June 7, 2018
Colcom Foundation has awarded a $196,000, three-year grant to Saint Vincent College, St. Francis University and the United States Geological Survey to assess the combined effects of sewage and mine water pollution on human and ecosystem health in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Dr. Peter M. Smyntek, project director and assistant professor of interdisciplinary science at Saint Vincent, said that due to decades of intensive private and public investment, the waterways of Southwestern Pennsylvania are emerging from more than a century of severe acid mine drainage impacts. “However, as the metal-laden pollution decreases, other previously masked critical underlying water quality problems are becoming evident,” he commented. “Of special concern to human and ecosystem health are the threats of elevated nutrient and pathogen concentrations from untreated sewage. Although illegal and poorly publicized, the discharge of untreated sewage is particularly common throughout Appalachia, with Southwestern Pennsylvania having an estimated 27,000 illicit sewage discharges causing 16 billion gallons of raw sewage to flow into our rivers per year.”
The research team from Saint Vincent College, Saint Francis University and the United States Geological Survey will examine how decreasing acid mine drainage impacts affect underlying sewage pollution.
The proposed study will take place at several field sites in Westmoreland County to evaluate the water quality dynamics when mine drainage mixes with sewage in the environment. The first two years of the project will focus on data collection and synthesis, blending into the third year’s focus on sharing findings to inform science-based approaches to tackle this widespread issue.
The goal is to produce a policy guidance report and fact sheet for state agencies, foundations, watershed associations and conservation districts. The report will guide management programs targeted at improving rural infrastructure and inform communities about human health risks associated with mine drainage and sewage-influenced water resources. Secondarily, the project will train professionals to address the dynamic water quality problems of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“Project success will be measured by its influence on guiding future policies, developing the next generation of professionals, determining the most sensible way to protect watersheds and human health and changing opinions of key constituencies,” Smyntek concluded.
About Colcom Foundation
Colcom Foundation was established by the late Cordelia S. May, a western Pennsylvania philanthropist who supported regional and national initiatives to improve quality of life. In fulfilling her vision, Colcom Foundation supports local programs that enhance Pittsburgh’s viability and livability. The Foundation participates in programs to improve parks and trails, expand public gardens and streetscapes, create and maintain art for public spaces, sustain local recreational destinations, address air and water quality, and conserve farmland and wildlife habitat. For more information, visit http://colcomfdn.org/
Photo: Dr. Peter M. Smyntek, left, assistant professor of integrated science at Saint Vincent College, leads a group of students in collecting field samples in nearby streams in conjunction with a Colcom Foundation grant project he is heading to study the combined effects of sewage and mine water pollution on human and ecosystem health in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The students, from left, include Ashley Zolocsik of Worthington, a senior environmental science major; Greg Bizup of Hollywood, Maryland, a senior environmental science major; and Casey Markle of Latrobe, a junior environmental science major.
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