Last month I lost my friend and colleague at DEQ, Sonja Bjorn-Hansen to a tragic suicide. I know, not a chipper way to start a blog post but I thought I’d share a bit about her here to honor her memory and the terrific accomplishments she personally made towards protecting Oregon’s environment. Sonja worked in the Water Quality division at DEQ for nearly 25 years, writing permits and contributing to the water quality conversation throughout Oregon and abroad. If anyone knew how water quality policy worked in Oregon – it was her. I have no doubt in my mind that she was one of the most gifted and critical contributors to the work that goes on here at DEQ. She never shied away from injecting her opinion even if it went against the status quo. She ruffled feathers quite a bit because I believe she was quite the activist at heart.
In the short time that I have worked in the Water Quality Permitting Section, Sonja had helped me both professionally and with morale (its easy to get bogged down in this line of work when you care a lot). She worked directly across from my desk and we would chat quite often about water and policy issues in Oregon and the PNW. We would also talk about her daughter Pei who was in the process of applying to top universities in order to become an engineer like her mom. In short, I thought the world of Sonja. Before she passed, Sonja had shared an article she wrote: Beyond Erin Brokovich which expanded on the original story of Erin Brokovich, an environmental activist-played by Julia Roberts in the Oscar-winning film. If you haven’t seen the film I think you totally should. With the water quality issues that are occuring in Flint, Michigan, the methane leak in Southern California, or the heavy metals in the air right here in Portland, Oregon – the story could not be any more relevant. And believe me the real Erin Brokovich is all over each of these issues (warning she uses some colorful language towards the end).
But Sonja’s angle in her article was about how she, as someone who works in environmental policy and not as an activist, worked tirelessly to accomplish a lot with respect to water quality in Oregon. I found the article to be wonderfully written and an entertaining read. I think if you are interested in issues with water quality you should give her article a read. Its long but worth reading every line.
When I walk by Sonja’s empty desk each day I am reminded of how much she accomplished working in natural resource policy for 25 years. It breaks my heart that her fate happened the way it did, but I feel that I am a better person for having known her. I know you all have a vested interest in our environment. I hope that you never stop losing the momentum that we need to make a positive difference in the world, because we need it now more than ever. I think Oregon Sea Grant is an entity that is vested in the interests in making a positive difference in Oregon. Thank you OSG for allowing me the opportunity to work with Sonja and the other good folks who work tirelessly at ODEQ.
As a Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow, I work with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to help develop their storm water monitoring program. The folks at ODEQ develop monitoring and management plans of pollutants that enter Oregon’s aquatic, atmospheric, and terrestrial environments. I have been working with the water quality permitting section of ODEQ, which sounds pretty technical but in reality its simply a group of people who issue permits to municipalities, construction and industrial enterprises, and other agencies who would otherwise discharge pollutants or toxins into Oregon waterways unabated. Water quality permitting is an entirely new area for me, as my primary interests and focus have been in marine ecology, but I always love to grow and learn new things.
So far, I have worked with DEQ and Oregon municipalities to assemble past and current stormwater data and give an assessment of data collection efforts. The issue is that with limited resources DEQ cannot tackle the mountain of annual reports and data that municipalities have been collecting, and both parties have raised concerns about whether their data has or will inform management decisions. This is a huge deal for not only the permittee and DEQ, but also the people of Oregon who deserve to know the condition of their waterways. I will be writing a report that will be finalized around March to present my findings. Hopefully this report will be useful for future data collection and retention in the future and will help inform permit decisions.
Around March I will be segueing into another project focusing on data collection and monitoring of stormwater in industrial and construction sites in the Port of Portland as well as the entire state. This will be similar to the previous project, but will be shorter in scope. Primarily, I will be focusing on data from runoff of heavy metal and pesticides.
There is no shortage of work to be had at DEQ. There are mountains of annual reports and hundreds of Microsoft Access files (I had assumed everyone used Excel, so I had to learn this). Its very dense permitting and policy language, but I am happy when I get to work with data. I feel good about the project and I am learning something completely new.
