Sediment field clean-up trial, Part 2: setting up and monitoring the actual field trial

In Part 1 of this Blog post we took a look at the on-site sediment remediation with activated carbon. Now we will gain a small insight to the first field trial of the method in Finland, which was started by our group in August 2015.

The test site lies in Lake Kernaalanjärvi, which was contaminated with PCBs between 1956 and 1984. There was a steady, unnoticed discharge of the chemicals from a paper mill upstream one of the lake’s feeding rivers (Tervajoki). Since no one noticed that leak for so long, quite an amount was released to the river and ended up in the lake eventually. The fact that this is still a problem nowadays, even though the leak was shut down over 30 years ago, gives you a hint on the persistency of PCBs in the environment.

Lake Kernaalanjärvi, the site of the field test in winter (Plot marked). The feeding Tervajoki River – the source of the pollutants (PCBs) in the lake – is nicely visible.
Lake Kernaalanjärvi, the site of the field test in winter (Plot marked). The feeding Tervajoki River – the source of the pollutants (PCBs) in the lake – is nicely visible.

Since the lab trials had not only shown the high efficiency of activated carbon, but also potential risks of the sorbent particles themselves, we applied it only to a small plot of 300 m2 within the lake. This way we don’t mess up a whole lake, if the side effects are bad, but we also don’t waste too much money, if the clean-up potential is not as good as seen in the lab. The plot lies in the south end of the lake – the most contaminated area. This is right where the contaminated feeding river enters into the lake (see satellite image). With it come the PCBs, usually attached to suspended particles that settle as sediment once the water flow speed gets low enough.

For the remediation works, we ordered about 1000 kg of pressed pellets consisting of activated carbon and clay (Sedimite™). The latter increases the density of the pellets, making them sink faster to the bottom of the lake. This fast-sinking property makes handling and applying the activated carbon really easy. You can basically just shovel them out of a boat onto the water surface and they sink straight down onto the sediment. With pure activated carbon – usually a powder – that would be unthinkable. In part 1 of this post you could see a picture of the mess we can easily create already in the lab when we handle activated carbon powder. Add a bit of wind or rain (which we rarely see in the lab) to that and you might not have the greatest work day of your life. Even if the powder finally reaches the water, most of it would just get suspended in the water column and settle after days at wherever the water flow brought it.

The boat is loaded with activated carbon pellets (Sedimite™) – we’re ready to get going!
The boat is loaded with activated carbon pellets (Sedimite™) – we’re ready to get going!

For the application of activated carbon we had to first of all change our “lab rat” attitude to field-trial-mode: In the lab, we usually work with precisely measured doses, carefully applied in controlled environments. In the field, we had to take more of a “rough estimate” approach. We started by measuring a 10 x 30 m field on the lake, marking it with buoys and ropes. For better orientation and to achieve a more even layer of activated carbon, we diverted the plot into 5 x 5 m intersections, which were handled one at a time. After we had applied (read: shoveled) all of the pellets onto the test site, we took some sediment core samples of the freshly covered site. Luckily we could see that the pellets had actually worked as intended and we achieved a quite good layer of activated carbon on top of the sediment.

Applying the pellets to the marked plot on an average Finnish summer day.
Applying the pellets to the marked plot on an average Finnish summer day.

Now – about one year later – we checked in to see how the field looks like. We took core samples on the same spots again and unsurprisingly, the field looks a lot different. Wind and waves have affected the plot heavily:  a lot the sorbent has been swept away. In addition, a thick layer of new sediment has covered what was left on site.

Sediment core samples showing the applied layer of activated carbon one day after the plot setup and 10 months later.
Sediment core samples showing the applied layer of activated carbon one day after the plot setup and 10 months later.

How this is affecting the remediation potential and the adverse effects of activated carbon, we plan to find out in the near future. We have scheduled a lot of monitoring works, such as surveys on the condition of the local sediment fauna and changes in the PCB uptake by the organisms living on our plot.

Important part of every exhausting field trip: Beer and Sauna.
Important part of every exhausting field trip: Beer and Sauna.

