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Building Scientific Literacy in Appalachia


For the past two years, IGERT trainee Laura Merner has been volunteering with the Sludge Safety Project (SSP), a joint project of the Coal River Mountain Watch and the Ohio Environmental Coalition (OVEC). SSP works directly in communities in West Virginia (WV) that have been negatively impacted by coal slurry. This past summer Laura worked with a community in Boone County WV to test well water. Coal slurry can contaminate groundwater. Over the course of the summer Laura was involved in testing wells throughout the county, many of them on more then one occasion. Through this testing, the wells with high levels of iron and manganese, arsenic, lead and other metals were identified. Laura helped to bring water test results back to households to explain to them what the findings were, what these findings meant for community health, and taught people how to communicate the results to others.

Address Goals

Laura’s work addresses the primary NSF strategic goal of expanding the scientific literacy of all citizens. The goal of Laura’s work is to build capacity in communities so individuals are empowered to address negative serious environmental issues. Laura has been involved in creating a network of scientific experts for citizens to access, developing a network of labs were citizens can send water samples, creating outreach material to help communities better understand water quality concerns in their communities, developing a protocol for citizen water testing throughout Appalachia, and developing a protocol for citizens to report black water spills throughout Appalachia. Laura’s work addresses NSF secondary strategy since Laura is helping to build the research capability of communities in Appalachia.