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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Philadelphia High School for Girls, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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Philadelphia High School for Girls, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
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Registered: September 2012
City/Town/Province: Philadelphia
Posts: 1
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I was born and raised in Ghana, West Africa, and I experienced a wide range of challenges living there, including house fires. Most of my relatives and friends have gone through losing everything they have worked so hard to build because of a fire that lasted less than sixty seconds. The dial-911 emergency system found in the United States does not even exist in most parts of Africa. In my country, we were lucky enough to have firefighters, but it often took a long time for them to arrive. By the time they show up, an entire house may be engulfed in flames, increasing the difficulty of extinguishing the fire. In Ghana alone, there were a total of 7,670 fire outbreaks between January 2008 and June 2010 (Ghana National Fire Service GNFS). These statistics led to hundreds of deaths and injuries, as well as expenses of over 30 million cedi, or $15 million United States dollars. While this might not seem like a lot of money compared to the United States’ total budget, it represents a huge cost to the Ghanaian community, especially because the government is suffering and lacks the resources to fight this sort of situation.

When I moved to the United States in May 2006, I also found out that Africa is not the only part of the world that experiences these situations. Some of my family members and friends here have also lost their homes and belongings due to fires. When buildings have caught on fire, it is very difficult to diminish the flames and save people. Fires are also very common in the United States. There were a total of 447,000 reported cases of fire in residential and non-residential buildings alone and over 2,600 people died and 15,000 people were severely injured. In fact, I found that the United States has one of the worst fire cases in the world. Now, there have been close to two million fire cases reported. Over 20,000 people have been injured, and sadly, nearly 5,000 people have died.

Over 3 billion fire cases have been reported, and these numbers are rapidly increasing. Watching the news and hearing that another life has been lost due to a fire breaks my heart and really affects me deeply. I believe that there is a natural product out there in the world that can reduce or completely stop the high rate of fires around the world. And with such the possibility of the existence of this product that could save people’s lives, I firmly believe research and time should be dedicated to ending further fire outbreaks.

I conducted my project at my school, Philadelphia High School for Girls. Since my project was dealing with preventing the high rate of buildings catching on fire, I substituted conducted my experiment using wallpaper. The experiment was done in a chemistry room lab under a fume hood. The fume hood limits the exposure of hazardous fumes, dusts or vapors to surrounding people. Because paint produces extremely toxic fumes, the project had to be conducted under the hood to prevent anybody from getting sick. The hood protects the user, the experiment that is being conducted, as well as the environment—the chemicals from the substance that is being tested will circulate the environment if a fume hood is not present.

For my project, I decided to find household products that would reduce the flammability rate of paint. The flammability rate of paint is defined as the amount of time it takes a substance to burn. If the flammability rate of the wallpaper is high, it gives the person inside more time to retrieve important belongings and evacuate, and it grants extra time for firefighters to arrive at the scene. In contrast, wallpaper with a low flammability rate means the building will quickly burn and everything would be lost.

I wanted to use common household products because I wanted the average person to be able to afford it. I used white Valspar paint for the ‘wall’ because it is a common household paint color, and my resources were limited. The products that I used to mix with the paint were regular sugar, baking soda, firewood ash, and snow salt; one contained only regular paint to serve as the constant. I conducted the experiment five times with each product separately. I obtained five beakers, labeled them with one of the products and poured 50 ml of paint into each beaker. Then I measured two teaspoons of each product, using a weighing paper and a digital scale to convert it into grams, and added it to the beaker. I stirred each beaker for 15 seconds using a Popsicle stick. I then obtained 5 strips of 40 by 40 inch squared wallpaper and used a small paintbrush to apply one layer of each beaker’s ingredient. After the wallpaper strips dried overnight, I cut them into 6 by 6 inch squares for each product.

I tested the wallpaper with the regular paint first. I used a ring stand and a clamp to hold the first wallpaper in place and used a Bunsen burner to ignite the wallpaper. While doing this, I timed the amount of time it took the entire wallpaper to burn, living no residue. While doing this, I also used an infrared thermometer to determine the temperature of the wallpaper while aflame. After I recorded the data for the wallpaper, I continued the process for the four remaining wallpapers and found the average times and temperatures. When I finished with the regular paint wallpapers, I ignited the wallpapers mixed with baking soda, firewood ash, sugar and snow salt. I recorded the time in seconds for all of the wallpapers and determined their temperatures using the infrared thermometer.

Adding firewood ash to the white paint produced the best results for my experiment, but it did require an initial color change from white to gray. This was problematic because it would mean that people who wanted their houses to be white, could not use this product. I then expanded my research and found that calcium carbonate is a prime ingredient found in firewood ash. Interestingly enough, calcium carbonate turned out to be white, and substituting the firewood ash with the calcium carbonate led to nearly identical results.

Baking soda had the least flammability rate with an average of 47 seconds and an average temperature of 335°F. The wallpaper mixed with baking soda was completely burned within a short amount of time, which would be very dangerous in actual paints. Out of all of the products, it also had the highest temperature which means that not only does it take a short amount of time to burn, but the flame is extremely hot and that can easily injure someone.

Calcium carbonate had an average of 91 seconds with an average temperature of 249°F. The wallpapers mixed with the other household products burned completely, but it took the paint mixed with calcium carbonate one minute and thirty-one seconds to burn a small fraction of the 6 by 6 inch square wallpaper. This experiment demonstrated that calcium carbonate is a very effective fire retardant.

I started this project in the summer of 2010 because I spent a year diligently researching my topic, finding statistics, and exploring possible solutions. I wanted to make sure that what I was doing was significant and would be beneficial to people someday in the future. In the spring of 2011, I started conducting the experiment. I conducted two experiments in 2011 and conducted another set of two in 2012. In 2011, the products were firewood ash, sugar, table salt, and baking soda. When I conducted the experiment then, I found out that table salt was not very helpful and that the ash changed the color of the paint. In 2012, I substituted calcium carbonate for firewood ash, snow salt for table salt, and continued using sugar, baking soda, resulting in four household products tested.

The area in which I conducted my project is extremely important because millions of people around the world die every single day because of a fire that lasted for a few minutes. In countries without abundant firefighters available, and this is an even bigger problem due to the longer amount of time needed to reach the location where a fire is occurring. Even in countries that have an abundance of firefighters, fire remains a top cause of deaths and injuries. I believe that the rate of fires can be decreased around the world using a common household product that everybody can afford.

My project helps and benefits my community and the environment because I am striving to reduce fires everywhere. If people mix this product, calcium carbonate, and their paints before applying to buildings, they can truly benefit from this, especially in the long run. If a fire were to occur at their establishment, they may potentially be saved because it will take longer for the building to burn, giving the firefighters the opportunity to get to the location in time to extinguish the fire, and the person inside will also have extra time to grab important documents and possibly rescue somebody still in the fire.

The death rate for disasters would also decrease tremendously in third world countries that often lack the resources that they need in order to survive when disasters like these occur.

My Apprentice Ecologist Project has helped me because it has taught me that I can truly make a difference in the world. The small idea that I had about saving people’s lives transformed into a huge project that I did not expect initially. Since I have the product that will benefit everybody, I want to make sure that everybody that wants to use this product can afford and that it will be available to them. Nowadays when I see problems in the world, I feel more empowered and capable of addressing them because I was able to tackle the issue of fires worldwide and I have found a solution to this problem.
Date: December 11, 2012 Views: 5472 File size: 18.1kb, 147.8kb : 688 x 690
Hours Volunteered: 100
Volunteers: 3
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17
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