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Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

2013 July 11

By Jeffery Robichaud

Sorry loyal readers for our lack of posts for the last couple of weeks.  Mashing up my love of Sergio Leone films and Nat King Cole tunes, I give you the The Lazy, the Hazy and the Crazy (or how I spent my summer vacation).

The Lazy

No this won’t be a treatise on our lack of success in motivating the kids to drop their devices anicon_footd pick up books.  We did a stay-cation this year.  Instead of heading off to the beach to visit my folks, they visited us in Kansas City.  We spent lots of time at the pool, checked out a couple of movies, hit a ball-game, basically beach bums without the beach. This laziness paid off (not just in our wallets) but also on our impact on the environment, most notably carbon emissions.  I used a Carbon Footprint Calculator to figure out what effect our stay-cation decision had on the environment.   My folks flying to Kansas City instead of the four of us flying to North Carolina saved 2.18 metric tons of CO2.  Travel from the airport to just north of Myrtle Beach plus all of our daily trips to and from the beach saved us an estimated additional 1.53 metric tons (unfortunately we use two vehicles because of all of the beach paraphernalia).   We saved almost four metric tons of carbon dioxide!  I’m not sure I can get away with that excuse next year so to make it back to the beach I’ll have to find some other ways to minimize my family’s footprint so we stay at least neutral if not reduce it once again.

 

The Hazy

We happened to attend our local minor league ball club’s game on the 4th of July and had the misfortune of driving back home at night through the haze of spent fireworks which settle in our valley.  Hard to believe that the haze through which we drove was once the type of air quality that some parts of our country experienced  even into late last century.  The early part of the summer has been relatively mild for us in Kansas City and throughout most of the Midwest, but it just started to heat up over the last two weeks.  As we approach the end of July and August, air quality is likely to become more of an issue. and those with respiratory conditions may need to take precautions.  You can find out about the current Air Quality in your area by visiting Airnow.gov.AQI

The Crazy

I also got to spend alot of quality time with Red and the Big M our crazy dogs (well only Red is crazy).  Both are pound puppies who around this time each year get to spend a couple weeks at the wonderful Elkhound Ranch.  With my folks in town they got to stay home with us which was great for them except on the 4th of July (which I am convinced they believe must be the Apocalypse every year).  Unfortunately there is something crazier than the colorful pictures on the fountains and mortars at the fireworks tents…I’m talking about irresponsible dog owners.  We have all seen a crazy individual, leaving their poor pooch locked in a hot box of a car while they hit the grocery store.  Hopefully this becomes less and less prevalent, but check out some other heat-related tips from the Dog Whisperer himself:

Running or hiking is great exercise for dogs, and they love it. If you treat your dog the same way that you treat yourself, it should also be safe. If you are wearing light clothes, keep your dog shaved. If you need to stop to take a drink, so does your dog. If you are feeling hot, your dog probably is also, so pour some water on their head and neck. (The best places to cool a dog down are on the neck, pads of the feet, and belly.)

If your dog wants to slow down, assume that there is a reason and allow it. Try to hike where there are streams along the way to jump in. You know your dogs; if they are the types to keep going and never stop, be sure that they jump in that stream. Remember you are the human, so you need to be the one to anticipate the dangers and not take a chance. If you are far away from help, the results can be tragic.

Smushed-faced dogs, such as bulldogs, should not exercise or be left out in hot weather without the permission of a veterinarian. These dogs often have small tracheas and long soft palates, which decrease their ability to cool themselves. You can also ask your vet about surgeries that can shorten the soft palate and increase the ability to exercise.

All muzzles other than greyhound muzzles are not acceptable on a dog that is hot or exercising. Much of a dog’s ability to cool down is based on panting, so eliminating panting can have disastrous consequences.

Dogs left in the yard need shade and preferably a small wading pool filled with cool water. Dog houses do not usually provide true shade, as they are often made to prevent air movement and can get very hot. Outdoor dogs will often rest under the house or deck, enjoy the shade of a large tree, or dig into the cool earth in shaded areas with air blowing through. A simple wood roof on four legs will also provide adequate shade. Again, I would say that if you are not comfortable in your yard, your dog won’t be either.

So that’s how I spent my uneventful summer vacation, keeping the dogs cool, driving through a fireworks fog, and laying on the couch.  Share with us your stories of the Lazy, Hazy, and Crazy this summer, especially as they relate to the Environment in the Midwest.