Text by Sebastian Abel, photos by Sebastian Abel and Jarkko Akkanen

The first Finnish field trial of on-site sediment cleanup with activated carbon

Part 1: the method and preceding lab work

What you might think of when hearing about sediment clean-up (remediation) is the conventional method of dredging the contaminated material and depositing it somewhere else (off-site methods). But did you ever try grabbing a fistful of mud from under your feet when you’re standing in the water? Not so easy! You usually manage to get some to the surface, but what about all that slurry that stays suspended in the water? In sediment remediation, this can easily cause even more trouble, since it leads to increased dispersal of contaminated material over the water body, as well as increased exposure to everything that has to swim through the water-sediment suspension. Besides that, an excavator vessel is not the cheapest thing to rent either.

Activated carbon -based “on-site” remediation has been proposed as an alternative method. The basic idea is to add the activated carbon as a sorbent straight to a contaminated site, where it binds the contaminant so strongly, that it becomes unavailable for organisms to assimilate and accumulate. So while the pollutant is still in the sediment, it is rendered mostly harmless. It works pretty much the same way as medical activated carbon: The poison that you accidentally ate is bound and thus prevented from entering your bloodstream, from where it could cause havoc. The only difference in sediment remediation is that this sequestration of contaminants happens already before they are taken up by an organism. A more detailed description of the method and its mode of action you can find here.

Testing activated carbon for sediment remediation in the lab.
Testing activated carbon for sediment remediation in the lab.

In our current research we are focusing on the use of activated carbon to clean up sediments polluted with PCBs.  This group of chemicals that is found in the environment of most parts of the world. Listing all the uses and potential dangers of these PCBs in the environment would probably fill another blog post. In brief: it was seen as harmful enough for a worldwide (!) ban of production and use in 2001. One of the biggest problems with PCBs in the environment is their persistency and the fact that they accumulate easily in organisms that are exposed to it.

This is where activated carbon enters the stage: many researchers, including our own group, found that already small doses of activated carbon suffice to prevent almost any of this accumulation of PCBs. So you might say: “Great! It sounds like a great alternative to the messy and laborious dredging operations”. But as Bernard Shaw once said “Science never solved a problem without creating ten more” – we also found that activated carbon itself might have negative side effects to certain organisms. Our job is now to find out if the new problems we create are actually worse than the original one, or if they are a minor trade-off. Our lab studies showed a relatively “balanced” situation, showing both high remediation efficiency accompanied by strong adverse effects. However, lab studies are always limited in their meaningfulness, because we are bound to exclude a lot of parameters that make up a natural environment.

Working with activated carbon powder in the lab can be pretty messy.
Working with activated carbon powder in the lab can be pretty messy.

Therefore the next logical step was to bring the tests of activated carbon based sediment remediation to the field. So in August 2015 our research group has set up the first ever field trial in Finland aimed at investigating the potential and the risks of this method. How this looked like and worked in detail, you can find out in the second part of this blog post.

Text by Sebastian Abel, photos by Sebastian Abel, Jarkko Akkanen and Inna Nybom

How to make a (better) poster?

We have all been there. You have done your research for a while, got your first results and want to go to a conference to present your work. What then? At least I and my colleagues wanted to start with having a poster presentation. I did not have enough data (or confidence) for an oral presentation, so poster it is! These are my opinions and experiences about making a poster, feel free to disagree :).

Think about your title

For larger conferences, you need to send your abstract months beforehand. It is really difficult to prepare it so early, since you may not even have all the data by that time. With an abstract, you need to come up with at title. I would advise to use a lot of effort in planning your title. It is the first step where audience decides, if they want to see your poster or not. Use keywords in your title and be precise enough. Think in advance, what kind of audience you would like to attract.

How to do it?

Conferences usually have guidelines for posters – check them! In Europe, posters are usually smaller than in North America, most often size A0. Also, European posters are typically as portrait, compared to American counterparts in landscape. It is really disappointing to prepare a poster just to find out that it doesn’t fit in the poster stand at all.

Typical poster types in Europe and North America.
Typical poster types in Europe and North America.

