By Jennifer Aldridge (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District)May 4, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany - As the celery stalk absorbed the food coloring- taking on a deep red hue, the students' eyes widened and jaws dropped.
"Cool!" exclaimed Ammon Barnhart, a Wiesbaden High School student.
The small science experiment demonstrated clean-up methods used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Holly Root's environmental science class April 25 in honor of Earth Day.
Nicole Silva, a USACE Europe District project manager, explained that the celery turning red represents a method of bioremediation or environmental clean-up called phytoremediation.
While the term may be difficult to pronounce, phytoremediation is quite simple in practice according to Silva.
Phytoremediation is the treatment of environmental problems through the use of plants that mitigate environmental problems without the need to excavate contaminated material. This process is utilized by environmental stewards, like USACE, to clean up toxic materials contaminating the earth. Using this method, plants are placed in contaminated areas and as they grow, they absorb pollutants from the soil and ground water. Later, these plants are harvested thus removing the contamination. Phytoremediation is an example of how Mother Nature, with the help of environmentalists, can heal the earth.
"The demonstration was a tangible way for students to understand the effects of damage on our environment and to explain how the Corps remediates this damage," said Silva. "Each year, students are more tuned-in to our planet and more interested in learning about environmental safeguards and clean-up methods."
This was the eighth year Silva has volunteered in a community-outreach capacity to celebrate Earth Day.
"The presentation really interested me," said Cherri Ryan, a WHS 12th grader. "My dream job is to be an anthropologist, so if I could help the environment and tie in anthropology it would be cool."
Silva believes "it is critical that kids are introduced to and explore the vast range of career opportunities in the environmental field. Planners, drillers, computer scientists and attorneys are just a few of the professions that are critical in our line of work."
Root, a WHS environmental science teacher, said she appreciates the presentations given to her students as they give the students a look into the real world by real experts.
"It was a great opportunity for my class to learn about real-world applications. Having a real person discussing real environmental situations is valuable," said Root. [The presentations] "help my students view the world less and less theoretically, and more practically."
Across the hall in a biology classroom, Mark Ziminske, Europe District's Environmental Branch chief, was celebrating Earth Day with students as well. In his presentation, Ziminske explained the history of U.S. environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act and the Superfund Act. He also explored the impact of these regulations on all aspects of society, business, government and education.
"I hope to support and compliment the message [teachers] are sending students each and every day in the classroom, and add my own spin on the monumental changes that occurred in our country from the late 1960s to the early 1980s" Ziminske said. "Presenting on Earth Day is my small way to try and support the teaching staff that does the real work and heavy lifting in terms of environmental education."
Meanwhile at Wiesbaden Middle School, Rich Gifaldi, the district's sustainable engineering program manager, presented on the topic of sustainable design and development. Gifaldi focused on educating students on net-zero energy buildings. Net-zero buildings are at the forefront of environmental sustainability because they are designed to produce as much energy as they consume.
Rick Heiges, an eighth-grade student said, "Net-zero energy buildings will be 100 percent of what we will be building in the future."
"The U.S. government has mandated that all new federal buildings and federal buildings undergoing major renovations must meet net zero goals by the year 2030," Gifaldi added.
Another area of sustainability Gifaldi discussed was Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification. LEED addresses the complete lifecycle of buildings. Starting with the planning phase and continuing through design, construction and operations, LEED provides a framework for creating green buildings.
Gifaldi said LEED is unique because "it ties all the designers, builders and users together so that the end result is a higher quality building."
WMS student Nicole Hess found "LEED certification and all the steps in the process to be very interesting."
All three USACE volunteer presenters, Gifaldi, Silva and Ziminske, embraced the opportunity to celebrate Earth Day with local students and provide a call-to-action.
"Students should not be complacent with simply being 'good stewards' of the environment, they should look to be champions, or change agents," noted Ziminske. "There is much to do and an urgency to do it."