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Future of global water conservation: sewage to treatment to tap

11 Jun
Lana Nasser is a junior studying public relations student at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing personality profiles, feature articles, blogging about skincare and beauty, and learning about the field of sociology.

Lana Nasser is a junior studying public relations student at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing personality profiles, feature articles, blogging about skincare and beauty, and learning about the field of sociology.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Lana Nasser

The idea of drinking reclaimed wastewater may be off-putting to some, but as technology sophistication increases, people might not be able to tell the difference.

Due to the growing necessity for water in the United States and around the world, scientists are considering alternative and more sustainable methods of providing drinkable water, like reclaimed wastewater. Reclaimed wastewater is water that has undergone extensive treatment through advanced water technologies like reverse osmosis and multi-step filtration.

“Psychologically, a human being says, ‘Yuck! I don’t want to drink treated sewage,’” said Joseph Delfino, professor in the department of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida. “In most places where they get water out of a river, they’re already drinking water that has been through industries, people, animals, but we tend to disregard it.”

Currently, many scientists are studying public perception of recycled water.  Shane Snyder, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Arizona said that if people trusted the treatment process, they might understand that recycling water is unavoidable.

Professionals in the field, like Snyder, hope that public opinion will begin to change.

John Million, an environmental engineering graduate from the University of Florida agreed.

“There are technologies and practices that can take wastewater and treat it to be used again by humans,” he said.

How does wastewater become drinking water?

First, water undergoes advanced primary treatment, where it is separated from large particles. The water then goes into sedimentation tanks where chemicals are used to make scum rise to the top and primary sludge fall to the bottom. Once 80 percent of the solids have been removed and the water is separated, the wastewater is clean enough to be released into the ocean.

The second step is extensive filtration. During this step, bacteria are added to the primary treated wastewater. These bacteria help ingest organic chemicals.

Finally, the water is filtered again to remove any other remaining solids.  It is then disinfected with chlorine.

It is no secret that there are readily available technologies able to make reclaimed water drinkable through various procedures, but this expensive and energy intensive process raises questions of sustainability.

“If we throw enough money at it, we can treat anything to better water to drinking water quality. The issue is, is there a sustainable way to do it?” said Paul Chadik, associate professor in the department of environmental engineering at the University of Florida.

Due to the current need for diverse sources of potable water, some states around the nation are already drinking reclaimed water. The Orange County Water District in California opened a $480 million state-of-the art water reclamation facility in 2008. This facility is claimed to be the largest in the United States, and costs about $29 million a year to operate.

Resources that treat wastewater also require extensive backup systems in case of emergency.

“In our current system, if the plant were to break down, you would be able to drink it without having an adverse reaction. But if you drink wastewater that is improperly treated because the plant has broken down, it would be detrimental,” Chadik said.

In terms of reliability, Chadik believes that large numbers of efficient and readily available backup systems would be needed to take effect without delay in times of crisis.

In many places around the nation, precious resources like groundwater are being used for purposes in which treated wastewater could be used instead.

“Most of the drinking water we have is used to water lawns and flush toilets,” Chadik said. “That water doesn’t need to be very pure. It would be more sustainable to take our wastewater and use it to irrigate land that needs it.”

Americans spend billions of dollars every year treating water to drinking water quality when only about 10 percent of it is used for drinking or cooking. The rest of it is flushed down the toilet or drain.

The growing use of recycled wastewater for purposes such as irrigation, landscaping, industry and toilet flushing is an efficient way to conserve the fresh water resources we have left.

“Nature has done its thing historically for as long as the planets been around so things go up and down, but of course we’re here and we’re the one animals species that pays attention to things,” Delfino said.

