Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dr. Caryl Fish Speaks on Abandoned Mine Drainage

As part of the course requirements for FOR 797-2, students share the responsibility for reporting on the speakers in the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series.  The following press release was prepared by Yvonne Paul and April Baptiste. 

Dr. Caryl Fish, Professor of Environmental Chemistry at Saint Vincent College, discussed Abandoned Mine Drainage: A Resource for Undergraduate Education at ESF on February 22, 2005 as part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series.

Dr. Fish’s presentation focused on the clean-up of abandoned mine drainage sites in Pennsylvania. During the 1800s and early 1900s, there were a number of coal mines in operation in Pennsylvania.  During active mining, water would be pumped from the mines to facilitate the process.  After the mines were depleted, pumping would cease and the excavated areas would fill with water. Groundwater chemically reacts with the mineral pyrite (iron sulphide – FeS2) that is commonly found along the seams of coal.  The iron and sulphur in the pyrite dissolve in the water to create iron hydroxide and sulphuric acid. As the iron and sulphur-rich groundwater reaches the surface through drill holes and other openings, the iron in the water reacts with air and essentially “rusts.” When the water drains into nearby rivers and streams, these water bodies are “stained” orange as iron-rich compounds oxidize and settle.  This drainage can be quite acidic, unless there is sufficient calcium carbonate in the groundwater to neutralize it.  The iron-rich compounds and other chemicals in the water decreased the flora and fauna that would naturally inhabit these waters. 

The Monastery Run Project near Saint Vincent College began in 1993 to test passive treatment for mine drainage.  Three multi-celled wetland ponds or cells were created to reduce the iron that was prevalent in the local streams.  Water moves from one cell to the next, reducing the concentration of iron dramatically between cells.  The first cell is aerated via the movement of falling water to maximize precipitation of iron compounds. The last cells contain cattails, which act as physical filters, trapping free iron molecules.  The wetlands in this project area can retain 250 pounds of iron oxide per day.  Less than 1% of the iron that entered the wetlands leaves.  This passive method is now a common means to improve water quality from AMD.  In addition, the wetlands are used to enhance science learning for chemistry and non-chemistry students, assist teacher education for grades K-9, provide general wetland education for the public, and serve as the basis for teacher education and senior research projects.

Dr. Fish is a Professor of Chemistry at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.  She is also the director of St. Vincent's Summer Institute in Watershed Restoration and its Environmental Education Center.   Dr. Fish earned her B.S. from Manchester College, MBA at the University of Dayton, and PhD from SUNY-ESF. 

This presentation was jointly sponsored by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, its Faculty of Chemistry, Women's Caucus, Alumni Association, and Graduate Student Association.  For information about upcoming speakers, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus

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