Re­search gains $220m sup­port

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

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

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