SoundCitizen was started in 2008 by a group of undergraduates from the University of Washington in Seattle. The students wondered whether it was possible to detect human-originated compounds in the water systems, and decided to find out by testing for cooking spices in local waters. The project has since grown and its scope has been broadened. The focus is still on scientific investigation and knowledge discovery of the chemical links between urban settings and aquatic systems. However, in addition to studying compounds like cooking spices, they also study more serious ones, pollutants in particular.

SoundCitizen is still staffed by undergraduate students at the University of Washington, whose individual research topics help define the overall scientific aims of the program. SoundCitizen encourages involvement with citizen volunteers and school groups, who voluntarily collect water samples from aquatic systems, perform a series of basic chemical tests, and then mail samples to the lab to be further analyzed for cooking spices and emerging pollutants.

Since the program’s inception in November 2008, more than 300 volunteers and 500 K-12 students have participated in the program. More than 1,000 kits have been distributed, and more than 95 percent of the returned samples have passed initial quality control screening and have been fully processed for emerging pollutants and cooking spices.