Talking her way onto the grounds of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility in Colorado sparked a desire to work with nuclear waste and led Shannon Seneca to become the first Native American woman to earn a doctorate in engineering at the University of Buffalo. Seneca is Mohawk and part of the Six Nations community near Brantford, Canada where as she explained she learned the Great Law of Haudenosaunee that basically states that people should consider how their decision will affect future generations. Attending Buffalo State College she earned her BS in physics in 2001 and her MS in environmental engineering at the University of Buffalo in 2006, where she was awarded her Ph.D. in 2012. While at Buffalo she helped to found a local chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and worked with the public school’s Native American Magnet Schools.
Her doctoral research focused on ways to remove radioactive waste from West Valley, located about 30 miles south of Buffalo. Helping to develop a permeable wall that when placed underground it would filter and remove strontium-90 from the soil. The National Groundwater Association awarded this work as the 2011 Outstanding Groundwater Remediation Project of the year.
Working as the Director of Environmental Health as part of the Seneca Nation she head up a unit whose responsibilities include maintaining the health and welfare of the Seneca people in relation to their environment, both natural and man-made and to prevent environmentally related diseases among the Seneca people through the development and implementation of a comprehensive environmental health program.
Since September 2014 she has been president and an environmental engineer at Seneca Research, Remediation, and Restoration a firm that provides environmental services to tribal and federal governments as well as private industry. Their services include sampling of soil, groundwater and surface water, site investigation and characterization, remedial action plans, site preparation and clean-up, hazardous material removal & disposal, and wastewater treatment and disposal. Their current projects include radionuclide assessment and erosion studies at Cattaraugus Creek and other bodies of water in western New York State.
Written by Angela Goad