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New compounds discovered that are hundreds of times more mutagenic

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions – such as those found in vehicle exhaust or grilling meat - that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens.

These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily-polluted urban air or dietary exposure. It’s not yet been determined in what level the compounds might be present, and no health standards now exist for them.

The findings were published in December in Environmental Science and Technology, a professional journal.

The compounds were identified in laboratory experiments that mimic the type of conditions which might be found from the combustion and exhaust in cars and trucks, or the grilling of meat over a flame.

“Some of the compounds that we’ve discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood, and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation,” said Staci Simonich, a professor of chemistry and toxicology in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.

“We don’t know at this point what levels may be present, and will explore that in continued research,” she said.

The parent compounds involved in this research are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, formed naturally as the result of almost any type of combustion, from a wood stove to an automobile engine, cigarette or a coal-fired power plant. Many PAHs, such as benzopyrene, are known to be carcinogenic, believed to be more of a health concern that has been appreciated in the past, and are the subject of extensive research at OSU and elsewhere around the world.

The PAHs can become even more of a problem when they chemically interact with nitrogen to become “nitrated,” or NPAHs, scientists say. The newly-discovered compounds are NPAHs that were unknown to this point.

This study found that the direct mutagenicity of the NPAHs with one nitrogen group can increase 6 to 432 times more than the parent compound. NPAHs based on two nitrogen groups can be 272 to 467 times more mutagenic. Mutagens are chemicals that can cause DNA damage in cells that in turn can cause cancer.

For technical reasons based on how the mutagenic assays are conducted, the researchers said these numbers may actually understate the increase in toxicity – it could be even higher.

These discoveries are an outgrowth of research on PAHs that was done by Simonich at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in 2008, when extensive studies of urban air quality were conducted, in part, based on concerns about impacts on athletes and visitors to the games.

Beijing, like some other cities in Asia, has significant problems with air quality, and may be 10-50 times more polluted than some major urban areas in the U.S. with air concerns, such as the Los Angeles basin.

An agency of the World Health Organization announced last fall that it now considers outdoor air pollution, especially particulate matter, to be carcinogenic, and cause other health problems as well. PAHs are one of the types of pollutants found on particulate matter in air pollution that are of special concern.

Concerns about the heavy levels of air pollution from some Asian cities are sufficient that Simonich is doing monitoring on Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, a 9,065-foot mountain in the central Oregon Cascade Range. Researchers want to determine what levels of air pollution may be found there after traveling thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Science Foundation. It’s also an outgrowth of the Superfund Research Program at OSU, funded by the NIEHS, that focuses efforts on PAH pollution. Researchers from the OSU College of Science, the University of California-Riverside, Texas A&M University, and Peking University collaborated on the study.

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194

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Urban areas tough on fish – but Portland leads way on mitigation

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The restoration of salmon and steelhead habitat in the Pacific Northwest has focused largely on rural areas dominated by agricultural and forested lands, but researchers increasingly are looking at the impact of urban areas on the well-being of these fish.

Metropolitan areas – and even small towns – can have a major impact on the waterways carrying fish, researchers say, but many progressive cities are taking steps to mitigate these effects. The issues, policies and impacts of urban areas on salmon, steelhead and trout are the focus of a new book, “Wild Salmonids in the Urbanizing Pacific Northwest,” published by Springer.

The influx of contaminants and toxic chemicals are two of the most obvious impacts, researchers say, but urban areas can heat rivers, alter stream flows and have a number of impacts, according to Carl Schreck, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University and a contributing author on the book.

“One of the biggest issues with cities and towns is that they have huge areas of compacted surfaces,” Schreck pointed out. “Instead of gradually being absorbed into the water table where the ground can act as a sponge and a filter, precipitation is funneled directly into drains and then quickly finds its way into river systems.

“But urban areas can do something about it,” Schreck added, “and Portland is very avant-garde. They’ve put in permeable substrate in many areas, they’ve used pavers instead of pavement, and the city boasts a number of rain gardens, roof eco-gardens and bioswales. When it comes to looking for positive ways to improve water conditions, Portland is one of the greenest cities in the world.”

The origin of the “Wild Salmonids” book began in 1997, when the Oregon Legislature established the Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team (IMST) to address natural resource issues. In 2010, the group – co-chaired by Schreck – created a report for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and the legislature that provided an in-depth look at the issues and policies affecting salmonid success in Oregon and the influence of urban areas. That report was so well-accepted by Oregon communities, the researchers wrote a book aimed at the public.

