As an environmental engineer and an academic researcher, Professor McNally is interested in pollution, its effects on human health and ecosystems, and how to prevent or reduce those effects through sustainable tools and innovative cleanup technologies.
He teaches courses in environmental science, toxicology and green technologies. McNally’s work is highly applied. Current projects include studying the effects of climate change on contaminants in Narragansett Bay, identifying organisms that can break down pollutants on land and in water, and investigating the toxic effects of waste generated from electrical power plants.
Fly ash – the fine powder that results from burning coal – is a topic of particular interest. In one recent study, McNally grew rye grass in soil containing fly ash and found that the grass contained elevated levels of trace metals such as arsenic and selenium. His findings are important because fly ash has been added as a supplement to topsoil used to grow food crops.
“Right now, coal-generated fly ash isn’t classified as a hazardous waste by the EPA, and we need more information to know whether it’s safe,” he said. “I love what I do because we have major environmental problems out there, and my students and I can be part of finding solutions.”
Working with students in class and in the lab is McNally’s greatest joy. In 2014, he received Bryant’s Mentor of the Year Award. “It’s funny,” he said. “I never thought I’d love teaching – and I really do. Working with students is where I belong.”
● Environmental science
● Transport of toxic chemicals through the environment
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