Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UH team analyzes Hurricane Ike's effects on waterways, fish contamination

09.07.2009
New phase of long-term environmental engineering research project expected to yield unique data, insights

A long-term environmental research project being conducted at the University of Houston may offer important information about the effects of Hurricane Ike on pollution levels and help regulators determine whether existing fish-consumption advisories remain appropriate.

With this year's storm season under way, the UH engineering team's project is entering a new phase as participants collect and analyze fresh samples from Galveston Bay and related waterways.

Cullen College of Engineering professor Hanadi Rifai, who has studied pollution in Houston-area bodies of water in partnership with both state and federal authorities since 2001, is leading the team.

"Our work with the Galveston Bay system started in the early '90s with funding from the EPA Galveston Bay National Estuary Program," said Rifai, whose team helped write the first "State of the Bay" report identifying the environmental challenges facing the estuary.

"We have since focused on POPs, or persistent organic pollutants, which include dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. We have a unique opportunity this year to study the effect of Hurricane Ike on these pollutants, particularly in the water and sediment of the estuary, so we are gathering a one-of-its-kind data set for the 'after' condition that we can compare to our pre-Ike 2008 data set," Rifai said. "The results will be enlightening from an environmental impact perspective of hurricanes on natural resources such as Galveston Bay."

As part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Total Maximum Daily Load Program, the team has been creating sophisticated models to help determine how much pollution a body of water is taking in and where that pollution is coming from. The team has upwards of 50 monitoring sites, Rifai said, and it looks for pollutants in sediment, water and tissue.

"The EPA has asked the states to come up with water bodies that do not meet Clean Water Act standards and with ways to address the problem," Rifai said. "For the first few years, we looked at dioxins, and now we're also looking at PCBs in every body of water in the Houston metro area, all the way to upper Galveston Bay. We're focused on past and current industrial pollutants."

Dioxins are primarily byproducts resulting from paper mills, industrial waste incineration and water purification processes, but they also result from natural sources like forest fires in much smaller quantities. Rifai said her team believes the majority of dioxins found locally today are from historical sources.

Meanwhile, PCBs, whose manufacture was banned in 1979, long were used as coolants and lubricants in electrical transformers and capacitors. Why they persist today in local waterways and seafood remains something of a mystery, Rifai said.

"Now, what we find with the PCBs, and what's got people worried, is, if indeed it's historical from before the ban, you would see it in the sediment," she explained. "But, we're actually seeing the patterns have shifted, as if there are some new sources of PCBs. Since the 1990s, we've had so much growth and industrial activity kicking back up that there might be some new material coming in."

What those new sources are remains unclear, Rifai said, and materials that were manufactured with PCBs before the ban may still be in use.

"Historically with PCBs, if you've made a million transformers, you didn't have to destroy them. You use them up till they die," she said, adding that many outdated transformers were ruined by Hurricane Ike.

In July 2008, the Texas Department of State Health Services issued an advisory for Galveston Bay, Chocolate Bay, East Bay, West Bay, Trinity Bay and contiguous waters, saying consumers should limit intake of spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout, and gafttop catfish to no more than one 8-ounce meal a month. Furthermore, children, women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant are to have none. Long-term consumption of both dioxins and PCBs is believed to cause numerous health effects, including cancer.

"The problem is that these compounds are what is called 'bioaccumulative.' Once they get in the food chain, they accumulate – you cannot synthesize them," Rifai said. "A lot of the impacts of those compounds are subtle. They might be neurologic; they might be developmental. They're the kinds of things that do not show up for quite a while."

The inclusion of new species in the advisories, Rifai said, has many implications, because commercial and recreational fishing is a $100-plus million industry annually. But, when her team was asked by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to do its own assessment of the state health department findings last year, the results were what Rifai expected.

"We told them that we thought the data was valid. We actually merged it with our data, and it was very consistent with what we see," she said. "We looked carefully at what was done, and, at the end of the day, I wasn't surprised."

While the industrial history of Houston is amazing, Rifai said, residents and officials are dealing with the repercussions of it now and will continue to for a long time, especially in coastal communities.

"You have to balance the protection of the resource with the need for development and growth," she said. "You also have to think about areas really vulnerable to these extreme events, like hurricanes."

She notes, however, that industrial partners have been critically important to her team's work.

"I'll tell you, industry in this area has come a long way. They really realize that they live in a community, ought to give back to the community and ought to work with the community. What's good for the water is going to be good for everyone around the water."

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 36,000 students.

About the Cullen College of Engineering

The Cullen College of Engineering at UH has produced five U.S. astronauts, 10 members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top 10 nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.

For more information about UH, visit the university's Newsroom at http://www.uh.edu/news-events/.

To receive UH science news via e-mail, visit http://www.uh.edu/news-events/mailing-lists/sciencelistserv.php.

Angela Hopp | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uh.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>