What would you like to tell in your poster? As a young scientist, it is tempting to present everything you have done. For my first poster, I was feeling a bit insecure and embarrassed to be such a newbie, so I wanted to show all my work in order to appear more professional. Stop right there, it’s the worst plan ever! Think about your most important/interesting result and focus on that. It is better to highlight an exciting point than tell a little bit of everything.

This leads to the next step – compress, compress and compress. A text overload is a common mistake and it makes the poster look dull and scare the audience away. Leave only the most important content to your poster. Use columns, figures and pictures to make it more readable. Use different colors and font sizes, play with layout to emphasize your main message.

If there was a poster like the one below, it would have to have an extremely interesting title for me to stay and read. And even in that case, I’d prefer to have a handout and read it back home. If I have hundreds of posters to see, the time spent on one poster is something between few seconds and couple of minutes.

Technical tips

Fonts Use large enough fonts. I would think twice before going below 30 pt (and I would use this small font only for footnotes, captions etc.). Things you want to highlight could be with a larger font, e.g. conclusions. Print a colored A4 copy of your poster and put it in front of you, arms straight. If you think your professor might have even slightest difficulties reading the text – make it larger! Another tip is to set screen to 100 % and look at your poster from 1.5-2 m away. For body text, serif fonts are easier to read. Titles are ok with sans-serifs.

Figures can help you a lot. You can use them to balance your layout and to convince your audience. But be careful with the figures, they have to be self-explanatory. You are not standing next to your poster for the whole day, people need to understand it without explanations. And they need to be understood without reading the whole poster. Show a figure to a friend or a colleague that doesn’t know your work that well. If he/she understands it in no time, you are fine to go. Also, it is not the best idea to use red and green to separate “good and bad” in your results, quite many people have problem with distinguishing red from green.

Colors As we noted in our earlier post (Here), it is advisable to use colors. A dull poster does not attract the attention. However, you don’t have to overdo it. I think I had a bit of that problem with my first poster shown below. Make few different color versions, ask opinions from other people. And remember that the colors in the final poster may not print exactly the same as in your printer.

Kristiina Väänänen's first and (over)colorful poster at SETAC Basel 2014.
Kristiina Väänänen’s first and (over)colorful poster at SETAC Basel 2014.

Software Use the software you are familiar with. If you have an opportunity to learn a new one (e.g. Adobe Illustration), go for it. But don’t do like me and waste too many hours struggling with too difficult software, finally giving up. With Power Point, you can actually go quite far.

The final touch

Finally, proof reading. Read your poster carefully for several times. Let other people read it as well. Print a copy and read that, sometimes you spot the mistakes better from a print. Note that in final printing, bits from the edges of your poster may be cut out (trimming edge). Therefore it’s good to have margins not to lose any of your important content. Make sure that you have your contact information on the poster (email and postal address). It is also a kind gesture to mention your sponsors somewhere on the poster.

Have enough time for printing and possible errors in the process. In our group, we have sometimes needed two re-dos for a poster and that may take a lot of time. Maybe you have made too many spelling errors or something has gone wrong in the printing company. When you finally get your poster from printing, check everything one more time. Hopefully, you don’t find any mistakes at this point. Additionally, print A4-sized handouts to give out in the conference.

For me, making posters is not an easy task. I don’t have a natural eye for making interesting and practical layout. My sense of color is non-existent and I get easily stuck with my initial (often bad) ideas. Time, practice and friends help though. I was actually a bit proud of my latest poster. But, a great way to get better is to follow the more talented colleagues. Our research group used to have a “Master of Great Posters” researcher Inna Nybom, who has won best poster prizes with several of her poster. I don’t know yet, how she always manages to create such delicate, beautiful and informative posters. But I continue to look her work closely, hoping to get to her level one day.

Inna Nybom's poster. Setting the bar high for the rest of us!
Inna Nybom’s poster. Setting the bar high for the rest of us!

