Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How Much Water Is In 44 Feet Of Snow?

Have you ever looked at a fresh snow pack the day after a storm and wondered how much water is contained in the enormous amount of snow?

Alright, how about after viewing the following tweet shown below:

When I first laid eyes on the tweet above, I instantly wondered the amount of water which would result from melting 4000 tons of snow.  In the blog post below, I will show how I tackled the problem of determining the amount of water in 44 feet of snow fall.

Snow To Water Ratio?

In order to understand the quantity of water that will result from any given snow fall, the snow-to-water ratio needs to be known.  How does a person find the snow-to-water ratio?  Answer: ask as shown below:

For the purpose of the blog, the ratio of '10:1' -- meaning, for every 10 inches of snowfall, there will be 1 inch of rain water which results.  The document highlighted in the box above is an excerpt of a 'PDF' from the website "".  Upon reading the entire document, the ratio actually is temperature dependent as shown below in a table:

For the purpose of simplicity, the value which will be used to calculate the amount of water produced in a given rain fall will be -- 10:1.  Since the value for the amount of snow is given above which was taken from the article, the only remaining task is to calculate the amount of water contained in 4000 tons of snow.  Right off the top, with the weight of the snow known, a quick calculation would reveal the following regarding 4000 tons of snowfall:

In 4000 tons of snow fall, there will be roughly 400 tons of water.  That is the easiest answer to arrive at.  Although, most people do not think of quantities of water expressed in units of 'ton'.  Therefore, in order to make sense of the answer above, a number of unit conversions will need to be made.  In order to do these conversions, the conversion factors must be known.

Where does a person find conversion factors?

How many pounds are in a ton?

How many grams are in a pound?

How many gallons are in a gram?

How many liters are in a gallon?

The last question should be confusing at first sight.  In order to make sense of the quantity of water in a given space or weight, the density of water is used as a conversion factor.  To arrive at the final amount of water in gallons, we need to ask '' each of the questions above to get conversion factors to be used in the calculations.

Lets start with the first question: How many pounds are in a ton?  The result of a search is shown below:

The answer indicates the following conversion factor shown below:

Which is that there are 2000 pounds in a ton.  With this value, the amount of tons of water (400 tons) can now be converted to pounds of water as shown below:

There are 800,000 lbs in 400 tons of water.   The next question is now ready to be asked: How many grams are in a pound?  The result is shown below:

The answer of the search reveals that there are 454 grams in a pound of water.  I rounded the value up for memory purposes -- I remember that there are 454 grams in a pound.  The number 454 is equated to a large Chevy big block engine.  With the above conversion factor from pounds to grams, the next conversion is possible as shown below:

The number keeps getting larger as we convert down to smaller quantities.  This is an indication that we are on the right track toward a final answer.   Typical density conversion factors are expressed in units of 'gram/mL'.  For water at room temperature, the value of the density is 1.00 gram/mL.   Before we perform the last conversion, the last question should be queried: How many liters are in a gallon ?

The result of the search reveals the final conversion factor needed as shown below:

Now, we can finish off the final conversion and arrive at the number of gallons of rain water that is contained in 4000 tons of snow fall as shown below:

Wow!!!  There are 96 million gallons of water in 4000 tons of snow fall.  In the article above, the snow fall that was reported was the quantity of snow that was removed off of the streets in the town.  The effort was directed to relieve the residents of the town who were trapped by the unusually enormous amount of snow fall that fell in a given storm.  The quantity of 4000 tons of snow resulted from 44 feet of snow fall.  These numbers are staggering to consider at first sight.

World's Largest Swimming Pool

The volume calculated above is enormous and incomprehensible when passed over in a news article.  In order to understand the magnitude of the snow fall further, a metric can be used to cast the large volume of water into perspective.  Previous readers can probably predict what metric that is appropriate given a volume of 96 million gallons of water.

If you guessed that the metric chosen would be formerly known as the "World's Largest Swimming Pool" -- then you would be correct.  The largest known swimming pool was formerly the swimming pool located down at the San Alfonso del Mar resort (in Chile) which holds a total volume of 66 million gallons of water and is shown below:

Since the volume of water (66 million gallons) is known from the website, determining the number of swimming pools which could be filled with the water from the snow fall of 96 million gallons is straightforward and is shown below:

The answer indicates that for the total volume of water which fell as snow fall in a storm, the enormous formerly "World's Largest Swimming Pool" could be filled once and still have 29.7 million gallons of water remaining.  Nearly, 1.5 times.  Now the amount of snow in 4000 tons can be realized with an easy visual of the enormous swimming pool located at the resort in Chile.


Upon first viewing the 'Tweet' shown above, the average person might just scroll on down and overlook the enormous amount of water which fell in a storm as snow.  In the post above, I have shown how to ask the question: How Much Water Is In 44 feet Of Snow? I have always wondered what the snow to water ratio was.  After calculating the amount of water and casting the number in a light (a perspective) with the "World's Largest Swimming Pool," the fact that the national guard was called in should be no surprise.  That amount of snow is too much for the average resources of a small town.  Luckily the national guard had the infrastructure and man power to help out. Calculations like those above help readers (you and me) in understanding the enormous effort needed to clear the roads and help out residents during a giant storm such as the one reported in the news story highlighted above.

Until next time, have a great day!

Friday, March 24, 2017

What Molecules Make Up Your Lifestyle Fingerprint?

When I ask the question in the title, am I talking about the "fingerprint" that is used in criminal prosecution proceedings?  The distinct ridges and grooves on the tips of your fingers?  No.  I am actually talking about a much more subtler "fingerprint" (to use the term indirectly).  A signature that is unique to you and only you.  By now, you are probably wondering what I am talking about.  In the paragraphs below, I will explain another distinct aspect of yourself that you leave on everything that you touch.  Enjoy!

Lifestyle Fingerprint?

Recently, I was reading an article on a website "Laboratory Manager" titled "What Molecules You Leave on Your Phone Reveal About Your Lifestyle" which highlighted research published back in November of 2016 regarding the analysis of chemicals on the cell phone of volunteers.  Whenever humans touch a surface, inevitably, chemicals are left behind.  The chemicals and microbes which are left behind are patterned based on the ridges and grooves of your finger tips -- i.e., finger prints:

We leave behind trace chemicals, molecules, and microbes on every object we touch. By sampling the molecules on cell phones, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences were able to construct lifestyle sketches for each phone’s owner, including diet, preferred hygiene products, health status, and locations visited. This proof-of-concept study, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could have a number of applications, including criminal profiling, airport screening, medication adherence monitoring, clinical trial participant stratification, and environmental exposure studies.
“You can imagine a scenario where a crime scene investigator comes across a personal object — like a phone, pen or key — without fingerprints or DNA, or with prints or DNA not found in the database. They would have nothing to go on to determine who that belongs to,” said senior author Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor in UC San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “So we thought — what if we take advantage of left-behind skin chemistry to tell us what kind of lifestyle this person has?”

The research highlighted in the article mentioned above goes beyond just the finger print -- which is old technology.  Of course, even old technologies can be improved upon and will be discussed in a later post.  The finger print that the researchers are studying is based on the chemicals which are left behind after touching a surface of an object (cellphone, iPad, table top, refrigerator handle, etc.).  These chemicals are unique to each person, similar to a finger print.

