Winnipeg high schooler finding ways to address environmental toxins in fresh waterbodies

A Manitoba student is gaining international attention for his research on combatting algae blooms which continue to impact one of the world’s most endangered lakes. Alex Karpa reports.

A Winnipeg high school student is finding ways to address a major threat to Canadian water bodies, and he’s only 16.

Baljot Rai has always loved science. He’s been competing in science fairs since he was in grade 4. In the past, Rai has focused on the impacts environmental toxins have on everyday items, but this year, he’s studying environmental toxins in fresh waterbodies, like Lake Winnipeg.

“We all know that Lake Winnipeg is suffering from two major problems. The first is the growth of zebra mussels. The second problem that Lake Winnipeg is suffering from is eutrophication, or the growth of blue-green algae, which is happening because there is an excess amount of phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg,” explained Rai, a grade 11 student at St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg. “The goal really is to prevent further damage.”

Baljot Rai, a grade 11 student at St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg. (Photo Credit: Alex Karpa, CityNews)

Rai says the amount of phosphorous in Lake Winnipeg is 200 per cent higher than normal levels, making Lake Winnipeg one of the world’s most threatened lakes.

“This high amount of phosphorus is there because of agricultural runoff, livestock-related runoff, but primarily because of wastewater.”

Rai is now testing different ways to prevent further harm. He crushed and processed blue mussel shells in a lab and applied the powder to samples to imitate the water in Lake Winnipeg.

He found it absorbed nearly 60 per cent of the phosphorus from the water, bringing the levels to a more normal, and healthier level.

“What we essentially can do is reduce the phosphorous amounts to a level that will allow marine life to flourish and healthy algae to grow but will not allow blue-green algae to grow,” he explained.

Rai says the bacteria is harmful to marine life and can be toxic for humans and animals, and wants to find a solution as soon as possible.

His work is not going unnoticed. He was one of three finalists chosen for the Canadian Stockholm Junior Water Prize, and if chosen, will compete for the prize in Sweden later this summer.

He wants to help preserve Lake Winnipeg for all Manitobans who rely on the lake and says there is no time to waste.

“We all need to do whatever we can to take action, to reduce these problems in Lake Winnipeg because they are very serious, and we are already seeing the consequences. Unless we take action, it will only get worse.”

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