Month: January 2017

EPA Blog Re-Post #3

Due to certain political circumstances, I will be re-posting links to EPA blogs I wrote while I was working there.

Here is the third one. Originally posted April 10, 2014.*

*I apologize if some links are no longer active. This is a few year old. 


 

Invaders in the Great Lakes

By Marguerite Huber

Smaller zebra mussels cover a larger native mussel

I grew up in Chicago, where Lake Michigan, or simply “the lake” as we locals refer to it, is a part of everyday life. I swam in it. I ran next to it. I drank the water from it. I even paddle boarded on it.

As fond as I am of Lake Michigan, it and all the other Great Lakes are facing a big challenge. They have been invaded by more than 190 species of aquatic plants and animals not native to the area, and at least 22 fishes and 16 aquatic invertebrates pose a high risk of invading the Great Lakes in the near future.

These invasive species can be introduced deliberately or accidentally through ballast water discharge from commercial vessels, recreational boating and fishing, and pet aquarium releases. These species cause significant ecological and economic impacts in the Great Lakes. For instance, the cost to the Great Lakes region from invasive species is over $200 million dollars annually!

EPA researchers have been studying how to monitor and detect aquatic invasive species through two different studies in the Duluth-Superior Harbor area, the largest Great Lakes commercial port and one under intense invasive species pressure. A Great Lakes-wide early detection program is required by 2015 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The goal of the research was to evaluate sampling designs that would help develop an efficient early detection monitoring program for invasive species. To do so, researchers conducted intensive sampling to create a data set that could be used to explore different monitoring strategies.

One study concluded that species detection can be enhanced based on sampling equipment and habitat, making it an important step towards improving early detection monitoring. They found the most efficient strategy was to sample the mix of habitats or gear that produce the most species, but to also sample across all habitats.

In this study, researchers found high occurrences of certain invasive species such as zebra mussel and Eurasian ruffe.

In another study, researchers focused on determining the effort required for early detection of non-native zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, and fish in the Harbor. To do so, the research team tallied and identified roughly 40,000 zooplankton, 52,000 benthic invertebrates, and 70,000 fish during sampling.

In the early detection study, the researchers detected 10 non-native fish species and 21 non-native aquatic invertebrate, some of which were new detections for the Great Lakes. The central finding was that detecting 100% of species is unrealistic given resource limitations, but monitoring at a level that can detect greater than 95% of the species pool is possible. At this level of effort, there is better than a 50% chance of finding a very rare species, such as one that was recently introduced.

Overall, EPA’s invasive species research is yielding a substantial advance in the ability to design monitoring and early warning systems for aquatic invasive species. Together with prevention methods, that should go a long way in maintaining the biological integrity and sustainability of the Great Lakes. That would be welcome news for anyone who relies on “the lake” for their livelihood, their drinking water, or for a place to paddleboard.

 

Read the post in its original format here


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Meal-Kit Market Means More Waste

Since I prefer the gift of experiences, K and I were gifted the chance to try out Blue Apron.

Although I like the idea of having all of the cooking ingredients measured and ready for me, I was skeptical of the amount of packaging waste something like this would produce.

Our box arrived on Friday.

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We shall see about that..

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Waste was obviously my biggest concern, so I laid out everything we received in the box. There are even little packets of flour, sugar, butter, etc. in the paper bags. I thought that was unnecessary.

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Blue Apron’s vision is to build a better food system by doing the following:

  1. Developing better standards to grow higher quality ingredients.
  2. Supporting regenerative farming practices to replenish our land.
  3. Eliminating the middleman to deliver fresher food.
  4. Reducing food waste to create better value.

While I applaud the attempt at reducing food waste, there is still excessive packaging waste. Like what am I supposed to do with those 2 giant ice packs? They don’t even fit in our freezer.

From a tastiness standpoint, our meals we made were fine. That’s really all I have to say about them, but I definitely do not think it was worth it.

Have you ever used anything like Blue Apron and discovered all the waste it provides?

I think I would rather just shop at the farmers market.

EPA Blog Re-Post #2

Due to certain political circumstances, I will be re-posting links to EPA blogs I wrote while I was working there.

Here is the second one. Originally posted January 17, 2014.*

*I apologize if some links are no longer active. This is a few year old. 


