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Bruce Brownawell

Associate Professor Emeritus



- Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research Topics:

Biogeochemistry of organic pollutants in seawater and groundwater


  • Bio/Research


    Our research is focused on the trace level detection, transport, fate, and biological effects of anthropogenic organic chemicals in natural waters. We are taking advantage of improvements in mass spectrometry that allow us to determine sub-part-per-trillion concentrations of both polar and nonpolar organic contaminants. Such trace level analyses provide us with new opportunities for addressing environmental quality research topics; e.g., whether female steroid hormones or hormone mimics exist in sufficient quantities to cause observed feminization of male or sexually immature fish; the potential toxicity of poorly soluble pyrethroid pesticides to marine crustaceans; potential uses of stable pharmaceuticals and surfactants as tracers of waste waters and sewage contaminated sediment; and better characterization of the toxicity to marine organisms of complex mixtures of anthropogenically-derived chemicals in the environment.

    We established a new trace organic chemical mass spectrometry laboratory ( that contains single and triple quadrupole mass spectrometers equipped with a variety of inlet systems and a Micromass LCT (time-of-flight) HPLC-MS system. The latter instrument allows for accurate mass determination, providing a powerful tool for identifying both known and unknown compounds within complex environmental samples. We also have collaborations and access to a wider range of mass spectrometers housed in Stony Brook University’s Chemistry building and operated by the Pharmacology Department.

    PhD student Mark Benotti has just defended a PhD thesis where he studied the distribution and transport of pharmaceuticals and environmental estrogens in both a sewage contaminated estuary (Jamaica Bay) and local groundwater in areas receiving both municipal and on-site disposal of wastewater to ground; a study of the distribution and sources of alkyl phenol ethoxylate metabolites in the New York Harbor watershed; collaborative projects with toxicologist Anne McElroy on causes of estrogenic responses in fish, on the causes of sediment toxicity in urban harbors, and a project on the sources, bioaccumulation, and effects of residual unresolved mixtures of petroleum hydrocarbons in harbor sediments. A newly funded project by the NIEHS-EPA Superfund Basic Research Program will focus on the distribution, sources, and identification of endocrine disrupting chemicals in estuarine sediments in the Hudson Basin. We have just initiated a search for a post doctoral research associate to work on this project.

  • Publications


    Swartz C.H., Reddy S., Benotti M.J., Yin H., Barber L.B., Brownawell B.J., Rudel R. (2006) An analysis of steroid estrogens, alkylphenols, and other wastewater contaminants leaching into groundwater from a residential septic system on Cape Cod, MA. Environ. Sci. Technol. (in press).

    LeBlanc L.A., Buckel J.A., Conover D.O., and Brownawell B.J. (2006) Tests of bioaccumulation models for PCBs: a study of young-of-the-year bluefish in the Hudson River Estuary. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. (accepted).

    LeBlanc L.A., Gulnick J.D., Brownawell B.J. and Taylor G.T. (2006) The influence of sediment resuspension on the degradation of phenanthrene in flow-through microcosms. Mar. Environ. Res., 61, 202-223.

    Baker J.E., Bohlen F.W., Bopp R.F., Brownawell B.J., Collier T.K., Farley K.J., Geyer W.R. and Nairn R. (2006) PCBs in the upper Hudson River: the science behind the dredging controversy. In: The Hudson River Estuary (eds. J. Levington and J. Waldman); Cambridge Univ. Press.; Cambridge; pp. 349-367.

    Zulkowsky A.M., Ruggieri J.P., Terracciano, S.A., Brownawell B.J. and McElroy A.E. (2005) Acute Toxicity of Resmethrin, Malathion, and Methoprene to Larval and Juvenile American Lobsters (Homarus americanus) and Analysis of Pesticide Levels in Surface Waters after ScourgeTM, AnvilTM and AltosidTM Application. J. Shellfish Res., 795-804.

    Wilson, R.E., H. Crowley, B. Brownawell and R.L. Swanson. (2005) Simulations of Transient Tracer Concentrations in Long Island Sound for Late Summer 1999 with a High Resolution Coastal Circulation Model. J. Shellfish Res., 825-830.

    Reddy S., Iden C.R., and Brownawell B.J. (2005) Analysis of steroid estrogen conjugates in municipal waste waters by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Chem, 77, 7032-7038 .

    Schlenk D., Sapozhnikova Y, Irwin M.S., Xie L., Hwang W., Reddy S., Brownawell B.J., Armstrong J., Kelly M., Montagne D.E., Kolodziej E.P, Sedlak D., and Snyder S. (2005) In vivo bioassay-guided fractionation of marine sediment extracts from the southern California Bight, USA for estrogenic activity. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 24, 2820-2826.

    Reddy S., and Brownawell B.J. (2005) Analysis of estrogens in sediments from a sewage impacted estuary using HPLC-time of flight mass spectrometry. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 24, 1041-1047.

    Rust A.J. Burgess R.M., McElroy A.E.., Cantwell, M.G., and Brownawell B.J. (2004) The role of source matrix in the bioavailability of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to deposit-feeding benthic invertebrates. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 23, 2604-2610.

    Rust A.J., Burgess R.M., McElroy A.E., Cantwell, M.G. and Brownawell B.J. (2004) The influence of soot carbon on the bioaccumulation of sediment-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) by marine benthic invertebrates: an interspecies comparison. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 23, 2594-2603.

    Rust A.J., Burgess, R.M., Brownawell B.J. and McElroy A.E. (2004) Relationship between metabolism and bioaccumulation of benzo[a]pyrene in benthic invertebrates. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 23, 2587-2593.

    Lamoureux E.R., and Brownawell, B.J. (2004) The influence of soot on hydrophobic organic contaminant desorption and assimilation efficiency. Environ Toxicol. Chem. 23, 2571-2577.

