Get Out and See the Spring Wildflowers (or Nature’s Filters)

Every mid-winter, I become impatient with winter’s cold, and dreary grays.   I find myself wondering if the world around me is ever going to be warm, lively, and colorful again.  And every spring, as the days grow longer and warmer, my faith is restored, as I see little signs of life popping out of the leaf litter in my yard and native metro woodlands.  In a matter of weeks, the grays, browns, and faded golds of the winter forest floor transform into a carpet of green, white, gold, blue, and purple.  The spring ephemeral wildflowers arrive, and the forest takes on a moist, rich scent and texture.

Busse Forest Nature Preserve

Busse Forest Nature Preserve, a National Natural Landmark in Cook County, IL. (NPS.gov)

Growing up with the Cook County, Chicago forest preserves as one of my family’s most significant recreation destinations, I learned in our annual search for Jack-in-the-Pulpits, to appreciate how this time of delightful delicacy and color, is short-lived, as these forest wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight that temporarily reaches the forest floor, during the time between the end of winter, and the leafing out of the shrub and tree layers above them.

 

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (NPS.gov)

Jack-in-the-Pulpits (NPS.gov)

These flowers must complete their lifecycles in a matter of weeks, growing, blooming, being pollinated, and setting seed before the dense shade of summer arrives.  It is because their opportunity to thrive is so short, that these plants grow in great numbers, with several adaptations for attracting pollinators: bright colors, enticing scents, and nectar guides on their petals.  Some even have petals which serve as landing platforms for flying insects.

Spring ephemerals are perennials that sprout mostly from underground bulbs and corms, which they have stored with starch during their previous growing season.  They grow close to the ground because there is no competition at this growth level, and this low profile reduces damage from cold winds.  Because the weather in the early spring is still too cold for most flying insects, ants and small ground beetles pollinate most of these plants and disseminate their seeds.

The natural intricacies and beauty of this time in the woods are more than enough to provide a rationale for conservation and restoration, but recent research by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University tells us that these forest floor communities play a big role in water quality as well.  A recent press release from the center tells how certain species of the forest floor are high performers when it comes to capturing and storing nutrients, along with their companion native trees and shrubs.   Together, their root and shoot biomass act as giant natural sponges and filters.   Iowa State has a couple of nice write ups with more information and can be found at:

The weather this year has been unusual but normally I’d suggest you look for the earliest spring ephemerals between late March and early April, especially on moist south-facing slopes warmed by the sun, and on moist bottomlands next to streams.  Later in a normal spring, look for new blooms on rich, moist, well-drained east and north-facing slopes.  Some of the most common spring ephemerals you will see in our region are, Spring Beauty, Dog Tooth Violet, Toothwort, Dutchman’s Breeches, Virginia Bluebell, Wild Sweet William, May Apple, Wake Robin, Bellwort, Bloodroot, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Putty Root Orchid, and False Rue Anemone.  They will be interspersed with longer lived spring bloomers, like Wild Ginger, Wild Geranium, Jacob’s Ladder, Virginia Waterleaf, Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, and several ferns.

This spring, wander our metro region’s woodland wildlands with a guidebook and marvel at our ephemeral spring beauty.  You can search for carpets of color in the Fort Leavenworth bottomland forests, Swope Park, Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area,  Isley Park Woods Natural Area, Maple Woods Natural Area, the Blue River bottomlands, and Hidden Valley Natural Area.

Roberta Vogel-Leutung is a city girl with rural Iowa and Kansas roots who grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in a family of 13. There, she frequently took refuge at the top of her family’s three story Weeping Willow Tree, and explored the Cook County Forest Preserves with her family, her Boy Scout brothers, and her St. Albert’s Girl Scout Troop.  She’s a big fan of local nature, and works on Urban Waters partnership projects, and various community engagement and sustainability initiatives, from her seat in ENSV where she has been a contractor or employee since 1988.

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.