Text by Kristiina Väänänen

NORDROCS 2016 – lessons learned


6th Joint Nordic Meeting on Remediation of Contaminated Sites was held at Aalto University in Otaniemi, Espoo. This nicely organized lively meeting gathered over 200 participants. Biggest crowds outside Finland came from Sweden (45), Denmark (38) and Norway (28). There was a few participants even from Japan and US. Difference to “ordinary” scientific meetings was the large number of participants and presenters from private sector and authorities. I think that that people representing academia were a minority. However, that was not a problem, but offered a good chance to catch up the current status of the environmental management and remediation. Therefore, below you can find a list of lessons learned during the conference.

  1. Retuperän WBK is still going strong.
  2. PFAS-compounds are more problematic than previously thought. They tend to accumulate also to remote areas.
  3. Remediation of contaminated soils is serious business. This observation is based on the high number of consultancy companies and diverse presentations about different types of soil remediation methods.
  4. Remediation of contaminated sediments is not serious business. However, there is an exception to every rule. Except to the previous rule, which stated that remediation of contaminated soils is serious business, there’s no exceptions. But in the case of sediments, Norway is the exception. There they invest quite a bit of public money to remediate contaminated sediments, whereas soils are more land owner’s problem.
  5. The reason why remediation of contaminated sediments is not a big thing is simple. No-one forces us to do anything. We have tools for risk assessment and also small number of methods to remediate, but steering from above is still missing. EU level does not have such regulation (at least not yet) and at the current economic situation makes sure that we won’t do anything extra at national level.
  6. After a cruise to see Espoo and also part of Helsinki from another angle legendary “Kalastajatorppa” offered a great venue for conference dinner with live music and everything. The food was great. The welcome toast, ice-cold Koskenkorva with one lingonberry in the bottom, raised some questions among people. We are pretty much used to sparkling wine or something like that. Well, empty stomach and that was quite a combination. On the other hand someone said that it is not a drink but traditional Finnish berry salad. Luckily the organizers had organized the schedule so that I had my talk in the next morning, so I left early.
  7. Philomela choir is also great.

To sum up, the conference was really worth to participate.

Work wellbeing – scary day with fitness test

There came a day when we heard about the free of charge “Fitness test truck” that was coming to town. This Matka Hyvään Kuntoon kiertue  –was especially directed towards work wellbeing. Since I am the work wellbeing representative in our department, I started advertising. And it was a success, I heard of many people going to take the test.

A fitness test truck - such a great idea.
A fitness test truck – such a great idea.

The test pattern included body composition test (InBody 720), compressing force test and an aerobic test (with Polar monitors). I have taken the body composition test before – and was rather disappointed with my results. Therefore I was rather excited and scared when signing up for the test. The others from our group were strongly against the idea, I was the only one going to take the test.

I prepared for the test with scientific accuracy (and probably a bit beyond that). Took the test in the morning, didn’t eat or drink before it – not even my morning coffee – and wore light clothes. I even reduced the carb and salt intake few days beforehand (this might be the excessive part).

And the test: more muscles and less body fat than the previous time. A relatively bad result from compressing force test (I blame my short fingers, it’s difficult to grasp with them!). But, apparently I managed to inspire the others. More people from our group went there together the next day. We even managed to persuade our trainee to go as well. As a results, some of us had too little fat and some of us a bit too much. There were a lots of muscles and great aerobic fitness to be found. We also managed to found a possible case of edema.

Our long-distance runner is becoming skinny enough to hide behind a tree.
Our long-distance runner is becoming skinny enough to hide behind a tree. Maybe she should eat all our lunches.

And as scientists, it took us a whole lot of time to interpret the results. We weren’t happy for just BMI or body fat percentage. We wanted to know everything about ECF, TBF, ECW and TBW (the parameters for intracellular and extracellular water). We questioned the waist-hip ratio results that didn’t seem accurate. And after a small research we found that waist-hip ratio was actually not a measurement, but “a scientific estimation”.

