Franziska Landes recognized for using science to solve societal problems

Franziska Landes, Northwest Region Cleanup staff, received the 2019 Science for Solutions Award from the American Geophysical Union “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”

“The project was developing this field kit to test soil in Peru for lead. And the idea is that, for soils, we’re most concerned about lead impacting children in the area,” Franziska said.

The work focused on smaller communities in Peru that were close to mining areas. Franziska worked closely with the community to identify the places where children would play. Her team trained people to use the sampling kits and had them take three samples from the areas where their kids currently played. They also had people take three samples from the areas where their kids could play if the first area was found to be contaminated.

Then, the community members took their samples back and Franziska’s team did the analysis with them and discussed the results. Historically, these small communities in Peru felt underserved by the capital government.

Franziska reflected, “Members of the community would say: ‘[the capital] comes and test[s] our water and tell[s] us it’s clean because they don’t want to come out here and deal with us. We’re just 100 people over here – we don’t have the money or the resources. They’re always going to tell us it’s clean.”

For that reason, Franziska and her team felt it was important and effective to engage the community in identifying the areas that needed to be tested, doing the testing, analyzing the samples and reviewing results.

Together, Franziska, her team and the community discovered a number of lead hotspots, including an area where new home construction was exposing contaminated soil that had been covered by clean soil. Franziska and her team shared maps of soil lead at several community meetings, in conjunction with the local municipality and health department. They shared information about the health impacts of lead, and how to prevent exposure, such as preventing children from playing in the contaminated areas and covering the contaminated soil, ideally above a demarcation barrier so that future development work wouldn’t dig into and expose contaminated soil.

“You need to work with the community so they have that institutional knowledge, but also put institutional controls in place so that people don’t get re-exposed 10, 20 or 30 years later. When you make people a part of the process, they’re also more likely to remember the outcome.”

Not only did Franziska complete this impressive feat of public engagement in Peru, but she did it again in New York City, in some cases finding lead in backyards at five times the cleanup level. You can read more about Franziska’s work in New York City in this article. She also published a scientific article on her work in Peru.

– Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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