Original paper

Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 577-587

Possible linkages between lignite aquifers, pathogenic microbes, and renal pelvic cancer in northwestern Louisiana, USA

  • Joseph E. BunnellAffiliated withEastern Energy Resources Team, USGS, US Department of the InteriorUSGS Email author 
  • , Calin A. TatuAffiliated withEastern Energy Resources Team, USGS, US Department of the InteriorDepartment of Immunology, University of Medicine and Pharmacy
  • , Rebecca N. BushonAffiliated withWater Resources Discipline, USGS, Ohio District Microbiology Laboratory
  • , Donald M. StoeckelAffiliated withWater Resources Discipline, USGS, Ohio District Microbiology Laboratory
  • , Amie M. G. BradyAffiliated withWater Resources Discipline, USGS, Ohio District Microbiology Laboratory
  • , Marisa BeckAffiliated withEastern Energy Resources Team, USGS, US Department of the Interior
  • , Harry E. LerchAffiliated withEastern Energy Resources Team, USGS, US Department of the Interior
  • , Benton McGeeAffiliated withWater Resources Discipline, USGS, Louisiana District
  • , Bradford C. HansonAffiliated withLouisiana Geological Survey
    • , Runhua ShiAffiliated withLouisiana State University School of Medicine
    • , William H. OremAffiliated withEastern Energy Resources Team, USGS, US Department of the Interior

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Abstract

In May and September, 2002, 14 private residential drinking water wells, one dewatering well at a lignite mine, eight surface water sites, and lignite from an active coal mine were sampled in five Parishes of northwestern Louisiana, USA. Using a geographic information system (GIS), wells were selected that were likely to draw water that had been in contact with lignite; control wells were located in areas devoid of lignite deposits. Well water samples were analyzed for pH, conductivity, organic compounds, and nutrient and anion concentrations. All samples were further tested for presence of fungi (cultures maintained for up to 28 days and colonies counted and identified microscopically) and for metal and trace element concentration by inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry and atomic emission spectrometry. Surface water samples were tested for dissolved oxygen and presence of pathogenic leptospiral bacteria. The Spearman correlation method was used to assess the association between the endpoints for these field/laboratory analyses and incidence of cancer of the renal pelvis (RPC) based on data obtained from the Louisiana Tumor Registry for the five Parishes included in the study. Significant associations were revealed between the cancer rate and the presence in drinking water of organic compounds, the fungi Zygomycetes, the nutrients PO4 and NH3, and 13 chemical elements. Presence of human pathogenic leptospires was detected in four out of eight (50%) of the surface water sites sampled. The present study of a stable rural population examined possible linkages between aquifers containing chemically reactive lignite deposits, hydrologic conditions favorable to the␣leaching and transport of toxic organic compounds from the lignite into the groundwater, possible microbial contamination, and RPC risk.

Keywords

Leptospires Lignite aquifers Medical geology Natural water contamination Renal pelvic cancer