 

Jeffery Robichaud  is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His dogs long for winter’s cold embrace.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mapping Weeds – Experiences from the National Park Service

2013 June 24

By Kristina Stine

I work in the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of EPA here in Region 7, home to our Geospatial program and GIS!I spent a wonderful summer as an intern for the National Park Service eradicating noxious weed in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  Our team   was tasked with managing leafy spurge (euphorbia esula), Russian Knapweed (Rhaponticum repens (L.) Hidalgo), and Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop).

University of Wyoming Extension Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources Initiative Team – Leafy Spruge

We used biological control, pesticides, goats, and prescribed burns to control the spread and eradicate the plants.   For our summer project, we extensively used GPS/GIS to track yearly progress and eventually determine when the plants were contained and ultimately destroyed.

Non-Federal rangeland where non-native species make up at least 50% of the plant cover (USDA)

One of the tools I became familiar with during our excursions, the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver (PLGR), was known as the “plugger” or better known as a GPS (see “Happy Belated Veterans Day: GIs and GPS” by Joe Summerlin).  After picking out our site, we’d enter in our coordinates and set our way in the wilderness to find a patch of leafy spurge or other targeted weed.  Once we made our way to the exact coordinates, we would verify the actual plant locations and then make corrections as necessary.  If we had our Trimble unit, we would take a continuous track of the infested areas.  Depending on our control measure, we would also records the data for each of the different control strategies we employed.   After collecting data and managing the site with pest control (depending on the site and weed variety) we would take the plugger to the GIS Specialists and they would create a map summarizing our summer efforts.   Every year this is done until the site is restored back to its natural, native state.

Controlling noxious weeds take time and a measured approach.  The map below shows polygons defined by GPS in red while the black blocks represent areas overrun with leafy spurge. Without breaking into the details (see the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Invasive Leafy Spurge Remote Sensing Research ) one can see that a combination of GPS and remotely sensed data can really help with monitoring and controlling noxious weed populations – and determining the effectiveness of various control strategies.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Invasive Leafy Spurge Remote Sensing Research

My summers out in the field as an intern for the National Park service has really helped me appreciate the power of location and GIS in caring for our environment.  The infected sites were managed yearly and the data recorded so that we could see what practices were most effective. Similar maps like the previous one were made on a regular basis to monitor the increase/decrease of noxious and invasive species of plants.  It helped give us, decision makers, and the general public a visual understanding of noxious weeds in our National Parks.  Please remember to be careful what you plant in your yard!

Kristina Stine is a first generation Environmental Biologist who has worked with the federal government since 1997. She is currently working for the U.S. EPA Region 7 as a secretary. Some of her most memorable jobs were working as an intern for the National Park Service as a Biological Technician (and Wildland Firefighter) at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Day of Caring

2013 June 17

Each year EPA Region 7 staff come together to make a valuable impact in the community.  This special day is known as “Day of Caring.”  This year marked the 19th annual Day of Caring which took place on Saturday, June 1, 2013. Our volunteer team consisted of 17 people including staff, spouses and kids.

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(Back Row, left-to-right): Toni Castro, Bob Wilson, Chris Lubbe, Dan Garvey, Jan Simpson, Fatimou Ndiaye, Marcus Rivas, LaTonya Sanders
(Front Row, left-to-right): Mary Peterson, Wendy Lubbe, Colleen Wilson, Shanice Castro, Steve Herndon, Kerry Herndon
Not Pictured: Karen Garvey, Jim Stevens, Paige Stevens
Special volunteers were the Lubbe twins, Caroline and Rose (pictured on front row)

 

Coordinated by the Heart of America United Way and the Heartland Combined Federal Campaign, Day of Caring is a community-wide service event that connects volunteers with nonprofit organizations to address social needs through special projects or events in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

EPA Region 7 has supported and participated in Day of Caring since the very beginning.  Each year, our staff look forward to spending a day together outside of the office, in the community, cleaning, painting, gardening, and helping with other projects at nonprofit organizations.  At the end of the day, it always feels great giving of ourselves to these organizations that make huge impacts in the communities that we live in and serve.

