Academics & Research

Professor investigates Galveston Bay pollution

A UH professor is testing various areas of Galveston Bay for contamination in order to identify contaminated areas, so she, along with state officials, can plan the most efficient way to wipe out the toxic material.

“These pollutants are nasty 21st-century realities that we have to deal with,” said Hanadi Rifai, a professor with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, in a press release written by media relation representative Laura Tolley.

“They present a complex challenge because they’re in the air, in the soil and in the water. The pathway of exposure in this particular case is by ingesting contaminated seafood.”

Rifai’s research is being sponsored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality grant. The TCEQ is part of an award Rifai was honored with in Fall 2010 for her extensive research at the Houston Ship Channel.

Because of this grant money, Rifai will have $500,000 for her research in Galveston Bay.

Rifai and her team will be collecting water, samples of marine life and sediment to find the exact cause of the pollutants. They will also examine how the pollutants affect the environments of marine life, specifically the trout and croaker fish.

In particular, Rifai will investigate Galveston’s water for dioxins. Dioxins are contaminated wastes from industrial development and from polychlorinated biphenyls, a chemical compound used in commercial activities until it was officially banned from usage in the US in 1979.

“We will assess the extent of the pollution with the dioxin and PCBs and make recommendations on identifying historical and other current sources if they exist to the state and (Environmental Protection Agency),” Rifai said.

The team’s conclusions will be utilized by TCEQ for ways to properly remove the pollutants.

Measures being considered are bioremediation, a method that neutralizes toxins and the removal of contaminated sediment.

However, removing sediment, according to Rifai, can actually spark more toxins in bodies of water.

“The state wants to take a holistic view of all the state waters and figure out what’s going on with dioxin and PCBs,” Rifai said. “The expanded scope of this grant is a sign that they are actually going to do this, and researchers are going to get the resources to make it happen.”

Rifai and her research team have successfully pinpointed pollutants in Houston and Houston area water in the past.

Rifai previously investigated a site filled with dioxins at the San Jacinto River. Thanks to her efforts, the formerly toxic area is being cleaned by the EPA.

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