Engaging HS Students in Monitoring Remediation
of a Local Superfund Site

Summary of the Program
When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked, “Would any local schools be interested in monitoring recovery of the Torch Lake Superfund site,” five Copper Country high schools answered the call. Since the fall of 2003, high school classes at Calumet, Chassell, Hancock, Dollar Bay-Tamarack City, and Lake Linden-Hubbell High Schools have been monitoring the recovery of five locations within the Torch Lake Superfund Area. One hundred years of copper mining in the Keweenaw had left portions of the shorelines of Torch Lake, Calumet Lake and Lake Superior covered by millions of tons of stamp sand (coarse black crushed rock) creating a hot, dry environment inhospitable to plant and animal life, and exposed to wind and water erosion. With assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Division, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education, teachers and students tackled the job of monitoring recovery following the EPA’s $15 million remediation project.

Need Addressed
Students at these five participating high schools cannot share the common complaint that their peers often voice that learning is not meaningful. Each September, the area high school students participating in the project conduct the monitoring as part of their coursework in chemistry, biology, and environmental science classes. Students evaluate plant and bird diversity, rooting depth, soil fertility, and biomass production at post-cleanup sites in Lake Linden, Tamarack City, Mason, Point Mills, and at Calumet Lake. The EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are available to provide technical assistance as needed. The students will continue to perform this long-term monitoring on post-cleanup portions of the Torch Lake Superfund site through 2008.

Innovative Aspects
This project is the first of its kind to utilize students for the collection of data by EPA. The students’ monitoring data assists EPA in documenting the ecological recovery progress of the areas treated under the Superfund Program.

The project was showcased at the EPA’s Community Involvement Conference in Denver in June 2004, where Brenda Jones, Torch Lake Superfund Site Coordinator for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, and local coordinator, Joan Schumaker Chadde, Western UP Center education program coordinator and local coordinator for the project, shared the results of the schools’ work with other EPA professionals from across the United States.

A video describing the project was produced by the EPA and Emergency Response Television (ERTV) in Spring 2004 which includes interviews with participating teachers and students (may be ordered free from http://www.ertvideo.org)). In addition, the EPA produced a beautiful 3’ x 4’ poster to describe the project that is displayed at each high school and at the EPA’s Region V office in Chicago, and shared at conferences. The project was highlighted in the February 2004 EPA Fact Sheet titled Cleanup Projects Creating New Plant and Wildlife Areas
(http://www.epa.gov/region5/sites/torchlake/pdfs/torchlake-fs200402.pdf)


Chadde presented the project to Great Lakes scientists at the International Association of Great Lakes Research conference in May 2005 as a model of what can be accomplished when students and scientists work together.

Evidence of Success
There are a number of examples that can be used to illustrate the success of the project. The number of teachers and students participating in the program is shown in the table below.

Annual Student & School Participation

School Year Total Number of Student Participating Number of Schools
2003-2004 120 students + 4 teachers 4
2004-2005 140 students + 5 teachers 5
2005-2006 140 students + 5 teachers 5

According to Brenda Jones, Torch Lake Superfund Site Coordinator for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the data collected by the students closely matches the data collected by the PhD consultants who collected the first year of data in 2002. The sites were each seeded with 9 plant species, and the students’ data shows that 70+ plant species are now growing on the five sites.

Mr. Corey Soumis, high school environmental science teacher at Calumet High School reports, “The Torch Lake Monitoring Project has provided my students with the opportunity to feel that their education is useful. The Torch Lake Monitoring Project is a real-life research project requiring accurate scientific data and as such, the students respond by putting forth a sincere effort. The students take greater pride in doing the work required to complete the project as compared to typical classroom lessons. In the process of completing this project the students learn valuable observation, data collecting, data analysis, and communication skills.”

In May 2005, Mr. Brian Rajdl took several of the students participating in the Torch Lake Monitoring Project in his Hancock High School environmental science class to the 6th Biennial Lake Superior Youth Symposium in Thunder Bay, Ontario to present the project to 200 students attending the symposium from around the Lake Superior watershed.

This project is regularly used by the Copper Country Intermediate School District to inspire other teachers and schools to develop innovative community service projects. Ms. Carla Strome, the grant project coordinator for the Copper Country Intermediate School District’s Learn & Serve Community Service grant, uses the video produced by EPA on the project at three to four training session per year.


Resources Used
Funding for the first year of the project, including one set of monitoring supplies shared by all five schools, was provided by the Western U.P. Center, the Houghton-Keweenaw Conservation District, and the Torch Lake Public Action Council. In year two of the project, the EPA provided a $32,350 grant to cover expenses for the remaining years of the project. The grant is administered locally by Chadde at the Western Upper Peninsula Center for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education. Funds are used for purchasing monitoring supplies such as soil test kits, identification guides, plant quadrats, shovels, magnifiers, binoculars, etc., travel for field trips to the monitoring sites, and travel to conferences where teachers and students can share their experiences and data with their peers.

Monitoring Ecological Recovery of the Torch Lake Superfund Sites: Photos Archive Web Page

Copper Country High Schools honored for Torch Lake Superfund Monitoring Project

 


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