Ecological Challenges

The Challenge of Ecology

Outfall locations

Needless to say, industrial contaminates related to uranium enrichment process found at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) are environmental stressors.  But the question remains; did the contaminants alter the environment or influence local populations?  Ecology is the relationship between the environment and organisms; when the environment changes, the organisms, living in the environment, change and adapt.

In an ecological risk assessment, researchers evaluate the possibility certain contaminants may cause harmful ecological effects.  For most contaminants, there is currently little information regarding their potential toxicological significance in ecosystems.  KRCEE approach is to monitor only contaminants with highly elevated environmental concentrations at the PGDP and only contaminants which are documented to have adverse affects on wild species. 

Often the exposure to harmful toxins can be direct and immediate but more often the effects are discreet.  KRCEE recommends long-term ecological monitoring and data collection of the PGDP and the surrounding West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area (WKWMA) to assess long-term risk.  Comparing the presence of the PGDP known harmful contaminants in the native species with any adverse effects can alert researchers to potential ecological risks.

Food Web Model

Studying the native species can also alert researchers to unknown exposure sites and possibly unknown health and ecological effects.  Certain toxins may effect species differently, upsetting the delicate ecological balance.  Also, known species habitats may determine new contaminant sources and predict the likelihood of future effects. 

Data collaboration is key. The nature of ecological assessment activities at the PGDP requires the participation of many stakeholders including government agencies, contractors, and the public.  The stakeholders that participate in these ecological assessment activities have different ecological information needs and significantly different technical backgrounds.  Combining the findings will be beneficial to all.  The environmental and ecological monitoring of the PGDP and WKWMA will require long-term commitment and stewardship.