The Participatory Science Platform supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.
When Year 5 and 6 students from Rongomai School in Otara tested the mould in their homes, they got a big surprise – but it wasn’t a good one.
The students found that some mould types could make them sick, and that the temperature and moisture in all their homes was just right for it to grow.
School science teacher Nick Pattison came up with the idea for the study because he noticed that many of his students had coughs or wheezed a lot. He thought mould might be making their asthma and breathing worse, but he wanted to find out for sure.
After being taught how to use special swabs to collect mould, the students took samples from their kitchen, living room, bedrooms and other rooms and brought them back to school. Manurewa High School students also joined in. Mould was found in 18 of the 22 houses studied, but to protect privacy, the identity of a house was not recorded.
Landcare Research provided the swabs and analysed the moulds with the students, some of whom spent a day with the scientists. Landcare also provided USB devices to measure the temperature and humidity inside a house.
Mould and yeasts are both types of fungi. The students were surprised to find yeasts in some of their swabs when they looked at them under a microscope. Three of the yeasts had the potential to be harmful and three antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found.
Junior Wilson, 11, of Rongomai School said, "I've been learning with Nick Pattison... he kept on talking about mould and I didn't understand. But when I went to Landcare I learned more and understood what he was talking about...”
The results of the study were presented at a Manurewa High School prize giving ceremony. Local musicians and artists also helped the students write a song and design T-shirts with the slogan ‘Don’t hesitate to ventilate’. Their rap song has lines such as “turn on the heater, kill the mould, if you don’t want a fever, then dry your household.”
The research was also featured on radio news programmes and in newspaper articles.
Nick believes the initial project could grow into a much bigger youth-led data collection in South Auckland, an area that is prone to dampness and mould. He’s also curious to know if the yeasts and bacteria that could be harmful are living in other houses too.
Most of all, Nick would love to see all his students living in healthy homes so they can breathe more easily.
Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures is a South Auckland Participatory Science Platform pilot project. CrossPower, East Tamaki Healthcare, Nirvana Health, Auckland Council – Biosecurity, He Kainga Oranga, Healthy Housing and the University of Otago (Wellington) were all involved in the project.