Excellent Projects – Students Excelling

By Harvey Fries and Alisha Claycamp

The 62nd Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair Intermediate Level Environmental and Renewable Energy projects were excellent. Chemists from Region 7 USEPA Science and Technology Center, Kansas City, Kansas awarded the agency’s first place in this category to a team from Lakewood Middle School, Overland Park, KS. Team members from left to right in the picture are Faduma Jarik, Hollis Haby, and Katherine Krishna.

Their project title was “The Effect of Hydrophobic Materials Resolving Freshwater Oil Spills”. Their abstract:

Many freshwater oil spills are ruining our waters. They are more common than saltwater oil spills and are causing more damage. We thought that hydrophobic materials would soak up the oil and it is hypothesized that: the hydrophobic sand will soak up the most oil in our freshwater oil spill simulation.
Our procedure was to gather all the materials and put 1 cup of water and half a cup of oil in a beaker, then put in half a cup of one of the 4 hydrophobic materials (hydrophobic sand, wax , lotus leaves, Fibertect) in the simulation. Wait 15 minutes. Record the results of how much oil was soaked up by the material. Repeat for 2 more trials and repeat again for the other three materials. Unlike the hypothesis stated above, the Fibertect soaked up the most oil, lotus leaves soaked up the oil second best, wax soaked it up third best, and the hydrophobic sand soaked up the least oil. Therefore, our results do not support the hypothesis. We think it happened this way because the Fibertect has more layers than any other material we tested. The hydrophobic sand was very thin unlike the other materials and couldn’t hold much oil.

Hollis Haby is a sixth grader at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, KS. She lives with her parents, brother, two cats, and one dog. Hollis’ favorite activities are playing softball and volleyball. Her future plans are to be a middle school reading teacher.

Faduma Jarik is a sixth grader at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, KS. She lives with her parents, brother, sister, and step-brother. Faduma’s favorite activities are playing on her i-Pod and being outside. Her future plans are to be a writer in the professional world.

Katherine Krishna is a sixth grader at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, KS. She lives with her parents and brother. Katherine’s favorite activities are playing soccer and reading. Her future plans are to become an investment banker and to be rich.

Second place went to a team from Martin City Elementary, Kansas City, MO. Team members were Rosa Basurto-Reyes and Iridian Zurita-Lopez. Their project was titled “Effects of Acids & Bases on Plants”.

Third place in this category went to a team from St. Patrick School in Kansas City, MO. Team members were Chance Wagner and Peter Pellumbi. Their project was titled “Comparing Electrical Usage and Cost of Three Different 60 Watt Light Bulbs.


You can also check out the High School and Middle School winners. We had a really difficult time deciding on our top three science projects, a testament to how hard each of the students had worked.Maybe someday we will be lucky enough to have some of these bright kids come to work for EPA. Until then we can probably count on many more years of great projects from these budding scientists.

Harvey Fries and Alisha Claycamp are chemists with the Chemical Analysis and Response Branch of the Environmental Services Division, located at EPA Region 7′s Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

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.

Junior High Kids Rockin’ Senior High-like Projects

By Sam Porter

I also had the opportunity to judge Environmental projects  at the 62nd annual Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair.  The Junior Division contained two dozen projects from 7th and 8th graders.  It was an honor to judge these excellent projects with my fellow colleagues,  Daniel Dorn and Janece Koleis, both Organic Chemists in the Environmental Service Division.

We awarded first place in the Environmental category to Maelea Coulson from West Platte Junior High in Weston, MO.  Her project was entitled, An A-Peeling Filter.  She devised an experiment that demonstrated an alternative method of removing chromium from drinking water.  Typically, chromium is removed during drinking water treatment by the use of cation exchange or filtration with active carbon (charcoal).  In third world remote villages such processes for water purification are neither usually available nor sustainable.  Maelea’s experiment demonstrated that filtration of water with banana peels is an effective process for removing chromium in water.  This process is effective because banana peels contain carboxylic acids which bind to toxic metals and remove them from the water.  Maelea’s project was clear, concise, and well articulated and the results showed the effectiveness of banana peels in water purification.  This was certainly an impressive project for a middle-schooler.

