Skip Navigation

Columbia University

Superfund Research Program

Health Effects and Geochemistry of Arsenic

Center Director: Ana Navas-Acien
Grant Number: P42ES010349
Funding Period: 2000-2021

Program Links

Summary (2017-2021)

The contamination of water and aquifer sediments with arsenic (As) is associated with major public health and environmental mitigation issues in the United States. At present, 823 of 1739 U.S. Superfund sites list As as a major contaminant. In addition, millions of U.S. residents are unduly exposed due to naturally occurring As in their household well water. This Center includes two biomedical and two environmental science and engineering projects that seek to address critically important issues that collectively aim to reduce As exposure and toxicity in exposed human populations in the U.S. and in Bangladesh, where much information can be learned that will benefit residents of the U.S. and elsewhere.

The Center builds on the strengths of the researchers’ existing longitudinal cohort study of 35,000 adults in Bangladesh. They will be examining dose-response relationships between As exposure (in the low-mid range) from contaminated food and water with incident cases (and sub-types) of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and non-malignant lung disease, as well as diabetes mellitus.

In addition, researchers combine and meta-analyze data from Bangladesh, Taiwan, China (Inner Mongolia), and the U.S. (AZ, CO, ND, OK, SD) to refine the dose-response relationships between As exposure and CVD. They build off their previous observations that: a) As exposure is associated with deficits in child intelligence; and b) that folate, a B vitamin, facilitates As metabolism and elimination in adults. The researchers propose to conduct a randomized clinical trial in 8 to 10-year-old children in Bangladesh to test the hypothesis that folate plus B12 supplementation can: a) lower blood As, and b) improve cognitive abilities in children.

Building on their previous geoscience research, which indicates that in situ magnetite formation forms a diffuse barrier capable of long-term As retention, the researchers conduct laboratory and field research to optimize and implement this new approach. They work at a U.S. Geological Survey research site on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and a Superfund site in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In Bangladesh, the researchers quantify the geographic and socioeconomic barriers to reducing As exposure by analyzing the vast data sets accumulated in their main study area. They also conduct a randomized controlled trial comparing ways to overcome some of them. In parallel, they continue to examine the potential vulnerability to human perturbations of shallow and deep aquifers that are low in As. These low-As aquifers are crucial for reducing exposure to their study population and the country at large.

In the U.S., the researchers build on their proven success of partnering with state and local governments to reduce As exposure in communities that rely on As-contaminated household wells in ME, NJ, and MN. The researchers also facilitate effective communication among SRP scientists, stakeholders, and government partners. Finally, they continue to train the next generation of scientists with disciplinary and inter-disciplinary skills that will enable them to improve the health of those who reside in environments that might expose them to As and other contaminants in soil, water, and food.

to Top