University of Delaware Environmental Soil Chemistry Members In The News


Cooperative Extension

University of Delaware

College of Agricultural Sciences



Plant and Soil Sciences
152 Townsend Hall
Newark, DE 19717

PH: (302) 831-2532

FAX: (302) 831-0605



September 1994

University, Industry Face Environmental Challenges Together

Soil contaminants are a critical problem at industrial waste sites throughout the country. They cost industry and government millions of dollars in remediation each year. A better understanding of the interactions of heavy metals and organic chemicals in soils will result in the best and most cost-effective ways to keep these pollutants from causing harm.

For several years Dr. Donald Sparks, distinguished professor of soil science and chair of the department of plant and soil sciences at the University of Delaware, has been studying reaction mechanisms of metals and organic chemicals with soil components and remediation of heavy-metal-contaminated soils. Since 1992, his work has been the focus of two Delaware Research Partnership (DRP) projects, which are jointly funded by private industry and the state government. The DuPont Company is his industry partner for both projects.

"I appreciate the benefits of the DRP partnership," says Sparks. "It allows me to expose my students and postdoctoral fellows to modern techniques and equipment, and the interaction with industry has been excellent.

"Our relationship with DuPont is a two-way street--we're learning from each other. The company has a very good understanding of the need to conduct state-of-the-art basic research that will ultimately benefit society as well as DuPont."

Indeed, Sparks' two DRP projects are concerned with issues of major importance throughout the country. The first project is a study of the reactions of pollutants with soil materials. The goal is to help scientists develop a predictive scheme for assessing the fate and mobility of contaminants in the soil, and thus reduce the need to study every pollutant before beginning remediation.

The other DRP project deals with one of the fundamental problems facing the development of effective remediation strategies--speciation, the accurate identification of a contaminant. Working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, Sparks uses a powerful light source, called X-ray absorption spectroscopy, to study heavy metals in soils. Without disturbing the soil, he can analyze it to determine what form the metal is in so the most effective remediation strategy can be developed.

Phil Walling, a technology development manager at DuPont working with Sparks on the X-ray spectroscopy project says, "We've known for a long time that Don Sparks and his staff have been involved in metal speciation. Becoming his DRP partner gave us the opportunity to tap into his expertise and the university's resources. This is a critical area of research and our partnership allows us all to leverage our limited resources. The partnership makes sense--it's a better way to look at a problem!"

Sparks' two DRP projects also have a strong educational component. They provide an excellent learning experience for the graduate students who have been assisting him.

Students have had meaningful interaction with industry, which helps to expand their knowledge base. They have been exposed to sophisticated methods and equipment they would not otherwise have had access to, such as the multi-billion dollar synchrotron radiation equipment at Brookhaven, one of only three sites for this in the country.


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