Second place was awarded to Ashton Iteii from Trailridge Middle School in Lenexa, KS.  Her project was entitled, Before You Drink That…, and evaluated various techniques for removing coliform bacteria from water.  The techniques she evaluated were Iodination, Chlorination (from household bleach), and boiling.  In her project, samples were taken from three different sites in the Kansa City area.  Her procedure for evaluating each technique was very thorough and easy to follow.  Her results clearly showed these techniques are effective in the removal of both total and fecal coliform bacteria.  All-in-all, this was a very nice project.

The third place award in the Environmental category was presented to Lexie Chirpich from St. Andrew the Apostle Parish School in Gladstone, MO.  Her project was entitled, Drowning in Plastic.  Her project evaluated the impact of pollution from plastic products in waterways on water quality.  The quality of water was evaluated by measuring the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the polluted water.  Oxygen is produced and consumed in a stream ecosystem.   If more oxygen is consumed than is produced, dissolved oxygen levels decline and sensitive animals may move away, weaken, or die.  Her experiment was concise as potential variables in the test procedure were controlled.  Her results clearly showed that uncontaminated water had a higher level of DO than polluted water.  This project demonstrates the importance of proper trash disposal and the use of R3; Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle.  This is particularly important as it has been estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are used in a single year in the United States.

There were many great projects in the Environmental category for this age group.  We felt it necessary to also present an Honorable Mention Award to Keealondre Roseberry from Frontier School of Excellence in KansasCity, MO.  His project was entitled, Energy from Saltwater.  Salt molecules are made of sodium and chlorine ions.  Ions are atoms that have an electrical charge because they gain or lose an electron when bonded.  When salt is added to water, the water molecules pull the sodium and chlorine ions apart.  These ions are a good conductor of electricity as they carry the electrical charge through the water.  His project clearly demonstrated this principle.  Good thought was put into this project as it questions the potential use of saltwater as a sustainable energy source!

Even though these projects were highlighted, there were many other great projects in this category.  It was neat to see the talent and intellect of these middle-schoolers demonstrated through their projects.  As Jeff stated in his previous post, there is certainly a bright future for this up-and-coming scientists and engineers.

Sam Porter is a chemist with the Chemical Analysis and Response Branch of the Environmental Services Division, located at EPA Region 7’s Science and Technology Center in Kansas City, Kansas.

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 Future’s So Bright

By Jeffery Robichaud

I had the opportunity to spend some time a week ago helping to judge the 62nd annual Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair at Union Station, and represent the Agency at the Awards Ceremony at Bartle Hall (this was my view of the back of local newscaster Phil Witt).

There were well over 600 projects from over a thousand students spanning all of the major science and engineering categories (chemistry, biology, sociology, astronomy…but sadly no cartography, sorry Casey).  One of the categories was Environmental Science and Renewable Energy, which a team of folks from EPA helped to judge.  Projects were divided up into Senior, Junior, and Intermediate categories, so we split up into three groups  and naturally, I’ll split this up into three blog entries with some help from my friends.

I helped judge the Senior High Projects with two of my colleagues from our Superfund Division, Katy Miley, an On-Scene Coordinator and Chair of EPA’s Women in Science and Engineering program in Region 7, and Robert Webber, Superfund and Technology Liaison (STL) from ORD’s Office of Science Policy.  We had a really tough time selecting only three award winners from the roughly two dozen projects on display.

We awarded first place in the Environmental category to Paige Larison  from West Platte High School, in Weston MO.  Her project was entitled, Cracking Up and was an experiment that evaluated the use of a viscous additive to a fluid as an analog to the fluids used in the hydrofracturing process for energy production.   The project evaluated the potential to reduce the unintended migration of these fluids outside of the intended subsurface zone of focus.  The project was clear, concise, and well articulated and the results showed the potential to limit unintended fluid migration.  Pretty heady stuff for a high-schooler.

Second place went to Joseph Cokington of Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, KS and his project, Use of Organic Products to Reduce Corrosive Effects of Commercial Road De-Icers.  Joseph had a great project where he utilized oil derived from pine needles as an additive to deicing compounds in an effort to reduce corrosion.  Deicers themselves can have a negative effect on the environment, raising chloride levels in streams when snow eventually melts, but when automobiles rust, metals slough off and also find their way into streams.