Related links:

UF Water Reclamation Facility

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Gainesville’s recycling questions answered

11 Jun
Brynn Huzzen have grew up in Gainesville, Fla. and is now a journalism major at the University of Florida. She has a strong passion for helping animals and the environment and hopes to be able to use the  skills she is learning at UF to later protect the world we live in. The research she did for this article really opened her eyes to the impact of waste on the environment and how important it is to recycle. I truly believe that if everyone in Florida participated more in environmentally friendly

Brynn Huzzen  grew up in Gainesville, Fla. and is now a journalism major at the University of Florida. She has a strong passion for helping animals and the environment and hopes to be able to use the
skills she is learning at UF to later protect the world in which we live. The research she did for this article really opened her eyes to the impact of waste on the environment and how important it is to recycle.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Brynn Huzzen

While researching the recycling and hazardous waste disposal facilities in Gainesville, I realized how much information they have that the majority of people living in Gainesville do not know.  I asked many people to contribute questions about local recycling or waste disposal and did my best to find answers to them, with the help of Steve Joplin, solid waste manager for The City of Gainesville.  Below, he answers all of your submitted recycling answers.

Why is it that there are some apartment complexes in Gainesville that do not recycle?

“There should not be any apartment complexes in Gainesville that don’t recycle. All multi-family units are required to provide convenient and accessible recycling of all designated recyclables (everything recycled in the residential program). Our inspectors should be checking each apartment complex at least once a year to make sure they’re in compliance with the mandatory recycling ordinance. If [residents] know of any apartment complexes that aren’t offering recycling to their tenants, we would like to have the names or addresses of those places.”

 Why is the recycling in apartment complexes not regulated better? For example, residents have seen maintenance men dumping recyclables into the dumpster.

“If residents have seen maintenance men dumping recyclables into garbage dumpsters, that probably means the apartment complex isn’t providing enough recycling containers to handle the amount of recycling being generated there. We have the authority by ordinance to require the complex to provide additional recycling containers if we can document that what they currently have is insufficient. We frequently need help from the residents to deal with this issue since we either need a witness who saw maintenance throwing away recyclables, or we need to have one of our staff witness it. If an apartment resident will alert us to this activity we can usually do something about it, and we can keep the source of the information anonymous.”

 Does it matter if glass or canned recycling is rinsed before it is put in the bin?

“Yes, it does matter if glass and cans are rinsed.  All recyclable materials should be clean for processing.  Recyclable materials that are not clean may be considered contaminated and therefore be thrown away.”

 What sorts of green initiatives/recycling programs are local businesses implementing?

“All businesses in Gainesville for whom designated recyclable materials make up 15 percent or more of their waste stream are required to recycle. Some businesses do the minimum amount needed to comply with the ordinance; others look for ways to recycle everything they can. For example, although Gainesville doesn’t currently require food scraps to be recycled, a number of businesses in town either have an arrangement with someone to collect and compost their food scraps, or they compost them themselves. We also have at least one paint & body shop that recycles its plastic automobile bumpers.”

 What kinds of plastics are recyclable and what can people do with the ones that are not recyclable?

 

“All plastics in the category of bottles, jars, jugs and tubs are recyclable in Gainesville.  Some types of plastics such as Solo cups and clear plastic clamshell containers are not recyclable in our system because it is not economically feasible due to the lack of markets for the material in the area.”

 Is it okay to recycle cardboard that is treated in plastic like for frozen food items?

“Yes, pasteboard from the frozen food section is recyclable in our system.”

 Where can I dispose of Styrofoam?

“During the holidays some stores will even take the formed Styrofoam because of the high mailing demand at those times of the year.  Publix will take their Styrofoam veggie trays to be reused.”

 What types of batteries need to be taken to a hazardous waste facility?

“Regular disposable household batteries are no longer hazardous and can be thrown away.  However, other batteries such as the NiCad or rechargeable batteries are hazardous and will need to be taken to the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center, 5125 NE 63 Ave, 334-3440. Examples of batteries to be taken to the HHWCC are:  car, boat, lawnmower and lawn equipment batteries.  The smaller [hazardous] batteries are watch and hearing-aid batteries, along with all the household batteries that are rechargeable. Another hazardous material of interest is the fluorescent light bulb.  This type of light bulb has mercury in it and should be taken to the HHWCC. ”

*Note – Keep in mind that garbage and recycling service does not handle hazardous waste so therefore all hazardous waste must be taken to the HHWCC.”

