Monday, June 28, 2010

Texas Tech Ecotoxicology Book Slated to Become National, International Bestseller

Only a month and a half after its release, a wildlife ecotoxicology reference book co-edited by researchers at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) is projected to become a national and international bestseller, according to the book’s publishers.

The book, Wildlife Toxicology: Emerging Contaminant and Biodiversity Issues, is the first reference to address environmental threats to wildlife in a single volume and recommend proven mitigation techniques to protect and sustain Earth’s wildlife populations.

“We are all very excited about the publication’s success, namely due to the team of authors and TIEHH’s credibility and reputation,” said Randy Brehm, editor of agricultural sciences for Chemical and Life Sciences Group at Taylor and Francis publishing firm. “We’ve forecasted the book to become a national and international bestseller based on our current market trends. The unfortunate timeliness due to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has contributed to the visibility of the book subject matter, as well. We’re hoping the book is proving invaluable to those dealing with wildlife toxicology issues in the field right now.”

Ron Kendall, director of TIEHH, is chief editor of the book, which provides a global assessment of a range of environmental stressors, including pesticides, environmental contaminants, other emerging chemical threats and their impact on wildlife populations.

The book also addresses atmospheric pollution that leads to species range shifts, ocean acidification, coral bleaching and impacts on heightened ultraviolet influx. It presents several case studies that demonstrate effects of contaminants on species and impacts on communities.

Other editors include professors George Cobb and Stephen Cox at TIEHH, and professor Tom Lacher at Texas A&M University. World-renowned conservation authority Thomas Lovejoy provides a forward to the text.

“I never expected this book to do so well,” Kendall said. “It is amazing to see this book’s success in such a very short period of time. I look at this success as a part of Texas Tech’s research journey in environmental toxicology and a fine example of our excellence in the field. The book itself has international participation from here to Africa and around the world. And right now, it can answer many questions people are asking about the current problems related to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Kendall, who recently received the Gerald H. Cross Alumni Leadership Award from Virginia Tech, currently serves as editor for terrestrial toxicology for the journal Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry. He has authored more than 200 refereed journal and technical articles and has published or edited several books.

Brehm said the book had 300 issues on backorder even before it published.

“The number of books sold is very impressive for a scientific reference in such a specialized subject,” she said. “This is a novel book in the area of wildlife toxicology, and it is a hot field that continues to receive media coverage. Dr. Kendall founded this area of science, so the book is written by the person who should have done it. We see this book achieving more success to come.”

For more information, visit

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Initial Texas Tech-Created Fibertect® Field Test a Success

GRAND ISLE, La. (Special) – A preliminary test of Fibertect® on the soiled beaches of Grand Isle, La., has proven it successful at picking up the oily paste washing ashore at beaches and marshes across the Gulf State region.

Seshadri Ramkumar, an associate professor of nonwoven technologies, said the Texas Tech-created nonwoven cotton absorbent wipe with activated carbon core makes it a perfect remediation tool for use by cleaning crews trying to remove the toxic material.

Not only did it clean up the rust-colored crude oil, but also it adsorbed toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon vapors reportedly sickening oil spill clean-up crew members.

“It definitely has proven itself a perfect product for cleaning up the oil spill,” Ramkumar said. “This preliminary test in Louisiana has shown that our wipe material is unique from others in that it easily absorbs liquids, and it has vapor-holding capacity. This will help workers clean beaches and stay safe at the same time.”

Watch how it's made here.

Ramkumar said his latest research shows raw cotton-carbon Fibertect® can absorb oil up to 15 times its weight. Unlike synthetic materials like polypropylene that are currently used in many oil containment booms, Fibertect® is made from environmentally friendly raw cotton and carbon.

Amit Kapoor is president of First Line Technology, which distributes Fibertect® commercially. Though the product has been tested in the lab with raw crude and motor oil, he said the company wanted to field-test the product.

Earlier this week, he sent a sales representative, who also works as an independent contractor for BP, to one of the worst-hit areas.

“We wanted to test the effectiveness of Fibertect® on the crude oil for beach cleanup,” Kapoor said. “Fibertect® was taken to the empty beaches of Grand Isle, and then laid out on top of a blob of oil that had settled on the beach. It worked very well in absorbing and containing the oil. The glob stuck to the Fibertect® and did not release from the material.”

Though Kapoor said he had seen Fibertect® pick up similar material with a pasty consistency, such as petroleum jelly, the results shocked the sales representative sent to run the experiment.

“Our representative was shocked as ever because he hadn’t seen a product work like that with the speed or the effectiveness,” Kapoor said. “He showed many other contractors that were working on the beach and they were impressed as well.”

Fibertect® was approved for use as a sorbent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ramkumar said. The product already has proven that it can also adsorb toxic fumes associated with chemical remediation, he said. Evaluation by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that it can retain offgassing mustard vapors efficiently and does not shed loose particles.

Originally developed to protect the U.S. military from chemical and biological warfare agents, Fibertect® contains a fibrous activated carbon center that is sandwiched between layers.

