Archive for February, 2007

Yes I Have a Therapist–and I Believe Everyone Should

Posted in All posts, Life on February 28, 2007 by Trina

Why? Stressors, pressures — we all cope with them as part of our daily lives. Who hasn’t experienced anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, and the occasional celebration or escape with too many cocktails? These are all symptoms of a condition that no one talks about: mental illness. I hope that my honest and personal reflection will help shed some light on the illnesses that has been shrouded in darkness. Check out Yes I Have a Therapist–and I Believe Everyone Should , published in Dana Literary Society’s March, 2007, Online journal.

The publication of this piece took an usual start. I sent a piece that took a humorous, (I think), look at the world from a science teacher’s eye to the director of Dana Literary in hopes that he would want to run it in the Online journal. (The piece was titled “Science Curse” and originally published in this blog). He didn’t want to publish the essay, but in it I had written, “I have a therapist and I think that everyone should.” Robert Ward asked me to expand upon that statement, and so was born the essay that appears in the March Online journal. It took courage to put it out there and I hope that my honesty will make an impact.

I would like to thank my therapist, who made this essay possible. To our mental health!

Bottled versus tap: how pure is your water?

Posted in All posts on February 24, 2007 by Trina

Over our lifetime, we will put more water into our body than any other kind of food or drink, making the water we drink a major contender in the battle for good health. Even so, we may not know for years whether the water we drink is good or bad for us.

My husband and I have a difference of opinion about the source of the water we drink. He buys his water in bottles and resists drinking out of the tap. I, on the other hand, prefer not to pay anything extra for my water and drink right from the tap. After the umpteenth discussion about our water preferences, I decided to do a little research on the subject and must now swallow my pride and admit that bottled water seems to have a slight safety edge over tap.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water because it’s considered a food, although it is important to note that the FDA requires only that the label identify the source of the water, not what’s in it. Conversely, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state governments regulate tap water. So in choosing bottled over tap, the question becomes would you rather have the FDA or your individual state or local government test your water?

If like me, after a hard workout at the gym, you refresh yourself with cold water from the drinking fountain, you feel fine afterward. Yet, unbeknownst to you, contaminants from the water may be damaging your cells little by little — it could take decades for tests to find cancer or organs to fail.

Drinking water, including bottled water, may contain at least small amounts of some contaminants that may or may not pose a health risk to you. As water across the United States — sources for both tap water and bottled water — travels over the surface of the land or through the ground, it dissolves naturally occurring minerals and, in some cases, radioactive material, and can pick up substances resulting from the presence of animals or from human activity.

The source of Raleigh drinking water is Falls Lake, a man-made lake created by a dam on the Neuse River, located northwest of the City of Raleigh. Falls Lake provides Raleigh with up to 100 million gallons of water a day. In addition, an average of 47 million gallons per day of wastewater begins its journey from kitchen sinks, bathtubs, toilets, washing machines, and dishwashers in the homes and businesses serviced by the City of Raleigh’s wastewater collection and treatment systems.

Upon arrival at the Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant, wastewater passes through screens and grit collectors where debris and sand is removed. Next heavy organic solids and grease are removed. Dissolved substances or lighter solids cannot be removed by settling them out, so those substances are converted to solids by microorganisms cultured within aeration basins. The resulting solids are next filtered through sand and coal and the water is disinfected by ultraviolet radiation before being returned to the Neuse River.

I’m not sure I’ll ever drink tap water again.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, passed in 1974 and amended in 1996 with more rigorous standards, requires the EPA to set allowable levels of contaminants in municipal water supplies and to monitor compliance with these standards. Let me say that again — allowable levels of contaminants — including pesticides, radioactive materials, chemicals and bacteria.

Here is what the Safe Drinking Water Act cannot control:

• Many municipal water purification plants are too old or too poor to totally comply with EPA standards.
• There may be contaminants that enter the water supply that are not on the EPA’s hit list, and thus they escape detection.
• Current testing and purification technology may miss some contaminants, which get past filtering systems and enter the water supply.
• Some germs may be resistant to current disinfecting methods. Other germs, such as E.coli and Giardia, are tiny enough to slip through some filtration systems.
• The long-term effects of drinking a gallon of chlorinated water every day for seventy years have not been determined

In the debate of bottled versus tap water, consider the source. If the bottle doesn’t list a source, the contents are probably municipal water. You can always call the 800-number listed on the bottle and ask what the source is.

Consider the tester. Bottled water is regulated by the FDA because it’s considered a food. The International Bottled Water Association includes 85 percent of bottled water processors, and the organization claims to have a stricter code than EPA regulations. A significant factor in nearly all bottled waters is that the water is chlorine-free. Bottled, distilled water is the cleanest water you can buy. For general information about bottled water, call the International Bottled Water Association (800-WATER-11).

The information in this blog was modified from:
Waste Water System Report
Water quality report

Peter Pan in Neverland?

Posted in All posts on February 16, 2007 by Trina

CDC Tracks Salmonella to Batch of Peanut Butter

I scanned and then quickly deleted the e-mail that a friend sent me about peanut butters being recalled for possible Salmonella bacteria, thinking she was overreacting to what was probably a hoax. But when I went downstairs to put milk in my coffee, I couldn’t help glancing at our jar of Peter Pan peanut butter in the refrigerator. There couldn’t be any Salmonella bacteria in it, could there? We had eaten 3/4 of the jar.