The new book, “Wild Salmonids in the Urbanizing Pacific Northwest,” is available from Springer at: http://bit.ly/J5Dn8x. Dozens of scientists contributed to the book, which was edited by Kathleen Maas-Hebner and Robert Hughes of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and Alan Yeakley of Portland State University, who was senior editor.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is add the social dimension to the science,” said Kathleen Maas-Hebner, a senior research scientist and one of the editors of the book. “The science is important, but the policies and the restoration efforts of communities are a huge part of improving conditions for fish.”

Many Northwest residents are unaware of some of the everyday ways in which human activities can affect water quality and conditions, and thus fish survivability. Products from lawn fertilizers to shampoos eventually make their way into rivers and can trigger algal blooms. Even septic tanks can leach into the groundwater and contribute the byproducts of our lives.

“Fish can get caffeine, perfume and sunblock from our groundwater,” Schreck said. “The water that flows from our cities has traces of birth control pills, radiation from medical practice, medical waste, deodorants and disinfectants. We could go on all day. Suffice it to say these things are not usually good for fish.”

The most effective strategy to combat the problem may be to reduce the use of contaminants through education and awareness, and ban problematic ingredients, Maas-Hebner said.

“Phosphates, for example, are no longer used in laundry detergents,” she said. “Fertilizer and pesticide users can reduce the amounts that get into rivers simply by following application instructions; many homeowners over-apply them.”

Another hazard of urban areas is blocking fish passage through small, natural waterways. Many streams that once meandered are channeled into pipe-like waterways, and some culverts funnel water in ways that prevent fish from passing through, Schreck said.

“If the water velocity becomes too high, some fish simply can’t or won’t go through the culvert,” said Schreck, who in 2007 received the Presidential Meritorious Rank Award from the White House for his fish research.  “Some cities, including Salem, Ore., are beginning to use new and improved culverts to aid fish passage.”

Other tactics can also help. Smaller communities, including Florence, Ore., offer incentives to developers for maintaining natural vegetation along waterways, the researchers say.

Despite the mitigation efforts of many Northwest cities and towns, urban hazards are increasing for fish. One of the biggest problems, according to researchers, is that no one knows what effects the increasing number of chemicals humans create may have on fish.

“There are literally thousands of new chemical compounds being produced every year and while we may know the singular effects of a few of them, many are unknown,” Schreck said. “The mixture of these different compounds can result in a ‘chemical cocktail’ of contaminants that may have impacts beyond those that singular compounds may offer. We just don’t know.

“The research is well behind the production of these new chemicals,” Schreck added, “and that is a concern.”

Story By: 

Carl Schreck, 541-737-1961; carl.schreck@oregonstate.edu; Kathy Maas-Hebner, 541-737-6105; kathleen.maas-hebner@oregonstate.edu

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New study identifies five distinct humpback populations in North Pacific

NEWPORT, Ore. – The first comprehensive genetic study of humpback whale populations in the North Pacific Ocean has identified five distinct populations – at the same time a proposal to designate North Pacific humpbacks as a single “distinct population segment” is being considered under the Endangered Species Act.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Marine Ecology – Progress Series. It was supported by the National Fisheries and Wildlife Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Marine Mammal Endowment at Oregon State University.

The scientists examined nearly 2,200 tissue biopsy samples collected from humpback whales in 10 feeding regions and eight winter breeding regions during a three-year international study, known as SPLASH (Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks).  They used sequences of maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA and “microsatellite genotypes,” or DNA profiles, to both describe the genetic differences and outline migratory connections between both breeding and feeding grounds.

“Though humpback whales are found in all oceans of the world, the North Pacific humpback whales should probably be considered a sub-species at an ocean-basin level – based on genetic isolation of these populations on an evolutionary time scale,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and lead author on the paper.

“Within this North Pacific sub-species, however, our results support the recognition of multiple distinct populations,” Baker added. “They differ based on geographic distribution and with genetic differentiations as well, and they have strong fidelity to their own breeding and feeding areas.”

Humpback whales are listed as endangered in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, but had recently been downlisted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on a global level. However, two population segments recently were added as endangered by the IUCN – one in the Sea of Arabia, the other in Oceania – and it is likely that one or more of the newly identified populations in the North Pacific may be considered endangered, Baker said.

