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Nicaragua is the classroom for Dr. Jaehong Kim's environmental engineers

Heidi Vreeland spent her spring break working on a practicum for GTCEE4803, Environmental Technology in the Developing World.

But before you start feeling sorry for the environmental engineering student, consider this: the practicum involved a week of exploration and research in the exotic locale of Chinandega, Nicaragua.

On Wednesday, April 18, Vreeland and her classmates will give a pictorial and oral presentation of their results, from 4:45 to 6:00 p.m. in Room L1105 of the ES&T Building. The entire community is invited, but you are asked RSVP by visiting the GTCEE4803 Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GTCEE4803.

Taught by Dr. Jaehong Kim, the course challenges students to tackle current environmental and human health problems in underdeveloped regions. Its popularity – and its challenge – comes in part from Kim’s insistence that they apply their theories to an actual locale.

This year, and last year, Kim’s students traveled to Nicaragua where they worked with a local organization, Amigos for Christ, to model water distribution for chlorine dosing, optimize an aquaponics system, analyze air quality, and test their own small-scale systems.

Vreeland’s team specifically focused on the effects of cooking fires on air quality and user health in five Nicaraguan communities, including one within the Chinandega dumping grounds.

Before setting foot in Chinandega, the students predicted that the traditional cooking fires used by the families in these communities produced pollutants at levels far above those set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Their predictions proved true. But additional research led them to an additional finding: because household waste is also burned, residents living near the dumping grounds are exposed daily to ambient carbon monoxide levels that exceed twice the yearly EPA standard.

In addition, of all the five communities studied, the areas around the dumping grounds were found to have the highest levels of particulate matter in their air – a finding that has galvanized the community effort to move residents away from the dumping grounds altogether.

Find out more about the work of this exciting class on April 18.