 

If you have any questions, contact Steve Joplin, joplinsh@cityofgainesville.org, solid waste manager at The City of Gainesville.

A Day in the Life of a Sea Turtle Biologist

29 Apr
Kristina Orrego is a  third-year journalism student at the University of Florida. Her interest in writing a feature story about a sea turtle biologist comes from having a passion and love for animals. Her career goal is to become a journalist at an online publication and write about important social issues and economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and cooking.

Kristina Orrego is a third-year journalism student at the University of Florida. Her interest in writing a feature story about a sea turtle biologist comes from having a passion and love for animals. Her career goal is to become a journalist at an online publication and write about important social issues and economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and cooking.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By: Kristina Orrego

For Blair Witherington, the beach is more than just a place where you can lay out a blanket and soak up some sun. It is in his field where he has the privilege and opportunity to interact with the animals he considers the most fascinating.

Witherington, a researcher with over 24 years of experience as a sea turtle biologist, worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute since 1992. He recently accepted a new position as part of the faculty at the University of Florida, where he will be working for the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research.

This job will have him mostly stationed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, where he will be a part of the Kingdom’s conservation team continuing to research and do hands-on work with sea turtles.

His work as a researcher has allowed him to travel all over the world, participating in projects in the Atlantic Sea, the Florida Keys, the Sargasso Sea, located in the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

I recently caught up with Blair to learn more about his daily work as a sea turtle biologist and also what kind of advice he’d offer anyone who is thinking about entering this line of research.

Q. What is a regular day of work for you as a sea turtle biologist?

A. “A regular day isn’t always as exciting as one might think,” he said with a laugh. “A regular day is probably me sitting in front of the computer, trying to make sense of the data we’ve collected in the field. But every once in a while we have days in the field where we’re collecting that information and we’re out with the animals themselves. That’s always pretty exciting. But to tell you the truth, the times of discovery, when you’re really finding something out that is interesting to you or to anyone else… those are the times in front of the computer, as odd as it may seem. We go out into the field and we catch sea turtles in a lot of different ways and we see what they do, but it’s only after you sit down and try to make sense of the data that you really discover what’s going on, where you really find out how sea turtles live their lives, how many there are, and what their threats are.”

 Q. What are your favorite aspects of your job as a sea turtle biologist? What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

A. “I enjoy discovery, as I was talking about. I certainly like going out in the field. It’s nice to, sort of, reinforce what you learn back in the lab and in front of the computer with what you see out in the real world with turtles. We test them in lots of different ways, and it’s kind of fun, really. It’s a challenge. We go offshore for 50 to 100 miles and catch young Yearling turtles out in the Sargasso out on the surface of the open sea. We also go to places like Florida Bay and catch much larger turtles. We catch them by hand… and these are 250-pound turtles. We follow them in boats and then jump into the water and grab them ‘and take them in for questioning’ so to speak. So that’s a challenge and interesting. I’d say probably my favorite part of the job is interpreting science for other people. I really like sharing stories about findings, sharing stories about sea turtles, because that’s the way that we save them. We get people to understand sea turtles. We get people to follow-up with them, and to know what each one of us needs to do in order to have sea turtles around in the future. It’s one thing for us to understand sea turtles, but if we don’t share that with anyone else, they’re not going to get saved.

 Q. How would you compare yourself now to when you first started out as a sea turtle biologist?

A. “I think, as is the case of most students, when I first began I thought I knew a lot. Now as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t know very much at all. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot, but the more I learn, the less I realize I really know. I’ve come to realize that the world is a very large and complex place, and it’s a struggle to really make sense of it. There are a lot of mysteries still [when it comes to sea turtles] and every other thing Earth. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about sea turtles, their environment, the people who affect their environment and who can help save sea turtles. It’s a very complex relationship. The more I learn, the more complex it seems.”