Street Trees: More than Meets the Eye

By Marguerite Huber

Tree-lined street

Ever since I took an urban forestry course in graduate school, I can’t help but always look at trees. I look at their bark, their roots, and their leaves. But when I look at trees, I am not just seeing their physical attributes. I also see all the conceptual benefits they provide to our communities.

Trees are not just a pretty fixture in your backyard. They provide many ecosystem services to our cities and towns, including: improving air quality, absorbing and storing carbon, supplying privacy, reducing noise, increasing property value, and decreasing building energy use. Trees are an important aspect of the green infrastructure that helps reduce storm water flow.

Amazingly, you don’t have to be an arborist to calculate tree benefits; you can use i-Tree , a USDA Forest Service model that uses sampling data to estimate street tree benefits.

In the fall of 2013, EPA scientists began research on “street trees” (trees growing in the public right-of-way, usually in between the street and the sidewalk) in nine communities in the Cincinnati, Ohio metropolitan area. The randomly selected communities all differ in geographic setting, socioeconomic characteristics, and street tree management practices.

Their research aims to answer such questions as: Can street tree structure and benefits be explained by management practices, socioeconomic conditions, or historical or geographic factors? How might invasive pests affect street trees and their benefits? How will existing street tree structure and benefits change in the future under various scenarios of tree growth and mortality, management practices, and pest outbreaks?

Researchers sampled more than 53 miles of street right-of-way along more than 600 street segments and inventoried nearly 3,000 trees. The street tree benefits were estimated using i-Tree Streets.

At this time researchers are still analyzing street tree benefits and their relation to community characteristics such as management practices, socioeconomics, and geographic setting. So far they have found management practices to be particularly important, with Tree City USA  participants gaining greater benefits than communities that do not participate. Since analyses are still continuing, the findings on the other community characteristics will be released in the coming months.

When the project is completed, the researchers will have deliverables such as street tree inventory data that can be shared with community officials and an understanding of which community characteristics influence street tree structure and ecosystem services.

I invite you to check out i-Tree for yourself; I suspect as you’ll realize there are more to street trees than meets the eye.

Read the post in its original format here


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EPA Blog Re-Post #1

As I stated yesterday, I will be re-posting links to EPA blogs I wrote when I was working there.

Here is the first one. Originally posted September 15, 2014.*

*I apologize if some links are no longer active. This is a few year old. 


Tri, Tri, Tri Again for Clean Water

By Marguerite Huber and Dustin Renwick

From the left, cyclist Marguerite Huber, runner Dustin Renwick, and would-be swimmer Sarah Edwards.

When athletes register for a race, they invest money, time, and energy. My fellow EPA blogger, Dustin Renwick, and I signed up to be a part of a relay team competing in the Nation’s Triathlon here in Washington, D.C.

Dustin ran the 10k, I biked the 40k, but our swimmer didn’t even get wet.

Our teammate, and all of the other athletes, did not get to participate in the swim portion of the race because it had been canceled due to unsafe water quality.

The night before the event, the local area experienced storms and heavy rainfall that caused a combined sewer overflow that sent a mixture of sewage and stormwater into the Potomac River just north of the triathlon swim starting line.

The District Department of the Environment Exit informed race officials of the unhealthy conditions late that evening and due to the high levels of bacteria such as E. coli, they agreed to cancel the swim.

Although boating, kayaking, and paddle boarding are allowed in the Potomac River, “primary contact recreation activities,” like swimming, have been banned in the river within the District of Columbia since 1971, when District health officials and EPA sought to protect people and publicize the health hazards of local water bodies.

Since then, clean-up efforts have resulted in a cleaner Potomac. Special swimming events, such as the Nation’s Tri, could apply for exceptions to the rule as of 2007. Event organizers are required to monitor and analyze water quality samples prior to the event and submit a contingency plan in the event the District Department of the Environment determines the river is unsafe for swimming.

Despite the progress, sewer overflows can still harm river quality. The Nation’s Triathlon had to cancel the swim in 2011 as well.

Judging by social media reactions, most athletes felt the Nation’s Tri race officials made the right choice in canceling the swim. Safety is important, no matter how many hours of training you have put in.

But the disappointment of several thousand athletes is only a symptom. This situation really calls attention to the need for improvement in our stormwater infrastructure.

The 772 cities in the U.S. that have combined sewer systems can all be challenged by heavy rains that rush over urban impervious surfaces and into their sewers. This results in stormwater and untreated waste polluting our water bodies.

