Monthly Archives: July 2011

Is the Hassle of Public Transportation Worth It?

By Kasia Broussalian

The subway system of New York City boasts a number of milestones that shine through much of its grime…scurrying rats included.  The city’s rapid transit system is the oldest and most extensive system in the world. Last year alone it carried 1.6 billion riders through 468 stations and across 656 miles of revenue track.  This extensiveness, coupled with a 24-hour service routine, significantly cuts personal energy expense—especially where small geographic location meets an extremely high population density.

Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of days when I am so exasperated with the system, I could fall to my knees and curse the very men who laid down those tracks in 1904.  There can be delayed trains, service disruptions (meaning no trains are coming), long wait times, and limited communication with the riders. Not to mention the scorching heat , little ventilation, and creeping rats that are enough to make any person think twice before making the perilous MetroCard swipe. There are upsides, though. Apart from the individual incentives; i.e. the no parking fees, no traffic headaches, etc, there are significant big picture contributions. About one-third of the United States’ total carbon emission comes from transportation, and 60 percent of that comes from personal vehicle use. Already, New York City rivals such “green cities” as San Francisco and Portland in terms of personal energy expenditure. The overall factor can be greatly attributed to our love-hate relationship with the subway system.

A few weeks back, I traversed a greater portion of the N train; from the East Village of Manhattan to the last stop at Coney Island. I noticed the traveler pictured above get on midway through my travels, and shortly after (perhaps two or three stops later), he hopped off. At this point I thought, “For all its faults, the subway really is the epitome of ease. Paths just out of walking distance or otherwise insurmountable to pedestrians become accessible and travelers can hop on and off without the hassle, or the pollution, of a car.” Tell us your experiences with the subway, exemplifying both its hassle and its ease.

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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What Glaciers Teach Us

For as long as I can remember, my family has vacationed somewhere new every summer. We went on the typical Disney World trip, of course, as well as trips to many cities and beaches. The most memorable trips, however, were the “wild” places. We’ve visited Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Canada, the Grand Tetons, and the Adirondacks. In each of these places, I’ve marveled at the wonder and beauty of nature, yet also feared for its survival during the continuous push for modernization.

One of the most beautiful yet sobering experiences was seeing the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies. While driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, we stopped to tour the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. Riding a snow coach onto the glacier was an amazing, albeit slightly terrifying experience, as we were educated about the huge, unseen crevasses that have killed unwitting tourists.

That ride out onto the glacier didn’t leave the biggest mark on me, though. Rather, it was walking up a winding, steep trail to the base of the glacier, seeing the markers of the glacier’s recession at a frighteningly fast pace over the last 125 years.

The glacier’s recession plainly illustrates what is happening to our natural wonders around the world. These natural wonders are coming under siege and slowly disappearing. I want to be able to take my own family to the places I’ve been, so they can see what I saw and experience the same breathless awe. However, I am afraid that when I return, these places will be a shadow of what they once were.

As much as I want to go back to the Athabasca Glacier, I am almost dreading it. How much smaller will it be?  I’ve documented all of my nature trips so far, and will continue to do so. I just hope that the before and after photos aren’t too different; if the location has changed at all, I hope it’s for the better.

With the State of the Environment project, we are hoping to document our surroundings today for two reasons: one, to look back at Documerica and see how far we’ve come, and two, to look to our future and see what we need to do.

About the author: Katherine Stodola, Office of Web Communications Intern in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Upcoming Weekend Activities

Don’t let any small chance of isolated showers keep you from exploring the outdoors this weekend! From fresh-air movies to bike parades, the summer choices for al fresco fun continue.

Conservatory Garden Tours: Free tours of the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. Saturday, July 30 at 11 a.m.

Lakeside wildflowers tour in Van Cortlandt Park: See plants that float and flower by the water at the Van Cortlandt Park golf house in the Bronx. Sunday, July 31, 2 p.m.

MillionTreesNYC Stewardship Corps Workshop Series presented by GreenThumb: Attendees can adopt trees that they want to take care of and take part in a tree-themed game show. This workshop is followed by lunch in the garden. Saturday, July 30, 12:45 to 2:15 p.m.

Queens Bike Bonanza & Rockaway Bike Parade: Join the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, Bike NY, Recycle a Bike and the New York City Department of Transportation at this event featuring a bike raffle and helmet giveaway, riding lessons, and bike art activities. Families are encouraged to bring their bikes for a bike parade along the beach boardwalk to Ft. Tilden. Advanced registration is required for the bike parade. To register email: info@rwalliance.org. Saturday, July 30, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Seining the River Wild in Brooklyn Bridge Park: Come watch scientists use a 20-foot seining net to catch and release fish and other remarkable East River creatures. You can also participate in a site-specific scavenger hunt in between hauls. Please RSVP to rsvp@bbpc.net. Saturday, July 30, two sessions: 2:00 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Wonderdonk Bike-in Movie Series: Ride your bike to this outdoor screening of “Pee-Wee’s Great Adventure” in Queens. Friday, July 29, 7:30 p.m.