 Q. So, you’d say that the connection between sea turtles and human beings is the most important thing you’ve learned over the years?

A. “Yes I think so. It’s easy to get discouraged about environmental issues sometimes. When I was young I was very optimistic and that’s one of the most important things about youth–youthful people are very optimistic and idealistic. I’d like to think I’m still that way. I struggle to be that way. You know, the more you learn the ugly truth, the more you can get discouraged, but you shouldn’t be. You should stay optimistic, idealistic, aim high, try to do the very best you can and solve problems. Even though there are very big problems there are solutions to them. And those solutions are going to come about with a whole lot of hard work. You’ve got to keep pressing ahead. I’ve tried to gain wisdom and not be discouraged by it. Tried to stay optimistic.”

Q. What sort of key advice would you give to someone who aspires to also become a sea turtle biologist?

A. “I would say to be optimistic, but don’t have such high expectations that you become discouraged when the going gets tough. Everyday is not out in the field, with the wind blowing through your hair and having fun with the animals that you find interesting. Sometimes it’s very mundane stuff– it’s entering data and doing analyses. You have to love all of that to persevere. Don’t have expectations that you’re going to be out in the sea every single day, that’s not going to be the case. You have to love every aspect of the work, including the mundane stuff– sitting back in front of the computer, trying to make sense of it all.”

Editor’s picks for 2013

2 Dec

banner_final2.jpgI know we still have a month left in 2013.

But with finals and holiday break coming up, I felt it would be appropriate to make a “Best of” post highlighting some of my favorite posts. Since a majority of the blog is written by me, I feel this aggregation serves as a reflection on the type of science writing I have done and the posts I enjoyed the most. But, I’ve also had some amazing guest bloggers this year and will also be including some of their posts as well. So check out the stories below in case you missed them! Thank you to all my loyal followers.

P.S. Once my thesis is over, expect big things!

Best of Layman’s Terms Media, 2013 (no particular order)

Breast cancer vaccines are nothing new: By Dorothy Hagmajer   “Am I going to die?”  That was Susan Foster’s first question when her doctor told her she had breast cancer.Continue reading

Science in the city: In the basement of the emergency medicine corridor of UF Health Jacksonville, Robert Wears, M.D., a professor in the department of emergency medicine, scans engineering books and medical journals, taking notes on his cluttered desk. He is carefully piecing together the historical puzzle of hospital safety.—> Continue reading

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs: Miss Plecia is all dolled up. She has been stuffing herself full of organic material and nectar in her swampy-syle pad for the past 20 days with hopes of finding her lifelong mate.—> Continue reading

What exactly is pus? Find out in 15 seconds.Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain the gross, gooey liquid that plagues teenagers–pus!—-> Continue reading

What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore.As a Floridian I have somewhat become immune to the feel of a mosquito bite. The annoying quick itch sensation is quickly thwarted by the thoughtless reflex of my hand slapping the affected area and then quickly scratching up and down for a few seconds. After that, I pretty much forget about the bite.—> Continue reading

Scientist uses Instagram videos to explain anatomy concepts in 15 secondsI am always looking for people who share a passion for science and genuinely want to get others excited about it too, which is one of the main reasons I’m studying science communication. While I was in D.C. for the Science Online Climate Conference, I stayed with my friend Steph who introduced me to Wendy Corrales via Facebook. She showed me her videos and I was cracking up.—> Continue reading

UF researcher says T cells the answer to cancer vaccines: John “Bobby” Goulding, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida, is in a scramble to help create safe and effective vaccines to prevent and fight human respiratory viruses.—>Continue reading

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman's Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca's love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman’s Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca’s love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