How management authorities respond to the study identifying the distinct North Pacific humpback populations remains to be seen, Baker said, but the situation “underscores the complexity of studying and managing marine mammals on a global scale.”

The five populations identified in the study are:  Okinawa and the Philippines; a second West Pacific population with unknown breeding grounds; Hawaii, Mexico and Central America.

“Even within these five populations there are nuances,” noted Baker, who frequently serves as a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. “The Mexico population, for example, has ‘discrete’ sub-populations off the mainland and near the Revillagigedo Islands, but because their genetic differentiation is not that strong, these are not considered ‘distinct’ populations.”

The SPLASH program has used photo identification records to estimate humpback whale populations. The researchers estimate that there are approximately 22,000 humpbacks throughout the North Pacific – about the same as before whaling reduced their numbers. Although recovery strategies have been successful on a broad scale, recovery is variable among different populations.

“Each of the five distinct populations has its own history of exploitation and recovery that would need to be part of an assessment of its status,” said Baker, who is a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “Unlike most terrestrial species, populations of whales within oceans are not isolated by geographic barriers. Instead, migration routes, feeding grounds and breeding areas are thought to be passed down from mother to calf, persisting throughout a lifetime and from one generation to the next.

“We think this fidelity to migratory destinations is cultural, not genetic,” he added. “It is this culture that isolates whales, leading to genetic differentiation – and ultimately, the five distinct populations identified in the North Pacific.”

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Scott Baker, 541-867-0255 (cell phone: 541-272-0560), scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

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OSU Press publishes book on salmon by acclaimed biologist

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For more than 40 years, Jim Lichatowich worked with Pacific salmon as a researcher, resource manager and scientific adviser, and he has seen first-hand the decline of Northwest salmon populations during that time.

In a new book published by the Oregon State University Press, Lichatowich outlines a plan for salmon recovery based on the lessons he has learned during his long career.

His book, “Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist’s Search for Salmon Recovery,” points out many misconceptions about salmon that have hampered management and limited recovery programs. These programs will continue to fail, he argues, as long as they look at salmon as “products” and ignore their essential relationship with the environment.

Among his suggestions for reforming salmon management and recovery:

  • Holding salmon managers and administrators accountable;
  • Requiring agencies to do more “institutional learning”;
  • Not relying on shifting baselines of data;
  • Undertaking hatchery reform;
  • Returning to place-based salmon management.

John Larison, author of “The Complete Steelheader,” praised the OSU Press book written by Lichatowich. “Part science, part anthropology, part philosophy, this is a revelatory book and essential reading for anyone hoping to understand salmon in the Northwest,” Larison said.

Lichatowich served for years on the Independent Scientific Advisory board for the Columbia River restoration program, as well as on Oregon’s Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team and other science groups in British Columbia and California. He is author of the award-winning book, “Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis.”

In his newest book, Lichatowich writes: “We enthusiastically accepted the gift of salmon, but failed to treat it with the respect it deserves. We failed to meet our obligation to return the gift in the way that only humans can. We failed to return the gift of salmon with the gift of stewardship.”

Lichatowich is a graduate of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He will return to his alma mater in January to present a seminar on his work.

“Salmon, People, and Place” is available in bookstores, online at http://osupress.oregonstate.edu, or can be ordered by calling 1-800-621-2736.

Story By: 

Micki Reaman, 541-737-4620; Micki.reaman@oregonstate.edu

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OSU Press book on salmon

OSU researchers helping China’s rarest seabird rebound from near-extinction

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A collaborative project between researchers in Asia and Oregon has helped establish a new breeding colony for one of the world’s most endangered seabirds – the Chinese crested tern, which has a global population estimated at no more than 50 birds.

Until this year, there were only two known breeding colonies for the critically endangered species (Thalasseus bernsteini) – both in island archipelagos close to the east coast of the People’s Republic of China. Once thought to be extinct, there were no recorded sightings of Chinese crested terns from the 1930s until 2000, when a few birds were rediscovered on the Matsu Islands.

This summer an innovative tern colony restoration began, with assistance from students and faculty in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. Dan Roby, a professor of wildlife ecology at OSU, had previously led efforts to relocate populations of Caspian terns from locations along the Columbia River in Oregon, where the birds were consuming significant quantities of juvenile salmon.

