Monthly Archives: August 2012

Watching the Wind

By Casey J. McLaughlin

Hurricane season is upon us and Isaac has been dumping vast amounts of rain along its path.  In the Midwest we might see the rain aftermath of Hurricanes but as far as I know, we don’t have any regular Hurricane Drills.  We do, however, have Tornado Drills – quick, run to the basement!  When I think of a tornado, I think of wind, wind, and more wind.

hint.fm/wind August 29, 2012

In that vane (pun intended) check out the great visualization work at http://hint.fm/wind/.  The authors created a “personal art project” with surface wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database.  I often reflect on the maps I’ve made and I think they lack a certain artistry that made me love maps in the first place – hello National Geography.  This wind map, to me, is the best of both “big” data and artistic visualization.  The hint.fm web map visualization presents a tremendous amount of data in an incredibly artistic way – AND ITS ZOOMABLE?

hint.frm/wind August 29, 2012

There are many more data visualization and analysis tools available.  They may have more meaningful information but I still love the majesty of the movement.  Just as a side note, NASA has a similar visualization using surface currents.  View the youtube video here:

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.

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.

Toxicology in Everyday Life: Promoting Toxicology Outreach

By Maureen Gwinn, PhD, DABT

EPA scientist shares science.

EPA's Dr. Maureen Gwinn sharing science.

One of my favorite hobbies is introducing kids to science in fun and interactive ways. I remember the first time I ‘made’ DNA – and how that ‘ah ha!’ moment set me on my current career path.  I try to share that excitement and encourage kids of all ages to see science as a fun way to learn how things work.

The past few years, this ‘hobby’ has taken on a life of its own—between helping my goddaughter’s Girl Scout troop put together their annual ‘Science Day’ fundraiser, to teaching kids about chemical reactions as part of EPA outreach.

More recently, as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology (SOT), I have had the opportunity to introduce kids across the country to toxicology as something more than just the study of poisons.

Each year at the annual SOT meeting, the Subcommittee works to include K-12 outreach in our host city.  From large events at local museums, to inviting high school students to present their toxicology research, our goal is to engage students at a young age.

At the recent meeting in San Francisco, the Subcommittee and local chapter interacted with more than 370 future scientists and their parents to introduce toxicological and other scientific terms and principles through fun experiments (http://www.toxicology.org/ai/meet/am2012/edout.asp).

With the assistance of 45 volunteers, including 25 undergraduates from UC Berkeley, families were invited to three different themed rooms with continuous hands-on activities.   Main themes included ‘Risks At Home,’ which focused on Household Hazards Identification/Lookalike products;  ‘Things that Wiggle,’ focused on understanding “Dose makes the poison” through a hands-on experiment examining exposure of blackworms to ethanol.

Our ‘Earth Room’ focused on what pH changes might mean to the environment through a hands-on activity demonstrating that acids cause chalk to deteriorate.  Kids tested the pH of different household items, saw their impact on a simulated lake, and discussed what it means.  The activity helped kids understand that everyone can have an impact on what happens to our water sources.

A fourth room featured a theatrical performance designed to bring all of the main points from the experiments together, as well as opportunities to ‘meet the toxicologist’ to learn more about careers in toxicology.

This year, the SOT K-12 Subcommittee is focusing efforts on collecting outreach materials in order to update the SOT website to facilitate idea sharing and easy access to resources that can be used for K-12 outreach.  Anyone who has a similar hobby, please feel free to add a comment below to share ideas and lessons learned in K-12 outreach!

About the Author: Maureen Gwinn, PhD, DABT (Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology) joined EPA’s Office of Research and Development in 2006. She has always been fascinated with anything related to science and enjoys solving puzzles.  Along with her outreach work, Maureen also makes jewelry in her spare time and travels home to Maine as often as possible.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.

How We Made It Through a Hot New England Summer

By Gina Snyder

It’s no wonder most of us find climate change confusing. The other day while driving to the store, I heard a radio meteorologist say that January to August in New England this year has been the hottest since 1895, when consistent record-keeping started. She went on to say that scientists don’t call this ‘climate change.’

Hmmm. But, she clarified that with an interview with a climate scientist from Cornell who said this is indeed what we can expect from climate change, but the actual weather isn’t necessarily because of climate change. “Oh dear,” I thought, “These scientists make it so hard to understand!”