What’s for dinner? Island fish, brah: Study shows Hawaiian restaurant menus hold clues to reef healthMost of us look at menus simply to make a quick decision about what we are going to consume in the near future and at what price. We then give it back to our server and the menu is most likely forgotten. –> Continue reading

Abusive mothers’ DNA and the economy could share the blame with Florida DCF for recent child deaths: The Florida Department of Children and Families has been under fire for the past couple of years for failing to stop child abuse and neglect, resulting in thedeaths of seven childrenwho the department said were in “no immediate danger.” —> Continue reading

Wearing goggles to surf: Kook status or Florida Red Tide?: I took a deep breath in. Smelling the saltwater has always been my ritual before starting the process of unloading my surfboard. But, this time I did not feel refreshed or enlightened by the beach breeze. My eyes started to water.—> Continue reading

Native Florida wildlife caught on camera: By Michael Stone Wildlife photographer Michael Stone, a graduate student in science/health communications at the University of Florida, posts the different species and subspecies he sees in his online catalog.—> Continue reading

Great whites use stored liver oil to power through ocean “road trips”Bears, sea lions and whales rely on their external blubber to power through hibernations and migrations. For them, a little extra flab is crucial to their survival.—> Continue reading

 Sea turtles are Gulf travelers, scientists sayGulf Loggerheads were always thought to be homebodies. After the females nested, they would make a home at their local beach. They would never travel too far from familiarity.—> Continue reading

AAV: from ‘Almost A Virus’ to ‘An Awesome Virus’: In 1965, adeno-associated virus (AAV) was discovered while hitching a ride into the cell with adenovirus, which is a virus that causes the fretted pink eye, cold sores and sore throats.—> Continue reading

The Skinny on Good Fats and Bad Fats: How both will affect your health: By Megan Khan Karen Diet trends come in waves. One decade we see the rejection of carbohydrates, and we shun animal products the next. Some of you reading this right now may remember the low fat craze of the 90’s–it was then that fat got a bad rep. The reputation has stuck so much that “fat” is now considered an insult.—> Continue reading

Will tiny drones cure Floridians’ cynicism toward hurricanes? Most residents of Florida–a state constantly pummeled by tropical storms and hurricanes—have become overly cynical of the often hyped-up weather news warning that the latest tropical action in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean could be deadly. —> Continue reading

Croaking Cuban frogs Create Competition in South Florida: Southern Florida, particularly the more metropolitan areas such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are definitely not known for being quiet areas. The constant honking of horns, people yelling in multiple languages and bold headlines of bizarre news events make South Florida a melting pot of noise. —>Continue reading

Why Nemo would face an inevitable mid-life crisis: A finding Nemo 2 would not be Disney friendlyIf you’ve seen the movie Finding Nemo, and didn’t like it–shame on you! Pixar movies always have the right amount of humor, recognizable voices and great graphics that make them appealing to both children and adults. Their sequels are almost always just as profitable as the originals, and they’re ability to make animation seem like reality is superb! But, although I love this movie, there are serious factual flaws.—>Continue reading

Monkeys in Florida? iPhonatography from a jungle in Central FloridaAs I pondered ideas on what to do on Memorial Day Monday, I decided I needed to explore the land-locked area of Florida I often complain about, being a spoiled coastal girl who is accustomed to living near a beach. A friend mentioned a trip he took where he saw wild monkeys on an island in the middle of Silver River, near Silver Springs, Fla. After doing some preliminary research (mainly hear-say from Gainesville locals) I found out that  Silver River was the filming site the early Tarzan movies. Some of the monkeys escaped, bred and hence that is why there are wild monkeys in Florida.—> Continue reading

When did eating become so confusing? Tips to simplify your diet: By Megan Khan Karen There are hundreds of diets that are said to make you healthier than you have ever been, rejuvenate your body, avoid certain cancers, help you fit in your high school jeans and the list goes on. From the Atkins diet to the current “juicing” craze, we are fed heaps of “truths” about certain diets that are usually based on a tiny kernel of truth and a whole lot of anecdotal “evidence.”—> Continue reading

