Progress without pollution?

Jason Lally, writing intern
October 20, 2004
man sitting by coffee and water
Emily Wiley

Brian Dempsey discusses water pollution issues and the construction of I-99.

An environmental chemist by training, Brian Dempsey, professor of civil and environmental engineering, received degrees in both chemistry and interdisciplinary science as an undergraduate at the State University of New York, Brockport. Soon after graduation, he traveled to Honduras with the Peace Corps, where he developed a passion for teaching, which compelled him to seek additional science training in an applied field of expertise.

After completing his M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental chemistry, Dempsey pledged to devote his understanding of science to impact environmental development. He worked with the city of Durham, North Carolina, as a sanitary engineer before moving on to appointments at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Missouri-Rolla. In 1986, he arrived at Penn State, ready to teach and train a new generation of engineers.

Dempsey's expertise in water quality led to concern for recent developments along the new 1-99 corridor which runs through central Pennsylvania. The development of I-99 has created an unforeseen acid runoff problem that is polluting nearby streams and other water sources. As part of the curriculum in his honors level undergraduate course, Introduction to Environmental Engineering, Dempsey introduces students firsthand to sampling techniques which take flow and concentration level readings of metals in the environment. Furthermore, the students are learning to identify acid runoff in each segment of the stream. Such results will provide the class with a baseline for monitoring the situation along I-99. It is also useful work for the many interest groups and engineers closely watching I-99 development.

map and mineral from construction site
Emily Rowlands

Dempsey showed a map of I-99 and a reactive mineral found at the site.

Individual responsibility coupled with effective government policy can decrease pollution while development continues, Dempsey says. He also believes "there is a real increase in green or sustainable engineering, and this is a good thing." He added that such paradigms in engineering will aid in abetting the need to clean up our pollution messes by adding forethought and planning into the development process.

As a scientist practitioner, Dempsey brings a unique perspective to the broader questions of development and pollution. He examines the effects of acid runoff as a chemist, applies solutions to problems as an engineer, and considers the broader impacts of his work as an informed citizen and academic.

Brian Dempsey, Ph.D., is professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, 114 Sackett Building, University Park, PA 16801; 814-865-1226; Jason Lally,, is an undergraduate student in the School of Information Sciences and Technology. He is a member of the Research Unplugged Committee.

Last Updated October 20, 2004