A City and Its River: Contaminant Risk in Durham's Ellerbe Creek Watershed (2022-2023)
Urban watersheds are dynamic ecological systems shaped by social, physical and ecological forces. A long history of systemic environmental racism and economic inequities has had a destructive impact on biological diversity and human health in cities.
The Ellerbe Creek watershed is Durham’s primary watershed, and is closely intertwined with Durham and Duke’s East Campus. The 37-square-mile urban watershed is highly developed, with 22% of the land covered in impervious surfaces such as roads and buildings. As in most human-dominated landscapes, wildlife and plant diversity is limited to fragmented greenways and patchy forest parcels, streams are stressed with high concentrations of pollutants, and socioeconomic legacies of racial and income inequalities alter the structure and public access to the benefits of urban ecological systems.
Building on the work of the 2021-2022 team, this project team worked closely with the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association and local neighborhood representatives to design research and outreach projects on the distribution of socioeconomic capital, chemical pollution and ecological amenities throughout the Ellerbe Creek watershed.
- The map subteam explored how ecological amenities and chemical risks are distributed throughout the Ellerbe Creek watershed and how they relate to socioeconomic diversity (formerly redlined regions). Team members used datasets and layered maps to explore what correlations exist between ecological amenities and chemical risks and what historical activities can explain some of these trends.
- The contaminant subteam collected water and stream biota samples to assess the diversity of new and legacy contaminants. Team members assessed samples for water quality indicators and conduct detailed chemical analyses at the Duke Exposomics Lab to examine how the mixture of contaminants changes along the main stem and between tributaries of Ellerbe Creek.
- The ecotoxicology subteam examined the impact of contaminant mixtures on aquatic organisms. Team members partnered with the Duke Environmental Toxicology and Health Lab to run zebrafish assays on water samples to determine how stressed the Ellerbe Creek’s aquatic life is and whether contaminant mixtures correlate to toxicity measured in the assays.
Fall 2022 – Spring 2023
A City and Its River: Contaminant Risk in Durham's Ellerbe Creek Watershed (Rithik Castelino and Caroline Dear, lightning talk at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, April 19, 2023)
A City and Its River: Contaminant Risk in Durham's Ellerbe Creek Watershed (Interactive Display presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 19, 2023)
Report for community partners
This Team in the News
See related Data+ summer project, A City and Its River: Contaminant Risk in Durham (2022), and earlier related team, A City and Its River: Durham’s Ellerbe Creek Watershed (2021-2022).
Image: Ellerbe Creek, by Nick Doty, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
- Steven Anderson, Arts & Sciences-Biology
- Jonathan Behrens, University Program on Ecology–Ph.D. Student
- Emily Bernhardt, Arts & Sciences-Biology
- Lee Ferguson, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
- Nishad Jayasundara, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
/graduate Team Members
Kaila Balch, Global Health - MSc
Nadia Barbo, Master of Environmental Management, Ecotoxicology & Environmental Health
Natasha Jacob, Master of Environmental Management, Water Resources Management, Geospatial Analysis
/undergraduate Team Members
Rithik Castelino, Chemistry (BS)
Caroline Dear, Environmental Sciences (BS)
Alberto Garcia Perez, Chemistry (BS)
Madison Stadem, Environmental Sciences (BS)
/yfaculty/staff Team Members
Heather Stapleton, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
/zcommunity Team Members
Max Cawley, NC Museum of Life and Science
Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association