Something In The Water

Posted in: United States Water News, Water Contamination
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What’s in the water? (Photo Credit: Jordan Jones)

Article courtesy of Colton McCuan | Sep 22, 2015 | The Oracle | Shared as educational material

Dr. Terry Bateman, Henderson chemistry professor, took students to the American Chemical Society’s annual conference in Denver over the summer to present ongoing research into water contamination from the abandoned mercury mine in the ghost town of Graysonia.

So far, surface and ground water samples have shown significant levels of mercury, according to Dr. Bateman. Analyses now include wildlife in the area to look at bioaccumulation of mercury within the ecosystem.

“We’ve got a collaboration with Biology, and we’ve been gathering otter carcasses from all over this part of the state,” Bateman said. “Those apex predators are kind of like a canary in the coal mine for mercury.”

Among the apex predators being studied is a mountain lion carcass that was killed in the area last deer season. The specimen is especially valuable due to its rarity in Arkansas and perch atop the food chain.

Ally Davis, junior chemistry major, has taken over as the lead student researcher for the project since the graduation of the previous leader, Hunter Wayland.

“Any kind of mercury is scary,” Davis said. “It’s at the point where you have almost one part per million in otters and fish as well.”

One part per million is considered the upper threshold of a safe limit by the FDA, with some countries, such as Canada, setting a limit of half that.

All of this is part of a larger project by the chemistry department to analyze water quality throughout this area of the state over the next several years, not just for drinking water, but also in the water consumed by game and livestock.

Part of the project includes analyzing water along the Caddo and Ouachita watersheds for nitrates and other agricultural chemicals. For this aspect, Dr. Bateman has been working with high school girls as part of a “STEM girls” grant, a program whose goal it is to introduce high school girls to fields of study in which women are typically a small minority of the students.

“We want to look at the effects on wildlife, soil, plants,” Bateman said. “This will be a long term, ongoing project. We hope to make all of the results available online in a searchable database.”

Dr. Bateman and Ally Davis, as well as other Henderson students, will be presenting their research next spring to the American Chemical Society’s meeting in San Diego. Research will also be sent to the US Geological Survey for review.

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