The top and bottom layers, made from raw cotton, can absorb oil while the center layer holds volatile compounds such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or blistering agents such as mustard vapors or other toxic chemicals.

“Fibertect® already has proven to be effective in the bulk decontamination of chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals, but our proposal here is to use it to aid in the clean-up efforts in the Gulf,” Kapoor said. “Fibertect® allows for a green, environmentally safe, biodegradable technology that is perfect for the expanding effort to protect and decontaminate coastal lands and wildlife. We welcome the opportunity to work with the government, BP or anyone else in a joint effort to defend and preserve our planet.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Texas Tech Researchers Talk With Alabama Natives About Importance of Independent Research

While looking for oil samples off Dauphin Island, Texas Tech researchers Ernest Smith and Mike Wages encounter some locals who own a pier off Mobile Bay. The men, a father and his sons, discuss their concern and offer assistance to the researchers. Their pier is right by an estuary and close to an oyster bed. Smith tells them how scientists at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health want to assist.

Texas Tech Researchers Discover Gulf Waters Run Smooth in Oil Slicks

MOBILE, Ala. (Special) – Something wasn’t right with the sea.

Waves stopped. Smoothed out. The wind seemed not to affect the water in the same way. You could even feel it in the way “Riptide,” the hired fishing boat, reacted as it crossed into this new phenomenon in the Gulf of Mexico.

It became an eerie telltale sign to the three Texas Tech University researchers that they’d entered an oil slick.

“We started to see a change in the – it’s hard to explain – sort of a change in the choppiness in the water,” said Phil Smith, an associate professor at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Texas Tech. “There was something different about it. It was smoother, almost like that certain area was shielded from the wind or something. We were all on the lookout for oil. We were hoping we’d be able to find some oil so we could collect samples to take back to Texas Tech.”

On a clear June 4 morning, Phil Smith, Ernest Smith and Mike Wages went to collect the last of their samples for testing. The sun shone brightly as a southwesterly breeze blew.

Getting out of the marina at Orange Beach proved difficult as the captain maneuvered through booms meant to keep oil out of Mobile Bay. Official-looking eyes watched closely as the fishing boat headed into waters closed to fishing by the federal government.

Had it not been for the continuing oil spill crisis, it would have been a great day to go fishing on the Gulf. However, the calm, slick water wasn’t the only difference the team saw, Phil said. Throughout their trip, the team noticed an eerie absence of wildlife and people.

“We spent eight hours on water,” Phil said. “I saw only two birds. Two. I saw more helicopters than I did birds. We saw no fish. We saw no other boats. I would have expected far greater numbers of anything. Also, outside of boom operations near the shoreline, there were absolutely no cleanup efforts ongoing out at sea. That was a little bit shocking. I would think it would be easier to clean up before it hit the coast than after.

“It was very, very quiet.”

At six miles out, the captain reported smelling diesel fuel odor, but no oil appeared until the crew reached 13 miles from shore.

“As we were going out, we could see what I am calling the leading edge of this crude, which is the small tar balls like we had seen on the beach at Dauphin Island,” said Ernest, an associate professor at TIEHH. “You can clearly identify where oil or surfactant is on the water. Those areas were very smooth. Next to that area, you can see the wind breaking the waves. That would denote a difference in surface tension.”

The team came in contact with the largest tar mats at about 22 miles out, Ernest said. Altogether, they collected four five-gallon buckets of the rust colored crude, a few gallons of water from the smooth, calm areas covered with a rainbow sheen and containing smaller tar droplets, and a few gallons of plain seawater collected closer to shore, which they believed to be uncontaminated.

While on board, two members of the team got sick, Phil said.

“I can’t say it was because of the oil,” he said. “I was on the upper deck taking pictures and watching what Ernest and Mike were doing below. Mike got ill first. I didn’t really think that was that unusual. Then I sort of swapped out with those guys and collected a couple of buckets of oil samples. On the trip in, I got really sick and nauseous. I’ve been on boats all my life. I used to be a fishing guide, and I’ve never been seasick. This might have been the first time for me, or could have been the heat. But it also could have been something else.”

During the next few weeks, researchers at TIEHH will begin testing the samples to find out their composition, Ernest said.

“The No. 1 thing we want to do is help,” he said. “What is needed there is a significant amount of toxicology on human and animal health. I think the institute has a major role to play in the understanding of ecological and human health effects of this crude. In addition to that, I am interested in the socioeconomic impacts, and how this will play out both directly and indirectly.

“For me it’s important that the socioeconomics problems get some attention. Over the long term, if we ignore that, it will be just as devastating as the ecosystem. It definitely needs a voice.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

CNN's John Zarrella Helps Texas Tech Find Oil on iReport

iReport —

While searching for oil and tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon spill, Texas Tech researchers are led to samples on Dauphin Island's public beach by CNN's John Zarrella.

Zarrella explained that the oil was much better than it had been previously that day. Workers carried black plastic bags and removed what they saw, leaving tidy sand behind. Still, tar balls continued to roll up on the shore.

