Dr Jennifer Apell

Postdoctoral Associate
Department of Environmental Systems Science

ETH Zurich

Jennifer Apell is an environmental engineer who studies the environmental fate of organic pollutants. She is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at ETH Zurich investigating the degradation of commonly used pesticides. Dr Apell received her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she researched the transport and accumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in aquatic systems. She received her BS and MEng in Environmental Engineering Sciences from the University of Florida where she specialized in water treatment processes. She has also worked as an environmental engineer at the consulting firm CDM Smith and Gainesville Regional Utilities and has been a visiting researcher at the National University of Singapore, Hokkaido University, and Harvard's School of Public Health.

Investigating the Transport of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Aquatic Environments

Many sediment beds in aquatic systems have been contaminated with POPs, and the remediation of these sites is of ongoing concern. Additionally, research into the most effective remediation approaches is also ongoing. It has become clear that an important factor in designing and selecting remediation strategies is understanding the transport pathways of POPs from the contaminated sediment. Therefore, this research focused on determining the chemical activity gradients between different environmental media since these gradients govern transport between the environmental compartments.


Passive samplers, which are made of polymeric materials, can accumulate hydrophobic organic contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs), from the surrounding environment. By deploying passive sampler in the field and in the laboratory, the chemical activity gradients between sediment, porewater, the water column, and the atmosphere can be established. In this work, this approach was used to investigate the transport of PCBs at two contaminated field sites – a freshwater lake and a tidal river.


At both sites, it was concluded that the original environmental risk assessment did not accurately characterize the transport of PCBs. Advective transport of water through the sediment bed was occurring at both sites, which significantly affected the flux of PCBs into the
overlying water column and, consequently, the flux into other environmental compartments. Ultimately, this research demonstrates how passive sampling methods can be used to improve environmental risk assessment and remediation design of POP-contaminated sediments.