Research gains $220m support
From Health cover ground, and at the surface in places where the ground has been disturbed — such as near mining operations.
‘‘ There’s a lot of arsenic materials in the environment,’’ Gerson says.
‘‘ In Bangladesh they had a lot of problems with arsenic in the water. If there’s mining all the dirt under the surface is dug up.’’
Gold-containing ores quite often contained ores of other metals, and not uncommonly also had arsenic mixed up with the materials.
Because of the association with gold mining, Pearce’s research was based on a study of rural communities in the Victorian goldfields. Even where mines are no longer in use, waste dumps from decommissioned mines remain scattered across the area and have been used for landfill sites and other uses.
Children, selected through two primary schools in arsenic-contaminated areas, were chosen as the source of the toenail clippings used in the research because Pearce said children are the ones who tend to get down and dirty with the environment’’.
‘‘ We’re not saying there is a danger, rather we are developing ways of monitoring so we can assess risk in the future,’’ she said.
A technique known as X-ray fluorescence was used to map the distribution of arsenic across sections of the toenail samples, and the oxidation state of the arsenic was also detected using X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy.
Pearce, and her co-authors on the study including Gerson and Pearce’s supervisor doctor Kim Dowling, found detectable bands of arsenic in the nail, and in two distinct forms involving higher and lower levels of oxidation.
They concluded that the analysis showed evidence the children had absorbed the arsenic systemically from the soil.
Pearce said what that pointed to was the need for a further epidemiological study to
look at the possibility of short-term and long-term health effects associated with this particular level of exposure’’.
‘‘ I am going to look into what my future options are once I finish my PhD — I would hope to do a post-doctorate (on this issue),’’ Pearce said.
She said she was looking forward to using the Australian synchrotron and no longer having to take biological samples on a plane to Chicago, which was ‘‘ a hassle’’.
‘‘ Not only do you have additional ethical clearance to run the experiment in the US, but there are also serious bio-security issues,’’ she says. ‘‘ I’m looking forward to driving my toenail clippings down the road to Clayton.’’
Gerson said to date there had been little work on the long-term effects of arsenic absorption.
Research: No longer any need to send material overseas