GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 101-6
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


CAIN, Connor J.1, LEE, Ming-Kuo1, ASHWOOD, Loka2, DIMOVA, N.T.3, CUFFEY, Joel2, BILLOR, M. Zeki1, HAYWORTH, Joel4, HIETT, Christy5, SUTTON, Collin R.1, MONTIEL, Daniel3 and STONECYPHER, Katherine6, (1)Department of Geosciences, Auburn University, 2050 Beard Eaves Coliseum, Auburn, AL 36849, (2)Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Auburn University, 310 Comer Hall, Auburn, AL 36849, (3)Department of Geological Sciences, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, (4)College of Engineering, Auburn University, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering 1301 Shelby Center, Auburn, AL 36849, (5)Fruithurst Elementary School, 222 School St., Fruithurst, AL 36262, (6)Environmental Science, Humboldt State University, 1 Hapst St., Arcata, CA 95521

Fruithurst and Muscadine are rural communities located in northeastern Alabama. Between the years of 2013 to 2017, four children and four adults were diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma cancer. The spatial distribution of cancer cases correspond to the Heflin Phyllite, a metamorphic unit within the Piedmont province. Metamorphic as well as other rocks (granite, black shales) are known to host minerals enriched in uranium and thorium which decay into high levels of radon. Recent research has suggested that radon in drinking water or in the air may contribute to higher rates of childhood leukemia. Preliminary tests of radon in some patients’ well water show concentration exceeding the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed level of 4,000 pCi/L. Many citizens in the study area still use private wells as their primary source for drinking water and in their household. Along with elevated levels of radon, water samples have also shown the presence of trace elements such as arsenic, chromium, lead, and nickel. Furthermore, preliminary soil and water samples show the presence of a semi-volatile organic compound Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (or DEHP) with concentration higher than EPA’s MCL of 0.006 mg/L.

This project employed community-based research in the form of household surveys as well as geospatial and geochemical analysis to identify incidences of cancer in relation to elevated radon levels and presence of other water pollutants. ArcGIS was used to identify cluster patterns of high cancer cases for further geochemical analysis. Household water wells of leukemia patients were also sampled for geochemical analysis to determine the levels of radon, heavy metals, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, and Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals. Core samples of Heflin Phyllite collected near the study area were analyzed for heavy mineral content. XRD, XRF, bulk rock ICP-MS analyses were used to identify heavy minerals and geochemical contents. The data collected during this research project will be used to assess potential human exposure to natural and man-made pollutants.