Aquatic Health/Habitat Use

The Scenic Towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) National Historical Park

by Andrea Bennett

 

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A biker on the C&O towpath. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

Recently I was in the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park, on the towpath that runs between the Potomac River and the canal itself.  The C&O Canal is over 184 miles long and was constructed almost 100 years ago to transport coal, lumber and agricultural products. The families that operated the boats used mules to tow them along the canal, at a rate of 5 cents per mile. Each night, the family would pile into the boat with the cargo – and the mules!

By 1924, goods were moved by trains, and the canal was no longer used as it had been, but people still enjoyed the recreational opportunities of the towpath, which led to its declaration as a National Historical Park in 1971. Over 4 million people visit the park each year, which links Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C.  Bikers and hikers can continue from Cumberland on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail all the way to Pittsburgh; the path also crosses the Appalachian Trail at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It’s a particularly special place to visit because of the wide variety of recreational opportunities it offers: while I was birding, I saw people biking, hiking, dog walking and jogging and, down the towpath a bit, there were others camping.  The towpath is so popular because it’s in a leafy green cool forest, it’s easy to traverse, and it’s next to the beautiful Potomac River.

Knowing that the Potomac River is a drinking water source for millions, and that it is treasured for its recreation value, how can we keep the river and the park clean and healthy so that it can be enjoyed into the future?

The goal of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is to protect the land and water resources within the Potomac River Basin. ICPRB and EPA are two members of the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership (DWSPP), a coalition focused on protecting the Potomac River as a drinking water source.  Practices that protect this national treasure range from picking up trash and properly disposing of household hazardous waste, to maintaining wastewater treatment plants and managing stormwater runoff through planting vegetated buffers.

Partnerships like this are a valuable way to keep our rivers and watershed healthy, so that they can continue on as great places for vacations as well as important sources of drinking water.

 

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and she is a member of her local watershed protection team.

 

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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Tools for Recreation on our Rivers

by Virginia Thompson

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row is a hot spot for recreation in Philadelphia, as well as a National Historic Landmark.

Growing up in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania, I learned the power of rivers:     Hurricane Agnes wiped out parts of my town when the river overflowed its banks.  In calmer times, the river provided a beautiful respite.  Now living in the Delaware River Basin, I enjoy the Schuylkill River, which dissects Philadelphia, for its recreational value throughout the year:  regattas, festivals, walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers all take advantage of the City’s connection to the river.

My real introduction to the Schuylkill River, however, came three years ago when our high school daughter began rowing crew.  Only then did I learn how river flow, wind, precipitation, and flooding affect such a smooth, beautiful sport.  Days that seemed ideal to spectators often turned out to be challenging conditions for those on the water.

Never was the disconnect between those on land and those rowing on the water more pronounced than at the recent Stotesbury regatta, the world’s largest and oldest high school regatta, held annually on the Schuylkill River.  The first day of the regatta was rainy with torrents of water backing up storm drains, but the rain’s impacts to the rowers were fairly minimal most of the day with warm air, negligible wind, and calm water.

By late in the day, the sky cleared, winds picked up and the rain moved out.  Anticipating improved rowing weather, we were surprised by the cancellation of the day’s remaining races due to “deteriorating river conditions.”  By the next morning, conditions were much worse:  near-flood stage water chocolate brown in color, with the rushing current carrying huge logs and other visible and hidden debris that could pose serious problems.  Surprisingly, the placid, cool, sunny morning was unfit for rowing.  By afternoon, the debris had mostly cleared and rowing resumed.  For the City Championships the next day, the water was significantly lower, little debris was visible, and the water was calmer.  The disparity between the weather and the river conditions was so pronounced because it took time for the upstream floodwaters and debris to flow down the Schuylkill to Philadelphia.

Knowing the current conditions of the river is important for all recreational users.  Fortunately, the Philadelphia Water Department hosts a website service, Philly River Cast, which provides a recreation-focused forecast of water quality in the Schuylkill River.  The River Cast predicts levels of pathogens likely to be in the water carried from upstream based on precipitation, and provides a simple green-yellow-red indication of the river’s suitability for recreation.