Then a friend of mine told me about a sports analogy made by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. It was the best description I have heard of how greenhouse gases lead to climate change: “It’s like weather on steroids.”

Think about how a home-run hitter is expected to have a certain number of home runs during the baseball season. Then think about the same hitter on steroids: you can expect even more home runs. Heat waves and extreme weather are similarly affected by greenhouse gases. More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make it much more likely that we’ll have heat waves and big storms, and more thunder and lightning.

If we don’t like this picture of the future, we can take all kinds of actions.

Even though this summer has been so hot in Massachusetts that we’re using record amounts of electricity to feed our air conditioners, at least an ENERGYSTAR air conditioner uses less energy, and adding a fan to make the cool air move around will make it feel even cooler. And, when you can, using only a fan – without an air conditioner – will help.

In my home, where I have many shade trees over my house, I open the windows in the evening, and then close them in the morning when I leave. I pull the shades over windows that get afternoon sun, too. I only have a single (ENERGYSTAR) window air conditioner, and we only use that on the really hot and humid days.

One of the great benefits of living in New England – with its winter snows and spring drizzling – is that summer can be so pleasant. That means we can often get away without using AC … So on the beautiful summer days when the nights are 60-ish and the days are under 85, keep the energy bills down and the fresh air blowing. And know that you are doing a small favor to the earth.

About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental and Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and has been a volunteer river monitor on the Ipswich River, where she also picks up trash every time she monitors the water quality.

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.

New Life for the Bronx and Harlem Rivers

By Cyndy Kopitsky

EPA and the U.S. Department of the Interior have identified the Bronx and the Harlem Rivers as two priority areas in New York. As a result, exciting things are happening! But, first a little geography lesson.

The Bronx River, the only fresh water in New York City, is approximately 24 miles long and flows through southeast New York State.  The Harlem River is a navigable tidal strait in New York City that flows eight miles between the Hudson River and the East River.  The Harlem River is spanned by seven swing bridges, three lift bridges and four arch bridges.  The Harlem River forms a part of the Hudson estuary system, serving as a narrow strait that divides the island of Manhattan from the Bronx.

Three of the bridges that cross the Harlem River are: the High Bridge (a now-closed pedestrian bridge); the Alexander Hamilton Bridge (part of Interstate 95); and the Washington Bridge. In this photo, looking north, the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is on the left and the Bronx is on the right.

Here’s where the fun comes in – in an effort to improve water quality, make public access safe and restore the watersheds and ecosystems, federal and local partners have initiated a number of projects.  I am always inspired to see when there is success in our “urban” community activities that manage to span from the Long Island Sound to the Delaware Estuary and across the east coast to the Caribbean, all contributing to the partnership.

One is the Bronx Youth Urban Forestry Empowerment program for low-income and minority youth which was created in partnership by “Trees of NY” and the USDA Forest Service. This project provides underserved youth from the Bronx sustained, hands-on education in tree care, tree identification, tree pit gardening, tree inventory and park land habitat restoration, outdoor recreational activities and two service learning projects.

The oyster population, once plentiful, has suffered a major decline due to pollution.  Improvement has been seen in the last 10 years although they remain unsafe to eat. Oysters play a major role in filtering and help to create a better habitat.  Many federal and local agencies are working in partnership to create an oyster reef, a better place for oysters to live.  I have a special interest in this type of project and I hope to be able to visit the area, not far from my home town.

The Park Service, the Harlem River Working Group and city and state agencies are working to develop a greenway along the Bronx side of the Harlem River and are planning to increase access which is currently limited along both rivers.

The EPA NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program is funding an effort to design plans for passage of migratory fish at two Bronx River dams and The Harlem River Working Group is planning a big event at Roberto Clemente State Park (RCSP) October 15th – 20th.  The main goal is to highlight the fact the RCSP is the ONLY point on the Bronx side of the Harlem River that has the immediate potential to provide boating access to the river.  The National Park Service will be providing a small amount of funding to help with programming the event and the State is on board to provide logistical support and host the event. The plan is to get 500 to 600 Bronx students out on the river Monday through Friday and then hold a community-wide celebration that Saturday.  Several of us have been invited to talk with the Park Service about ways to assure a large turn-out at this upcoming event.