Have you seen a face of a totally average person before? Here I am!
How to become such an average person? Lots of dance, a bit of gym, great amount of chocolate and daily portions of oat meal.
Encouraging our trainee Risto to have more breaks between the work.
Encouraging our trainee Risto to have more breaks between the work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of us ended up being more motivated when it comes to sports and diet. Better lunch choices, at least for a while. We also enjoyed the comparison between the results. How does a low fat percentage affect to other results? How does the body composition affect to the daily energy consumption (physical activity excluded)? It actually had quite big difference. It was also nice to see that if a person had more muscles, the calculated ideal weight was higher. Good bye to old-fashioned BMIs! I would say that this was an easy test, giving a lot of information to think about.

See you in the spinning class!
See you in the spinning class!

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures by Kristiina Väänänen and Kukka Pakarinen

Nice handwork and beautiful lab ware – building up the experiment and the first sampling

In my previous post, I told about preparations before an experiment can be started. Some more preparations  were still needed while the worms were creating new heads. Exposure sediments should be prepared – spiked, as we call it. Necessary amount of fullerenes to be added to the sediment was calculated after determining concentration of the fullerene suspension; concentration measurements are pretty beautiful, because of the purple color of fullerenes in the measuring solution.  Spiking is done by “a home-made spiking machine”, which means a metal blade stirred by a drill: it provides forceful mixing of chemical to sediment. Also, artificial freshwater for exposure jars was prepared.

Spiking the sediment with fullerene nanoparticles.
Preparing everything for the experiment. In the middle, spiking the sediment with fullerene nanoparticles.

Everything was finally ready for building up the experiment: spiked sediment, size-synchronized worms and artificial freshwater. The next step was building up the exposure jars with an aeration system. At first, the sediment was placed on the bottom and then artificial freshwater was carefully poured above the sediment. No matter how you pour the water, you always have a blended mix which has to let settle for one or two days before aeration can be started and the worms added. The next step is to let the exposure go on and maintain pH and oxygen content at suitable level for the worms.

Microcosmos with Lumbriculus variegatus, the tubes are for aeriation.
Microcosmos with Lumbriculus variegatus, the tubes are for aeriation. On the right, the worms are in their typical feeding position.

After 7 days it was time to collect the first worm samples, which means whole-day handwork. And how to carry that out? The exposure sediment was poured to a sieve and then carefully seek and pick up every worm using a dentist tool.

In the end, you must find your worms. Sieving is a handy method for that.
In the end, you must find your worms. Sieving is a handy method for that.

The worms are put to clean water to empty their guts before they are ready to be weighed in hand-made –how else 😉 – tiny foil cups. After recording wet weights, the worms are either dried or transferred to a freezer waiting for fullerene analysis.

Our laboratorian trainee Risto Pöhö weighing the worms at the end of the experiment. Note the handy tool for making weighing cups.
Our laboratorian trainee Risto Pöhö weighing the worms at the end of the experiment. Note the handy tool for making weighing cups.

Text by Kukka Pakarinen

Pictures by Kaisa Figueiredo, Risto Pöhö, and Kukka Pakarinen

Going to your first conference? Read these tips!

Going to a scientific conference for the first time is always exciting, and it is also great opportunity to learn, network and have fun. In this blog post we have gathered some practical tips and information, which you might not even consider before going to a scientific meeting for the first time. The internet (and also your boss and co-workers) are a good source of important advice about scientific meeting etiquette, in which we will not get into details now. We shall discuss about all the little details and practicalities that no-one else tells you.

It will probably be the first time that you are about to present your own work and results to a scientific public, and there are many ways that you can prepare yourself for that and make everything run smoothly in the event itself. Going to a scientific meeting also needs lots of preparation, and the more prepared you are, the easier things are likely to go. Scientific meetings may vary in size, atmosphere and procedure. In most cases you are expected to give a presentation in the conference, whether oral presentation or a poster presentation. Whether it is your financer or your boss/supervisor that requires that. They both are good ways to make your work visible to others, but there are also clear differences that you might want to consider.

Plan your presentation

Technical problems are likely to happen, so have the presentation file with you in at least two different places/storages and in a format that is most likely to be accepted worldwide in different computers or desktops. Practise your presentation in advance!! Also take printed handout of your notes, if you are likely to be nervous and forget what you were about to say. Do not fill the slides with too much information, and consider placing pictures and photos to visualize your presentation and making it more interesting.

