BATON ROUGE It may sound counterintuitive, but LSU Associate Professor of Chemistry Robert Cook has made a career out of studying the ways organic materials found in the environment, including soils, can either get dirty or stay clean. In fact, the National Science Foundation, or NSF, was so impressed with his efforts that the funding institute awarded Cook one of its most prestigious awards the NSF CAREER award.
"One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves is how the world works, and where humans fit into that scenario," said Cook. "Our impact on the health of soil, and the impact of unhealthy soil on society, are definitely intertwined."
According to Cook, our world has both a growing and a shrinking problem: while the population of the world is growing, the amount of available land per person is shrinking. In fact, he said that from 1900 to 2000, that ratio shrunk by a factor of four, which is a significant change.
"As the world shrinks, we face less and less fertile soil available, which is difficult because obviously people must eat. People then use fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, etc., which work in theory but bring lots and lots of problems," said Cook. "Consider a pharmaceutical drug ad: think about how many possible side effects they list. Now, consider the fact that those are only human side effects what might happen to bugs, fish and so on? A healthy environment is essential to have for a healthy human population."
The problem stems from the fact that pesticides and other chemicals become "bioavailable" once released. They become non-specific in nature, and can harm anything that comes into contact with it, including soil, water supplies, animals and even people. Dispersed pesticides associate with a range of environmental components, including humic matter, the organic matter within soils that gives soil and local water a brown color. The humic matter then acts as a transporter within the environment, making the pollut
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Louisiana State University