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Westmoreland

St. Vincent gets $196,000 grant to study impact of sewage and mine drainage pollution

Joe Napsha
| Thursday, June 7, 2018, 7:51 p.m.
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 project he is heading on sewage and mine pollution. The students, from left, are Ashley Zolocsik of Worthington, a senior; Greg Bizup of Hollywood, Md., a senior; and Casey Markle of Latrobe, a junior. All are  environmental science majors.
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 project he is heading on sewage and mine pollution. The students, from left, are Ashley Zolocsik of Worthington, a senior; Greg Bizup of Hollywood, Md., a senior; and Casey Markle of Latrobe, a junior. All are environmental science majors.

A Pittsburgh foundation is providing a $196,000 grant to study the combined effects of sewage and mine drainage pollution on the health of humans and the ecosystem in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Saint Vincent College in Unity, Saint Francis University in Loretto and the U.S. Geological Survey will share in the three-year grant from Colcom Foundation, founded by the late Cordelia Scaife May. The research teams from the two colleges and the federal agency will examine how decreasing acid mine drainage impacts affect underlying sewage pollution.

Decades of private and public investment have helped to clean the region's waterways from more than a century of acid mine drainage, said Peter M. Smyntek, project director and assistant professor of interdisciplinary science at Saint Vincent. But he said other underlying water quality problems are becoming evident as the metal-laden pollution decreases.

The threat of elevated nutrient and pathogen concentrations from untreated sewage remains a concern. Discharging 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, Smyntek said in a statement.

The proposed study will be conducted at several field sites in Westmoreland County to evaluate the water quality dynamics when mine drainage mixes with sewage in the environment, Smyntek said.

“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 said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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