Water Quality

Earth Day every day…and everywhere!

by Jennie Saxe

 

Flo- the WaterSense mascot

Flo- the WaterSense mascot

While every day is Earth Day at EPA, the excitement over the past couple of weeks surrounding Earth Day offered EPA mid-Atlantic staff some special opportunities to partner with local organizations in celebrating our environment. Along with our water programs, EPA highlighted ways that everyone can Act On Climate, the theme for this year’s Earth Day. A changing climate means changes to our water resources, so it’s more important than ever that we all work to conserve and protect them.

This year, several of EPA’s sustainability programs, including WaterSense, were featured at the Philadelphia Phillies “Red Goes Green” game on April 17. Our WaterSense program was also particularly busy sharing information on conserving water and saving money with groups including: the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors in Hershey, Pennsylvania; hospital staff and visitors in Anne Arundel, Maryland; and Campbell’s employees in Camden, New Jersey.

We also had the chance to spread the word about how proper prescription drug disposal protects our water resources. National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day was held on April 26. In case you missed it, EPA has some quick tips on proper prescription medication disposal.

For commuters and visitors at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, EPA water programs hosted a table featuring resources you can use every day including: mobile apps for tracking marine debris and learning about water quality at beaches; information for homeowners on proper septic system maintenance; steps you can take to protect your private drinking water well; resources for finding out about the health of waterways in your community; and ways that you can prepare, should extreme weather impact your water supply.

Many of EPA’s programs wrapped up the week at EarthFest on Temple University’s Ambler, PA campus. EPA staff shared information on water, recycling, composting, emergency response, and more with the thousands of children, parents, and teachers in attendance.

Even though Earth Day 2014 is now in the books, here’s hoping that you, too, will make every day Earth Day.

 

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. For Earth Day, and every day, Jennie purchases renewable power, takes public transportation, and uses vinegar to clean pretty much everything. 

 

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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Recovering from a heavy dose of winter

By Jennie Saxe

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Mounds of salt ready to be spread on roads

Is this winter over yet? Fortunately, we’ve had a few days in the mid-Atlantic that make me think spring could be just around the corner. Even as we prepare to turn the page weather-wise, some remnants of winter will stick around. This year, one of those remnants is salt…lots of salt.

A couple of years ago, we brought you some information on smart ways to apply salt to keep the roads safe in winter weather and protect water resources at the same time. While that winter was relatively mild, winter 2014 has been another story. Municipal salt supplies are running low, and recently it’s been tough to find “snow melt” of any kind in neighborhood hardware stores.

With the snow now melting, the leftover salt is headed right toward our water supplies. Here are some of the impacts that increased salt can have:

  • Road salt runoff can increase levels of conductivity (a substitute measure of “saltiness”) in streams and cause stress to aquatic life like fish and macroinvertebrates – in high enough concentrations, salt runoff can be toxic to sensitive organisms
  • Salt increases the density of water which impacts the normal turnover processes in waterbodies – this can also affect aquatic life through depleting oxygen levels in deeper water and nutrient supplies in the upper part of the water column
  • Salt has more of an impact on freshwater systems than on those that are brackish or saline already
  • Salty runoff that enters drinking water supplies could cause elevated sodium levels that can have health consequences

If you’d like to see how one of our local waters, the Schuylkill River, responds to road salt runoff, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has some interesting data. Salt runoff from roadways or salt blown by the wind could be responsible for that conductivity spike in mid-February.  Since the chloride from road salt (sodium chloride) is not removed or transformed by natural processes, the only way to bring levels down is through dilution, usually by way of rainfall. Toward the end of February, you can see the conductivity levels decrease.

I’ve used some of our recent spring-like weather to sweep up the salt around our house. This will prevent even more salt from washing down the drain and into the creek near my house. Cities and towns can use street sweeping as a mechanism to remove excess salt from their streets at the end of the winter season.