Although, the information contained in the 'lifestyle finger print' are much more informative that just personal identification.  Chemical analysis of the residue on cell phones in a study revealed the types of products (sunscreen, bug spray, oils, cosmetics, sweat, etc.) which in turn shed light onto the lifestyle of the volunteer:

With this information, the researchers developed a personalized lifestyle “read-out” from each phone. Some of the medications they detected on phones included anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal skin creams, hair loss treatments, anti-depressants and eye drops. Food molecules included citrus, caffeine, herbs and spices. Sunscreen ingredients and DEET mosquito repellant were detected on phones even months after they had last been used by the phone owners, suggesting these objects can provide long-term composite lifestyle sketches.

“By analyzing the molecules they’ve left behind on their phones, we could tell if a person is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray — and therefore likely spends a lot of time outdoors — all kinds of things,” said first author Amina Bouslimani, PhD, an assistant project scientist in Dorrestein’s lab. “This is the kind of information that could help an investigator narrow down the search for an object’s owner.”

Sounds interesting right?  Or does the science research sound creepy?   Regardless, the analysis of microbes and chemical residues is becoming increasingly attractive.   The biological and chemical fluid released from the body (either through sweat pores, urine, fecal, etc.) are becoming increasingly attractive for science researchers interested in the microbiome (i.e., microbiota, microbes, etc.).  Each of us have an untold number of healthy and unhealthy microbes living inside and on the outside of our body.  One large interesting area of research is centered around analyzing the distribution of microbes in your system in order to try to link a given microbial population with a healthy body.

Since not all human volunteers are comfortable giving a fecal sample, or being swabbed endlessly, the least invasive manner in which to analyze the microbiome along with personal chemistry is by swabbing devices (i.e., wallets, cellphones, iPads, PC, etc.).  Although, the least invasive can prove to be the most difficult to analyze.   Why?

In order to attain a complete profile of a healthy fingerprint lifestyle, a library of compounds needs to be stored onto a computer which is connected to the instrument used to analyze the chemical residue.  The above researchers use a 'mass spectrometer' to analyze the chemical residues along with the microbial residues taken from the volunteer's devices.

Basically, upon making a suitable sample to inject into a 'mass spectrometer' the sample is blown to pieces into fragments which are characteristic of the chemicals original composition.  The fragments are analyzed against a library of known compounds (whose fragments have been documented).  To get a complete picture of a 'lifestyle fingerprint' -- a complete library must be inserted into the system to compare a given sample to.  Which means that every household product would have to be catalogued along with all cosmetic products.  Virtually, any product with which a person might come into contact that can leave a residue would have to be catalogued in order to form a complete 'lifestyle fingerprint.'  At the current time, this is impossible to say the least.

Do people have to worry about their 'lifestyle fingerprints' being collected anytime soon?

The answer to the above question is uncertain.  Probably not anytime soon.


Given the complexity associated with forming a complete picture (a complete library of all products which humans interact with), the chances are small.  Although, with further research into the idea, the library will inevitably grow toward completion.  As far as the microbial fingerprint research is concerned with, the research is advancing much more quickly.  In a 2010 study, researchers from the University of California at San Diego linked a person's computer keyboard to them using the population of microbes left on the keyboard exclusively.  The level of precision was not yet to the standard to use in crime scene investigations.  Still, the level of precision is a stepping stone in the roadmap toward using the microbiome in the future to identify a person.

Currently, the greatest implications of such research lies in the area of medicine:

Beyond forensics, Dorrestein and Bouslimani imagine trace molecular read-outs could also be used in medical and environmental studies. For example, perhaps one day physicians could assess how well a patient is sticking with a medication regimen by monitoring metabolites on his or her skin. Similarly, patients participating in a clinical trial could be divided into subgroups based on how they metabolize the medication under investigation, as revealed by skin metabolites — then the medication could be given only to those patients who can metabolize it appropriately. Skin molecule read-outs might also provide useful information about a person’s exposure to environmental pollutants and chemical hazards, such as in a high-risk workplace or a community living near a potential pollution source.

Advances in treatment would be great for the world.  Patient accounts are unreliable and the medical community needs another level of monitoring to ensure that patients are keeping up with the treatment prescribed.  Additionally, the ability to monitor workplace or community exposure of hazardous chemicals or environmental pollutants would further our ability to assess the toxicity of chemical compounds.  Which would have a beneficial effect on environmental and chemical regulation at the state and federal level in policy making.

Science research is crucial toward making our world a safer place.  In the research described above, there are numerous applications which would enhance our lives.  There are a tremendous amount of unknowns which exist in our daily lives which we have no clue as to tackle or to inquire about.  Research inspires us to ask questions which were unknowable just a short time ago (a decade ago).  Which is why each of us should be inspired by such work to wonder more about the world around us and how we interact with it or in it.

Until next time, have a great day!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Would A President Choose To Deregulate The Environmental Protection Agency?

Recently, as in the last month, the news cycle has included an inordinate amount of stories regarding the Environmental Protection Agency.  Shortly after the inauguration of President Trump, news stories started to appear hinting at the possibility of a nominee for the director of the EPA -- Scott Pruitt.  Why Scott Pruitt?  One reason is to cater to the coal and oil community.  President Trump made promises to the coal community to bring back clean coal.  As if there is such a possibility -- clean coal.  Really?  In the post below, a short exploration of deregulation is conducted with a few implications and effects of the grand idea of the President's administration to dismantle the "administrative state."  The following questions are of interest to answer:

1) What does de-regulation mean for the EPA?

2) What effect would that have on the EPA?

3) What effect would de-regulation have on the environment?

The questions above are a natural progression from the beginning of the post.  More questions could be asked by scientists, but for the time being, lets focus on the three above to start with.

What Does The EPA Do?

In order to want to deregulate the Environmental Protection Agency, the Presidential administration must know what the organizations does.  The following description of the agency was taken from 'Wikipedia' for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is shown below:

The United States Environmental Protection Agency[2] (EPA or sometimes USEPA) is an agency of the Federal government of the United States which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.[3] The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate.[4] The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress. The current administrator is Scott Pruitt.[5] The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank.
The EPA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., regional offices for each of the agency's ten regions, and 27 laboratories. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research, and education. It has the responsibility of maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws, in consultation with state, tribal, and local governments. It delegates some permitting, monitoring, and enforcement responsibility to U.S. states and the federally recognized tribes. EPA enforcement powers include fines, sanctions, and other measures. The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.
In 2016, the agency had 15,376 full-time employees.[1] More than half of EPA's employees are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other employees include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists.

The operating budget of the EPA over the last few years is shown below with the respective workforce for a given year:

The amount seems rather low considering the responsibility of the organization.  In recent blog post, I highlighted what the federal agencies responsibilities were and gave a snapshot into their website --worth viewing.  The example that I displayed in the post was of the investment into research for safe drinking water.  Not very many people understand that various federal agencies fund basic research which eventually fuels technological development.  Furthermore, that the research that congress allocates funds for is payed for by tax-payer dollars -- Yep - we are paying for the research.  Of course, each of us like to turn on the faucet and observe clean water emerging out of it -- Right?

