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Researchers to study Arctic Spill Response and Clean-up

Researchers from Dalhousie University recently received $523,000 in Canadian federal government funding to investigate strategies to better separate oil from water and examine the risk of spills in the Canadian Arctic Archipeligo.

As climate change accelerates the melting of sea ice in the Arctic, the Northwest Passage could become a significant route between the Pacific and North Atlantic oceans. With the potential of increased Arctic vessel traffic, the Government of Canada is investing in science and research to ensure that we are prepared in an event of a spill.  

One research project funded under this program will test new methods to remove oil from water for greater efficiency during a cleanup. The other project will use advanced technology to help responders locate and identify spills, while minimizing harm to the marine environment. This new science and data will be important to inform decision makers and will help accelerate efficient decision making capacity. 

The two researchers that will be heading the investigation are Dr. Haibo Niu, and Dr. Lei Liu.

Dr. Niu currently works at the Department of Engineering, Dalhousie University. Haibo does research in Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Ocean Engineering. His most recent research paper is entitled A Comprehensive System for Simulating Oil Spill Trajectory and Behaviour in Subsurface and Surface Water Environments.

For the Arctic research project, Dr. Niu is trying to develop a computer model that will predict the movement of an oil spill so responders know where it’s going and what it threatens.

Dr. Liu’s major research interests include coupled simulation-optimization modeling for groundwater management, site remediation system design, modeling of air/water/waste pollution control systems, and environmental risk assessment. He also has exposure to areas of regional environmental systems planning and management, climate-change impact assessment and adaptation planning, GIS and its application to environmental information systems, system dynamics, and uncertainty analysis.

The federal government is funding Dr. Liu’s project that will involve trying to find a way to use existing membrane technology to filter oil from oily waste water collected on board vessels during a spill cleanup. The goal is to create a unit carried on board to remove oil, allowing clean water to be discharged at sea rather than carried back to shore for treatment.

The projects are funded under the $45.5 million Multi-Partner Research Initiative, which aims provide the best scientific advice to respond to spills in Canadian waters. The initiative connects leading researchers both in Canada and around the world. These efforts will improve our knowledge of how spills behave, how to contain them and clean them up, and how to minimize their environmental impacts.

Nanoremediation of soil contaminated with Arsenic and Mercury

Researchers in Spain recently published a paper describing the utilization of nanoremediation technology to clean-up soil at the Brownfield site heavily contaminated with arsenic and mercury.

The research draws on a several lab-scale experiments that have shown the use of nanoscale zero-valent iron (nZVI) to be effective in reducing metal(loid) availability in polluted soils.


The core-shell model of zero-valent iron nanoparticles. The core consists of mainly zero-valent iron and provides the reducing power for reactions with environmental contaminants. The shell is largely iron oxides/hydroxides formed from the oxidation of zero-valent iron. The shell provides sites for chemical complex formation (e.g., chemosorption).

The researchers evaluated the capacity of nZVI for reducing the availability of As and Hg in brownfield soils at a pilot scale, and monitored the stability of the immobilization of these contaminants over a 32 month period. The researchers contend that their study is the first to apply nZVI to metal(loid)-polluted soils under field conditions.

In the study, two sub-areas (A and B) that differed in pollution load were selected, and a 5 m2 plot was treated with 2.5% nZVI (by weight) in each case (Nanofer 25S, NanoIron). In sub-area A, which had a greater degree of pollution, a second application was performed eight months after the first application.

Overall, the treatment significantly reduced the availability of both arsenic and (As) and mercury ((Hg), after only 72 h, although the effectiveness of the treatment was highly dependent on the degree of initial contamination.

Sub-area B (with a lower level of pollution) showed the best and most stable immobilization results, with As and Hg in toxicity characteristics leaching procedure (TCLP) extracts decreasing by 70% and 80%, respectively. In comparison, the concentrations of As and Hg in sub-area A decreased by 65% and 50%, respectively.

Based on the findings, the researchers contend that the use of nZVI at a dose of 2.5% appears to be an effective approach for the remediation of soils at this brownfield site, especially in sub-area B.

