Research group tests water contamination in Haiti

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In August, a group from UVU traveled to Haiti to do research on local streams and rivers.

The team, which was made up of associate professors Eddy Cadet and Steven Emerman, and four students, concentrated its efforts on the northern peninsula of Haiti.

They took extensive water and sediment samples from local rivers. This fall they will begin to analyze the samples, looking for elevated levels of trace metals like arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and chromium. Getting a data set that shows how the water may be contaminated can help Haiti start to address the issue.

“No one is keeping an eye on it (trace metal contamination),” Cadet said. “It’s the first study that I know of, scientifically speaking, that is being conducted in Haiti.”

Cadet, who is originally from Haiti, said exposure to elevated levels of trace metals can be toxic. In many cases prolonged exposure can cause illness and even death.

A second mission of the trip was to gauge stream flow. That project, headed by Emerman, was designed to measure stream velocity and discharge. The goal for this research is to eventually install a compressed-air hydropower station along one of the rivers in order to generate electricity in rural Haiti.

The trip was conducted in conjunction with the Summit Project and was funded by two $10,000 UVU Grants for Engaged Learning: one for the trace metals research and one for the stream flow research, which covered the cost of the trip including airfare and equipment.

Cadet said doing research in Haiti was a good experience for the students. He said when you look at a country from a distance you are removed from it, but when you are in the midst of it, it draws out the passion and concern in people.

Student researcher Morgan Abbott said, “I loved it. I’m going back next year and hopefully the year after that.”

Next year, said Cadet, the team will travel to the central part of Haiti to evaluate streams and rivers there. The year after, they plan to research the waters in southern Haiti.

In the meantime, local Haitians have been trained to continue collecting data about the water flow of local rivers and sending it back to Utah for analysis. The Utah team plans to send laptops to the Haitian researchers so they can organize and send back the data.