Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Patron Saint of Long Island Sound - Part 3 - Battle Lines

In the Advocate this Sunday the USEPA passed along its normal piece of propaganda they call the Sound Health magazine It talks of its involvement in the Sound since 1987 and some data goes as far back as 1987. They actually talk about climate change, but only because the Pres. has said it is okay to do so, 2 years ago they couldn't say anything and where steadfastly against mentioning it. I bring this up only to show that The Long Island Sound Study is really only a political vessel, not a scientific or an environmentally based group of people. They based the info on the all pervasive "Hypoxia" which really occurs mostly in the Western part of Long Island Sound and say that it is due to nitrogen. They want to blame the East River and the treatment plants in Westchester County (This is where Art Glowka and I differ slightly, because the treatment plants in Westchester are Combined Sewage and Storm water systems and can not handle anything over 2" of rain in a 24 hour period and must bypass a lot of sewage when those rains happen.) But I am as unconvinced as he is that the East River has anything to do with the Western Part of the Sound. The tidal flow of the Sounds waters in Westward with clear tidal front along the Throgs Neck Bridge showing Long Island Sound Pushing all the Water Westward even at low tide. One of the big issues is that for a very long time has been that the LISS simply ignored past evidence and the Living Marine resources (fish and such) as they pushed an issue of TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Load) particularly emphasizing Sewage Treatment Plants and Nitrogen.
When you look at the finfish report, you will see interesting discrepancies between what the State DEP reports and what the USEPA is reporting.
I will say again if the size of algae is important to one group of fish and not to another, the group it is not important to will flourish and the other decline.
Of interest though is the discussion concerning Sea Robins, which might be compared to lobster in the junk that they eat. They have increased significantly.
Talking about Lobsters everyone was scratching when the die off happened, but no one remembered what happened, really and we saw a small repeat last year.
So what did happen - does Art Glowka and Whitemeist have some mistical powers that saw what no one else did?
No powers, just curiosity. Hurricane Floyd Hit in September or October - I forget now (and do not want to look it up) and really stirred up the bottom, more so than in awhile. Moreover there was a significant Low rainfall period for over a month before it hit. Art smell awful low tide water after the storm and brought me samples. There was significantly measurable H2S ( hydrogen sulfide, a very toxic agent that is produced in the muck of the Sound by bacteria living "anaerobically) in the water column, shortly thereafter the Lobster were being found dead in the Lobster Pots. Three weeks later the H2S had cleared, but the Lobster population was gone!
The rebound did not happen and you can ask if the Sea Robins had anything to do with it? Or the size of the algae to feed the lobster larva? Or was it disease?
Slowly it began to pick up, but last fall we had a wicked noreaster' which created about the same situation and again Lobster were found dead in the lobster pots. This was not the same intensity as Floyd, but still showed the same result, H2S in the water column, killing slow moving, bottom feeders.
So the battle lines were drawn, the USEPA will uninvite Art to any public meetings, because he asks these questions and asks them to make sure what they are doing before they do it. He challenges them on wasteful spending and making policy without really knowing what they are up against.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Patron Saint of Long Island Sound – Part 2 – Algae!

The issue with plankton, algae and all the little microscopic critters that live in the Sound is that they are the fundamental building blocks of life in the ocean or an estuary (like Long Island Sound is). They are not bad creatures, but good. The smaller the size, the more base form of organism is supported. The larger plankton is food for fish and lobster larva. The small ones are good for Jellyfish, slipper snails and that kind of creature (hmmm…Jellyfish, didn’t we have an early coming of them…oh I wander from my topic). Clams and oyster eat just about everything.

So what is the problem? When they die, that is when they use up oxygen, but if they are eaten before they die, there is no problem. Most springs, when things thaw on land and we get a good flush of rain, there is an algae bloom and this begins the cycle of the food chain in the Sound.

So I talked about the size of the algae being important, what conditions change the size of the algae?

When talking about this you need to know what feed algae – nitrogen is one element, phosphorous is another and carbon is a third. That seems fairly simplistic, but that’s what algae are – simple. In the Great Lakes there was a huge problem with the amount of phosphates from detergents being dumped into the Lakes from various sources and the choking algae blooms (along with lots of other serious crud) cause a real problem. In the oceans, phosphorous is not the problem. Studies over decades of the Interstate Sanitation Commission on nitrogen shows that level has been very consistent over decades, but maybe the form has changed.

Form, forms of Nitrogen? I never mentioned that did I? Well Nitrogen has many forms, it can exist as ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, organically bound or inorganically bound and well the first 3 are what feed algae and they convert it to an organic nitrogen, which fish larva can feed on.

Still doesn’t tell you about the size, does it?

And so then we get to talk about carbon.

The sources of carbon are decomposing plant material and waste materials from animals. But wait, we pickup our leaves and grass and such so they don’t go into a compost in the back yard and clean up all the dead trees and we have very good sewage treatment plants to clean up our waste. The only thing left is water comes out of the storm water and that is the next target of the USEPA.