“The problem was different in Oregon than it is in China, but the goal was the same – to alter the habitat in a good location in hopes of creating a breeding colony,” Roby said. “The methods also were similar and based on tern restoration techniques developed by Steve Kress of the National Audubon Society. You have to partially clear an island of vegetation, place decoys there, and attract birds using sound.”

In early May of 2013, an international team did just that on a small island in the Jiushan Islands called Tiedun Dao. Chinese crested terns used to breed on the archipelago a decade ago, increasing the chances that restoration could be successful there, Roby said.

The project team included members from the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Jiushan Islands National Nature Reserve, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, and OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. The team members cleared brush off Tiedun Dao, place 300 tern decoys on the island, and used solar-powered playback systems to broadcast recorded vocalizations of both greater crested terns and Chinese crested terns.

“Greater crested terns are not endangered and when they establish colonies, it sometimes attracts the endangered Chinese crested tern,” Roby pointed out. “We thought if we could get them in to colonize the island, their numbers would eventually grow and the Chinese crested terns might follow.

“We just didn’t expect it to happen that quickly,” Roby added.

The researchers thought it might take years – but by July, a handful of greater crested terns were spotted flying over the decoys. By the end of that month, 2,600 greater crested terns had been documented and hundreds of pairs had laid eggs and begun incubating them. To the surprise of the restoration team, 19 adult Chinese crested terns were spotted on the island and at least two pairs laid eggs.

It was the highest single count of the endangered seabird in one location since the species’ rediscovery in 2000.

By late September – despite typhoons and a late start to the breeding season – more than 600 greater crested tern chicks, and at least one Chinese crested tern chick had successfully fledged.

Local officials say they are committed to the protection of the emerging colony.

“We will do our best to ensure good management of the Jiushan Islands National Nature Reserve and we also hope to receive more support for the conservation of the tern colony here in Xiangshan,” said Yu Mingquan, deputy director of the provincial Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau.

The success of the colony on Tiedun Dao is a “landmark for contemporary conservation in the region,” said Simba Chan, the senior Asia conservation officer for Birdlife. “No one dared imagine that the first year of such a challenging restoration project would be so successful.”

Funding for the project was provided by numerous sources internationally.

Story By: 

Dan Roby, 541-737-1955; Daniel.Roby@oregonstate.edu

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Study documents staggering loss of wildlife following Amazon “Rubber Boom”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers for the first time have documented the killing of millions of animals in Brazil’s Amazon Basin for their hides following the collapse of the Rubber Boom in the 20th century, causing the collapse of some aquatic species.

Yet despite the harvest of many terrestrial animals, most land-based species appear to have survived the carnage. 

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Science Advances.

“There was a massive international trade in furs and skins taken from the Amazon in Brazil during much of the 20th century, yet surprisingly no previous studies documented the exploitation of the animals or the resilience of the ecosystem,” said Taal Levi, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the study. 

Beginning in the late 19th century, roughly half a million colonists entered the Amazon region to extract rubber across all the major river basins. An immense fleet of steamships was built for transport and trade and a network of river merchants purchased forest products from extraction industries. When rubber prices collapsed in 1912 because of competition from Malaysian plantations, the enterprises that did not go bankrupt sought other products.

Thus began the international trade in Amazonian animal hides, which persisted for decades until protective laws were established. 

The researchers, including by lead author André Pinassi Antunes of Brazil’s Wildlife Conservation Society, examined cargo manifests of the steamships, port registries, and other documents that reported actual hide export data. The research team estimates that between 1904 and 1969, at least 23 million animals representing 20 species of mammals and reptiles were hunted for hide exports and registered through these records.

“These figures, no doubt, vastly underrepresent the total number of animals killed since many were hidden to avoid taxes and others were wounded or killed and never made it to the steamships,” Levi said. “Other animals were killed as part of subsistence hunting to support the colonists and the extraction industries.” 

Using export data, the researchers documented the greatest losses to aquatic species. The hunting caused the widespread collapse of giant river otter, black caiman, and manatee populations.

“The aquatic animals were more vulnerable because rivers were easily accessible and the animals were in essence trapped there,” Levi said. “There wasn’t as much effort spent hunting animals on land, thus the terrestrial species – in general – were affected less by commercial hunting.” 

