Geary Schindel Presents on Karst for Fall PROTECT Webinar Series

On Monday, October 31st, Geary Schindel presented a talk titled “Karst Aquifers – Water Quality, Vulnerability, and Public Health in a Complex Groundwater System” for the PROTECT webinar series. The annual string of presentations aims to educate the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program (SRP) community about broader topics relevant to research environmental exposures to hazardous substances and human health. Schindel’s webinar presentation was the first of three taking place this academic semester.

Karst cave located in the northern “karst belt” region of Puerto Rico

Karst cave located in the northern “karst belt” region of Puerto Rico

Schindel began his talk by sharing his relation to the topic of karst, stating that the unique terrain has been “the passion of his life.” He has been working in the field of karst hydrology for more than 35 years. He is the Director of Aquifer Science for the Edwards Aquifer Authority in San Antonio, Texas, and he is the President of Karst Works, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in karst resource evaluation.

Schindel highlighted that karst aquifers are prevalent in most regions of the globe and are especially important to study because of their vulnerability to groundwater contamination.  Many karst aquifers have a direct connection to the landscape above through sinkholes and sinking streams, something that makes ground-water contamination in these regions a constant risk. Additionally, these aquifers tend to provide little filtration of contaminants and to have groundwater velocities exceeding more than a mile per day. High groundwater velocities and little attenuation of contaminants can result in rapid contamination of public and private water supply wells and springs.

After providing several real-world examples of karst aquifer contamination, Schindel closed his talk with a discussion particularly relevant to PROTECT research, speaking in detail about various health risks posed to humans after drinking water containing pathogens and/or chemical contaminants. He explained that many of these health risks can be avoided when karst contamination is properly handled by first-responders, but unfortunately, in many cases, lack of knowledge about properly dealing with this unique terrain leads to the effects of the contamination being unintentionally worsened. He stressed the importance of training HAZMAT teams, firefighters, and other responders working in karst regions about the proper protocol following aquifer contamination.

Learning about karst is very relevant for the PROTECT team, especially because much of the research completed by the center requires an understanding of karst aquifers. PROTECT’s Project 4 is responsible for studying the fate and transport of contaminants in karst aquifers found in northern Puerto Rico, while Project 5 is working on developing green remediation technology for the groundwater in the same region.

The full recording of Schindel’s talk can be found by clicking on this WebEx linkThere will be two more PROTECT webinars this academic year, one taking place on November 28th and one taking place on December 12th. More information about each presentation will be released on the PROTECT News Page in the coming weeks.

Concluding slide of Schindel’s presentation

Concluding slide of Schindel’s presentation