Then I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition in the car on my way to work, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked peanut butter to a salmonella outbreak that’s sickened almost 300 people since August. No one has died — but dozens of people have been hospitalized … investigators narrowed the outbreak to jars of Peter Pan and Great Value brands of peanut butter made at a processing facility in Georgia. The plant is owned by ConAgra foods, which has now recalled all jars of peanut butter that are labeled with a product code number that begins with 2111.” Read entire story.

What was so surprising to me is that I don’t associate Salmonella with peanut butter. Rather I think of cases like the healthy five-month-old girl who died suddenly after contacting a pet iguana infected with Salmonella or people becoming ill after eating raw eggs. Salmonella in peanut butter sounds too much like an urban legend. Tainted canned goods, poultry, meats, raw eggs, and unprocessed milk, those foods bring the deadly bacteria to mind. Plus, peanuts are roasted in the process of making peanut butter, which would normally kill bacteria. However in the ConAgra plant, it seems some Salmonella cells survived. And it doesn’t take much to cause sickness — one cell of Salmonella could make someone ill. In this new outbreak, it’s unclear whether the peanuts were tainted. Another possibility is that the Salmonella came through cross-contamination in the plant or dirty containers. The FDA has just begun its investigation.

Consumers can get a refund by sending lids and their names and addresses to ConAgra Foods. The address is in the article, “Massive amounts of peanut butter suspect; salmonella in 39 states.”

Measuring metric: dueling systems

Posted in All posts on February 3, 2007 by Trina

Why is the metric system so hard to learn for many American’s? Because the customary inch-pound (I-P) system of measurement is winning the duel for supremacy.

Imagine that you have just completed a 5 K (kilometer) run and decide to drive to the grocery store to buy a sports drink. You’ll clock your speed in miles per hour, not kilometers per hour. Once at the store, you will be able to choose a 12-ounce can, or the next largest size, a 1/2 liter bottle or maybe a 2 liter bottle. If you decided to treat yourself to fast food instead, you could order a quarter-pound burger and a 32 ounce drink. The customary inch-pound measurement system wins this round. We buy our gasoline in the customary unit of gallons and we measure our houses in the same system’s unit of square feet. Yet we measure the fat and carbohydrates in our food in metric grams, while we order steak in restaurants in customary ounces.

Metric or customary? If you want to buy some alcohol to drink while you contemplate the confusion, you can no longer buy a fifth of Jack Daniels (or any other alcohol) in that unit. A fifth was a unit representing 1/5 of a gallon, or 4/5 of a quart. Now a bottle approximately the same size as the fifth is a 750-milliliter bottle. In the conversion to metric, consumers lost 0.2 ounces because a fifth equals 25.6 oz and 750 mL equals only 25.4 oz.

So, it should have been no surprise to me as a middle school science teacher, to learn that standardized tests scores in the area of measurement were low in my school across grades six to eight — it wasn’t just in North Carolina. Across the nation, measurement continues to be a challenging concept to teach.

Yet, I was shocked. As a science teacher, I think in metric. Measuring with meters, grams and milliliters are second nature to me. What could be easier to learn or more fun? Metric works by powers of tens. There are no clunky conversions that inches to feet or ounces to pounds require. Yet, when I looked at the content that middle school students were required to learn about measurement, compounded by the reality of their daily life, I realized why their scores were low.

Students must learn two measurement systems: the customary and the International System of Units (SI), the international name for the metric system. And they never know which to choose and when. So, I began implementing fun activities to help my students assimilate the information. One of my lessons, The SI System on the Basketball Court, is currently in the February issue of Science Scope, the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) journal for middle school teachers.

You must be a member of NSTA to read the lesson, but the corresponding Background Activity Slide Show on the SI system can be downloaded as a pdf, free for use in classrooms. Click on the link or go to my site to download the slide show:

Why teach the metric system?
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has this on their Web site, “In today’s global environment, metric measurements are prominent in workplaces, consumer products, and news reports. Almost every other country in the world uses the metric system of measurement. The European Union, Japan, and Korea have passed legislation limiting international commerce to products measured in metric units. If the United States is to continue to play a leading role in international business, using metric measurement is imperative and U.S. workers at all levels must be knowledgeable about the Système Internationale (SI), the international name for the metric system.”

By 1900 a total of 35 nations, including the major nations of continental Europe and most of South America, had officially accepted the metric system. If we want to communicate with scientists and engineers around the world, the US will have to learn the metric system of measurement, now called the International System of Units, that was created by the French.

Seven units comprise the metric system: the meter (length), the kilogram (mass), the second (time), the ampere (electric current), the kelvin (temperature), the mole (amount of substance), and the candela (luminous intensity).

There was a strong movement toward the use of the metric system in the US during the 1970-1980. Since then, the SI system has been losing its duel for supremacy over the inch-pound system. Congress has not pushed for a law making the metric system the sole measurement system in the US. However, since the SI system is the sole measurement language of most of the world, the US will have to become a metric nation to measure up in the global arena.