I am not saying that there is a lot of stuff that goes into our water ways that shouldn’t be there, but bear with me as I get to the next installment.

A quick aside - salmonella and the FDA

People like to pick on the FDA for not doing its job in the lastest 1,000+ people outbreak, but thefollowing articles might explain things more clearly- From Yahoo - How the Food Industry lobied to reduce tracking paper work because it made things to burdensome. And
And article from the Los Angeles Times - How the reduction of the number of FDA inspectors has be steadily dwindling since the Reagan Years.
All of this is scary stuff, we have experienced this in little old Stamford significantly and that will be another post at some point in time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Patron Saint of Long Island Sound - Part 1

Back in March when I first started blogging, my very first blog was a short discombobulated piece of poorly written thoughts that doesn't make sense even now. The information alluded to in that small paragraph came from many factors, but mostly from on tireless retiree who had made things about Long Island Sound his passion. At that time he volunteered for the Long Island Sound Task Force (not the EPA, but a private not for profit environmental group now called Save the Sound) and was helping them conduct different measurements of Long Island Sound. At that time I was still getting my ears wet at the Health Department Lab and was only doing a little thinking beyond the flasks before me. I had one great flaw and that was I was insanely curious and would try to conduct as many tests as possible on a single sample that I possibly could. The Local environmental groups loved me and I would do minimal cost work for them on samples they would bring in (Save our shores, Save the Sound, and another group in Fairfield) as well as some of the towns that did not have labs (Darien, Westport and Fairfield). We would try to be on the forefront of the tests that were being used, but would always hold on to some of the old ones to maintain a continuous thread. It was in this mix in 1985, I met Art Glowka. He seemed old then, but full of energy and he would question everything, what the data meant, how the data was compared to other data and always the conclusions drawn from that data. He was and is a fisherman and became to realize had established himself as a intense environmentalist. He worked with Bobby Kennedy on the Hudson River Foundation that got GE to stop dumping PCB s into the Hudson river and was on the committee that decided where United Way dollars were spent. Not someone to trifle with, but his manner was to challenge with questions and I kinda liked that. He got me involved with Save the Sound, where I helped them build a chlorophyll lab to determine what was in the samples they got. He then presented a strange picture to me...the fish populations were declining and no one was even aware of it.
Now for me, Long Island Sound was a place where I heard many stories from an older friend of bonanzas of fish many years earlier and even when I first moved here in 1977, I would fish and catch descent size fish for eating and then it seemed to get harder and I lost interest in fishing here and would take my friend down to Virginia Beach to spend time and fish and there was no lack. So I could actually relate to the issue. As he explained things to me they actually made sense and then he became Shellfish Commissioner for Stamford and basically had on board other persons who were interested in the Environment and Fishing and Clamming. William Thorne would collect samples form off docks and down the Noroton River; Fred Stunkle would give me his detailed fish records so I setup a website - (which no longer exists today) to explain in detail the fish decline by showing well kept records of some of the catch and release fishermen, some of the records of the Audubon society showing a decline in bird life, records of empty bluefish stomachs, some of the charter fishing boat records and an extremely interesting study done by a man named G. Capriulo, who worked with the DEP on a grant from the National Science Foundation who basically said size matters and we have changed the size of the plankton in the Long Island Sound...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Everything you ever wanted to know...about Bats

About Bats?????
These cute little vacuum cleaners of the night are a very important part of the maintenance of the insect world at night, sucking up their body weight in mosquitoes and other creatures of the night.
They are very active at this point and a very good creature to have around except when they get into you home. August is a 'nesting time' for them, but with the heat we are getting many calls concerning these creatures. The real issue is that 1% of the population carries rabies and they carry it with out necessarily appearing sick. If you find one in a regular room of your house, where people live, but do not sleep, get it out or get an animal control person to get it out and maybe get some one to check your home to see how they are getting in. IF YOU WAKE UP IN THE MORNING AND FIND ONE IN YOUR BEDROOM, THIS IS CONSIDERED AN EXPOSURE!
You might not be able tell if you were bitten because the teeth are so small, they may not leave a mark.
The bat should be captured, killed and brought down to the Health Department Lab immediately or kept cold until you can!

We will send it up to the Connecticut State Lab for testing for rabies at no charge to you and the results will be ready the next day.
If the result is negative - breath a sigh of relief and get someone to make sure more don't come in.
If it is positive or they can't get a result, you are going to need the rabies shots, which are a series of 5 shots over a period of a month which should begun within 10 days of the exposure. They are given at the site of the bite (if known) or in the arm.
The real problem is that if you wait and start to show symptoms, there has been only one person in the history of recorded history to survive.
Scary thought.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Another Dose of reality...Geese in the Water

