Four UW–Platteville students are investigating the impact of water contamination caused by fossil-fuel extraction techniques in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, using Geographic Information System technology.
GIS is a computer technology used to capture, store, integrate and display data related to positions on the surface of the Earth.
Kendell Welch, a senior environmental horticulture major and geography minor at UW–Platteville from Oak Park, Ill., will present the undergraduate research he and the other students are working on at the 2016 Summit on Women, Gender, and Well-Being at the UW–Madison Pyle Center April 15.
The research project, “Analyzing the Impact of Water Contamination on Class, Gender, and Health in the Appalachian Region through the Application of Feminist GIS,” is being conducted by Welch; Philip Schulz, a senior geography major from Milwaukee; Cody Carmody, a senior geography major from Barneveld; and Gregory Arther, a sophomore geography major from Spring Grove, Ill.
The research is part of two independent study courses taught by Dr. Dong Isbister, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at UW–Platteville, and Dr. Chris Underwood, assistant professor of geography and research associate in the Tree-Ring, Earth, and Environmental Sciences Laboratory at UW–Platteville. Isbister and Underwood serve as faculty advisors for the project.
The purpose of the research project is to analyze the impact of water contamination caused by fossil-fuel extraction techniques, such as mountain top removal, on those who live in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. To do this, Welch, Schulz, Carmody and Arther are synthesizing preliminary water quality data collected by United Mountain Defense, a grassroots environmental organization in Tennessee, with social data. Then, using GIS technology, they are creating a map that reflects issues of concern for residents, especially women, as well as the environment in the Appalachian region. All research is being completed in the TREES Laboratory at UW–Platteville.
“The process of mountain top removal poses a serious risk to the health of people
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who are living in communities near extraction sites because it contaminates their drinking water,” said Welch. “Contaminated drinking water can lead to increased risk to the reproductive health of the women who are drinking the polluted water.”
The cartography being developed by Welch, Schulz, Carmody and Arther will be dispersed to grassroots organizations in the area in order to empower women.
“Communicating the results of this project to residents living in the study area is a priority, as the implications of the data analysis support the hypothesis that the communities are disproportionately bearing the burdens from the industrial extraction of fossil fuels,” said Welch. “The data are being combined with a feminist theoretical framework in the hopes that this technology can be used for the empowerment and wellbeing of women.”
Welch said the literature he read in the two independent study courses helped prepare him for the conference. “Some of the theories we explored in the research, such as ‘internal colonialism,’ shaped my understanding of why rural areas can be degraded to feed power consumption in core urban areas, and also how minorities are oppressed in urban centers,” he said. “This research altered my worldview by providing a framework for understanding current affairs.”
“Kendell’s project is very solid,” said Isbister. “It demonstrates his endeavors to do interdisciplinary research that is grounded in feminist geography and supported by solid data.”
“I grew up in Appalachia, and I have seen first-hand the social and environmental damages inflicted by the fossil fuel industry,” said Underwood. “Large-scale surface mining began in Appalachia in the early 20th century. Soon thereafter, multiple coal and, later, petroleum corporations came into the area to extract the rich fossil fuel deposits located throughout central and southern Appalachia. The coal boom of the 20th century provided a quick economic boost for the area that many residents quickly embraced, but an economy based on the extraction of non-renewable resources is temporal.”
“The rapid exit of many of these corporations from Appalachia began during the late 20th century, leaving behind a debilitated economy and, in many cases, devastated ecosystems,” said Underwood. “The work our students are doing helps bring attention to these issues, and provides meaningful and useful data to citizens in Appalachia.”