Professor works with residents to test for pollution

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Many families in Arizona mining communities have concerns about what pollutants might be in their immediate environment and in harvested rainwater for gardens.

A University of Arizona program is underway to help communities such as the mining and industrial towns of Hayden-Winkelman, Globe-Miami and Dewey-Humboldt and also on Tucson’s south side, reaching about 160 households, the Arizona Daily Star reported .

Assistant professor Monica Ramirez-Andreotta, with a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, created Project Harvest, a five-year citizen science program in partnership with the nonprofit Sonora Environmental Research Institute Inc. She and her University of Arizona team train community leaders, called promotoras, to guide citizen scientists in urban and rural towns in testing for neighboring sources of industrial waste pollutants in rainwater runoff from roofs, soil and plants.

“Why do minority and/or low income people live closer to waste than others?” Ramirez asked. “When you see environmental injustices, you are reminded why you went to school in the first place — it’s to create change.”

Ramirez graduated from Tucson High School in 1997 then went on to the University of Arizona to earn dual bachelor’s degrees in photography and ecology and evolutionary biology.

Ramirez remembers her frustration when former President George W. Bush backed out in 2001 of the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that set emission reduction targets. She felt compelled to act.

“I was like, ‘What do I need?’ I have an art degree, so I know how to communicate, I have a science degree, now I need the policy so I can infiltrate and change things,” Ramirez said.

With English and Spanish pamphlets and videos, Ramirez and her team outline the process of collecting water, plant and soil samples around a participant’s house. Half of the participants send the samples to a University of Arizona lab in Tucson, while the other half test them independently then send in their data.

The citizen scientists are checking for a suite of possible pollutants, including microorganisms and organic compounds, in addition to arsenic and heavy metals.

“As a scientist, my job is to produce evidence-based information,” Ramirez said.

In addition to quantifying the levels of these possible pollutants, she wants to know what participants gain from the experience of the scientific process.

Additionally, she will flex her artistic know-how with the promotoras and university research and design team to produce both traditional data as well as nontraditional art exhibitions. Ultimately, the goal is to share the results to inform environmental decision-making.


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