Water Quality Study at the Pauli Murray Center in Durham, North Carolina

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This project examined Maplewood Cemetery's effects on the groundwater quality of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice (PMC). Maplewood Cemetery and the PMC are located in the West End neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina, a prominent and historic African American neighborhood. The PMC bridges history and human rights by honoring Pauli Murray's lifelong fight for peace and equity. At the heart of the PMC rests Pauli Murray's childhood home. This home is situated directly behind Maplewood Cemetery, created as a white-only burial ground. Based on literature examining the effects of cemeteries on groundwater quality, we hypothesized that Maplewood Cemetery might negatively affect the groundwater beneath the PMC. Water samples were collected from three monitoring wells—one at Maplewood Cemetery and two on the premises of the PMC–and a nearby stream from September 2022 to December 2022. Water samples were tested for thirty-three metals and total coliform bacteria. Lithium, manganese, arsenic, lead, and aluminum concentrations in the three monitoring wells and the stream exceeded various non-enforceable water quality standards, such as the North Carolina Groundwater Standards, but did not exceed enforceable drinking water standards. The concentrations of certain metals were generally higher in the samples collected from the well in the cemetery compared to the shallower well at the PMC, which tapped into the same surficial aquifer as the cemetery well. Total coliform concentrations in the three monitoring wells and the stream exceeded the EPA's Total Coliform Rule, and the cemetery had two-to-five-fold higher levels than the PMC. The stream had ten-to-thirty-fold higher total coliforms than the PMC and was the only water source that contained detectable levels of Escherichia coli, a type of coliform bacteria. Further investigation into a reference site and geochemical tracing is needed to determine whether the measured metals and bacteria naturally occur or derive from anthropogenic processes relating to the human burial process. This study contributes to the environmental justice literature regarding disproportionate environmental hazards in communities of color.






Parks, Ryan (2023). Water Quality Study at the Pauli Murray Center in Durham, North Carolina. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/27236.

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