Superfund Program Wades into Water Issues

Researchers with the Superfund Basic Research and Training Program at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy's Center for Toxicology have launched a $15 million study into the toxic effects of hazardous wastes in Arizona's groundwater. Awarded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the five-year grant is a collaborative effort across five UA colleges and 12 departments.

"The Superfund Program is poised to reap the benefits from the results of our first 10 years of research _ we're ready to translate years of study into solutions," says A. Jay Gandolfi, PhD, Superfund program director and assistant dean for research and graduate affairs at the College of Pharmacy.

Superfund researchers are focusing on contamination of groundwater with arsenic and solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE). A man-made substance used since the early 1950s for a variety of metal degreasing and cleaning operations, TCE also is used as a starting material for other man-made chemicals. TCE is a well-known groundwater contaminant, particularly in the Tucson area.

Because the Southwest is so dependent on groundwater, any environmental pollutants such as TCE finding their way into the water can have disastrous health effects. Due to its geology, Southwestern soils also are a source of numerous minerals and metals. Because of mining, many more metals are exposed, increasing the possibility of contact with humans through air, water or food. To understand the effects of groundwater contaminants, Superfund researchers are working to understand the transformations that water and chemicals undergo as they move across and under the desert.

Arsenic also is present in groundwater from natural and man-caused sources. Unlike most regions of the United States that draw drinking water from lakes and rivers, Arizona draws its drinking water from wells. Digging wells requires penetrating arsenic layers in the subsurface, which leads to increased exposure to this dangerous element in drinking water. Superfund scientists are examining both the toxic effects of arsenic and new technologies for removing it from groundwater.

Collaborative Science

The Superfund Basic Research and Training Program partners include more than 60 faculty, students and staff in five UA colleges and 12 departments.

College of PharmacyPharmacology & Toxicology
College of MedicinePhysiology, Pediatric Cardiology, Cellular Biology & Anatomy
College of ScienceMolecular & Cellular Biology, Chemistry, Atmospheric Sciences
College of Agriculture & Life SciencesSoil, Water & Environmental Sciences, Nutritional Sciences
College of Engineering & MinesHydrology & Water Resources, Chemical & Environmental Engineering, Materials Science & Engineering

"All of our biomedical projects are on the verge of revealing the mechanisms behind the toxic effects of hazardous substances, so that susceptibility to the toxicity can be understood," says Dr. Gandolfi.

The Superfund Program draws on strong UA expertise in toxicology, hydrology, soils science and environmental engineering. The program fosters a holistic approach to research by encouraging health scientists to work with engineers, ecologists and hydrologists. Faculty, students and staff from the Colleges of Pharmacy, Medicine, Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Engineering and Mines have joined together for interdisciplinary research, education and outreach projects. By using quality science and engineering skills, researchers also hope to influence regulations and public policy regarding hazardous waste cleanup.

Although research is concentrated on hazardous waste issues facing the Southwest, the contaminants under study are found in many places. Information learned in Arizona can be applied to hazardous waste sites and environmental pollution issues nationally and inter-nationally.

Through its Outreach Core, the Superfund Program already shares information with scientific colleagues in Mexico. In the past several years, the Superfund Program has established ties with universities and government agencies south of the border who are faced with the same environmental problems that scientists see in Arizona.

"By sharing training, tools and resources, the Superfund Program addresses environmental problems emerging on both sides of the border," says Dr. Gandolfi.

Information learned in Arizona can be applied to
hazardous waste sites and environmental
pollution issues nationally and internationally.

The Center for Toxicology's Superfund Program is one of 18 university programs across 70 collaborating institutions in the United States. Nationwide the Superfund Program is focused on acquiring new scientific and engineering knowledge that advances both societies' understanding of the human and ecological risks from hazardous substances and the development of new environmental technologies for the cleanup of Superfund sites.

More information on the College of Pharmacy, the Center for Toxicology and the Superfund Program is available online at