Brent Lazenby is a senior scientist based in Louisiana with Geosyntec Consultants, Inc. (Geosyntec) with more than 10 years of multi-media monitoring, investigation, and remediation experience. Brent’s day-to-day work focuses on geochemical/hydrogeological evaluations in support of in-situ groundwater remediation (using bioremediation, phytoremediation, zero-valent iron, etc.) and management of nitrogen compounds in soil, surface water, groundwater, and sediment. Prior to living in Louisiana, Brent grew up in Ontario where he attended university with studies focused around nitrogen cycling in soil, surface water, and groundwater. He has had the good fortune to work with nitrogen in the environment across sites located in the United States of America, Canada, and Australia and welcomes discussion around management and remediation of nitrogenous compounds.
Could you provide a brief high-level overview of some of your current research projects?
Right now I’d consider the majority of the work I’m doing as research in action! Broadly looking at applications of engineered phytoremediation approaches, use of passive sampling devices in unusual environments, and microbial community assessments (especially with regards to nitrogen sites).
What was it that first piqued your interest in management of nitrogen compounds?
Reflecting back, I can remember a flicker of interest during the final year of my undergraduate studies at the University of Ottawa. I’d recently completed some summer interning at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, where I first worked with nitrogen-related data in some capacity. Then during my groundwater geochemistry class, I can remember a short section in the course about nitrogen…and wondering why nitrogen cycling, and nutrients in general, didn’t seem to get the same attention that metals, volatile compounds, etc. seemed to receive in the realm of contaminant hydrogeology and geochemistry. Turned out my interest matched well with an opportunity for graduate work at the University of Waterloo and ultimately brought me to where I am.
We have collaborated with you a lot in the past, how has SiREM helped with your projects?
I’m privileged to have worked in collaboration with SiREM for the majority of the nearly 13 years I’ve been with Geosyntec. Early on I worked with SiREM to pursue research continuing from my graduate studies related to the role of anaerobic ammonium oxidizing (anammox) bacteria in groundwater environments. As part of project work over the years I’ve worked with SiREM in Canada and the United States in treatability testing design and execution, passive sediment sampling, and microbial community characterization to name a few areas. Most of all, I have always appreciated the willingness of everyone at SiREM to push the boundaries in our field while supporting our client’s needs. Next generation sequencing is one of the tools I enjoy digging into with the SiREM team the most; there is such a wealth of information to get from the dataset and every sample is full of new microbial adventures!
Could you describe one of the most challenging projects you have worked on?
I’m fortunate to be challenged technically by the projects I work on every day with clients looking to push the envelope, work outside the box, and keep me on my toes! Working down in southern Louisiana, some of the greatest challenges I’ve run in to are the logistics of field work in swampy environments. Over the years I’ve been a part of dozens of enhanced in-situ bioremediation field applications, involving the injection of various electron donor or other solutions. One particularly challenging encounter involved working off a Marsh Master drilling rig, dodging cottonmouths, and veeeeeerrrry slowly injecting amendment to a shallow aquifer underlying a swampy area. We pulled out just about every trick in the book and practiced a lot of patience to get that over the finish line successfully.
Are there any technological limitations that you are currently working to overcome involving your nitrogen remediation?
Practically, we don’t run into many situations where nitrogen cycling bacteria (including nitrifiers, denitrifiers, and even anammox-performing bacteria) are not present to some extent, it’s most often a matter of making conditions right…a ’build it and they will come’ type of approach. Still, the anammox-performing crew is not as well understood in groundwater environments as they are in wastewater treatment plant settings, where conditions can be controlled more easily. Anammox-performing bacteria are slow growers and we’re still working on understanding how best to maximize their potential in the field as research in action continues!
Is there a moment or achievement in your career that you are particularly proud of?
I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I are a part of on a daily basis, but one thing that sticks out in my mind is a site I’ve worked on since my very first week at Geosyntec. We’ve been able to reduce constituent concentrations and reduce plume migration across most of the site and I’ve proudly piped together much of the PVC, mixed the EVO, and manned many iterations of the system that got us there.
Is there another area of science (outside of Environmental Chemistry) that you follow or find interesting?
My road trips (which are frequent, and often long) are fueled by podcasts; a mix of hockey and science. Astronomy is one field I can’t get enough of, but I enjoy pretty much anything….from science in the deep sea to the science of sleep and dreams, it’s all good!
What do you enjoy doing outside of work hours?
Adventures big and small! Whether it’s a stroll down the road to the park with my kids (aged 3 and 12) and other members of the neighborhood crew or a visit up to Canada with the whole family, I like to spend time outside when I can, always exploring to some extent. And, while it’s sometimes a struggle being in the south, I try and keep up with the world of hockey as well.