Mount Aloysius College has been awarded a $65,760 grant to help battle the area’s poor water quality from acidic mine drainage.
The college’s Science and Mathematics Department, under the direction of Merrilee Anderson, will study some of the more than 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams affected by the discharge. The students will look at microbial life in streams affected by mine-water runoff.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Mount Aloysius investigative team under Anderson’s direction will operate with a sub-grant as part of a larger foundation award headed by Duquesne University.
The grant involves eight regional educational institutions and seeks to encourage hands-on student engagement in both scientific research and solving community problems.
Anderson said that acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines results from oxygen-rich water flowing into the mines and reacting with heavy metals and other substances. When the acidic water flows out of the mine and back into the natural environment, the new compounds can seriously impact aquatic life. One of the local sites has a pH level of less than 3, where a healthy stream might have a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
“One of our research sites will be the Hughes Borehole near Portage,” Anderson said. “Through repeated monitoring, we’ll determine baseline populations of certain microbes. Many of these are biomarkers. The presence or absence of certain microbes can be an indicator of water quality. The continued documentation of these microbes can be used as a measure of the efficacy of mitigation efforts.”
In addition to the Portage site, several other streams around the Southern Alleghenies area will be studied including Muddy Run, McGinnis Run, Laurel Run, Stone Run, Camp Run, Glenwhite Run, Wildcat Run, Powdermill Run, Roaring Run, Jefferson Run, Knapp Run, Olive Run and Golfcourse Run.
“This project allows Mount Aloysius students to achieve several valuable outcomes,” Anderson said. “Completing this needed research allows them to gain significant learning experiences not usually found in more traditional teaching models. These students will be taught and will use technical writing skills, laboratory techniques, real-life problem solving and critical thinking skills. What they learn will be put into immediate service to better their community.”
The terms of the grant allow work to being immediately and extend to the summer of 2016.