Monday, April 23, 2018

Students See Green: Mock Spill Illustrates Potential Impact Of Wastewater Leak

By Matt Carroll, Penn State News

Bright green water swirled around Mariah Airey’s boots as it made its way into Black Moshannon Creek in Centre County.
A freshman at State College Area High School, Airey watched as green dye trickled down a tributary, mixed with the clear water in the creek and then rushed downstream.
A group of State High students participated in a mock spill event last week simulating what might happen if a contaminate spill reached the stream.
“When it reached Black Mo, it surprised me how far it went,” Airey said. “I thought my eyes were deceiving me.”
Airey and her classmates are part of TeenShale Network, a group of high school students working with Penn State scientists to monitor water quality in local streams around Marcellus Shale development.
Penn State researchers and Department of Environmental Protection staff placed environmentally safe dye in the creek to help the students visualize what might happen if a truck hauling wastewater from a Marcellus Shale well site crashed and spilled its contents.
“There are a series of wells up on the hill, and trucks carry brine from the production of shale gas out of this watershed to treatment facilities,” said David Yoxtheimer, a research assistant in Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. “We set the stage that a brine truck rolled over and spilled some of its brine into the creek.”
Brine, or wastewater, from a Marcellus Shale well can contain high concentrations of salts and metals that had been trapped deep underground with the natural gas. Drillers pump large amounts of water into wells during hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and what returns to the surface is wastewater.
For the past five years, TeenShale members have monitored sections of Black Moshannon Creek for impacts of natural gas drilling. They collect water samples for testing at Penn State, and later analyze data looking for potential environmental impacts.
“The results are just like you are actually doing something to answer a real-world problem,” Airey said. “That’s what I really like about this. It’s not just something that we need to check off our list to get through the year, it’s something that is a question that’s always evolving and changing and the answer is not going to be in our book.”
More recently, the group has been studying possible environmental impacts of an old, abandoned oil well in Centre County. That work is part of a larger project at Penn State to identify so-called orphaned and abandoned wells. Estimates place the number of those wells in Pennsylvania in the hundreds of thousands.
Through the TeenShale project, Penn State researchers have taught students to use professional field equipment and comb through the data they collect to tell stories about what’s happening to the environment. The students have presented their results at professional conferences, like a Geological Society of America conference in Pittsburgh.
“The conference in Pittsburgh was really cool,” said Emily Lieb, a senior at State College Area High School. “We were able to talk to professional scientists and not only get introduced to their careers and areas of study, but also to say, ‘wow, look we can do this too. We can present with other actual scientists, because we are scientists.’ That was cool to see.”
Lieb, who has participated in the project for four years, said her experiences encouraged her to pursue science in college.
“It’s taught me that science is a collaborative process and that it changes,” Lieb said. “We are always looking for new questions and new answers.”
TeenShale Network has received funding from the National Science Foundation and an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Education Grant.
(Reprinted from Penn State News)

South To Christian Street Segment Of Schuylkill River Trail Dedicated In Philadelphia

The South to Christian Street Segment of the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia was dedicated Sunday. 
The event included a ceremonial opening of the gates and bridge that provide neighborhood access to this new section of the trail at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Roberts Center for Pediatric Research.
The City of Philadelphia, elected city and state officials including the Honorable James Kenney, Mayor, City of Philadelphia; Michael Di Berardinis, Managing Director of the City of Philadelphia; Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia); Sen. Lawrence Farnese (D-Philadelphia); Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (D-Phila); Leslie Richards, Department of Transportation; Diane Kripas, Trails Manager, DCNR; Shawn McCaney, Executive Director, William Penn Foundation; Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and area neighbors were part of the opening.
"From the beginning, we worked hard to make sure our plans for a world-class research campus would benefit the surrounding community," said Doug Hock, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "This is why we donated land for public use and built a bridge that offers a connection to the Schuylkill River Trail. Today, we celebrate the realization of a vision that we have shared with our neighbors since the early stages of developing the Roberts Center for Pediatric Research."
"We are thrilled to open South to Christian, an important segment of the Schuylkill River Trail and the Circuit trail network," said Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. "With South to Christian opened, we are one step closer to historic Bartram's Garden and diverse neighborhoods in South and Southwest Philadelphia."
"The new trail is tucked in between an active railroad freight line and the Schuylkill River, and the new pedestrian bridge from the Children's Hospital Roberts Pediatric Research Center helps ensure neighborhood connectivity," added Hock.
The trail segment opened in late January 2018 and, with the addition of the newly constructed segment, extends the Schuylkill River Trail in Center City by 1,400 feet.
This segment, which is part of the regional trail network known as The Circuit, was constructed in two phases, which together cost approximately $5 million.
Grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, PennDOT, the William Penn Foundation, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the City of Philadelphia and others helped to make the trail and greenway a reality.
To learn more about trails in the Philadelphia area, visit the Schuylkill River Trail and The Circuit website.
For information on trails statewide, visit the Explore PA Trails website and the Fish and Boat Commission Water Trails webpage.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Op-Ed: In Praise Of Rachel Carson And Public Service

