Assessing the Water Chemistry of Tributaries in the Mahoning River Watershed

Youngstown, Ohio

Featured image for the project, Assessing the Water Chemistry of Tributaries in the Mahoning River Watershed

Description

Youngstown, Ohio is an urban city of approximately 62,000 people on the eastern side of Ohio close to the Pennsylvania boarder.  Youngstown is the county seat of Mahoning County and located along the Mahoning River. Major employers are Youngstown State University (YSU) and Mercy Health hospital.  The region’s industry historically revolved around steel manufacturing but like most of the industrial Midwest, the region has seen a downturn in steel production over the second half of the 20th century. Recently, natural gas drilling activities and related industries (e.g., injection wells, compressor stations) have grown due to the relative proximity to the natural gas fields in southeast Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania.

Residents of Youngstown are concerned with the surface water quality of Meander Creek, the Mahoning River, and associated tributaries. There is a concern about volatile organic compounds and other potentially carcinogenic chemical compounds leaking into surface water bodies from natural gas related activities near the Youngstown water supply. In a recent consumer confidence report put out by the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, it states that the water contains trihalomethanes which is a known human carcinogen1. This report along with the increase of injection wells in the region are a concern to residents. Residents want to develop a sampling strategy for the region’s surface water bodies.

Previous efforts to understand the surface water quality include deploying water quality test sampling kits in the surrounding tributaries, deploying hexane sampling bags, and analyzing the kits for volatile organic compounds and radioactivity. In addition to water quality, concerns around earthquakes related to local injection wells have been investigated. Dr. Yuan Young Kim at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer at Youngstown State University used seismographs to determine seismic activity.

 

The Project

Community groups in the Youngstown area (Youngstown Water Protection Community Bill of Rights and Frack Free Mahoning) seek to partner with the local science community to develop an independent surface water sampling network. Past efforts will help inform future sampling for the project.

Outputs from this project include developing a community database for surface water sampling, expanding community outreach on local water chemistry, and mapping the sampled tributaries and surface water bodies. Community impacts include a better understanding of surface water chemistry and regional maps of the sampling activities. The project seeks to facilitate an understanding of chemicals of concern in local water bodies and relate them back to municipal reporting for a better understanding of the Mahoning water resources.

1City of Youngstown Division of Water, 2015, DRINKING WATER NOTICE: Youngstown City PWS Has Levels of TTHM above Drinking Water Standards, Youngstown, OH, p. 1.

Project Team

Lynn Anderson is a local environmental rights activist and with the Youngstown Drinking Water Protection Bill of Rights. Lynn will serve as the main point of contact in Youngstown for the project.  In this role, Lynn will serve as the liaison between the scientist(s) and the community. She will help facilitate access to data collection and assist in overcoming local/political/logistical hurdles as they arise.

Leatra Harper is a community organizer with We Want Clean Water and the Freshwater Accountability Project. She is serving as the second point of contact and will help facility community efforts with the Youngstown project. Prior to this project, she led a similar Thriving Earth Exchange effort in Cambridge, OH.  She will also help facilitate access to data collection and assist in overcoming local/political/logistical hurdles as they arise.

Additional community volunteers were identified:

  • Douglas Fowler
    • Community environmental scientist
    • Role: Field Sampling
  • Diana Ludwig
    • Community Activist
    • Role: Community Communication
  • Colleen McClean
    • Youngstown State University
    • Role: Scientific advising
  • Felicia Armstrong
    • Youngstown State University
    • Role: Scientific advising

Community Science Fellow

Brendan O’Leary is a PhD candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Wayne State University. His research interests include groundwater in the Great Lakes Basin, volatile organic compound subsurface movement, vapor intrusion, and environmental justice. Brendan received an undergraduate degree from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania where he double majored in Environmental Science and Environmental Geology. He went on to receive his Masters of Science in Geology at WSU under Dr. Larry Lemke, completing his thesis focused on geostatistical modeling and how spatial temporal modeling can help better understand air pollution influences on asthma and perinatal issues. Brendan also worked as a field geologist for the environmental consulting firm, Arcadis, performing vapor intrusion studies, groundwater sampling and modeling, and soil and bedrock drilling. Currently, Brendan is conducting research on urban groundwater with Health Urban Waters and Transformative Research in Urban Sustainability Training (T-RUST) programs at Wayne State University.

Scientist Wanted

The residents at Youngstown seeks a scientific partner to plan and execute a sampling strategy for the surface water bodies of interest. The scientist(s) will conduct field verifications and identify suitable locations for sampling. The scientific partner will work with the Youngstown project team through 2020 and beyond as needed to complete an assessment of surface water quality in the Meander Creek, the Mahoning River, and associated tributaries. This will include sampling where necessary, preparing maps, and regular updates to the project team.

Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Background in environmental chemistry, environmental engineering, geology, and surface water quality
  • Experience with scientific sampling and study design strongly preferred
  • Ability to translate difficult science terminology for a lay audience
  • Outdoor enthusiast preferred but not required
  • Adept problem-solver and able to effectively convey results in written form
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach and engagement
  • Public speaking skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Able to visit the community in-person preferred

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering? Apply now!

Timeline

*Projected timeline for current project is estimated to run through 2020.

November 2019

  • Kick off the project between the community members, Thriving Earth Exchange, and potential community science groups.
  • Identify lab space for VOC analysis.
  • Examine project scope.

December 2019

  • Identify community scientist contact.
  • Develop sampling protocol.
  • Develop GIS database for spatial mapping region’s sampling activities.

January/February 2020

  • Start surface water sampling of identified tributaries.
  • Send samples to lab.

March 2020

  • Review lab analysis of surface water samples.
  • Develop remainder of 2020 strategy and timeline based on initial results and project feasibility.

1City of Youngstown Division of Water, 2015, DRINKING WATER NOTICE: Youngstown City PWS Has Levels of TTHM above Drinking Water Standards, Youngstown, OH, p. 1.