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Department of Chemistry 

 Environmental Chemistry: Studies on the Ground Water Quality of Moraine Watershed 

 

SPOTLIGHT

Principle Investigator: Dr. Mary E. Sisak

Introduction

       My primary research is in the area of Environmental Chemistry. Two years ago I established the Moraine Watershed Ground Water Monitoring Project. A watershed is defined as an area in which the water drains into a specified body of water. There are 35 identified watersheds in PA. For monitoring purposes, the DEP has combined watersheds to form a total of 9. The Moraine Watershed (chpwm below) includes Butler, Lawrence, and Mercer counties, and parts of Crawford and Venango counties. The goal of the project was recruit homeowners within the watershed that would be willing to provide water samples bi-yearly for analysis. This project would serve two purposes. First, the data would provide a baseline for groundwater quality in this watershed (Moraine Watershed ?see attached map) so that any future impacts on the groundwater due to changes in land usage such as the increases in homes and industry can be assessed. Second, it would allow students to actively participate in an ongoing research project.
       The initial analytes of interest were nitrates, metals (especially lead, Pb), coliform bacteria, E. coli and hardness. The selection of nitrates was based on previously collected data. In the spring of 2006, a pilot student/faculty research project was initiated to examine the levels of nitrate present in private wells within the Moraine Watershed. Thirty six (36) groundwater samples (obtained from private wells) were analyzed for nitrates. At this time, nitrate was chosen because it is a common contaminant in rural areas and because the department of chemistry had the ability to perform the analysis (1). All untreated samples were found to contain some nitrate with 17% exceeding the recommended maximum contaminant level (MCL) set by the EPA (2). Coliform bacteria and specifically E. coli were chosen because nitrate contamination can be the result of fecal contamination (animal or septic tanks) or nitrate fertilizers and it was hoped that analysis of these might help us to better pinpoint the source of the nitrates. Pb was chosen because previously unpublished data obtained by another faculty member had indicated that this was present in the local groundwater. Hardness was selected because the EPA recommends that homeowners have their water tested for hardness on a yearly basis and because the analysis can be performed by undergraduates.
       At this time we have completed 4 sampling rounds (spring 2007, fall 2007, spring 2008, fall 2008). During each sample round between 58 and 66 samples have been collected. The results were presented at the 7 th Annual SRU Research Symposium in the spring of 2008. The most interesting finding has been that the bacteria contamination appears to vary seasonally. This is currently under investigation. The hardness analysis has been incorporated as an exercise in the General Chemistry laboratory. The student response to this laboratory exercise has been very positive. Many students have said that this activity is more interesting because they are analyzing real world samples. Approximately 5 ? 10 additional students have participated in some aspect of this project.
       In support of this project, I have written and submitted a number of research grants. These are listed under references (4,5 and 6).

References

       1. Nolan, Bernard T., Ruddy, Barbara C., Hitt, Kerie J. and Helsel, 1998, A National Look at Nitrate Contamination of Ground Water, Water Conditioning and Purification, v. 39, no. 12, pages 76 -79.
       2. EPA drinking water standards
       3. Sisak, M.E., Steglich, C., Smiley, Katelyn, Gahan, Molly and Tressa, Flickner, Update on the Moraine Watershed Groundwater Monitoring Project, Poster presented at the 7 th Annual SRU Research Symposium, April 2 and 3, 2008.
       4. Sisak, Mary E. and Stapleton, Michael, Grant Proposal to NSF (Major Research Instrument Progam) for Acquistion of an ICP-OES, January 2007, $97897.00, not funded.
       5. Sisak, Mary E., 2006, TLTR Grant from SSHE: To take Web courses on ARCGIS, $947, funded
       6. Sisak, Mary E, Steglich, Carolyn and Flickner, Tressa., 2006. Student/faculty Research Grant: Analysis of Lead, Nitrate and Coliform Bacteria in Groundwater, $4800, funded