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Stormwater runoff is rain and snowmelt that doesn't sink into the ground, but instead flows over it. Stormwater often water picks up pollutants such as oil, grass clippings, fertilizer, and pet waste, before it flows into a nearby body of water. In urban areas, stormwater runoff is a big cause of water pollution.

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Photo by Douglas Gayeton


James studies the effects urban stormwater runoff has on water quality on the Mississippi River. He collects water samples after it rains in the spring, summer and fall (as well as snowmelt samples after 3 days of above freezing weather each spring). These sampling sessions allow James to test stormwater runoff for nearly 400 different contaminants; these include industrial-commercial-consumer compounds, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle/personal care compounds, and pesticides.

Potential sources for contaminants? Direct runoff of lawn care chemicals, herbicides used in agriculture, pet medications, deteriorated/cracked wastewater pipes, and combined sewer overflow are all potential sources for the introduction of untreated wastewater and stormwater into surface waters.

"WATER IS A CRITICAL RESOURCE," JAMES NOTES. "COLLECTING DATA ON THE CONDITION OF OUR WATER CAN HELP SCIENTISTS, COMPANIES, POLITICIANS, AND THE PUBLIC MAKE EDUCATED DECISIONS ON HOW TO BEST PROTECT IT.” “We work with what are called ‘chemicals of emerging concern,’” he continues, “they haven't been previously detected in the environment or are being found at concentrations which are unexpected and may pose a risk to humans or the environment. If they’re harmful our hope would be better regulations to reduce their risk of ending up in the environment. Either way, public education is necessary so habits and regulations can be addressed before it’s too late.”

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