While we can’t control the weather, at least we have a tool to help us be prepared for the conditions and able to make smart decisions.

 

About the author:  Virginia Thompson is currently the Coordinator of the Exchange Network, a partnership of federal and state governments providing improved access to environmental data to make better and more timely decisions.  She enjoys swimming, gardening, and bicycling on rail-trails.

 

 

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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From Farmers to Kayakers, Clean Water the Topic of the Day

by Tom Damm

 

June 12, 2014 16th Annual River Sojourn,  Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA

June 12, 2014
16th Annual River Sojourn,
Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA

It was a busy day for the nation’s highest ranking water official and our EPA Regional Administrator on June 12 as they participated in a series of activities to bring attention to and clear up misconceptions about an important clean water proposal.

The day for EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner began with a radio show broadcast live on two NPR stations in central Pennsylvania. Nancy fielded questions from Smart Talk host Scott Lamar for a half hour on a rule designed to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s waters.

You can hear it here.

The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule was also the topic as Nancy was joined by Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin at the Berks County Agricultural Center in Leesport, PA for a two-hour roundtable discussion with farmers and other members of the agriculture industry.

As part of a productive dialogue, Nancy and Shawn explained that the proposed rule preserves existing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agricultural activities and has additional benefits for the farming community.

Then it was on to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a rendezvous with dozens of kayakers, anglers and others participating in the 16th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn.

The sojourners had arrived for lunch at the park on Day 6 of their trip down the Schuylkill – named the 2014 River of the Year in Pennsylvania.

There was some intermittent light rain as the river enthusiasts gathered on benches under rows of overhangs to eat some food and gain some unexpected attention from the Philadelphia media gathered to hear the EPA officials. Nancy told the assembled group that, “The question today is what can we do to make sure that we are leaving behind waters that are useable, waters that are safe to drink, waters that are safe to swim in, to kayak in, to eat fish from.”

By clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act, Nancy said, “We can make the system work a lot better, more efficiently, more cost effectively, and ensure that those stream systems are protected for the future.”

After the talk, the kayakers headed back to the river’s edge, ready to begin their next leg on the sojourn and hoping to beat the heavier rain expected later in the day.  Nancy and Shawn stayed a while longer to talk to others interested in the clean water rule.

The public comment period for the rule has been extended to October 20, 2014.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection 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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Bringing Back Broad Branch

 

Daylighting streams to restore them to a more natural condition can improve removal of nutrient and sediment pollution

Daylighting streams to restore them to a more natural condition can improve removal of nutrient and sediment pollution

by Fred Suffian

As you drive around your community, have you noticed people cleaning up roadside litter, groups planting trees, or even working construction equipment near a stream?  These folks may be your neighbors or township staff; working to reduce stormwater runoff or stabilize stream banks to restore water quality.

Why do they need to do this? Any activity that disturbs the natural land cover of trees and fields increases the amount of runoff that flows into a stream. This rapidly moving runoff causes stream banks to erode.  Litter and chemicals get carried in runoff from the land, adding fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals and sediment that can clog our streams, kill aquatic organisms, and increase the cost of treating drinking water.

There’s one project underway in the Broad Branch Watershed in the District of Columbia, which reminded me of another reason for stream restoration. In the past, buried pipes were used to disguise unwanted or inconvenient streams.  Years ago, a stream of the Broad Branch was buried in a pipe and is now being daylighted (uncovered) by the District Department of the Environment in conjunction with the National Park Service.  This article has a great description of the project and the benefits that this daylighted stream will bring to the community.

Researchers are finding that daylighting streams improves nutrient and sediment removal, and can even help with flooding and community revitalization, restoring a healthy and beautiful urban waterway to be enjoyed by all. Do you know of streams in your community that were buried in the past, or were recently daylighted and restored? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Fred Suffian is the regional Nonpoint Source Program Manager of Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, which provides funding to states to develop and implement watershed based plans to restore local water quality.  He is also involved in his community’s environmental advisory council. 