Additionally, contained in that post was a list of regulatory topics which inform the public on the broad scope of the work of the EPA.  Typically, people (from what I observe) view the EPA only regulating the air and pollution.  Upon inspection of the website, you will find a huge breadth of scope of regulations -- which make up a portion of the agencies responsibility.  Another large component is enforcement of regulations.

What happens if we reduce the number of regulatory enforcers at the EPA?

I am reminded of a recent post that I wrote regarding what America would look like with little-to-no regulation on drinking water.  Just think of the images of the "clean water" coming out of Flint, Michigan during the water crisis as shown below:

Would you like to see water that discolored flowing into a drinking glass from your faucet?

The EPA is responsible for ensuring that crisis like Flint (Michigan) do not occur.  But, as usual, the federal agencies find themselves heavily understaffed.  Imagine having less that 15,000 employees to regulate the water across the nation.  Remember, water quality is just one of many responsibilities charged to the EPA.  Not to mention air quality management, chemical toxicity and regulation, chemical spills and disaster regulation which include oil spills and chemical explosions.  In order to properly regulate the large corporations which are damaging our environment, we need more staff on hand to ensure that corporations are abiding by the regulations set by the government.  

Which is why I am so astounded as to the reason why President Trump thinks that cutting funding to the EPA is a good idea?

In the next section, I will briefly show a few excerpts of the news surrounding potential changes at the EPA along with the potential fall-out of those changes.

President Trump's Expected Changes To The EPA

The first major damaging change to the EPA is the nomination of Scott Pruitt by President Trump.  This might sound negative, but evidence to the contrary will be shown.  Since the new director Scott Pruitt now leads the effort to dismantle the EPA, a natural assumption would be that the special interests who are lobbying for him (and his nomination) are interested in promoting their corporate ideas.  Over the last few months, the ideas have surfaced:

1) Clean Coal

2) Emission Standards (automobiles, power plants, etc.) rolled back

3) Clean Water Act (removed)

4) Clean Air Act (removed)

5) Eliminate 'accident-investigating Chemical Safety Board'

With these initiatives in mind, I thought that an update into accomplishing them would be in order.  President Trump just unrolled a 'first draft' of his budget plan a few days ago.  The hardest hit agency is of course the EPA as promised.  Why?   The President must believe that the predominant mission of the agency is to study and regulate climate change processes.  At least, that is what the news has portrayed the situation.  Let's take a look at the past month.

Starting with a post that I wrote a month ago, outlining the promises President Trump made to science, the following question was proposed to him as a candidate regarding climate change:

The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?

His answer at the time was:

 There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.”  Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water.  Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria.  Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population.  Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels.  We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.

Clean water, lingering diseases, developing energy sources, power production are the focus instead of the atmosphere.  These promises might be acceptable, except that according to the newly released budget, the increase in military spending is on the order of $58 billion dollars at the expense of the fields listed above.  Although, I did report of an increase to the NIH budget by selling oil of $700 million recently -- which is a drop in a bucket.   A 2.16% boost to toward the budget responsible for funding both Medicare and Medicaid.  That is where the president stands on climate research which is funded by the EPA.

How about other areas?

In his answer above, he mentions 'clean water'.  The same questionnaire contained the following question and answer regarding 'clean water':

The long-term security of fresh water supplies is threatened by a dizzying array of aging infrastructure, aquifer depletion, pollution, and climate variability. Some American communities have lost access to water, affecting their viability and destroying home values.  If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?

Then candidate Donald Trump's answer:

This may be the most important issue we face as a nation for the next generation.  Therefore, we must make the investment in our fresh water infrastructure to ensure access to affordable fresh water solutions for everyone.  We must explore all options to include making desalinization more affordable and working to build the distribution infrastructure to bring this scarce resource to where it is needed for our citizens and those who produce the food of the world.  This must be a top priority for my administration.

As I mentioned above and in a recent post, the new administration appears to be dismantling the 'clean water act' which regulates water bodies to ensure safe drinking water.  Evidently, the fracking industry and developments hold greater priority over the safety of your drinking water.  This is dangerous territory based on our findings in Flint (Michigan).  Water and climate change are not the only areas to be cut -- look at the energy sector.

While we sell off oil to fund the NIH, there does not seem to be an increase in investment in energy technology.   Is this in line with candidate Donald Trump's question and answer before assuming office?  Let's see below:

Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

Then candidate Donald Trump's answer:

 It should be the goal of the American people and their government to achieve energy independence as soon as possible.  Energy independence means exploring and developing every possible energy source including wind, solar, nuclear and bio-fuels.  A thriving market system will allow consumers to determine the best sources of energy for future consumption.  Further, with the United States, Canada and Mexico as the key energy producers in the world, we will live in a safer, more productive and more prosperous world. 

By reading that answer, one would expect an increase in solar, wind, nuclear and bio-fuel technologies?   According to a recent article in 'Laboratory Equipment' titled "Trump’s 2018 Budget Hits NIH, EPA Hard" the changes to the Department of Energy amount to the following:

The 2018 budget request for the Department of Energy is $28.0 billion—a $1.7 billion or 5.6 percent decrease. "The Budget for DOE demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to reasserting the proper role of what has become a sprawling Federal Government," reads the budget's intro. Trump has requested an increase of $1.4 billion specifically to fund the maintenance of the nuclear weapons stockpile, including $120 million to restart licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and initiate an interim storage program. However, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would see a $900 million cut, or 18 percent of its $5 billion budget. Trump’s budget seeks to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, which focuses on renewable energy with roughly $300 million a year. Another elimination is the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program because “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.” 

Not only is the energy program going to be slashed (where basic research into renewable energy is conducted), the Office of Science is going to be reduced by 18% or $900 million.  This is extremely short sighted since the military benefits from the advances made (which turn into technologies) from the program ARPA-E.  The only possible chance for salvation is to route the research money through the DOD (Department of Defense) to further explore renewable energy.

Routing funding in this manner would produce the appearance of a president adjusting money on renewable energy technology (which is still in its infancy) into the military spending to promote the appearance of helping out the military.  In terms of research money spent, the same research would be conducted, just paid for by a different entity.  This appears to be a strong possibility.

The above is concerned directly with the Department of Energy and the post is about the de-regulation of the EPA.  Returning to the deregulation of the EPA, where did the momentum really pick up?  After reading the above answers to questions regarding the environment, the nomination of Scott Pruitt is not entirely surprising.  Although, during his confirmation hearing, questions were raised regarding his views on climate change by both sides of the aisle.

According to an e-mail response from my congressional representative -- Dianne Feinstein, Scott Pruitt did not meet the standard she had hoped for to lead the EPA.  Here is an excerpt from here e-mail to me (in response to a letter I wrote):

That excerpt was in my opposition letter to her regarding the nomination of Scott Pruitt.  Senator Dianne Feinstein's official statement of opposition appears below:

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released the following statement in opposition to Scott Pruitt’s nomination as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency:
“Respect for scientific inquiry and a desire to preserve a healthy environment are core attributes necessary to lead the EPA. Scott Pruitt possesses neither quality, and therefore I must oppose his nomination.
“More than 75,000 Californian’s have contacted my office in opposition to Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation. They are worried he won’t enforce our existing environmental laws and will refuse to address the real threat of climate change. I agree with them.
“During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Pruitt acknowledged that human activity has played a role in climate change. However, his record and ties to major fossil fuel polluters demonstrate extreme hostility toward that view. Throughout his career in Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt sued the EPA numerous times over its right to enforce regulations of carbon emissions, fought to block federal air and water regulation and challenged the science behind many of the agency’s decisions.
“Mr. Pruitt refused to commit to allow states to develop their own stronger environmental standards, including upholding California’s waiver to establish higher fuel economy standards. These are radical views for someone charged with implementing our nation’s environmental laws.
“It seems that Mr. Pruitt’s only goal may be to weaken from within the very agency he has battled for decades. Confirming Mr. Pruitt as EPA administrator would be an affront to the ideal that a healthy environment is the right of every American.”