While there in Alabama, two undercurrents existed. Those fishermen whose livelihoods will be most effected were most willing to do anything to help researchers Ernest Smith and Mike Wages. Most were glad to have an independent academic organization interested in finding out the truth of the situation, and stated their trust in BP no longer existed.

Other local government officials and people under contract for BP were much more suspicious and less likely to assist, becoming hostile or "playing dumb" when the researchers asked them how to find sampling areas.

Ernest Smith Discusses Sample Retrieved By Alabama TV Reporter on iReport

iReport —

Texas Tech researcher Ernest Smith, an associate professor in the Department of Toxicology at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, discusses the first sample he collected recently in Mobile Bay, Ala.

The sample was collected by WKRG weekend anchor and reporter Kimberly Curth and donated to Texas Tech for chemical analysis. You can watch her report here:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

CNN Reporter Assists Texas Tech Researchers to Find Small Tar Balls at Dauphin Island

MOBILE , Ala. – CNN reporter John Zarrella assisted Texas Tech University scientists Wednesday in locating oil samples washing ashore on the public beach at Dauphin Island, Ala.

Researchers Ernest Smith and Mike Wages collected approximately a quarter pound of beached oil, which had eluded the researchers because of the small size, the changed appearance once mixed with sand and efforts by BP workers scouring the tourist spot.

“It looks more like sponge right now when it’s combined with the sand,” Smith said. “It’s a tribute to the workers how clean this beach is right now.”

Zarrella, the channel’s correspondent from Miami, said the beach had much improved since oil began washing ashore Tuesday and workers began clearing away the telltale red blobs now threatening to reach Florida by Friday.

“A lot of the stuff is gone,” Zarella said as he pointed out a small blob of oily paste mixed with sand. “That’s nothing compared to the size of the stuff out here earlier. It’s starting to fall apart.”

Smith said he would take the oil back to The Institute of Environmental and Human Health and compare the chemistry of the beached oil to that of the sample retrieved from the Gulf of Mexico by Mobile's WKRG weekend anchor Kimberly Curth.

As time passes, the oil changes composition as it comes up from the 5,000-foot depths of the exploded Deepwater Horizon rig and is exposed to air, sun, chemical dispersants and seawater.

Texas Tech researchers will travel to Baton Rouge Thursday for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Scientific Symposium at Louisiana State University. On Friday, they will return to Mobile to charter a boat and retrieve more samples from the ocean.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Texas Tech Researchers Get First Samples of Oil from Gulf Spill

{Editor’s Note: Difficulties acquiring access to wetlands in Louisiana prompted Texas Tech researchers to continue their work in Alabama}

MOBILE, Ala. -- Thanks to the help of a local television news team, researchers at Texas Tech University received on Memorial Day their first samples of affected seawater and the oily paste floating in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This sample is like gold for the study of environmental and human health questions we are asking,” said Ernest E. Smith, an associate professor in The Department of Environmental Toxicology and The Institute of Environmental and Human Health. “By having this sample, we’ll be able to uniquely determine its components, develop a chemical ‘fingerprint’ of the sample and build a toxicological profile.”

The paste, a brown, gooey blob about the size of a salad plate, was collected by Kimberly Curth of WKRG-CBS in Mobile for a report on the encroaching oil spill that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expects to hit Dauphin Island, Ala., sometime this week.

“It’s about the consistency of peanut butter,” Curth said prior to her 6 p.m. live shot. “If you look, there’s an oily sheen to it, but it doesn’t have a diesel smell or oily smell to it. Don’t you think it looks like what’s been washing up in Louisiana, though?”

Curth said she and photojournalist Arnell Hamilton chartered a boat to see the oil for themselves. Starting that morning, their boat left from the eastern end of Dauphin Island and went about 22 miles south before running into patches of the oil.

“There were big globs of it, and then there were, like, little tar balls around it,” she said. “But you could see where it was because there was a sheen on the water.”

The problem became disposing of the oil safely following the segment, she said. News

WKRG will continue to follow the story as Texas Tech researchers discover the makeup of the sample, she said.

Though oil spills have occurred before in the past, Smith said scientists do not have a full understanding of this particular spill’s impact because of the volume of oil and the fact that it’s raw oil coming straight from the ground into a saltwater environment.

Other factors, such as sunlight, ocean currents and the depth of the leak, also affect the chemistry of the spill, which is constantly changing by location as time passes.

“We have no answers for the current problem, which is very, very large,” Smith said. “There are many variables involved with this particular problem. We just want to add a neutral voice that says ‘these are the facts.’ We’re not activists or politicians.”

As of 6 p.m. on Memorial Day, no sign of the oil had hit the east side of the island, and boaters and holidaymakers continued to fish and use the water. Winds from the southwest could push the oil closer to the Mississippi Delta, according to the NOAA. Oil is expected to reach Mobile Bay by Wednesday.

Also, the NOAA has shut down approximately 26 percent of the Gulf for fishing on the heels of red snapper season, which begins June 1. The area is about 62,000 square miles.