The EPA Region 7 team volunteered for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas at their Central Avenue facility in Kansas City, Kansas.  On the surface, we knew of some of the services and programs that Catholic Charities provided.  But, we learned so much more about the organization and their impact in the community, helping families and individuals in need, and their extensive programs to help refugees.  The EPA Region 7 volunteer team worked on five projects.

Bagging Canned Goods for Distribution 

Catholic Charities has several programs where they distribute donated food to homebound individuals.  Volunteers bagged canned goods for distribution.doc2

Restocking the Food Pantry

Catholic Charities has a food pantry where families and individuals in need can “shop” for grocery and personal items.  Volunteers restocked the shelves in the food pantry with donated items.

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Organizing the Clothing Closet

Catholic Charities has a clothing closet where families and individuals in need can “shop” for clothing, shoes and other items.  Volunteers helped to sort and hang up clothes and organize the closet.

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Beautification of the Garden

The Catholic Charities Central Avenue location has a beautiful garden and picnic area.  Volunteers helped to weed, clean up and plant flowers and shrubbery.

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Grounds Cleanup

Volunteers helped to clean up around the parking area by weeding and raking leaves and debris.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Biggest News in Omaha (‘Til the College World Series Later this Week)

2013 June 12

If you have read the Big Blue Thread over the last year, you know our blog articles and topics don’t necessarily always focus on press worthy events of the Region.  We mostly focus on day to day things, geo-spatially interesting topics, and  some off the beaten path stories.  However, this past week something really, really big happened in Region 7, more, specifically in the City of Omaha.

Since 1999, EPA has been working with the City of Omaha, Nebraska to identify and remove lead from residential properties , as well as public parks, playgrounds, and child care facilities.  In 2003, the Omaha Lead Site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL), designating it as one of the nation’s most serious hazardous waste sites.  If you are familiar with clean-up at hazardous waste sites, you know that the process can often take many years to define the nature and extent of contamination, evaluate the risks to human health and the environment, select and install remedies that will be protective, and finally remove contamination to safe levels.  This makes what our Regional Administrator, Dr. Karl Brooks had to say last week in Omaha, just 10 years later, truly impressive.  He announced our intention to delist the first 1,154 parcels within the Omaha Lead Superfund site.

Today’s action is a significant milestone, the first in what will be a series of similar actions by EPA in the coming years to conclude our work at this site.  This step in the Superfund process begins the culmination of nearly 15 years of cooperation by EPA, contractors, the City of Omaha, Douglas County, the State of Nebraska, neighborhood organizations and local residents, to clean up toxic lead from this community.

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From left to right: Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, EPA Region 7 Administrator Dr. Karl Brooks; and assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) Mathy Stanislaus.

Last weeks announcement, which was outlined in a notice published in the Federal Register, formally proposed the delisting from the NPL of 1,154 of the 11,425 properties within the Omaha Lead Site that have been cleaned up, to date. Under the National Contingency Plan, such properties that have undergone cleanup may be deleted from the NPL if it is determined that all appropriate response and remedial actions have been taken and the prior hazardous releases on those properties pose no significant threats to public health or the environment.

The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was instrumental in identifying, tracking, and maintaining information regarding the over 41,000 separate properties that were sampled, as well as the nearly 11,500 yards which have been cleaned up to date (check out the map below to get some sense of the scale). Currently there are still roughly 2,000 sampled properties with elevated levels of lead in soils remain to be cleaned up, and the Agency is working to obtain access to sample soils at another 2,300 properties.

OLS_2012Delsiting

In addition to the environmental benefits, the cleanup is also paying significant economic benefits. To date, EPA’s total investments of $279.5 million at the Omaha Lead Site have contributed to community revitalization and redevelopment, improvement of property values, local employment and economic growth.  Through EPA contracts that are competed, contractors have provided more than $127 million in spending so far on local materials and local labor, adding about 300 high-paying ($23 to $30 per hour) seasonal jobs to the local economy for each of the past five years. EPA has also awarded $142,890 through a cooperative agreement to the Omaha Metropolitan Community College to provide job training and certifications to local workers, helping to build a skilled labor force to assist in the cleanup, and for future employment beyond the site.

