From the Ashes: Using BERA to Assess a Coal Fly Ash Spill in Tennessee, with Suzy Walls

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Kingston Fossil Plant, coal ash spill cleanup, 2012. Credit: Appalachian Voices, CC BY 2.0, cropped from original.

The largest coal fly ash spill in US history occurred in 2008, at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee. Over 4.1 million cubic meters of toxic coal fly ash spilled into the surrounding river ecosystem, which included three rivers and a reservoir. The January 2015 issue of IEAM features a special series of articles that detail the Baseline Ecological Risk Assessment (BERA) conducted to assess residual ash remaining in the Watts Bar Reservoir.

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Biomarkers for Good Measure: Assessing Aquatic Ecosystem Status, with Sharon Hook

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Sampling biomarkers with gel electrophoresis. Credit: Iwan Gabovitch, CC0 1.0.

Biomarkers—biological endpoints long used in medical screening and disease detection—are finding new relevance in the environmental science community. Toxicologists have used biomarkers in certain aquatic contaminant assessments; however, these endpoints have barely been tapped as a valuable resource for informing ecological risk assessments and integrated monitoring. Sharon Hook, author of a critical review in the July 2014 issue of IEAM, talks to us about advantages and caveats for using biomarkers in environmental assessments.

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Making the Most of Sparse Data for Wildlife Risk Assessments, with Ryan Hill

The wildlife risk assessment that could: overcoming sparse dose-response data. Risk assessments for wildlife species are plagued by a lack of dose-response data tailored for those wildlife species. Although data may exist for different endpoints in the same or related animal taxa, such data remains difficult to evaluate and incorporate. Ryan Hill and colleagues offer solutions to tackling this problem in their critical review appearing in the January 2014 issue of IEAM. Hill et al. prescribe tips for compiling sparse data to make it relevant, demonstrate graphical evaluations of sparse data, and discuss modeling options for simple vs. complex data sets.

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Ruffling Feathers: A New Approach to Pesticide Risk Assessment for Birds, with Matthew Etterson

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Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus). Credit: Mark Moschell, CC BY-NC 2.0.

We talk turkey with Matthew Etterson about pesticides and bird reproduction. Etterson and colleague Rick Bennett are co-authors of two companion articles in the October 2013 issue of IEAM that present an innovative model for predicting effects of pesticides on bird reproduction. The model, MCnest can identify species-specific risks by incorporating key life history traits and timing of pesticide application. This approach goes beyond the confines of the traditional avian reproduction test by quantifying the magnitude of a pesticide’s effect on bird reproduction throughout a breeding season.

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Assessing Cumulative Effects in Watersheds, with Monique Dubé

Death by a thousand cuts—the importance of cumulative effects on watersheds.

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North Saskatchewan River. Credit: David Street, CC BY-ND 2.0 cropped from original.

Environment damage often results from the collective effects of multiple stressors, be they chemical, biotic, or anthropogenic. But how to capture them all for an environmental impact assessment? Enter cumulative effects assessment (CEA). Monique Dubé discusses how she and colleagues developed and applied a framework for watershed CEA in several Canadian watersheds. Going beyond traditional effects- and stressor-based approaches, the watershed CEA incorporates both the existing condition of a watershed and predictions of its future condition to better inform planning and management efforts. Access the special series “Watershed Cumulative Effects Assessment” in the July 2013 issue of IEAM.

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For What It’s Worth: Using the Ecosystem Services Concept in Ecological Risk Assessments, with Valery Forbes and Peter Calow

The environmental community is abuzz with the concept of “ecosystem services.” But what does it really mean? And does this new way of thinking change how scientists approach environmental management? In this episode, Valery Forbes and Peter Calow provide an informal overview of how regulatory agencies can better incorporate the ecosystem services concept into ecological risk assessments (ERAs). Although agencies in Europe and the US have begun to integrate ecosystem services into ERAs, Forbes and Calow point out major challenges that must be overcome in order to substantially improve current ERA processes. Their article “Use of the ecosystem services concept in ecological risk assessment of chemicals” is part of the special series “Ecosystem Services: From Policy to Practice.” Access the series in the April 2013 issue of IEAM.

 

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California Sediment Quality Objectives: What’s Up with California’s Mud? With Steve Bay

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Tidal mudflat, Drakes Estero, California. Credit: John Weiss, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

California recently adopted an innovative framework for assessing sediment quality impacts to the benthic community based upon multiple lines of evidence. The seven articles in the series address one aspect of a multi-phase project to define sediment quality objectives, including a new sediment quality guideline (SQG) index.Steve Bay, Guest Editor of the special series “California Sediment Quality Objectives,” describes how the series articles define sediment quality objectives for California that will be used to protect fish, wildlife, benthic invertebrates, and even humans. Access the series in the October 2012 issue of IEAM.

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