Warning: Smoothies can cause sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgiaIt’s that time of year again. Summer. Hot. Humid.The urge to swap that hot coffee for a refreshing smoothie may overcome you. But beware, drinking cold drinks can cause a condition called sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.—> Continue reading

What do hula-hoopers, big-wave surfers and composers have in common? A state of “flow”For those of you who do follow my blog, you may have realized I’m a pretty big hoop enthusiast, who also enjoys an everyday runner’s high. Although the physical benefits of running and spinning a circle on various parts of my body may seem obvious, it’s the mental state I’m in when I go on a 5-mile run, or do a freestyle hoop-dance to a 10-track playlist that brings me back after a long workday.—> Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville: By Jackson Presser Pythium insidiosum is common in stagnant, swampy water (lakes/ponds with water temperatures ranging from 68F-95F) worldwide, and the very type of water that is a staple of Gainesville and surrounding areas.  Pythiosis affects its host depending on how it is introduced. Dogs, horses, cattle and other mammals can be infected simply by wading or drinking water that has been tainted with the infection. —> Continue reading

‘Catch a Wave’ exhibit brings the beach to Gainesville

24 Oct
My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida.  Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new.  In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida. Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Nicole Parra

There are three words that describe the new  “Catch a Wave” exhibit hosted by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida: totally gnarly, bro.

The exhibit, which is the closest thing Gainesville residents have to the beach, includes vivid pictures, real-life specimens and hands-on activities. Visitors can almost feel the sand between their toes without the need for sunscreen.

‘Catch a Wave’ is a collaboration between Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, UF and the museum.

“Surfing Florida: A Photographic History” is a traveling exhibit originating from FAU’s College of Arts and Letters. UF and museum scientists contributed to the exhibit by adding a second part, “Surf Science: Waves and Wildlife,” which includes a full-scale shark model, a dolphin skeleton and a display of different Florida beach sands.

Catherine Ward Carey, public program coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the museum wanted to add to FAU’s exhibit by including an educational component.

“It was primarily a photographic exhibit, and then we’ve augmented it with natural history including surfing, snails, information on sea turtles and all sorts of cool things that are in the water with us,” Carey said.

Laura Caicedo, a marketing intern at the museum,  said the wave maker–an activity that helps teach visitors the science behind a wave–is her favorite part of the exhibit.

“It’s [the exhibit] a lot different than what we’ve had before,” Caicedo said.

Visitors can also find out their odds of getting a shark bite by visiting the museum’s famed International Shark Attack File, the longest running database on shark attacks.

John Wilson, a 19-year-old industrial engineering sophomore, said he decided to visit the exhibit because he has been surfing since he was 9 years old.

“The coolest things, I thought, were all the trophies and the pictures of the 1983 nationals and the dolphin skeleton,” Wilson said. “They were both very interesting and informative.”

Wilson said that the exhibit did a good job of showing  beaches from the surfer’s point of view while explaining the science behind a Floridian’s favorite place. He said he will be going back later this week.

Carey said the main purpose of this exhibit is to give Floridians a better understanding of their environment, particularly the beaches.

“With anything we do, we hope for a better appreciation and awareness of the natural world around us,” Carey said. “We do tend to focus our day-to-day living without noticing what’s at the beach,” Carey said.

The exhibit will run until January 20th, 2014. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for Florida residents and seniors, $3 for children ages 3-17 and free to UF students with a valid Gator 1 card and museum members.

Book review– Superfund: The Political Economy of Risk

9 Oct

51818097KBL._SY300_By: Rebecca Burton

 

Whenever someone reads the word “Superfund” in the news media, negative words that come to mind might be, “controversy, delay, outrage, cancer, mistrust,” and the list goes on. Superfund and the political and public battles that go along with it are prime meat for the press, especially when you tie in environmental and health risks and “big government.” Coming from a journalist, I can easily see how these types of stories spread like wildfire. But, John Hird’s suggestions for reform of what he calls an inherently inefficient law that was doomed from the onset, may easily make hazardous waste sites less dramatic and therefore less newsworthy.

