In the News Archives

March 27 2014

Chemistry World features van Geen on Well-testing for Arsenic

On March 27th, Chemistry World, an online magazine, published Nina Notman’s article on “Digging deep for safer water.” Notman consults with Alexander van Geen, Associate Director of the Columbia SRP, in her investigation of testing wells for high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in water used for drinking. Van Geen suggests, “A robust, affordable and permanent testing service will work well to remediate this issue in villages with a mix of high- and low-arsenic wells.” However, he and others warn that overtime there is a possibility that deeper aquifers could become polluted due to pumping. This could be the case where there are subsurface layers of clay that release organic matter, causing the reduction of iron oxides and, thus, triggering the release of arsenic. Please see the article for additional details of the impacts, sources, and solutions related to arsenic in drinking water.

citation: Notman, Nina. Digging deep for safer water. Chemistry World online magazine. 27 March 2014.

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February 26 2014

Columbia SRP mourns loss of colleague Mark Becker

On Wednesday, February 26th, 2014, our colleague and good friend Mark Becker died in a multi-vehicle accident on his way to teaching class. Mark, associate director for Geospatial Applications at Columbia’s Earth Institute Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), has made lasting contributions to the Columbia SRP. In the early years of our program, he taught a week long GIS Training Workshop introducing our scientists and students to the value of the spatial visualization of their data on arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. Mark then went to Dhaka and provided GIS training to build the capacity of Bangladeshi academics and policymakers to help them better understand and address their country’s overwhelming environmental health problems. As part of our Research Translation Core, Mark continued for several years to provide GIS expertise for our science projects both in the US and Bangladesh. He was generous and effective in sharing his knowledge with acclaimed scientists as well as local communities. In 2008, with the exponential growth of administrative, teaching, and other project demands, Mark passed the RTC baton. Tricia Chai-Onn and Kytt MacManus, two very capable geospatial specialists that he had trained and mentored, took his place on the RTC. Still Mark has always been just around the corner for consultation on SRP projects- always with a friendly smile and helpful suggestion. Mark used his great intelligence and extraordinary vision as both a teacher and a steward for the environment- together a powerful and enduring force. He will be greatly missed.

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February 18 2014

Columbia RTC presents NPL Superfund Footprint Mapper to EPA Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) Research Program

SRP Research Translation Core scientists Meredith Golden and Tricia Chai-Onn presented a webinar on the Columbia University Superfund Research Program’s NPL Superfund Footprint Mapper on February 18th as part of the U.S. EPA Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) Seminar Series.

The Superfund Footprint Mapper, funded by NIEHS, permits academic researchers, government regulators, and community stakeholders to visualize critical data about the area and inhabitants near Superfund sites to better assess the potential exposure of nearby vulnerable populations and therefore more effectively prioritize cleanups.  The ATSDR Geographic Research, Analysis and Services Program (GRASP) polygon shapefiles define the boundaries for most of the sites; the remaining sites are designated by EPA CERCLIS point data indicating the site centroid.

The Mapper includes over 32 socio-demographic variables from the US Census (year 2000), including race, education, linguistic isolation, and women of childbearing age. Using US Census Grids population data, these characteristics are aggregated to provide a more accurate profile of populations living within 1 and 4 mile “buffers” surrounding more than 1700 NPL sites across the US and Puerto Rico. School locations with student enrollment are mapped. Environmental data such as Brownfields, fault lines, and Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data indicate additional potential health risks for residents.

As the Columbia SRP Research Translation Core considers updates and enhancements to the Mapper, the CU SRP RTC invites feedback from those who would like to use the Mapper to better understand, assess, and remediate environmental health issues near Superfund Sites. Please see below links to the NPL Superfund Footprint Mapper, NPL Superfund sites shapefile and point data, and a pdf of the webinar presentation.

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October 17 2013

Congratulations to Columbia Jing Sun!! 1st Place Student Poster at SRP 2013 Annual Meeting

1st Place Winner Columbia Jing Sun at SRP Annual Meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, October 2013

Ms. Jing Sun, Columbia SRP Graduate Student at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, won first prize at the SRP 2013 Annual Meeting for her non-biomedical poster, "Arsenic In-Situ Immobilization by Magnetite Formation within Contaminated Aquifer Sediments". Ms Sun works on Columbia SRP Project 4 (Arsenic, Iron, Sulfur and Organic Carbon Speciation, and Their Impact on Groundwater Arsenic) under the direction of PI Benjamin Bostick and on Project 5  (Application of Enhanced Mitigation Methods for Groundwater As at US Superfund Sites) with PI Steven Chillrud.

