A team of University graduate researchers is comprised of metal heads.
The students have been giving back to the community by testing water for heavy metal contamination in residential homes in Juliette.
James Bevington, a graduate student working on a master’s degree in environmental engineering, started working on the project in January while taking an ecology practical taught by Laurie Fowler, an associate dean in the Odum School of Ecology.
The Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club sent a request to Fowler for someone to put together a plan to go down to Juliette and sample water to see if Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer had any effect on the contamination of drinking water there.
James Bevington decided to use the request as his memo topic in Fowler’s class and combined it with a project he had to do for a sampling class to actually go to Juliette and sample water instead of just creating the plan.
“The reason the whole thing got started is because a lot of people are sick and nobody really knows why,” Bevington said. “A lot of people are pointing the finger at the plant, but until you have data to support that it’s just a theory.”
Two other students, Chad Andrews and Wendy Wright, are also working on the project to help with sampling, analyzing and writing the final report.
The students decided to continue the project over the summer as a special topics course taught by William Miller, a College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences professor.
A wide variety of health problems were being reported in Juliette that could not be explained, from respiratory problems to rare forms of cancer.
“You really just want to give them an answer,” Bevington said. “It’s sad to see people who have lived there their entire life or invested their life savings in a house and they’re scared to take a shower in their home.”
In doing that, the students wanted to put the access they had to University labs and sample testing machines like the ICP Mass Spectrometry, which costs $150 to test an outside sample, to good use while they had the opportunity.
“I felt like if we were going to use a $100,000 dollar machine we should do something useful,” said Bevington. “We wanted to go ahead and utilize our access to resources as students for the community.”
Since the students released their first report with the findings from the first round of sampling in the spring the Georgia Department of Public Health also began looking into the health concerns about the water in Juliette.
“The first report that we published gave the [Georgia Department of Public Health] grounds to go down there and start investigating,” Bevington said. “They’ve had their eye on the situation, but they had to have something in writing from an outside source that said 'Hey, this ought to be looked at a little bit closer,’ and I think because we were associated with the University that was just enough.”
The first set of data that was taken by the students from 11 homes in the area around Plant Scherer did not show anything to prove that the metals found in water samples came from the plant, but recommended that more sampling should be conducted.
The residents in Juliette that the students have worked with have been receptive and cooperative to the testing.
“Nobody has been negative against it,” Bevington said. “I think some people are a little hesitant to have their water tested, but most people are excited about it.”
The research in Juliette is ongoing and results from the second set of sampling completed by the University students have not yet been reported.