All in all, lots of activity in support of these two important urban waterways. For more information, visit www.urbanwaters.gov.

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky is the Urban Waters Program Coordinator out of EPA’s office in Manhattan. In this capacity Cyndy works closely with the EPA Region 2 staff and managers to engage them in the Urban Water Program activities which include a grant program and the pilot projects. The pilot projects are often cooperative efforts with other federal agencies. Cyndy is a far commuter and resident of Cape May County in the southern most point of New Jersey. With her background in advertising and environmental education, working with communities for Cyndy is a “natural fit.”

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.

Cocinando y protegiendo el medio ambiente

Por Nora López

Después de un día completo de trabajo en la EPA, me gusta relajarme experimentando con recetas y cocinar todos mis platos favoritos. Uno de mis platos favoritos es de Puerto Rico y se llama pasteles. Una vez que se menciona esta palabra mágica a cualquier persona de Puerto Rico, podrá ver en su cara un cambio de expresión. Se sonríen (más que de costumbre) y tal vez le dicen quien hace los mejores pasteles en su comunidad. 

¡Los pasteles están hechos de los ingredientes más naturales que existen! Y están envueltos en el material más natural y “verde” que usted tiene – hoja de plátano. Algunas personas piensan que los pasteles son como los tamales de México, pero les puedo decir que no es así. Los tamales se hacen con harina de maíz que se compra en la tienda, se hace una masa o pasta y luego se rellena con queso, pollo, chiles. Finalmente se envuelve en una hoja de maíz o de hoja de plátano.
Los pasteles van más allá que los tamales en la protección ecológica; son a hechos a base de papas (patatas), plátanos verdes, yautía (tubérculo que algunos llaman macal, tiquizque o malanga), calabaza, plátano, los cuales se pelan manualmente y se muelen o trituran… ¡los restos de estos pueden usarse como abono en su compostaje! Algunas personas los hacen de yuca (mandioca o casava), que era lo que los indios tainos usaban para hacer pan. Todos los ingredientes son naturales, saludables y ¡con mucha fibra! Una vez se tienen todos los ingredientes pelados, se tienen que moler… y la gente discute cuál es la mejor manera para hacer esto (manualmente para una mejor textura, o con un procesador de comida para aquellos que quieren ¡ahorrar tiempo!) Esto se conoce como la masa y tiene que tener el color correcto, por lo cual se utiliza otro ingrediente natural llamado achiote. Esta es una semilla roja que crece como una fruta en un árbol pequeño. El achiote se cuecen a fuego lento en aceite de oliva y eso es lo que se utiliza para colorear la masa.
Se elabora un guiso de carne (de cerdo o pollo) con montones de especies, y hierbas naturales como el recao, orégano, cebolla, ajo y otros ingredientes. Una vez que esto se hace, entonces todo está listo para hacer el pastel. Por lo general, las personas se reúnen en la cocina y formar una cadena de montaje. Usted toma su hoja de plátano (que se ha cortado a un tamaño adecuado), se agrega algo de la achiote y luego la masa y carne. Esto se pliega, se ata y se hierve durante una hora. Y luego, ¡voila! Usted tiene sus pasteles. Y después de comer puede incluso ¡poner en su compostaje de abono la hoja de plátano!

Buen provecho y ¡utilicemos ingredientes frescos y envolturas naturales en nuestra cocina!

Acerca de la autora: Nora trabaja en la instalación de la EPA en Edison, New Jersey donde dirige el programa regional del Inventario de Emisiones Tóxicas. Después de trabajar le gusta desplegar sus habilidades culinarias.

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.

Ecoregions of the Midwest

By Jeffery Robichaud

I spent a couple of weeks this summer with my family on the beach in North Carolina.  I’m not the most social fellow in vacation settings, so I spent most of the time splashing in the waves with my sons.   Occasionally, I was forced into some small talk with locals at attractions while waiting for the boys to complete a ride.  Invariably, the question, “Where ya from?” would enter the conversation.  Whether I answered Kansas, Missouri, Kansas City, or the Midwest the responses were all the same…”really flat out there isn’t it…lots of corn huh?” (I’m choosing to leave out comments about the Royals as there is no need to kick them when they are down).

