Prospect battles bacteria

By Kelsey Philippe (@kelsey_philippe)

Image 1
Image 1: A petri dish containing bacteria grown from swabs of various Prospect locations.

Take a look around. Everything that surrounds you, the things that you touch and even the air
you breathe, contains bacteria. With each additional person around you, an additional 37 million bacteria can appear every hour. With classrooms full of kids, the amount of bacteria you come into contact with each day can reach the billions.
Some students think that the blue mats in the fitness center are the dirtiest items in the school. They’ve fallen under the assumption that the mats have never been cleaned and are
teeming with bacteria.
To see if this assumption was true, The Prospector tested various places around the school. Bacteria was then grown on a petri dish to see what areas of the school would yield the most bacteria growth after 24 hours. When a q-tip swabbed those blue mats, the tip turned dark brown. However, the bacteria growth wasn’t as bad as what might have been expected.
The mats ranked sixth out of nine locations tested (see Image 1).
Hands touch the main stairwell on a daily basis, but bacteria growth wasn’t horrible there, either. (see Figure A). According to biology and Med Academy teacher Mollie David, most problems with the stairwell are actually completely harmless fungus or slime molds. It’s actually quite common and shouldn’t raise concern.
Surprisingly, the cleanest area appears to  be the bathrooms. The girls’ toilet on the third floor was the cleanest area tested. It had virtually no bacteria growth.
Figure B
Figure A: Bacteria grown from a swab of the main stairwell.

The same can’t be said for a water fountain mouthpiece on the second floor (see figure B). It placed number one as the dirtiest place tested.
Bacterial growth on water fountains isn’t a problem found only at Prospect. In 2005, a study conducted by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), found that the most bacteria-laden areas were water fountains.
There are three main causes for bacteria growth on water fountains. The first is
that students are uneducated about how to properly use them. The next is that students
come to school sick and drink water to feel better, making the area more susceptible to bacteria. Finally, the water fountain’s spigot isn’t cleaned as often as it should be. says that water fountains must be cleaned daily with adequate time given for
sanitizers to kill germs. Additionally, students need to be educated on how to drink properly from a water fountain. This means that students must learn to drink without touching their mouths to the fountains.
According to a 2013 study by Staples, 90 percent of American workers go to work when they
are knowingly contagious. This is up from 80 percent who said they came to work while sick
the previous year.
“There’s a lot more people,” school nurse Cheryl Novak said. “A lot of people get sick from being around family and friends. Staff members can pass things along. Just people in general pass things along. More people is more chances to get sick.”
Figure D
Figure B: Bacteria grown from a swab of a water fountain mouthpiece.

When the testing occurred, the water fountain’s mouthpiece wasn’t wiped down on a daily or even weekly basis. According to building and grounds supervisor Oscar Acevedo, other parts of the fountain are maintained on a daily basis, such as the button to get the water to flow, the outer surface of the machine and the draining area where the water flows down.
“This is a problem,” Acevedo said, “I’m going to talk to my team tonight, and this will be taken care of.”
Now that the mouthpieces are being wiped down, bacteria should be cut down to levels similar
with the bathroom. The bathroom’s virtually zero bacterial growth can be attributed to daily maintenance done by the custodial staff.
The final improvement can be made by switching over from the older water fountains to ones with the bottle filler feature. Acevedo hopes to replace two or three each year until all of the fountains include this feature, which he hopes will be by the year 2020.