EPA’s related investments in Omaha’s public health education and protection include cooperative agreements of $9.2 million to the City of Omaha for paint stabilization and database development, $4.5 million to the Douglas County Health Department for interior home assessments, $205,000 to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) to support its work at the Omaha Lead Site, and a $50,000 technical assistance grant to the Lead Safe Omaha Coalition.  All of this work has realized real, measurable improvements in public health, with the percentage of children in eastern Omaha tested with elevated blood lead levels  reduced from nearly 33 percent prior to 1998, to less than two percent today.

You can read more about the Omaha Lead Site here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Imagining the Earth through Art

2013 June 4
By Casey J. McLaughlin

Written descriptions of the earth can be quite informative, but all good Geographers (in my opinion) know and love pictures and maps of the earth.  National Geographic is an incredibly successful example of the visual appeal of our planet.  I am not a huge art connoisseur, but Conversations XIV: Water hosted by the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas had a few pieces that really jumped out at me and that I find relevant to human health and the environment.

The Big Blue Thread is rooted in the idea that the Missouri River ties the four states (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) of Region 7 together.  Water is critical for our region’s population and agriculture.  The Spencer Art Museum introduces their water exhibit:

Water is timeless… or is it? This installation of works from the Spencer’s permanent collection explores contemporary artists’ perspectives on the elixir of life: H20. Many of the works assembled for this installation take an eco-critical approach to the subject matter, exploring pollution and scarcity, whereas others address water less literally and more symbolically, as a cleansing or destructive force. From this selection of 20th- and 21st-century works, a subtle visual dialogue emerges between the Kaw River of Kansas and the Yangtze of China.

Maple Tree and Stream

Maple Tree and Stream at the Spencer Art Museum (KU). Credit: Casey J. McLaughlin

Many maps depict water with various shades and hues of blue.  It seems universal from my bubble perspective, but Maple Tree and Stream from the Japanese Edo Time period (1600-1868) reminded me of the swirling muddy waters of the Missouri River. The piece is a folding screen, ink, color, and gold on paper — that’s the description provided by the museum anyway.  I have a personal affinity for nature scenes and I felt an emotional bond to this specific piece given my work with the Big Blue Thread.  Seeing the brown stream reminded me of the swirling waters where rivers meet (Kaw Point) and the green trees of the spring.

Bridge over the Yangtze River. (2001)

Bridge over the Yangtze River (2001). Credit: Casey J. McLaughlin

More poignant to Region 7 and protecting human health and the environment is the exhibit by Chinese artist Chen Zhiyuan, Changjiangg Xingzou—Jingti (Yangtze River Walk – Crystals).  I remember visiting the Yangtze River in graduate school and have studied the river a bit – plus my kids and I love The Story of Ping.  I can hardly imagine the journey that took Chen from Shanghai to Qinghai along the Yangtze River (also known as the Chang Jiang).   For 21 days he walked and drank river water.  At the end of each day he distilled the salt from his intake.  As noted in the Museum’s description, he was hospitalized at the end of his excursion.  The piece was behind some shiny plexiglass so I couldn’t get a good picture with my cell phone.  I was first drawn to the huge wall map with a simple blue stream winding on a white background broken by pictures of each stop he made.  In front of the wall map, Chen has displayed his collection of dark colored salt crystals in glass beakers.

I am unsure where in the museum my appreciation of the art moved into concern for the water quality, but it did.  EPA does a lot with water monitoring and you can find out more from the Big Blue Thread ( PAHs in the Water, What’s in Your Water, and most recently in Gone Fishin).  I really wonder what a trip from the upper reaches of the Missouri to St. Louis would look like both from a naturalist (Lewis and Clark) perspective (can it even be walked?) and from a water quality one.  How many salt crystals or other materials would be distilled every day?  Would 21 days of drinking Missouri River water necessitate hospitalization?

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Gone Fishin’

2013 May 31

By Jeffery Robichaud

My boys have been bugging me to go fishing and I just haven’t gotten around to taking them (gotta get some licenses first).  Also our fishing hole (the creek down the hill) used to have a nice big pool at the bottom of a low water crossing but when they fixed it up for a new trail, the pool disappeared.  Now that they are older they probably wouldn’t be satisfied with the smallish sunfish we used to catch anyway.  Maybe I will take them down to the Missouri River to get a look at some Asian Carp.

With the weather finally warming up you might be taking your kids out for this annual rite of passage.  Each of our four states (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska) have wonderful programs to encourage and safeguard this fun pastime for the enjoyment of all.

Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, since they are a lean, low-calorie source of protein.  However some caught in lakes and rivers throughout the Midwest (as well as throughout the country) may contain chemicals that could pose health risks if these fish are eaten in large amounts.  EPA maintains a system that provides you information about Fish consumption advisories.

fishtissue

There are also a couple of easy things you can do to ensure fish are safe to eat.  It’s always a good idea to remove the skin, fat, and internal organs before you cook the fish (since this is where contaminants often accumulate).  As added precautions; make sure to remove and throw away the head, guts, kidneys, and the liver; fillet fish and cut away the fat and skin before you cook it; and clean and dress fish as soon as possible.  You can find EPA’s guide about eating the fish you catch here.

In future blog articles we hope to share with you information about Regions 7’s Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) Program, one of the longest running in the country.   Until then, Happy Fishing.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  His prize catch was a a 6am catfish as a youngster at a campground in Illinois (unfortunately he woke up everyone in the camp screaming for his father since it bent his pole in half).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Rerun of Twister TV

2013 May 21

By Jeffery Robichaud

I was saddened just like most of you to see the footage from yesterday’s events in Moore, Oklahoma.  Several years ago I posted this article on EPA’s main Greenversations Blog.  Two years ago our Region experienced our own devastation to the south in Joplin, Missouri.  Tornadoes are serious stuff.  Make sure you and your family are prepared especially if you live east of the Rockies as they can hit most anywhere (great visualization from John Nelson of uxblog.idvsolutions.com).

tornadotracks

EPA has a broad and powerful mission to protect human health and the environment. We often think of this in the context of human impacts on the environment, but sometimes it is the other way around.

In Kansas City, a threat to our well-being rears its head every spring. I could tell it arrived the other night when I flipped on the TV to watch LOST and the screen lit up with red and green splotches over a map. It was storm season again and meteorologists had pre-empted Must-see TV for Twister TV with the fervor of election-night coverage or the latest celebrity car chase.

photo of a home demolished by a twisterIt was our first warning of the season, and my wife and I scooped up the kids and raced down into the basement. The all clear came, but another siren sounded an hour or so later. We repeated the drill (this time with sleeping children) and trudged to bed after another all clear. Not until the morning did we learn that two twisters touched down next to our local drug store. Five years prior a tornado ripped through Kansas City just a mile south of our house (my wife ever the wiser of the pair dragged me inside reminding me that I was now a dad). Sadly this was reinforced two years ago when our good friends lost their home in Springfield, Missouri to a twister. They had a newborn, which, as my friend told me, was the only reason they got off the couch and ran to the closet that saved their life.

Last year (edit: 6 years ago now) was a rough one for natural disasters in our Region. Everyone remembers the devastation that occurred in Greensburg, Kansas. At EPA, we get called in to assist with public health and environmental problems in the aftermath of events like the tornado in Greensburg or the flooding that struck Coffeyville, Kansas. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of our neighbors, especially the occasional ones who ignored warnings.

Yes, newscasters tend towards exaggeration and embellishment to ensure rapt audiences, but don’t let that overwhelm the importance of heeding the underlying message. Next time you are faced with a flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado warning make sure you get yourself and family to a safe place instead of watching TV. And if anybody in Kansas City needs to know what happened on LOST let me know… I DVR’d the re-broadcast.

 

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Region 7′s GIS VIP

2013 May 20

By Shawn Henderson

After several attempts at college, including the part-time approach, I decided in the mid 2000’s to start taking full-time classes and finish up my degree.  I knew that I wanted computers to be my major, because I love technology, but I also had a strong affinity for geo-sciences.  Not knowing much about geographic information systems (GIS) at the time, it seemed to be the perfect mix of geography, geology, and computers and therefore tailored specifically to my interests.  I thought GIS was just going to be about map making, but I had a lot to learn.  I was in the first pure GIS class that my alma mater, Park University offered.  At the time there was no dedicated computer lab, and the text book was less than helpful, but it was interesting.  I remember that in the computer lab on the main floor of the science buildingpark there were only five computers with ArcGIS licenses; we had to fight other students who were working on reports in MS Word to get access to the software we needed.  Park’s Professor David Fox did the best with what resources were at his disposal, and he made the class really interesting and enjoyable.  I developed a good relationship with Dave.  One afternoon I was frustrated and fed up with the turn-over of professors in the Computer Science program back then, so I asked him if he would be my unofficial advisor. He agreed.  From then on, we were good.

