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School’s Not Out

By Tom Damm

It’s the first day of summer and school may be the last thing on your mind.

But here’s an opportunity to participate in an Academy – and you don’t need test scores, extracurricular activities or recommendations to get in – just a healthy interest in learning how to protect your local waters.

EPA’s Watershed Academy is a free, online source of information about the many issues that affect your rivers, streams and wetlands.Watershed Academy trifold photo

You can check it out on Tuesday, June 25, at 1 p.m. (Eastern) when the Academy is offering the first in a summer series of live webcasts on harmful algal blooms and nutrient pollution that pose environmental and public health threats.  Here’s a link to register.

Speakers will include experts from EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

And that’s just a taste of what the Watershed Academy has to offer.

Tuesday’s session will be the 74th monthly webcast sponsored by the Academy.  Topics have ranged from key national issues to actions you can take around the home to prevent pollution.  Streaming audio versions of past webcasts are available on the website.

The Academy also offers training courses and publications on water issues.

So don’t put those pencils and paper away just yet.  The learning may be just beginning.

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

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

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

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

karl

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

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

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

OLS_2012Delsiting

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

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

You can read more about the Omaha Lead Site here.

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

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Answering the Call of the Water

By Christina Catanese

This time of year seems to bring people out of the woodwork after being cooped up all winter, to enjoy the sun and green of spring.  For me, this means I must answer the Call of the Water and take some time in nature and out on the water.

Last week, I spent a few days kayaking the Clarion River near the Allegheny National Forest.  It didn’t take long before the stress of normal life that had built up in my shoulders melted away, as my energy and perspective became focused on reconnecting with the land and waters in my native Western Pennsylvania.

Looking downstream from the banks of the Clarion

Looking upstream from the banks of the Clarion

As the blades of my paddle dipped through the water, I pictured those same, splashing water molecules making their way down the Clarion, into the Allegheny River, and all the way to my hometown of Pittsburgh. There, they would meet other molecules from the Monongahela, become the Ohio River, then the Mississippi, and finally flow into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Thinking about the journey these little H2Os would go through illuminated the concept of a watershed for me.  I realized that anything I did to the water way up in Northwestern Pennsylvania would have an impact on the water quality for millions of people that live downstream… so I’d better hold on to that granola bar wrapper if I didn’t want it to show up late for Mardi Gras. Imagining the long path this water would take made the measly 4 miles I kayaked seem like cake – what an epic journey it would be to follow that water all that way!

A heron I encountered during my kayaking trip

A heron I encountered during my kayaking trip

Spending time on rivers  can give us perspective and helps us get to know our rivers, and ourselves, in a totally new way.  Whether they flow through forested or urban areas (or a combination), we see their many uses as well as their beauty, and come to appreciate them as part of a whole network of rivers and streams that connect and support us.

That’s why many environmental and watershed groups around the country sponsor sojourns every year to help people reconnect with their rivers.  Some sojourns are just a few miles, while others paddle the entire length of a river over the course of a few days.  A quick survey reveals tons of sojourning opportunities in the Mid Atlantic region:

Is there a sojourn happening on a river near you not on this list?  Let us know!  Don’t see a sojourn happening on your river?  Start your own.

This spring and summer, I hope you too will answer the Call of the Water and get to know a river near you just a little bit better.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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A Celebration Ten Years in the Making

By Alysa Suero

A large gazebo on the grounds of the Audubon Center in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, was buzzing last week, and not just from the sound of bees pollinating the flora.  It was also the site of the Schuylkill Action Network’s 10th anniversary celebration.

The SAN is a partnership between EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, conservation districts, local officials, watershed and non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders who share a common goal for the watershed.  Since its inception in March 2003, this group has successfully worked together to improve and maintain Schuylkill River water quality.  Its 10th anniversary ceremony was an opportunity to reflect upon the history of the organization and congratulate its on-the-ground partners who are actively working to keep the water clean.

An unexpected highlight of the ceremony was the appearance of a rescued owl, coolly perched on the arm of an Audubon Society volunteer.  With a spin of his head and a hoot of thanks, even the owl seemed to recognize the hard work of all who strive to keep his watershed clean.

