Ecosystem health at the texas coastal bend: a spatial analysis of exposure and response



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This dissertation investigated locational risks to ecosystem health associated with proximity to industrial complexes. The study was performed at the behest of ranchers and citizens living and working down-prevailing wind from the Formosa Plastics, Inc. and ALCOA facilities located in Calhoun County, Texas. Concerns expressed were for potential genotoxicity resulting from exposure to complex chemical mixtures released by the facilities. Exposure assessment of the marine environment was performed with sediments and oysters from Lavaca Bay being analyzed. Numerous chemicals were found to be present at concentrations considered likely to result in adverse responses in exposed populations. Bayesian geostatistical analysis was performed to determine if the concentrations were affected by a spatial process. Mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were the most notable of the chemicals found to be present at elevated concentrations and affected by a spatial process. Evaluation of maps generated from spatial modeling revealed that proximity to ALCOA resulted in elevated risks for exposure to harmful concentrations of pollutants. Genotoxicity was measured in two sentinel species. Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) were utilized for evaluation of the marine environment and cattle (Bos taurus and Bos taurus crossbred cattle) were chosen for evaluation of the terrestrial environment. Chromosomal aberration analysis was performed on oyster hematocytes. Analysis of the results failed to demonstrate the presence of an important generalized spatial process but some specific locations close to the ALCOA plant had elevations in this measure of genotoxicity. Stress as measured by the lysosomal destabilization assay was also performed on oyster hematocytes. These results were found to be affected by a significant spatial process with the highest degree of destabilization occurring in close proximity to ALCOA. Genotoxicity in cattle was evaluated with the single cell gel electrophoresis assay and chromosomal aberration analysis. Bayesian geostatistical analyis revealed the presence of important spatial processes. DNA-protein cross-linkage was the most notable with a strong indication of increased damage down-prevailing wind from the industrial complexes. Results indicated that proximity to industrial facilities increased the risk for harmful exposures, genotoxicity, and lysosomal destabilization.