Sarah Boyer, left, and Elizabeth Bennett won first place with their timely project.

Sarah Boyer, left, and Elizabeth Bennett won first place with their timely project.

Mary Persons students Sarah Boyer and Elizabeth Bennett won an all-expenses-paid trip to Anaheim, Calif. this past weekend by taking first place at the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair in Milledgeville. Their winning project out of 198 submitted covered a very timely subject, the environmental impact of Plant Scherer. Boyer and Bennett’s project took first place (top 30 percent) and Best in Show and they advanced to the state science fair at UGA in March.

Their project also won the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, the NASA Earth System Science Award and the Genius Olympiad Award, which cludes priority admission to a science summer program in New York.

The judges told Boyer and Bennett, both juniors, that the level of their work was far superior to the normal work at that level. They said their presentation was more like that of someone working on their PHD.

The project explored a timely subject, the environmental impact of Plant Scherer, specifically its impact on Daphnia, or water fleas. Daphnia are found in most small fish and insects that live around water, so they are an important food source. They also are filter feeders so any poison in the water flows through their system while they filter for food. So if Daphnia die off, other species won’t have food. Or if Daphnia survive with elevated levels of poison in them, this poison will be passed up the food chain, possibly up to humans. Either way the ecosystem is harmed. Boyer Bennett tested cobalt levels of half the EPA limit, the EPA limit, and 13 times the EPA limit (this was the highest recorded levels of cobalt in the monitoring wells around Plant Scherer here in Monroe County). In the tanks containing no cobalt and half the EPA limit of cobalt, the daphnia populations increased by over 800 percent. In the tanks containing the EPA limit and 13 times the limit of cobalt, the populations of daphnia severely declined (from about 30 adults to one surviving in 48 hours). Thus, the MP students concluded that the levels of cobalt alone -- not counting the other dangerous chemicals coming from Plant Scherer ash -- are dangerous to the surrounding environment.

Mary Persons science teacher Lauren Griffin sponsored the students, and even helped pay for materials for the project.