Researchers: Could Portland Harbor clean-up actually yield more pollutants?
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
The study could determine whether cleaning certain chemicals from Superfund sites releases other chemicals into the water.
Oregon State University plans to test new ways of measuring toxicity levels in environmental chemicals.
The school, which will collect data from work performed at the Portland Superfund site, hopes to ascertain whether cleaning up hazardous waste sites generates "even worse chemicals" than the items being eradicated.
The school nabbed a $15.4 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for the project.
“The focus is to improve technologies for identifying and measuring the levels and toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found at a large percentage of Superfund sites, including the Portland Harbor, and to better assess the impact of PAHs on human health,” said OSU’s Dave Williams, the project's lead scientist, in a release.
PAHs are produced when coal, gas, oil and wood are burned. Some forms can cause cancer or harm neurological and reproductive systems.
OSU chemists Staci Simonich and Kim Anderson will collect PAHs in the sediment, soil and water from the McCormick and Baxter Creosoting Co. site and Portland Harbor, as well as the Lower Duwamish Waterway in Seattle and 10 other sites nationally.
At several sites, OSU scientists will identify whether cleanup efforts help convert PAHs in soil and sediment into other chemical compounds.
Such cleanup strategies could include heating the contaminated soil and sediment, exposing it to ultraviolet light and adding chemicals, bacteria, fungi or charcoal to break it down
“We don’t know what’s being formed during remediation,” said Simonich, a science and agricultural science professor. “We’re going to investigate that and figure out if it is bad for human health.”
Anderson will test a device with a silicone membrane that absorbs chemicals much like a person’s skin cells would.
"Knowing which chemicals can be absorbed by a human body is key, she said," according to OSU's release. "If they can’t be absorbed, then it might be safer to leave the waste in place rather than dredging it up and possibly creating even more dangerous chemicals that can indeed enter the body, she said."
OSU biochemist Robert Tanguay will examine the original PAHs as well as any derivatives that could form during cleanup efforts.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a partner on the NIEHS grant and is participating in the research. OSU is one of 18 Superfund Research programs backed by NIEHS.
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