Lake Grant
EPA funds additional Great Lakes monitoring

SUNY Oswego’s Environmental Research Center this month took delivery of a sophisticated analytical instrument to perform its role in the latest five-year phase of the Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program.

Installation of mass spectrometer.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Clarkson University a $6.5 million five-year grant to continue its partnership with SUNY Oswego and SUNY Fredonia to conduct the program, which is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The EPA awarded the same team $1.75 million in 2006 to provide chemical analysis of Great Lakes fish tissue.

Oswego’s share of the new funding is about $2 million, including the cost of the new instrument, a high-resolution mass spectrometer. Together with new equipment at Clarkson and Fredonia, it gives the team state-of-the-art capability to identify and quantify chemical pollutants at levels previously impossible to achieve.

The study uses fish as biomonitors of the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. It will improve understanding of how pollutants affect the fishery and help evaluate the success of efforts to clean up sources of pollutants.

In the process, the team of upstate researchers is becoming a world leader in the science of contaminant cycling in aquatic ecosystems.

Team of experts

Experts collaborating on lake toxin research.Three Clarkson researchers—Thomas M. Holsen, Philip K. Hopke and Bernard S. Crimmins—are responsible for the overall management of the program. James Pagano, director of Oswego’s Environmental Research Center in the chemistry department, and Michael Milligan, a chemistry professor at Fredonia, are also principal investigators in the study. Pictured: Left to right, Crimmins, Hopke, Holsen, Milligan and Pagano.

Using samples of fish tissue, they scan the food web for traces of long-banned chemicals, like the insecticide DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as chemicals that replaced them in humanity’s toolbox. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, for instance, widely used in flame retardants in the 1990s, are now being pulled off the market as their harmful environmental side effects become known.

The lakes are slowly recovering from the serious pollution of the 1960s and ‘70s, Pagano said, and now “we’re trying to make sure that mistakes of the past are not being made again.”

The kinds of organic compounds and metals that are the targets of the study accumulate in greater concentrations up the food chain, from plankton to forage fish and top predators like salmon and lake trout. They have been responsible for endangering human health as well as entire species of wildlife.

‘Coup for Oswego’

The high-resolution mass spectrometer becoming operational in Pagano’s new lab in Snygg Hall this month is a sensitive instrument that can detect contaminants found at extremely low levels in the environment.

Manufactured in the United Kingdom by a subsidiary of U.S. firm Waters Corp., the spectrometer is one of only about 30 in the country. “This is a real coup for Oswego,” Pagano said.

Installing spectrometer.The 5,000-pound instrument arrived at Snygg Hall in a number of crates. The workers flown in to assemble it rented a hydraulic crane to lift and lower the 1,000-pound magnet, pictured, into place at the core of the spectrometer.

Students will have a hand in the project. Oswego’s portion of the new grant includes funding to employ two undergraduates a year. They will get experience using state-of-the-art equipment to analyze one of the world’s distinctive ecosystems.

“The Great Lakes are 20 percent of the available freshwater in the world,” Pagano said. “We’re helping to protect a priceless resource.”

Top photo: Oswego’s Jim Pagano, right, confers with GCMS principal engineer Brian Cole, left, and service manager Tom Adams, who traveled from Texas to help install the high-resolution mass spectrometer in Oswego’s Environmental Research Center.

(Posted: Mar 14, 2011)