CSU–Pueblo chemistry professor earns 2009 Lindbergh Grant

A Colorado State University chemistry professor has been awarded a 2009 Lindbergh Grant to conduct research on “vermicomposting,” or the use of earthworms to reduce the amount of organic contaminants in wastewater.

Chad Kinney, assistant professor of chemistry, has been awarded a $10,580 Lindbergh Grant in waste minimization and management for his project entitled, “Using Earthworm Composting to Reduce Manmade Contaminants in Wastewater Bio-solids Destined for Land Application.” Kinney received one of eight Lindbergh grants awarded so far this year. He was chosen from 133 applicants from around the world. Lindbergh Grants are made in amounts up to $10,580, a symbolic amount representing the cost of building Charles Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, in 1927. To date, nearly $3 million has been awarded to 300 researchers.

Kinney will investigate vermicomposting, a relatively new method for producing biosolids. The normal metabolic activity of earthworms and the increase in bacterial activity associated with a high density of earthworms is hypothesized to reduce the quantity of organic wastewater contaminants (OWCs), such as disinfectants, pharmaceuticals, etc. in the final biosolid product. If the results of the project support the hypothesis, they will serve as a model approach to reduce the translocation of OWCs from wastewater treatment facilities into the environment.

Kinney’s research project will provide scientific evidence for a biosolid production process that maintains the sustainable use of the organic rich nutrient source as a soil amendment, while protecting the natural environment and food and water supplies. The increased use of biosolids produced from energy efficient vermicomposting also is likely to result in a net reduction in energy consumption compared to production of synthetic inorganic fertilizers.

“The resources provided by this award will support the efforts of a student research assistant in laying the groundwork in this important area of research. In addition, recognition from the Lindbergh Foundation brings visibility to this issue and line of research as well as the work being carried out at CSU-Pueblo,” said Kinney.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than nine million dry tons of biosolids are produced annually. The practice of applying biosolids to the land is an affordable option for disposing of solid materials produced during wastewater treatment that carries with it many benefits. The high content of organic matter also makes it an attractive soil amendment and a good source of plant nutrients. Recently, however, researchers discovered that applying biosolids to the land could introduce organic compounds like pharmaceuticals, synthetic fragrances, disinfectants and a variety of other OSCs into the soil, which can leach from the soil into groundwater, and some may accumulate in plant tissue, including crops. Kinney and his colleagues have demonstrated that earthworms collected from biosolid amended soil have been measured to accumulate some OWCs found in the biosolid, and other researchers have shown songbirds, consuming OWC containing earthworms also may be affected by OWCs.

“Today’s students will share this planet with more than eight billion people. If we are to sustain our species and our planet, it is imperative that we make full use of the one expandable resource available to us: human intelligence,” said Gregg Maryniak, Chairman of the Grants Committee and Vice Chairman of the Foundation. “The Lindbergh Grants program attracts researchers who are passionate about the environment and about finding solutions to protect and sustain our world.”

“As an unknown in aviation, Charles Lindbergh struggled to find the financial backing he needed to pursue his dream of making a non-stop, solo flight from New York to Paris. The Lindbergh Foundation Grants Program identifies and supports highly creative and dedicated researchers from around the world and provides them with the same opportunity for success as Charles Lindbergh received. That’s why the Lindbergh Grant is set at $10,580,” said Maryniak. “Many of our grant recipients are ‘unknown’ in their fields, too. For them, receiving a Lindbergh Grant provides much-needed credibility to their work and typically enables our recipients to secure additional funding, providing them with valuable leverage.”

The Lindbergh Foundation is a public 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Minnesota that supports individual innovations that foster the environment for a planet in balance. Its programs are devoted to supporting, honoring, and educating individuals, through the annual Lindbergh Award and the Lindbergh Grants program, which provides grants for research or education projects that will make important contributions to a technology/environment balance.

Lindbergh grant applications undergo a rigorous five-step review process focused on evaluations by two independent all volunteer review groups, including a 62-member Technical Review Panel. This international panel is comprised of knowledgeable and respected individuals drawn from the various fields in which Lindbergh grants are made.

Colorado State University - Pueblo is a regional, comprehensive university emphasizing professional, career-oriented, and applied programs. Displaying excellence in teaching, celebrating diversity, and engaging in service and outreach, CSU-Pueblo is distinguished by access, opportunity, and the overall quality of services provided to its students.