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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An Eye-Opening Fish Story

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

By Danny Hart

For the past few weeks I’ve been planning my vacation to the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York. I’ve decided to recapture some of the childhood pleasure of trout fishing. As kids, my siblings and I learned “spin casting” as opposed to the more artistic “fly casting” method of fishing; though my grandfather tied his own flies and could fly cast, we didn’t inherit that skill.

As the time to depart for vacation nears, the excitement grows and I share my anticipation with coworkers. Last week, one asked from across our cubicle which lake I was visiting. I mentioned the name of the lake and she replied, “You know you can’t eat trout from that lake”. I couldn’t believe it! She showed me a website for New York waters and the health risks associated with eating fish from various lakes. I couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t be able to eat fish from a pristine, crystal clear lake! “DDT” she said, and lakes around the area were limited to one fish per month, one! Why? “Mercury” she said.

In that moment, the vision I had in my head of untouched natural wonder transformed to polluted, man-effected potential hazard. How could this be? How could these waters so far from industry have been changed? I realized then, that we are all connected in some way…that the smoke stacks in the Midwest directly affect the water and air quality of once-untouched waterways hundreds of miles away. The winds carry heavy metals and drop them in the form of rain. The DDT came from some other source, which is a mystery on that particular lake to this day.

Once I realized the connection I wanted to know more about this issue. I found out EPA recently finalized what is called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will prevent smoke stack pollution like mercury and other toxics from traveling long-distances and polluting what should be pristine lakes. The agency is also developing mercury and air toxics standards that will go a long way to cut mercury — and other harmful pollution — from our environment, so that maybe one day my kids (and their kids) will have an opportunity to fish in these lakes.

So, next week we’ll boat and swim in the lake. But we won’t fish. To safely fish, we’ll have to drive to another lake. We’re lucky, because there are other lakes in the area where eating the fish is still safe. For now.

About the author: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Intern Army Mission: Donation By Force”

By: Kathleen Oxley and Courtney Talcott (Region 1 Interns)

As EPA interns we are met with many complicated tasks that full-time employees look forward to giving to the bright eyed, flip flop wearing, over-zealous students who enter their building every summer. In Region 1, the interns in the Office of the Regional Administrator were told that their biggest task this summer was to somehow convince employees to donate at least a thousand pounds of food for the annual Feds Feed Families summer food drive.

After hearing about the lack of donations last summer, one of the new interns worried the mission was impossible, “No one is ever going to give us cans, just awkward eye contact and quiet hellos.” Therefore we came together, with all our unique and various academic interests (from environmental science to international relations), and came up with a full-fledged plan of attack.

“We can go about it like the Allied forces in World War II: surround the enemy (unwilling employees) until they are forced to surrender food,” said the international relations major who had really wanted a State Department internship. We set up a command center in front of the elevators to constantly remind employees of our ever begging presence. We stalked people in their cubes to make sure they were not harboring any possible donations. “Who are these creepy kids and why do they keep pushing around a cart?” said one reluctant scientist.

After a week, our efforts were not successful, so we went to plan B: engage employees with some friendly competition. The Regional Administrator’s office was planning an employee awards ceremony and we used that to our benefit: stage a Feds Feed Families invasion. We organized a canned food castle building contest (going along with the beach theme for the ceremony) among offices to encourage people to donate as well as give people a good excuse to take a long lunch for the “benefit of the office.” It worked! 892 pounds later and some great effort from the regional laboratory in Chelmsford, MA: we had a winner (the Lab) and more items donated in one event than Region 1 produced after an entire summer of effort last year.

We realized that this mission was possible; it just took an army of interns to get the job done! We may not be able to test drinking water or write enforcement policy, but as interns we engaged employees to help the people in their community, by just donating a few cans, so that they can enjoy the environment the EPA works to protect.

About the authors:Courtney Talcott is a rising senior at Bates College, where she majors in Environmental Studies and plays both soccer and softball. Courtney was a volunteer intern in Region 1’s Office of Public Affairs this summer.

Kathleen Oxley is entering her first-year as a law student at Elon University. She graduated from Boston University this past May, where she studied International Relations and Political Science. She has interned in the EPA Region 1 Public Affairs Office for the past year and will miss it greatly when she moves to North Carolina.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Greening our Communities – One Green Street at a Time!

