University of New Mexico
Superfund Center
Metal Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest
Welcome to our Winter Newsletter!

CD4+ T-cell activation by arsenic and uranium, individually and in combination, at environmentally relevant concentrations.
Metals, including arsenic and uranium, commonly co-occur in and around un-remediated abandoned uranium mines. To understand how these metals impact the immune system, investigators Jodi R. Schilz, Erica J. Dashner-Titus and others from the Hudson Lab examined how arsenic and uranium, individually and in combination, impact the CD4+ T-cells of the immune system.
Using RNA sequencing methods, the team examined CD4+ T-cell activation by arsenic (sodium arsenite 1 μM and 10 μM), uranium (as uranyl acetate 3 μM and 30 μM) and a mixture of the two (1 μM sodium arsenite + 3 μM uranyl acetate).

  • Alone, sodium arsenite induced a dose dependent effect on activation associated gene expression; targeting immune response genes at the lower dose, and both low and high sodium arsenite doses increased the expression of oxidative stress genes.
  • Alone, uranyl acetate did not significantly alter activation associated gene expression.
  • The mixture, demonstrated an effect relative to sodium arsenite alone.

These findings highlight significance of studying mixtures at environmentally relevant concentrations to understand the impact of these mixtures on immune dysregulation.

Schilz JR et al. Co-exposure of sodium arsenite and uranyl acetate differentially alters gene expression in CD3/CD28 activated CD4+ T-cells. Toxicology Reports. 2021 Nov 27.


The Role of pH and organic matter
in the formation adsorption and precipitation of uranium

Dr. Carmen Velasco led a study team from Dr. Jose Cerato's lab to investigate the adsorption and precipitation reactions of uranium VI (U(VI)) in the presence of natural organic matter (NOM) at acidic and neutral pH. The hypothesis of this work is that NOM at pH 4 enhances the co-precipitation of U(VI)-NOM compared to pH 2 and pH 7. Laboratory controlled experiments were pursued using Suwannee River NOM as a well-characterized source of organic matter.

Using batch experiments and electron microscopy, the authors found that

  • adsorption and precipitation of U(VI) - in the presence of NOM - occur at pH 2 and pH 4,
  • aqueous complexation of U by dissolved organic matter is favored at pH 7, preventing its precipitation.
  • U(VI) is mainly adsorbed to the particulate organic matter at pH 4.
  • U(VI)-bearing ultrafine to nanocrystalline solids, however, were identified at pH 4 by electron microscopy.

The results indicate that U(VI) precipitation is promoted by NOM at low pH. This finding is relevant to understanding the formation of mineralized deposits, radioactive waste repositories, wetlands, and other U- and organic-rich environmental systems.

Read more about Dr. Velasco in the Trainee Highligh section.

Velasco CA, et al. From Adsorption to Precipitation of U (VI): What is the Role of pH and Natural Organic Matter?. Environmental Science & Technology. 2021 Nov 19.


Indigenous Perspectives on Earth, Water, and Sky
Indigenous Education Institute webinar series
December 14, 2021

The UNM METALS center's Training and Community Engagement cores sponsored a screening of the Indigenous Education Institute's (IEI) webinar series on indigenous perspectives as part of our Indigenous Cultural Training initiative. The series features renowned Indigenous speakers from the U.S. and Canada including Dr. Leroy Little Bear, who provid a foundation for understanding the relationship between traditional ecological ways of knowing and METALS community-based research. Screening of the series was followed by an interactive discussion led by METALS Drs. Nancy Maryboy and David Begay. 


Working together to Improve Risk Assessment Strategies for Abandoned Uranium Mines (AUM)
Joint meeting of the
UNM METALS SRP and the Navajo Nation EPA

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA) and UNM METALS Superfund Research Program (UNM-METALS) held a joing two-day meeting in October to discuss how ongoing and new environmental and health research to improve risk assessments for the abandoned uranium mines (AUM) located on the Navajo Nation.

UNM METALS shared UNM METALS outlined its overarching research questions related to AUM, how the questions had been developed with community concerns and the results of research on AUM and health conducted over past 20 years. The meeting prompted new ways to reduce risk uncertainty and enhance translational work with impacted communities. These include expanding the geospatial AUM risk modeling work of Dr. Yan Lin, understanding “background” exposure around homes near AUMs, and developing resources to increase community familiarity with remediation alternatives. A larger collaboration meeting, similar to the meetings held at UNM in 2016, 2018 and 2019, is being planned, which will include USEPA-9, Trustee II, Water and Water Resources Dept and NNEPA staff. 

