Metal-laden dust and contaminated water – and their health effects – will be the focus of multiple projects for the University of Arizona's (UA) Superfund Research Program during the next 5 years. The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences recently notified UA that the Superfund Research Program, funded since 1989, will receive an additional $14 million in grant funding through 2015 to conduct the research.
Four environmental projects will assess the nature of the
dust generated from mine tailings and other sources, determine how to best
minimize mine dust and water leachate, evaluate how to stabilize arsenic
residuals generated during water treatment, and continue to monitor how TCE
(trichloroethylene) contaminants move in the subsurface and ground water.
Models to predict pollutant distribution in both air and water also will be
Five biomedical projects will examine the health effects of
arsenic exposure on the development of the lung and heart in newborns, the
production of cancer in the bladder and other tissues, and the genetic
susceptibility of individuals to these toxicities.
The UA Superfund Research Program includes more than 75
scientists from five colleges. Expertise in atmospheric sciences, environmental
sciences, environmental engineering, environmental toxicology, and biomedical
sciences is needed to address the complex environmental pollution problems in
the arid Southwest, according to A. Jay Gandolfi, PhD, director of the program
and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Pharmacy.
"We have assembled a focused team of investigators to
address environmental problems unique to our desert environment. We are all
aware of the constant exposure to dust that we have in Arizona, but little has been done to
characterize dust as a means of exposure to metal pollutants, the resulting
health effects, and approaches to mediate the problem," he says.
In the past 5 years, biomedical studies by UA Superfund
Research Program scientists have shown that exposures to arsenic at levels even
lower than currently are acceptable produces harmful effects in laboratory
systems such as human cell cultures.
"These studies and others are prompting us to question
whether the arsenic exposure standards are adequate or need to be
lowered," Gandolfi says.
In addition to research, the faculty and staff of the UA
Superfund Research Program consult with local, state and national agencies
responsible for lessening environmental pollution, and educate communities in
the Southwest about their exposure risks, possible health effects and common
sense ways to reduce exposures. The program currently is involved in
industry-academic-regulatory partnerships at the Tucson International Airport
Authority Superfund site and the Iron King Mine and Smelter site in
Dewey-Humboldt. Through workshops and bilingual informational materials, the UA
group provides education about environmental pollutants and advice on
"The group of UA researchers working on these problems
is unique in its breadth and focus on environmental issues that concern Arizona and the desert Southwest," says Raina Maier,
PhD, associate director of the Superfund Research Program and professor of
soil, water and environmental science in the College of Agriculture
and Life Sciences.
"One of our major goals is to provide information to
the general public so that they can understand the contaminants they may be
exposed to and the actions that they can take to minimize their exposure."
Superfund Research Program Receives $14 Million
April 22, 2010