Yes Kansas is flat.  Yes we grow lots of corn in this part of the country.  But our four-State Region is not just a boring landscape of monoculture and interstate.  We have a tremendous diversity of unique ecosystems; from the Sandhills of Nebraska to the Mingo Swamp of the Missouri bootheel….from the Flint Hills of Kansas to the Prairie Potholes of Iowa.

Photos: University of Nebraksa Lincoln, US FWS, NASA, and Emporia State University

Over twenty years ago James Omernik with EPA’s Office of Research and Development worked with colleagues at EPA and with other organizations throughout the country to develop a map of Ecoregions for the United States.

Designed to serve as a spatial framework for the research assessment, and monitoring of ecosystems and ecosystem components, ecoregions denote areas within which ecosystems (and the type, quality, and quantity of environmental resources) are generally similar. By recognizing the spatial differences in the capacities and potentials of ecosystems, ecoregions stratify the environment by its probable response to disturbance. These general purpose regions are critical for structuring and implementing ecosystem management strategies across federal agencies, state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations that are responsible for different types of resources within the same geographical areas.

 

You can get a copy of EPA’s Level 3 Ecoregions (the most commonly used Ecoregion) for the entire country as a zipped shapefile here, as well as the metadata here, and symbology here.  Download them and see for yourself how many different ecosystems we have here in Region 7.  Or drop us a comment.  Last week I mentioned we were packing up maps and wouldn’t you know, we found extra copies of unused wall sized Level III Ecoregion maps of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska which could sure use good homes.

About the Author: 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.

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.

School Light Monitors

light switchBy Wendy Dew

Have you ever heard of hall monitors?  How about ” light monitors “?  Students around the country have been creative in teaching teachers how to turn out the lights when not in use to save energy.  Student light monitors check out classrooms and other rooms to see if the lights have been turned off if no one is using them.  Teachers who do not turn out the lights when they leave the room get a ticket from the light monitors.  Great idea!

Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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.

The Milwaukee Model: An Intersection of Great Lakes Restoration and Workforce Development

By Chris Litzau

I attended several sessions at the Great Lakes Areas of Concern Conference in Milwaukee this year that generated spirited discussions about growing jobs with Great Lakes clean up and restoration funds.

For example, in Milwaukee, an environmental engineering firm partnered with local brownfield remediation job training and certification programs for disadvantaged young adults, to place training participants at the Kinnickinnic (KK) River sediment dredging project. I was impressed with the commitment made by the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and its contractor to permit trained and certified trainees to shadow and assist with the monitoring and oversight of the dredging project. The model was replicated at a subsequent PCB dredging project in Milwaukee’s Area of Concern, and led to the involvement and eventual hiring of dozens of training participants at water quality improvement, conservation and remediation projects throughout the region.

During the dredging projects, training participants interned at the site with GLNPO’s contractor. All participants completed the EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) Program, which was funded with an EPA grant. By attending the training program, participants acquired the necessary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certification. The certification was a prerequisite for the trainees to be able to participate in the project.

It’s clear to me that the successes of the young adults – and the efforts of EPA and contractor staff – established a model for other clean up and restoration projects. Several workforce development programs such as the program that supported the Milwaukee Model are located within AOCs or near rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water. I believe that these programs also offer a pipeline of young adults who can assist and learn at water quality treatment, improvement and remediation projects during future grants.

I think that the Milwaukee dredging project clearly demonstrates that consultants and contractors are able to cultivate knowledge and technical skills among a population of disadvantaged young adults, and – through the process – grow the future workforce. The KK River project in Milwaukee is proof that the Great Lakes Legacy Act combined with the EWDJT Program can stimulate the economy with a ripple effect that makes a lasting impact on the physical landscape and social fabric of the community.

About the author: Chris Litzau served as the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Community Service Corps for 12 years before recently leaving the organization to grow the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC) into a regional job training and education program.  The mission of the Great Lakes CCC is to leverage resources among Great Lakes communities to train and educate disadvantaged populations for credentials that close the skills gap, improve water quality, build habitat, grow the legacy of the original Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and make the region more competitive in the global economy.  In 1998, Mr. Litzau administered one of the first 10 grants awarded by the EPA through its nascent Brownfield Job Training Program.