Although the book did not focus entirely on the problem with the public’s perception of risk, he did mention it quite a bit and I found what he had to say very insightful. Instead of the usual risk communication books that only cover superficial explanations of why experts are always pitted as “against” the public, Hird put the entire problem in the context of the law itself.

Most generic risk communication books suggest problems such as “mistrust of institutions” are to blame for public outrage, and that greater transparency and honesty are the typical cookie-cutter solutions. Nothing is ever that simple. Since my thesis is focusing on evaluating the risk communication efforts of the EPA and the Department of Health to residents who live near the Koppers Superfund site in Gainesville, this book really put into context the history of the law and why it was flawed from the beginning. By understanding this, I can better understand why communication efforts are so tricky, and may not be the right solution to the bigger problem.

Hird begins by explaining how the public perceives chemical hazards. This is important because ultimately public perception of these problems, along with the pull of legislators, is what prompted the solution of the cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites such as the infamous Love Canal in New York. Ironically, public perception and fear is also part of the problem with Superfund’s inefficiency. Hird suggests there are more pressing and  concrete environmental and health concerns that we should be fearful of and that Superfund sites are not at the top of the list. Hird notes that Americans rate hazardous waste sites as the number one environmental problem (although this book and the study he cited are outdated by now), even when compared to global warming, deforestation and other problems with more “sound” science to back up the claims. The reasons for this fear of chemicals stemmed from many factors.

First, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring garnered national attention to the risks of pesticides. After that, national news agencies began devoting much more space to environmental stories focusing on health risks such as air pollution, water pollution and solid waste. This was a stark shift from earlier environmental concerns, which focused on themes of conservation, wilderness and stewardship.

Hazardous waste sites are a particular concern to the public since they are typically involuntary. Citizens didn’t choose to have a health risk—no matter how minute—near their home or children. The involuntariness is what makes the public angry, even though at most sites, the risk is no greater than chemicals and pollutants one might be exposed to naturally in their everyday lives.

While most of the science today regarding waste sites poses the risks as being minimal comparatively, Hird notes that the amount of uncertainty along with research agendas means the risks could be bigger than we think, or they could be minimal. Most research suggests the risks are overstated.

In addition to the public’s fear of hazardous waste sites, mistrust of the Environmental Protection Agency is another reason that American’s disagree on the risk of hazardous waste site. But the public’s mistrust alone is not enough to cause the spout of blame, conflict and inefficiency that Hird explains has plagued Superfund. Hird also explained that like a small puppy who knows it is in trouble, the EPA sometimes will sulk and hide even more from the public, and will never brag about the accomplishments it has made to Congress, furthering political polarization.

Despite the controversy, the book proposes that Superfund indeed has good intentions, but those intentions are not carried out in the right way. Hird organizes the book into three sections: assessing and managing risks, efficiency, equity and distributive politics, and explaining and reforming Superfund. In each, he proposes some of the problems with each and in the last section he gives some suggestions for reform and the current limitations on implementing them. I will summarize each section, highlighting some of the themes that resonated with me throughout the book and offer my critique on the solutions. Continue reading

Everyday environmental laws: How the EPA fits into the urban grid

11 Sep

Summer Science explained:

Summer Science explained is a new blog series on Layman’s Terms Media. Each week, phenomena that are unique to summer time will be broken down and explained. I am currently taking suggestions for topics, so if there is something you’ve always wondered about feel free to contact me and pitch an idea!

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Environmental laws in the United States help protect us every day. While they are not flawless, and are always improving, we may take for granted how much they affect our lives. In a way, the protect us from ourselves.

As a high-consuming society we produce a ton of waste (well, millions of tons) and this waste can be dangerous if not monitored and controlled in a systematic manner. For this reason we have these laws to thank for one of the most vital life sources: clean drinking water.

