Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2014SC92B

Monitoring of Organic Pollutants in the Savannah River, using a Buoy-Deployed Data Collection Network

Institute: South Carolina
Year Established: 2014 Start Date: 2014-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $29,943 Total Non-Federal Funds: $68,607

Principal Investigators: Peter Van Den Hurk, Cindy Lee

Abstract: The Savannah River forms an essential natural resource to the counties and states bordering the river. But the many different services provided by the river require a balanced management of river flow and water quality. As one of the tools to aid management of the river, the Intelligent River project deploys a series of buoys throughout the length of the Savannah River. Each buoy has a water quality data collection unit, which is wirelessly connected to a central computer system. This will allow for real-time water quality data collection and monitoring, which will be a huge asset to water quality managers. Current technology allows only for monitoring of basic water quality parameters like temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen etc. However, considering the urbanized and industrialized areas that border the Savannah River, there is constant concern about possible spills and unreported discharges of polluted effluents into the river. An array of sensors, connected to the data collectors on the Intelligent River buoys, which would detect these incidents, could provide very valuable additional information for water quality managers. Unfortunately, small size, stand-alone detectors specifically for anthropogenic chemical pollutants are not available yet. The technology is rapidly developing, and small, portable units for detection of organic pollutants are becoming available. These units use a variety of techniques, mostly based on microfluidics systems, to separate and detect pollutants of interest. However, it is expected that the availability of stand-alone, remotely operated detectors that could be deployed from buoys will take another 5-10 years. Because three groups of environmental toxicants, the polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and environmental estrogens are consistently showing up as problem pollutants in biomarker studies in the rivers of the Upstate of SC, and most recently also in the Savannah River, it appears that monitoring of these pollutants is of crucial importance for water quality managers in SC. To fill the time void until stand-alone detectors are available, we propose to install passive samplers on the current Intelligent River data collection buoys. These passive samplers consist of materials that absorb pollutants from the water column over time, after which they are extracted in a laboratory and measured with standard analytical techniques (GC-MS). Because the data collection units on the buoys have to be inspected and cleaned on a monthly basis, this would be a perfect interval to exchange the passive samplers as well. The information on the chemical concentrations can be processed on a short time frame, and be added to the real-time water quality data collected by the units on the buoys, and thus be made available to a wider audience. Passive samplers have been used for over a decade, and US-EPA and USGS have deemed their use appropriate for monitoring selected classes of pollutants. For PAHs and PCBs the collection material consists of low-density polyethylene (LDPE); estrogenic compounds can be collected in POCIS disks, a patented device for collecting polar organic chemicals from the water column. The important benefit of using passive samplers is the time-integrated picture that is obtained of the freely dissolved fractions of the chemicals in the water column. This in contrast to one-time grab samples, which give only a very temporary picture of the concentrations of pollutants. In addition, the extracts can be tested in toxicity tests to identify other pollutants that are not routinely analyzed in water samples. The extracts of the LDPE samplers will be tested for toxicity with a Microtox assay. The total amount of estrogenic compounds will be analyzed through a competitive estrogen receptor binding assay, which will be compared to individual concentrations of 17stradiol, estrone and ethinylestradiol, analyzed by liquid chromatography, to investigate the potential contribution of other xenoestrogens. The proposed project will give insight into the monthly variations of the chemicals of interest, and will provide valuable information that can be used in preparation for the application of future stand-alone real-time data collection units. The collected data will also be beneficial to support biological effect data that were collected in recent years in the Savannah River. The Intelligent River project has attracted interest from a broad audience, including local media and grassroots organizations. Broadening the spectrum of parameters that will be measured to include the presence of environmental pollutants will draw more attention to the ecological health of the Savannah River, and the value of biological monitoring programs. Finally, several graduate, undergraduate and high school students can be attracted to participate in the project, which will enhance the outreach potential of the project.