After reading Senator Dianne Feinstein's reasonable opposition, you might find yourself suggesting that her opposition is partisan -- that is due to her affiliation with the Democratic party.  I would cite the blog that I wrote a short time ago which contained the opposition letter to Scott Pruitt's nomination from a Republican senator -- Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  Check out her reasonable opposition based on not wanting mercury and other harmful emissions passing through her state.

Reducing the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency would be detrimental to many areas regulated by the agency.  Not everyone is aware that the EPA also regulates chemicals by their toxicity.  Toxic chemicals are regulated by the EPA under the Toxic Substance Control Act which was enacted by congress.  To get an introduction to a few various toxic chemicals -- see the EPA website (click here).

The regulatory responsibility covers such a wide range of issues which are encompassed under the environment which means that there are a tremendous amount of regulations, laws and programs to deal with the massive responsibility.  Here is a link to the EPA web page titled 'Cross Cutting Issues' to give a short introduction to the reader.  Remember to ask yourself the following question while perusing the EPA webpages:

How is reducing the EPA budget going to make our environment a safer place to live?

The above question is extremely important considering the reductions in funding that the EPA along with other federal agencies are going to face at the expense of an increase in funding for the military.  Around the nation currently, there are a few hundred 'superfund sites' which need to be cleaned up.   You might be wondering "What is a superfund site?" -- if so, here is a definition found on a search:

Superfund sites are polluted locations requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations. CERCLA authorized the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a list of such locations, which are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL).

Here is an excerpt taken from the "wikipedia" page for a "list of superfund sites" shown below to drive home the point of much needed regulation by the EPA:

These are lists of Superfund sites in the United States, designated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980. Superfund sites are polluted locations requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations. CERCLA authorized the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a list of such locations, which are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL).[1]
The NPL guides the EPA in "determining which sites warrant further investigation" for environmental remediation.[2] As of February 27, 2014, there were 1322 Superfund sites on the National Priorities List in the United States.[2] Fifty-three additional sites have been proposed for entry on the list.[2] As of February 27, 2014, 375 sites have been cleaned up and removed from the list.[2]

There are 1,322 sites that are still too polluted to inhabit.  WOW!!!  These sites could be old manufacturing plants, oil drilling sites, warehouses which stored hazardous chemicals, reservoirs, etc.  Imagine that there is a piece of land in your town that is uninhabitable due to being labeled a superfund site.  The land just sits there too poisonous to occupy.  In order to clean the land up, the regulators battle (often in court) to get the prior business (which might be out of business) to act responsibly and clean the place up.

Further, imagine if these superfund sites were never generated.  Meaning, each company was proactive and ensured that their practices complied with the best standard for manufacturing and chemicals safety.  Then, there would be no need for regulation.  At this time, then reductions in EPA might make sense (not really).  Unfortunately, we do not live in a world like this where business owners of manufacturing plants are proactive and take a large consideration for the environment into account into their business practices.   Instead, we have a list of superfund sites which remain a national priority to clean up.

So far the above has considered the regulatory aspect of the EPA which gives rise to laws and regulations.  What about the data collection efforts by the EPA?  Below is a list of 'sub-agencies' inside the EPA which are experiencing a 'data flush' -- data is disappearing.  Yes, you heard correctly, the government is getting rid of years of collected data which does not match up with the current administration's priorities -- which are not to promote the environment.  Take a look below at the range of topics taken from an article in the magazine 'The Guardian' titled "A guide to the EPA data under threat by the Trump administration".  Here is an excerpt from the article highlighting the skepticism on behalf of scientists toward the new administrations efforts to dismantle the EPA:

Several highly publicized campaigns are taking place to save the data maintained by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from becoming inaccessible to the public under the Trump administration.

“There is no reason to think the data is safe,” says Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, a program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The administration, so far, hasn’t given any indication it will respect science and scientific data, especially when it’s inconvenient to its policy agendas.”

That data, kept in dozens of databases, represents decades of monitoring the American environment in fine detail. For example: the EPA collects data on the chemical composition of pollutants and their geographic distribution. Here is a list of data sets that gives an idea of the breadth of scientific knowledge that resides with the agency.

Unbelievable.  Remember the post I wrote about the federal agencies experiencing a 'media freeze out' recently?  In that post, I summarized the extent of knowledge (research results) which are publicly available to us since we paid for the research (tax-dollar funded).  Here is a list of the data collection sub-agencies which will be affected and their mission:

1) Emissions Modeling:

Cost-effective ways to reduce air pollution and include emission benefits in Clean Air Act Plans
Many states are adopting, implementing and expanding cost-effective energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) policies and programs. States are investing in EE/RE policies and programs to achieve benefits including lowered customer costs, improved electric supply reliability, and diversified energy supply portfolios. Energy efficiency and renewable energy also have the potential to reduce pollution of criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gases, especially on high electricity demand days that typically coincide with poor air quality.
The number of states with EE/RE policies continues to grow, but quantifying the emissions impacts of these policies and programs can be challenging. EPA is committed to helping state air quality planners calculate the emissions benefits of EE/RE policies and program so that these emission reductions can be incorporated in Clean Air Act plans to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and other clean air goals.
What is AVERT?
AVERT is a free tool with a simple user interface designed to meet the needs of state air quality planners and other interested stakeholders. Non-experts can easily use AVERT to evaluate county, state and regional emissions displaced at electric power plants by EE/RE policies and programs. AVERT is designed to use public data that are accessible and auditable.

2)  Air Markets Program Data:

The Air Markets Program Data tool allows users to search EPA data to answer scientific, general, policy, and regulatory questions about industry emissions. More information about EPA's emissions trading programs can be found on our Programs and Regulations page.

Check out the animated video by clicking here

3) Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET):

CASTNET site locations, including latitude, longitude, and elevation values, have been updated to reflect site data collected as part of the independent audit program. For more information about the audit program click here: Audit Reports. For the updated site locations download the data file here: Sites. 

4) Emissions and Generation Resource Database:

The Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) is a comprehensive source of data on the environmental characteristics of almost all electric power generated in the United States. 

5) Clean Air Market Modeling:

 This area provides information and documentation on EPA’s application of the Integrated Planning Model (IPM) to analyze the impact of air emissions policies on the U.S. electric power sector. EPA has used multiple iterations of the IPM model in various analyses of regulations and legislative proposals. For the development of its latest power sector modeling platform, EPA has increased its external engagement with state air quality planning officials, power company representatives, regional transmission organizations, and others who have provided input on the data, assumptions, and structure of EPA's Power Sector Modeling Platforms.

6) Enforcement Status:

EPA's enforcement and compliance assurance program uses data in many areas, including managing the program and assessing performance. This page offers links to online data sources, as well as information about reports and data systems.