Ms. Sun presented the findings highlighted in her poster at the the Goldschmidt conference in Florence, Italy and as part of the Columbia SRP Seminar/Webinar series in September. Both Columbia and the NIEHS Superfund Research Program provide professional training for students affiliated with this program and value the contributions made by this next generation of skilled and creative scientists.


October 17 2013

Hall and Peters present Columbia SRP research findings at the 15th International Conference of Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health and the SRP Annual Meeting

Megan Hall and Brandilyn Peters, members of Dr. Mary Gamble's Project 3, Impact of Nutrition on Arsenic-Induced Epigenetic Dysregulation, presented their research at the Superfund Research Program 2013 Annual Meeting, held on October 15-17 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dr. Hall, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Mailman School of Public Health, gave an oral presentation on, “Urinary Creatinine: The Grand Enigma – Implications of Its Use as a Urine Dilution Adjustment Factor in Epidemiologic Studies”. Ms. Peters, PhD Candidate with the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University,  participated In the poster session presenting , "Arsenic Metabolism and Renal Function in an Arsenic-exposed Population in Bangladesh." Both SRP researchers showcased posters on their respective topics at the 15th International conference of the Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health, held from September 24-27 at the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.


October 15 2013

RTC Scientist Stuart Braman Presents Student Videos at SRP Annual Meeting

Dr. Stuart Braman, Columbia SRP, presenting Barnard Student Videos on Arsenic in Drinking Water at SRP Annual Meeting, October 15, 2013, Baton Rouge

Columbia SRP scientist Dr. Stuart Braman presented both a poster and a talk on "Multimedia for Public Engagement" at the Superfund Research Program Annual Meeting in Baton Rouge. This was part of the day-long session for the SRP Research Translation and Community Engagement Core scientists and staff. The videos Dr. Braman presented were created by undergraduate students at Barnard College.

Columbia's SRP RTC has been working with state and local officials in northern New Jersey to provide awareness and educational materials to homeowners with private wells in areas where the chance is significant that naturally occurring arsenic will be present in drinking water at levels above state standards.  Barnard College undergraduates in two sustainable development workshops worked under RTC guidance to create three videos, a website and a brochure. The first video is addressed to children and its goal is to encourage children to talk to their parents about testing well water for arsenic, the second video addresses the same message to parents directly and goes on to briefly discuss treatment, and the third focuses on demystifying the water testing process.  The Columbia RTC will devote the next 9 months to working on distribution of the videos before beginning work on the 4th video.  New materials developed will take advantage of the research undertaken by the Columbia SRP CEC to identify specific barriers to water testing and treatment among private well owners in Maine. .

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September 25 2013

NYT article highlights CU SRP research on Arsenic in Aquifer supplying Hanoi drinking water

CU SRP scientists Lex van Geen and Ben Bostick, Charlie Harvey (MIT), and Dr. P. T. K. Trang from CETASD/Hanoi University of Science.

New York Times article, Arsenic Contamination Threatens Water in Hanoi, by Donald G. McNeil, Jr.  highlights the September Nature publication led by CU SRP scientists Lex van Geen and Ben Bostick along with Charles Harvey (MIT) and their Vietnamese colleagues, including Dr. P. T. K. Trang from CETASD/Hanoi University of Science. Their research indicates that while arsenic is leaching into an aquifer that serves as drinking-water for Hanoi, the speed of contamination may be delayed due to retardation of arsenic transport in the Pleistocene aquifer.

Nature published on September 11, 2013 a paper by CU SRP scientists Alexander van Geen, Benjamin Bostik, Kathleen Radloff, Zahid Aziz, and Jacob L. Mey on "Retardation of arsenic transport through a Pleistocene aquifer". Here they present findings from their study on the contamination of a Pleistocene aquifer near Hanoi, Vietnam. Their study reveals that "changes in groundwater flow conditions and the redox state of the aquifer sands induced by groundwater pumping caused the lateral intrusion of arsenic contamination more than 120 metres from a Holocene aquifer into a previously uncontaminated Pleistocene aquifer.We also find that arsenic adsorbs onto the aquifer sands and that there is a 16–20-fold retardation in the extent of the contamination relative to the reconstructed lateral movement of groundwater over the same period. Our findings suggest that arsenic contamination of Pleistocene aquifers in south and southeast Asia as a consequence of increasing levels of groundwater pumping may have been delayed by the retardation of arsenic transport."