Among the researchers estimates for the period of 1904-69:

  • More than 4.4 million black caimans were killed, with the harvest during the last five years dwindling by 92 percent from the peak;
  • 110,504 manatees were killed, reducing the harvest by 91 percent from the peak;
  • 386,491 giant otters were killed, reducing the harvest by 88 percent from the peak;
  • 793,133 capybaras were killed, reducing the harvest by 75 percent from the peak.

Although many terrestrial species also were taken for their hides, the impact wasn’t as great, the researchers note. For example, 5,443,795 collared peccary – a species of pig – were killed but the harvest was actually higher during the last five years than earlier in the century, indicating more resilience of the ecosystem to support the species. Likewise, 4,152,218 red brocket deer were killed with the harvest increasing 16 percent during the peak. 

However, more than 3.1 million white-lipped peccary were reported in the export data and many more may have been killed, Antunes noted.

“It is a vital species for ecosystem function, but also one of the most impacted terrestrial species,” Antunes said. “They live in large herds and have been one of the most prized species by subsistence hunters in Amazonia.” The harvest of white-lipped peccary was reduced by 67 percent from the peak. 

Other terrestrial species also declined, including ocelot (804,080 killed, and a 13 percent decline) and jaguar (182,564 killed and 30 percent decline).

“The international trade in hides peaked during World War II, when the United States sought Amazonian rubber to replace the rubber from Malaysia that the Japanese had captured,” said Levi, who is on faculty of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “A second peak of animal hide exports came in the 1960s when exotic furs became fashionable.” 

In 1967, Brazil passed a faunal protection law that severely restricted hunting for many of the affected species, and in 1975 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was ratified, vastly reducing the trade of hides from the Amazon.

The researchers say the baseline data in their study will help resource managers develop sound policies to protect Amazon species. 

“Research by other ecologists is showing that some of these species are beginning to recover, including the black caiman, which is the second largest crocodilian species in the world,” Levi said. “They can grow up to 20 feet long. But prior to this, we’ve never been sure just how resilient animals were to high harvests in the past.”

Story By: 

Taal Levi, 541-737-4067, taal.levi@oregonstate.edu


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Oregon Hatchery Research Center to host annual free fishing day June 4

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Hatchery Research Center will offer a free fishing day and open house on Saturday, June 4, at the center, which is located just off Highway 34 about 13 miles west of Alsea. The event will run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A small pond for children ages 5 and under will be set up at the center and it will have access for the disabled. It will be stocked with rainbow trout and fishing gear. Bait and assistance will be provided, if needed.

The free fishing day extends to nearby Thissel Pond, located approximately one half-mile from the center. A free shuttle will transport anglers to Thissel Pond, which is also stocked with trout, but does not have disability access.

The center will also be open for tours and exhibits. Concessions will be available.

Free fishing day at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center coincides with the free fishing weekend established by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. No licenses are necessary.

To reach the center, travel about 13 miles past the town of Alsea on Highway 34 and turn north at milepost 27 onto East Fall Creek Road. Drive about 2.5 miles on that road to reach the center.

Hatchery managers caution visitors to drive carefully on the gravel road; obey the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit; and be aware of pedestrians – especially children – on or near the road.

The center is a collaborative project between ODFW and Oregon State University. The free fishing day is sponsored by ODFW, Siuslaw National Forest, and the Alsea Sportsman’s Association.

Story By: 

Ryan Couture, 541-487-5510, ext. 100; ryan.b.couture@state.or.us

Coal-tar based sealcoats on driveways, parking lots far more toxic than suspected

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The pavement sealcoat products used widely around the nation on thousands of asphalt driveways and parking lots are significantly more toxic and mutagenic than previously suspected, according to a new paper published this week by researchers from Oregon State University.

Of particular concern are the sealcoat products based on use of coal tar emulsions, experts say. Studies done with zebrafish – an animal model that closely resembles human reaction to toxic chemicals – showed developmental toxicity to embryos. 

Sealcoats are products often sprayed or brushed on asphalt pavements to improve their appearance and extend their lifespan. Products based on coal tar are most commonly used east of the U.S. continental divide, and those based on asphalt most common west of the divide.

The primary concern in sealcoats are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are common products of any type of combustion, and have been shown to be toxic to birds, fish, amphibians, plants and mammals, including humans. 

