After reviewing the outstanding projects and initiatives from many ambitious, empowering, and inspiring candidates for our Earth Award, we have narrowed it down to one woman who’s research opened our eyes and minds. Meet Lauren, the winner of our 2022 Terrera Earth Award!
Lauren is a Queen’s University Graduate student who is currently working on a research project in collaboration with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to remediate saline soils in the urban metropolitan area using a method called phytoremediation employing halophytes, a species of salt-tolerant plants.
Read her story below!
About Lauren’s Research
Lauren was inspired to begin her project researching roadside salt’s risk to freshwater ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife because of her interest and passion for environmental remediation and conservation. During her undergraduate degree in Chemistry, she gained a passion for sustainability and protecting the environment after joining environmental clubs and taking green chemistry and environmental courses. After learning about phytoremediation in her final year of her undergraduate degree and hearing about an opportunity to collaborate on a research project with Dr. Zeeb at Queen’s University, she jumped at the chance!
Her project focuses on finding a more eco-friendly option to the remediation of saline soils. Current methods of remediation are costly and labour intensive with severe negative impacts on the environment due to the generation of toxic by-products, accelerated soil erosion, and damage to the soil’s structure. Lauren’s ultimate goal for the research is to inform the Ministry of Transport of the harmful effects of road salt usage and current remediation processes. She plans to work towards a more sustainable remediation process, with long term goals of creating change in urban centers and rural communities by discovering alternatives to road salt and more sustainable remediation processes.
What’s the Importance of the Project?
Salt contamination is increasingly being identified as an environmental concern. Canada is one of the largest users of road salt worldwide; each year over 5 million tonnes of salt are distributed on roads to melt snow and ice. A compound called inorganic chloride, found in road salt, has been found to pose a risk to freshwater ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife. The amount of salt used in the Winter shows lasting effects in ecosystems located roadside and beyond throughout Summer months.
Traditional methods of remediation have severe negative impacts on the environment. Lauren is studying a more sustainable solution to remediating highly saline roadsides, by testing a method called phytoremediation, which utilizes halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) - she’s currently growing four species of halophytes to compare. Using these Canadian native plants to test their abilities to remediate salt contaminated soils, the most successful species from the pilot plot will help to advise the most likely species to succeed in roadside applications.
How the $1000 Terrera Earth Award Grant will further Lauren’s Research
Lauren’s project will contribute to environmental sustainability, as well as the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity through the use of native species. Lauren plans to use Terrera’s $1000 grant towards soil analysis at the end of the season to determine how effective the halophytes were in removing salt from the soil - the analyses of soil samples can be costly, and so the award will allow Lauren to take more samples for her results from her research.
What are the next steps?
Lauren’s project will be carried out until August 2023, where another master’s student will take over the research to see how the project will perform longer term. The following student will see how well the grasses regrow and what percent need to be replanted, which in turn, helps to eliminate costs for this type of remediation. This project will help to clean up salt pollution that has already occurred, but Lauren does not want to stop there - she has a long term goal to continue working with the Ministry of Transport to look into alternatives to road salt that are more environmentally friendly.
Currently, there are two alternatives to road salt: beet juice and sand! Although these options may pose an alternative to road salt, they each have their own issues. Beet juice has been found to be harmful to insects, specifically mayflies, due to the juice’s high potassium and mayflies sensitivity to this. As well, the amount of juice required to rid of road salt in Canada is not feasible due to the vast area roads cover. Sand does not dissolve into water, and so this could lead to issues in waste water management and road safety in the Spring. Lauren’s long term goal is to continue researching and testing alternatives to road salt to work towards more sustainable eco-friendly options!
Our team over here at Terrera have been truly inspired by Lauren’s dedication and passion for making a change to Canada’s environment and ecosystems. She has opened our eyes and minds about the effects of road salt usage in Canada and their current remediation methods.
We’d like to officially congratulate Lauren for her win and wish her luck with the continuation of her research project! We wish her all the best in her future career in the field of Environmental Science and Chemistry!