Spaghetti Sauce: The Secret to Clean Water

Alyson Bell is one of four people chosen for this year’s Manning Young Canadian Innovation Award.  This high school student’s ability to turn her curiosity into a creative solution at the Canada-wide science fair, has won her this award among others, including a $500 Manning Innovation Achievement Award – given to eight people each year – along with university entrance scholarships and $40,000 worth of prizes for her science fair project.

The project is a natural water filter that uses oregano to filter bacteria from water.  Bell figured out the secret to clean water from her grandfather’s oregano-dense spaghetti sauce recipe.  Wondering how the sauce was able to last over three weeks in the refrigerator without spoiling, Bell tested her hypothesis, that oregano keeps bacteria from growing, in a petri dish.  Finding her hypothesis to be correct, she turned these results into an innovative water filter made with fresh oregano layered between sandy gravel and charcoal.  Contaminated water that passed through the filter was disease-free.

But are Bell’s results really that innovative?  It has long been known that oregano has numerous health benefits.  Wild oil of oregano is often used as a holistic alternative to traditional medicine, to boost immunity and prevent disease.  It has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-parasitic properties, so it’s no surprise that it would work as a filter for contaminated water.  According to a recent article announcing Bell’s achievement, the oregano-filtered water “came out clean and potable.”  But, the question remains:

Did it taste like grandfather’s spaghetti?

Kevin Costner’s Oil Spill Machines & Waterworld

The New York Times recently published an article on Kevin Costner, who was so disturbed by the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 that he invested in oil separation machines shortly thereafter. Costner partnered with Ocean Therapy Solutions and donated millions of his own money toward the development of oil separation machines, should such an oil spill occur in the future.

Now, as everyone is scrambling to control and clean up the BP oil spill, Ocean Therapy claims to have six of its 32 oil separation machines ready for testing. Costner said that the larger machines can separate 200 gallons a minute, which works out to around 210,000 gallons of oil from water a day. Ocean Therapy is waiting for BP’s approval to test the machines.

The New York Times article suggests the story evokes the tagline of Costner’s movie Field of Dreams. You know, “If you build it, they will come?”

I can’t help but think of another Kevin Costner film: Waterworld. In that post-apocalyptic film, a group called the smokers — led by Dennis Hopper — take as their base an old rusted out oil tanker. The name of this oil tanker? You guessed it, the Exxon Valdez.

It may be easier to pick up on the environmental issues at the heart of this action film when watching it today. Apocalyptic films like The Day after Tomorrow and 2012 have shown us that environmental catastrophies can make some of the best disaster movies. The post-apocalyptic Waterworld was a result of the polar ice caps melting, which then flooded the Earth completely. (If you’re looking for less action, check out our list of five must-watch water movies.)

In Waterworld, Kevin Costner plays “the Mariner,” one of many mutants who have evolved with gills and webbed feet to match their environment. Had the film not been one of the biggest flops of its day, I wonder if Costner would entertain a sequel based on the recent BP oilpocalypse? At the rate the current oil spill cleanup is going, we may evolve before it is stopped.

Let’s hope Kevin Costner and Ocean Therapy’s oil spill machines can prevent that, or else — like the Exxon Valdez — we may be seeing a BP oil tanker in the next environmental disaster film.

Bottled Water Ban – Thoughts from Penn State University

I just wanted to share some of the response we received to our recent article, “Should Universities Ban Bottled Water.”  Pennsylvania State University’s College of Education Ph. D Candidate,  Peter Buckland claims that, “The pros for bottled water are pretty vapid and easily refuted” by the following arguments (directly quoted):

  • People have not turned to less healthy alternatives in any study I have seen.
  • In the name of convenience universities can work with students to create easy-to-reuse bottles that they can carry with them. That is real convenience.
  • Choice is used to create a false sense of entitlement that generates waste in the name of freedom and convenience. It’s utter nonsense. Smokers said it should be their choice over other people’s health to smoke wherever they wanted to when the side effects were clear. The same argument, though more protracted works in this case.
  • The notion that you make bottled water always available in the name of an emergency when the emergency doesn’t exist at all times is pretty silly. Though the analogy is a little bit weak in this case, everyone isn’t allowed to carry a concealed weapon because there MIGHT be a killer in the restaurant you are in. Should we have access to any other number of ecologically and socially degrading things in the name of disasters? If anything, that’s an argument for the stockpiling and reserving of water for emergencies. When I was a kid we had a giardia outbreak where I lived and the national guard brought us water. Take care of water with tax money and not with private waste.

He makes some interesting points… What do you guys think?

Feel free to contribute to the discussion by posting a comment below or e-mail to be featured in a separate post.

In the meantime, stay tuned for more responses from other universities.  Not affiliated with a university? That’s okay – we still want to hear from you.