More to come!
When I last checked in, I had just begun a pilot study that would assess how shell thickness in mussels may be affected by exposure to Prozac. Unfortunately, the experiment was a bust, mostly owing to the impractical housing conditions which stressed the animals and led to high mortality. I quickly scrapped this project, with the intention of returning to it as a side project sometime later next year. My new focus will still assess the affects of prozac on marine life, but from a completely different angle: animal behavior.
I’d like to introduce this new project by telling you how I came up with the idea. While visiting Netarts, Nehalem, and Yaquina Bay, I noticed the abundance of shore crabs living in the estuary and that they reside primarily in soft sediments, mud, and beneath rocks, never too far from the water margin. This struck me as another creature that may be at risk from contaminants as they are transported from waters upstream and adsorb onto the sediments. I wondered if these crabs were in contaminated estuaries, how would their behavior change and how would this influence food web dynamics. To my knowledge, this is a somewhat unexplored connection linking contaminants as an agent to potentially influence shifts in food webs. We often hear about bioaccumulation of contaminants up the food web, but what if contaminants also affect the behavior of animals and cause them to be more or less susceptible to predation because of abnormal behavior?
The shore crab Hemigrapsus oregonensis, has been extensively studied and their behaviors have been well documented. My aim was to assess whether crabs exposed to Prozac at 3 and 30ng/L (i.e. documented concentrations in estuaries) would be more at risk of predation when compared to unexposed crabs. Because Prozac is a psychoactive drug, it is likely that their behavior will be altered at even low levels with persistent exposure. I am conducting this experiment by creating simulated estuary habitats in 30 tanks (10 replicates for each treatment) with rocky substrate and hideouts to allow for normal predator escape/evasion behavior. We will be dosing the shore crabs every 10 days with Prozac to simulate pulse events (e.g. increased rainfall) into the estuary. The meat of the study will be the addition of the predator, the Red rock crab, to the shore crab tanks and assessing the response to the predator during the behavioral trials, which will last ~1hr. We will run these behavioral trials during the day and at night to see observe their reactions. This project will run from June 1-August 15.
We have already had the animals living in our estuary mesocosms since June 1 and we will be conducting the first set of behavioral trials next week. More developments to follow. I’m very excited about this study and I believe it is important to explore how contaminants might affect wildlife in Oregon’s estuaries should we
On my last post, I mentioned that we were breaking down the 90-day experiment, where we exposed mussels to environmentally relevant levels (0, 0.3, 3.0, 30.0, and 300 ng/L) of fluoxetine. We had measured mussel length and width as well as mass and water clearance rates, so see if fluoxetine had an effect on mussel physiology. After some preliminary analyses, we found that mussels grew at a slower rate when exposed to the highest levels of fluoxetine (30 and 300 ng/L). While all mussels survived the exposure, some did exhibit negative growth with respect to total mass. I am currently looking at the other data to see if there were similar trends. We are also assessing body condition using a condition and gonadosomatic indices. These indices assess mussel health by measuring the the dry weight of mussel tissue over the length and width of its shell and the proportion of gonad and somatic tissues for each individual mussel, respectively. Once we get the dry weights of each individual mussel, we will have the results from comparing the values between treatments.
The next exciting part of this study is how fluoxetine may affect mussel shell thickening in response to a predator cue. The experiment is designed to test four fluoxetine treatments (0, 0.3, 3, and 30 ng/L) with and without the presence of whelk predator cues (+/-). In total there are 8 treatment types with 10 mussels per treatment, and 2 whelks per (+) treatment. Our facilities have limited space and holding tanks, so I decided to construct an experimental water table to house 800 mussels and 40 whelks that will be used in the experiment (Figure 1). This water table holds fresh water that is chilled at 12.5 °C, and has an air manifold that connects to each vessel housing mussels and whelks (n=80, 10 replicates per treatment).
Figure 1. Experimental Water Table set up. Each vessel houses 10 mussels and is independent from the neighboring vessels.