SAN owl

Photo Courtesy of the Schuylkill Action Network

The SAN’s “vision for collaboration” emerged as the prominent theme during the ceremony, where awards were presented to individuals and local watershed groups who implemented outstanding projects to meet this goal.  Tackling varied and difficult issues from acid mine drainage to storm sewer overflows to excess nutrients, the award recipients were met with thunderous applause and even a standing ovation.  Presenters and winners alike, including a middle school, an ecologist, and a water supplier, all highlighted the uniqueness of the SAN and its approach.  Credited for uniting a “crosscut of society and the environment,” SAN itself was cheered for bringing together a diverse population who found common ground in their appreciation for the watershed and their shared desire to see it thrive for generations to come.

With a successful ten years already in the history books, several of the day’s speakers posited the future of the organization.  We learned that our nation’s population growth is expected to increase by 50 percent by the year 2050, and most of the growth will be seen within 100 miles of the coasts.  The Schuylkill watershed is firmly within that boundary. Undaunted, the SAN partners pledged to build upon their successful joint ventures and continue to work together to ensure that the Schuylkill watershed is a high quality water resource in the year 2050 and beyond, for humans, owls, and all who call this watershed home.

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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Earth Day and the Next Generation

By Gabrielle Thompson

Do you know how many people observe our great earth on Earth Day? According to the Earth Day Network (http://www.earthday.org/2013/about.html), more than one billion people participate in Earth Day activities. That is a very significant number considering that when I was a school girl growing up in small-town, Alabama in the 1970’s, I had never heard of Earth Day; not to mention Earth Day activities. What was that? Thank goodness for the growing support of environmental awareness. Today, school children from around the world celebrate Earth Day with activities varying from one day to sometimes a week.

Stan Walker (a colleague of mine shown to the right) and I were invited to Delaware Ridge Elementary School, in Kansas City, Kansas earlier this year to share our thoughts on environmental protection. What can be more fun than 3 classrooms of happy go-lucky fourth graders? The time went by quickly as Stan and I treated them to our presentation. Who doesn’t love a PowerPoint presentation? That’s a rhetorical question.

Anyway, we tried to keep it light and informative. I begin by giving some interesting tidbits about EPA and how we protect our health by ensuring our air, water, and soil/land are safe. The kids really liked many of the examples I shared of Region 7’s commitment to the environment especially those about our assisting with Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Joplin after the tornado, and the Gulf after the oil spill.

Stan followed up with concrete examples of Region 7’s Superfund activities by showing how seemingly impossible and abandoned residential areas can be transformed into beautiful living areas for all to enjoy in our own backyards (before and after shots below). He stressed the importance of different stakeholders (federal, state, city and the community) working collaboratively to make change happen.

Gabrielle Thompson is an environmental scientist in EPA’s Environmental Services Division (ENSV) and has worked at EPA for 5 years.  She is single and loves to cook, zumba and travel.

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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Serving Communities by Cleaning Streams

By Rebecca Schwartz and Christina Catanese

In the Philly area and looking for ways to celebrate Earth Day a little early?

Mayor Michael A. Nutter and the Philadelphia Streets Department announced that the 6th Annual Philly Spring Cleanup will be held on Saturday, April 13.  This annual event is a way to involve Philadelphia residents in their local neighborhoods and parks, all while making the city a beautiful, clean place for both residents and visitors to enjoy.  It’s a day when Philadelphia residents are encouraged to volunteer a bit of their time, enjoy the outdoors, and connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods.  By taking part in cleaning up our communities, we all gain a sense of ownership and civic pride in our urban environment, which translates into stronger communities as well as greater sustainability and health.

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

EPA Employees at a recent ELN marsh clean up event

It’s important for us to serve our communities even when we’re not on duty at EPA.  So this weekend, EPA’s Region 3 Executive Leaders Network (ELN) is partnering with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to host a cleanup at Tacony Creek State Park.  A group of EPA employees, friends, and relatives will be spending the afternoon beautifying a stretch along the newly built bike path – and you’re invited to join us!   Here are the details:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

10:00am to 2:00pm

Meet at the corner of East Ruscomb Street and Bingham Street, Philadelphia, PA

We’ll be picking up trash and removing invasive plants along the new bike path!  Volunteers should wear long pants and bring enough water for the afternoon.  Gloves will be provided, but please bring your own if you have them.  Kids are welcome, so bring your friends and family!

Tacony Creek is a small stream in one of Philly’s urban watersheds that eventually flows into the Delaware River.  Small streams like this one make a big difference in their communities: providing a place to recreate, supporting strong economies, providing drinking water, protecting against floods, filtering pollutants, and providing food and habitat for many types of fish.  Small streams can have a big effect on downstream water quality as well, as they all come together to feed into the larger river system.

