Citizen Science Monitoring - Chemicals of Emerging Concern in New York State Lakes: An Exploratory Collaborative Research Project

Disclaimers and Credits
The statements herein do not necessarily represent the views of everyone involved in the project. Research represented here is partially funded by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Thanks to: Dr. Sharon Moran, Katie Fee, & Sarah Howard, SUNY-ESF; Dr. Teng Zeng & Shiru Wang, Syracuse University; MaryGail Perkins, Upstate Freshwater Institute; Scott Kishbaugh, New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Nancy Mueller, New York State Federation of Lake Associations.
Information about this Study

The long-term goal of this study is to help establish an adaptive, citizen-based CECs monitoring framework for improved lake watershed management. Professional researchers collaborated with citizen scientists from the Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP) in New York State to fill data gaps in CECs occurrence. This study also incorporated an assessment of knowledge acquisition and perceptions of citizen monitors by utilizing surveys and participant interviews.

 Citizen monitors were recruited from local lake associations, trained to collect CECs data, and obtained water samples throughout the summer.  As samples were submitted, researchers utilized several analytical platforms to evaluate the occurrence of CECs in New York State lakes. Final reports were created which document and interpret the findings of this study, both for CECs occurrence data as well as knowledge and perceptions of citizen monitors. Additional sampling is taking place during the summer of 2019.

Exploratory & Collaborative Study

Project Framework and Timeline

Distribution of Participating Lakes 

A specific group of lakes were chosen to participate in this study. The basis for selection included a variety of watershed characteristics (e.g., land use patterns, watershed-to-lake ration), lake morphological features (e.g., mean depth, surface area, shoreline length), water quality trends (e.g., chlorophyll – levels, history of harmful algal bloom events), and geographic locations.

What are chemicals of emerging concern (CECs) and why are they concerning?

Chemicals of emerging concern (CECs) comprise a wide array of synthetic (i.e., man-made) and naturally occurring organic compounds that are found with increasing frequency at low levels in the aquatic environment. They are thought to potentially have adverse impacts on ecological function via endocrine disruption and/or cause antibiotic resistance. Some may also negatively impact human health. 

Also, while some CECs are resistant to natural environmental degradation processes, others have the ability to undergo transformations, occasionally forming secondary products that are more problematic. 

How do CECs enter lakes and other bodies of water?
CECs can end up in different waterbodies through numerous avenues. Some of the major sources of CECs are illustrated to the left.  With the development of new and innovative technology,  researchers are able to test and analyze very small quantities of chemicals.

Through use of this technology, it is possible to measure many different chemicals, including cyanotoxins, which can be produced by harmful algal blooms (HABs).

What CECs are monitored in this study? 

The four primary CECs we chose to focus on in this study are microcystins, atrazine, caffeine, and sucralose.

 In addition, we looked for the presence of other previously detected or expected CECs including antimicrobial agents, over-the- counter medications, and chemicals found in household cleaning products.  

On-Site Strip Tests for CECs
Strip tests were utilized by citizen scientists to monitor levels of microcystins and atrazine in lakes

1. Strip tests gave a high false-positive rate on microcystins occurrence. 
      • Integrity of test strips may have been compromised by storage conditions 
      • Interpretation of strip test results is confounded by uncertainty in integrity of the strips 

2. Strip tests provided qualitative information on the absence of atrazine, but were not sufficiently sensitive to detect ng/L levels of atrazine in the lakes.

3. On-site monitoring of microcystins and atrazine using strip tests should be followed up with more rigorous laboratory tests, as was done in this study.

CECs Analysis: Screening for 217 Compounds

CECs Results
Concentration profiles of CECs (Middle line = Median; Whiskers = Minimum to Maximum)

Purpose of Surveys and Interviews

1. To understand the level of knowledge held by CSLAP volunteers about CECs.  

2. To document the impact of training and monitoring relative to knowledge, awareness, and engagement through use of pre- and post-sampling surveys. 
Survey and Interview Results
Volunteers doing lake monitoring have fairly high levels of knowledge about factors affecting watershed health and lake dynamics.

Some volunteers mentioned interest in additional attention toward wastewater sources, such a septic systems, entering lake watersheds.

Volunteers who participated in training and strip testing demonstrated higher levels of knowledge and awareness about contamination, specifically in connection with wastewater as a source of pollutants for their lake.
Knowledge of CECs Contamination Sources 
(left = pre-survey; right = post-survey)

Knowledge of Factors Affecting Water Quality  
(left = pre-survey; right = post-survey)

Contact Information

Updates and News
June 2019 - Additional follow-up sampling begins
December 2018 - Study results available on the NYSFOLA website, linked below
October 2018 - Sampling wraps up
June 2018 - Sampling begins