There are many different types of PAHs. This study was able to examine the presence and biologic activity of a much greater number of them in sealcoats than has been done in any previous research. The OSU program studying PAHs is one of the most advanced of its type in the world, and can identify and analyze more than 150 types of PAH compounds.

It found some PAHs in coal tar sealcoats that were 30 times more toxic than one of the most common PAH compounds that was studied previously in these products by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The OSU study also showed that new PAH compounds found in coal tar sealcoats had a carcinogenic risk that was 4 percent to 40 percent higher than any study had previously showed. Among the worst offenders were a group of 11 “high molecular weight” PAH derivative compounds, of which no analysis had previously been reported.

By contrast, the study showed that sealcoats based on asphalt, more commonly used in the West, were still toxic, but far less than those based on coal tar. Use of coal tar sealcoats, which are a byproduct of the coal coking process, is most common in the Midwest and East. 

The research was reported this week in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, in work supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science’s Superfund Research Program, and done by researchers in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and OSU College of Science.

“Our study is consistent with previous findings made by the USGS,” said Staci Simonich, a professor with appointments in OSU’s departments of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology and Chemistry. “But we were able to study a much wider number of PAH compounds than they did. As a result, we found even higher levels of toxicity in coal-tar based sealcoats than has previously been suspected.” 

“This should assist individuals and municipalities to make more informed decisions about the use of sealcoats and weigh their potential health risks against the benefits of these products,” said Simonich, the corresponding author on the study. “And if a decision is made to use sealcoats, we concluded that the products based on asphalt are significantly less toxic than those based on coal tar.”

The previous research done by the USGS about the potential health risks of sealcoat products has been controversial, with some industry groups arguing that the federal government agency overstated the risks. The new OSU study indicates that previous research has, if anything, understated the risks. 

A 2011 report from the USGS outlined how PAH compounds from sealcoat products can find their way into soils, storm waters, ponds, streams, lakes, and even house dust, as the compounds are tracked by foot, abraded by car tires, washed by rain and volatilize into the air. They reported that the house dust in residences adjacent to pavement that had been treated with a coal tar-based sealcoat had PAH concentrations 25 times higher than those normally found in house dust.

Some states and many municipalities around the nation have already banned the use of coal tar-based sealcoats, due to the human, wildlife and environmental health concerns. In the European Union, use of coal tar-based sealcoats is limited or banned.

Story By: 

Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194 or staci.simonich@oregonstate.edu

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Researcher Staci Simonich

Staci Simonich, OSU professor

OSU soil scientist Rich Roseberg will lead southern Oregon ag research station

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Soil scientist Richard Roseberg of Oregon State University and the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES) has been named the new director of the OAES research station in southern Oregon.

Roseberg will head the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC) in Central Point, one of 12 agricultural experiment stations around Oregon. The center has 34 faculty and staff and an overall budget of almost $2 million.

Roseberg will direct SOREC’s research program, which includes applied research in viticulture and enology, tree fruits, livestock, forage and integrated pest management. Area vineyardists, orchardists and ranchers collaborate by contributing sites, labor and equipment. The center also runs an experimental farm.

In addition to the director, SOREC employs four researchers, all of whom hold appointments in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Two key positions, a viticulturist and a plant pathologist, are vacant at the moment; international searches are near completion, Roseberg said.

Roseberg comes from a research post at the Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center (KBREC) in Klamath Falls, where he studies cereal and forage crops and soil/water relations. He also conducts field trials of alternative crops, including Russian dandelion, a potential source of rubber, and teff, a cereal grain that grows well in semi-arid conditions. He was stationed at SOREC from 1990 to 2003 before transferring to Klamath Falls.

“It’s only 85 miles from station to station,” he said. “But the southern Oregon station is in a dramatically different climate—lower-elevation, warmer, and with an earlier growing season, which gives farmers much more crop choice.”

Roseberg will start on May 1, succeeding Philip Van Buskirk, who is retiring after 32 years. “Having Richard return to where he started his career at Oregon State University—and already knowing most of the stakeholders—will help him speed up and smooth his transition to director,” said Van Buskirk.

Cattle, hay, winter pears, farm forest products and wine grapes are southern Oregon’s top-value agricultural products, according to a 2015 report from the state Board of Agriculture. About 10 percent of the area is farmland (comprising about 625,000 acres), and about 10 percent of that is irrigated.