Third place went to Triton Wolfe from Olathe North High School, in Olathe KS, whose project was entitled, Effectiveness of Indigenous Microbial Inoculation on the Organic Municipal Solid Waste Composting Process.  His project used experimental bioreactors comprised of fruit and vegetable waste to evaluate microbial activity.  The experiment used spectrophotometry, temperature comparisons, carbon-nitrogen ratios, and results from previous studies.    A detailed statistical analysis was performed.    Triton’s project showed the ability to increase the speed of the composting process by inoculating new compost piles with established compost pile materials.   Definitely a lesson those of you hardcore composters might consider applying.

It was difficult to pick just three from all of the projects, as the entire group was really fantastic.  Although this might have been a tough call for us, it is an easy call to say that our future looks bright with so many budding scientists and engineers.  Stay tuned for future blog posts with the Junior and Intermediate winners.

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.  His one and only attempt at a Science Fair project in sixth grade ended up with unhatched eggs, a clandestine visit to a tack and feed store, and a guilty conscience (although thankfully since he won no award he was able to sleep that night).

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.

PAHs in Urban Streams of Kansas City

By Laura Webb

The Water Monitoring Team at EPA Region 7 has been collecting samples in the urban streams of Kansas City since 2006 as shown in the map below.  During our non-field sampling season (when the water is generally frozen or near enough to freezing that we don’t want to wade in), we spend a lot of our time evaluating data and trying to figure out what it all means.

Locations of KCWaters urban stream sampling

One particular contaminant of interest of mine has been PAHs (not to be confused with PAW-PAWs  which we also find in streams from time to time). Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic molecules found in oil and other fossil fuels which are released when fuels are burned. In my previous job as a bench chemist, I once analyzed samples collected on a filter from a charcoal production facility. The black, sooty residue was comprised of many, many PAH molecules. So, when charcoal is used to grill meat, the smoky flavor and blacked exterior of the meat contains, you guessed it, PAHs. Hopefully not a large concentration, though, because oh how I do love grilled steak! PAHs are found in auto exhaust, tire particles, gas residue, and coal-tar based sealant, such as is used on parking lots and road surfaces. In large enough doses, PAHs are toxic to aquatic species that live in streams. Studies have also shown that higher PAH concentration in urban areas can contribute to human health problems, including asthma, anxiety, and lower IQ scores.

In looking at our data, several things are clear. First, that there is not a clear single source of these compounds to our urban waterways in Kansas City. The ratio of PAH compounds to each other and the total can act as a type of chemical fingerprint of the source. Unfortunately for the urban environment, these prints are smeared and difficult to match up to their source.

Compounds can enter the stream water in many ways. For example, there are permitted discharges, storm water runoff, deposition from the air, and even illegal dumping. Some compounds stay dissolved in the water, some combine to form new compounds, some react with sunlight to decompose into other compounds and some, like PAHs, tend to attach to particulates in the water and “sink” down into the sediment (PAHs and many other organic chemicals don’t really like water; they prefer the rich gooey sediments that deposit as water flows around obstacles in the stream). The sediment is a sink, or trap, for these water-phobic compounds. When we collect samples, we obtain a single grab of water at a particular location at a particular time. While it is a single point in time, the flowing water changes every moment, so samples just a few minutes apart could represent completely different pictures of the stream. Sediment samples, on the other hand, are collected throughout the length of the stream site and really represent a depositional history of what was once in the water as it passed a particular spot. That is what causes the smeared chemical  fingerprint, and what causes me headaches when trying to figure out where the PAHs in stream sediment come from.

A prime suspect of urban PAH contamination is coal-tar sealant, and it appears to be a heavy contributor in stream sediments especially those related to large areas of impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, roof tops, surfaces that water cannot penetrate but runs off of). As a matter of fact, the total concentration of PAHs in sediment is closely correlated with both the percentage of impervious surfaces and the percentage of development in the watershed. The fingerprint ratios of sealant versus many urban sediments, especially those with the highest levels of PAHs, match fairly well, although still keeping in mind that sediment is a collection of many sources.