7) Tracking Acid Rain:

Surface water chemistry is a direct indicator of the effects of acid rain on water bodies. Networks that monitor surface water chemistry over long time periods provide valuable information on aquatic ecosystem health and how water bodies respond to changes in acid-causing emissions. EPA oversees two programs that track changes in surface water chemistry in response to changing air emissions and acid deposition: the Long-Term Monitoring (LTM) program and the Temporally Integrated Monitoring of Ecosystems (TIME) program.
The goal of these programs is to track whether the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) (Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act) have been effective in reducing the acidity of surface waters in New England, the Northern Adirondack Mountains, Appalachian Plateau, and the Central Appalachians.

8) Greenhouse Gas & Reporting Program:

  Check out page full of relevant links to data collection!

9) Greenhouse Gas Data Explorer:

The Data Explorer is an interactive tool that provides access to data from EPA's annual Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. You can follow the instructions on the right and use the options below to create customized graphs, examine trends over time, and download the data. You can visit other EPA pages to learn more about EPA's national inventory and how it relates to EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

10) Beach Health:

The resources below help state and local officials to monitor beach health and to make decisions about when to restrict access to or close beaches due to unsafe environmental conditions.

11) National Aquatic Resource Surveys:

The following data are available for download as comma separated values (.csv) files. Sort the table using the pull down menus or headers to more easily locate the data. Right click on the file name and select Save Link As to save the file to your computer. Make sure to also download the companion metadata file (.txt) for the list of field labels. See the survey technical document for more information on the data analyses.

12) Watershed Index:

The Watershed Index Online (WSIO) is a national watershed indicator data library and analysis tool for comparing watershed characteristics within user-defined geographic areas.
A watershed, the land area that drains to one stream, lake or river, affects the water quality in the water body that it surrounds. Like water bodies, watersheds differ in many ways. Healthy watersheds not only affect water quality, but also provide greater benefits to the people and wildlife that live there. We all live in a watershed, thus watershed condition is important to everyone.
Comparing watershed differences is one way in which government agencies and citizens learn about their environment, identify water pollution control options and plan for effective restoration and protection. There are literally hundreds of watershed characteristics that may influence water pollution, quality of life and other concerns. These characteristics are mostly environmental traits, sources of stress and environmental damage and community or social factors.
The most relevant characteristics often vary among different purposes for watershed comparison, or from place to place throughout the country. For this reason, a watershed comparison tool must be flexible and offer a broad variety of information to choose from.
The Watershed Index Online (WSIO) is a comparative analysis tool and data library that helps users compare watersheds in a user-defined geographic area, for a purpose of their choice, using the factors most relevant to their comparison.

13) Ambient Water Quality Tools:

 ATTAINS provides information on the conditions of surface waters as reported by the states. Water quality assessment and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) information are required every two years under Clean Water Act Sections 305(b) and 303(d). 

14) National Hydrography Data:

National Hydrography Dataset Plus (NHDPlus) is a national geospatial surface water framework (geofabric). Geospatial analysts and modelers use this framework to support water resources applications. The U.S. EPA developed and maintains NHDPlus in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey.

15) Hazardous Waste Facility Monitoring:

The RCRAInfo Search allows you to retrieve selected data from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Information (RCRAInfo) database in Envirofacts. Specify a facility using any combination of facility name, geographic location, and facility industrial classification.

16) Envirofacts:

Envirofacts offers several choices for downloading data. The search options listed below allow a user to build their own search and download the results to a file. The Geospatial Download feature enables a user to download spatial data files for use in mapping and reporting applications. 

The above links show the extent to which the EPA has collected data on various environmental parameters.  This data is vital to generations of scientists to come for studying historical impacts of either man-made impacts or natural disasters.  If the data is removed or deleted then the science community cannot access the information to study the data.  The idea to change or remove data to fit a political agenda is misguided and will have deleterious effects on generations to come.

Although, President Trump is a business man and he does not like restrictions which slow down or hinder business flow.  The stagnation has a downstream effect on capital gains (investment returns to shareholders).  Therefore, the public should not be surprised at the attempt to deregulate the nation.  The last question to entertain is the obvious one:

Who profits from attempts to deregulation from the economy?

The answer is rather straightforward to an extent.  Any business whose regulations are set by the federal agencies -- is the short answer.  In the next section, I briefly show an example (or two) of industries that stand to profit at the expense of polluting the environment.

Industries That Benefit From Deregulation

The first industry to benefit from President Trump's deregulation (or dismantling) of the EPA is the coal industry.  Instead of advancing 'green renewable energy', the coal industry was promised a 'comeback' in the form of less regulation by then candidate Donald Trump.

The republicans have succeeded in the first month in session with approval from President Trump with the reversal of an Obama era rule on coal mining near streams.  An article appeared in the "New York Times" titled "Republicans Move To Block Rule On Coal Mining Near Streams" describing the move by congress:

Republicans on Thursday took one of their first steps to officially dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations by easing restrictions on coal mining, bolstering an industry that President Trump has made a symbol of America’s neglected heartland.

Using an obscure law that allows Congress to review regulations before they take effect, the Senate voted to reverse the Stream Protection Rule, which seeks to protect the nation’s waterways from debris generated by a practice called surface mining. The Interior Department had said the rule would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests by keeping coal mining debris away from nearby waters.

After reading the above excerpt, I often wonder what is going on in the executives minds of the coal companies.  I guess just one thought -- "money, money, money."  I am appalled that the senate would actually reverse such a vital rule.  The 'Stream Protection Rule' was just one of two that day reversed.  The other rule was referred to as the "Disclosure Rule" which was described as follows:

 The Senate also moved to reverse a separate rule requiring publicly traded oil, gas and mineral companies to disclose payments to foreign governments for licenses or permits. The disclosure rule was aimed at curbing bribery and at helping resource-rich developing countries hold fossil-fuel companies, and their governments, accountable.

On the last rule, the proponents were arguing that the rule would put them at a disadvantage in competing for contracts in foreign countries.  The second rule might seem ambiguous (tricky), but the first rule (Stream Protection Rule) is not:

The Stream Protection Rule, which requires companies to restore mined areas to their original physical and ecological state and to monitor for environmental effects, would have effectively made mountaintop removal uneconomical, experts said — especially when coal prices remain depressed amid competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Seems completely reasonable right?  If your company destroys the ecological state of an area, the company must restore the area to the original state.  What is wrong with this rule?  Business executives do not like to hear that the 'bottom line' of the company is going to be adversely affected (i.e., less profits).  Never mind the pollution caused by reversing the rule:

A report released by the Congressional Research Service last month laid out the environmental and health benefits of the rule. Stream restoration requirements would reduce human exposure to contaminants in the drinking water, and the probability of adverse health effects, the report said. The replanting of trees also required by the rule would increase carbon storage and reduce emissions, aiding in the fight against climate change, the report said.

Many lawmakers really believe that there exists no way to make a profit (great economy) while enforcing energy-efficient technology (environmentally friendly)?   This astounds me along with others.  Recently, I wrote a post where I displayed a video of the actor and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger discussing how the state of California achieved this very feat.  Watch the 2 minute video in the post.

