Students test Mersey River for bacteria with shocking results

·3 min read

A group of Grade 7 students delivered some shocking results to the Region of Queens Municipality council meeting December 22.

The South Queens Middle School students had been working on a Social Studies project to test fecal bacteria, or enterococci, levels in the Mersey River. The students found readings of between 230 and 340 enterococci to 100 millilitres of water.

Under Health Canada regulations, it is not advisable to swim in water where there is 70 enterococci/100 ml. And at 170 enterococci/100 ml, the water should not touch skin.

Sibling students Olivia Gallant-Zwicker and her brother Garfield made the presentation to the council and admitted they themselves were shocked by the water’s condition, “expecting it to be way cleaner than it was.”

Their sentiments were echoed by council members.

“This is amazing. I did not know the river was that bad,” said councillor Ralph Gidney. “I live on the river and swim in the river – maybe with a wet suit next year. Thank you. You opened my eyes and we have to get something going to get some work done.”

Councillor Jack Fancy said the numbers were “shocking” and agreed it’s something that needs looking into.

“I honestly didn’t expect their reaction…I thought they were going to disagree with it,” said Olivia.

The Grade 7 Social Studies teacher, Jill Leuschner, commended the pair for their sedulous effort.

“I thought our kids did an excellent job. I was very excited for them,” the teacher told LighthouseNOW, opining that the students “made some very good points and they were very convincing.”

The project was not only scientific in nature, but was also aimed at teaching the students about empowerment – that even though they are young, they do have a voice.

Leuschner described Stella Bowles, the Bridgewater student who has been successful at securing funding for cleaning up the LaHave River through the systematic elimination of straight pipes, as “the perfect example of the empowerment of a young person.”

Bowles gave a testing kit to the school and Leuschner visited her home and was shown how to use the equipment that tests for enterococci bacteria, a type of bacteria commonly found in fecal matter.

Testing was done by the students on two different occasions — October 30 and December 10 — under the Henry Hensey Bridge, at the end of Waterloo Street, at Tupper Park, at the Canoe and Camera Club location, Pine Grove and at 476 Highway 8 in Milton.

Some of these areas are used for swimming, fishing and boating.

“The kids were shocked. Some of them had just been swimming in the water a few days before we did our first test,” said Leuschner.

There are numerous sources of enterococci bacteria, including leaky sewer systems, stormwater runoff, wildlife and pets. If ingested, or if it enters the body through an opening or cut, enterococci can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Leuschner indicated she will continue to test the water once a month while conducting a letter-writing campaign to the various levels of government.

Mayor Darlene Norman congratulated the presenters and their class for their efforts and bringing the issue to the council’s attention. She encouraged them to “keep at it and keep asking questions.”

However, the mayor advised that cleaning up the Mersey River is a big, expensive task. “There is a way to fix it, and it is simply called spending millions and millions of dollars. But we are working towards that goal,” the mayor said.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin