Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Class takes science afield

By William Croyle
Enquirer staff writer

Luke Chaney (left), a member of the Silver Grove High School Biological Survey Team, uses a microscope to examine a micro invertebrate taken from a lake on the Lafarge Gypsum property in Silver Grove. At right is team member Josh Vogel.
(Patrick Reddy/The Enquirer)
SILVER GROVE - Science teacher Bill Belden likes to give his students the freedom to learn by getting them out of the classroom and into the field.

Last year, that freedom resulted in the discovery of high levels of E. coli in a city pond. This year, a local company is relying on the kids' help for wildlife certification.

About a dozen teens from Silver Grove School are testing soil, water and tracking animal life on 200 acres at the Lafarge North America drywall plant.

Belden said they're doing work that professionals are normally called in to do.

"This is a major, monumental undertaking," said Belden. "What these kids have done and what they are doing now will have a major impact on this community."

The students made headlines last fall after the city's building inspector, Greg Vogel, asked them to test the water and soil at a pond at Third and Ash streets. Vogel had gotten complaints from residents about a bad odor coming from the pond. His son Josh was in Belden's class.

"I thought I'd let them try it and see what they came up with," said Vogel. "If they came back with something, we could go to the EPA and get something done."

They found high levels of E. coli from fecal coliform.

"It was exciting to discover," said Josh Vogel, now a senior. "But then we got a little nervous wondering if we were right. We'd never done anything like that before."

The EPA came in and confirmed their findings. The problem, the sanitation district discovered, was a sanitary sewer pipe had been mistakenly linked with a storm sewer pipe.

"I never thought the EPA would get involved, which was exciting," said junior Zack Quitter. "Most importantly, we were able to get the pond fixed."

After hearing about their accomplishment, David Abrams, environmental and safety manager at Lafarge, called the boys last spring to help his company.

Lafarge, which has had some strained relations with the community in the past due to complaints from residents about pollution from the plant, is seeking certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council to improve its land for animals and add credibility to its environmental projects.

"We want to enhance the wildlife in the community and create an environment here where kids can come over on a routine basis," said Abrams. "With the school right here in the community, we decided we'd give them a call."

The boys did some testing in May and again last week. They'll go back for a third series of tests at the end of the month. Wildlife on the land includes raccoons, deer and turkey. Lafarge hope to be certified by early next year.

"So far what we have found there has all been good," said Belden.

"And when this is all over, these kids can always say that they were a part of it."

E-mail wcroyle@enquirer.com

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