Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)
Reposted with permission.
(Note: Isaac Alderfer is a student at BHS; Brittany Rohrer is a student at TAHS.)
Three students at Massanutten Regional Governor's School are designing and building a fluoride filtration system that will supply clean water to a girl's school in Kenya.
As a project in environmental science teacher Russell Kohrs' research class, Gabrielle DelBiondo, 17, Isaac Alderfer, 17, and Brittany Rohrer, 16, have been working on finding a solution to Nasaruni Academy's lack of clean water.
The Nasaruni Academy, established in 2013, is located in Narok, Kenya, a town west of the capital Nairobi, provides young girls in the Maasai tribe with an education. The boarding school currently has 80 students. Kohrs is a member of the U.S. board of directors.
"The academy exists to provide girls who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity for education with that opportunity," Kohrs said. "These girls largely come from very poor communities. The Maasai communities are an example of that, still living in very traditional ways, and the options for those girls typically are early marriage and educational opportunities are extremely limited, so it's a boarding school, and the idea is to have the girls there as much as possible. There's no public school nearby."
The academy has already drilled a well, but has no pump, which is what some environmental engineering students from James Madison University are focusing on, in partnership with the governor's school.
The high school students are focused on removing fluoride from the water. The East African Rift is considered one of the "fluoride belts" that tend to have a much higher level of fluoride, Kohrs said. Fluoride tests were administered, which found that the amount of fluoride in the water was nine times greater than the standard set in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency and four-and-a-half times more than the World Health Organization standard.
"High fluoride consumption leads to fluorosis, which not only damages the teeth, it also can lead to disfiguring bone issues," Kohrs said.
Filtration systems like reverse osmosis are expensive to install and maintain, with Kohrs estimating that it would cost $30,000.
"The whole time our goal is trying to find something that's cheap and easy for them to use," Alderfer said. "We're going to use what's called bone char to try to filter out the fluoride … so we're building our furnace now to char the bones."
The structure will have a 55-gallon insulated drum that the cattle bones will be placed in to be heated, with charcoal at the bottom.
"It's been really cool to see something that's actually a feasible option for these people that we can actually work on because at first it seemed so broad, but it's cool that we're actually going to be doing something to help," Rohrer said.
The students had a list of potential projects to chose from, and this one grabbed the attention of DelBiondo because of the humanitarian aspect. DelBiondo's parents work at the homeless shelter Mercy House in Harrisonburg.
"It caught my eye. I wanted to do something like science-y, but also a little social justice-y, so this was right up my alley," DelBiondo said.
The students hope to build their own system by the end of the month to test it out. Right now they're still collecting materials.
"We just have to gather the materials and pour some concrete and the concrete pad for it, get the rest of the materials — the drum is there — so we just have to build the interior of that where the charcoal is going to go in and there's some metal pieces we have to put in, then seal it off and light the charcoal and fire it up one time and see how it goes," Kohrs said.
Once it gets the green light, the filtration system can then be reproduced in Narok. The group is using cattle bones donated from local farms for their model, which can be easily replicated in Kenya.
"They do have a lot of cattle bones there, so that's not an issue to get those," Rohrer said.
The filtration system helps not only the girls school, but the entire area.
"Anybody who's taking water from that well will need to remove the fluoride," Kohrs said. "We planned it this way when we drilled the well so that it not only provides water for the school, but can also be a service to the community or whoever lives nearby."
The students are fundraising for the project, which is estimated to cost in the range of $6,000 to $10,000. The group will be raising money through selling $20 Nasaruni Academy T-shirts and through the Empty Bowl Supper at Harrisonburg High School on March 31.
Kohrs hopes to take the students with him to the Nasaruni Academy in Kenya next June for a cross-cultural experience. Alderfer, Rohrer and DelBiondo all said the project — using science to find solutions to real-world problems — has been rewarding.
"I think it's been a really enlightening opportunity for us, because as Americans, we don't really think about these things that are actually happening," DelBiondo said. "This is real, and we're actually helping these people."