EPA has worked to promote green infrastructure practices to help minimize and prevent stormwater events that can threaten public health, all while protecting the quality of rivers, streams, and lakes. Green infrastructure techniques such as green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain gardens help slow down runoff and help water more naturally filter out excess nutrients and other pollutants on its way into the ground.

These kinds of activities help protect human health and the environment. Hopefully one day soon, as race contestants, we can count on completing the bike, run, and swim through our nation’s capital and in similar events across the country.

About the Authors: When student contractors Marguerite Huber and Dustin Renwick are not biking or running through the District, they can be found helping the science communication and innovation teams (respectively) in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Read the post in its original format here

 

Science Will Not Be Silenced

Let’s be clear.

I am not a scientist.

I have never wanted to be a scientist, but I deeply appreciate and respect their work.

After all, science is basically what I have built my career on.

I take the complicated and confusing and turn it into something easily understandable. No scientific jargon necessary.

Collaborating with scientists on their work was always my favorite part. I loved their reactions when they saw how their 40+ page scientific journal article could turn into a couple paragraphs that their grandmother could easily understand.

The scientists I worked with were U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) scientists. I focused mainly on water research and covered everything from combined sewer overflows to arsenic, lead, and pharmaceuticals.

As of yesterday, the new administration put a freeze on EPA grants and contracts, as well as press releases, blog updates, website updates, and social media posts.

 

epa-2

The last post was from my friend, Kacey, the day before the inauguration 

 

Being a previous contractor with the EPA and one who specifically worked with science communications, this really hits home.

To counteract, I will be posting a link every single EPA science blog I ever wrote. If new science is not going to go out, I will help educate others on the important work EPA does.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the first post.

Catch Up What is Going On

 

 

 

A Recycling Conspiracy Solved

An update to A Recycling Conspiracy 


As I was putting some food scraps into my compost bucket on the fire escape, I heard some noise coming from below. I stealthily closed the door and took a peek back outside.

To my surprise, there was one of our building’s maintenance men pulling recyclables out of our blue cart and stuffing them into the black landfill cart!

I watched for a few minutes to make sure what I was seeing was correct.

Suddenly I was overcome with frustration and I ran to throw on my coat and go and confront the recycling thief.

Unfortunately, this maintenance worker did not speak much English, so I was not sure how much my message was getting across. I tried to explain that the paper and the plastic we have been painstakingly been putting in the blue cart, should stay in the blue cart, to be recycled.

I did what I could there and went back up to call our usual maintenance man and explain the situation.

Here are some key points from his super logical explanation:

  • Yes, they have been taking recycling out of the blue cart
  • Recycling pick up is not every week so they just can’t take it out
  • The maintenance guy only comes on certain days so he doesn’t want to leave the blue cart out on the curb because people will throw trash in it…..(umm…excuse me!?)

Garbage and recycling get picked up on the same day for us, so he has no idea what he is talking about.

service_area_2_map_and_schedule

Basically, it is going to come down to me taking out our blue cart on recycling day. I don’t trust them anymore.

bluecart3

 

Stand Up and March

All day yesterday I felt really weird.

Sick to my stomach, yet full of anger.

TV and the internet were avoided like the plague.

All week, I had been on the fence about attending the Women’s March on Chicago. I was afraid of the crowds and the possibility of violence, but I knew I should be there.

On the first day of this administration, we need to take a stand, so I hoped on my bike and rode down the lakeshore path to Jackson and Columbus in Grant Park to attend the rally.

 

womens-march15

There are my rallying shoes since I technically didn’t stay for the march part (which actually got cancelled because there were just too many people to march)

 

I mostly just listened and looked around, taking all of it in. It was great to see families and their young children, groups of young women, and groups of older women, all gathering together in a common fight.

My favorite part is always the creativity of the signs people bring to protests. Below are some of my favorites.

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womens-march7

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womens-march1

womens-march11

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womens-march4

womens-march2

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Our Xmas Tree was Up Until 1/19/17

Our beauty of a real Christmas tree had been up since the day after Thanksgiving and was somehow still going strong despite not having been watered since Jesus’s birthday.

gifting1

Once the new year passed, we were absolutely ready for the tree to come down. All the ornaments got packed away first, then it was a tree with just lights for a few days (or weeks). Eventually, the lights came down and we just had a plain pine tree hanging out in our living room.

