Water Pollution Pioneer, Ruth Patrick, Dies at 105

Ruth Patrick, a pioneer in studying the health of freshwater streams and rivers who laid the scientific groundwork for modern pollution control efforts, passed away on September 23rd. She was 105.  Dr. Patrick was associated with the Academy of Natural Sciences for more than 70 years. Patrick, an adviser to presidents and the recipient of distinguished science awards, was one of the country’s leading experts in the study of freshwater ecosystems, or limnology. She achieved that renown after entering science in the 1930s, when few women were able to do so, and working for the academy for eight years without pay. “She was worried about and addressing water pollution before the rest of us even thought of focusing on it,” said James Gustave Speth, a former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Dr. Patrick built her career around research on thousands of species of single-cell algae called diatoms, which float at the bottom of the food chain. She showed that measuring the kinds and numbers of diatoms revealed the type and extent of pollution in a body of water. Her method of measurement has been used around the world to help determine water quality.