arsenic in arizonan waters
About 19% of all drinking wells in the southwestern United States are contaminated with high levels of arsenic (1). The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) states that about a third of Arizona’s water supply is dangerous for public consumption (2). Between 2017 and 2018, the release of toxic chemicals into the environment increased by 70% in Arizona, amounting to 270 million pounds in total. A large portion of these chemicals was arsenic (3). Another source of arsenic contamination in the southeastern US is the presence of arsenic-rich rocks, which contaminate groundwater that percolates through (4).The southwestern United States is especially high in bedrock that causes this phenomenon. Additionally, Arizona has a history of extensive mining: this increases the exposure of high arsenic-rich rocks, increasing the amount of toxic contamination that leaches into the environment and water. (9). This contaminated groundwater affects rural communities, especially native lands, disproportionately due to the lack of water purification infrastructure in the area.
arsenic in our bodies
Arsenic is a carcinogen, meaning that it can cause many types of cancers, including lung cancer, urinary bladder cancer, and skin cancer (IARC, 2004, 2012). For pregnant women, low-dose exposure can even cause miscarriage (6). It’s not just humans, however - arsenic is one of the main causes of inorganic chemical poisoning in farm animals. Animals on farms are exposed to arsenic through their water, feedstuff, leaves, and vegetables (7).
arizona state’s algae farm
We visited the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) at ASU Polytechnic, which uses wastewater to grow algae and further utilizes the algae to develop fuels and food products. Algae’s photosynthetic properties lend Arizona a special advantage, since most of our year is sunny (8)! While we were there, we met with Dr. Peter Lammers, an expert in microalgae growth, cultivation, and utilization.
He is a research professor at the AzCATI program, and chief scientist for the Department of Energy (DOE) funded Algal Testbed Partnership. He runs one of the largest Algal farms in the country, affiliated with the DOE, right here on ASU’s campus!. His work focuses on wastewater treatment and energy and nutrient extraction from algal biomasses. We had an amazing opportunity to meet with him, discuss our project, and ask questions about C. reinhardtii cultivation on a bigger scale. He provided invaluable insight about how best to design our filter to cultivate C. reinhardtii, some of the challenges that come with scaling the product up to a larger scale, and offered advice about future projects. Much of the information we learned from him shaped our filter design process!
biosafety in bioremediation
We also met with the Senior Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Chief Safety Officer for ASU, David Gillum and his associates. He advised us to consider the potential commercialization and implementation of our bioremediation product, especially a “kill switch” for enhanced biosafety. Another consideration Gillum mentioned was that of implementing our product in water sources outside of personal water wells, such as wastewater management systems. This advice also helped us form our filter design and proposed implementation method. Director Gillum’s advice was key to contextualizing the safety of our work within the Arizonan economy. He also provided information and advice about ensuring the safety of our lab members while working in the lab.
Our team researched several businesses in Arizona and the surrounding regions that did work related to bioremediation of heavy metals or wastewater treatment. These companies include Bioremediation Inc., Bioteam AZ, and Evoqua Water Technologies. Government entities involved in pollutant bioremediation including the Williams Airforce Base and an arsenic treatment plant in Surprise, AZ were also included in the research effort. Further contact was not initiated due to iGEM and IRB time constraints, however, these groups could be crucial next-step contacts.
- Zuzolo, Daniela, et al. "Arsenic: Geochemical distribution and age-related health risk in Italy." Environmental research 182 (2020): 109076.
- Mandal, Paramita. "An insight of environmental contamination of arsenic on animal health." Emerging Contaminants 3.1 (2017): 17-22.