Quick, tell me how many water fowl live on Holly Pond? 100?, 200?, maybe as many as 500?
Counting all the geese, ducks, swan, and other shore birds, I have been given counts that range between 150 to 500, so what does this have to do with a dose of reality?
No one likes geese in their parks, but besides the long green things they lay down in the grass, everyone likes to blame the geese for bad water quality at the beach, but I have not found that to be true. As a matter of fact, one of our esteemed environmental activist (Art Glowka, head of Stamford's shellfish commission, who many people roll their eyes when they hear his name and I won't get into that yet) took samples at Holly Pond. Two from where Smokey Joe's is (before the bird life), two at the little park where everyone feeds the birds (mid pond) and two at the outflow. We both noted that Holly Pond is filled with sea grass. The highest values for bacteria were at Smoky Joe's, this coming from various septic and urban issues up the Noroton River on both sides (Darien and Stamford). pH and phosphate increased at mid pond, but the bacteria levels were way down (we assume that the weeds are doing an excellent job here) and everything goes down to just about nothing a the dam. Of course the bacteria we are looking at tells us the geese don't contribute much of anything, and I can prove that with previous samples from Holly Pond and elsewhere. Of course when it rain for a short time the sea grass can't handle the increased flow and things was out (which is why we close for 24 hours), but it isn't the geese that are the problem.
I will take a short break (again5 days) before getting into some of this wonderful stuff.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A dose of reality Bed Bugs

I had two concepts that I wanted to blog about, but because I am a chemist and 50 something, I forgot the first one, so on to number 2.
BED BUGS, yes those annoying creatures have been back for a while and this lab identifies the nasties and says "yep, they're bed bugs!" to the people who bring them in.

But We actually try to keep track of where they are and what they are doing and maybe what has caused the explosion.
First - my job is easy, I just tell people that it is what they feared and give them literature on how to get rid of them.
The inspector, who's job it is to deal with Landlords and tenants,has the hard job.
It is hard to tell why they are where they are. They are not attracted to filth, like roaches, but do hide in it. SO you can have a completely spotless apartment and still have bed bugs.
You might not have been the one to bring them in - or you might have. Lots of stories of people traveling bring them home in the travel bags from the hotels they stayed at (Even a 5 star hotel). But they could have come from the next door neighbors, who just tried to get rid of them by spraying and the bugs simply moves over next door.
You might have brought them in from the laundromat you use or from the friends house you visited.
The Problems:
-There is no real ordinance that helps the HD deal with this problem except the one on infestations.
-There is not a lot of interest in dealing with the problem because bed bugs won't cause disease and are NOT considered a public health threat -they are considered a nuisance only.
-It is expensive to get rid of the pests, it can take two to three applications of pesticides over the course of a month in not just the one room or one apartment, but all the adjacent apartments as well.
-people throw out the mattress and the bed bugs spread
-Beg Bugs love one thing - people - if you are a person you can get bed bugs
The Sources:
Travel any where - keep your suitcases off the floor
New York City - the bed bug capital of the world
Your cleaning crew
Your neighbors
Your friends
Your laundromat
The rent it center

A solution:
while everyone else has been throwing pesticides around, spraying carbon dioxide and trying to freeze the critters or burn them out, this one crazy chemist found out that bed bugs are very susceptible to one thing, ethyl alcohol. Even the fumes kill them. Did I say a scotch and water keeps the bed bugs away? - naw, scotch straight up does the trick.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Back to Being Technical - or how nice our beaches are

So I go back to the lab scene, because the weather is so nice and the newspapers are calling because they have to have a distraction from all the oil news. Of course, it isn't proper that I talk to reporters directly without them going through proper channels, which they don't ever seem to want to take the time to do, so here is the simple story in all its technical detail.
The City of Stamford has, since 1989, closed its beaches after heavy rains of 1 or more inches for 24 hours. We did this, not because of sewage come from the treatment plant (which is actually very well run and really hasn't had any significant problems in a very, very, very long time), but because Stamford (surprise, surprise), is very developed along the shore for several miles in and something called urban run-off and we have an intricate and complete set of storm drains which moves all that water from a storm directly to the Sound, without any treatment. Now back in 1989, the storm drains themselves were home to a huge population of raccoons, which added to the problem (this changed in 1991 when rabies crossed the Hudson River and decreased the population by 95%), but the problem is still we are too developed and all the stuff on the concrete and sidewalks gets washed down (I am not talking about dog poo, just everything that has bacteria).
To do this was a lot of work (trust me, I did most of it) and we were not trying to predict how much the bacteria levels would rise, just that the chance that they would be over the safe health limits for swimmers was fairly high after an inch of rain. Additionally, we found out that the natural course of things cleared it all out after 20 hours plus or minus 4 hours, so they stay closed for 24.
Now after 20 years of having this in place, everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to do this predictive modeling and figure out why it is happening.
They are finding that this bacteria we test for lives in the sand (yeah, we did that also) and the increased wave action from the storm will elevate it.
They described what urban run-off was and all the other things that we did back then are all about, so now its big news.
And what do the papers want to know? How often we have been closed this year.
Twice - we have had 2 heavy rains and the beaches were closed twice.
Having said that, everyone should know that the water for 2 weeks has been beautiful, very clear and so little bacteria that you could almost drink it, but don't.