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Press Release

Chriss Swaney

Lauren Ward
412-913-0175 (cell)

For immediate release:
August 23, 2004

Carnegie Mellon University Researcher Tests New Tools For Protecting the Anacostia River Ecosystem from PCBs

PITTSBURGH—A sediment-capping mat developed by Carnegie Mellon engineers and CETCO (Arlington Heights, Ill.) soaks up dangerous PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and could prevent their long-term release into waterways, according to the researchers, who are evaluating it in field trials in Washington, D.C.'s contaminated Anacostia River.

In hundreds of contaminated waterways across the country, PCBs have throttled the fishing industry and posed enormous risks to wildlife and humans, according to Greg Lowry, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering and principal investigator on this study. Paul Murphy, one of Lowry's graduate students, presents his research findings Monday, August 23, at the American Chemical Society's 228th annual research meeting in Philadelphia, Pa. (Loews, Commonwealth B).

Lowry, who is evaluating his new reactive core mats in field trials this summer in a portion of the 36-mile-long Anacostia, said his sediment-capping mat contains a thin layer of carbon-absorbent particles embedded in a geofabric mesh. This is one of the three "active" capping technologies currently being demonstrated side-by-side in the Anacostia.

"This thin reactive core mat (RCM), which can be rolled out and placed within a conventional sand cap, could provide an economic alternative to costly dredging, which can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars," Lowry said. "The Anacostia was selected because of its history of pollution problems," he explained. In fact, American Rivers, a nonprofit environmental group, dubbed the Anacostia one of America's 10 most endangered rivers.

Lowry's research is supported by a U.S. E.P.A.-Funded Hazardous Substance Research Center at Louisiana State University and supplemented by Alcoa. This work is presented as part of "PCBs in Freshwater and Marine Sediments: Transport, Transformation and Treatment," a two-day symposium organized by Lowry and Carnegie Mellon's David Dzombak, professor of civil and environmental engineering. The symposium features five presentations by Carnegie Mellon faculty on work in PCB-contaminated rivers.


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