays to concentrations of PAH. This work sets the stage for identification of the areas of concern and direct quantitative risk characterization based on bioactivity data, thereby providing an important supplement to traditional individual chemical analyses by shedding light on constituents that may be missed from targeted chemical monitoring.