The research presented here was fund by the US National Science Foundation and the NIEHS Superfund Research Program.

Additional authors include Vi Mai Lan, Nguyen-Ngoc Mai, Phu Dao Manh and Pham Hung Viet, of the Hanoi University of Science, Mason Stahl and Charles Harvey from MIT, Beth Weinman from Vanderbilt University along with researchers from Anchor QEA, Eawag Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology,Institute of Geochemistry and Petrology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Suggested citation:
van Geen, A., Bostick, B., Thi Kim Trang, P., et al. 2013. Retardation of arsenic transport through a Pleistocene aquifer. Nature 501, 204–207 doi:10.1038/nature12444 (onine 12 September 2013).

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September 24 2013

Ana Navas-Acien publishes paper on Association Between Exposure to Low to Moderate Arsenic Levels and Incident Cardiovascular Disease

As part of the CU SRP Seminar series on September 16, 2013, Ana Navas-Acien, Associate Professor from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, presented, "Low-to-moderate arsenic exposure in the US: Health implications for American Indian communities"On September 24th, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a paper by Dr. Navas-Acien and her colleagues entitled, "Association Between Exposure to Low to Moderate Arsenic Levels and Incident Cardiovascular Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study". Please see below a link to this paper and to Dr. Navas-Acien's presentation for the Columbia SRP Seminar series.

In addition, Columbia SRP scientist Yu Chen along with Columbia SRP External Advisory Board member Margaret Karagas from Dartmouth wrote an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Dr. Navas-Acien's publication and research. They conclude, "In summary, the Strong Heart Study alerts us to what may be a new risk factor for CVD in the United States, consistent with data from other geographic regions. It also poses new questions about the effect of arsenic exposure from not only drinking water but from foods, such as grains, and in sensitive time periods that may enhance lifelong risk for CVD as a result of arsenic exposure." See below for the link to the entire editiorial.

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May 30 2013

CU SRP Student Caitlin Howe presents new research findings

Caitlin Howe Columbia University SRP PhD Student

As part of the final session of the 2013 SRP Trainee Webinar Series, Columbia SRP graduate student Caitlin Howe presented, "Interplay between S-adenosylmethionine, folate, cobalamin, and arsenic methylation in Bangladesh" on Thursday, May 30th. Ms. Howe is a PhD student in Dr. Mary Gamble's laboratory working on Columbia SRP Project 3, Impact of nutrition on arsenic-induced epigenetic dysregulation. She presented her work as a poster at the 2012 Annual SRP Meeting and won first prize in the category of biomedical posters.

Chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic (InAs) through contaminated drinking water is a major problem worldwide. Ms. Howe's presentation will examine how InAs undergoes hepatic methylation to form mono- (MMA) and di- methyl (DMA) arsenical species thereby facilitating As elimination.  Both reactions are catalyzed by arsenic methyltransferase (AS3MT) using S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) as the methyl donor. SAM biosynthesis depends on folate-dependent one-carbon metabolism. The objective of this project was to test the hypothesis that blood SAM is associated with increased As methylation in Bangladeshi adults.  Howe additionally wished to test the hypothesis that the associations between SAM and methylated As metabolites are dependent on folate and cobalamin levels.


May 20 2013

Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES) Delegation visits Columbia SRP

Lex van Geen, Beizhan Yan, Liansheng He, Lijing Wang, Yan Zheng, Yun Zhou, Graziano, Chunmiao Zheng, Jing Su, Yuhong Jiang, Yonghai Jiang, Qiang Yan

On May 20th, Columbia Superfund Research Program hosted a delegation of six scientists from the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences (CRAES). The scientists included Liansheng He, Lijing Wang, Yun Zhou, Jing Su, Yuhong Jiang, and Yonghai Jiang. The visit was arranged by Columbia CEC PI Yan Zheng. Columbia SRP scientist Beizhan Yan and former SRP PhD student, now Associate Research Scientist at Lamont, Qiang Yang gave the visitors a tour of the laboratories at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. This was followed at Columbia's Health Sciences campus with presentations and discussions by CRAES and CU SRP scientists on issues related to Arsenic in groundwater. Zhou Yun, the Director of the International Cooperation Center, gave a talk on "Groundwater Environmental Management and Challenges in China" which included an overview on how CRAES is tackling China's very complicated environmental health issues. Please find a link to the presentation below. The delegates also visited the US EPA Region 2 headquarters earlier in the day where EPA introduced them to Superfund, risk evaluation, and risk management with specific presentations on VOCs, SVOCs, metals, and pesticides.


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