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Santa Monica High Team Wins First Place at County Science Fair

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By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

April 2, 2015 -- It took up most of their spare time and had to be crammed in between homework assignments, but a project that looked at cigarette pollution on City streets and beaches earned a team of students from Santa Monica High School a first place win at the Los Angeles County Science Fair.

SaMoHi Team Marine members Martin Liu, Kimberly Fuentes and Zoe Parcells spent a year researching for their project, “Cigarette Pollution and Mitigation in Santa Monica,” which took the top award in the Environmental Management category at the fair held this past Saturday, the high school announced Tuesday.

With the win at the county level, the local team members now advance to a state-level science fair competition in May.

The team got the idea for their project by “just walking around and noticing that there were a lot of cigarette” butts on City streets, said Parcells. The students decided to figure out both the short-term (seven days) and long-term (two months) cigarette accumulation rates for seven local streets over a one-year period.

In all, the students conducted 112 collections for the street study, collecting more than 20,100 cigarette butts.

Team members focused the study on Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, Arizona, Montana and Colorado avenues, Broadway and Third Street Promenade. They identified 25 “cigarette hotspots” with the most pollution, mostly on Montana Avenue followed by Broadway.

 “It was difficult, because we had to do it between homework and other pressures, and also because on the streets with heavier foot traffic there was a lot more cigarette pollution,” said Parcells.

The team also conducted a smaller-scale examination of the impact of cigarette butts on the Pico-Kenter Storm Drain near the beach following the first rain storms of the season. In two days, the team collected more than 20,500 butts, said Parcells.

In the street survey, most of the cigarette pollution was found on streets rather than sidewalks, eventually making its way into storm drains, the students found. They concluded that putting ash cans in strategic places along sidewalks “will not sufficiently fix the problem.”  

The team’s research led its members to recommend that the City impose more restrictions on smoking in public areas.

Santa Monica City Council should “expand its smoking restrictions to include all public places as has recently been done by the City of Manhattan Beach,” the team’s paper concluded. “Stricter law enforcement and steeper littering penalties may also prove fruitful,” the team concluded.  

“There’s definitely room for improvement,” Parcells said Tuesday.

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