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.

Reflection from a Fellow on EPA’s Social Media Strategies

By Tiana Ramos

It’s August and my summer fellowship has come to an end. The project I worked on was EPA’s Green Building Research Symposium “Applying Green Building Research Today.”  Its purpose was to educate, engage and inspire government, business and academe about green building and sustainable design.

Throughout this internship I acquired new skill sets. For one, I am now aware of the effort and resources needed to run a conference!  I also had the privilege to meet some star players of the built environment world and expand my knowledge about green building research, all of which can be accessed at EPA’s Green Building website.

But more than anything I gained some valuable insight into the agency.  While it was great to work with scientists, one thing I learned was that it is sometimes difficult to communicate their research to the public.  I was involved in the outreach strategy for the conference: I submitted blog entries for EPA’s “Greening the Apple” blog and wrote Twitter posts for EPA’s national and regional accounts.  However, since disclosing agency information to the public takes time and requires approvals, we could not fully utilize instantaneous forms of communication. Too many parties became involved, slowing down the approval process.  For example, while the EPA considers approval for one Twitter post, my Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn accounts were exploding with sustainability topics.  This resulted in confusion and frustration from the EPA staff as well as attendees.  It was then I realized that the agency could use a more streamlined approach to communicating important information to the public.

In its current state, the agency’s culture requires a cautionary approach for embarking on new initiatives. But times are changing and social media have become more mainstream, thus a simpler way in which to approve messages may be called for. If EPA could move messages more quickly, more people might be able to join in the conversation and the learning experience might be richer.  EPA can be the beating heart of the environmental movement as people rely on it to have up-to-date green information delivered in the fastest way.

I was able to learn how the EPA operates early through my Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship. It was a valuable experience, even with its challenges, and it only makes me more determined to one day to be a catalyst for positive change within the agency. So, EPA, if you’re looking to staff up, I would happy to help in May 2013.

About the author: Tiana recently completed an EPA GRO (Greater Research Opportunities) Fellowship at EPA’s Region 2 offices in New York City. She is obtaining her BA in Environmental Studies and Economics at Wellesley College. Her specific interest is sustainability building in the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.

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.

EPA’s Mobile Lab Helps Clean Up Vermont Community

By Larry Kaelin with Mike Nalipinski
EPA’s PHILIS mobile labs

EPA’s PHILIS mobile labs

In the spring of 2011, heavy rains flooded the area of Stevens Brook in St. Albans, VT, and residents at the Colony Square Apartments noticed potentially cancer-causing coal tar waste in a sump in their basement. St. Albans city employees also noticed coal tar wastes in several area manholes while residents in the area noted an oily odor.

 Hurricane Irene came through in August of 2011 and only made the situation worse. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC) requested assistance from EPA in May of this year to help figure out if coal tar waste had indeed contaminated the Colony Square Apartments and residential properties of Stevens Brook.  

A team of EPA responders, including myself and EPA On-Scene Coordinator Mike Nalipinski, promptly arrived with a new mobile laboratory known as PHILIS. PHILIS, short for Portable High-throughput Integrated Laboratory Identification System, provides EPA and our response partners in need with the latest in mobile sampling technology. 

By using PHILIS, we obtained more than 250 samples of soil, sump water, sediment, gas and indoor air from ten residential properties over a four day period, to determine the extent of coal tar waste contamination. PHILIS identified several contaminants of concern including cancer-causing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), which occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline. Because PHILIS was available, we were able to provide same-day certified data, which made it possible to quickly determine how to best proceed with the cleanup.  

St. Albans, VT cleanup site

St. Albans, VT cleanup site

Without PHILIS, we might have had to send the samples to an off-site laboratory, and the process would have taken more time—time that could have been spent on beginning the cleanup and protecting the community.  

It took less than 90 days from the initial sample by PHILIS, to the removal of approximately 2,400 tons of contaminated soil, to restoring the property back to use. 

About the authors:  Larry Kaelin is a chemist with the EPA’s Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Consequence Management Advisory Team.  Mike Nalipinski is an On Scene Coordinator (OSC) in EPA Region 1 with many years of experience cleaning up Superfund sites.   

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.