G3The recent Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns Forum in Silver Springs, MD in April is still generating a ‘buzz.’   How wonderful that this same place, Prince George’s County,  which gave rise to low impact development practices, has sparked a renewed investment in creating healthy, livable communities, through the approach known as “green infrastructure”.

The two-day forum hosted many of the leaders in low impact development (LID) and green infrastructure.  We were genuinely impressed by the number of  local mayors and town officials, planning directors, state and federal partners, and non-profit organizations training young adults to design and build rain gardens and green roofs, who attended and shared their  ‘boots on the ground’ experiences.  We in Region 3 are poised to respond, along with our partners, to expand the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) Academy to deliver the tools and funding opportunities to these green innovators (and converts) who ‘rocked us’ at the forum with their enthusiasm and desire to build green streets and green infrastructure practices into their overall town plans.

One outcome of the forum is the overwhelming interest in a LID design competition.  We all were inspired by the keynote speaker, Mr. Robert Adair, who described the City of Houston’s LID Design Competition.

OK, Texas, we’re ready to take on the challenge, too!  As part of the G3 Academy, we will move forward.  Look for a LID Design Competition coming to your area!

Interested in greening your street and your town?  Come join our G3 Academy and visit http://www.greenhighwayspartnership.org/index.php and click on “G3 Initiative.”

 

About the author: Susan McDowell joined the EPA family in 1990.  Her work on community-based sustainability throughout her career includes the award-winning Green Communities program which has traveled across the United States and internationally.  She brings her ‘ecological’ perspective to most of her work including the G3 Initiative.

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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Time to Recycle, MTA

A woman reaches out for a newspaper in front of the Astor Place Station in the East Village before heading down the stairs for her morning subway commute.

By Donna Somboonlakana

New York City, with its magnificent people, structures and convenient transportation system, is in need of recycling bins for glass, plastic, cans and paper, just about everywhere.  The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has the ultimate opportunity to make significant improvements in the way everyone views and manages the waste we all generate each day by living and working in NYC.  In an effort to create a more pleasant environment for everyone, the MTA could easily reduce enormous amounts of waste, produce green jobs, generate income, and make NYC a more livable city by simply placing recycling bins onto the platforms…what an incredible thought!  So, how can we get the MTA to give us a recycling program?

A recycling program appears to work best when there is a continuous supply of recyclable material.  In 2010, the annual ridership on the NYC subway systems was 1.6 billion people. I say that is a match! I understand that change is a hard thing to do, but sometimes it pays off. I made a simple commuting change when I first began working for EPA 21 years ago which resulted in my saving over $40,000.  Born, raised and still residing in New Rochelle, I used to take Metro North, then take the 4 or 5 subway to work.  Now, I drive only one extra mile to the Bronx, park for free and take the 5 train all the way downtown without having the stress of rushing to catch another train. Sweet. More

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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Science Wednesday:Lake Guardian Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop Day 7!

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Dr. Joel Hoffman

Workshop Day#7, Teachers teaching teachers

Tuesday afternoon the US EPA’s Research Vessel Lake Guardian returned to port in Duluth, MN, where we were joined by five teachers who were participating in a shore-based Great Lakes science workshop with the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve . The teachers from theshore-based workshop had been sampling in the National Estuarine Research Reserve located in the St. Louis River, during the past two days to measure its environmental quality.

In July 2011, scientists and educators from around the Great Lakes will be aboard EPA’s Lake Guardian research vessel to research environmental conditions in Lake Superior, and share their stories.
NERR (shore-side) teaching our teachers (ship-side)

NERR (shore-side) teaching our teachers (ship-side)

Our sampling plan was to sample in the St. Louis River, close to the reserve, and then sample out in the lake so that the teachers could compare the environmental quality. But as we arrived at the station and began to start our sampling, something different happened – something that had not happened while we were sampling on Lake Superior. The teachers stepped up. The scientists stood back. Those teachers who have been with us the past week described the scientific instruments to the shore-based educators. Then they explained what the data were used for and how the data should be interpreted. The shore-based educators, in turn, looked at the results and told the boat-based educators how the values we got near the reserve or out in the lake compared to the results they had obtained in the river. I was greatly impressed. The teachers were now teaching the teachers.

