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Environmental Factor, November 2012

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NIEHS grantee meets with stakeholders to discuss aquatic toxicity project

By Sara Mishamandani

CSU experimental stream facility

The CSU experimental stream facility has single simulated streams with trays and a drift net, to study bacterial communities and measure metal concentrations. (Photo courtesy of James Shine)

Joseph Meyer, Ph.D. and James Ranville, Ph.D.

As part of the field trip, the group also visited an operating treatment plant located in Idaho Springs, to illustrate the planned EPA treatment system for the Central City/Clear Creek Superfund site. Meyer, left, listened as his colleague Ranville described the new facility. (Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Colorado School of Mines (CSM) logo

As part of a collaborative effort to understand the complexity of metal mixtures toxicity in the environment, researchers at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) hosted a multimetallic project meeting and Superfund site visit Sept. 23-25 for stakeholders and NIEHS program administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D.

James Ranville, Ph.D., who leads the NIEHS-funded CSM Superfund Research Program (SRP), brought together industry, academic, and government stakeholders from around the country to discuss metal mixtures research. The meeting included two field trips to show the stakeholders, firsthand, an experimental stream facility in a Colorado State University (CSU) laboratory, and Superfund site on the North Fork of Clear Creek.

The CSM SRP Research Project Grant (R01) is a partnership involving Ranville; Joseph Meyer, Ph.D., from Arcadis; Will Clements, Ph.D., from CSU; and James Shine, Ph.D., from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The project leaders are working to improve bioavailability assessment tools, to gain insight into metal toxicity in aquatic ecosystems.

The primary objective of the research is to further develop a passive sampling device, named gellyfish, to provide data for a toxicity model of mixed metals on aquatic ecosystem health. The gellyfish sampler can simultaneously measure the free metal ion concentration of multiple metals to determine the amount of contaminants that can be taken up by aquatic organisms. Shine first developed the passive sampler in an NIEHS-funded SRP laboratory at HSPH.

Evaluating aquatic toxicity at a Superfund site

At the Central City/Clear Creek Superfund site, stakeholders saw the damage being done from mining wastes. Two mine drainage tunnels in Black Hawk introduce metals and acidic water to the North Fork of Clear Creek. When dissolved iron enters the stream, it is oxidized and precipitated, staining the stream bed. On their visit to the site, stakeholders saw orange coating on rocks, turbid water, and a lifeless stream.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin building a treatment plant to treat the water coming from the tunnels. The SRP project is working to understand the current conditions of the stream and to measure the effectiveness of the remediation, as the EPA treatment plan is implemented. The scientists will use the gellyfish sampler to look at bioavailable metals and to examine how well the system recovers after the metals and acidity are removed.

Scientists involved in the project are also doing laboratory toxicity testing with real and simulated stream waters, to better understand the effects of mining waste on ecosystems and to optimize the sampler. During the meeting, stakeholders visited the laboratory at CSU where Clements has set up 18 artificial streams to study bacterial communities exposed to varying levels of metals and acidity.

Creating a collaborative effort with stakeholders

The metal industry stakeholders left the meeting with an improved understanding of the project. Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association scientists at the meeting felt that the combination of laboratory and field components are providing needed insight into the rate at which systems recover once contamination has been eliminated. The researchers are also adapting the gellyfish model to measure nickel. This is of interest to the nickel industry, because few methods exist to directly measure nickel speciation in the water column, an important step to understanding the toxicity of metals to aquatic organisms.

“This project exemplifies the SRP R01 [research project] grant concept, because it achieves the integration between multiple disciplines, while also reaching out for stakeholder input,” said Henry. “Through effective coordination, this team is achieving the interdisciplinary goals of the SRP mandates, as well as the translational mission of our program.”

(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program, Worker Education and Training Program, and Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

James Shine, Ph.D., and James Ranville, Ph.D.

Shine, left, and Ranville at an outflow of acid mine drainage from the Superfund site. The team is setting up field sampling locations in the vicinity, to monitor metal concentrations in the water. (Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Heather Henry, Ph.D.

Henry represented the NIEHS SRP at the meeting and tour. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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