My environmental health professor, Dr. Joseph Delfino used a hand-drawn version of the urban grid below in class to stress this point. I simply made a computerized version of it, but it was his idea. I asked him if I could post a similar version and write a post explaining how they connect to us in our every day lives.  With his permission, here it is!

How we experience environmental laws

How we experience environmental laws

 

What are environmental laws?

Environmental laws include every type of environmental protection that derives from:

  • U.S. and state constitutions
  • Federal and state statutes and constitutions and local ordinances
  • Regulations published by federal, state and local agencies
  • Presidential executive orders
  • Court decisions interpreting these laws
  • Common law

What the acronyms stand for:

SDWA: Safe Drinking Water Act

Who doesn’t want to drink water that is safe? I may be an adrenaline junkie but I don’t think using the word “dangerous” to describe a vital life source sounds appealing to me. This law is meant to ensure that our drinking water poses only a minimal risk to our health.

Florida SUPER (State Underground Petroleum Environmental Response) Act

The gas you pump in your car is typically stored underground, the same place where our water comes from. If the storage tanks are damaged or start leaking for any reason, there is a risk of petroleum leaking into the water we drink. The purpose of this act is to identify areas in the state that may be contaminated and take steps to minimize health risks and get drinkable water to that community through new treatment centers or alternative sources.

CWA: Clean Water Act

Most of the things we own were probably at a factory of some sort before they were in our possession. These factories all produce waste that needs to be disposed of properly. The Clean water Act ensures that these factories, and any other businesses that release pollutants abide the wastewater standards enforced by the law as well as obtain a permit before releasing any pollutant into navigable waters.

RCRA: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

The factories I was talking about in the last law also may have  solid or hazardous waste (waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health) they need to dispose of properly. This law makes sure that waste is tracked “from cradle to grave” or from the source to the hazardous waste storage site.

CERCLA (Superfund): Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act

This act helps with financial support for cleaning up old and abandoned waste sites as well as spills, accidents and any other major pollutants released into the environment by providing a “superfund.” But, this fund isn’t infinite and if the source of the pollution can be identified, the parties responsible will also be picking up the bill for the cleanup.

Now that I have you filled in about what the laws are and what they do (please refer to the links for a more in-depth explanation) I decided to go back in time to the fourth grade and give poetry another try. After days and days of academic writing, I decided to have some fun. Point of clarification: the cheesiness is well intended.

A girl who thinks too much about water

I live in the countryside my water comes from a well

Until last week, it was as clean as I could tell. 

But then I got sick and it wasn’t very pretty,

I packed my bags and moved to the city. 

My well water wasn’t protected since it wasn’t a municipal source

Ah! Municipal water is protected by the SDWA, of course!

It comes from the ground, the river to the plant to get treated.

Driving to school now, my car has overheated!

Oh, wait. The tank is on E!

I shake my head. This always happens to me.

I look across the street, a station is found.

As I walk, I think “Is fuel stored underground?”

It is, but what if something goes wrong?

If a tank leaks, to the city will it flow along?

If it does, not to stress

The Florida Super Act will put the issue to rest. 

But what about the factories? And all of the waste?

Can it get into my water too? I start to pace.

Aha! The waste tracked is from “cradle to grave” 

I stop and ponder. Oh, right the RCRA

But, what about the waste that gets away, can it seep into my water?

No, worries. The CWA takes care of that bother.

Eventually any abandoned waste sites will be sanitized

and the party responsible for the pollution will be fined. 

If no culprit is found, CERCLA says the EPA can tap into the “superfund” money

The money’s not infinite, so its not a matter so funny. 

These laws and regulations are not a one-stop solution, 

But they help prevent chaos, bad health and pollution. 

 

Ok, I know. I forewarned you about the cheesiness. But, I hope you now have a better understanding of some of the main environmental laws that protect us every day.