Volunteers Needed for Water Quality Study

Washington PA Observer Reporter
1 July 2013
By Mike Jones, Staff writer

Volunteers are needed for a study that will use a new and inexpensive device to test water quality in homes located in the heart of Marcellus Shale country.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Monitoring Project needs homeowners for a pilot project that will begin this month before rolling out the full testing program in September.

The program gives volunteers a small testing device that goes in the back of a toilet and monitors the conductivity and temperature of water coming from a well and into the home. The device can indicate water quality problems that would alert homeowners to consider more exhaustive and expensive testing.

Beth Kahkonen, the project director for the Washington County Watershed Alliance, said they need many people who live “where it’s mostly rural and most of the drilling activity is happening,” as well as some people who live far from it.

“We want to see what the water looks like for people who are in Marcellus Shale-impacted areas and people who aren’t in those areas. We do need people from both groups.”

The CATTFish device, which stands for Conductivity and Temperature in your Toilet, can take daily measurements and later be download onto a computer in the same fashion as a USB drive.

Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab designed and built the device to offer people an inexpensive way to test their own water. Joshua Shapiro, the CATTFish’s core developer, said it took them about 15 months to design it and that it eventually could go on the market for about $75.

“This is designed to be as cheap as possible, but it’s an early indicator for things that can cause problems with your water,” Shapiro said. “It’s more of a peace of mind. It’s designed to be cheap and effective. If you’re going to measure every little thing, it’s too expensive.”

Kahkonen and her group, along with Southwest PA Environmental Health Project, are using grant money to conduct the study. It will not indicate if water quality had changed before natural gas drilling, but it will be able to monitor current and future conditions. The groups will then create a database of basic measurements and offer comprehensive testing if the device notices spikes in water quality.

“The compensation is you get information about the quality of your water and you don’t have to pay for it,” Kahkonen said.

Volunteers must attend an orientation on how to use the CATTFish device and will be required to download and send the information. The grant allows for help with the downloading process if homeowners do not have a computer.

Anyone who would like to participate in the study should contact Kahkonen at 724-503-4785 or bethk@pawccd.org.