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MU students look for bacteria at Columbia playground

It’s that time of year when more kids are playing outside in the nice weather, keeping parks busy throughout Mid-Missouri.

While parents want to make sure their kids are playing safely ABC 17 News found some possible dangers that can’t be seen by the naked eye.

Dr. Bethany Stone is an associate professor of biology at the University of Missouri. With the help of her infectious diseases class, we set out to find what may be growing on the playground equipment at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia.

The students swabbed multiple surfaces, including the chains on the swings, a rock wall, the slide and some sand from the sand box. Stone says they were testing different surfaces because different materials will foster bacteria differently.

After the swabs were taken they were sealed up and put in an incubator.

After 24 hours Stone looked to see what had grown.

On the petri dishes for the chains on the swing and the plastic slide there was some bacteria growth, but the dishes for the rock wall and sandbox showed a lot of growth.

The experiment seemed to show that metal surfaces grew a little less bacteria than the plastics and the rock wall.

Stone says one reason for this is the available food sources for the bacteria. She also says it may have something to do with the porous nature of some surfaces. Stone says, “Metal is less porous than plastic which is less porous than rock. Those pores make great little nooks and crannies for bacteria to grow.”

The type of cutler done for this experiment only shows 10 percent of the bacteria present. Also the tests done show all bacteria that has grown, further testing would need to be done to see if it was in fact harmful.

Stone says what we found shouldn’t stop parents from taking their kids to the playground, but hand washing is key especially before eating.

Local doctors agree and say the bacteria to watch out for would be from animal droppings.

The Columbia Boone County Health Department actually tests the local water quality at lakes during the summer months. This is something the Department of Natural Resources does as well. They look for E coli in the water.

Doctors also remind parents to keep any open wounds on children covered up when heading out to the parks.

Showing parents the results some said while it’s gross it doesn’t surprise them and they realize some bacteria is good.

The class also compared what was found at the park with a place inside the home. Looking at a kitchen sink, they found more bacteria on the sink than any of the surfaces tested in the park, which may be relieving to some parents.

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