Canada to Commits Major Funding to Scientific Research on Oil Spill Response

The Government of Canada recently announced that it was committing $4.1 million to six international organizations to fund research projects that will help improve protocols and decision-making to minimize the environmental impacts of oil spills.

The recipients include: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; Johns Hopkins University; New Jersey Institute of Technology; SINTEF Ocean; Texas A&M University; and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Examples of the projects that will be founded included the following:

  • The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts is receiving $638,000 to conduct a three-year study to quantify the effect of oil photochemical oxidation on the performance of chemical herders in Canadian waters; and
  • Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland is receiving $760,000 to conduct a four-year study on the effects of crude oil properties, dispersants, and weathering on the breakup of plumes and slicks.

These projects are part of the $45.5 million Multi-Partner Research Initiative, announced last year to leverage collaboration among oil spill experts in Canada and abroad to ensure we have the capability to provide the best scientific advice and tools to respond to oil spills in our waters.

A total of 35 Canadian and international projects will focus on a wide range of innovative strategies and technologies to aid in oil spill response. Under this initiative, researchers will investigate computer modeling to predict the movement and fate of spilled oil, the use of chemical dispersants and herders, the efficiency of in-situ (or onsite) burning of oil spilled at sea and the potential of bio-based agents to disperse oil through biodegradation.

The Multi-Partner Research Initiative will support a variety of different but interrelated research projects on alternative response measures for oil spills while facilitating partnerships among the best researchers across Canada and around the world. These collaborative efforts will improve our knowledge of how oil spills behave, how best to contain them and clean them up, and how to minimize their environmental impacts.

Tracking brownfield redevelopment outcomes using Ontario’s RSCs

By David Nguyen, staff writer, Hazmat Management Magazine

GeoEnviroPro’s latest webinar event featured Dr. Christopher De Sousa, a professor and director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University.  He spoke about his research using record of site conditions (RSCs) to track brownfield developments in Ontario.

Christopher De Sousa.BA, MScPL, PhD (Associate Professor, Ryerson University)

A RSC is typically filed on the Environmental Site Registry with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) after property has undergone a Phase I, and often a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and the property is undergoing a zoning change to a more sensitive land use (i.e., industrial to residential).  A record of site condition summarizes the environmental condition of a property, based on the completion of ESAs.

De Sousa’s research focussed on the effects of the RCS legislation since its introduction in 2004, focussing on the scale and value of projects using RSCs from 2004 to 2015 (noting the revisions to the RSC legislation in 2011).  Property Assessments and Tax information was used to determine the nature of the developments that have occurred on brownfields.  Private sector stakeholders were interviewed to determine the factors that influence private sectors to develop on brownfields.

The research showed that from 2004 – 2015, 31% of RSCs were filed for Toronto properties.  However, the cities with the greatest total area redeveloped (based on RSC filings) were Brampton and Vaughn, with Toronto having the third largest total area redeveloped. With the exception of Ottawa, projects requiring RSCs occurred primarily in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area.

Of the RSCs filed from 2004 – 2015, 24% consisted of only Phase I environmental site assessments (ESA), 69% consisted of a generic Phase I and II ESAs, and 7% used a Phase I and II ESA combined with a site specific risk assessment.

With land use changes, the most common previous land use was commercial (36.8%) followed by industrial (22.3%) and the most common intended land use was residential (67.5%) followed by commercial (14.9%).

Toronto’s development focussed on residential projects located near major transit and roadways (85.6% of which being condos).  Smaller municipalities like Waterloo and Kingston also primarily developed residential properties (31% and 58%, respectively).  De Sousa notes that provincial growth plans and community improvement plans can help municipalities be more proactive in housing and economic development goals.

From a private sector perspective, the main motivations for brownfield developments are based on real estate factors (profit, market, locations), with barriers being costs, liabilities, and time (in project reviews and approvals).

Facilitation strategies that governments can utilize involve financial and regulatory changes, particularly in more effective and efficient processes and tools in high priority areas, with perhaps more government intervening regulations in secondary/ weaker markets to encourage development of brownfields vs. greenfields.

Toronto’s Port Lands feature numerous brownfields sites, image by Marcus Mitanis