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Environmental Factor, February 2012

Superfund promotes safe drinking water at Agua Fria Festival

By Rebecca Wilson

LOGO for: Superfund Research Program The University of Arizona
Two reaseachers discusing water quality, with a Arizona resident, under a tent

SRP researchers Raina Maier, Ph.D., far left, and Todd Camenisch, Ph.D., right, discuss water quality issues with a resident of Dewey-Humboldt, Ariz. (Photo courtesy of UA SRP)

The NIEHS-funded University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) (http://superfund.pharmacy.arizona.edu/)  made its third appearance at the Agua Fria Festival last fall in Dewey-Humboldt, Ariz. Researchers and Community Engagement Core leaders were on hand to share health and exposure information on arsenic and lead with the thousands of people who turned out for the two-day event.

Dewey-Humboldt is a small farming community located approximately 80 miles north of Phoenix, Ariz. It’s surrounded by its mining heritage, with the abandoned Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter situated on the opposite edges of town. The facilities, in operation from the early 1900’s until the late 1960’s, were combined into a single Superfund site in 2008. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund report (http://yosemite.epa.gov/r9/sfund/r9sfdocw.nsf/ViewByEPAID/az0000309013?OpenDocument)  arsenic, lead, and sulfate are the primary contaminants, which permeate ground and surface water, soil, and the air.

Public health outreach

The UA SRP had several documents available in both English and Spanish to share with visitors, including information about arsenic and lead, mining residue or tailings, and how risk assessments are conducted. “Events like this are great for reaching out to the public,” said Sarah Wilkinson, Ph.D., research translation coordinator for the UA SRP. “We are starting to have informational events in the area, but at this festival we are able to reach the people who don’t attend those.”

Wilkinson said that the most popular documents the UA SRP distributed were booklets informing readers about water quality in Arizona and advising them on water quality testing for household wells. Many area residents rely on private wells for their water and, Wilkinson said, “Some may not even realize that they have a Superfund site in their town.”

SRP projects in the area

The UA SRP is currently conducting three studies in the area, with a fourth scheduled to begin this year. The first is led by Raina Maier, Ph.D. She is conducting a phytostabilization trial to assess whether a plant cap can stabilize metal contaminants in mine tailings. Eric Betterton, Ph.D., is conducting the second project, using air samplers to determine whether wind-blown dust from mine tailing sites in the town contain metals.

Graduate student Monica Ramirez-Andreotta is leading the third study, conducting a greenhouse trial and working with local residents to determine the metal content of homegrown vegetables. Ramirez-Andreotta was this year’s winner of the SRP Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award, and her research project, “Gardenroots,” was featured in the December issue of the Environmental Factor (see story (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2011/december/spotlight-arizona/index.cfm) ).

This year marked the 107th year the festival has been held, making it one of the oldest in Arizona. Participants travelled from across the state and from northern Mexico to attend the event, which featured parades, musical acts, races, skill and craft demonstrations, and several hundred exhibitors.

(Rebecca Wilson is an environmental health information specialist with MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training SRP.)




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