Did you have any low-salt methods for handling the snow this winter? How are you keeping the left-over salt from getting into our waterways?

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children and cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

 

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 about the Network: Funding Agricultural Practices that Restore Clean Water

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

A network of technical professionals visit a PA dairy farm that received financial assistance to install agricultural conservation practices which are good for business and local water quality.

 

by Kelly Shenk

 If you are a farmer in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there are some great workshops providing information on ways to finance conservation practices to restore local waters and the Chesapeake Bay. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center  is holding a series of Agricultural Finance Workshops in Delaware and West Virginia and the Upper Susquehanna region in Pennsylvania later this year.  In January and February, I participated in the Ag Finance workshops that were held in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and found them extremely informative.

These workshops provide a wealth of knowledge about programs to assist in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. I learned that while funding is available, certain procedures need to be followed closely.  Some of the types of funding available include: USDA Farm Bill funding; state agricultural cost share funding; federal and state loan programs; public and private grant programs; and tax credits.  There are also creative ways to combine these funding mechanisms that reduce the amount you, as a farmer, would pay.

Take for example, fencing in the Shenandoah Valley. Fencing is a low-tech way to protect waterways by keeping cattle out of streams. There are a number of programs to help fund stream exclusion and we heard about several at the workshop:  Farm Bill programs, the VA agricultural cost share program that covers up to 100% of the cost of stream exclusion, and other programs for farmers who need more flexibility in the type of fence and width of buffer installed. There’s even a program to pay farmers $1 for every foot of fence they have paid for themselves to cover the maintenance costs.

 The workshop presenters are familiar with each other’s programs, so they know how to “piggy back” programs to minimize the cost to farmers.  Most importantly, they know the producers in their region and understand their issues.  They discuss the available options with the farmer, decide on a plan of action, and then identify the program or mix of funding programs that will meet the farmer’s needs.  With this approach, the technical network helps farmers address issues with the least amount of cost, hassle, paperwork, and confusion.

I left these workshops encouraged by the dedicated cadre of technical professionals that are out in the field every day working with farmers to find solutions to protecting water quality while keeping farmers farming.

For more information on future workshops, contact:  Jill Jefferson, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, at jilljeff@umd.edu.

 

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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Now featuring…water in the movies!

Brandywine River

Brandywine River

By Jennie Saxe

If you – like much of the mid-Atlantic region – have been cooped up during this relentless winter, you might find yourself looking for some movies to watch to pass the time until spring arrives. If you have an interest in water, there are some great water-related movies that you can snuggle up to on a snow day.

One of the classics is Chinatown (1974), billed primarily as a drama. Beyond the human drama of the film, there is a serious look at disputes over water in early 20th century southern California. A Civil Action (1998) focuses on the dangers of groundwater contamination. A more contemporary film, Quantum of Solace (2008), is an action movie that weaves in the theme of the increasing value of water.

If you’ve already seen all of these great films, why not pass the time by making your own movie? EPA is sponsoring a “Climate Change in Focus” video contest for middle school students. Since many of the effects of a changing climate will impact water resources, perhaps there’s a chance that these videos will be the next water-focused blockbuster film. Budding scientists and aspiring filmmakers can get more information on EPA’s A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change website. The mid-Atlantic region has no shortage of important waters that can serve as inspiration for a video masterpiece.

Are you inspired to submit a video for the contest? Do you have any other water-related movies to suggest?

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children and cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

 

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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Rivers, Coves, and Harbors by Rail

By Jennie Saxe

I love traveling by train. I commute to work by train and occasionally my family substitutes a train trip for a long car ride to avoid traffic and the confined space of our car (which somehow seems to shrink with each passing hour). Traveling by train also give you a unique perspective on the landscape – when you’re less concerned about the brake lights in front of you, you get a chance to really take in what’s around you.