If you can’t get to this event but want to contribute to cleaning up Philadelphia, find a Philly Spring Cleanup project in your neighborhood online at www.phillyspringcleanup.com.

Not in the Philadelphia area?  Let us know what’s happening to clean up river and stream areas in your community!

About the Authors: Rebecca Schwartz is an ORISE Intern in the Office of NPDES Permits and Enforcement working on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation permits.  She graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with an MS in Ecology, and serves as a member on ELN’s Community Service Crew for the Mid Atlantic Region. Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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It’s All in the Mindset

By Kelly Shenk

At a recent farm tour I was on, a dairy farmer in Augusta County, Virginia said:  “Pollution isn’t related to size, it’s related to mindset.”  And the mindset of many farmers is one of innovation, creativity, and a thirst to find better ways to keep their farms profitable and local waters clean for generations to come.

Farmers compare notes at the Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum

Farmers compare notes at the Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum

The farm tour was part of the recent Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  It’s my favorite meeting of the year.  It’s a chance for all the grantees who receive funding from the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund to share their successes and lessons learned from their projects to restore polluted waters.  The room was filled with over 100 of the most creative thinkers from State agricultural agencies, conservation districts, non-governmental organizations, farming groups, USDA and EPA — all with a common interest in preserving our agricultural heritage, keeping farmers farming, and having clean local and Bay waters.  We all came to the meeting with the mindset that we can have it all through creativity, innovation, and strong partnerships that help us leverage funding to get the job done.

From all the energized discussions with the grantees and farmers, it was very clear to me that farmers are true innovators and problem solvers.  They have a can-do mindset in figuring out how they can run their business efficiently in a way that is good for clean water and for long-term profitability.  As this grant program has matured, so has our approach.  We are finding that there is no better way to sell farmers on ways to reduce pollution than to have fellow farmers and trusted field experts showing how innovative solutions such as manure injectors, poultry litter-to-energy technologies, and even the tried-and-true practices such as keeping cows out of the streams can keep them viable for generations to come.  I’m confident that this mindset will catch on and that we can achieve our common goals of thriving agriculture and clean waters.

About the Author: Kelly Shenk is the Agricultural Advisor for EPA Region 3.

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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Bay Rings Out 2012 with Wave of Good News

By Tom Damm

I didn’t hear Ryan Seacrest mention the Chesapeake Bay as the ball dropped in Times Square Monday night.  But he seemed to be the only one who didn’t have something to say about the Bay as 2012 wound to a close.

Construction Underway on the Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia

Construction Underway on the Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia. At its opening, it will reduce total nitrogen loading by 90,000 pounds per year and total phosphorus by 93,000 pounds per year to the Chesapeake Bay and local waters.

In December alone, there were Bay-friendly announcements from the District of Columbia and Lancaster and Scranton in Pennsylvania, along with news from West Virginia about a treatment plant that will account for a big chunk of the state’s pollution-cutting pledge.

And it isn’t just the Bay that will benefit from these cork-popping developments.  Local rivers and streams in these communities will also run cleaner as a result.

In Scranton, the U.S. and Pennsylvania announced a settlement with the Scranton Sewer Authority on a long-term solution that will reduce millions of gallons of contaminated stormwater overflows into the Lackawanna River and local streams, all part of the Bay watershed.

In Lancaster, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and EPA announced more than $1.8 million in grants for projects to reduce water pollution and improve habitats.

In the nation’s capital, EPA, the District and DC Water signed a major partnership agreement to include green infrastructure techniques in the city’s steps to control stormwater pollution.

And in West Virginia, it was reported that when the new $40 million Moorefield Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant opens later in 2013, it will gobble up huge amounts of pollutants that are now impacting local water quality and the Bay.

Check out our Chesapeake Bay TMDL web site for more announcements about actions by partners to make the new year a good one for the network of Chesapeake Bay waterways.

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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Up Close and Personal with Where Breakfast Comes From

By Kelly Shenk and Matt Johnston

Kelly:

PennAg Industries Association contacted me as soon as I became EPA Region 3’s Agricultural Advisor and offered me the chance to get out in the field to visit three farms.  I assembled a team predominantly comprised of Chesapeake Bay Watershed Modelers to learn first-hand from farmers about their success and challenges of growing food in a safe, humane, and environmentally sound manner.  PennAg provided an experience that I know we’ll all take with us in our careers and personal lives, as demonstrated by Matt Johnston in this blog.