Along with these sealed surfaces are mobile sources in the form of gasoline and diesel burning vehicles. The pollutants deposit from the exhaust, either in the water itself, on the sediment, or surrounding land and are then washed into the streams during runoff events. Some of the sediment fingerprints have traits from petroleum sources but because the sediment is a sink, there is no clear pattern match for this source (but I know it contributes). Along with vehicle exhaust, there is also power plant exhaust, perhaps smoke from nearby restaurants that grill their meat, fireplaces (although we do collect samples in the summer, the deposits occur all year long), waste water treatment discharge, and other industrial processes.There are plenty of sources, and when concentrated together in the urban core, they combine to increase the PAH concentrations in sediment to levels that may be problematic for aquatic life. So that’s a look at one class of compounds we find in the urban environment. For a more complete look, check out our website at www.kcwaters.org.

Laura Webb is a chemist with EPA Region 7’s Water Monitoring Team.  She spent her first 16 years with EPA in the regional laboratory, analyzing samples for everything from metals to dioxins.  Her current assignment involves ambient water sampling, laboratory analysis, operating the mobile bacteria laboratory, and participating in emergency responses as part of the Response Support Corp.

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 Missouri River in 1894

By Jeffery Robichaud

Missouri River Basin

Map created from DEMIS Mapserver and USGS data, which are public domain.

I always enjoy receiving cool links to data and information that I can use in my work especially older maps.  As you can tell from the name of our blog title, The Big Blue Thread, we are always interested in information about the Missouri River.  A friend of mine passed on to me a website run by the United States Geological Survey that has wonderful maps created in the late 1800’s by the Missouri River Commission.  According to the Corps of Engineers,

Congress created the Missouri River Commission (MRC) in, or shortly after, 1884, to accomplish a continuous, progressive development of the river. The commission consisted of a five-member organization which was charged to make surveys and devise plans to “maintain a channel and depth of water … sufficient for … commerce” and to carry out plans of improvement the commission deemed necessary. The commission went out of existence in 1902.

The Area Around Downtown Kansas City in 1894

The maps go from the mouth of the Missouri to the headwaters.  You can view these online, or download them in either Raster or Vector formats.  If you live along the Mighty Mo give it a go!   I combined them in Arc GIS with some current aerial imagery and showed my kids what the river area looked like over a hundred years ago.  We quickly noticed a bunch more “character” in the river in the form of points, cutbanks, and islands.  Time changes all things and it is fantastic comparing a map from 100 years ago with what we can easily see today.

About the Author: 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.  According to the Missouri River Commission Maps, he lives along a ridge that used to be in a forest.

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.

Whats in Your Water – KCWaterBug

By Jeffery Robichaud

Last week EPA Headquarters released a new app entitled How’s My Waterway.  If you live in Kansas City, you also have access to another new application with the catchy name KCWaterBug.

Several years ago, EPA’s Kansas City office embraced a goal of reconnecting citizens in urban environments to their local waters.  Initially this involved the establishment of a website and collaborative group (KCWaters.org) in concert with the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC), where citizens could access information and data on the lakes and streams in their neighborhoods, from multiple agencies and groups in one simple location.  

In 2011, EPA embarked upon a second phase of the project; to provide real-time awareness of the quality of local waters so citizens could make informed decisions about recreation.  Scientists at United States Geological Survey in Lawrence, Kansas had developed an innovative approach for estimating bacteria concentrations based on basic water quality parameters (which can be seen here).  Building on EPA’s existing Kansas City Urban Stream Monitoring network,  EPA scientists collected paired e-coli and turbidity samples over the course of 2011, to develop a dataset sufficient to establish the necessary relationship.  Next, EPA installed real-time water quality monitoring stations using in-stream probes and satellite telemetry. 

 

Data from the stations is transmitted once an hour via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES satellites  to servers at the University of Missouri Kansas City, where estimated E-coli concentrations are calculated using turbidity measurements and regression equations for each monitoring location (the graph below shows turbidity and estimated E-coli within the database). 

