Mansfield chemistry students conduct summer research on well water quality

MANSFIELD – Four Mansfield University chemistry students, along with two MU faculty members and one former faculty member, collected water samples and performed well water quality analysis in Tioga County through a grant from the Tioga County Commissioner’s office this summer.

Students Emily Edwards, Martin Holdren, Joseph Mandeville and Megan Terrel, supervised and assisted by professor Shaker Ramasamy and assistant professor Michele Conrad, both from the Department of Chemistry and Physics, and Paul Wendel, now on the faculty in the Department of Education at Otterbein University, Ohio, were involved in the project.

“With the rise in number of natural gas fracking sites in the Tioga County, it is important to monitor the well water quality over the course of the fracking process,” Conrad said.

The water quality study involved the Mansfield students collecting water samples from homeowners across the Tioga County and analyzing the water at no cost to the homeowners. A total of 82 well water samples were collected.

Water quality samples were collected at the same sites in previous years to monitor the pH, specific conductivity, barium and strontium. High levels of the two elements, barium and strontium, can be indicative of contamination from gas drilling.

This phase of the study incorporated substantially more analytes, as follows: 10 cations (boron, barium, calcium, chromium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium); three anions (chloride, bromide, and sulfate); methane gas, pH, specific conductivity; and alkalinity. Samples were analyzed using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS), Ion Chromatography (IC), Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP), and alkalinity titrations.

Out of the 82 sites sampled and tested, only two sites exceeded the recommended limit for strontium and methane and coincide with the same well water sites. The same two sites had higher barium concentrations with one exceeding the limit and the other close to the limit. The rest of the samples were below the maximum concentration limit for the key indicators (barium, strontium and methane) for gas drilling contamination.

The students’ methodology and results will be presented to the Council of Trustees on Sept. 23 and at the annual Showcase of Student Scholarship in April 2016.

To learn more about studying chemistry and physics at Mansfield University, visit mansfield.edu/ chemistry-physics/