RAPID: Evaluating the role of pollution monitoring on improving coastal community social well-being following a petrochemical fire and spills into Galveston Bay Grant uri icon


  • This Rapid Response Research (RAPID) project examines the role of pollution monitoring in water and seafood on public perceptions of information and risk following petrochemical spills. This project provide new insights into coastal community risk perceptions following the recent petrochemical spills from the Deer Park fire (Houston, Texas) and barge collision in Galveston Bay, Texas. At present, the ecological and societal impacts of both disturbances are not fully known. However, concern remains for the exposure of aquatic biota to oil-derived hydrocarbons and flame retardant chemicals, and likely human health effects upon their consumption. This project addresses these concerns in the following ways: First, the levels of pollutants are monitored in water, shellfish and fish from Galveston Bay. Pollutant levels are measured once per month, over a 1 year duration. Second, coastal community risk perceptions or concerns for adverse health effects are assessed using health questionnaires. Third, information on pollutant levels in water and biota are compared to acceptable regulatory limits, and used to inform local community leaders of sea food consumption and recreational threats. Ultimately, the findings of this research will provide insights into coastal community risk perceptions immediately following man-made disturbances, and help to develop a risk communication framework that provides both immediate and follow-up analysis of environmental quality. This grant supports the NSF HDBE program's mission to understand human-environment interactions and their responses to man-made disasters. This project uses mass spectrometry to measure the levels of oil-derived hydrocarbons and flame retardants in the waters and biota of Galveston Bay, Texas. Water samples will be taken monthly along a transect of Galveston Bay, and biota samples will be obtained from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as part of their monthly surveys of Galveston Bay. The biota samples collected will include oysters and fish commonly consumed as seafood by coastal communities. Social well-being will be assessed using an online survey disseminated to residents of communities in the Galveston Bay area, including those affected by the Deer Park fire and barge oil spill. Survey responses will measure social well-being as individual physical and mental health, risk perceptions, and protective action. The results of research will be communicated to coastal community stakeholders by partnering with the Galveston Bay Foundation. Results will comprise temporal trends of pollutant levels measured in water, shellfish and fish from Galveston Bay, and a risk assessment of whether pollutant levels are above or below established regulatory levels. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2019 - 2020