PROTECT and KWI Conference: Karst, Groundwater Contamination, & Public Health

The Karst, Groundwater Contamination, & Public Health:  Moving Beyond Case Studies Conference was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico from January 27-30th. The conference was supported by the non-profit organization Karst Waters Institute (KWI), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Science Foundation (NSF) and PROTECT, and was initiated and lead by Prof. Dorothy Vesper (Project 4-5 Investigator). Prof. Ingrid Padilla (Project 4 Leader) was central on the conference organizing committee along with ten other volunteers representing seven universities, the Geological Society of America Foundation, and the US EPA.

The conference brought together approximately 80 experts from 6 countries with various scientific focuses such as geology, chemistry, engineering and public health. They joined regulators and community groups for engaging conversations and discussions about overlapping topics of concern.

The conference was opened by Prof. Janet Herman, the President of the Karst Waters Institute, together with Prof. Vesper, Prof. Padilla and Heather Henry from NIEHS. Different aspects of contaminated karst water challenges and issues were introduced by keynote lectures, which built an excellent platform for further research questions that need to be addressed. The lectures included a talk from Prof. José F. Cordero (PROTECT Co-Director) who gave an overview of PROTECT findings on dealing with contaminated karst water and premature births in Puerto Rico. PROTECT Project 4 leader Prof. Ingrid Y. Padilla explained the fate, transport, and exposure of emerging and legacy contaminants in the karst systems of northern Puerto Rico, which was complemented by Prof. Thomas Miller’s presentation of the karst regions in the island of Puerto Rico. Prof. William B. White (Pennsylvania State University) lectured on the insight of the sources of contamination in different karst regions and explained the mechanisms of contaminant transport in karst aquifers. Marian Rutigliano from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave an excellent overview of placing karst in the context of public health responses to groundwater contamination.

DSC00384The discussions formed around developing a conceptual framework for how contaminants are transported in karst and identifying particular adverse public-health outcomes and prevention strategies resulting from acute and long-term exposure relating to contaminated karst groundwater. The Conference participants identified the points for interdisciplinary research and the necessity for a systematic and holistic approach towards resolving these issues.

Together with Prof. Akram Alshawabkeh (PROTECT Co-Director and Project 5 Leader) and Prof. Jose Cordero (PROTECT Co-Director and Human Subjects and Sampling Core), a large number of PROTECT leaders, researchers and trainees attended the Conference. PROTECT Project 1 leader Prof. John Meeker and researcher Ljiljana Rajic from Project 5 presented their work at the Conference together with trainees Norma Torres and Vilda L. Rivera from Project 4 and Nancy Cardona and Prof. Carmen Milagros Velez Vega from Community Engagement Core. Trainees Johnathan Torro (Project 4) and Mohammad Shokri (Project 5) showcased their results during the poster session.

Click here to see more photos from the event.