The City’s Christmas tree recycling program (which collected over 19,000 trees last year) did not start until January 3rd and ran through January 21st, which became our deadline of when the tree had to be down.

But the tree still looked so fantastic!  We weren’t ready to haul it to be chipped into mulch just yet!

You still got a whiff of pine scent when you walked by just like the day we brought it home, and anyone who came over immediately thought we still had our artificial tree up.

Nope, it’s real and yes, we are kind of lazy.

Just like the pumpkin that stayed around for a long time post-Thanksgiving, maybe this tree could have become a Valentines tree?! Sadly, not.

christmas-tree2

Two days before the deadline, the tree came down and was loaded into my car.

One day before the deadline, I brought it over to Lincoln Park and added it to the pile of trees. Luckily our tree was not the only one there.

christmas-tree3

As I rolled up my car window, I waved bye to our lovely tree laying in a pile of other wet, muddy trees.

Soon they will become mulch and be spread onto people’s gardens and lawns come spring.

 

I’d Rather Job/Apartment Hunt than Wedding Venue Hunt

Two weeks into being engaged and I am already considering hiring someone else  (or preferably have them volunteer) to figure this whole wedding planning thing out for me.

 

venue-search

Helpppppp Meeeeeeeee!

 

K and I have created a modest budget that we really want to stick to, so finding a venue in Chicago is pretty darn hard. It is more important to us to use that money towards our first house than on a lavish wedding reception. Therefore, we are additionally looking around Wisconsin, Michigan, Chicago suburbs, and Indiana.

I have already torn through The Knot‘s venue search option and am spouting traditional wedding etiquette facts from the number of wedding planning books I have received.

Chicago’s Green Wedding Alliance has some good resources, but their list of venues is pretty small (There will be a post on eco-resources soon).

There are just so many factors to consider:

  • distance
  • waste collection/diversion
  • food quality
  • price
  • a space that feels like us
  • a lot of other important factors I haven’t quite figured out yet

But there are also so many other things that we don’t actually care about:

  • wedding cake
  • the day we get married (Friday vs. Saturday)
  • the season
  • favors

Hopefully, all of the things that we don’t care about will help us save money in the long run.

Do you have any suggestions on an how to secure an affordable wedding venue in the Chicagoland area?

I will keep you updated as we start to narrow down some options. We probably should figure out which geographic location first! Ugh!

 

DIY: Saving My Favorite Jeans

My jeans always rip in the exact same place. Right in the crotch area.

In the past, I have had my grandmother patch them up for me. Sometimes the same pair would get repaired several times like the one below.

While folding my laundry last week, I noticed my newest pair of jeans (over a year and a half old) have finally achieved the dreaded crotch rip. I was not shocked or surprised. This was bound to happen eventually.

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Besides this tiny hole in a not so noticeable spot, the jeans are just fine. There was no need to fret, I was going to patch them myself!

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My sewing skills are even more sub-par than my knitting skills. I can sew buttons and seams together, but nothing this extensive (is this considered extensive?).

Now was my chance to learn a new skill that I could continue to use for years to come!

First, I needed some supplies I did not currently have in my possession.

  1. pinking shears
  2. fusible

I looked up what pinking shears cost and they aren’t too expensive, but so far I have gone my entire life not needing them, so there is no point in making that purchase now. Instead, I chose to borrow a pair from my grandmother. #vintage

After a quick trip to Jo-Anne’s for fusible, I gathered all my supplies and was ready to go.

jean-patch7

First things first, I cut out a patch of denim from my now scrap pair of jeans. My plan was basically just to reinforce the crotch/thigh rub area so it would not rip any further.

 

I figured sewing the patch straight into the seam would help keep the fabric strong. To help, I used fusible, which basically turns your patch into an iron-on. I have never used fusible before and figured it could not hurt my pants any further.

 

Once the patches were ironed on, it was time to start sewing and this took a much longer time than I had thought! If I had a sewing machine this definitely would have been done sooner, but alas I do not. A used sewing machine is on my wish list (hint hint).

jean-patch15

Sewing the patches too frustratingly long. I started this Friday afternoon and did not finish until Sunday evening, but hey, at least I can wear my jeans on Monday!

They aren’t perfect, but I think I did a pretty decent job for my first try and I know I have more to learn.

Have you ever tried to patch your favorite pair of jeans before? Do you have any better suggestions for the next time this happens to me?