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Sunday, June 10, 2007

The importance of the source of your water

Don't be misled to believe all tap water is safe.
Even highly regulated tap water can be contaminated--
by the source from which it flows.

Drinker beware--as is evidenced by this story.

Presenting a yucky truth
By Winston Ross
The Register-Guard
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Entire story at: http://www.registerguard.com/news/2007/06/06/a1.water.0606.p1.php?section=cityregion

Which would you rather drink from?

NORTH BEND - Kyleray Katherman had a feeling the drinking fountains at his school were "gross." But it wasn't until he applied a little science to the spigots that he discovered just how right he was.

For an English assignment, Katherman tested the bacteria content at four North Bend Middle School water fountains and one toilet to challenge a four-year-old policy that banned students from bringing bottled water into class (some were sneaking in alcohol that way).

Guess which sample was cleaner? Hint: It wasn't the water fountains.

The way Katherman made his point shocked his classmates, teachers, the school's administrators and members of the school board, who had no idea just how gross a water fountain could be.

Katherman attends the Oregon Coast Technology School, a charter school that operates at the middle school with a focus on infusing technology into the curriculum, be it in science, math or in this case, English. Students use digital cameras, computers, scanners and the Internet to bolster their education, and they often earn credit on the same project in two or three separate subjects.

This assignment was pure English, but Katherman, 13, used what he'd learned in science class about growing bacteria to inform his presentation. When he needed help, he marched into a campus lab to get it.

The project was simple: Armed with a Q-tip and a petri dish, Katherman swabbed the spigots of four drinking fountains and one toilet, dunking the cotton in the bowl's center and then dragging it around the rim so he'd get a complete sample.

Then he took the results back to the lab and shone a light on the dish to speed up the bacteria's growth, via photosynthesis.

Each of the drinking fountain samples resulted in petri dishes swimming with bacteria. The toilet sample, by comparison, turned out mouth-wateringly clean, likely because it's doused with cleansing chemicals daily. Before revealing where each sample came from, he asked his classmates which water they'd prefer to drink.

They chose the toilet.

"I wanted to see the looks on their faces," Katherman said.

Katherman's presentation also explained the importance of drinking water to the brain's function, and recommendations that students drink between eight and 12 8-ounce glasses each day. Either bring back the water bottles, Katherman urged, or install "down-pour" systems, the kind used in office water coolers. His classmates voted that Katherman take his message to the school's site council, which advised him to take his presentation to the next North Bend School Board meeting.

It didn't take long for the eye-opening PowerPoint to bring about change. Administrators quickly replaced the spigots and casing at three of the water fountains Katherman had tested, and custodians gave them all a thorough cleaning. There's no plan on reversing the bottle ban but more teachers are providing water in their classrooms, Katherman said.

"It was a great lesson. We don't always see things in and about the school that are in need of repair," said Scott Edmondson, the school's principal, adding, "You'd be surprised how clean the water is in a toilet."

Katherman's teacher, Barb Becker, said other students also are bringing about changes - even before they write essays. Administrators noticed them taking pictures of broken lockers, for example, and fixed them.

"The kids got to see that, yes, they can make a difference, if they do it right," Becker said.

One key difference is at the fountains themselves. Even though they've been cleaned, Katherman said, "There's not as long a line."


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