2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 8:45 AM

Health Impacts of Coal-Derived Organic Substances in Drinking Water Supplies

OREM, William H.1, TATU, Calin A.2, PAVLOVIC, Nikola3, BUNNELL, Joseph4, LERCH, Harry4, CORUM, Margo4 and BATES, Anne4, (1)US Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20192, (2)U.S. Geological Surv, County Hospital, Str. Oglinzilor Nr. 5 Sc. A Ap. 1, RO-1900, Timisoara, Romania, (3)Institute of Biomedical Research, Medical Faculty, University of Nis, Nis, Serbia and Montenegro, (4)U.S. Geol Survey, 956 National Center, Reston, VA 20192, borem@usgs.gov

Coal is a widely distributed fossil organic material containing myriad organic and inorganic compounds, some of which are toxic. Human health issues linked to combustion of these coal-derived substances are well known, and include emission of mercury, arsenic, and particulate-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic organic compounds. Much less is known about the leaching of toxic substances from coal into natural waters, especially drinking water supplies, and potential impacts on human health.

We are investigating the leaching of coal-derived organic substances into drinking water supplies, and links to human disease. One disease model of coal-derived and potentially harmful organic substances in drinking water supplies being studied is Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN). BEN is a kidney disease restricted to clusters of rural (endemic) villages in the Balkans. The geographic distribution of endemic villages is closely correlated with the occurrence of low rank coal (Pliocene lignite). We hypothesize that groundwater leaches toxic organic compounds from lignite located in hills above endemic villages, and transports these compounds to wells/springs in the villages. Chronic exposure to toxic organic compounds (e.g. heterocyclics and aromatic amines) in the drinking water for 20+ years may be a factor leading to BEN and renal/pelvic cancers (RPC) associated with BEN. Field studies have shown that groundwater from endemic villages exhibited higher concentrations and numbers of organic compounds compared to control sites. Toxicological studies showed that organics in water from endemic villages produced excessive cell proliferation in human kidney cells at low dose, and cell death at higher dose. High rates of RPC are also found in U.S. states that have low rank coal deposits and rural populations using groundwater (e.g. WY, LA, ND, SD). Preliminary results on coal-derived organics in groundwater and links to BEN and RPC in the USA will also be discussed.