Southeastern Section - 68th Annual Meeting - 2019

Paper No. 16-1
Presentation Time: 1:00 PM-5:00 PM


CAIN, Connor J.1, LEE, Ming-Kuo2, ASHWOOD, Loka3, MONTIEL, Daniel4, DIMOVA, N.T.4, STONECYPHER, Katherine5, HIETT, Christy6, FURR, Allen7 and SUTTON, Collin R.2, (1)Department of Geosciences, Auburn University, 2050 Beard Eaves Coliseum, Auburn, AL 36849, (2)Department of Geosciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, (3)Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Auburn University, 310 Comer Hall, Auburn, AL 36849, (4)Department of Geological Sciences, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, (5)Environmental Science, Humboldt State University, 1 Hapst St., Arcata, CA 95521, (6)Fruithurst Elementary School, 222 School St., Fruithurst, AL 36262, (7)College of Liberal Arts, Auburn University, 351 W Thach Concourse, Auburn, AL 36849

The rural communities of Fruithurst and Muscadine in the northeast part of Alabama reported third highest rate of leukemia in Alabama from 2009-2017. Between the years of 2013 to 2017, four children and four adults were diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma cancer. The homes of cancer patients all correspond spatially to the Heflin Phyllite, a metamorphic unit within the Piedmont province. Metamorphic and other rocks (granite, black shales) are known to host minerals enriched in uranium that could produce high level of radon. Recent research has suggested that radon in drinking water or in the air may contribute to a higher rate of childhood leukemia. Preliminary tests of radon in some patients’ well water show concentrations exceeding the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed level of 4,000 pCi/L. Many citizens still use private wells as a primary source for drinking water. Well 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.

Our research employed the community-based research in the form of household surveys and geospatial analysis to identify incidences of cancer. Using ArcGIS potential cancer clusters were identified and used as locations for further geochemical analysis. Water wells used by leukemia patients were sampled for geochemical analysis to determine the levels of radon, heavy metals, and organic compounds. Core samples of Heflin Phyllite collected from the study area were analyzed for heavy mineral content. XRD and XRF analyses were used to identify heavy minerals that may contain radioactive elements (i.e., uranium and thorium). The data collected in this research will be used to assess potential human exposure to environmental pollutants.