Jean Smolen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Areas Taught: Chemistry, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Environmental Science

Expertise: Safety of Drinking Water, Environmental Impact of Chemical Spills, Tap Water Filters

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Identifying Threats to Drinking Water and the Environment

The impact of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania has stirred its share of controversy. Water quality expert Jean Smolen, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and director of the University’s environmental science program says her “concerns are the unknowns.”

The deep drilling at the Marcellus Shale that uses millions of gallons of water, sand and most worrisome of all proprietary chemicals to extract natural gas could have long-term impact on the water table. “I see water as a limited resource in many ways,” she says, urging caution over shale exploration. “We have to go the extra mile to protect water. It’s essential to life. We need it. We shouldn’t gamble with it.”

An even bigger threat to water is the rise in antibiotics from human waste and animal farms that end up in aqueous sources used to supply drinking water, says Smolen, who studies the basic reactions between complex organic molecules and soil and water. “Waste water facilities are not necessarily equipped to deal with that,” she says.

Her research also includes designing models to study chemicals in munitions and how they behave in sediment – important because military bases show signs of contamination with explosives such as TNT and RDX, she says.

In addition, SJU students, under Smolen’s direction, are assessing water quality on campus and the effectiveness of water filtration systems, such as Brita. Recently, she co-led students on an immersion trip to Guatemala, where they examined the use of homemade water filters in villages.

Smolen’s research is widely published, and she has received grants from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund. A former research associate for the Environmental Protection Agency, she has done media interviews with WHYY radio on a recent chemical spill and Philly Metro on the university’s Environmental Science Program.