Superfund Research Program
Sarah Allan is wasting no time putting her SRP doctoral training to use in studying communities and environments impacted by toxic chemicals. She is a student in Kim Anderson's Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Laboratory in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at Oregon State University.
Sarah boasts a life-long interest in science, cultivated in part and enthusiastically supported by her parents, both high school science teachers. Initially her interest derived from a fascination with the natural world and a love of the outdoors, which later translated into a passion for protecting and preserving the ecosystems that sustain life. She studied, then later worked as a marine biologist but was drawn to environmental toxicology because of "widespread and inescapable impacts that poisoning our environment has on ecosystem and human health." Initially, Sarah found it daunting to move from observing macrofauna into analytic chemistry, but she thinks putting the chemistry and ecology/biology pieces together is important and having a background that spans multiple disciplines is valuable.
Sarah's research is made up of two interconnected components. First, she monitors organic contaminants, primarily polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in aquatic systems using passive sampling devices (PSDs). The then uses the results of her monitoring to assess the toxicity of complex mixtures. Specifically, she uses extracts from PSDs in established toxicity models, such as the embryonic zebrafish developmental toxicity model. She is able to monitor spatial and short- and long-term temporal trends in contamination from multiple sources and tie them to toxicological responses in the fish.
This work is taking her to sites near and far. With her lab mates, Sarah monitors PAHs in both the Portland Harbor Superfund Megasite and the Gulf of Mexico, in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. An Alaska native, Sarah recalls the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on local communities. "The devastation was widespread and long term and yet, much like in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, public opinion on how to respond and move forward with natural resource extraction and use in a responsible way was very divided." She feels gratified to be able to respond to the oil spill and apply her skills in a way that has the potential to have a positive impact on the outcome of a disaster that has effected many people and ecosystems. To date, she has made five trips to the Gulf Coast, and is learning about the Gulf in ways she never imagined-she is nearly resigned to the heat and humidity of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
When she finishes her Ph.D., Sarah says she is very interested in working somewhere at the junction of science and policy, perhaps with an assessment and regulatory agency or NGO. If these plans don't materialize, Sarah says she would like to spend some time as a "mountaineering guide and professional ski bum."