Learning from farmers on the PennAg farm tour

Matt:
It is all too easy to forget where our food comes from.  Every Saturday as a young boy I awoke to the smells of bacon and eggs coming from the kitchen.  By the time I got to the table, my mother had already set my place with two eggs sunny side up, two pieces of extra crispy bacon, a piece of toast and a glass of milk.  It’s a menu familiar to many of us and served weekend after weekend in homes across America.

Never once did I stop to think about how my breakfast got there.  Never once did I consider the animal production side of the equation – the side that includes thousands of workers, millions of animals, and tons of feed and manure.  Last week while on a tour of farms with colleagues, I was reminded of the other side of that equation in very personal ways.

The first stop on our tour was an egg layer facility. Conveyer belts criss-crossed a three-story tall warehouse seamlessly transporting eggs to an adjacent packing facility from the millions of hens that were stacked in cages and spread out over an area larger than a football field.  All the while, another set of belts sent the byproduct of our food production in the opposite direction, depositing the poultry litter in two-to-three story high piles.  When confronted with mounds of litter taller than your house, you begin to realize the inevitable byproducts of our Saturday morning meals.

This lesson was repeated at a nursery pig raising facility, where I jumped at the opportunity to hold an adorable young pig when the tour leader offered.  Unfortunately, the pig did not share my excitement and promptly announced its disgust by soiling my clothing with manure.  All the while, under my feet was a concrete holding tank full of the same viscous substance ready to be pumped out and transported to a nearby field.

Visiting the pigs on the PennAg farm tour

Our last stop was a small dairy.  There were no large holding tanks or conveyor belts constructing piles.  Instead, there was a single farmer with a few small pieces of equipment, a small barnyard, and a few adjacent fields.  Without the resources to stack or store manure, the farmer can only do one thing with it – spread it.  This is the way farmers have farmed for hundreds of years.

Whether the manure is stacked, buried, or spread, it is real.  What is now clear to me is that it is not the devil.  It’s a necessary byproduct of our society’s growing consumption of animal products.  However, like all byproducts of production, it can be harmful in high doses.

Yet we have the tools to lessen its impact.  We can spread manure according to nutrient management plan recommendations.  We can plant grasses and trees along waterways to intercept nutrients.  And we can work with farmers to make proper storage and handling equipment available.

After all, the manure is not going away, and I’m not going to stop eating eggs and bacon with my glass of milk on Saturday morning.

Learning from Farmers on the PennAg farm tour

About the Authors: Kelly Shenk is EPA Region 3’s Agricultural Advisor.  Matt Johnston is a Nonpoint Source Data Analyst with the Chesapeake Bay 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.

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Abandoned Coal Mines

By Jeffery Robichaud

A fair portion of our GIS mapping activities in Region 7 are related to cleanup of contamination from historic lead mining activities, several of which we hope to share in future blog posts. But mining in Missouri was not always lead.  In fact, Missouri has a rich coal mining history and lays claim to being the first state west of the Mississippi River to commercially produce coal.  In Missouri, hundreds of mostly small, family-owned mines operated into the middle part of last century.

Unfortunately abandoned underground coal mines can pose significant safety concerns, possibly causing damage to homes and infrastructure especially if folks aren’t aware of their presence.  Additionally, even though mining isn’t active, abandoned mines can also still produce methane  from vents, fissures, or boreholes.  If you have ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry  in Chicago and taken the Coal Mine tour, you know how dangerous methane can be if it builds up.  EPA has worked with industry and states to develop the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP) a voluntary program whose goal is to reduce methane emissions from coal mining activities including abandoned mines, and whose:

…mission is to promote the profitable recovery and use of coal mine methane (CMM), a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. By working cooperatively with coal companies and related industries, CMOP helps to address barriers to using CMM instead of emitting it to the atmosphere. In turn, these actions mitigate climate change, improve mine safety and productivity, and generate revenues and cost savings.

You can find out more about CMOP by visiting EPA’s website, and can view slides from 2012 US Coal Mine Methane Conference as well.

So as you contemplate whether you might find coal in your stocking this season, consider giving a gift to the State of Missouri if you have an old map that was passed down through your family like the one shown below.  The State has, for the last several years, been collecting donated maps and scanning them into the department’s archive as well as sending electronic versions to the Office of Surface Mining in Pennsylvania for inclusion in the National Mine Map Repository. You can see their pitch for your maps by watching the youtube video below (even though the video says 2011, I’m sure they would still be happy to receive a map from you).

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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.  He took his boys on the Coal Mine tour at MSI this Spring roughly thirty years after he visited with his brother.   It is quite possible that he may receive coal in his stocking at the end of December.

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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