TX Researchers Address Chemical Pollution
A team of researchers from Texas A&M University has recently been awarded a three-year Healthy Ecosystems grant by The Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The team, which includes Weihsueh Chiu, professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS), plan to use the grant to address the risk of flood-induced chemical spills at Gulf Coast facilities.
In a partnership between the CVMBS, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Galveston Bay Foundation, and Texas A&M’s College of Engineering, School of Public Health, and College of Architecture, researchers will conduct modeling and analysis to identify facilities that are the most at risk.
From these findings and through a process of mapping, the team intends to both develop solutions and support efforts to mitigate pollution through natural infrastructure. The collection of information gathered through the collaboration is projected to help establish strategies for other vulnerable coastal areas with heavy industrial footprints, which, in the event of heavy rainfall or flooding have the potential to cause chemicals to be released into the air and water, harming the health of humans and ecosystems.
“It’s been increasingly recognized how much industrial facilities might be vulnerable to the increasing rate and intensity of storms on the Gulf Coast,” Chiu said. “This year we’ve seen a record number of named storms — we’re into the Greek alphabet in terms of naming. With climate change, it is likely that this would continue to intensify.”
The project is expected to be a first-of-its-kind assessment for identifying natural and nature-based infrastructure to reduce the risk of flooding, contaminant release, and exposure. Specifically, the research will focus on contaminants associated with petrochemical facilities and their presence in two common and economically important fish species found in Galveston Bay, due to its proximity to nearby industrial facilities and its potential to serve as a model for the Gulf Coast as a whole.
The team also plans to assess different strategies aimed at reducing the probability of flooding or mitigating contaminant releases through methods like improved stormwater management infrastructure and constructed wetlands.
“We hope to be able to prioritize which facilities are at the greatest risk for potential flooding and which would most benefit from different types of green infrastructure to mitigate those risks,” Chiu said. “The other part of this is looking at more the ecosystem health and not just the human health because humans and ecosystems depend on each other.”