Last November, Lonnie Flett traveled to Washington State to collect tree bark. Flett planned to use the bark samples to answer a question: Had uraniam polluted her family’s tribal reservation? As a first-year geology master’s student under the mentorship of Mark Krekeler, Flett uses geochemistry to study pollutants in the environment near the Spokane Indian Reservation. Geochemistry utilizes chemistry to understand geological systems. Flett’s interest and passion for geochemistry and environmental safety clearly showed as she discussed her research. “I am really interested in environmental and geochemical work, so I would like to be in some sort of environmental research field,” Flett said. “I’ve also really gotten interested in microscopy this semester, so I wouldn’t mind doing something like that professionally.” From the 1950s to the 1980s, Midnite Mine, a uranium mine, was in operation near Spokane, Washington. The mine opened before the era of safety and environmental protection standards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has caused higher incidences of cancer, kidney disease and other diseases on the Spokane Indian Reservation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website, the mining site’s groundwater, surface water and sediment are polluted with several harmful elements and isotopes, including Uranium 234 and Uranium 238. Isotopes are atoms with a different number of neutrons than the standard element. When the nuclei of the isotopes are unstable, decay occurs, emitting radioactivity. Exposure to certain amounts and...Read More
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