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During the summer of 2014, researchers from the Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) collaborated with two northwestern Tribes, the Swinomish and the Samish, to analyze environmental samples for contaminants. The team worked with Dr. Jamie Donatuto, the Environmental Health Analyst for the Swinomish Tribe, and Christine Woodward, the Director of the Department of Natural Resources for the Samish Tribe, to identify Tribal concerns regarding pollution of butter clams (Saxidomus gigantean).
Clammers have tended to avoid shellfish beds in Fidalgo Bay, given concerns regarding contamination from the two nearby oil refineries. OSU SRP researchers worked with Tribal partners to collect butter clams and place passive samplers in the sediments where butter clams live. These devices, developed by researchers at OSU, absorb samples of what's in the water in a way that's designed to mimic the clams.
At each site researchers collected five clams. Where each clam was found, a passive sampler was placed. After four weeks, the samplers were retrieved and analyzed. The chemical profile from the butter clam was compared to the chemical profile of the passive sampler. The goal was to use the samplers to predict clam contamination, and it worked! Now researchers are able to determine shellfish contamination by putting out passive samplers instead of collecting clams.
In addition to identifying what contaminants may be present in the butter clams, the research team designed a new testing method to reduce the amount of resident shellfish that are collected when environmental sampling is needed. Using passive samplers is cheaper, faster, and less harmful to the local ecosystem than collecting resident organisms.