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Employees of EPA’s Wheeling Office Receive Prestigious EPA Science Award

Release Date: 06/11/2008
Contact Information: Donna Heron 215-814-5113 /

PHILADELPHIA (June 11, 2008) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic region presented the Regional Science Achievement Award jointly to Margaret Passmore, of Marianna, Pa., and Gregory Pond of Wheeling, W.Va., at its annual Employee Recognition Ceremony on May 13.

This award recognizes outstanding achievements by a professional in engineering or scientific fields in enhancing the scientific foundation of the region’s policy and regulatory initiatives.

Pond, an aquatic biologist, and Passmore, an environmental scientist, work on EPA’s freshwater biology team in Wheeling, W.Va. The two were honored for discovering that an entire order of macroinvertebrate aquatic life (mayflies) have been eliminated from streams located below mountaintop coal mines in Appalachia.

“Maggie and Greg assessed 49 streams in West Virginia to determine the effects of upstream mining activities on downstream benthic macroinvertebrate communities,” said Randy Pomponio, director of EPA’s Environmental Innovations and Assessment Division. “They learned through their study that whole orders of benthic organisms were nearly eliminated in streams below mines, which indicates that aquatic life is being impaired,” Pomponio added.

“The environmental effects of coal mining in Appalachia have been a priority for EPA for a number of years,” Pomponio said. “Most waters in the U.S. are designated for aquatic life uses which means the water must support fish, shellfish, insects and other wildlife that inhabit the water. The aquatic life use is often considered the most sensitive use, and if the water fully supports aquatic life, other human uses and services such as drinking water, are protected as well.”

Passmore, who joined EPA in 1990, grew up in Lodi, N.Y. and graduated from the Cascadilla School in Ithaca, N.Y. in 1980. She attended SUNY Stony Brook and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering chemistry. In 1990 she received a master’s degree from Drexel University in environmental science.

Pond, who has worked at EPA since 2004, graduated from Unity College in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. He received a master’s degree in biology from Eastern Kentucky University in 1996.

This is the second time Passmore and Pond have received this award. In 2002 Passmore was also recognized for her assessment of streams below mountaintop mines. Pond received the award in 2007 for his work with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to develop a wadeable stream index that would help diagnose potential causes of water quality problems.

“The freshwater biology team has been working on the issue of downstream effects of mountaintop mining since 1999,” said Passmore. “We are an interdisciplinary team that develops biocriteria and performs bioassessments within the mid-Atlantic region.” Other team members --Carole Rose, Louis Reynolds, Frank Borsuk and Amy Bergdale – also contributed to these studies, Passmore said.

Passmore also noted that “it is gratifying to know that people recognize the value of the day-to-day detail work including planning the studies, collecting field data, performing the lab work, and analyzing and publishing the data. Science is a process and it takes time to develop and produce good quality data that can inform regulatory and public decisions.”

Pond agreed that being recognized by their peers is important. “While habitat degradation from mountaintop mining is what one sees on the surface, we found that chemical effects are quite pronounced and limit much of the expected biodiversity from what were once naturally rich, diverse Appalachian stream systems,” Pond said.

EPA’s mid-Atlantic region covers Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.