SoMAS Honors the Passing of Research Professor and Alumnus Frank Roethel

Frank Roethel, one of the first PhD students at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences(SoMAS), longtime research professor and director emeritus of the Waste Reduction and Management Institute (WRMI) at Stony Brook University, passed away March 26 at the age of 76.

SoMAS celebrated Roethel’s retirement after 50 years at Stony Brook on March 15. At the 2024 Larry Swanson Long Island Environmental Symposium on March 13, Dean Paul Shepson and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine both praised Roethel’s legacy. Several people recalled his hearty laugh that would fill the halls at SoMAS.

“I am grateful for Frank, as he has taught me a number of things, importantly, how to be tough, and resilient, and graceful all at once, and to have a great, incredible attitude, in the face of adversity,” Shepson said.

“Frank was one of the most inspiring, generous, and positive people I’ve known. He was not only a professor at Stony Brook University for 50 years, but a pilot, was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a problem-solver, a longtime volunteer firefighter with a PhD, and more,” said Eric Swenson, member of the Evan Liblit Scholarship Committee at SoMAS. “He did all of that with a great sense of humor and did not let the health issues he faced stop him. He lived a full life with class and he made a difference in the world.”

Former SoMAS Dean David Conover said, “I always appreciated greatly his infectious enthusiasm and positive attitude about all things. He was a tireless advocate for the Liblit Scholars, WRMI, SoMAS and all alumni of SBU.”

Roethel was one of the first recipients of a PhD degree from SoMAS in 1981. His research focused on incineration ash and was instrumental in the construction of the Boathouse on the South Campus of Stony Brook University. The Boathouse was certified by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! for the contribution of incinerated garbage blocks in 1991.

After graduation, Roethel continued his work in the Waste Reduction and Management Institute at SoMAS and served as director from 2020 to 2024. As a research professor at SoMAS, his primary research interests focused on the environmental issues associated with combustion by-products, including ash from the incineration of garbage and trash. In both marine and terrestrial systems, his research examined a diverse array of potential contaminant exposure including leaching behavior, particulate exposure pathways and beneficial utilization strategies.

Roethel was interested in developing and assessing the performance of secondary materials — primarily construction quality materials made from waste derived combustion products. The uses of ash as an aggregate substitute in concrete, asphalt for roadbase and as a structural fill materials are all currently under investigation. Roethel’s expertise provided him with opportunities to work with researchers from other institutions, such as helping assess the behavior of ash/concrete blocks being used by the Government of Bermuda for shore protection applications, and helping the State of Tennessee analyze the use of processed and treated municipal solid waste combustion ash as an aggregate substitute and collecting data for use in a life cycle analysis of the long-term human and ecological risks associated with ash reuse.

“His ash reuse projects were visionary and lasting with the Boathouse and parking lot at Ward Melville High School,” said Christine O’Connell, executive director of the Riley’s Way Foundation. “He consulted on projects all over the world. The world lost a visionary and leading expert in garbage incinerator ash reuse and recycling, and we are all at a loss for it.”

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