 

An hourly average estimated E-coli concentration is calculated and each stream is assigned a colored code based on an index tied to health protective levels (shown below). 

Blue denotes that the water is estimated to have E-coli concentrations that are acceptable for all forms of recreation including swimming, while Red denotes contact with water is not advised.  (Green portrays water that is acceptable for wading and splashing while Yellow denotes water that is acceptable for activities which minimally contact water).  The index was established through consideration of USEPA, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and Missouri Department of Natural Resources water quality criteria for bacteria.

You can download the app for free from both the iTunes store  for apple mobile devices and Google Play for Android devices.  But make sure and hurry up and download these soon, since the weather is starting to get cold and we will be pulling the probes out of the water before too long.  Next Spring we are adding seven more streams to the network, but until then get out and enjoy a walk along your local creek.  You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author: 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 uses KCWaterBug on his iPad before taking the family dog for a walk along Line Creek.

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.

Reminiscing….

By Jeffery Robichaud

A few weeks ago I blogged about our pending office move.  The day has finally come, and this will be my last in this office.  The movers are taking our items to our new home Thursday and Friday, and I will start to unpack next Tuesday, our first day in the new digs.  This is the view out my window last night, the shadows creeping across the almost empty parking lot.

I know I have taken this view for granted over the years, but as I gazed out of it for one of the last times I was struck by all I could see… how out this one window, I could literally see before me my work over the last ten years and our mission as an Agency.  Apologies to the Little River Band (feel free to hum along) but I couldn’t help myself but do a little reminiscing.

On the left hand side just above an overpass you can make out an orangish-reddish building, EPA Region 7’s Science and Technology Center.  This state of the art facility was one of the first LEED certified laboratories in the country, and it was built on a Brownfields site, allowing EPA to practice what it preaches by re-using  a blighted property.  It is here where samples from all around our Region and even the country are analyzed to provide the necessary information for us to make decisions.  It was dedicated 10 years ago and we are just as proud of it today.   Even with the move to the new building around 80 staff will still be located here in Kansas City, KS.

Towards the center of the photo you can make out the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers at a place called Kaw Point, a place where Lewis and Clark camped over 200 years ago and which holds tremendous significance to me as a history buff.  It is from that point where we launch Carp Buster II, our electrofishing boat which we use to collect fish from both the Kansas and Missouri Rivers as part of our Ambient Fish Tissue program, the longest running such program in the country.  The information that we and our partners in the four States collect provides the public with timely information about the safety of their water’s fish.   Administrator Jackson visited Kaw Point several years ago to kick off the Summer of Service Intitiative.

Kaw Point used to be a decrepit, derelict, outcropping but through the hard work of the many partners including the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and the Friends of Kaw Point, it was turned into a fantastic park just in time for the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery.  The photograph below is of my first exposure to the point at  a clean-up I worked in the rain one Fall afternoon almost 10 years ago to the day (also featuring EPA’s Larry Shepard a fellow blogger and all around good guy).

Towards the top of the picture you can barely make out a candy striped stack of the Hawthorne Power Plant to the right of the new bridge.  As a Senior Advisor to our Regional Advisor ten years ago I remember working on an event where former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman spoke about the plant which at the time was the cleanest coal fired power plant in the nation.  However just five years later, a horrendous fire darkened the sky above Kansas City, the result of a fire at a chemical plant nearby.  Many of us worked throughout the night collecting and analyzing the data from inside the plume to ensure that we could provide the public with accurate information about their health.

Finally, I need to comment on the big black silhouette that obscures a portion of my view out my window.  It is a bird, or at least a facsimile of a bird.  One of the nicer features of this building is the eastern facing facade is primarily glass, providing my view of the City built on the River.  However, it seems that birds have a tough time judging the windows and were smacking into them with some regularity.  Rather than just accept this rather macabre side effect, a group of folks including Holly (who is also contributor to this blog) decided that we might scare off the birds by use of these sillhouettes of birds of prey, and darned if they don’t actually work.

