Pilot: Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences: Evaluating the Risk of Complex Mixtures of Emerging Contaminants, Heavy Metals, and Nutrient Exposure: Identifying Hot Spots and Hot Times in Surface Water Across Kentucky

Grants and Contracts Details


PAHs, metals, and nutrients are persistent environmental contaminants that have been recently detected in many environmental compartments including soil, surface water, and groundwater in Appalachian communities. Exposure to PAHs and metals has been associated with human health impacts including elevated cholesterol, altered immune system function, thyroid hormone disruption, reduced fertility, and pregnancy-induced hypertension, as well as various forms of cancer. In contrast low concentrations of nutrients, specifically nitrogen species, mixed with emerging contaminants are leading to concern over the toxicity to human health implications (i.e., pre-term delivery) and autoimmune triggers. To date, there is limited information regarding the potential exposure and introduction of these emerging contaminants entering rural water treatment plants, resulting in a notable and concerning knowledge gap in these regions. I propose conducting a citizen science water quality campaign and developing a water quality exposure risk model to identify regions with the highest potential exposure to a combination of water quality contaminants. My research team previously developed a dual risk assessment model to identify surface water exposure to the herbicide atrazine and fertilizer nitrate, which have been reported to lead to higher instances of cancer and pre-term delivery. Further, my research team has shown that emerging contaminants are often higher in reservoirs, which are commonly used as source water in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, and persistent once entering reservoirs in regions downstream to human impacted systems (e.g., mining, agricultural practices, urban development). We hypothesize higher concentrations of water contaminants (specifically, PAHs and heavy metals) will be present in tap water with source water reservoirs closest to areas with upstream mining practices. Research objectives: To test this hypothesis the following research objectives will be completed: 1. Complete citizen science tap water campaign and in-stream monitoring of source water in three Kentucky River counties (Breathitt, Owsley, and Wolfe) for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals, nutrient species. 2. Identify watersheds across Kentucky, specifically within the Big Sandy, Cumberland Valley, and Kentucky River regions, potentially at risk for exposure to emerging contaminants, heavy metals, and nitrogen species maximum contaminant limits (MCLs) in drinking water sources and assess dual exposure using available digitally available data for water quality, health, and mining in Kentucky. The proposed work will provide important information towards hot-spots and times of water contaminants in Kentucky utilizing a GIS statistical modeling program to connect water quality, mining, and available health data using methods my team previously developed to provide insight to exposure around the Commonwealth, specifically in the Appalachian region. To accomplish the proposed objectives, data will be collected from the water quality, land use, and human health databases and imported into GIS modeling software to create vulnerability maps for varying watersheds throughout Kentucky. Further, many emerging contaminants, including PAHs, have had limited monitoring in many counties with the highest crude cancer rates including Breathitt, Wolfe, and Owsley Counties. Therefore, in working with Kentucky Extension and the Central Appalachian Regional Education Research Center (CARERC), I will conduct a citizen science monitoring campaign to collect tap water samples from a variety of homeowners in those counties and analyze water quality contaminants often related with mining operations. Outcomes of this project align with the UK CARES priorities by providing a data relevant to environmental health and residents of Appalachian Kentucky, incorporates citizen scientists through collaborations with CARERC, is a pilot study anticipated to generate critical preliminary data for subsequent external funding, and aligns with health topics of interest to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), including contaminants of the emerging concern (i.e., endocrine disrupters, nutrients leading to harmful algal blooms). Seed data from the sampling campaign and GIS modeling will be utilized to apply to nationally competitive grants including the Department of Interior, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research programs to support a larger scale assessment of emerging contaminants in connection with human health implications in Eastern Kentucky within a year of completion of the project. 4
Effective start/end date4/1/213/31/22


  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences


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