Water and its future garnered much attention at the high school science fair at Montana Tech Wednesday.
Sheila Youngblood, a 20-year board member of the Big Hole River Foundation, put her judging skills to work as she checked out the 37-project competition.
She focused on the “best aquatic-related project” category -- as the foundation bestows a special award, plus free membership -- to one such project.
With six water-related science projects on her docket, Youngblood, a retired teacher, scrutinized them and the young scientists, looking for practical applications among entries in the Student Union Building.
“We’re working with continual cleanup of our rivers,” said Youngblood. “There are all kinds of contaminants in the waters.”
Brenna DeMarois, a junior at Sentinel High School in Missoula, presented to Youngblood a workable study testing the effects of pharmaceuticals on water treatment plants.
“It pertains to what’s going on in the environment now,” said DeMarois. “Waste water treatment plants don’t have to test or monitor the amount of contamination in water.”
Her hypothesis tested the amount of caffeine, Aspirin, estrogen, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and pseudoephedrine (like Claritin) following a three-stage algae treatment of a Missoula water treatment plant.
Turns out, the amount of those pharmaceuticals proved to be significantly less in quantity following algae treatment – just as DeMarois predicted.
“The technology is amazing because algae will eat just about anything,” said DeMarois. “That plant is doing everything they need to do. It shows that water going through the spectrometer machine has very low levels of pharmaceuticals.”