By James M. Seif, Former Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection

Are you a public servant?
In a democracy, we all are servants. But for those who officially wear the "uniform of public service," as former Gov. Tom Ridge puts it, April 19 marks a day of stark contrasts.
On that day in 1995 we had planned to honor public servants in Pennsylvania.
Gov. Ridge had readily agreed with our proposal at the Department of Environmental Resources to rename the Market Street State Office Building in honor of Rachel Carson.
A native of Springdale, Pa. on the Allegheny River northeast of Pittsburgh, and a graduate of Pennsylvania College for Women, now Chatham University, she wrote one the most influential books of the twentieth century - "Silent Spring."
Carson's 1962 tome touched off the public environmental debate that has continued -sometimes quite vigorously, as in current times -- for the next six decades.
But on that same morning, a small group of demented misfits carried out an elaborate plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Bldg. in Oklahoma City, Okla.
They took 168 lives - almost all of them federal employees; 15 were their children in the building's day care center.
Injuries numbered nearly 700.
These people were targeted exactly because they were public servants; because ringleader Timothy McVeigh was obsessed by his theories of federal law enforcement conspiracies and survivalist fantasies.
We learned of the Oklahoma City attack just before the ceremony. But we decided to go ahead. Rachel Carson was not just a public servant for her pioneering work on the environment, but she was in fact an actual federal government employee for many years.
"Silent Spring" and Carson's several earlier works have put her in our memory as a writer.
But, at the front entrance of "her building" on April 19, 1995 we remembered also that she was a career civil servant for many years.
After getting her MS in Biology at Johns Hopkins, she joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
For the next two decades, she did research in both laboratory and field, all over the United States, and lots of writing, including government pamphlets and magazine articles, as well as another book, "Under the Sea Wind."
Her undergraduate degree, in fact, was in English, not biology. Because, as she put it, understanding was key, but being able explain is just as important.
It has long been part of our culture to be skeptical, even suspicious, about government in general.
This can be healthy, and it makes for a lot good newspaper cartoons. But today's rants and mindless criticism simply go too far. Let's remember that these people work for the common good, to help others, to educate, and to protect us.
We mourned public servants on April 19, 1995, with the same sentiments we feel on Memorial Day. And we also celebrated public service.
Remember that Timothy McVeigh was executed, and that Rachel Carson's spirit of public service lives forever.

James M. Seif is a former secretary of the Pennsylvania departments of Environmental Resources and Environmental Protection from 1995 to 2001.  
[Editor: During his tenure as DEP Secretary, the agency won more national and international awards for its initiatives than any other state environmental agency in history, including for the brownfields recycling program that has been copied by other states, the federal government and by other countries.
[Seif also served as Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Region 3, as an Administrative Assistant to Gov. Dick Thornburgh, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh and an Assistant Attorney General in Washington, D.C.  
[He received a Lifetime Award for Public Service from the National Academy of Public Administration for his 30-year state and federal government service and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Environmental and Energy Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
[Linda Lear’s book-- Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature-- mentions the relationship of two professional women (a rarity at the time) from Pittsburgh who were classmates at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) and shared a mutual interest in biology-- Rachel Carson and Dorothy Thompson Seif, Jim Seif’s mother.  The women worked, corresponded and visited together until Rachel Carson died in 1964.
[In a 1987 interview in the Los Angeles Times, Dorothy Thompson Seif said of Rachel Carson, "The thing that's so remarkable about her is that she was ordinary.
["I remember we were working late one night in the laboratory, and she stopped and looked through the darkened window. She said, 'I've always wanted to write, but I haven't much imagination. Biology has given me something to write about. I'd like someday to make the animals and plants and woods as interesting to others as they are to me.’”
[Dorothy Thompson Seif collected the letters between them in an unpublished, "Letters from Rachel Carson: A Young Scientist Sets Her Course.”
[Rachel Carson 1907 - 1964.]
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