LG (ship-side) teachers showing NERR teacher how to diploy zooplankton net

LG (ship-side) teachers showing NERR teacher how to diploy zooplankton net

A week ago, I stood alongside our rosette, a sampling device that is lowered into the lake to measure its physical and chemical properties, and carefully explained the way it worked, why it took the data it did, and why that was useful to scientists. A week later, the workshop teachers can explain with confidence the same device and provide personal stories about how it was important to the science in which they participated during the past week. Scientific terms that were foreign are now familiar. Concepts that were difficult are now comfortable. This is all evidence for the value of this immersive experience. When we have teachers working shoulder-to-shoulder with scientists, the teachers truly internalize the information and so they have the confidence to share it with others. And now they can share it with their students – the next generation of stewards of our Great Lakes.

This blog is the last in our Workshop series, thanks for joining us on the journey! Check out the Workshop website for much more information, including blogs by the teachersand podcasts.

About the author: Dr. Joel Hoffman is a research biologist in EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology division, and. the head scientist for the 2011 Lake Guardian Shipboard and Shoreline workshop on Lake Superior.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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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Lake Guardian Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop: Stormy Weather!

By Dr. Joel Hoffman

In July 2011, scientists and educators from around the Great Lakes will be aboard EPA’s Lake Guardian research vessel to research environmental conditions in Lake Superior, and share their stories.

Science Workshop, day 3

On Saturday night we hit a rough patch of weather. As the waves climbed towards 6-8 feet tall, we were forced to stop our scientific sampling at about 3 AM and search for a safe harbor. We found calm waters inside the Keewenaw Waterway, a shipping canal that cuts through the Keewenaw Peninsula (a prominent peninsula that extends far into Lake Superior in the south-central portion of the lake) and were forced to lay low in the port of Houghton, Michigan until the conditions were calm enough to return to work. After the storm passed, we continued sampling along the east side of the Keewenaw Peninsula, in the center of Keewenaw Bay. It was not long before it was apparent that the storm had changed the character of the lake. Before the storm, there was a large pool of warm surface waters (warm for Lake Superior is 65°F) extending 60-70 feet down that was sitting atop very cold (37°F), denser water at the bottom of the lake. After the storm, the the surface water was quite a bit colder (55-60°) and gradually became colder with depth.

Setting-up the tucker trawl (an equipment for sampling young fish) for deployment from the US EPA’s R/V Lake Guardian (J. Hoffman in foreground)

Setting-up the tucker trawl (an equipment for sampling young fish) for deployment from the US EPA’s R/V Lake Guardian (J. Hoffman in foreground)

Sampling began shortly after dark and the evening’s station provided some exciting views and some exciting science. After deploying the manta trawl to sample for plastics floating on the surface of the lake, our teacher-scientist team stood in the bow of the boat and watched a northern lights display. It was spectacular.

Young burbot (a freshwater cod species) captured in Lake Superior

Young burbot (a freshwater cod species) captured in Lake Superior

We then deployed the tucker trawl to catch fish larvae – young fish that have yet to develop all their adult features such as fins and scales. Away from shore in nearly 200 feet of water, we captured the young of burbot (also called eelpout or lawyer fish), a freshwater cod species.   Although we think of these deep, cold waters as being harsh for life compared to the warm, shallow, more productive coastal environment, the young burbot appear to thrive in the colder conditions. While the adults live close to the bottom and eat fish (they can be found in the deepest portions of Lake Superior – over 1300 feet deep!), their young live close to the surface, feeding on a diet of fatty plankton. This is a wonderful example of how all the lake is connected – that a species could starts its life in the upper few feet of the lake and complete its life in its greatest depths.

About the author: Dr. Joel Hoffman is a research biologist in EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology division, and. the head scientist for the 2011 Lake Guardian Shipboard and Shoreline workshop on Lake Superior.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Toxic Trail Map Gives Staten Islanders Access to Graphic Facts About Contamination

By Sophia Kelley

Staten Island is sometimes the forgotten borough of New York City. When it is remembered, the island’s legacy of pollution often gets mentioned first. An artist’s recent project may not change that exactly, but Deborah Davis is certainly bringing recognition to the continuing issue of contamination on Staten Island. Davis combined her passion for history with her graphic and artistic skills to create a map of Staten Island that documents the toxic sites of concern. When I first heard about her Toxic Trail Map, I was intrigued and decided to contact her to find out more.

When Davis moved to Staten Island in 1990, she says people would ask her, “Isn’t that where the dump is?” Though the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill is now closed and set to be developed into one of New York City’s largest parks, the island’s toxic legacy will be hard to shake off. Davis got interested in the industrial past and began to consult old maps and archives at the Staten Island Museum. With a grant from the Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island, Davis was able to combine her research with environmental information from EPA’s Envirofacts site and her graphic design capabilities to create the online map. More

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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