Welcome to the fall issue of Environmental S.T.O.R.I. (Student Translation and Outreach Research Initiative). This dedicated newsletter provides a platform to highlight the extraordinary accomplishments of our high school students from the Long Island region. A Road Map for Prevention could not be complete without focusing on the contributions made by young adults; they are in fact, Our Guardians of the Future 2014 award winner Caitlin Knowles, a Huntington High School student, embodies a combination of knowledge, focus and self-determination, and the Students and Scientists Environmental Research Scholarship Program provided her with the right connections. It is our hope that she will help to redefine the future of emerging science and how it translates into regulatory Action.
Summer Internship at Silent Spring Institute -
Caitlin Knowles Junior, Huntington High School
This summer, I was given the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks working at Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts. During my time as a Silent Spring intern, I got to work with Dr. Laurel Schaider and Kathryn Rodgers on projects concerning water quality.
The first week, I focused on compiling data from the EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 (UCMR3). The EPA uses the UCMR3 to monitor the concentrations of drinking water contaminants that are not presently regulated but are likely to be regulated in the future. Public water systems across the country are randomly selected by size to take samples from each of their facilities, test for the required contaminants, and report their data back to the EPA. The selected contaminants are usually suspected of causing specific health effects. To keep concentrations at a safe level, the EPA will combine data from the UCMR3 and laboratory tests of health effects to establish a maximum contaminant level (MCL), the greatest concentration at which a contaminant can legally be present in drinking water, for each substance as a regulatory guideline.
My work with the UCMR3 was mainly focused on perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and several hormones. PFCs are chemicals with extremely strong bonds that are commonly used in airplane antifreeze solution, fire-fighting foams, nonstick pans, and stain-proof products. Due to their strong bonds, PFCs do not break down easily, so they persist in the environment for long periods of time. The presence of PFCs is concerning because they have been shown to have negative health impacts such as breast cancer, altered thyroid hormone levels, birth defects, and immune system problems. I looked at these specific contaminants to compare data the EPA had gathered on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, and in the whole United States to previous experiments conducted by Silent Spring involving public and private wells on the Cape. After examining the data, it was clear that the percent of samples above the minimum reporting level (MRL), the lowest concentration at which a researcher can be certain the contaminant is present, was very small (less than 1%) for each contaminant and experimental area. For those samples that were above the MRL, samples from Cape Cod made up a disproportionally high percent of those from Massachusetts, and samples from Massachusetts were a sizeable percentage of all U.S. samples above the MRL. This information will help Silent Spring researchers put their own drinking water studies into a broader context and will be useful for understanding the sources of perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water in future studies.
I found the first week of compiling data engaging and interesting. The second week, I was given the task of creating Silent Spring’s eco-toilet video. Recently, Silent Spring has been conducting an eco-toilet sampling project, collecting water samples from the septic systems of several Cape Cod residents before and after they installed eco-toilets. Eco-toilets are designed to either divert urine from septic systems or compost waste, so there will likely be lower concentrations of hormones, pharmaceuticals, and consumer product chemicals in septic systems as a result. Dr. Schaider, Kathryn Rodgers, and Tara Krishna, another summer intern, had already recorded the sampling footage, so I was mainly in charge of editing and creating the final product. When the video was finished, I presented it along with my findings from the first week’s project to almost all of Silent Spring’s staff members.
My workdays were very interesting, and my time outside of work was equally as exciting. While in Massachusetts, I stayed at a very nice bed and breakfast in Newton, so I was able to go to many restaurants in the area for dinner after going for a run or exploring the town. I also got to visit several places in Boston, including the North End, Faneuil Hall, and five different colleges. I was invited to join in the annual Silent Spring staff retreat at Spectacle Island. Silent Spring is nearing its 20th anniversary, so it was extremely interesting to hear how far the Institute has come through the accounts of several veteran staff members. I am so glad to have been a part of Silent Spring, even if it was only for a short time. I truly had an amazing experience, and I am thankful to Silent Spring, Huntington High School, and the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Inc. They made this internship possible! Hopefully I get the chance to come back in the future!
“My workspace at the Silent Spring Institute.”
“Attending the Silent Spring Institute’s Annual Staff Retreat.”
“My hosts at the Park Lane Bed and Breakfast.”
“Meeting with the scientists at the Silent Spring Institute.”
||Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Prevention Is The Cure
900 Walt Whitman Road LL12, Melville, NY 11747 (631) 547-1518 fx (631) 547-1520