 

One afternoon I had enough of my computer programming class and decided to go for a stroll to clear my mind.  I had been working on a user interface class but, the buttons and layout were not lining up. I wanted to throw the computer across the room.  I walked over by the library and found an advertisement for an EPA summer intern program.  At this point I had applied for a dozen internships and I chuckled to myself that I had absolutely no chance, but I also figured that I had nothing to lose.  It just so happened that I had a certification in MS Access, and a group at EPA was looking for an intern to develop a tracking database in Access.  I applied, the stars aligned, and I was accepted for the internship.

 

I quickly finished the tracking database, and I was able to detail into the Region’s GIS group and onto our Aqua Team with fellow colleagues like Roberta Vogel-Leutung and Laura Webb.  I transitioned into the Student Career Employment Program and was offered a full time position with the Agency after I graduated.  Sometime after that, my supervisor and I were brainstorming about GIS and we wondered if we could leverage my knowledge of Park’s program (which requires an internship) to offer their students a more robust GIS experience at EPA.   I approached Dave Fox with the idea, and he thought it was a fantastic approach.   Thus was born our GIS VIP (VOLUNTARY INTERNSHIP with PARK).  From there our program has blossomed with more than 15 students working on EPA GIS projects.

 

Map completed by Park Intern

Map completed by Park Intern

The experience of working with these students has been amazing!  There has been a variety of unique personalities come through the door.  I have had students that were worried and timid at the beginning, but by the end they were confidant and ready to save the world with GIS.  I’ve also had students come through to find out how much database/computer work is involved and realize that the real world experience of GIS isn’t something they want to head towards as a career goal.  In the end, not all the projects end up like we planned, but the experience the students and EPA staff get from these projects is invaluable.  Students have had the opportunity to work with EPA staff which provides them with professional experience and contacts.  In return the Agency gets a fresh look on things with young enthusiastic students and volunteer assistance on projects of substance.

Besides our work with Park, the Agency has several other voluntary opportunities.  Currently EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs, is seeking a volunteer intern to work on social media coordination who is motivated, hard-working, and interested in helping the EPA protect human health and the environment.   You can find out all the details here.  Additionally our Superfund program is seeking two volunteer interns to work on separate projects found here and here.  These are great opportunities to build skills and your resume.  Heck my old boss  Jeffery Robichaud, also a fellow blogger, did his own volunteer internship with EPA in Philadelphia 20 years ago.

Shawn Henderson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of the Environmental Services Division. He is a part of the Aqua Team, and conducts water quality sampling around the Region’s four states.  He has a Computer Science degree from Park University and helped to develop the Region’s KCWaterBug app and kcwaters.org.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Get Out and See the Spring Wildflowers (or Nature’s Filters)

2013 May 14

Every mid-winter, I become impatient with winter’s cold, and dreary grays.   I find myself wondering if the world around me is ever going to be warm, lively, and colorful again.  And every spring, as the days grow longer and warmer, my faith is restored, as I see little signs of life popping out of the leaf litter in my yard and native metro woodlands.  In a matter of weeks, the grays, browns, and faded golds of the winter forest floor transform into a carpet of green, white, gold, blue, and purple.  The spring ephemeral wildflowers arrive, and the forest takes on a moist, rich scent and texture.

Busse Forest Nature Preserve

Busse Forest Nature Preserve, a National Natural Landmark in Cook County, IL. (NPS.gov)

Growing up with the Cook County, Chicago forest preserves as one of my family’s most significant recreation destinations, I learned in our annual search for Jack-in-the-Pulpits, to appreciate how this time of delightful delicacy and color, is short-lived, as these forest wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight that temporarily reaches the forest floor, during the time between the end of winter, and the leafing out of the shrub and tree layers above them.

 

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (NPS.gov)

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (NPS.gov)

These flowers must complete their lifecycles in a matter of weeks, growing, blooming, being pollinated, and setting seed before the dense shade of summer arrives.  It is because their opportunity to thrive is so short, that these plants grow in great numbers, with several adaptations for attracting pollinators: bright colors, enticing scents, and nectar guides on their petals.  Some even have petals which serve as landing platforms for flying insects.