Southern Oregon’s Umpqua, Applegate and Rogue valleys are famous for their tree fruits, especially pears. In the last two decades, premium wine grapes have also become economically important. The area is home to more than 100 wineries and over 200 vineyards, growing warm-season varieties ranging from Albarino to Zinfandel.

SOREC’s viticulture research program, begun in 2007, includes field trials of grape varieties to see how they perform in southern Oregon’s warm, dry conditions and varied soils and microclimates. Researchers also are refining methods for efficient irrigation and sustainable pest control.

SOREC’s Extension programs will continue to be managed by John Punches, Extension regional administrator based in Roseburg. These include 4-H, Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers and Family and Community Health, as well as outreach programs in small farms, horticulture and woodland management.

Funding for SOREC’s research and Extension activities comes from a mix of federal, state and county funds, research grants and private gifts. In May of 2014, Jackson County voters approved a service district that taxes property owners up to 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. In 2015-16 the assessed rate was less than 4 cents, raising $560,816 to support SOREC’s programs.

About $166,000 of that total goes to research. “For quite a few years SOREC was in a tough situation, especially on the research side,” Roseberg said. “Now the voters have spoken. Instead of just surviving, we’ll be able to serve southern Oregon much better than we’ve been able to do before. Once we get our two new scientists on board, I expect some really great things to come out of this center.”

Story By: 

Richard Roseberg, 541-833-4590, ext. 8-8316; Richard.roseberg@oregonstate.edu

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Richard Roseberg

OSU's Richard Roseberg is new SOREC head

Pioneering OSU whale researcher invests in graduate students

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Bruce Mate, the director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, and his wife Mary Lou have named the institute as a major beneficiary of their estate, a gift that builds on Mate’s 40-year career in scientific research and education.

A world-renowned expert in marine mammal research, Mate is best known for pioneering the use of satellite-monitored radio tags to track threatened and endangered whales, allowing discoveries about whale migration routes, habitats and behaviors.

The couple’s bequest, a commitment valued at $800,000, will add to the Mary Lou and Bruce R. Mate Marine Mammal Institute Fellowship, an endowment to support graduate students at the institute.

“OSU attracts extremely well-qualified graduate school candidates,” Mate said. “The frustration is that we can’t afford to accept nearly as many as we’d like to because of the expense taken on by the faculty member. Graduate students are funded through fellowships like this for their monthly stipend, while their research is usually funded from grants.

“The research needed to get an advanced degree in science today can be incredibly expensive. But I’ve worked long enough now to see multiple generations of my students go on to do wonderful things, including creation of terrific opportunities for others. A great education makes a huge difference for students.”

From his laboratory at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Mate has tracked by satellite the movements of humpback, blue, gray, pilot, right, fin, bowhead and sperm whales, as well as manatees and dolphins. A professor of fisheries and wildlife and holder of the endowed Marine Mammal Research Professorship, Mate has been featured on the Discovery Channel, PBS, BBC, National Geographic and other science programs.

“Over his career, Bruce took what was essentially a one-man operation and transformed it into a highly respected, globally recognized institute – now the second largest in the world for the study of marine mammals,” said Dan Arp, the Reub A. Long Professor and dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, which is the academic home of the Marine Mammal Institute.

“Oregon State’s expertise in marine studies is much broader, but the Marine Mammal Institute has really led the way in engaging the public in caring for the health of oceans and our environment,” Arp said. “Bruce’s ‘Whale Watching Spoken Here’ volunteer program is just one example.”

A registered nurse, Mary Lou Mate has long been supportive of her husband and his research, often taking leaves of absence from nursing to work with him. After retirement, she became a part-time research assistant so they could be together during their extensive field seasons. She has co-hosted annual expeditions for donors to San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, California, to visit gray whales for almost 30 years.

In addition to their bequest, the Mates are among a growing group of faculty at Hatfield Marine Science Center who have made $25,000 commitments to help build a new marine studies facility for undergraduates at the complex. Some $2.5 million remains to be raised for the $50 million building.

“It is inspiring when the people closest to the university – our faculty and staff – personally invest in our mission. I’m deeply grateful to Bruce and Mary Lou,” said OSU president Edward J. Ray. “While Oregon State is blessed with many faculty who give generously in their lifetime, this is an extraordinary example of legacy giving.”

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Bruce and Mary Lou Mate
Bruce and Mary Lou Mate