Research center extends study of region's air, fish

A new grant of funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to James Pagano at SUNY Oswego’s Environmental Research Center will improve understanding of the movement of chemical contaminants in the Lake Ontario environment and food chain.

Pagano is the principal investigator on the $126,790 project, along with scientists from Clarkson University and SUNY Fredonia. They will analyze samples collected at the previously established air sampling station in nearby Sterling and work with the New York State Altmar Fish Hatchery to collect and analyze salmon muscle and egg samples for a variety of contaminants.

“Muscle tissue is obviously important because that’s what people eat,” Pagano said. “The eggs have a higher percentage of lipids in them and provide a more robust look at the contaminants” because chemicals tend to concentrate in these fat-like substances. And eggs are part of the food chain, too. “Wildlife eat the eggs,” he noted.

Eggs have an additional advantage for the researchers because they are available in volume. Hatchery workers “collect millions of eggs for the next generation of salmon,” Pagano explained. “It’s a huge sample size.”

The Sterling station was established for the multi-year Lake Ontario Atmospheric Deposition Study, which has been monitoring the levels of such chemical contaminants as polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins in the air over the lake and in the water and comparing levels of these pollutants found on shore in Sterling.

The new study, which began earlier this summer, is looking at these and some additional contaminants in the samples collected at Sterling, such as organochlorine pesticides and polybrominated diethyl ethers, a kind of flame retardant. “PBDEs are increasing in the environment,” Pagano said. “They’re in all Great Lakes fish” and have been showing up in humans, he added.

The hatchery’s salmon samples will become available during spawning season in October, he said, and researchers will analyze them for the same chemicals this year and next. Results of this two-year study will help determine if establishing a long-term project to use salmon eggs as an ecological indicator is warranted, Pagano said.

The new study relates to other ongoing environmental studies along Lake Ontario, such as SUNY Oswego’s study of the effects of prenatal exposure to PCBs in humans and SUNY Brockport’s and Oswego’s study of the effect of PCBs on mink reproduction.

“Mink are sentinel animals. They’re very, very sensitive to reproductive effects. If there’s contamination with PCBs, mink reproduction will effectively stop,” Pagano said. “Without a doubt, the mink near Lake Ontario are much higher in PCBs than anywhere else.”

The grant funds come from EPA’s Great Lakes National Geographic Initiative and are administered through the Great Lakes Commission under the Great Lakes Air Deposition Program. Pagano’s fellow investigators are Tom Holsen at Clarkson University and Mike Milligan at SUNY Fredonia.

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(Posted: Aug 24, 2005)

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