Team:Cornell/project/background/health effects


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Health Effects from Water Contaminated with Arsenic and Naphthalene

Our Project and Your Health

Arsenic and naphthalene are known human health and environmental hazards. Chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water is linked to several types of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and numerous other health problems worldwide (Abernathy et al., 1999). Naphthalene ingestion is linked to hemolytic anemia, cataracts, and liver and kidney damage (National Pesticide Information Center, 2008). Oil sands production is a rapidly growing enterprise,so monitoring arsenic and naphthalene in affected waterways is increasingly important (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2009).

Health studies have begun on local residents in close proximity to oil sands sites who may be ingesting fresh water, fish, or wildlife with high levels of arsenic or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including naphthalene. In the case of Fort Chipewyan, CA, a small town along the Athabasca River, the local population was shown to have a much higher rate of rare forms of life-threatening cancer than expected. A contributing factor may have been “levels of arsenic, mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are higher than would be considered safe" according to Kevin Timoney a researcher part of the study of the Chipewyan First Nation. At the moment there is a clear lack of information, or method to accurately and continuously monitor major water sources for contamination or leaks of potentially harmful toxins. This has serious implications for local populations in affected areas. Such a tool would undoubtedly have uses globally to monitor our water supply and keep populations safe from water poisoned with arsenic or poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Local residents near heavy oil sands extraction are growing increasingly concerned about their water becoming contaminated by heavy metals and other toxins


1. Tenenbaum, David J. “Oil Sands Development: A Health Risk Worth Taking?” (2009). Environmental Health Perspectives. 117(4): A150-156.

2. Weinhoki, Bob. “Alberta’s Oil Sands- Hard Evidence, Missing Data, New Promises.” (2011). Environmental Health Perspectives. 119(3): A126-131.