Microbiology and Molecular Biology
First Faculty Advisor
First Faculty Reader
Second Faculty Reader
R. Paul Evans
rhizofiltration, sunflowers, Navajo Nation, Uranium, Arsenic, Soil
Mid-20th century mining on Naabeehó Bináhásdzo (Navajo Nation) polluted groundwater with high concentrations of uranium and arsenic. The Navajo Nation and other rural residents of this region use groundwater for drinking, livestock, and irrigation. However, many individuals and communities must purchase and transport treated water from locations that are often hours away. Sunflowers have been shown to preferentially take up heavy metals, including uranium and arsenic, potentially representing a tool to improve water quality through on-site, low-cost phytoremediation. We carried out a collaborative research project with a high school class on the Navajo Nation in 2018 and 2019. The students collected surface water from wells and streams near where they lived, which we analyzed for general chemistry parameters. We then performed a laboratory experiment with sunflower seedlings grown in local soil to assess whether phytoremediation could be effective at removing arsenic and uranium. We found that arsenic concentration did not change over the course of the experiment and uranium concentration increased, potentially associated with weathering of the geologically young iv soil in this area. Though it appears phytoremediation is not a feasible solution for heavy metal contamination in the Navajo Nation, the participatory science approach created meaningful relationships and an important collaboration. Additionally, this project provided experiential learning opportunities for Navajo high school students and the BYU undergraduate students who worked with them.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Webber, Zak R., "Sunflower Seedlings Fail to Remove Uranium Pollution in the Navajo Nation: Participatory Science as a Path to Build Community and Address Environmental Injustice" (2020). Undergraduate Honors Theses. 137.