 

 

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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One Man’s Trash…

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

Trash often ends up in our waterways, as it does in this location at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, PA.

by Sherilyn Morgan

One man’s trash is not necessarily another man’s treasure, especially when it ends up on your lawn, in a neighboring stream or ultimately in our rivers and oceans. 

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when I noticed plastic bags dancing with the wind, a confetti of cigarette butts and a mosaic of plastic bottles on the sidewalk.   I have certainly seen trash in other neighborhoods, but usually not mine, and usually not this much.  Although it seems almost normal to see trash in some areas, these issues can affect any community because trash travels.  Trash is a local problem that transitions into a global issue.

Single-use items, like plastic bottles, straws, cans and food wrappers, are all on the list of top ten items found as trash. Consider bottled water: it’s convenient, but the bottles and caps often end up as trash. Although not in the “trash top ten”, balloons, which often wind up as trash that ends up in storm drains and nearby creeks, and on our coastlines,  can have detrimental impacts on marine life. Think about when a balloon is released at a party…where does it go? If it deflates and lands where it was released, maybe someone would pick it up and dispose of it properly. But because trash does tend to travel, that deflated balloon may be destined for a waterway where turtles and other aquatic animals can confuse it with food.

With simple, proactive practices, you can keep your neighborhood clean and eliminate single-use plastic products that show up as pollution in aquatic habitats. For example, wouldn’t it be better to have a reusable bottle that you pay for once and simply refill?  I regularly carry a refillable bottle and carry reusable bags wherever I go.  I did not always do this because it certainly takes practice, but now I feel personally responsible with a sense of pride when I say “no” to plastic. And you can do the same! Since most trash in our waterways actually begins on land, we have the power to prevent it and control the impacts.

Though there are many opportunities to support local volunteer cleanups, the most effective option is prevention.  Remember to dispose of trash properly. Ditch those plastic bags at local stores with plastic collection bins and start using sturdy, reusable bags and recycled and recyclable plastic bottles.  EPA’s Trash Free Waters website is a one-stop shop on how to prevent marine pollution. The Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit has outreach materials that you can use to help curb pollution in your neighborhood. Tell us in the comments about ways you have reduced trash, and helped prevent water pollution, in your community.

About the author: Sherilyn Morgan is an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Oceans and Dredge Disposal Program that focuses on the protection of coastal and ocean environments including the elimination of trash from waterways.  She enjoys gardening and participating in restoration opportunities that include the care and maintenance of native plants.

 

 

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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Take Action for Wetlands

by Stephanie Leach

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

 

This May is the 24thAmerican Wetlands Month, a time for us to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our wetlands as well as Americans’ long and evolving history with them. While we have not always recognized wetlands as ecologically valuable places, we are now fortunate to have a large body of cultural and scientific knowledge, as well as technologies that allow us to access this voluminous information, to guide us in the exploration of our aquatic resources and even allow us to aid in their protection.

You can find many opportunities to advocate for wetlands in your area, including volunteering with community groups to restore or monitor wetlands or even participating in what are known as citizen science projects. Citizen science is when individuals without professional expertise assist in the collection of data. Participation in a citizen science project can mean surveying a specific location over a certain time period, volunteering to collect samples from designated streams, or even simply making note of an observed species. Increasingly, citizen science is taking the form of crowdsourcing over the internet, whereby ordinary people submit their observations to organizations in order to create a large-scale representation of the biodiversity present across time and space.

Some examples of citizen science projects that enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research include: Frogwatch USA, Project Feeder Watch (to report overwintering birds), The Orianne Society (salamanders), Bandedbirds.org (banded shore birds) and other location-specific projects dedicated to rare or invasive plants. What’s more, several of these projects have smartphone apps which users can consult for more information or even use to submit their observations.

American Wetlands Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and take action to protect our aquatic resources as we move forward. For more information, visit EPA’s American Wetlands Month website. What groups or projects are you involved with that help you learn about and protect wetlands in your area?

About the Author:  Stephanie Leach works in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division as an intern from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and learning as much as she can about the natural world and how to protect it.

