Role of fluvial phytoplankton in emerging contaminant exposure pathways within Columbia River food webs (2013-2015)

Tawnya Peterson
Oregon Health & Science University
Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems
20000 NW Walker Rd
Beaverton, Oregon 97006
Phone: 503-748-7679

  Dr. Joseph Needoba, OHSU, Institute for Environmental Health, Dr. Elena Nilsen, USGS, Oregon Water Science Center.

Chemicals of emerging concern in Pacific Northwest waterways have been documented in recent years.  Some toxins have been detected in salmon and osprey.  How these chemicals get there is a mystery that challenges our ability to manage aquatic systems.

Tiny, free-floating marine organisms, called phytoplankton, are abundant in marine waters.  They reproduce rapidly, and are effective, naturally occurring indicators for a variety of pollutants.  Using phytoplankton to research chemical exposure in food webs in the Columbia River and coastal ocean, Dr. Peterson’s research team will determine if and how two representative compounds, para-N-nonylphenol, found in detergents, and bisphenol-A, found in plastic, accumulate in phytoplankton in the laboratory and in the field. While doing so, they can investigate if a broad suite of chemicals of emerging concern are present in phytoplankton in the Columbia River.

This work will enhance collaborations among local government agencies and non-profit, tribal, and university scientists in an effort to improve management strategies for dealing with chemicals of emerging concern in the environment.  This effort fits within Oregon Sea Grant’s strategic and cross-cutting goals in the areas of Oceans and Human Health, Enhancing the Sustainability of Coastal Ecosystems, and Sound Science.  The research also identifies several key issue areas of concern to Oregonians, including Fisheries and Seafood and Coastal Learning and Decision Making.