Project 1 2017-2022

"Dynamic exposure pathways under the conditions of environmental emergencies"

Anthony Knap’s team will study the transportation of the environmental contaminants in the sediments found in Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel and establish an accurate background of the contaminants in the soils in key areas identified by local communities, as well as in marine sediments along Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel. The team will evaluate historical data and provide new chemical analysis by collecting and analyzing samples before and after storm events and then determining the potential transformation of compounds in the sediments as they are transported to land; Knap’s research team also will develop predictive hurricane and flood models to determine the extent of the contamination mobilized during these environmental emergencies. In addition, the team will provide real-life contaminant mixtures of “knowns” and “unknowns” to the other cores and projects for studies of the hazards and risks to local communities that may be impacted by such events.


How man-made and natural disasters effect the mobilization and transformation of contaminants bound to marine sediments can potentially affect human health. Changing climate, increased populations in coastal areas, human-induced land subsidence, and rising sea levels have increased the vulnerability of coastal areas to disaster emergencies worldwide. The Galveston Bay/Houston Ship Channel area is one of the most contaminated marine/coastal locations in the nation, with 22 listed or proposed superfund sites. The area is prone to environmental emergencies such as floods, tropical storms, and hurricanes, all of which can cause surges or flooding that redistribute the contaminants that presently are bound to sediments on land and land in the water. Because little is known about the exposure pathways—or the ways a person can come into contact with a hazardous substance—of the potential complex mixtures of hazardous substances that occur during emergency events, identifying chemicals found within the sediment and exploring potential mixtures of those chemicals will allow the team to assess and mitigate potential human exposure to hazardous substances.

Principal Investigators:


The long-term objective of this project is to develop a comprehensive strategy for characterizing exposure pathways to contaminated sediments and soils mobilized by environmental emergency conditions, such as major storms and floods.

Specific aims:

  1. Establish a baseline of the sediment and soil contamination in the Galveston Bay/Houston Ship Channel area by using historical data and new chemical analysis, establishing the current background of contaminants in the soils of areas identified in local communities, and collecting and analyzing samples before and after storm events.
  2. Experimentally determine the transformation of the properties of the contaminated sediments that are transported to land by extreme or stimulating conditions and testing the collected sediments for transformations, while also characterizing known and unknown contaminants under realistic environmental disaster event scenarios.
  3. Predict the extent of the sediment and contaminant redistribution in the Galveston Bay/Houston Ship Channel area caused by a hurricane by adapting and enhancing current models used for the time-sensitive predictions of storm surges under various weather conditions and then modeling results as outputs for communities in other coastal areas in the U.S. and abroad.