A version of this story by high school student Jayla is published in Public Lab's Community Science Forum, Issue 18. Read more from this issue here.
We believe that air pollution from a nearby plant, the Noranda Aluminum LLC manufacturing plant in Gramercy, has contaminated our soil with mercury. A 2015 article said this plant is the state of Louisiana's largest source of air pollution. According to the article, the plant only affects the Gramercy and Wallace areas. However, we constructed this experiment because we want to know if this is accurate, or if the contamination has spread further. We collected soil sampling. We did this because we wanted to learn if the soil near our school was contaminated.
This information is important to us because we are currently growing a garden that consists of many fruits and vegetables. We will consume the fruits of our garden, but if the soil in which they are growing is contaminated, we may be harmed. We learned mercury can also contaminate the water. If mercury is present in the water supply, we would be harmed as well. Mercury poisoning can result in memory loss, insomnia, headaches, and a variety of other symptoms.
An experience I had through this curriculum that stuck with me was balloon mapping. For example, I learned how to use a balloon and a camera to map a particular location from this experience. I also learned how to put an image together by map-knitting. Working as a class felt productive because as a class we completed more tasks than I would have completed on my own. When balloon mapping, we first had to think about the places that would be a good idea to map. Then we had to gather the necessary materials. Afterward, we began the process of filling the balloon, which took about 10-15 minutes. We then tied the balloon and put on gloves in order to secure the rope. The camera and the final materials were then connected. We then chose whether to launch the balloon 500 or 1,000 feet into the air. The photo would be clear if we sent the balloon 500 feet, but if we chose 1,000 feet, we would catch more of the area but the picture would be blurred.
In addition, the soil sampling was another memorable experience I had as part of this curriculum. This experience was memorable for me because I learned how to gather soil for experimentation. As a class, we worked together and took turns to efficiently collect different samples. Our first time collecting the samples, we didn't understand what we were doing. However, we eventually learned how it worked. We split up into groups and in just a few hours, we were able to obtain three sets of samples.
This knowledge will be beneficial in the long run, as I will need to test my soil for contamination if I ever grow a garden full of fruits and vegetables. I'll understand how to collect the samples because I've already learned how to do that from this experience.
Questions and Concerns
Do the residents of the community know that this plant could be releasing mercury in our area? If the results of our soil samples come back and prove that the mercury from the plant has spread to our area, how long has it been impacting our community? Why is the state not doing anything to stop the spread? Why is the state encouraging the plant to produce more mercury?
How May I Help?
By making a petition and asking people in our community to sign it, I will help lessen the issue of the Noranda Aluminum LLC manufacturing plant emitting too much mercury into the air. Another way I can contribute is by informing people in our community about the Noranda Aluminum LLC manufacturing plant's negative impact on us.
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