"Polluted sediment is a nationwide problem," says Richard Langan, CICEET's UNH co-director. "We need better tools to identify and treat areas where this pollution has the potential to threaten human and ecosystem health. Technology demonstrations like these, that take advantage of cutting-edge science, are key to making that happen."
The mats present an alternative approach to remediating contaminated sediment; more common responses include dredging or capping sediment beneath several feet of sand. But dredging is expensive, disrupts habitats and poses the problem of how to move and where to put all that toxic sediment. Sand caps have questionable long-term effectiveness and can hinder boat traffic and impact aquatic life. "There's no silver bullet. What we are exploring is potentially a great tool to add to the tool box," says Melton.
Melton admits that even as Americans grow increasingly aware of environmental woes, sediment pollution does not score high on the "green glamour" scale. Yet, he points out, everyone is already feeling its impact through regular advisories that close shellfish beds or warn of eating fish contaminated by heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants like PCBs or PAHs.
"You can enjoy a great day of fishing, but if you can't eat the catch, there's a problem," says Melton. It's estimated that 20 percent of the top six inches of all sediment in U.S. rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries is contaminated. In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported there were 3,221 fish consumption advisories in state waters.
Melton and Gardner chose the Cocheco not because its sediment is especially polluted, but rather because its characteristics as a well-used tidal river and its proximity to UNH make it an ideal laboratory. They plan to compare the
|Contact: Beth Potier|
University of New Hampshire