Sustainable Raritan River Initiative Conference, Rutgers University, New Brunswick NJ  – June 8 2018

Introductory Note

The following 8 reports are a tiny representation of and testimony to the wide range of all that Rutgers University does to study and improve water quality in the Raritan River, which runs adjacent to its New Brunswick NJ campus. I have listened in awe and taped these reports to share with NWNL readers. I ask our readers and all scientists – particular those mentioned here – to forgive any errors in these short sketches of their highly scientific studies. I applaud all these scientists do to keep our freshwater resources healthy. 

All images © Alison M Jones. All rights reserved. 

SRRI Conference Speakers

MEG CHRISTIE spoke on anthropogenic alterations of the Raritan River from pre-European settlements through the present. As Europeans came, they cut down lots of trees, agriculture and industrialization started, increasing pollutants (organics and heavy metals) and nutrients (detergents and industrially made fertilizers) in the Raritan River. She studied primarily 3 sites for salinity and expected pollutants. Her study of sediments showed that anthropogenic impacts on the Raritan involved low-nutrient diatoms going down and high-nutrient diatoms tending to go up — indicating that nutrients went up through these human settlement time periods. 

NICOLE FARENFELD is an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering. Her focus is on microplastics as emerging contaminants, particularly the usual suspects (FTIR spectrum, *polystyrene, and polyethylene). Her conclusion warned that if these biofilms are robust, they’re not weathering in the environment. 

ABBY PORTER is in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers. She is interested in emerging organic contaminants and medicines we put down the drain, particularly in urban environment waters like the Raritan River. Her concern is that wastewater treatment is not designed to remove some trace contaminants. Her focus is on microplastics that potentially serve as a highway for moving pharmaceutical degraders from wastewater treatment into the environment. 

PHIL SONTAG is in Environmental Science at Rutgers. He has been studying methylmercury in New Jersey’s Raritan Bay as something that bioaccumulates in the food web, binds to organic matter and transfers from seawater or river water to phytoplankton, thus increasing methylmercury’s entrance into the food web.

DONNA FENNELL is in Environmental Sciences studying soil sediment from the decks of the Raritan River Research Vessel. She is studying organohalide-respiring bacteria organisms that take halogen atoms off organic compounds. Her goal is to determine which halogenated organic compounds are toxic and which are biomarkers of pollutants that stimulated their growth. 

MIKE SETWE is a GIS mapping specialist with the Meadowlands Environmental Research Agency. He has studied spatial distribution of contaminants in sediments in 40 sampling locations in the lower Raritan River. He gathered and ran sediment samples in the lab to study their content and chemistry for trace metals and water quality. He found metals, organic contaminants, and then better understood the sediments using higher resolution to create a geo-accumulation, or contamination index. His index shows the degree of anthropogenic influence of “legacy impacted land use and the environmental stress of this” on these sediments. He intends to push this data to federal and state levels. 

BRIAN BUCKLEY is from the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institution at Rutgers Staten Island Campus. His work is directed to human health effects related to environmental pollution and contaminants. Since emerging contaminants today were unknowns yesterday, he’s working on creating new methodologies to figure out what the next emerging contaminants are. His goal is to create broad-based scans that can look at microplastics – “or whatever we should look at.” For this he uses a “time of flight mass spectrometer.”  

SANDRA GOODROW is a research scientist at the Division of Science, Research, and Environmental Health in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. She gave an overview of PFAS [per- and polyfluorinated substances] in New Jersey. She has looked at 23 public water systems and only two compounds – PFOA and PFOS – were found in 23 sites she studied. Now looking at some replacement compounds in the environment, she is also undertaking some pharmaceutical and endocrine-disrupting studies, using fish tissue sediment and surface water, while also examining maximum contaminant levels for drinking water in the state of New Jersey. “We’re really ahead of any other state.” 

Posted by NWNL on October 16, 2023.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.