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UF/IFAS researchers win grant to study road contaminants and water

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida scientists will use a $500,000 grant to begin a research study that will examine how much urban road runoff and dust contributes to water pollution.

State legislators funded the initial look at road runoff in the most recent session.

Scientists at the UF Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka are doing preliminary work to prepare for the study, said Lance Osborne, the center’s interim director.

Osborne said state Rep. Bryan Nelson (R-Apopka) and Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula), chairman of the House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, were instrumental in securing the funding to get the study started.

“They’ve both been such staunch environmental stewardship advocates,” he said. “This research simply would not have been possible without their efforts.”

The study will first take a look at how many contaminants are leaving roadways and getting into the water system, he said, and then will compare the differences in runoff between roads that have been cleaned with city street sweepers versus those that haven’t.

City of Apopka officials have agreed to assist in the study and have some of the needed equipment, Osborne said. UF’s Jianjun Chen, an environmental horticulture professor, Richard Beeson Jr., an associate professor of environmental horticulture, and Brian Pearson, an assistant at the center, will conduct the research.

Called non-point pollutants, surface runoff from roads that contains metals, nutrients and other matter is a problem – scientists just don’t know yet how big a problem it is, especially compared with other possible contaminants that may include suburban lawns, septic tanks, decomposing plants and leaves, pet waste and agricultural fertilizer.

In the study, the researchers will develop methods for collecting samples from rainwater, surface runoff and road dust; analyze samples for contaminants and track how they change over the course of a year, and provide science-based information to help develop effective ways to control pollutants.

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Contacts:

Lance Osborne, 407-410-6963, ext. 163, lsosborn@ufl.edu