Savannah LaRosa-LoPresti defended her Master's thesis in Earth and Planetary Sciences on November 18, 2021. Savanna was mentored by Drs. Adrian Brearley and Joe Galewsky, and her thesis is part of METALS Environmental Project 2 Toxic Metals in Airborne Particulate Matter Originating from Abandoned Uranium Mine (AUM) Sites.

Congratulations Savannah!

 Dr. Carmen Velasco, a former trainee of the UNM METALS SRP mentored by Professor José Cerrato in Civil Engineering is is now a Postdoctoral Researcher at Arizona State University mentored by Professor Paul Westerhoff.
Dr. Velasco is working on mechanisms for the removal of metals from drinking water by novel nano-scale adsorbents and big data analysis. She will soon be transition to Dow Chemical as Senior Research Specialist. Her recent publication with Environmental Project 1 is a Research Highlight this month!

Congrationations Dr. Velasco!
METALS Resident Artist
Shares Her Zuni Heritage on Google’s Homepage
On November 1, 2021, METALS Artist-in-Residence Mallery Quetawki made her worldwide debut on Google's search bar, which featured her paintings designed to commemorate Native American Heritage Month.

You can still experiment with Mallery's Gooogle Weaving Game featured on November 1.

You can also see the YouTube video "Behind the Doodle: Celebrating the late We:wa" Click for Video

Congratulations Mallery!

METALS "Thinking Zinc" presented to the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission

METALS members Sarah Henio-Adeky, Laurie Hudson, Johnny Naize, and Chris Shuey provided a briefing on the "Thinking Zinc" pilot clinical trial to the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission (DURAC) on September 9th, 2021. The briefining was intended to provide an overview of the trial and to answer questions from the DURAC commission.
Established by the Navajo Nation Council in 2016, DURAC advises the Council and Executive Branch on policies related to seven areas of inquiry ranging from remediation standards for abandoned uranium mines to whether the Navajo Nation should continue the 2005 law banning new uranium mining and processing. The METALS SRP team has been meeting with DURAC since 2018 to provide updates on reserch and findings
Kick off of New METALS Collaborations with USGS 

UNM METALS kicked-off a new set of collaborations with USGS in October with an invited presentation by METALS Director Dr. Johnnye Lewis to the USGS team investigating uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. The Albuquerque USGS team and the METALS team both have experience conducting follow-up investigations of drainage of abandoned uranium mines to the San Juan River.    At the kick-off, METALS Director Dr. Lewis shared METALS findings that rain-associated movement of mine waste into the San Juan River took place after the Gold King Mine Spill

Velasco CA, Brearley AJ, Gonzalez-Estrella J, Ali AM, Meza MI, Cabaniss SE, Thomson BM, Forbes TZ, Lezama Pacheco JS, Cerrato JM. From Adsorption to Precipitation of U (VI): What is the Role of pH and Natural Organic Matter?. Environmental Science & Technology. 2021 Nov 19.

Schilz JR, Dashner-Titus EJ, Luo L, Simmons KA, MacKenzie DA, Hudson LG. Co-exposure of sodium arsenite and uranyl acetate differentially alters gene expression in CD3/CD28 activated CD4+ T-cells. Toxicology Reports. 2021 Nov 27.

Cooper KL, Volk LB, Dominguez DR, Duran AD, Liu KK, Hudson LG. Contribution of NADPH oxidase to the retention of UVR-induced DNA damage by arsenic. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. 2021 Nov 16:115799. 

David Scieszka, Russell Hunter, Jessica Begay, Marsha Bitsui, Yan Lin, Joseph Galewsky, Masako Morishita, Zachary Klaver, James Wagner, Jack R Harkema, Guy Herbert, Selita Lucas, Charlotte McVeigh, Alicia Bolt, Barry Bleske, Christopher G Canal, Ekaterina Mostovenko, Andrew K Ottens, Haiwei Gu, Matthew J Campen, Shahani Noor, Neuroinflammatory and neurometabolomic consequences from inhaled wildfire smoke-derived particulate matter in the Western United States, Toxicological Sciences, 2021;, kfab147,

NIH/NIEHS P42 ES025589 (UNM METALS) This material was developed in part under cited research awards to the University of New Mexico. It has not been formally reviewed by the funding agencies. The views expressed are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of the agencies. The funders do not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this presentation.