HEALTH EFFECTS OF COAL-DERIVED ORGANIC COMPOUNDS IN NATURAL WATERS: CASE STUDIES OF BALKAN ENDEMIC NEPHROPATHY AND RENAL/PELVIC CANCER
We are studying the environmental etiology of Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN), a kidney disease hypothesized to involve toxic organic compounds leached from coal deposits into drinking water. The unusual geographic restriction of BEN to clusters of rural (endemic) villages in the Balkans (Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Bosnia) is correlated with the occurrence of Pliocene coal (lignite) deposits. Our hypothesis suggests that groundwater leaches toxic organic compounds from lignite located in hills above endemic villages, and transports these compounds to wells/springs used as water supplies. Exposure to these toxic, coal-derived organic compounds for 20+ years may be a factor (combined with genetics and perhaps other co-factors) leading to BEN and renal/pelvic cancers (RPC) associated with BEN. Results have demonstrated that: (1) drinking water from endemic villages has higher concentrations and numbers of organic compounds compared to control sites in non-endemic villages, (2) organic compounds in drinking water from endemic villages are similar to compounds extracted from endemic area lignites with water, and (3) preliminary toxicological studies have shown that organic compounds extracted from these lignites produce excessive cell proliferation in culture, suggesting possible mutagenic properties possibly linked to RPC.
High rates of RPC are also found in the USA in States with low rank coal deposits and rural populations using groundwater as water supplies. Results show that wells in coal-containing aquifers in WY and LA contain significantly higher concentrations of organic compounds compared to control sites. Produced waters from coalbed methane wells in these states also contain high concentrations of organic compounds that may be coal-derived. Ongoing studies are examining the toxicological effects of organic compounds in these water samples, and water extracts of different coals on human cell cultures.