YSU professor gives “Saga of the Mahoning River” presentation to Friends of Mahoning River

By Bruce Walton



Without the Mahoning River, Lauren Schroeder, professor emeritus of evolution and ecology at Youngstown State University, said none of us would be in the city right now.

“We’re all here because of the river, and understanding the river and how it supported this community is important to understanding ourselves,” he said.

The Friends of the Mahoning River invited Schroeder to give his presentation “The Saga of the Mahoning River” on Monday evening at Oak Hill Collaborative, 507 Oak Hill Ave., on the city’s South Side.

Patricia Dunbar, president of FOMR, said she invited him for his expertise on the waterway.

“He’s been working on the river for so long, and he has such a knowledge of the river, and he does tend to motivate people to get things done. So I thought it was a good idea to have him here,” she said.

The presentation took the organization’s members through the river’s chaotic and dirty history through it’s time with the people of Youngstown.

From the beginning of the city’s history, the community exploited the river as a natural transport for the waste from the area’s blast furnaces. Later, as Youngstown became a leading producer of steel, and the population began to explode in the early 20th century, the Mahoning River’s pollution skyrocketed.

The river was the source of drinking water for city residents until 1932, but even before then, the water was so contaminated it caused multiple outbreaks of typhoid fever. Thankfully, by the mid-1960s, environmentalism was picking up in the U.S. and efforts began to clean up the river.

Although this is the cleanest the river has been in most people’s lifetimes, Schroeder said Youngstown has a long way to go to restore it.

He offered several ways to help that restoration. People could remove the contaminated sediment with the oil and pollution below the surface; remove low-head dams which disrupt the river’s natural flow; and implement a restriction on the amount of pollutants the river receives daily.

One of the last things Schroeder mentioned that could also help heal the river: time.

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