Another industry which stands to make lots of money with less regulation is the automobile company.  Just look at the scandal which swooped up Volkswagen.  A settlement was reached last between the US government and the Volkswagen company to pay out $4.3 billion for rigging the cars to cheat on emissions test for cars entering the United States.  With this in mind, any deregulation probably sound great.  In a recent article in "The Guardian" titled "Trump begins rollback of Obama's car pollution standards to curb emissions" President Trump gave the United States automakers great news regarding fuel and emission standards:

Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to review fuel efficiency standards that were a key plank of Barack Obama’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The move is a victory for carmakers who have claimed the standards are too onerous and out of step with Americans’ car buying habits.
“These standards are costly for automakers and the American people,” said the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.
“We will work with our partners at the department of transport to take a fresh look to determine if this approach is realistic. This thorough review will help ensure that this national program is good for consumers and good for the environment.”
In an agreement struck with automakers in 2012, the Obama administration required that cars run 54.4 miles per gallon of fuel by 2025. This standard, up from 27.5 miles per gallon, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6bn tons over the lifetime of new vehicles and save 2m gallons of oil per day by 2025.

Why would we as a nation not want to work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the vehicle lifetime by 6 billion tons and save 2 million gallons of oil per day?

Again, if you are an executive in the fossil fuel industry or the automotive industry, this sounds like a person running a metal claw down a chalk board.  Terrible for the bottom line -- profits -- but great for the environment.  Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote a press release explaining the problem:

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released a statement in opposition to the Trump administration’s directive to renegotiate national vehicle pollution standards.
Senator Feinstein was the lead sponsor of the “Ten-in-Ten” fuel-economy law passed in 2007 that requires the administration to set the maximum feasible standards, which are currently set to rise to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
“Stronger vehicle pollution standards have been a tremendous success and there’s absolutely no justification for weakening them. The current standards—required by law to be as strong as possible—will help reduce pollution and lower fuel costs for consumers.
“The standards, which were put in place when taxpayers saved the auto companies in 2009, should be left in place. The industry ought to repay the American public by defending the fuel-economy standards they originally embraced.
“Now is not the time to move backward. We have the right to breathe clean air, and our children have the right to inherit a stable climate. I will fight any attempt to weaken the standards. I’m profoundly disappointed and opposed to this unnecessary directive.”

The current administrations rules regarding deregulation tend to be taking us (as a nation) backwards in time.  This direction is opposite of our competing nations around the world.  The opposition party sites existing countries as examples of where coal is thriving as proof of moving us backwards.  In reality, if those countries had a developed economy like ours, then there would be no need to move backwards rather than forwards.


The deregulation of the Environmental Protection Agency is threatening our competitiveness in the world in a variety of areas.  Science research is just one major area.  As you saw in the paragraphs above, the wide range of research data collected will contribute to the environmental research for decades to come.  Technology is being developed as we speak to extract meaningful results from that data.  Therefore, the ability to possess the data is critical.  We must keep the data accessible to science and the public.

President Trump seems to think that moving forward with less regulation will be a good move.  Dismantling the regulations of the federal agencies to run the country like a capitalist machine with no regulation would be a disaster.  Take a look at China.  China has an environment that looks like what the US used to look like until the current environmental laws and regulations were set forth.  Not all China is polluted.  But industrial areas are highly contaminated and should be a warning sign for us.

The United States should continue to lead the direction of implementing sustainable living in our major cities to begin with.  In a future post, I will show how a small town has done this by being influenced by a major politician (past president).  As a nation, our residents should rise up and demand our politicians to implement (vote for) regulations which improve our environment not degrade it.  All U.S. residents deserve clean drinking water.  Remember, I wrote a post regarding writing your elected official?  Do not be afraid to join in and contribute by writing to your elected official to express concern about future decisions concerning our environment.

As far as regulations go on an international level, the United States keeps raising the bar for the rest of the world.  Going back is not good for us and certainly not good for the world.  All of us need to work together to achieve action that is moving in a forward direction.

Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Undergraduate Institution Leads The Change In Publications -- Yeah!

I work at a predominantly undergraduate based institution.  You might be wondering right now the following question:

What does that exactly mean?

Let me explain.  Furthermore, let me explain how this feature has been highlighted in the science community in terms of peer-reviewed publications -- official reporting methods of reporting scientific progress -- known as "publishing a paper in a journal."

Undergraduate Institution?

I work at California State University at Northridge (CSUN) which is located in Northridge, California.  The campus is located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley.  As I mentioned, the university is centered around teaching students which means that typically the percentage of emphasis is higher for teaching than research.

What does that mean?

At a research university (or R01 university) the time spent on work as a professor is split between teaching and research.  For a campus such as University of California at Los Angeles, the percentage breakdown is 75% Research and 25% Teaching.  Which means that the focus of the university is geared toward research.  Whereas at CSUN, the percentage breakdown is 25% Research and 75% Teaching.  The exact opposite.  The percentages listed above correlate with a couple of other statistics.  Schools such as UCLA offer a Ph.D degree as the highest degree -- whereas CSUN offers a Master's degree as the highest degree.

What is the difference in Research?

R01 institutions typically receive grant funding for research much easier since they are equipped to handle research.  Whereas a California State school will receive state and federal funding from teaching grants to offset the lack of research grants.  The R01 institutions like UCLA rely on research grants to stay alive.  A typical laboratory will have an advisor (Professor), a postdoctoral fellow (a newly graduated Ph.D. student whose moving onto the next step of research), and graduate students on their path toward earning a Ph.D degree.  A few labs will let undergraduate students partake in research -- but very little.

The situation just described above is quite different than that at a typical California State University campus.  There are 23 California State University campuses in California.  Whereas there are 12 University of California campuses in California.  In a typical lab in the chemistry department at CSUN, there will be a Master's student completing research toward a Master's degree.  Additionally, there will be 3-5 undergraduate researchers in the lab.  The lab runs like a laboratory at a University of California university with the exception that the undergraduate students get a better hands on training in research.

This configuration also hinders research to an extent since undergraduate students must focus on their course work and cannot devote a tremendous amount of time toward research.  Right about now, you may be wondering why I bring up this distinction?

The reason is that at a given California State University, the university will accept the top 2/3 of the surrounding high schools graduating class.  At CSUN, the total number of students enrolled with staff sit at around 42,000 total....WOW.  That is similar to a large UC like UCLA.  Furthermore, 60% of students enrolled at CSUN come from a family with an annual household income of less than $30,000.  What?  Yep, less than $30,000 per year total.

Again, why do I bring these statistics up?

Great question.  The reason is that most of our students are first generation college students in their family.  Competing in research while completing their undergraduate degrees.  Recently, the hard work of the students of CSUN was recognized from a research perspective.  Yes, CSUN students who are more diverse than any other California State University campus in the system took charge and published a tremendous amount of research.  Read on below to find out.

Undergraduates Elevate Change In Science!

