We are building a garden at our school in St. John the Baptist Parish along the Mississippi River and we are wondering if the soil is polluted with mercury. We know that things like chemical plants let off toxins in the waterways and air, and pesticides can sometimes be harmful to the plants and the consumers of the plants. Mercury has long been a contributing factor in numerous health issues. Studies have shown that the amount of mercury in the environment has increased due to industrialization. Several years ago a local alumina plant revealed that they were emitting mercury in the air as a by-product of the process of the ore bauxite. The Environmental Protection Agency has since named the company the biggest mercury emitter in the state of Louisiana. The company produced a map of the areas that they believed were affected by the possible release which they admitted could have been happening for at least fifty years. Only parts of our parish, St. John the Baptist, were listed as a possible contaminated area. The rust-coated dusty plant sits less than 20 miles opposite side of the river from our school and garden. The company has recently received funding to expand its operations.
Our main concern:
Mercury could possibly be in our soil in which we have started a community garden, this possibly contaminated soil which can affect the growth of our plants, which can affect our health if we eat it.
Obstacles and supporting information:
* Time: We are just starting our project and we are racing against the end of the school year and state testing.
* Cost: Will we have enough funding to conduct our testing of the soil around the school and our community?
* Experience level: We are new to working as environmental investigators, we are working while we learn so mistakes might be made.
* Finding the actual source of contamination: We know that there are other factors that could lead to mercury in the soil, will it be hard to tract the source of the contamination?
Who is engaged in this concern?
West St. John High 8th graders, WSJH Garden Club, and the community of West St. John the Baptist Parish
What are the initial questions?
Can there be soil contamination this far from the plant? If we find mercury in the soil how do we know it's from the plant? How much mercury is too much? What can we do with this information?