Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Generation Next: CLEAN-India Water Testing

Generation Next: CLEAN-India Water Testing
February 2010
Development Alternatives is a non-government organization that manages the Community-Led Environment Action Network, “CLEAN-India”. The objective of this campaign is to develop a cleaner environment for towns and cities starting with activism at school communities. This nation-wide programme targets environmental assessment, awareness, advocacy and action, all of which is spearheaded by school students. Starting from individuals, households to communities, villages and towns, students are encouraged to make their voices heard, anxieties understood and concerns translated into action for a cleaner environment.

One of the main activities for CLEAN-India’s environmental assessment phase is the testing of air pollution and water contamination at local schools. CLEAN-India works with students to test for air and water quality at regular intervals throughout the year to determine whether action needs to be taken to improve the school environment. The experiments are also effective at educating students about environmental issues through hands-on experience.

Sackhumvit Trust partnered with CLEAN-India in August 2009 to conduct air pollution testing with government school students associated with Dream School Foundation’s (DSF) Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar’s education and development centres. The sessions were well-received, as most students had never participated in a science experiment involving chemicals and lab equipment. Students were also sensitized to the sources and prevalence of air pollution in Bangalore city, and the negative health-affects that air pollution can cause.

Based on the positive student response to CLEAN-India’s air pollutionexperiments, Sackhumvit Trust organized a series of water testing workshops with Ms. Shalini from CLEAN-India in February 2010. Our objective was to educate students about the necessary parameters for safe drinking-water and the main sources for water pollution. We also wanted to encourage hands-on learning by enabling students to conduct science experiments where they apply concepts learned at school.

Student Participants
This time around, Sackhumvit Trust expanded our outreach and organized this workshop on-site at two schools in R.T. Nagar, Bangalore: R.T. Nagar Govt. P.U. College (8th-9th standards) and Almubark Primary and Girl’s English High School (6-10th standards). Sackhumvit Trust also conducted the workshops for 8th-9th standard students enrolled at DSF’s R.T. Nagar and Yeshwantpur after-school tutorial programs.
The workshop was very popular at the local schools with an average turnout of 150 students each session! While the large audience is a strong indicator of the demand for such extra-curricular activities on-campus at low-income area schools, it would have been ideal to work with a smaller group so that the sessions could be more interactive and participatory. This was apparent at DSF’s education and development centres where the average group size was 20 students per session, thus enabling each and every student to participate in the science experiments and engage in dialogue with Ms. Shalini.

Water Testing Experiment
Jal-TARA Portable Water Testing Kits is one of CLEAN-India’s key program tools. The kit can be used to perform basic tests to ensure water portability. It is an effective tool that enables students to put into practice the theoretical aspects of chemistry that are learned in the classroom. This empowers students to learn more about the quality of the environment and use their findings to create or demand solutions. The kit can test 14 essential parameters for drinking-water and river-water quality. The tests are broadly classified as physical, chemical, and biological.
Physical: pH, Temperature and Turbidity.
Chemical: Fluoride, Chloride, Residual Chlorine, Hardness, Iron, Phosphate, Ammonia, Nitrate and  Dissolved Oxygen.
Biological: Coliform Bacteria and Benthic Diversity.

Ms. Shalini commenced each workshop with a discussion of water bodies on Earth, the scarcity of fresh water sources, and the severe water shortages faced by communities across India. She then explored the various contaminants of water (as listed above), and the negative side-effects associated with each. Some pertinent examples include how the presence of nitrates in drinking-water (above a certain threshold) can cause “blue baby syndrome.” Similarly, fluoride can lead to the deterioration of one’s teeth and skeletal structure, and e-coli bacteria can cause acute water-borne diseases. Students also learned the implications of water hardness: that the presence of magnesium, calcium, etc., ions in water can leave deposits in water piping systems resulting in blockages and bursting.

Ms. Shalini distinguished between parameters for drinking-water and that for surface bodies of water. For example, parameters such as Dissolved Oxygen, Benthic Diversity, and Turbidity are more important when testing for the water quality of lakes and rivers than drinking-water, as these factors are critical to the survival of aquatic life.

Following the discussion, Ms. Shalini invited students to conduct a series of water tests concerning the above parameters. Water samples came from the tap and bore-wells of each school. At DSF’s Yeshwantpur and R.T. Nagar centres, students also brought water samples from their homes. Ms. Shalini covered all experiments with the exception of testing for nitrate and iron levels, which required a heating appliance that most schools and centres did not have. These tests were conducted, however, at DSF’s Yeshwantpur centre, which had a gas stove on-site and student were thrilled to execute the additional activities. The experiments were effective at re-enforcing the importance of testing water quality prior to consumption, and Ms. Shalini made sure to link each activity with points covered during her discussion.

Although not directly applicable, students also conducted the tests for surface water bodies (i.e. turbidity) using their drinking-water samples. Overall, students enjoyed conducting the experiments—especially those involving the observation of color changes and titrations (most students were not familiar with this lab procedure).

Each workshop concluded with a brief revision of what students and learned and enjoyed the most. The Headmistresses of R.T. Nagar P.U.College and Almubark Primary and High Schools were grateful to
Ms. Shalini, and requested that she return to conduct CLEAN-India's air pollution experiment. Sackhumvit Trust would like to thank Ms. Shalini from CLEAN-India in helping us organize this event. We are also grateful to DSF for enabling us to work with students at its education and development centres, and for putting us in touch with local schools that would be interested in this activity.

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