Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 577–587 | Cite as

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

  • Joseph E. Bunnell
  • Calin A. Tatu
  • Rebecca N. Bushon
  • Donald M. Stoeckel
  • Amie M. G. Brady
  • Marisa Beck
  • Harry E. Lerch
  • Benton McGee
  • Bradford C. Hanson
  • Runhua Shi
  • William H. Orem
Original paper


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.


Leptospires Lignite aquifers Medical geology Natural water contamination Renal pelvic cancer 


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We thank Peter Warwick, Alexander Karlsen, Chacko John, Douglas Carlson, John Lovelace, Jon Kolak, Donna Francy, and Jerry McLarty for their scientific insights, critical reviews, and kind assistance. The Dolet Hills Mining Co. generously provided access for us to collect samples. Marie Burleson, Ohio Department of Health, assisted in identifying fungal species, and Paul Levett, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, kindly provided leptospiral culture material and DNA. The work was supported in part by the USGS Energy Resources Program (Brenda Pierce, Program Coordinator) and by the USGS Eastern Energy Resources Team (Ione Taylor, Chief Scientist). Other support was provided by the USGS Water Resources Discipline and the Eastern Region (Steve Hindall, Tom Armstrong, Dan Hippe, Cathy Hill). Many thanks to Steve Suitt for GIS assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph E. Bunnell
    • 1
    • 7
  • Calin A. Tatu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rebecca N. Bushon
    • 3
  • Donald M. Stoeckel
    • 3
  • Amie M. G. Brady
    • 3
  • Marisa Beck
    • 1
  • Harry E. Lerch
    • 1
  • Benton McGee
    • 4
  • Bradford C. Hanson
    • 5
  • Runhua Shi
    • 6
  • William H. Orem
    • 1
  1. 1.Eastern Energy Resources Team, USGSUS Department of the InteriorRestonUSA
  2. 2.Department of ImmunologyUniversity of Medicine and PharmacyTimisoaraRomania
  3. 3.Water Resources DisciplineUSGS, Ohio District Microbiology LaboratoryColumbusUSA
  4. 4.Water Resources DisciplineUSGS, Louisiana DistrictRustonUSA
  5. 5.Louisiana Geological SurveyBaton RougeUSA
  6. 6.Louisiana State University School of MedicineShreveportUSA
  7. 7.USGSRestonUSA

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