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

One of the things that I was able to enjoy on a recent train trip to Boston was the amazing waterfront scenery along our route. However, on this journey – which began on the Christina River, continued across the Delaware River, glided all along the coves and harbors on Long Island Sound, and ultimately ended near Boston Harbor – I not only saw the beauty in nature, but also the many, varied connections we have with our waterways:

Recreation. Industry. Infrastructure. Homes. History.

These are just some of our links to the water. Waterways in the mid-Atlantic and in New England are rich in history and have been valued for their contributions to society for hundreds of years. Industry and agriculture depend on clean, reliable water supplies. Recreation on the water is an important element of our life and of livelihoods in the northeast. Much of our infrastructure and many communities are located near the water, a pattern established early in our nation’s history. The flip side: all of these activities also put stress on water quality and quantity. For a big-picture look at the strains on our water resources, as well as the importance of water to our economy, check out this interesting report from EPA.

Clearly, our coastal areas are vitally important to our economy and our way of life, but they are also some of the areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels associated with climate change. EPA’s climate change website chronicles some of the specific changes anticipated for the northeastern U.S. as well as some of the planning that communities in the northeast are doing to help them adapt to a changing climate. EPA also has drafted climate change adaptation implementation plans to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment as we continue to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of our climate.

I’m not sure what changes I’ll see in our coastal areas on my next rail adventure, or on a train trip to New England 20 years from now. My kids will probably be the ones to notice changes during their lifetimes. I believe that when you feel connected to something, it instills in you a sense of stewardship and preservation. Every time we take this journey up the east coast, we’ll take some time to take off our earphones, put away the tablet, and just gaze out the window to appreciate our connections to the water resources in our region.

About the Author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and – obviously – traveling by train.

 

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 Streetcar Named…Green Infrastructure?

By Matt Colip

A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride.  But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.

I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.  The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James.  EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project.  This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water.  This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.

After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door.  It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!

It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too.  An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square.  This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.

The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.

Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

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 Chance to Walk the Walk When it Comes to Green Infrastructure

By Tom Damm

What happens in my hometown doesn’t stay in my hometown.

Actions on the land and in the waters of Hamilton Township, N.J. have an effect on the Delaware River, which is a major focus of our cleanup work in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region.

As a possible blog idea, I wanted to look into the pollution impacts of stormwater that enters the sewer drain across from my house.  When I accessed my township website for a contact number, I found something even more interesting.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Class is in session with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program. Photo courtesy of Jess Brown, Rutgers.

I learned that Hamilton is Ground Zero for a new initiative by Rutgers University to promote green infrastructure techniques that soak up stormwater before it reaches the sewer system and creates nasty problems in our streams and streets.

Better yet, Rutgers was recruiting volunteers to be part of the action in Hamilton and elsewhere.

Green infrastructure is one of the hottest topics I write about at EPA.  We’ve helped communities in our region become national leaders in using green strategies to slow the flow of stormwater.

Now I had the chance to get directly involved.  So I signed up for the training offered by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

The course was designed to develop a corps of paraprofessionals to help Rutgers engineers and scientists identify sites ripe for rain gardens and other green techniques to “keep the rain from the drain.”  The classroom training took place at Duke Farms, a model of environmental stewardship, and at Rutgers, where we also stepped outside to examine how a parking lot could be fitted with green features.

Instructor Chris Obropta described the problems posed by stormwater, the solutions offered by green infrastructure, and the role we would play initially in scouting out potential locations through aerial maps, photos, site visits and other analysis, and then writing up our findings.

I have a head start in Hamilton.  Our town officials are supportive of the initiative and the program already has found 72 candidate sites in our six sub-watersheds, including hard surfaces at my local Little League field and firehouse.  Large rain gardens have been installed at two of our high schools, providing real life lessons for students.

With certificate in hand, I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with the folks from Rutgers.

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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Flexing Freshwater Mussels in the Delaware

By Matt Colip

It takes more than the brute strength of legislation to clean up America’s waterways.  The complex process of aquatic ecosystem cleanup requires many tools, including one of nature’s most powerful muscles: her freshwater mussels.

