What a Superfund Site Really Looks Like

This past week I took a trip to the old Bethlehem Steel site in Buffalo, NY. Although the general public is prohibited from the site while remediation is going on, I was allowed to tour the site with two engineers as guides. I got the chance to see what a Superfund Site truly looks like, and spoiler alert, it wasn’t the futuristic radioactive wasteland that toxic sites are typically portrayed as by so many sci-fi movies.

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The cold lake breeze across my face really woke me up.

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The Garbage Patch

After studying the environment at university for four years, I have written over 60 blog posts on environmental issues, formulated a personal memoir on my life as an environmentalist, and maintained a semi-annual environmental news page. Nevertheless, I still haven’t done everything in my power to end environmental issues.

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Graphic from Clean Water Action.

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Grad School Purgatory

Since urban dictionary doesn’t quite spell it out for you, I will: This is when applications have been completed and sent, but there is neither an acceptance nor rejection from anyone. There is little to no knowledge of when an answer will arrive, if ever. This is grad school purgatory.

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Michael Scott from Giphy.com.

 

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Blowing Bubbles

Did you know that bubbles can clean water? Specifically, dissolved air flotation (DAF) and ultrasound are two methods of making water safer with bubbles. DAF can be used to replace sedimentation in municipal drinking water treatment. Large particles are typically settled out using gravity, but with DAF, bubbles are produced by an oxygen tank pumping air into the bottom of a basin and small particles attach to the sides of the bubbles. The bubbles rise to the top of the basin and the particles are swept off the surface of the water by a skimmer.

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Dolfi ultrasonic device, photo from Indiegogo.

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Greenwashing

All Natural. Organic. Eco-friendly. Green. Farm Fresh. These are the sexy buzzwords that draw us in to products that unscrupulously exploit our desire to go green. The FDA doesn’t regulate these terms, and they are often nothing more than just words. “Green” products contain the color green on the packaging. “Farm fresh” covers essentially any meat or dairy product. “Natural” is more of a sentiment than a descriptor. And just to give you a sense of the word “organic”, Dichloromethane is an organic compound and is toxic. I definitely wouldn’t want that in my salad. So then, how should caring consumers discern the environmentally-sound eggs from the chemical-ridden cosmetics?

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Comic from SlideShare.

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How Clean Can UV?

“UV radiation affects microorganisms by altering the DNA in the cells and impeding reproduction. UV treatment does not remove organisms from the water, it merely inactivates them.” – Water Research Center

For the longest time this summer I worked on a machine that performed persulfate-ultraviolet oxidation, but I really had no idea what it was. Looking at the machine, I could see that an oxygen tank and a beaker of persulfate solution were combining with my water samples and traveling through various tiny twisted tubes into a swirl of madness that then shot out in all directions and ended up in a scramble of numbers on the computer screen. So I asked around. Ten weeks of “asking around” later, and still all I knew was that somehow the glowing blue light was breaking down the carbon in my water samples and measuring its concentration.

On the left, persulfate-ultraviolet oxidation. On the right, SteriPEN technology. SteriPEN image found here.

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Energizing a Continent

Off-grid provides lighting for families using a subscription service.
Kids using a solar lamp. Image from Flickr.

In my last post I mentioned non-profit and for-profit business ventures around the world with a mission to improve society and the environment. It would be naïve to say that the driving force in business is to benefit others. So what is driving entrepreneurs to Africa? An article recently featured in The New Yorker called “The Race to Solar-Power Africa” says it all. Continue reading “Energizing a Continent”