    Ferguson P.L., Bopp, R.F., Chilrud S.N., Aller R.A., and Brownawell, B.J. (2003) Biogeochemistry of nonylphenol ethoxylates in urban harbor sediments. Environ. Sci. Technol. Environ. Sci. Technol. 37, 3499-3506.

    Benotti M.J, Ferguson, P.L., Rieger, R.A., Iden, C.R, Heine, C.E., and Brownawell, B.J. (2003) HPLC time-of-flight mass spectrometry: An alternative to LC-MS-MS for sensitive and selective determination of polar organic contaminants in the aquatic environment. In: Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry, MS/MS and Time-of-Flight: Analysis of Emerging Contaminants (eds, M. Thurman and I. Ferrer); American Chemical Society, Wash. DC; pp.109-127.

    Ferguson P.L, and Brownawell, B.J. (2003) Degradation of nonylphenol ethoxylates in estuarine sediment under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 22, 1189-1199.

    Todorov J.R., Elskus A.A., Schlenk D., Ferguson P.L., Brownawell, B.J., and McElroy, A.E. (2002) Estrogenic responses of larval Sunshine Bass ( Morone saxitilis X M. Chrysops) exposed to New York City sewage effluent. Mar. Environ. Res. 54, 691-695.

    Ferguson, P.L., C.R. Iden, and Brownawell, B.J. (2001). Analysis of nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates in environmental samples using mixed-mode high performance liquid chromatography electrospray mass spectrometry. J. Chromatography A, 938, 79-92.

    Ahrens, M.J. Hertz, J., Lamoureux, E.M, Lopez, G.R., McElroy, A.E. and Brownawell, B.J. (2001) The effect of body size on digestive chemistry and absorption efficiencies of food and sediment-bound organic contaminants in Nereis succinea (Polychaeta). J. Exp. Mar. Bio. Ecol. 263:165-209

    Ferguson P.L., Iden C.R., McElroy A.E., and Brownawell, B.J. (2001) Determination of steroid estrogens in wastewater by immunoaffinity extraction coupled with HPLC-electrospray-MS. Anal. Chem. 73, 3890-3895.

    Ferguson, P.L., C.R. Iden, and B.J. Brownawell. (2001) Distribution of neutral alkylphenol ethoxylate metabolites in a sewage-impacted urban estuary. Environ. Sci. Technol., 35, 2438-2435.

    Ahrens M.J., Hertz J., Lamoureux E.M., Lopez G.R., McElroy A.E., and Brownawell B.J. (2001) The role of digestive surfactants in determining bioavailability of sediment-bound hydrophobic organic contaminants to two deposit-feeding polychaetes. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 212, 145-157.

    Ferguson P.L., Iden C.R., and Brownawell B.J. (2000) Analysis of alkylphenol ethoxylate metabolites in the aquatic environment using electrospray liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Anal. Chem. 72, 4322-4330.

    Fay A.A., Brownawell B.J., Elskus A.A., and McElroy A.E. (2000) Critical body residues in Ampelisca abdita: sediment exposures to organic contaminants. Environ. Toxicol Chem., 19, 1028-343.

    Lamoureux E.M. and B.J. Brownawell. (1999) Chemical and biological availability of sediment associated hydrophobic contaminants. Environ. Toxicol. Chem.18, 1733-1741.

    Westall J.C., Chen W. Zhang, W., and Brownawell B.J. (1999) Sorption of linear alkylbenzenesulfonates on sediments. Environ. Sci. Technol. 33, 3110-3118.

    Feng, H., J.K. Cochran, H. Lwiza, and B.J. Brownawell. (1998) Transport and distribution of heavy metals and PCB contaminants in the sediments of an urban estuary; the Hudson River. Mar. Environ. Res. 45, 69-88.

    Brownawell B.J., Chen H., Zhang W., and Westall, J.C. (1997) Sorption of nonionic surfactants to soils and sediments. Environ. Sci. Technol., 31, 1735-1741.

    Hawley, N., X. Wang, B. Brownawell, and R. Flood (1996) Resuspension of bottom sediments in Lake Ontario during the unstratified period, 1992-1993. J. Great Lakes Res. 22, 707-721.

    Lamoureux E.M., Brownawell B.J., and Bothner, M.H. (1996) Linear alkylbenzenes as tracers of sewage-sludge-derived inputs of organic matters, PCBs, and PAHs to sediments at the 106 mile disposal site in deep water off New Jersey. Marine Environ. Eng. 2, 325-342.

    Achman D.R., Brownawell B.J., and Zhang L. (1996) Exchange of polychlorinated biphenyls between sediment and water in the Hudson River Estuary. Estuaries, 19, 194-209.

    Wagner J., Chen H., Brownawell, B.J., and Westall J.C. (1994) Use of cationic surfactants to promote sorption and retard migration of hydrophobic organic compounds. Environ. Sci. Technol. 28, 231-237.

    Brownawell B.J., Flood R.D., and Wang X. (1994). The role of seasonal resuspension in contaminant cycling in Lake Ontario, Great Lakes Research Review, 1, 29-35.

    Brownawell B.J., and Westall J.C. (1991) Adsorption of surfactants. In Organic Substances and Sediments in Water, Vol. 2 (ed., R.A. Baker) Lewis Pub., pp. 127-147.

    Brownawell B.J., Chen H. Collier J.M., and Westall J.C. (1990) Adsorption of organic cations to natural materials. Environ. Sci. Technol. 24, 1234-1240.

    Brownawell B.J., and Farrington J.W. (1986) Biogeochemistry of PCBs in interstitial waters of a coastal marine sediment. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 50, 157-169.

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