Turning a Hobby into a Career: John’s Geology Journey

John Morettini ’90

The Sisters of Mercy are committed to five “critical concerns”: Earth, Immigration, Nonviolence, Racism, and Women. Much of Mercyhurst Prep’s exploration of Catholic social teaching is rooted in these concerns, and many of our alumni leave the halls of MPS living out their lives with a continuing focus on them. John Morettini ’90 has made a career around the critical concern Earth.

John had always been interested in rocks and fossils as a child, like most young boys, but as he grew, so did that interest. On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helen erupted, and he was hooked. From then on, he learned as much as he could about geology. John took every science class that he could at MPS and even took a single trimester geology course with Mr. Rohrbach, who, he said, was a huge inspiration. When he took that geology course at MPS, that is when he realized this could be more than just a hobby for him.

Millcreek Dump Site trench

After his day at MPS, John received his bachelor’s in geology from Thiel College, where he is now an adjunct professor teaching geology courses in the Environmental Science Department. Out of school, he worked as a geologist for two geo-technical firms that dealt with large-scale construction projects, and the pride of his young career was performing the soil analysis for the Cleveland Browns FirstEnergy Stadium. He went back to school to receive his Master’s from Emporia State University in Kansas, and, along with teaching at Thiel, he now works for the PA Department of Environmental Protection. John is a licensed professional geologist and has worked for DEP for a little over twenty years. He is the only geologist assigned to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program (HSCA). The HSCA is the state equivalent to the US Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Program, and John has worked on both state and federal sites. Simply put, he works to provide a clean and safe environment for us all. He inspects potentially contaminated sites to find the contamination and determine what media needs to be sampled. After sampling and confirming the contamination, he designs a plan to remove the contamination and oversees that removal. We are only scratching the service of what John does, but it’s evident that he is doing some pretty incredible things for our world.

Millcreek Treatment Plant

John shared with us about some of his most interesting, multimillion, decade-long projects.

“The Millcreek Dump Site is a covered landfill in Millcreek Township. The landfill has contaminated the groundwater, so a treatment plant was built to clean it. We operate the treatment plant that collects water out of buried trenches, treats the contaminated water in multiple processes, and discharges the clean water into Marshall Run and eventually Lake Erie. The treatment plant has been in operation for almost 30 years and continues to clean the groundwater to state and federal standards.

“The New Castle Development Corporation is a 500-acre site that was used for manufacturing explosives from the late 1800s until 1972. They produced trinitrotoluene (TNT) until 1928, then dynamite and nitroglycerin until 1969, and ammonium nitrate until 1972. During the investigation of the site, we had to bring in a remote control drilling rig due to encountering explosives in the soils. We have worked with the property owners and the responsible parties to clean up the property, and we continue to work on cleaning additional areas. Now, part of the property is used by the Hickory Run Energy Plant, one of the largest gas-fired electric plants in America, along with a producing natural gas well, and a small industrial complex for businesses.

Remacor magnesium waste drums

“Berlin Metals is an old metal plating facility in Punxsutawney. During an inspection of the facility, I found (after sampling) hexavalent chromium seeping through the wall in a partial basement. We drilled through the floor of the facility to sample the soils beneath the building and found mass contamination from the metal plating operations. The best option for the safety of the public was to tear down the dilapidated building and remove all of the contaminated soils beneath it. When finished, we had clean property.

“The Saegertown Industrial Area is an industrial park that consisted of four companies. These companies contaminated the groundwater with Volatile Organic Carbon Compounds (VOC’s). We are cleaning the groundwater with the use of bio-remediation. There are microbes in the groundwater that break down the VOC’s into non-hazardous chemicals. We injected molasses into the groundwater to help feed the microbes and make them multiply to deal with the contamination. It has protected French Creek, which runs next to the property, and the Borough of Saegertown was able to purchase part of the property and install two public water supply wells.

Remacor drums repacked for recycling

“Remacor is a metal recycling facility in the town of West Pittsburg that is out of business. When the facility stopped operating, the owner kept taking magnesium waste and stockpiled it on the property. In total, there were over 11 million pounds of magnesium. The problem with magnesium is that as the drums fail and the magnesium is exposed to water, it ignites very violently. While working there, we had to carry thermal cameras with us to see if any drums or piles were heating up. We ended up repacking all of the magnesium into new drums and shipped it off to operational recycling facilities.”