Superfund Research Program
Columbia University and Northern Plains Partnership for the Superfund Research Program
Center Director: Ana Navas-Acien
Grant Number: P42ES033719
Funding Period: 2022-2027
Tribal lands are impacted by more than 15,000 hazardous waste sites and 7,000 abandoned mines that can disrupt the redox chemistry of aquifers and release toxic metals. In collaboration with tribal communities from North/South Dakota, researchers found that arsenic (As) and uranium (U) affect drinking water in private wells and rural water systems in the Northern Plains. Their data also show that in the 1990s/early 2000s Native Americans from the Northern Plains experienced urinary As and U levels 2.5 to 5 times higher than other U.S. populations, likely contributing to a high burden of cardiovascular disease. Knowledge is needed on current metal exposure levels, sources (local and distal), health effects (concurrent, latent, joint), mechanistic pathways, and effective remediation systems. To address these scientific and technology gaps, a research team has established the Columbia University Northern Plains Superfund Research Program.
This partnership has five projects and four cores, and use systems science, local knowledge, and innovative technology through the following aims:
- Develop household-level spatial and temporal models of groundwater metal concentrations integrating new measures of water As, U, and redox parameters with USGS and IHS data. These models can identify safe water vs. where mitigation interventions are needed.
- Trace sources and cycling of metals in water and biological specimens through stable isotope measurements (U, Se) to reveal redox state and inform on local and distal sources of contamination, directly addressing the communities’ concern.
- Determine latent and concurrent cardiometabolic effects of As and U in humans (Strong Heart As/U Lifelong study, SHAUL), and in human-relevant mouse models. These data will enhance the assessment of causality and the role of early life exposures.
- Integrate molecular mechanisms of As and U toxicity using multi-omics (epigenomics, metabolomics) in longitudinal studies in humans (SHAUL) and mice. The cross-species comparison can identify robust signatures and mechanisms to help generate intervention strategies.
- Develop sustainable interventions using light- based, point-of-use water remediation technology for As/U. This system will produce and recycle adsorption media with photosynthetic bacteria and alert residents before treatment failure.
The Community Engagement Core is centrally located in the Northern Plains, contributing to all research activities and local dissemination. The Data Management and Analysis and Administrative Cores optimize use of the complex data generated while respecting tribal data sovereignty and promoting evidence-based policies and practices to address hazardous toxic metals and contribute to disease prevention. Collaborators are training the next generation of scientists in systems science, technology, Indigenous research ethics, and community outreach. The breadth, depth, and innovation of approaches, the community’s central role, the institutional support, and the team’s experience working together are laying the groundwork for interventions that address key concerns for water quality and human health in communities in the Northern Plains and near abandoned mines and Superfund sites.