Kristiina Väänänen giving her presentation at annual meeting of Finnish Society of Toxicology.
Kristiina Väänänen giving her presentation at annual meeting of Finnish Society of Toxicology.

Poster sessions, instead, are nice opportunities to discuss about your work face-to-face with time with those that are interested in the topic, or have something to contribute with or share new ideas. The negative thing about giving a poster presentation is that you have to make the poster, have it printed out well in advance, and carry it to the meeting and back. You might not want to have it with your hand luggage, because it is easy to forget in an airplane – or to be lost by airline, but putting your poster tube into the actual luggage might be even more risky. If you have colleagues traveling with you, consider sharing a poster tube together and carry in turns. Before leaving from office, print out A4 handouts to be given to those that are interested, and do not hesitate to hand cards with your contact details to people passing by your poster. You can also print a QR code (and put it in your poster) linking to a website where your contact details or your research group can be found.

In many poster sessions there are hundreds of posters and limited time to go through all of them – those that are interested and with limited time in the conference, might get back to you afterwards. Do not forget to take nails and pins for hanging your poster on the wall! Not all conferences provide those. Check the poster regulations in advance. If a European conference wants you to have a portrait poster in A0 size, it might look ridiculous in a North American meeting, there the larger is the better and poster walls are at least twice as big! Use colours in your poster and do not do what I did: grey poster on a grey poster wall was not a brilliant idea. I did not win the best poster’s prize. Remember that most people who come to see your poster, know nothing about it. Prepare a short “speech” or summary to highlight the main principles, methods and findings to be shared with the curious listeners.

Kaisa Figueiredo with her poster at SETAC in New Orleans. Grey was the color of the day!
Kaisa Figueiredo with her poster at SETAC in New Orleans. Grey was the color of the day!

Prepare well your source of nutrition and hydration

Some conferences include coffee breaks and free lunches for the participants, while the others do not. Make sure that you are taking some snacks and a water bottle with you – otherwise you might get hungry and suffer from low blood sugar, loss of liquids and get cranky and uncomfortable. The disadvantage of carrying too much stuff with you, is that your bag might get too heavy and give you painful neck and sore shoulders. Avoid laxative food and snacks, and make sure that your snacks are not wrapped in a paper that makes noise in the lecture room.

Clothing

Especially if you are a woman, consider taking various pairs of good shoes with you. What is good for an evening get-together in a fancy restaurant or a cocktail party, might not be a good choice for standing by your poster for several hours, or walking long distances between the lecture halls (especially if the conference happens to be one of those with > 5000 participants and 8 sessions going on simultaneously).  Some hotels have spa, poor or Jacuzzi facilities for their guests. Do not forget your bathing suit at home! This is especially important, if you are travelling to a scientific meeting in Florida in November. It would also be a good idea to pack clothes that are comfortable to wear and do not get wrinkled in your suitcase during travel. An extra pair of pantyhose might not be a bad idea, since they break easily and you might not have time or opportunity to look for new ones in the middle of a conference day.

Have enough sleep

Although the social programme might be interesting and networking possibilities tempting, do not forget to have enough rest! When you have slept enough, you can handle the long days and flood of information that you are most likely to get. Especially if you have small children at home, take a scientific conference also as an opportunity to have good sleep and rest well. If you travel to a distant city/country where you have never been before, take advantage and travel 1 day before, or if possible, take some extra days after the conference to see around and get to know the new destination.

There should always be time to relax during your conference trip! Photos by Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen.
There should always be time to relax during your conference trip! Pictures by Kaisa Figueiredo and Kristiina Väänänen.

Good luck! After the trip be prepared to share the experience with your co-workers, and why not, prepare a blog post about your journey, if you or your research group have an active blog. Use social media as a tool for networking and raising awareness about the event and yourself as a scientist! Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offer good opportunities for that. See and be seen!

Network and share your ideas!
Network and share your ideas!

 

Text by Kaisa Figueiredo