BATON ROUGE, LA (KPLC) - An LSU AgCenter researcher has received two grants totaling $400,000 to study water and soil contamination in Southwest Louisiana.
According to the AgCenter, Yijun Xu is an environmental hydrologist in the AgCenter School of Renewable Natural Resources.
AgCenter officials said he will study and analyze the effects on the environment from several chemicals and how to mitigate their effects on human health and remediate their environmental damage.
Officials said one study will focus on benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene; the other study will focus on hydrogen sulfide. The chemicals are byproducts that may come from oil refineries and associated oil processing, production, transportation and storage.
According to officials, the studies are funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which is administering the grants as part of a court order that resulted from a plea agreement between the U.S. government and the Pelican Refining Company in Lake Charles.
"Xu and his team of researchers are collecting water and soil samples in several locations in the lower Calcasieu River and Sabine River basins. They will test for the chemicals and measure their quantity and their effects on the estuaries where the rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico," the release states.
Officials said the four-year project began in the fall of 2012 and will include project setup, two years of field sampling and analysis.
The chemicals can occur during oil production, refinery processes and transportation, Xu said, in the release. They are known to have harmful effects on the human central nervous system, certain plants and aquatic life.
"We will be looking at relative concentrations of the chemicals both in the waters and in the soil," he said. "We will also gather information on the levels of the chemicals in the atmosphere from Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality's ambient air monitoring stations in the region to assess the pollution pathway."
The researchers will collect water and soil samples at 20 locations each month. Then they'll analyze the chemical concentrations to determine whether the major waterways and soils in the area are contaminated.
"This, together with weather and river discharge measurements, will allow us to take a comprehensive look at the transfer of the chemicals in the environment," Xu said.
When the projects are finished, the researchers will be able to identify the current levels and potential risks of benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide in the coastal waterways and soils.
"The findings from these projects will inform policy makers and the public on how to increase resilience of the region and provide scenarios to better plan for the future," Xu said.