That’s what the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) – assisted by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Dive Unit – set out to assess during a late summer freshwater mussel survey in a tidal section of the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

Freshwater mussels are bivalves similar to oysters and clams.  But, unlike oysters and clams, freshwater mussels live in inland streams, and provide valuable benefits including strengthening streambeds by keeping soils in place and providing food and habitat needed by other animals and plants.  As filter-feeders, mussels also clean the water in which they live by sucking water in and trapping solids such as dirt, algae and other pollutants, then releasing the clean filtered water back into the environment.

Being in the tidal area of the Delaware River as a scientific diver was an interesting experience. The water was not clear and flow rates were very high due to tidal fluctuation.  In these conditions, I couldn’t help but think, “There’s no way there are mussels down here.”  Despite my suspicions, when I reached the river bottom, sure enough, there were mussels everywhere, thriving and filtering the ambient water!

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey

Ultimately, the survey, in addition to confirming the existence of an abundant freshwater mussel population in a very urbanized section of the Delaware River and providing valuable scientific data, gave me a newfound appreciation for what I used to only consider a tasty added protein to a pasta dish at a restaurant.

For more information about freshwater mussels in the Delaware River, please visit the PDE’s website.  Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

 

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

*EPA is not endorsing the consumption of oysters, clams and mussels in the wild.   Please refer to the National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines associated with regulating the handling, processing and distribution of mussels prior to consumption.

 

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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We Seek Water

Reposted from the It’s Our Environment

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Pam Lazos, Region 3

In the 1972-1975 TV series, “Kung Fu,” David Carradine walks the American West, looking for his family, performing awesome martial arts moves, and uttering the often-used refrain: “I seek water.”

Over a weekend this summer, while camping with family and friends at Worlds End State Park in Sullivan County, Pa., there was water everywhere, yet we did the same.

We had rented a group tent site – primitive camping. So instead of the usual bank of bathroom facilities, we were afforded a “pit”. It was more glamorous than your usual pit because it had two individual rooms inside a small building with each boasting a locking door and a raised toilet-like structure, but no water. Think port-a-potty, but rooted to the ground.

Down the road was another building with two rooms, luxurious in comparison, each containing its own toilet and shower stalls plus hot and cold running water. These bathrooms were for the cabin rentals, not the group sites; however, I admit to visiting them several times.

Because we had no water at our source, or maybe it’s just a natural human tendency, we spent the rest of the weekend in search of it. Some of us went kayaking, some of us went hiking around the lake at nearby Eagles Mere, and some of us went fishing in the Loyalsock Creek. All of our activities had water at their core. Even the hike up Butternut Trail to the well-hidden vista passed across the creek several times and sported a few small waterfalls.

Coming back from the lake, the girls carried their water bottles on their heads, reminding me of the women in other parts of the world who walk miles to the nearest water source carrying a four-pound jerry can (40 pounds full) which will provide about five gallons. This is the minimum one person needs for drinking and hygiene per day, but not enough for a family. Gathering water takes hours for these women. Sometimes they collect water from water holes that are also used by animals in the area. This can lead to sickness among the women and their families.

About 3.4 million people die from waterborne diseases each year, mostly in developing countries. So arduous is the task of collecting water that many girls are pulled out of school at an early age to help their mothers, resulting in their continued illiteracy and poverty.

Watching my girls, frolicking with their water bottles on their heads, I sent up a prayer of thanks for the abundance of water in our lives and the blessings and opportunities that flow from it. We have the tools and technology to bring fresh, pure water to everyone. Get involved with any one of many organizations, working both locally and internationally to solve these complex water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) issues. Together, we can create an environment where everyone has access to clean water.

About the Author: Pam Lazos works in Region 3’s Office of Regional Counsel chasing water scofflaws and enforcing the Clean Water Act. In her free time, when her family allows, she writes both fact and fiction, but mostly she likes to laugh.

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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