Community Outreach Effort: Ajo, Arizona

Jeff Burgess, MD, MPH, presented the findings of his Community Based Prevention Intervention Research (CBPIR) project on arsenic to Ajo, Arizona residents at a community forum held February 16, 2005 at the Salazar-Ajo Branch Library. Approximately 45 people attended the 1:00 p.m. information session and another 20 attended the 6:00 p.m. session. The University of Arizona Zuckerman College of Public Health donated a new computer to the Salazar-Ajo Branch Library. The computer contains educational software and will have information about how to test well water.

The mining/smelting town of Ajo receives exposure to arsenic by drinking the groundwater. An increased risk of developing skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and stomach cancers are associated with excess exposure to arsenic. Although arsenic levels in the Ajo groundwater meet the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, the arsenic levels will soon be higher than the new drinking water standard.

The CBPIR study was designed to examine the Ajo population prior to and after substitution of bottled water for the arsenic-laden drinking water. Forty Ajo households participated in the drinking water study. Dr. Burgess informed residents that after a year of substituting bottled water for tap water, a 21 percent drop in urinary arsenic concentrations was observed. Although this drop in urinary arsenic concentrations was statistically significant, the drop was smaller than predicted. Dr. Burgess suggested that a possible reason for the smaller than predicted drop was that Ajo residents continued to use tap water for food preparation and for making coffee and tea.