Joy in Mudville

by Tom Damm

Photo: Courtesy of Jim Bintliff

If you were lucky enough to catch one of the record number of home run balls hit in Major League ballparks this year, you may have noticed that the ball didn’t look brand new – that there was some sort of film over it.  Mud to be exact.

All baseballs used in the professional leagues are rubbed up before games with mud found only at a secret location along a tributary of the Delaware River.  It’s been that way for decades.

After a batter was killed with an errant pitch in 1920, the search was on for a substance to give a fresh baseball a better grip without altering its integrity.  Chewing tobacco juice and infield dirt mixed with water were among the remedies tried to no avail.  In 1938, Lena Blackburne, a coach for the old Philadelphia Athletics, found mud with just the right composition at a spot off the New Jersey side of the river.  And it’s been used ever since.

What makes this mud so special?

“It’s two very simple things,” says Jim Bintliff, who has continued the family mud supply operation his grandfather started with Blackburne.  “It’s the geology and the geography.  The mineral content of the area is unique and there has to be a certain flow to the waterway that allows for sediment and decomposition (of the organic matter) and all that good stuff.”

As to claims by some pitchers that this year’s World Series balls seem slicker than usual, Bintliff says, “They’re using the same mud they used during the (regular) season.” Bintliff supplied the Dodgers and Astros and the rest of the teams with their mud allotments in March.

Bintliff says that in addition to all the pro baseball teams, he provides mud to “probably half of the NFL teams,” as well as to a posh Philadelphia spa and an assortment of college and recreational leagues.  He also uses it as a home remedy for poison ivy and bee stings.

According to Bintliff, the skimmed mud is strained of foreign objects and then cured for about six weeks.  A proprietary ingredient is added to the mix to give it the right feel.  The texture of the finished product is like thick pudding.

The rubbing mud is an unusual, though representative example of the “ecosystem services” provided by the Delaware Basin.  The basin is a focus of cleanup and preservation efforts by two EPA regions, four states and a host of other partners.

So, while the Phillies team didn’t make the playoffs this year, the Philadelphia area was represented in the post-season by a touch of the Delaware on the cover of every baseball.  Little solace to fans, but a handy bit of trivia.

 

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Manhattan Skyline: Why are there no tall skyscrapers between Midtown and Downtown?

By Marcia Anderson

Skyline of midtown Manhattan from the East

Skyline of midtown Manhattan from the East

Skyscrapers seem to dominate Manhattan, but look a little closer and you will see very clearly that they are actually clustered in two distinct areas. Downtown is home to the new Freedom Tower, the Financial District, EPA and Federal Plaza. Midtown includes the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Park Avenue and Times Square.

The surface bedrock over much of New York City provides solid anchorage to support the high buildings. Although there are two areas of this strong bedrock at or close to the surface, there is a valley in between where the building heights are lower. In the region south of 30th Street the strong bedrock begins to fall away, and at Washington Square it descends deeply into the earth. The whole region between midtown and Wall Street, including Greenwich Village, SoHo, and Chinatown, would be underwater were it not filled with fathoms of debris left over from the Ice Ages. In this middle area where the bedrock is buried deeply beneath sediments, it is far more difficult to build tall buildings with structural integrity, since such buildings have to be anchored on solid bedrock, not on sediments and glacial till.

Manhattan Schist in the Rat Rock area of Central Park. Courtesy of mountainproject.com

Manhattan Schist in the Rat Rock area of Central Park. Courtesy of mountainproject.com

The Rocks that Form Manhattan.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, the island of Manhattan is built on three layers of rock known as Manhattan Schist, Inwood Marble and Fordham Gneiss. The layers were once flat, laying like a sandwich. The Inwood Marble was metamorphosed from limestone by heat and intense pressure, and formed the 150 to 500 foot thick marble beds beneath the Harlem River, East River and the Harlem lowland. It is visible above ground forming a ridge from Dyckman Street on the Upper West Side northward to Marble Hill. The billion-year-old Fordham Gneiss lies above the surface in the Bronx, and forms the Riverdale and Grand Concourse ridges.

The Manhattan Schist runs from the Henry Hudson Bridge on the north end to the Battery on its southern tip. However, it dips abruptly several hundred feet below ground at Washington Square, and gradually ascends beginning at Chambers Street (New York City nature). The three rock layers are now interfolded and shape the topography of Manhattan. Where Manhattan schist is found close to the surface, you can build high, and so Downtown and Midtown host Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers.

What Caused the Great Dip in the Manhattan Schist?

About 500 million years ago, the African continent, was on a collision course with the ancient North American continent. 450 million years ago, New York City was situated where the continental plates collided and was trapped roughly in the center of the newly formed super-continent, Pangaea. The impact of the colliding continental plates pushed up the land located in-between the two plates, like an accordion, forcing mountains upwards, forming the soaring Tectonic Mountain Range. The collision folded the bedrock into dips and folds which account for the deep valley filled with sediment and till (New York City geology). Today, all that remains of these mountains are their stumps which are the bedrock of modern-day NYC. Being buried and compressed under such a vast mountain range has made the Manhattan Schist an exceptionally hard rock. However, the dips that were folded down formed valleys that were later filled with accumulated loose sediments and rocks during the Ice Ages.

But the story of New York City does not end there. The area that NYC sat on was weak, unstable, and prone to earthquakes, and later volcanoes. The volcanoes triggered a mass extinction of plants and animals, by depositing huge amounts of hot magma and poisoning surrounding waters and air with sulfur and other toxic compounds. About 200 million years ago, a dark, volcanic rock, called basalt, was formed by these volcanic eruptions, and created the Palisades. At this same time, the super-continent broke apart, and NYC wound up on the coast again. Much of the later success of NYC is owed to its location on the coast and its deep water harbor.

The minerals in the Manhattan Schist can also prove this story of the bedrock of NYC’s long history. The shiny flakes of mica and crystals of garnet only form at very deep depths, under extensive pressure for millions of years.  Look for them, in the outcrops scattered throughout Central Park.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.