University of Arizona Superfund Research Program receives $14 million

April 12, 2010

Tucson, AZ-- Metal-laden dust and contaminated water, and their health effects, will be the focus of multiple projects for the University of Arizona's Superfund Research Program during the next five 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 groundwater. Models to predict pollutant distribution in both air and water also will be developed.

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 five years, biomedical studies by UA Superfund Research Program scientists have shown that exposures to arsenic at levels even lower than is currently 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 is currently 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 containment/clean-up approaches.

"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."
-end-


University of Arizona, College of Pharmacy

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