2003 Seed Grant Awards

In 2003, CGRER awarded seven seed grants totaling $127,993.

Synthetic Musk Fragrances in Great Lakes Sediments

Synthetic musk fragrances (SMFs), compounds widely used in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, and other personal care products, are released in treated wastewater effluent and also exhibit aerial transport. These persistent chemicals, now ubiquitous in the environment, are known to be endocrine disruptors, but details of their fate and potential toxicologic impacts on humans and ecosystems remain poorly understood. This project evaluated the presence and fate of SMFs in the Great Lakes. Keri HornbuckleJerry Schnoor, and Bryan Boulanger measured specific SMFs and their breakdown products in air, water, and sediment samples collected at four sites in Lakes Ontario and Erie. Sediment cores yielded information about trends in SMF lake contamination over the last 30 years. These data improved our understanding about the presence, storage, and decomposition of SMFs in the Great Lakes, laying down a firmer baseline for understanding their possible health impacts.

A Geochemical Survey of Iowa’s Freshwater Mussels: Understanding their Historical Decline

Freshwater mussels constitute excellent biological monitors of water quality. These bottom-dwelling animals, once common in Iowa’s streams, depend on specific host fish and clean streamwater for life and reproduction. Iowa’s mussels are now in serious decline. Proposed explanations include the disappearance of host fish due to damming of rivers, and habitat degradation through agriculturally-induced siltation, eutrophication, and waterborne pesticides. Donna Surge andScott Carpenter performed the first geochemical analyses of Iowa’s mussels, comparing carbon and oxygen isotopes of shells from the late 1800s with those of the late 1900s. Resulting data allowed the researchers to reconstruct changes in stream productivity and climate to clarify the mechanisms responsible for current mussel declines.

Environmental Effects on Stable Isotopes and Carbon Cycle Processes in Agricultural Settings of Iowa

Concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide have increased over 25 percent since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, but the fate of these emissions remains poorly understood. Terrestrial ecosystems both absorb and emit this greenhouse gas in varying amounts that depend on ecological, seasonal, and environmental conditions. The complexity of these processes significantly impacts computer models that attempt to predict future climate change based on altered atmospheric CO2 levels. German Mora collected critical data about day-to-day and seasonal changes of both carbon and oxygen isotopes in Iowa’s corn and soybean fields. The data provided insight into carbon fluxes related to the plants’ respiration and the assimilation of CO2 during photosynthesis. By elucidating the complexities of gaseous interchange between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere, the research helps predict cropland responses to future atmospheric changes.

Applicability of Aquatic Life Cycle Testing to the Assessment of Ecological Health Impacts of Emerging Contaminants

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) such as prescription drugs, food supplements, sunscreens, and cosmetic ingredients constitute an emerging group of little-tested water contaminants. Innovative approaches are needed to evaluate untested, potential, subtle ecological effects of these compounds that are not discernable through standard toxicological methods. Meredith Gooding examined responses of freshwater mussels to SMF contamination. Following laboratory exposure to SMFs, mussels were studied for changes in growth, morphology, bioaccumulation, and mortality. Consideration of chronic, low-level exposure at different life stages were addressed by testing both mussel larvae and juveniles. The results provided data on the suitability of using mussels as test organisms for PPCPs, and more broadly helped determine the need to further evaluate environmental PPCPs’ health impacts.

Characterization of Particulates and their Role in Environmental Health

Rural inhabitants are exposed to unique health hazards. For example, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have long been known to affect the respiratory health of humans who work therein. Airborne contaminants combine to form a complex mixture that is deleterious to health at unexpectedly low levels. One poorly understood component of the CAFO problem involves synergistic health effects of gases adhered to inhalable particles. Vicki Grassian and Patrick O’Shaughnessy quantified ammonia gas adhered to corn dust and swine-confinement dust, characterizing the complexes under varying environmental conditions. They made similar efforts with gaseous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) adhered to tractor diesel exhaust. This second complex (not associated with CAFOs) is thought to resemble the soot-adhered PAHs that are known to impact respiratory health in urban environments. Lastly, this project established new collaborative efforts between researchers in chemistry and environmental health.

Quantifying the Health and Climate Benefits of Curbing Air Pollution in Megacities: Comparing Shanghai and Santiago

Developing countries face tremendous challenges when attempting to balance the costs and benefits of economic development. The fossil fuels used to power increasing numbers of vehicles and industries also degrade human health and magnify climate change processes. However, these longer-term problems are often overlooked in the search for short-term economic gain. Greg Carmichael sought to provide a tool that would encourage megacities in the developing world to consider certain economic benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. An existing numerical model for analysis of multiple development-related questions, “IAMS,” was further refined and tested for its ability to integrate costs and benefits of air quality management systems. Health-related improvements (e.g. decreasing chronic bronchitis or workday losses) were then compared with expenditures on emission control measures. This model, once refined, is expected to encourage megacities around the world regularly to integrate protection of their citizens’ health into policy decisions.

Responses of Vegetation and Fire to Little Ice Age Climate Change across a Wisconsin Sand Plain

Ecologists and land managers now realize that wildfires were crucial to many pre-settlement ecosystems. Thus, scientists are increasingly using prescribed fire to restore habitats for endangered native species. Details about fire’s long-term historic interactions with specific native communities, however, often remain poorly understood. Elizabeth Lynchproposed to clarify the issue for one area: northwestern Wisconsin’s sand plain. Charcoal and pollen deposits were tested for their ability to relate changing vegetation to fire history in three sand plain sites. Project results were immediately useful to land managers and restoration ecologists working in the region. However this effort also constituted the initial phase of a larger sand plain interdisciplinary investigation of interactions among vegetation, fire disturbance, climate, and soil. The larger project aims at delineating the region’s long-term ecological history through mapping evolving vegetation and fire patterns at 200-year intervals for the past 2,000 years.


Wednesday, January 1, 2003