Chantaly Villalona

MIT Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Prof. Desiree Plata
Undergraduate Institution: Wellesley College
Website: LinkedIn
Research Poster


Hello! My name is Chantaly (Chan-tah-lee). I live in Newark, NJ, and call the Dominican Republic home. I am a rising senior Geoscience major and Mathematics minor at Wellesley College. My interests lie in environmental engineering, namely urban water management with a focus on clean drinking water access, public health, and affordable filtration systems. Through research, I aim to move towards a water-secure future for all. God willing, my career goal is to become an engineering professor upon completing a Ph.D. and teaching at a local college in my hometown. When not in the lab, I can be found trying to make people laugh, drawing, and looking forward to Cru’s weekly bible study. A fun fact about me is that I was born on Earth Day and hope to design and build my own tiny house or converted bus in the coming years.

2021 Abstract

Chemical Characterization of Heavy Metals for Healthy Agriculture

Chantaly Villalona1, Kristen Riedinger 2 and Desiree Plata3
1Wellesley College, Department of Geosciences
2, 3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Local agriculture is critical to public health and food security, providing produce that supplies essential nutrients, but may also contain harmful contaminants. Industrial pollutants are ubiquitous in the environment and can serve as a major source of pollution in the soil, water and air. Currently, exposure to chemicals by food and farms remains poorly documented. To address this, with Daedalus Software Inc., we seek to increase consumer access to food history through technology. Our analysis will inform this technology, providing the necessary chemical characterization data. This study will collect soil, produce, water and grass samples at 100 farms in Massachusetts (MA), varying in proximity to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund sites. Using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (FAAS), we identified and quantified a total of 22 metallic elements, including lead, copper, chromium and calcium. We aimed to understand the relationship between proximity to EPA Superfund sites and concentrations of “Superfund” chemicals in agricultural samples. Having mapped all EPA Superfund sites in MA alongside the 21 previously sampled farm locations onto ArcGIS; only seven were within ten miles of an EPA Superfund site. Preliminary observations display little to no relationship between proximity to the nearest EPA Superfund site and concentration of elements of interest, ultimately highlighting no distinguishable systematic contamination of MA farms by EPA Superfund sites. Additionally, most pollutant concentrations were below EPA maximum contaminant levels and resident soil screening levels, with the exception of a few outliers. Future studies will continue sampling and characterizing harmful chemicals prior to distributing reports to farmers and providing access to food history at the customer level to boost confidence in the nation’s food supply.