The individual vessels are simply a 32 oz. wide mouth mason jars. This was a cost effective way to increase replication and ensure independence between replicates. To each fluoextine treatment jar we will add 0.75L of filtered saltwater and the appropriate volume of fluoxetine. In (+) predator cue jars, we cage the whelks in plastic 50mL perforated sample vials (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Example of individual vessel. This treatment will be dosed with Fluoxetine to maintain a concentration of 0.3 ng/L and will include predator cues from 2 whelks.
We will be monitoring this experiment over the next few months. I will be inform you on our progress when it has completed. If you would like to follow my more frequent posts, please visit my new personal website: josephrpeters.weebly.com. Also, please comment here if you have have questions or suggestions about the experiment.
December 18 marked the end of a 90-day exposure study. During this time, we exposed the mussel Mytilus Californianus to regular doses of the drug, Fluoxetine which is the active ingredient in Prozac, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant. For this project, we wanted to determine if environmentally relevant levels of fluoxetine affect the mussels’ biological functions, namely their ability to grow and clear algae from the water column. We set up the experiment with different exposure levels to cover a spectrum of concentrations measured in water samples worldwide. We wondered if the higher exposure levels would cause more disruption to the biological functions we were measuring. We were most interested in whether fluoxetine affects the mussels ability to clear algae from the water. The reason is because this important function, when magnified across an area of mussel bed, has been shown to be an important ecosystem service. While mussels are an important fishery on their own, some might argue that their role in the rocky intertidal community far exceeds their value as seafood. Since mussels are sessile filter-feeders they filter the water of algae, excess nutrients, and frankly anything in the water that passes by their gills. This makes them highly vulnerable to contamination from toxins in the environment. As other organisms consume mussels (e.g. sea stars and whelks) any contaminant stored in their tissues could accumulate in the tissues in higher trophic organisms. Run off that contain the chemical residues of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) could affect marine life dramatically, and warrants more intensive study.
While there are numerous studies that show negative effects of PPCPs on aquatic organisms, they are mostly acute toxicity studies lasting only 7-10 days. Very few have done chronic exposure trials lasting longer than 30 days, and even fewer have looked at marine organisms. We wanted our study to mimic how fluoxetine could be persistent in the rocky intertidal environment. Often contaminants enter the coast through ‘pulse’ events, where rain drives more run-off and the compounds are essentially ‘flushed’ into estuaries and neighboring nearshore communities. We housed our mussels in tanks and dosed the mussels with fluoxetine every 10 days, to mimic these pulse events rather than constant exposure at the same concentration. We coordinated our measurements around the days we dosed the tanks. We measured mussel clearance rates using a Coulter Cell Counter. This involved feeding the mussels and taking water samples just after feeding and another sample 3 hours after the first sample was taken. The cell counter allowed us to process each water sample in under 15 seconds, which was terrific given that each algal sample day yielded 60 samples that needed immediate processing! We also measured growth by taking the length and width of each mussels every 30 days. While not as exciting as algal clearance rates, we wanted this baseline data to see if this fluoxetine could affect mussel growth. On days 30, 60, and 90 we harvested mussels to save their tissues for additional biological and chemical analyses. We were interested in how mussels body condition might be affected, so we compared the biomass of tissues necessary for the gonadosomatic index.
Currently, we are in the beginning stages of another experiment that will assess how mussels ability to induce defenses (e.g. thicker shells) in response to predator cues may be affected by the presence of fluoxetine in the water. This experiment should be finished in April or May. Also, our undergraduate student Dylan Dayrit who has been assisting with sample processing throughout the course of this experiment, is currently developing his Honors Thesis to determine the concentrations of fluoxetine in the mussel tissues. This is a big undertaking because we currently have 500 frozen mussels to process. We feel that this information could be very important in determining how much of the fluoxetine in water is taken into the mussels tissues.
I will be filling you in on the findings of this first experiment in the next post.
Have a good new year!