Spring ephemerals are perennials that sprout mostly from underground bulbs and corms, which they have stored with starch during their previous growing season.  They grow close to the ground because there is no competition at this growth level, and this low profile reduces damage from cold winds.  Because the weather in the early spring is still too cold for most flying insects, ants and small ground beetles pollinate most of these plants and disseminate their seeds.

The natural intricacies and beauty of this time in the woods are more than enough to provide a rationale for conservation and restoration, but recent research by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University tells us that these forest floor communities play a big role in water quality as well.  A recent press release from the center tells how certain species of the forest floor are high performers when it comes to capturing and storing nutrients, along with their companion native trees and shrubs.   Together, their root and shoot biomass act as giant natural sponges and filters.   Iowa State has a couple of nice write ups with more information and can be found at:

The weather this year has been unusual but normally I’d suggest you look for the earliest spring ephemerals between late March and early April, especially on moist south-facing slopes warmed by the sun, and on moist bottomlands next to streams.  Later in a normal spring, look for new blooms on rich, moist, well-drained east and north-facing slopes.  Some of the most common spring ephemerals you will see in our region are, Spring Beauty, Dog Tooth Violet, Toothwort, Dutchman’s Breeches, Virginia Bluebell, Wild Sweet William, May Apple, Wake Robin, Bellwort, Bloodroot, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Putty Root Orchid, and False Rue Anemone.  They will be interspersed with longer lived spring bloomers, like Wild Ginger, Wild Geranium, Jacob’s Ladder, Virginia Waterleaf, Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, and several ferns.

This spring, wander our metro region’s woodland wildlands with a guidebook and marvel at our ephemeral spring beauty.  You can search for carpets of color in the Fort Leavenworth bottomland forests, Swope Park, Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area,  Isley Park Woods Natural Area, Maple Woods Natural Area, the Blue River bottomlands, and Hidden Valley Natural Area.

Roberta Vogel-Leutung is a city girl with rural Iowa and Kansas roots who grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in a family of 13. There, she frequently took refuge at the top of her family’s three story Weeping Willow Tree, and explored the Cook County Forest Preserves with her family, her Boy Scout brothers, and her St. Albert’s Girl Scout Troop.  She’s a big fan of local nature, and works on Urban Waters partnership projects, and various community engagement and sustainability initiatives, from her seat in ENSV where she has been a contractor or employee since 1988.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Who Ya’ Gonna Call?

2013 May 10

If it is a spill and not a ghost then there is one number you should know…1-800-424-8802…the National Response Center (NRC).  The NRC is the federal point of contact for reporting all oil and chemical spills and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  When the NRC receives a call regarding oil or chemical releases it contacts EPA Federal On-Scene Coordinators. (Interesting side note…the Image on Wikipedia is of Region 7 OSC John Frey!)

Each year, thousands of emergencies involving oil spills or the release (or threatened release) of hazardous substances are reported in the United States, potentially affecting both communities and the surrounding natural environment.  Emergencies range from small scale spills to large events requiring prompt action and evacuation of nearby populations.  EPA coordinates and implements a wide range of activities to ensure that adequate and timely response measures are taken in communities affected by hazardous substances releases and oil spills where state and local first responder capabilities have been exceeded or where additional support is needed. Below is a video of Region 7 On Scene Coordinators conducting a decontamination exercise.

For the geospatial enthusiasts amongst you, it is possible to access the data regarding spills around the country all the way back to 1982.  You can download it here, although the NRC also provides for more specific queries by state and by county. The address matching might be tough, especially for those older years where addresses like ‘5 miles south on County Road WW’ were more prevalent.  I whipped up the following map of my county in just a couple minutes using ArcGIS Explorer and an Online Geocoder. I admit, I dropped about 30 or so that I could have included if I spent a bit more time cleaning up the data. 

NRC

Hopefully I can get one or two of our OSCs to write a blog entry in the future since they have some really interesting stories to tell.  That is if they aren’t too busy answering the phone.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998.  He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division, and also serves as one of the Region’s two Scientific Support Coordinator whose role is to serve as a science adviser to the Federal On-Scence Coordinators if requested to obtain consensus on scientific issues, communicate differing opinions and resolve conflicting scientific information.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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