Assistant professor studying effects of environmentally hazardous sites on humans

Environmental concerns over the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter, located about 17 miles east of Prescott in the town of Dewey-Humboldt, have been long standing. In 1994, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating the sites as potentially hazardous areas. In 2008, both sites received a final listing on the National Priorities List as some of the most environmentally hazardous sites in the United States.

The EPA has done substantial work characterizing the sites and the potential health risk that they pose to residents. Complementing their efforts, the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center investigators Paloma Beamer and Miranda Loh, both College of Public Health assistant professors, and Walt Klimecki, assistant professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at COP, are leading a study that will examine potential exposure of residents to harmful metals from these contaminated sites. This project is funded by the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program.

Klimecki explains, “The community learned from the EPA’s work that both the primary sites and many residential areas contained elevated levels of metals, especially lead and arsenic. Understandably residents were concerned about their exposure levels and possible health consequences, but no one was addressing this. We are taking an important first step in this process by looking at metal levels in and around homes. Importantly, we are coupling this with an analysis of metals that have been internalized in children who live in those homes “

According to the EPA, lead poisoning in children can cause brain, liver and kidney damage. Exposure to arsenic has been linked to bladder, liver and lung cancer, among other ailments.  For more information, see the EPA website on lead and arsenic exposure.

The researchers are going to sample the soil in the yards, the dust in the houses and the drinking water of about 100 households. They also will sample the urine, blood, and toenails of children living in those households for evidence of exposure to lead and arsenic, along with a suite of five other metals. Researchers hope to begin recruitment of participants in March of this year and expect the study to extend for two years.

By Larry Hogan Jr.

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