Professors secure grant to study chemicals of concern in NY waterways

Rebecca ScheweSyracuse University professors from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Engineering and Computer Science received a $498,000 grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to complete a research project on how farmers’ decision-making affects the potential transmission of pharmaceutical residue into New York waterways.

Rebecca Schewe, assistant professor of sociology and O’Hanley Faculty Scholar at Maxwell; Christa Kelleher, assistant professor of earth sciences; and Teng Zeng, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will commence a three-year project that links human behavior, hydrological processes, and the occurrence of chemicals of emerging concern in New York waterways downstream of agricultural systems. “In developing the ideas behind this project, I think we were all excited by the chance to pursue such an interdisciplinary endeavor, as well as a research project that is really in our backyard,” Kelleher says.

According to the researchers, it is known that the application of manure and biosolids can introduce pharmaceutical residue and other chemicals of emerging concern into land and water, but the way these chemicals might be transported through waterways and into surface waters is not fully understood yet. 

“There is little understanding of farmers’ decision-making regarding application of manure and biosolids,” Schewe explains. “We hypothesize that hydrological processes shape both human decision-making for manure and biosolid application and the transport of chemicals of emerging concern to downstream surface waters.”

One central deliverable of the interdisciplinary study is to make behavioral recommendations to relevant agricultural stakeholders, including agriculturists who apply manure or biosolids, extension specialists, and policymakers.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in Geosciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering as we seek to understand this important environmental issue in New York State,” Schewe says. “We will be presenting our findings to citizens and policymakers to help provide essential data for decision-makers.”

-- Edy Semaan, MAIR/MS (Public Relations) through SU's Public Diplomacy program, anticipated '19

01/26/18