Nebraska has one of the highest age-adjusted pediatric cancer incidents in the United States. The age-adjusted incidence of pediatric central nervous systems cancers is higher than the national average in 63 percent of Nebraska counties, and the incidence of pediatric leukemia and lymphoma are higher in 41 percent and 43 percent of counties, respectively. Getting to the root cause is an urgent research priority the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and DWFI have been working on together since 2019. It is important to look at environmental factors that could contribute to this issue. Two contaminants of concern are nitrogen and atrazine in surface and groundwater. Over the last year, two specific projects have made progress on this important public health problem.
First, looking at nitrogen contamination from the watershed level, public health Ph.D. candidate and DWFI-supported student Balkissa Ouattara and his supervisor DWFI Faculty Fellow and Professor Eleanor Rogan from UNMC uncovered a spatial relationship between age-adjusted incidence for the three major types of pediatric cancer and average nitrate concentrations. They achieved this by overlaying the health statistics on a Nebraska watershed map, which showed that some Nebraska watersheds with pediatric cancer incidence above the national average also have high nitrate concentration. The patterns in general track with cultivation of corn and soybeans. Going forward, Ouattara and Rogan will refine their research in the Lower Elkhorn and Upper Big Blue watersheds to see if they can come closer to detecting a cause-and-effect relationship between waterborne agrichemical exposure and pediatric cancers.
Looking closer at the link between pediatric cancers and the agricultural chemical atrazine, Ph.D. candidate and DWFI-supported student Jagadeesh Puvvula and his supervisor DWFI Director of Water, Climate and Health and UNMC Professor Jesse Bell found higher pediatric cancer incidence in the watersheds in Nebraska’s eastern and more agriculturally intense region compared with the state average. The study suggests a significant association between pediatric cancer and atrazine concentration in water. The research team’s related studies on the impacts of drought on human health are also broadening insights into the issue. Especially during drought, atrazine and other chemicals are known to run off of fields and into groundwater after rains. The team aims to better understand the connection between drought events and human health outcomes, including mental health, and create a drought and health strategy for the National Integrated Drought Information System.
Each year, DWFI supports students doing research across the University of Nebraska related to water and food security.
DWFI hosted several events to support and share the important research of students working toward food and water security with financial and mentoring support from the institute.
Search More Articles
Search the 2021 Annual Report for more articles.