Clarkson gets $6M for fish monitoring

Lake Ontario at Southwick Beach State Park in Henderson in February. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $6 million grant to researchers at Clarkson University, SUNY Oswego and SUNY Fredonia to continue Great Lakes contaminant studies over the next five years, as part of the EPA’s Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM — Bolstering a 14-year Great Lakes research partnership, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $6 million to Clarkson University and experts at two State University of New York campuses.

The five-year grant will support continued research headed by Clarkson’s Center for Air and Aquatic Resources Engineering & Science with faculty from SUNY Oswego and SUNY Fredonia. The team has received a total of $14.75 million in previous EPA grant rounds since 2006.

The EPA on Tuesday announced Clarkson’s award as part of a total $16 million issued through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which integrates federal, state and private groups to complete projects related to lake toxins, invasive species, wildlife habitat and pollution impacting shoreline health.

Central Michigan University received $10 million to continue monitoring wetland trends and water quality in plant, invertebrate, amphibian, fish and bird communities through the Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program.

In a Tuesday statement, acting EPA Regional Administrator Cheryl L. Newton, based in Chicago, said the two research grants are what the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is about: “strong partnerships delivering positive results for the Great Lakes.”

Clarkson’s new grant is part of the Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program for analyzing fish contaminants, particularly organic compounds and mercury. The Monitoring and Surveillance Program most often relies on fish as biomonitors, to identify and measure contaminants accumulating in tissues. With years of continued measurement, such biomonitors can be used to calculate expanded estimates of contaminants in the ecosystem.

Flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS like those in Teflon, paints and cleaning products, are all concerning Great Lakes contaminants, according to the EPA.

In New York, fish are consistently collected from Lake Ontario in deep waters near North Hamlin in odd years, in shallow waters near Oswego in even years, and from Lake Erie at Dunkirk in odd years. Top predator fish, including lake trout and walleye, are the targeted biomonitors.

Chemical analysis for the entire Monitoring and Surveillance Program is conducted through a cooperative agreement with Clarkson.

Thomas M. Holsen, Clarkson professor of civil and environmental engineering and a principal researcher for the project, said the funds will be used to increase the team’s capacity for identifying and assessing aquatic pollution. Pollutants in fish from all five Great Lakes will be evaluated “at levels previously impossible to achieve,” he said in a university news release.

The Monitoring and Surveillance Program started in the 1970s, and is one of several programs that collectively comprise the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The initiative was launched in 2010, and has funded more than 5,400 projects with a total of $2.7 billion.

“Global commerce, recreation enthusiasts and municipalities within the entire Great Lakes ecosystem rely upon the extraordinary science and innovative solutions from this research team addressing contaminant trends in fish and ensuring healthy water supplies,” Clarkson Provost Robyn E. Hannigan said in a statement. “Clarkson and its collaborators at the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office are committed to applying their expertise to the environmental and resilient economic solutions that make a difference for the public good.”

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