Next week the view will definitely change, and I will miss the big black splotch on my window.  What won’t change is the work that my colleagues perform everyday, their creativity, their pursuit of strong science and transparency, and their tireless effort to ensure that we work our hardest to protect the public health and the environment here in the Midwest.

About the Author: 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 will miss his view of Kaw Point.

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.

Hollywood Doesn’t Always Portray Things From The Right ASPECT

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started in 1998. He serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

Movies require you to suspend your disbelief, but when you watch a film that hits close to home it can be tough. I have a friend in federal law enforcement who squirms when cardboard cutout agents run across the screen. Action flicks don’t do his profession justice, but at least his job is sometimes glorified on celluloid. The only two movies I can remember featuring a prominent EPA employee are Ghostbusters and the Simpsons Movie, neither of which ever made a kid say, “Man, when I grow up I want to work for the EPA.” On the off-chance your youngster was inspired to seek out public service please let them know we don’t inspect unlicensed nuclear storage facilities, nor do we have a fleet of helicopters. We do however, have one cool plane.

EPA’s Airborne Spectral Photometric Collection Technology, known as ASPECT, is an aircraft equipped with sensors that allow for surveillance of gaseous chemical releases from a safe distance. ASPECT gives emergency responders information regarding the shape, composition and concentration of gas plumes from disasters such as a derailed train, factory explosion or terrorist attack.

This was the scene in Kansas City outside our office windows in 2007 when a chemical facility went up in flames. ASPECT deployed and was instrumental in verifying that while ominous, the fire did not present a significant health threat to the community (the white signature you see below is the fire).

Since its inception ASPECT has flown over several fires, provided support during the Olympics and Columbia shuttle recovery, and supplied some of the first aerial images of the devastation along the coast during Katrina.

Most of the technology you see in movies is sheer fantasy, but EPA’s high-tech plane and the scientists who operate it are worthy of a spot in the next summer blockbuster. Here’s hoping for the appearance of an EPA scientist who isn’t a bad guy (although with my face the best I could hope for is Thug #4 in the next straight to DVD clunker).

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 Wind in the Winnebago

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA, and serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

photo of Jeffery RobichaudOne of my first recollections of Kansas City was sitting at a stoplight while fierce gusts of wind attacked my car and shook traffic signal poles so viciously that I thought they would snap like popsicle sticks. Actually, it wasn’t just the wind but also the ragweed that was assaulting my car and senses. I am violently allergic to ragweed and the stuff grows…well like weeds out here.

My allergies notwithstanding, we have pretty good air quality throughout the Midwest although we do face challenges with ozone and particulate matter in urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis. Throughout the country, states, tribes, and local governments maintain monitors that sample for pollutants. Since these monitors play an important role in revealing air quality, they must be operated and maintained properly. We assist by auditing stations to ensure that equipment is operating properly. This work requires a platform that can house delicate instruments yet is rugged enough drive to remote locations. After several possibilities we settled on a Winnebago, but there is nothing recreational about this vehicle.

We designed it to operate as a mobile air monitoring laboratory. We’ve used this platform successfully for a number of years and it serves as a great conversation piece when we talk with children about air quality. On-site audits require several hours to complete and we use a gasoline generator to power the instruments. Sometime last year the guys got the idea of supplementing the lab with the abundant source of clean energy that was howling in their ears… wind.

photo of staff mounting the windmill up on the side of the vehicle

Several weeks ago we installed a turbine to harness the clean energy provided by the wind. The turbine generates electricity to recharge batteries stored inside the lab that when fully charged can run the entire lab for up to eight hours without a single wisp of generator exhaust. Thanks to this innovation we will conserve gasoline on each trip (as long as the wind cooperates). As my old high school football coach Sherman SmithExit EPA Disclaimer used to say… if it’s to be it’s up to me. We know that it is up to all of us to find ways to help reduce our carbon footprint both at home and where we work, even if work is sometimes on a dusty road in western Nebraska. Now if we could just find something to use all that ragweed for…

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.