Since last summer, University of Houston environmental engineers have been taking hundreds of water, fish and sediment samples from the Houston Ship Channel to determine what levels of dioxins, if any, are present. The researchers will use that data, and more gathered through spring 2003, to develop new computer models to find out where such contaminants originate and to track how they move through the environment, possibly ending up in crab and fish that travel to fishing regions.
"This aspect of the study is quite interesting because such a comprehensive model has never been attempted before," says Hanadi Rifai, associate professor of environmental engineering at UH and principal investigator on the Ship Channel project. "I think this project will set the trend for a lot of national studies looking at these compounds and we'll have many people looking at our results." In the spring of 2002, Rifai received a $3.2 million grant from the Texas Natural Resource and Conservation Commission (now called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) to fund her project in the Houston Ship Channel, home to one of the world's largest industrial complexes. Results from the study will be used by regulatory agencies to help craft implementation plans for reducing pollutants and achieving minimum water quality standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency currently is preparing a comprehensive reassessment of the scientific consensus on dioxin, including its sources, its fate and transport, levels of human exposure, and its toxic effects on humans and other animals. EPA information on dioxins is available on the Web at http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/dioxin.cfm