Public Lab Research note

Soil Contamination in St. John the Baptist Parish

by bhamster | March 02, 2023 22:08 02 Mar 22:08 | #38732 | #38732

A version of this story by high school student Jahavon is published in Public Lab's Community Science Forum, Issue 18. Read more from this issue here.

Noranda Aluminum, which is the largest air pollution in Louisiana, released mercury in our area. We are doing experiments because we are looking for soil contamination in St. John the Baptist Parish. When we started a garden at West St. John High School, we were wondering if the contamination had spread this far.

The balloon mapping and soil sampling was really fun and informational. I also learned a lot of things: what's caused soil contamination and how our health is affected by it. Soil contamination or soil pollution is a part of land degradation. It is caused by the presence of chemicals or other alterations in the natural soil environment. According to the article, it states that when soil is contaminated with different substances, it can hurt the native environment. Many of these substances are just as toxic to plants as they are to humans.

This is very important to me because at school we have started a garden and we planted a lot of different plants that we are planning to eat, which is why we talk about soil contamination. Soil contamination can cause humans to have blocked parts that stop their body from breathing, which may cause you to die and can also lead to exposure to heavy metals. Our class took soil samples. I realized that in some spots the grass was darker than the other parts of the grass. I thought that this could be a sign that soil contamination could take place here but I am not really sure, but I will see when the results arrive. One of my favorite parts during this project was seeing a huge helium balloon, the biggest balloon I have ever seen go into the sky at least 500 feet, and could have gone to 1,000 feet. Even though 1,000ft would be more interesting, we would not have seen our pictures very clearly.

This is important because since I live closer towards the place where the spill was, which can affect how I breathe and survive, I may have to wear a mask just to go outside and take out the trash because the mercury is just so powerful and can cause health effects such as mood swings and irritability. This can cause many elderly people in our community to die and the population could go down because when released into the environment, mercury accumulates in water-laid sediments where it converts into toxic methylmercury and enters the food chain. In order to help, people could renew the soil and we could inform everyone what Noranda has done so we can have everyone prepare and help us to make companies like Noranda Aluminum more environmentally friendly.

After we did the balloon mappings, some of us got to build a microscope which was also very fun. While doing this microscope I got to actually feel like a scientist that could create a real-world invention made out of wood and screws with washers and wing nuts.


You have an excellent start on the project. But, from an analytical chemists point of view, can you say how the mercury was analyzed? Mercury can be difficult, expensive, and dangerous, depending on the method used. Thank you very much for the information and good luck with your project.



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