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Mari N. Jensen
The Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants, known as ALEC, at The University of Arizona will hold an open house on Wednesday, Jan. 21, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Rooms 828-848 of the UA's Gould-Simpson Building.
Emerging contaminants are potentially toxic substances whose presence in the food or water supply is poorly known, and whose health effects also are often poorly known. Some better-known emerging contaminants include pharmaceuticals such as estrogen, Viagra and Prozac, and chemicals such as bisphenol A, a compound found in certain plastics.
"ALEC is focused on detection and quantification of inorganic and organic contaminants – inorganics such as arsenic, uranium and lead and organics such as endocrine-disrupting compounds, pharmaceuticals and personal-care products," said Jon Chorover, co-director of ALEC.
ALEC and its state-of-the art analytical equipment is available for use by anyone in Arizona's water research community. In addition, training students and future researchers is one of the lab's core missions, said ALEC co-director John Chesley.
Chesley said, "This is the only lab like it in the state of Arizona. Some of these compounds haven't been on anyone's radar until the last five to 10 years."
There is increasing concern worldwide that even trace amounts of such contaminants can harm human health and also that of agricultural and other ecosystems. ALEC's equipment can detect such contaminants at much lower concentrations than was previously possible.
Emerging contaminants in water are a particularly significant problem in Arizona and other arid and semi-arid regions.
Chorover said, "It's important to understand that anything that interacts with water is a potential source of water contamination."
In many parts of Arizona, treated wastewater is used to recharge the groundwater, biosolids from treated waste are added to agricultural soils, and reclaimed wastewater is used for irrigation. Colorado River water, which supplies water to Arizona cities, towns and farms, contains an array of trace contaminants.
3 p.m.: Reception
3:30 p.m.: Speakers
4 p.m.: Tour of lab and view posters about research on contaminants.
ALEC is a collaborative effort involving faculty from the UA Colleges of Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Engineering and Pharmacy, and researchers from Arizona State University in Tempe and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The laboratory will provide many different researchers and research teams with the ability to detect a wide range of organic and inorganic contaminants in water.
Not all of emerging contaminants will turn out to be harmful, Chorover said. However, "We're just beginning to understand the biological effects of these compounds when they are present one at a time," he said. "We don't understand the synergistic effects that occur when multiple compounds are present together at low levels."
ALEC will also work with researchers who study how persistent pollutants like the solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, behave in the environment, Chorover said. "Our intent is to work with researchers across the board in terms of contaminants chemistry and the environment."
A National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program grant of $578,000 provided funding for most of the equipment. ALEC receives additional support and funding from the UA's Water Sustainability Program, the Arizona Water Institute, the UA's Office of the Vice President for Research and the UA Colleges of Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Engineering and Pharmacy, and the UA's Superfund Basic Research Program.
Mari N. Jensen