Recently, I received an e-mail from the Dean of our college.  Our college is the college of science and mathematics at California State University at Northridge.   In that e-mail was the following article linked titled "CSUN Ranked Among Top 25 Rising Star Institutions for Research in North America" which highlights the achievements of CSUN students in research compared to top universities:

California State University, Northridge holds this year’s record for the largest increase in research publications rates in North America, according to a listing of top tier peer-reviewed journals selected by the journal Nature.
The list, created by Nature Index, is made by analyzing research institutions in North America and their research output percentages from 2012 to 2015. Articles in chemistry, life sciences, physical sciences, and earth and environmental sciences published in journals chosen by Nature were the markers.
CSUN Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics Jerry Stinner said being listed among the top 25 Rising Stars is a great honor for the university.
“What a tremendous validation of everything we’ve been trying to accomplish in the college, in all five departments,” he said.  “To say that I’m proud of the faculty is a complete understatement. For Nature to recognize the incredible achievements and hard work of my faculty is beyond anything I could have wished for. The external recognition by a premier science journal is simply incredible.”
CSUN held the highest percent increase in publication rate at more than 190 percent, followed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U. S. Geological Survey, Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University. CSUN is the only public institution of higher education in California listed.

Dean Jerry Stinner is one such example of a first generation college graduate who went onto complete an advanced degree -- a Ph.D. in Biology.   Another professor who has taught at CSUN for over 45 years held a similar view of astonishment:

CSUN biology professor and cancer researcher Steven Oppenheimer, who has taught at CSUN for more than 45 years, said the listing had him “just flabbergasted.”
“This is a blockbuster,” he said. “I think this is the most important research advance for CSUN in the history of CSUN. In my 45 years here, I’ve never seen anything like this — ever. It shows that of all organizations in the country, CSUN made the greatest advance in research from 2012 to 2015 ­— more than Stanford, more than Harvard, more than anywhere! This is unbelievable. It is simply amazing. It’s a reflection of the great work that is being done here.”

Wow.  The author highlights the fact that the wonderful faculty are leading the effort and deserve a large part of the credit.  But, I would highlight the CSUN undergraduate and graduate student who is giving up their extra time to work in the laboratory.  As I mentioned above, at R01 schools like Stanford and Harvard, research is well funded and well staffed with graduate students who take a year of classes and then work on research full time the remainder of their education.  This makes the accomplishments of the undergraduate researchers that much more surprising.

There is a new face of science!

The accomplishments of the students and the university should reflect on the emerging fact that there is a new face of science.  The new face of science is the wide diversity in race and gender that is overtaking science -- which is great.  Science needs to sample the widest range of opinions to be successful.  If various fields of science in America continue down the path taken in the last century which predominantly included only 'white men' then the United States would quickly fall behind in success compared to other cultures and nations.

Today, science sees a wider range of scientists than in previous centuries.  The face of science includes a wider range of ethnicities and gender - which makes American students stronger in the end.  The graduates of CSUN and other undergraduate universities go onto fill the positions (which are badly needed) as bench chemists and technicians in the workforce.  Websites such as "" offer a wide range of opportunities to graduates with either a 'B.A.' or a 'B.S.' degree in science.  Of course, the time between graduation and hiring can be long -- therefore, I would suggest starting an online profile immediately.

The positions filled by graduates who do not go onto pursue advanced degrees like a "Ms.D" or a "Ph.D.".  Typically, people believe that these degrees are the most sought after -- when in fact, more scientists have B.S. degrees starting off with.  Now, after working in a company or industry for a while, the company might send the graduate back to school to obtain a Master's degree in a given field or specialty area.


The take home point is that the majority of science is conducted by scientists with undergraduate degrees.  Furthermore, the wide diversity at universities such as CSUN is threatened by President Trump's recent actions reducing federal funding at various agencies.  Additionally, the President's rhetoric has affected the enrollment of international students at universities such as CSUN and others.  This will have a negative impact on the progression of science in the future.  We should be elevating science and celebrating results like the report above.

Being featured in the same categories as Harvard and Stanford is a big accomplishment for such a diverse student population.  The future of science is changing, therefore, the politics and policies need to follow to accommodate that change of direction toward a better and more informed society.  To do that, federal agencies should be receiving more not less money for education and outreach.  Only then, can we start to see a return on our investment in science.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What Does America Drinking Water Look Like With Little-to-No Regulation?

The title may be an abrupt and possibly far-reaching statement on my part.  What is not far reaching is the fact that more (not less) regulation is needed.  The unknown in the equation (of course) is to figure out how to fund and get a system that works without corruption going immediately.   And if possible, have the regulatory agency be efficient too.   In the paragraphs below, I will show an example from last month in a Texas town whose water was impacted (shut down) as a result of a chemical spill.

At this point, you might be asking yourself the following question:

Where did this statement come from?

What has Mike been eating that has caused him to suddenly go toward the regulatory side?

The truth is that the topic of regulatory procedures has been on my mind for quite a while.  I work as an instrument manager at the Chemistry Department for a university.  Part of my job is to ensure that the students and researchers (students and faculty) do not 'blow' themselves to pieces or kill themselves while using our scientific instruments.  That may sound extreme, but a science department can be dangerous.  Take for example, the case out of UCLA with Prof. Patrick Harran, whose student researcher caught on fire while conducting an experiment (with extremely dangerous chemicals) that she was not trained or supervised to do.  She died as a result.

Not all science experiments are dangerous, nor do they result in a tragedy like that in Prof. Harrans laboratory.  Although, this topic brings to light regulatory procedures and the implementation/enforcement of them.  Currently, we have an incoming President-elect that does not believe in regulation.  Therefore, I thought that a blog post on regulation (a few thoughts) might help inform you (the reader) of the potential benefits/adverse effects of regulations.  The case that we will entertain is that of the chemical spill last month at a Valero plant in Texas near the town of Corpus Christi.

Safe Drinking Water

Everyone in the world deserves safe drinking water.  Since I live in the United States, I will restrict my argument to this nation.  There are several reasons (examples) to have regulation over water.  Each region of the United States should strive to protect bodies of water not just for environmental reasons, but to ultimately provide safe drinking water should the region rely on alternative water sources.  No where is this more apparent than the disaster that struck Flint (Michigan) over the last two years.

In a recent article in the journal 'Nature' titled "Regulatory reform puts US waters in jeopardy" the potential repeal of regulations specifically for water was highlighted:

Last week, US President Donald Trump signed another executive order to advance his “regulatory reform” agenda. Building on an earlier demand that agencies dump two regulations every time they issue a new one, the policy requires government officials to assess federal rules and recommend ways to repeal, replace or modify them. What all this actually means is anybody’s guess at this stage. One of the first major environmental regulations to be singled out, however, is the Clean Water Rule, a policy developed under former president Barack Obama to clarify which water bodies receive federal protection under the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The Waters of the United States rule, as it is also known, was designed to provide something that Republicans often say they want: regulatory certainty. And although it does definitively protect many wetlands, ponds and seasonal streams, it also excludes some that have been covered in the past — which helps to explain why many environmentalists have objected to it. If a sign of a good policy is that both sides complain about it, then this was excellent. The rule attracted dozens of lawsuits claiming that it exceeded the federal government’s authority, and it was blocked by a federal appeals court pending the outcome of litigation.

The current administration under President Trump does not necessarily enjoy making "global" or "Federal" (national level) regulations.  President Trump does claim to be concerned about 'safe drinking water' but does not like to regulate safe water from up top at the national level.  He made a promise during his campaign to have safe drinking water throughout the US.  Although, his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency -- Scott Pruitt -- has caused controversy with wanting to dismantle the regulations set at the federal level.  Elected officials have even written in opposition of his nomination from the republican party (read this blog).  Scott Pruitt's ideas have set forth a firestorm of opposition from scientists who fear that not only drinking water will be affected, but changes to climate agreements will also be abandoned.  Therefore, we can expect change to occur which involves giving back regulatory power to the local level.

