Natalie Flinn ’14 LAS Receives Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Fellowship to Study Environmental Impact of Snow Melting Salts

01.30.13 VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University student Natalie Flinn, a junior Environmental Studies major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been awarded the Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship in Environmental Sciences by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She will use the grant to study the effects of snow melting salts on plant life and the environment.

Flinn, of Miami, Fla., had never experienced a significant snow storm until she came to Villanova. When she saw snow melting salts covering the campus grounds, she became curious about their impact on the environment.

“I was completely unfamiliar with de-icing salts and wondered whether runoff containing these salts would affect plant growth,” says Flinn. “Along with two other classmates, I set up a simple experiment testing this as part of an environmental science class. With the EPA Fellowship, I can now develop a more complex version of this study and assess other factors, such as soil health.”

Through funding provided by the fellowship, Flinn will test the effects of snow melting salts on Northern Red Oak trees – the most popular trees in the northeastern United States. The experiment began this month and will continue into spring 2014. Encouraged by the EPA’s interest in research associated with the Clean Water Act, Flinn will also focus on the impact of snow melting salts on drinking water and runoff.

“This study is especially relevant at this time of year, as winter storms require the application of large quantities of salt on roads and sidewalks,” says Lisa Rodrigues, PhD, assistant professor in the department of Geography and the Environment, and Flinn’s faculty advisor. “Natalie’s study will help us to better understand how tree species will be affected when the applied salt eventually enters nearby natural ecosystems.”

Flinn, a member of the President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee at the University, plans to pursue a law degree with a focus on environmental justice upon graduating from Villanova. In addition to the stipend, the fellowship awards partial tuition and an EPA summer internship.

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