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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!


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.






What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore.

27 Aug

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!



Mosquito-borne disease advisory

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.

When going on my evening runs, I usually plan to wear bug spray and then realize I have none. I really haven’t ever bought any. As far as I can remember, I only wear it if someone who has it offers it to me. This person is usually not from Florida and probably read/heard about our horrible mosquito problem prior to residing.

But, after scanning the news headlines the last few days and seeing the words “Dengue fever” populating the “most read” sections, I may have to make a run to the store and buy a bottle of repellent.

Turns out, areas populated by these pesky insects have more to worry about than bug bites and West Nile virus. Just last week there were seven cases of dengue fever outbreak in Martin and St. Lucie counties and one in Miami-Dade County.

In the 1930s dengue loved to lurk around and infect people in the Sunshine State, but because of high-tech inventions such as AC and window screens the problem was somewhat eradicated.

But, in 2009 the virus decided it wanted to go on vacation again, and chose  at least 28 people in Key West to be its rgracious “hosts.”  In 2010, it made it’s way from various mosquitoes to about 66 more people on the small island. The virus took a brief vacation, but has decided once again to wreak havoc, this time in Central Florida with the latest outbreak mentioned above.

Although dengue can potentially be fatal, most people experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, eye pain, pain of the muscles and joints (which is why it has the nickname breakbone fever) and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

Ok so we know what dengue causes. . . but what is it? 

Dengue is an infectious disease typically transported by mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes aegypti  and Aedes albopictus species which are both common in Florida. 

Dengue fever virus is a single-stranded RNA virus that belongs to the family Flaviviridae, and is kin to other well-known viruses such as Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus.  All of the viruses in the flaviviridae use arthropods such as ticks and mosquitoes as their main vector, or form of transportation.

The virus has four known strains or serotypes (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4). A person who contracts one strain, and then later a different strain has a higher potential for the disease to be fatal.

It only takes one bite–by a female mosquito– to get infected, so if you’re like me and barely pay attention to bites, you may want to pay a little more attention in case you become ill.  It takes anywhere from 3 to 14 days after the bite for symptoms to show.

Once the infected mosquito bites its prey, the virus and saliva from the bite partner up to enter into the host’s white blood cells, multiplying while it moves through the body. The white blood cells then panic and produce signaling proteins to warn the body. Unfortunately these signaling proteins are responsible for most of the symptoms.

picture from Wikipedia Commons

picture from Wikipedia Commons

But, about 80 percent of those who unwittingly are chosen to be hosts for the virus are either asymptomatic or express only a mild fever.  For this reason, dengue can easily be mistaken for the flu, but a blood test can easily confirm whether you have the virus.

Currently, there is no licensed vaccine or treatment for dengue except for staying well-rested and drinking tons of fluids to stay hydrated to ease the symptoms.

What’s the scope of the problem?

If you’re reading this and think. . . 9 people out of the millions of people in the state? I get you, but a paper that appeared in Nature  in April suggests that scientists are underestimating the scope of the problem worldwide. The study says that there could be about 400 million cases annually around the globe (four times the estimate by the World Health Organization), which would make it even more prevalent than malaria.

The authors of the study suggest that even though the disease has often been referred to as a tropical disease, it has been spreading to places outside the tropics such as Portugal and Russia. One of the theories related to the unlikely spread of this disease to cooler places is climate change. Scientists say that global warming can potentially increase the spread of many infectious diseases, most of which thrive in warmer temperatures.

But, the authors also say that many of the infections go unreported, especially in overpopulated developing countries which can be prime breeding spots for mosquitoes and the virus. These countries are also more at risk because since the disease is highly infectious, it could possibly overwhelm already-strained healthcare systems.

But…don’t freak out. There are plenty of things you can do to prevent an immune system intruder.  Check out these tips from the Department of Health.  You can also check the real-time status of a disease outbreak in Florida here. 

Also, since scientists are equally intrigued with this problem, there are tons of initiatives underway around the world to once again eradicate the unwelcome disease, see below!

In Heart Of Amazon, A Natural Lab To Study Diseases

Can Genetically Modified Bugs Reduce Dengue Threat?

A Scientist’s 20-Year Quest To Defeat Dengue Fever

Dengue Re-emerges in U.S., Spurring Race for Vaccine

Wearing goggles to surf: Kook status or Florida Red Tide?

1 Aug


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!


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.

I walked closer to get a better look at the water to see what might be the culprit of what seemed to be an instant allergic reaction.

What I saw before me was not the crystal turquoise of the Emerald coast. The water was murky, brown and my instincts were telling me it was best to stay out.  But the glassy waves were too tempting and a rarity for Florida.

I decided to catch a couple waves on my longboard before working my night shift at the restaurant. I stopped at the coastline, put on my leash and took a more hesitant leap in than normal.

Dunking my head under, I forgot to close my eyes and the burning sensation was unbearable.

No surfing today.

That was a few years ago in Pensacola along the Gulf of Mexico. There was no chemical leak from the nearby power plant and BP oil had not yet tainted the waters.

What I experienced that day was a naturally occurring algal bloom.

Although algal blooms are normal, scientists classify this particular one as a harmful algal bloom, better known along the Gulf coast as Florida Red Tide.

Red Tide refers to the reddish-brown color caused by the abundance of algae and the word tide is sort of misleading since the bloom has nothing to do with tidal movements.

The harmful algal bloom that we experience in Florida is caused by the microscopic marine dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, a photosynthetic organism (algae) that propels through the water with its two whip-like flagella. Continue reading

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs”

17 Jun

lovebugs_other_lgSummer 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!


The bugs we love to hate

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