As the sight of plows on icy roads becomes a distant winter memory, people across the state of New York breathe a sigh of relief. But as the ice melts, a new problem surfaces — road salt.
In the village of Waterville, just 10 miles down the road from Hamilton College, Jenny Soonthornrangsan ’19 and Nicholas Jickling ’19 are trying to do something about it.
As part of a long-term research initiative led by Joel W. Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Studies Todd Rayne, the students are examining the effects of a pile of uncovered road salt that was stored in the Waterville area.
Majors: Geosciences and Mathematics
Previous Research: “Tracking Nutrient Fluxes In Groundwater And Surface Water On The Eastern Shore Of Lake Erie” (University of Buffalo)
Hometown: Panorama City, Calif.
High School: Van Nuys High School
After heavy rains and ice melt, some of the road salt seeped into the soil, where it accumulated into the groundwater. This water runs throughout the region and is collected in several wells—a source of drinking water for the people of Waterville.
While the town has since constructed a sealed building to contain any leftover road salt, the level of salt in Waterville’s groundwater is still higher than it should be.
For their summer research project, Soonthornrangsan and Jickling are drilling more wells in the Waterville area to study how the salt concentration is moving in the aquifer that underlies the area.
“The salt level hasn’t reached an EPA water standard threshold, so it’s not an immediate risk for people living in Waterville,” said Soonthornrangsan. “But that doesn’t answer the question: Where is the salt coming from? How does it get to the wells? Is the concentration decreasing now that the salt pile is covered? That’s what we’re trying to find out with this project.”
The team travels between their study area in Waterville and the laboratory—where they analyze water samples for levels of sodium and chloride in the water.
When asked which part of the study they enjoyed the most, both Soonthornrangsan and Jickling agreed. “I love the fieldwork,” said Soonthornrangsan. “We get to go out in our waders and pound temperature stakes into the stream or measure conductivity in the monitoring wells.”
Major: Environmental studies
Hometown: Brookfield, Vt.
High School: Randolph Union High School
Jickling echoed her excitement. “It’s definitely the most interesting,” he said. “It’s great because all the different things we’re studying are starting to come together and allowing us to gain a better picture of what’s actually happening.”
For Jickling, this study is a new venture. “I’m actually majoring in Environmental Studies,” he said. “I was interested in doing research at Hamilton and this project in particular stuck out to me.”
As a Geosciences major herself, Soonthornrangsan is planning to take this project all the way through graduation. She plans to transition this study into her thesis for her final year at Hamilton and hopes to attend graduate school in hydrogeology.