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Texas A&M researchers are exploring the effects wildfires have on drinking water quality

A professor at Texas A&M is exploring wildfires' effects on drinking water thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In 2022, Texas saw 12,400 wildfires that burned more than 650,000 acres of land.

Now Associate Professor in Texas A&M's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Garrett McKay is researching the effects wildfires will have on drinking water for a few years.

"I spent you know a lot of time like back in California where I grew up hiking and skiing and stuff like that in the mountains and also in Colorado and so to see kind of those impacts on the landscape that wildfire has kind of hits home," McKay said.

The heat from wildfires causes a chemical reaction in the soil, which ends up creating pyrogenic organic matter. This matter can negatively impact water quality and water treatment plant operations.

"It's a concern because if we have a higher amount of pyrogenic organic matter in our source water, it could lead to spikes in these disinfection byproducts when wildfires happen," McKay said. "Another result from prior research has shown that pyrogenic organic matter is more difficult to remove from water."

According to the CDC, chronic amounts of disinfection byproducts can increase the risk of cancer, which could be a serious issue with forested watersheds accounting for roughly half of the country's drinking water.

"Forested watersheds, water quality impacts from wildfire include increased sediment because the wildfire burns up the vegetation and causes soil erosion," McKay said. "It can also lead to increases in the amount of nutrients like carbon and nitrogen."

Dr. McKay has also stated that he is currently looking for a new graduate student to assist with his research. Click here to get more information on his works and for information on how to get in contact with him.

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