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Seacoast Science, Inc.

Superfund Research Program

Low-Cost Robust Detection of Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons in Aqueous Environments

Project Leader: John Cowart
Grant Number: R43ES029868
Funding Period: Phase I: September 2018 - September 2019
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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are designated as priority pollutants by the EPA due to their toxic, mutagenic, and cancer-causing nature. Therefore, the presence of PAHs in waterways and coastal areas in and around Superfund sites poses significant safety hazards. The introduction of PAHs into sensitive aquatic environments frequently comes as a consequence of chemical and raw material spills, underwater drilling and mining, natural disasters accelerating runoff from industrial sites, and improper waste disposal. Environmental persistence, buildup in sediment, and the bio- accumulation of PAHs through the food chain adversely affect not only marine life, but also human health.

These environmental concerns have generated major demands for effective and innovative field-deployable devices for detecting PAHs in a sensitive, fast, simple, reliable, and cost-effective manner. A thorough, real-time monitoring program for the presence of PAHs in areas proximate to Superfund sites and near spills would improve the efficacy of containment and remediation operations, helping to ensure that the public is kept safe from toxic compounds.

In response to these needs, the research team is working to create a device for the specific detection of PAHs using novel materials developed at the Louisiana State University with a proprietary sensor system engineered at Seacoast Science. The concept is being validated against representative PAHs (i.e., perylene, pyrene, benzopyrene) in the presence of various interfering analytes and aqueous solutions of increasing ionic strength. The researchers are synthesizing and characterizing molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) nanoparticles, doing initial screening/down selection of MIP nanoparticles using a gravimetric sensor platform, and coating and testing optimum MIP nanoparticles on the proprietary sensor platform.

Seacoast Science is working to integrate LSU’s MIP-based nanomaterials with a conductive carbon-allotrope to develop a highly-chemoselective, immersible sensor, whose cost is low enough to warrant periodic replacement, thereby mitigating long-term biofouling effects.

The development of this low- cost tool will allow real-time monitoring of PAHs and improve public health by enhancing the efficacy of containment and remediation operations, ensuring that the public is kept safe from toxic compounds in recreational and commercial waterways and limiting ingestion of PAHs from consumption of contaminated seafood and drinking water.

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