 

 

 

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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Protecting drinking water is a team effort

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

Pike Creek, which once had steep, eroded banks, is now restored with willow trees along the edges.

by Andrea Bennett

In spring time, I always look forward to seeing the flowers blooming, baseball season beginning, and celebrating National Drinking Water Week. Just like in baseball, protecting sources of drinking water takes a team effort. Teams win when all the players work together.

I like to kayak and bird on the White Clay Creek, which runs through Pennsylvania and Delaware, in the Christina River Basin. In addition to being a great place for recreation, this creek provides sources of drinking water to over 500,000 people in 3 states. It’s critical that streams like the White Clay Creek and its watershed are protected; one in three Americans get their water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain dependent, or headwater streams.

Public agencies, private organizations, and local volunteer groups all work together to protect the waterways by planting shrubs and trees along stream banks to hold soil in place. Reducing the dirt that washes into a stream during a storm keeps the bottom of the creek cleaner so insects in the water can thrive and provide food for fish. Less sediment in the water also makes it easier for drinking water treatment plants to treat the water.

Municipalities, like the Borough of Avondale, Pennsylvania (near the headwater tributaries of White Clay Creek) are also part of the team. One way the Borough protects its water resources is by applying “Dump No Waste – Drains to Stream” notifications on stormwater inlets.

Nonprofit agencies are not sitting on the bench either.  The William Penn Foundation provides funds to the Water Resources Agency of the University of Delaware (UDWRA) and Stroud Water Research Center to plant trees along the small tributaries to White Clay Creek, partnering with the White Clay Creek Steering Committee.

In the Christina River Basin, state agencies such as Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection partner with federal agencies like EPA to help pull together the “game plan” to protect and improve water quality.

Together, the team is working toward the same goal: ensuring that your water is clean and healthy. This week is a particularly good time to celebrate this team effort: National Drinking Water Week (May 4-10) is a great time to learn about your local drinking water source and ways that you can also be a team player in protecting waterways in your community.

About the Author: Andrea Bennett is a biologist with EPA.  Prior to joining EPA, she conducted ornithological research and produced films. Andrea enjoys birding, kayaking and playing the mandolin and is a member of her local watershed protection team – the Lower Merion Conservancy.

 

 

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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Farm Conservation Practices are Working in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

Farmers are implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality

by Kelly Shenk

As the agricultural advisor for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany the EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator in talks with farmers throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through roundtable discussions and tours of their farms. We’ve observed their successes, challenges, and opportunities.  It’s encouraging to see how engaged farmers are in implementing conservation practices that are both good for their business and improving water quality.

Last month the Chesapeake Bay Program reported that pollution controls put in place over the last four years have resulted in an estimated 7% reduction of nitrogen, 11% reduction of phosphorus, and 6% reduction of sediment in the Bay Watershed.

Agriculture is responsible for about one-third of these reductions because producers have stepped up their conservation practices such as cover crops that take up residual nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil after crops are harvested. Other effective conservation practices include tillage that prevents nutrients and sediment from running off of cropland; and fencing to keep cows out of streams.

While this progress is encouraging, there’s still much that needs doing to restore the Bay.  Using 2009 as a baseline, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL or pollution diet calls for having measures in place by 2017 to achieve at least 60 percent of the pollution reductions necessary for restoring the Bay to water quality standards.  The Bay jurisdictions are in the process of achieving this objective through upgrading of wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, increased implementation of agricultural conservation practices, improving urban stormwater management, and addressing air pollution sources. All sources are tackling their share of the challenge

The pace of the Bay jurisdictions’ pollution reduction efforts will get quicker moving forward.  For agriculture, I think the keys to success are strong state programs, targeted federal and state financial and technical assistance, incentives that engage more producers, and continued innovation.

We’re encouraged by some of the progress that’s already being made.  We are seeing increased financing for high priority practices promoted by the States such as stream exclusion and cover crops.  States are strengthening their programs for addressing water quality concerns from small animal operations.  We’re also seeing incentives such as Ag Certainty programs to engage more producers in conservation practices.

