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Chemical Cocktails: What’s in our Groundwater? with John Cherry

If it’s not stuck in glaciers or polar ice, 99 per cent of the world’s freshwater is groundwater. Water underground supplies nearly half of the world’s drinking water. But what happens when dangerous chemicals and waste – polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), oil, gasoline and road salts – percolate down into that supply?

On this episode of What About Water? Jay sits down with the father of contaminant hydrogeology, Dr. John Cherry, to talk about the water under our feet, and how we can better monitor it. In the 1970s, Cherry wrote the foundational textbook on groundwater with his colleague, Al Freeze. And we hear how one of his students paved the path for his successful career in the field.

To find out what’s actually being done to stop industry polluters from dispersing PFAS chemicals into our waterways, producer Erin Stephens speaks with Marc Yaggi, CEO of the global nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance. Yaggi shares what Waterkeeper is advocating for in Congress, brands eliminating PFAS from their production lines, and how everyone can get involved in the effort to get these “forever chemicals” out of our rivers. Check out their surface water quality survey here to learn more.

Got a question for Jay? Write to us at [email protected] and you may hear your question in an upcoming episode. Voice memos are also welcome!

Guest Bios

John CherryJohn Cherry

John A. Cherry holds geological engineering degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and University of California Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D. in hydrogeology from the University of Illinois. He joined the faculty at the University of Waterloo in 1971 for field research on the migration and fate of contaminants in groundwater and their remediation. He retired from Waterloo in 2006, but he continues research as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. He co-authored the textbook Groundwater with R.A. Freeze (1979) and co-edited and co-authored several chapters in the book Dense Chlorinated Solvents and Other DNAPLs in Groundwater (1996). Dr. Cherry has participated in the development of technologies for groundwater monitoring and remediation, co-holds several patents, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and has received awards from scientific and engineering societies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He held the Research Chair in Contaminant Hydrogeology at the University of Waterloo from 1996 to 2006 and is currently the Director of the University Consortium for Field-Focused Groundwater Research. Dr. Cherry is also a principal investigator at the Morwick G360 Groundwater Research Institute and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph.

Marc YaggiMarc Yaggi

Marc Yaggi is Chief Executive Officer of Waterkeeper Alliance, a U.S.-based, global movement of community-based advocates and supporters united to protect clean and abundant water for all people and the planet. Marc has dedicated his entire career to environmental advocacy and has been instrumental in expanding the Waterkeeper movement around the world for more than 20 years. Marc leads with a deep, personal passion for clean water and provides organizational leadership by developing strategic partnerships and promoting the Waterkeeper model of advocacy. Marc works daily to raise public awareness about the issues central to the organization’s vision for clean, healthy, and abundant water for all people and the planet. Before joining Waterkeeper Alliance, Marc was a Senior Attorney and Watershed Program Director for Riverkeeper, Inc., where he worked to protect the 2,000-square mile watershed that serves as New York City’s drinking water supply. Previously, Marc served as a Staff Attorney with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. In addition to authoring numerous articles, Marc has appeared in publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Politico, and his quotes have been picked up by wire services such as AP, Bloomberg, and Reuters. For the past two decades, he has inspired audiences all over the world with keynote speeches, conference panels, and corporate seminars. Marc has a degree in Administration of Justice from The Pennsylvania State University and a J.D. and an LL.M in Environmental Law from the Pace University School of Law. He lives in New York with his wife and two children. They love getting out on the water as a family as often as they can.

Dive Deeper

  • The Groundwater Project
  • Waterkeeper Alliance
  • Groundwater is susceptible to pollutants including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. PFAS are a large group of human-made environmentally persistent organic compounds introduced in the 1940s with properties that make many of them toxic and persistent in the environment. (EPA)
  • 99% of the world’s liquid freshwater is groundwater (A snapshot of the world’s groundwater challenges)
  • Groundwater supplies 38% of the drinking water in the United States and almost half of all drinking water worldwide. (The Nature Conservancy)
  • The G360 Institute for Groundwater Research has a nearly two-decade long collaboration with the City of Guelph (population 130,000) near Toronto to design and install a high-resolution 3D groundwater monitoring network using the most advanced technologies to track groundwater levels and water chemistry over time. (Smart Water Magazine)
  • Groundwater contamination is nearly always the result of human activity (EPA)


Photo Credit

  • John Cherry – Submitted
  • Marc Yaggi – Bryan Bedder

Full Transcript

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