Lab lands grant to examine effects of BP oil spill

STARKVILLE — The Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory is receiving funding to support an enhanced multi-state research program examining effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.

The award is among 19 grants out of 629 letters of intent announced recently by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. Approximately $20 million will be awarded to researchers over the next three years.

The GoMRI Research Board is an autonomous body that administers a 10-year research program funded by BP, the multinational British oil and gas company that held the Deepwater Horizon lease.

Titled “Characterizing the Composition and Biogeochemical Behavior of Dispersants and their Transformation Products in Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ecosystems,” the research program will address the toxicity, sorption, bioavailability and occurrence in seafood of dispersant components and transformation products used in response to the oil spill.

State chemist Kevin Armbrust, principal investigator on the project, said the overall goals are to improve the knowledge base of dispersant behavior in the coastal marine environment and to increase understanding of the processes controlled dispersant fate and biological exposure in the gulf following the massive April 2010 oil spill.

“These are questions that have not been well-addressed in the past,” Armbrust said, noting that the team is receiving approximately $1.1 million for its research over the next three years.

Working with him are MSU colleague Darrell Sparks, P. Lee Ferguson of Duke University in North Carolina, and Bruce J. Brownawell and Anne E. McElroy of the State University of New York at Stonybrook.

“Drs. Sparks, Ferguson, McElroy and Brownawell put in a tremendous collaborative effort on this proposal,” Armbrust said. “It’s a great multidisciplinary cross-institutional team, and we are excited to get started on the project.”

Sparks is an assistant professor in the biochemistry, molecular biology, entomology, and plant pathology department. Also a Faculty Fellow and director of the MSCL’s Chemical Regulatory Division, he received bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from MSU in 2003 and 2008, respectively.

As the chemical lab’s director, Armbrust’s principal responsibilities include duties as a regulatory official for the Magnolia State. He also holds faculty appointments on campus in the departments of biochemistry, molecular biology, entomology and plant pathology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; chemistry department in the College of Arts and Sciences; and department of basic sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

He received a bachelor’s degree in environmental toxicology and a doctorate in agricultural and environmental chemistry, both from the University of California at Davis in 1987 and 1992, respectively.

Established in 1892 on the campus of then-Mississippi A&M College, the MSCL is a state regulatory agency.

Working with the Mississippi departments of Agriculture and Commerce and of Health, the lab jointly develops, promulgates, modifies and enforces regulations, standards and specifications of animal feeds, food, fertilizers, gasoline, kerosene, diesel, and antifreeze sold within the state’s borders. The three agencies also provide analytical data to ensure the quality, accurate labeling of these materials.

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