In my time out in the field, I am always inspired at the creativity and innovation of farmers.  With a good knowledge of the States’ pollution reduction goals, targeted financial and technical assistance, and the flexibility to reach water quality goals in a way that works for their business, I’m confident they can get the job done.  But it will take all of us working together in all sectors, building on the progress that we’ve made thus far, and staying on track to reaching our goals of restoring our local waters and the magnificence of the Chesapeake Bay.

Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor

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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Clearer Protections for Headwater Streams

by Randy Pomponio

WOUS2Spring is finally here, and with it arrives new beginnings. Flowers and plants find new life, our avian friends fill the air, and the streams and creeks that run through our neighborhoods and parks are bubbling along.  This spring also brings a new day for determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands, which had become confusing and complex following several Supreme Court rulings.  After roughly a decade of confusion, the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifies the jurisdictional status of seasonal and rain-dependent streams, wetlands, and isolated water bodies.

Under this clearer definition, the Clean Water Act will continue to protect our aquatic resources, including some of our most important waterways —headwater streams.  Headwater streams comprise over half of the total stream miles in the mid-Atlantic states, and play a fundamental role in reducing flooding, providing wildlife habitat, recharging groundwater, filtering pollution,  along with supporting hunting and fishing. Many of these benefits can be readily attributable to streams which only flow for part of the year. The vast majority of people in the mid-Atlantic rely, at least in part, on these types of streams for their drinking water supplies.

By clarifying the significance of these vital ecological functions – the proposed rule would provide for an estimated $388 million to $514 million annually of indirect benefits through the protection of  aquatic resources, just like your neighborhood creek.

If you are out for a hike this spring, and you notice that you need to leap over a stream that was dry back in the fall; that’s the type of water that will continue to be protected with this proposed rule.  Take a moment to consider the complexity of our aquatic resources, and how that seasonal creek contributes to the overall health of say, the mighty Delaware, Ohio, Potomac, and James River basins.  Under our watch and in our care are precious and life-sustaining tributaries.  This spring, we should celebrate their protection afforded by an illuminated Clean Water Act.

About the Author:  Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.  He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.

 

 

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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Urban Waters: Connecting Communities to their Water Resources

By Catherine King

Through the Urban Waters program, EPA is seeking to help communities — especially underserved communities as they work to access, improve, and benefit from their urban waters and the surrounding land. If you are interested in caring for an urban stream or river or lake or would like to get your neighbors involved in caring for a local urban water resource, then welcome to the Urban Waters Movement!

Urban Rivers

The Urban Waters effort is anchored in a simple theory: if we better engage communities and all work together in efforts to improve and protect water quality, those efforts will be more successful.

The first step is a recognition that people need to be connected to the potential of their water bodies to get them engaged. If people are better engaged, they will be more committed to improving local water quality, which in turn can help revitalize communities. That revitalization reinforces people’s connections to their water bodies, completing a positive cycle for improving the environment and communities as a whole.  Communities across the country are taking this approach and seeing the benefits. In the mid-Atlantic region alone, there are several organizations that have received Urban Waters Small Grants and even a few Urban Waters Federal Partner Pilots.

Water quality touches all of us every day: through the water we drink from the tap, to the waters we swim in, and the water we use to water our plants and crops. Your local water utility serves a key role – treating wastewater and drinking water – but ensuring access to clean waters and protecting the surrounding land starts with you, your neighbors and local community organizations.

Working hand-in-hand, community groups and local residents can initiate activities to help revitalize urban waters, such as setting up a water quality monitoring program, organizing volunteer cleanup efforts, and forming coalitions to speak out about water quality concerns to community leaders.  By pooling efforts, your voice and hard work make the difference to your local waterways and to the community that depends on them.

You can become better informed about urban water issues affecting your community by visiting EPA’s Urban Waters Resources websiteEPA’s Urban Waters Learning Network is another resource for you to learn about actions that other communities are taking to protect their urban water resources and lets you participate in the dialog.  Tell us what activities you are involved with in your community to protect your local urban waters!

About the author:  Catherine King is the EPA Region 3 Urban Waters Program Coordinator in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships in the Water Protection Division in Philadelphia, PA.

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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