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07-17-2008

Clarkson University in Tune with SLAM RAP

Clarkson University Prof. Michael R. Twiss, director of Clarkson's Great Rivers Center, spoke at the visit of EPA ship RV Lake Guardian to Clayton, N.Y., yesterday, July 16. Twiss was there with Clarkson's research vessel, the R.V. Lavinia. The following is a summary of his comments.

Clayton, N.Y. -- The SLAM RAP sounds like a tough hip-hop group, when in fact it stands for the St. Lawrence at Massena Remedial Action Plan -- a tough environmental problem that involves scientists from federal and state agencies, university researchers and citizens alike.

The Remedial Action Plan for this area was invoked to clean up areas of the river that were impacted by heavy industry in the past, namely aluminum smelting and manufacturing in Massena. There are RAPs for approximately 40 sites throughout the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River system that were established in the late 1980s. To date, only two, Collingwood Harbour, Ont., and Oswego Harbor, N.Y., have been deemed clean enough to be de-listed," the term used by the United States and Canadian governments to remove impacted areas from the list of Areas of Concern.

The St. Lawrence River at Massena Area of Concern extends from just upstream of the Moses-Saunders Power Dam to the location where the St. Lawrence River enters fully into Canada, en route to the Atlantic Ocean. Massena shares an AOC with Cornwall, Ont., and the territory of the Awkesasne Mohawk Nation spans both of the AOCs. For the Cornwall AOC, the region extends from the power dam to the eastern end of Lake St. Francis, upstream from Montreal.

These two AOCs involve four major tributaries to the St. Lawrence River. Three of these flow from the US, including the Grasse, Raquette, and St. Regis Rivers, while the Raisin River flows from the Canadian side. "It is indeed a tough problem - both geographically, politically, and ecologically," states Clarkson University's Great Rivers Center Director Michael R. Twiss.

"This is very important," says Twiss. "Availability of the information to the pubic is critical for getting the public to accept what is being done and the progress that is being made. Unfortunately, for the SLAM RAP, the community has not benefited from ever having a local coordinator that can help convey this information to the public. A local coordinator is someone on the ground (or water!) from the community who can relay information back and forth between the public and scientists and government officials. A clean environment in the Massena area would increase the value of property in the area and help to attract new enterprises - a real concern for people in this region."

At present, several issues are being addressed by Clarkson University's Great River Center in support of the SLAM RAP. Concerns over plankton populations and nutrient enrichment are being studied in the river using sophisticated instruments onboard research vessels that allow instantaneous measurements of population structure and health. Water quality in tributaries is being analyzed frequently to determine the impact of these streams on the nearshore areas of the river, places where most people contact the water and many young fish develop.

Clarkson University President Tony Collins, commented, "EPA's growing interest in the St. Lawrence River, as evidenced by the presence of the R.V. Lake Guardian in the river is a good thing for everyone living or recreating on this great river. The EPA and Congressman John McHugh, who initiated discussions with the federal agency about the environmental health of the St Lawrence, are to be commended for their action."

Funding for this work has been provided to Clarkson University by the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the St. Lawrence River Research and Education Fund. Information gathered on the status of the health of the AOC and the progress being made will be conveyed the public, an important task that would be facilitated by a local SLAM RAP coordinator, reiterates Twiss.

Photo caption: Stephanie Kring, a McNair Scholar at Clarkson University's Great Rivers Center, collects a surface water sample from the St. Lawrence River in the Massena Area of Concern. Water samples are collected at eight sites within the AOC every 10 days from May to November for analysis of phytoplankton composition, photosynthetic health status and nutrient levels.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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