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Villanova Junior Natalie Flinn Receives Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Fellowship to Study Environmental Impact of Snow Melting Salts

Snow melting salts

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.

2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the GRO Fellowship program, which is part of a national effort to ensure that the United States continues to graduate students ready to meet environmental science, engineering and policy challenges. By enhancing and supporting quality environmental education for undergraduate students, the GRO Fellowship program encourages promising students to pursue careers in environmental fields and to continue their education beyond the baccalaureate level.

Environmental sustainability and awareness are integral to the academic life of Villanova University. Numerous programs provide an emphasis on sustainability, including: master’s degree in sustainable engineering; first-year “Nature and the World” learning community; bachelor’s degrees in environmental science, environmental studies, and biology; undergraduate minors in environmental studies and sustainability studies; biology master’s degree, graduate certificate, and advanced graduate certificate with a concentration in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology; master’s degree in water resources and environmental engineering; and a graduate certificate in urban water resources design. Villanova also recently added a new graduate sustainability course in “Sustainable Industrial Chemistry.” Click here for more information.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.