November 12, 2020

Author: Lyndsi Lewis

In the beginning, before the “Two-Leggeds” walked the Earth, creator came and asked who would help take care of them. The first to come forward were the Salmon. The relationship between salmon and Native People in the Pacific Northwest goes back to the beginning of time.  People take care of the land and the water so that the animals and the fish can live and remain healthy, and the animals and the fish then take care of the people by feeding them and providing nourishment. Have we come to a point where we have polluted the land so much that the fish are now polluting us?

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March 13, 2019

This past week, 18 Science and Technology Liaisons (STL) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to a 2-hour training offered by our Superfund Program. Dr. Stacey Harper (Co-coordinator, Research Translation) welcomed the participants to Oregon State University. She and Michael Barton (Research Translation) previewed the new visualization tool being developed in our Superfund; a network analysis tool that can visualize connectivity between SRP projects. Continue reading

Scientific research is designed to build knowledge and explore. Sometimes, that means changing previous ideas. In the US, we have a system that reviews and updates toxic chemicals. In 2017, benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) was updated. BaP is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) (https://superfund.oregonstate.edu/all-about-pahs). It is also a carcinogen. Exposure to a carcinogen may increase cancer risk.

The review of BaP found it to be 7 times less toxic than previously thought. However, it is still a carcinogen. This change may impact Superfund sites that have PAHs as pollutants. Why? Because BaP is used as a standard of toxicity for 6 other carcinogenic PAHs. When the toxicity of BaP changes, it changes these other PAHs. This means that BaP and 6 other PAHs will be considered 7 times less carcinogenic. We developed a one-page infographic describing this change (https://superfund.oregonstate.edu/sites/superfund.oregonstate.edu/files/image-album/infographics/infographics_0.jpg). The Portland Harbor Superfund site has BaP and other PAHs. Only BaP and 6 PAHs will be affected by the change in toxicity. Other PAHs will not be changed.

Want to learn more about PAHs? Check out our newest research:  https://www.researchgate.net/project/Superfund-Research-Program-at-Oregon-State-University

 

In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked the Community Engagement Core at Oregon State University’s Superfund Research Center to give a fireside chat about mercury to 35 campers at the Pine Meadows Campground which is on the shores of the Cottage Grove Reservoir. This recreational area is about 35 miles southeast of Eugene, and about 10 miles downstream of the abandoned Black Butte mine which was one of the largest mercury mines in the state in operation from the 1880s until the 1960s. Barbara Hudson-Hanley, a public health doctoral student, gave a short talk describing how mercury can move through the environment, bioaccumulate in fish, and affect human health and then led the campers through two activities.

The first activity illustrated bioaccumulation. Using pink and yellow cards, campers were assigned different roles. Children under 5 years old were “the microbes” and were tasked with gathering as many pieces as paper as they could in 30 seconds. Slightly older children were the “small fish” and could either “eat the microbes” by taking the younger children’s colored paper or pick up more cards from the ground. Teenagers and adults were the “big fish” and could “eat the small fish”. Throughout the game, the colored pieces of paper were counted. With yellow pieces of paper representing mercury, the data showed that on average microbes picked up 2 yellow and 10 pink cards, the small fish picked up 5 yellow and 20 pink cards, and the big fish had 10 yellow and 25 pink cards. Since fishing is fun and eating fish low in mercury is good for you, the next activity helped people learn about the different fish species in the Cottage Grove Reservoir and their potential to contain mercury. Children were given small fishing poles and were encouraged to “catch” laminated cut-outs of resident fish that spend their entire lives in Cottage Grove Reservoir, such as the Northern Pikeminnow and Catfish, and migratory fish, such as salmon and steelhead. With their siblings and parent’s help, they were tasked with identifying their fish against a poster that had the different types of fish and their average mercury levels and determining if they should eat that fish or not.

These activities provided useful information to campers that reinforced the concepts that recreational activities like fishing are fun and that eating fish is good for you, but that it is important to be aware of you environment and potential hazards so that you can reduce your exposure to potentially harmful pollutants like mercury. The feedback we received from the fireside chat was overwhelmingly positive. Several campers lingered afterwards to talk to Christy Johnson, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss more about how mercury got into the Cottage Grove Reservoir and what policy actions have been taken to clean up the abandoned mine.

For more information, please see the “Black Butte Mine Video” and “Mercury, The Community, and Me” a project that was developed by OSU Superfund Research Center as part of the EPA Partners in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP). Learn more  https://superfund.oregonstate.edu/mercury

The article, “Environmental and individual PAH exposures near rural natural gas extraction” was recently published online. It isn’t uncommon for our researchers to publish the results of their work in scholarly journals. You can see we have been busily writing articles for years! This article however, is somewhat special. When we began this work, we committed to returning all the data, both environmental air sampling data and personal wristband sampling, back to the participants. That’s a big undertaking. We didn’t want to just hand over confusing charts and color-coded Excel files; we wanted to provide data that was useful and relevant to people. It’s important to us that we get it right. We’ve held focus groups and worked with community liaisons to figure out how we can do just that.

Even while the article was under review, we worked with the team of scientists that performed the research as well as computer programmers, data visualizers and community engagement & research translation experts to develop reports that detailed why the research was done, what was found, and the public health relevance of that research. The data was contextualized for every person – our computer programmer built codes to ensure that every single person received a personalized report. The reports were reviewed internally at Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati, and externally by community liaisons.

The Research Translation Core provided materials relevant to PAHs (the focus of the study) and helped craft the reports.

So when our article was published, it didn’t just represent a contribution to the existing body of literature; it also represented over 30 personalized reports being mailed out to the individuals that not only participated in our study, but helped drive the research forward.