URI scientists seek volunteers to help monitor Narragansett Bay watershed for pollutants

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Training workshop to be held August 18

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – July 30, 2009 – A team of University of Rhode Island scientists will soon begin deploying a new, low-tech tool for monitoring water quality in Narragansett Bay, and they are looking for volunteers to help.

URI Professor Rainer Lohman calls the new tool “polyethylene passive samplers,” but they’re really just small sheets of a thin piece of plastic that are sold at most hardware stores as a painter’s drop cloth. Chemical compounds that are dissolved in water become absorbed into the polyethylene.

Lohmann and colleagues Victoria Sacks and Jay Harding will lead a workshop for potential volunteers on Tuesday, Aug. 18 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Coastal Institute Building on URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus. The workshop will provide an overview of the technology, the pollutants the team is targeting, and sampling methods. Refreshments will be served.

“These samplers are easily deployed and retrieved by anyone with access to docks or buoys, and they require no special equipment or tools,” said Lohmann, who noted that the samplers must remain in the water for at least two weeks. “The retrieved samples can simply be mailed back to us.”

The pollutants the team is trying to measure are common in industrial processes and personal care products and have been dubbed “emerging contaminants of concern.” Commonly used as fire retardants, anti-bacterials and detergents and surfactants, they are increasingly found in waterways and are considered hazardous, but they are not typically monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The results of this research will provide valuable information on the viability of this method of providing low-cost, accurate measurement of emerging contaminants in the Bay,” Lohmann added. “The successful use of the samplers will provide coastal managers and water quality scientists with an effective, low-cost data collection tool.”

Lohmann, a chemical oceanographer, first tested the effectiveness of the polyethylene samplers in Boston Harbor, and in 2007 he published an award-winning paper on their use in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The following year he was awarded a $300,000 grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology at the University of New Hampshire to further study the samplers. The workshop and volunteer monitoring is funded through this grant.

Those interested in attending the workshop should register by sending an email to Jay Harding at jmharding@gso.uri.edu.