Tennessee Environmental Council teaches CHES class at state park

Friday, October 19, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Mike Cain explains water creatures and where they live to students from Chapel Hill Elementary School.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL - Volunteers last week taught students from the elementary school about aquatic life, how to test water quality and other lessons about nature during a field trip to Henry Horton State Park.

"Bugs are used to tell us what water quality we have and we have pretty good water quality," said Mike Cain, Tennessee Environmental Council volunteer who's also a graduate student studying biology at Middle Tennessee State University.

Cain and Jason Young, another environmental council volunteer, caught river critters in a net, showed them to the children and explained that the variety of macro invertebrates shows Duck River water and shoreline provide a good habitat. That's an indication of clean water.

Excessive nitrogen from farms, siltation of streambeds from muddy water, phosphorous and oils ruin aquatic habitats and kill the various life forms found by the volunteers and displayed to the students.

"Stormwater is the big driver of our environment now," Cain said of rain flowing across streets, construction sites and wherever it picks up pollutants.

Teresa Dugger showed students how to measure acid in water. She's a breast cancer research lab manager and a member of Friends of Henry Horton State Park.

A tablet made for the test is dropped into a sample of river water and the level of acidity is indicated by the color that is displayed in the water after the tablet dissolves.

The color-metric test measured hydrogen ions. It's called a pH test because pH is the symbol for hydrogen on the periodic table of elements.

Holley Hanes, an environmental engineer with General Motors, tested water for dissolved oxygen.

"As we need oxygen to breathe and live, so do fish and the bugs," Hanes.

Jessica Preston is a geologist employed by Waste Management. She measured river water samples for conductivity of electricity with an electronic meter.

Water with high conductivity tends to have more dissolved contaminants, such as nitrate chloride, which can be a pollutant.

Conductivity and pH tests are used by Waste Management at test wells around Cedar Ridge Landfill, according to Stacey Cothran, another volunteer with Friends of Henry Horton State Park who is employed by Waste Management.

The Chapel Hill Elementary School students' field trip was Oct. 12.