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Grant Given for Water Research, Sediment

by Megan Vigus
The Daily Evergreen, September 24, 2008

The researchers were awarded a $350,000 grant to support new state-of-the-art equipment.

It's easy to think about a dog being scared of water, but understanding that some contaminants are hydrophobic is a concept that's harder to grasp. Certain contaminants shy away from water, so when environmental health tests are conducted, water samples don't always tell the truth.

However, WSU researchers will soon be equipped with more advanced and efficient ways of testing sediment for contamination.

The team was awarded a $350,000 grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust to support acquiring new state-of-the-art equipment. Jeffrey L. Ullman, assistant professor in Biological Systems Engineering, said the equipment will enable the researchers to examine trace organic compounds, as well as different forms of metals and organo-metal compounds within sediments.

The research focuses on contaminated sediment in lake and stream beds, as well as other sediment around the region, such as the Snake River, Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Hanford site next to the Columbia River.

"[WSU's] capabilities are now unique," said Michael Barber, director of the Washington State Water Research Center. "We have opportunities for projects that we would have never been able to do without this equipment." For Barber, an important aspect of the equipment is the ability to detect levels of contamination at a lower rate. Though contaminants have a relatively low concentration, they can bioaccumulate, intensifying as they move up the food chain.

Low-level detection is only available with high-end equipment, Ullman said. It's important to look at sublethal impacts, caused by exposure to trace levels of contaminants, such as reproductive disorders in fish.

"Our analytical capabilities are so strong," he said. "It opens up many doors for proposals, funding and partnerships." Ullman and his team work mostly around the Columbia River Basin, often looking for contaminated hot spots. With the large number of dams in the region, controversy exists around their removal. Sediment builds behind the dams and removal would release an unhealthy amount into the rivers, he said. Too much sediment, even clean sediment, can be considered a pollutant.

Jim Harsh, a professor of Crop and Soil Sciences on Ullman's team, has been looking at radionuclides at Hanford for about eight years. During the past few decades, 20 to 30 tanks leaked at Hanford, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste material.

A $1 million grant from the Department of Energy awarded to Harsh and Markus Flury, also a professor in Crop and Soil Sciences, will have a great impact on the research of cesium (a byproduct of plutonium), americium and plutonium. The grant provided equipment - specifically a lysimeter, which collects solution on-site while it moves down through the soil - that provides a greater understanding of radionuclide mobility.

"It's very exciting to look at things we couldn't see before," he said.

Megan Vigus
Grant Given for Water Research, Sediment
The Daily Evergreen, September 24, 2008

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