Stella Bowles: (age 17) river testing for fecal contamination influenced a $15.7 million government project to clean the LaHave River in Nova Scotia
"At the age of 11 I became aware of the pollution of the river running by my house due to the presence of multiple "straight pipes" - sewer pipes running direct from houses, straight into the river. The governments had not done anything to remedy this, until I came along. I set up a science fair project to collect counts of Enterococcus at a number of sites along the river. This would have been impossible if I had had to pay for a commercial lab to do the determinations, but the use of the EasyCard, (now renamed to R-Card), made such "citizen science" both feasible and effective.
The first year, my project won in the Regional science fair, but I was too young to be eligible for National competition. So, the following year I extended my methodology, improved my scientific design, and enrolled in the science fair again, (under the project title, "Oh poop, It's Worse than I Thought"). This time I again won regionally, and went on the Nationals, (all of Canada), where I was awarded a Silver Medal. None of this would have been possible without the availability of the EasyCard technology, and the advice of Dr. Roth on its use in our particular circumstances."
"The LaHave River, in Nova Scotia, had been documented to have over 650 “straight pipes” – sewage pipes running from houses along the river directly into the river. Governments acknowledged that this practice was illegal, but dismissed repeated calls from a local citizen’s group to enforce the laws, saying that this was not a priority. Enter Stella Bowles, a 14 year old environmental activist who, using the EasyCard, (now renamed as R-Card), technology, sampled the river water at multiple sites, documenting levels of contamination by Enterococci considerably exceeding federal water quality guidelines for even recreational use. As a 14 year old “citizen scientist”, without access to official government-approved laboratories, (which would have cost as much as $4000 in fees), Stella was able to muster local support to cover the minor cost of the cards and supplies from (what is now) Roth Biosciences to do her testing.
Armed with her dramatic results, and a highly skilled facility with social media, Stella ultimately shamed three levels of government into crafting a $15 million, multi-year, joint agreement to replace the straight pipes along the Lahave River, incidentally winning multiple awards, including prestigious recognition from the very governments she had lobbied against. Her actions also inspired a YA book, “My River: Cleaning Up the LaHave River”, and led to her instructing other groups of youth in testing their own local environments for bacterial contamination, using the EasyCards.
All of this was made possible only by the availability of the cost-effective, and highly user-friendly, card technology from Roth Biosciences. But, not surprisingly, Stella’s campaign provoked a degree of push-back from critics. The first criticism leveled was that the science done by a 14 year old was inherently trivial and invalid. She answered this by citing the advice and approval of her university professor “science advisor” in the design of her project, and the validity of her use of the cards for testing. The next level of criticism was rather more sophisticated, and actually entirely valid, but afforded her an excellent education in the scientific method: How accurate were the counts obtained using the cards? This required two further processes: 1) Running multiple determinations of a single defined sample to determine the reproducibility of the cards, and 2) Running parallel tests on a series of samples, using the EasyCards, matched against determinations by a government accredited lab, as a “gold standard”. This latter was partially hindered by a lack of funding to run large numbers of tests using the commercial lab, coupled with a certain reluctance on the part of the commercial lab itself to disclose the variability of their own determinations. In the end, Stella was able to state that there was a close correlation between the results obtained using the cards and the reference lab, but detailed statistics could not be calculated, due to small numbers and incomplete data from the lab. And this reassurance proved entirely sufficient to silence her critics, within both government and civil society."
Dr. David Maxwell
Helped Bowles with her research
LaHave River: Stella's Science Project FB Page:
Stella's Book " My River":
Stella Bowles: Young Citizen Scientist Website:
LaHave River - Our Living Future (Featuring Stella and her project):