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Exposure and Effects of Toxic Metals in Drinking Water of Mongolia

University of Michigan Principal Investigator(s) and unit: Jerome Nriagu, PhD; Center for Human Growth & Development; School of Public Health

International colleague(s) and unit:
Dr. Erdenebayer Erdenchimeg, Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health, Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences
Dr. Gombojav Enkhjargal, Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Public Health, Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences
Dr. Oyuntogos Lkhasuren, Programme Officer, WHO Representative Office in Mongolia
Baakaa Urnaa, Head of Central Water Laboratory, Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Ulaanbaatar

Site description: The Health Sciences University of Mongolia (HSUM) is the premier medical school in the country and is centrally located in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. It consists of seven schools and 44 departments with over 600 faculty members, 950 graduate students, 1,360 students in professional schools and over 5,700 undergraduate students. The School of Public Health was established in 2002 and currently has 33 faculty members and over 300 students. Primary research areas in the School include occupational health, monitoring of physical development and growth of children, environmental health, biomedical ethics and medical education.

Project Description: Groundwater is an important source of drinking water in the capital City of Ulaanbaatar (contains about half the population of the Mongolia). Although elevated levels of arsenic and other elements (including uranium and molybdenum) have been found in the groundwater, the health risks associated with ingestion of the arsenic contaminated water has yet to be assessed. The goal of this project during the coming summer is to use the data on the concentrations and distribution of toxic metals in risk assessment so that strategies can be developed to reduce the exposure of local communities to groundwater contaminants.

MHIRT students will participate in preparatory meetings during the winter term to develop the study protocols and will have the opportunity to gain background information on arsenic in groundwater and associated health risks, and about Mongolia. During the summer externship, they will be involved in a survey to collect information from participants, visual examination of participants for evidence of skin lesions, and collection of urine and saliva samples. Students have the potential to become co-authors on eventual publications based on data that they have collected. In addition, the study will provide each student with an opportunity to learn about arsenic in drinking water as a global public health problem, emerging concerns about uranium (a radioactive element) in local drinking water, and the culture as well as challenges and opportunities of doing research in nomadic communities of Mongolia.