Water is a global problem and therefore, the regulations should stick.  Not go the other way.  The disaster in Flint (Michigan) is an example of giving authority back to the 'local level'.   Below is a picture of the quality of water that comes out of a tap when city officials try to cheat the system and ignore the residents claim of contamination:

Source: YouTube

The picture above is a split frame.  On the left hand side, a water bottle is held up at a city council meeting.  The contamination of the water is completely apparent.  On the right hand side, contaminated water is released out of a fire hydrant.  Obviously, water should not appear that color if declared safe for consumption by the governor.  The pictures above were taken from a video of the governor of Michigan declaring the water to be safe for consumption -- he is wrong.  Pictures like the one above raise the following question:

Should the governor be in power to declare the water safe for drinking?  

Again, safe drinking water is a 'national issue' not a state issue.  Every resident of the United States of America deserves safe drinking water.  Furthermore, the administration under President Obama passed legislation to protect waterways as highlighted in the article above:

Under Obama, the EPA and the Corps of Engineers attempted to create regulations to settle the issue. In January 2015, the EPA released a 400-page assessment documenting the full array of hydrologic, biological and chemical interconnections between isolated water bodies and their adjacent streams and rivers. Examples abound: contamination at the surface can migrate into shallow groundwater and re-emerge in a stream or pond somewhere else. Even seasonal water bodies can be crucial resources for plants and wildlife, and wetlands can provide protection from flooding and erosion.

The agencies issued their final rule in May 2015, creating simple criteria to determine which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. For instance, water bodies within about 30 metres of a high-water mark of a tributary are included, as are any waters within about 450 metres of the high-tide line in tidal regions. In all cases, these limits are conservative; if anything, they should be increased. The Corps of Engineers made this quite clear when it raised concerns with the EPA about losing jurisdiction over water bodies it has long governed.

Most people are not aware of the potential mixing underground of water bodies.  Again, this is where science steps in and provides clear evidence that distinguishing between bodies of water in proximity of one another can be dangerous.  Especially, if the chemicals or contaminants from one have the potential to mix with another.

The average citizen does not consider this possibility.  Whereas the large corporations which operate in proximity or would like to develop a potentially dangerous operation do not care.  Not only do they not care, the potential profits drive the corporations to provide army of lobbyists to a wide range of government, from the federal level (congress) down through the local level (city councils).  Which begs the following question:

How can the average citizen or even an activist compete with large corporate entities to drive home the message of promoting safety first?

One way is to congregate a large audience of local residents to uprise against corporate actions.  Another would be to start a social media campaign.  But both of these actions usually occur at the stage of "reaction" -- after the damage has been done.  We need to be more "proactive" as a society before accidents occur which damage not only ecosystems which contain endangered wildlife, but precious water resources which are connected to others.  An example of what needs to be done is discussed below.  In Winneshiek County (in Iowa), residents decided to take matters into their own hands and shut down fracking which is known to cause earthquakes and ruin groundwater supplies.


Over the last decade, the controversial method of removing oil sand from the ground using chemicals dissolved in water known as "Fracking" has been linked to earthquakes and destroying ground water.  Yet, politicians continue to defend the corporate interests of 'big oil' at the expense of the environment.  In a recent article from the magazine "Government Daily" titled "Fracking Presents Big Problems That Towns Have Little Authority to Fix" the author brings up examples of local authorities having their hands tied in shutting down the practice due to restrictions at the state level:

In December, the Environmental Protection Agency released a study that found fracking can have a negative impact on local drinking water. Injection wells used in fracking have also been linked to earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey says the earthquake issue has been overstated, but such concerns drive down local home values and, with them, property tax receipts.
Given all the headaches, supervisors in Winneshiek County, Iowa, decided to call a time out a couple of years ago. The county put an 18-month halt on new fracking in order to study potential harmful effects and come up with regulations to deal with them. “I don’t think the board ever thought that it would be appropriate or legal, probably, to permanently ban it,” says County Auditor Ben Steines. “They used a temporary moratorium to make sure it was appropriately regulated.”
Winneshiek County was lucky. Lots of local governments that have sought to bring fracking to a halt, even temporarily, have had their actions blocked. Oklahoma and Texas, for example, have passed preemption laws to take regulatory authority over the fracking process away from localities. Last year, the Colorado Supreme Court said that the state was acting within its rights when it took similar steps. Notably, the court found that even the temporary moratorium approved in the city of Fort Collins was subject to preemption. “The most important thing is that this is an issue that’s decided state by state,” says Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with the advocacy group Earthjustice. “If there’s a locality thinking about trying to address oil and gas development, they really need to understand the legal landscape in their state.”

That is astounding.  State authorities can override a decision made at the local level.  After hearing such terrible stories, one might be pondering the following questions:

Why do cities have local jurisdiction?

Why not just operate at the state level?

What is the purpose of a city council? 

The questions above are of grave concern to those who inhabit the towns with state restrictions.

The job of enforcement through regulatory oversight seems to be thrown back and forth from the federal level to through the state level to the local level.  What is amazing to me is the blatant disregard for regulations by local governments or state legislature.  Currently, President Trump wishes to return regulation of water back to the 'local level'.  Which is fine if the local level has both the commitment and resources to ensure that every resident will receive safe drinking water.

Where issues start to arise is when the following situation appears on social media shown below:

While taking a walk down by the creek, you glance over to the creek and notice the picture above.  Where does your mind run at the moment?  Probably towards the thought of safety and concern over safe drinking water.  At that moment, you might be inclined to jump online and search for an explanation like the following from the news article:

A harmless dye had intentionally been added to the river, the Andorran Ministry of Health said a statement. "It is an action that has no impact beyond the visual," the ministry said, adding that the substance was harmless to both people and the natural environment and would dissolve in a few hours.
Albert Batalla, the mayor of Seu d’Urgell, one of the Spanish towns on the river’s banks, confirmed the information in a statement, explaining that the dye was being used to investigate a water bottling plant. "It is a harmless, non-toxic and bio-degradable dye that has been used for a water research,’’ he wrote.

What evidence does the government provide on the chemical dye to convince the public about the safety?  

Why should the residents of this local town in Italy trust the government?

If that were the case, then why did officials not warn the town about the exercise?

Something about the plan of attack did not go right and caused hysteria as a result.  Instead of potentially causing hysteria, why not plan ahead?


President Trump has vowed to give authority back to the states and local level.  In the case of safe drinking water, is that the best choice to make?  As I mentioned above, part of the regulatory process is testing the water.  Resources are scarce at the local level.  Not all towns (cities) are created equal with equal funding for regulation through testing and education.  Safe drinking water is a no brainer.  Each resident should have access to safe drinking water.  Otherwise, we are headed for disasters like in Brazil, where mine-waste-water spilled into a river.  I wrote about that here.

Disasters are preventable through regulation.  The regulation does not have to cripple business as the President assumes it would.  In fact, regulation can raise the bar across the world.  More intelligent design and regulation is required.  A more intelligent and safer economy results from these decisions.  We should be striving to elevate the regulation in this country by devoting more resources (funding) toward our federal agencies not less.

Until next time, have a great day!