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Green Among Gray Moves

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 by Kyle Scribner


Green Among Gray has moved! Check out new posts at www.CaptivateBlogs.com/Green

Oil Spill Access Restricted

Friday, June 18, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

The Associated Press – along with other media outlets – is reporting that BP workers, local police and federal officials are restricting access to the Gulf oil spill.

Journalists have been “yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest,” according to this story about intimidation being used to prevent comprehensive reports on the oil cleanup effort.

There’s a miscommunication going on somewhere. Admiral Thad Allen, the government’s man in charge of overseeing the cleanup effort, issued a directive to allow journalists access to Gulf sites (pdf).

Apparently BP didn’t get the memo.

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Virtual Energy Forum

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

The world’s largest online energy conference, the Virtual Energy Forum, is happening today and tomorrow at VirtualEnergyForum.com.

Anyone can register and take advantage of the Virtual Energy Forum’s very cool platform to learn about a variety of sustainable energy topics, from the energy bill currently before Congress to building a smart grid to the challenges of climate change.

Speakers include bigwigs from a bunch of companies, including IBM and Microsoft, plus political leaders (a governor, a senator and a congressman) and some of the leading minds in clean energy (reps from the DOE, EPA, FERC, Harvard, and the Clinton Foundation).

The interface is a virtual exhibition hall, and you can visit different “rooms” to learn about all the topics. You can even submit questions and have them answered in real time. It’s one of the best ways to educate yourself about what’s going on in clean energy today, so check it out.

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Cooling Down The Green Way

Friday, June 11, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

The EPA recently released a summary of energy-efficient cooling tips. If you want to beat the heat and save money at the same time, try some of these recommendations.

-- Set your programmable thermostat (if you don’t have one yet, get one; they can save you about $180 a year in energy costs) a few degrees higher (such as 78 degrees) when no one is home.

-- Change your HVAC system’s air filter every three months

-- Run ceiling fans only while you’re in a room; they cool you, not the room.

-- Seal air ducts and connections at vents and registers. As much as 20% of the air moving through your home’s duct system is lost due to leaks and poor connections.

-- Buy only Energy Star-qualified air conditioners. If every room AC in the US were Energy Star-qualified, it would save the equivalent of emissions from 80,000 cars.

-- Add insulation to your attic.

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Oil Getting Closer To Florida

Friday, June 4, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

Almost a month ago I spoke with experts about what kind of effect BP’s oil leak might have on Gulf wildlife, especially as the spill gets closer to Florida. With reports now that the oil is set to hit the Florida coast as early as today, it seems appropriate to revisit what the experts had to say.

I’ll also post updates as they come in.

Coral Reefs, Mangroves, and Seagrass Beds
Dr. Richard E. Dodge, Professor and Dean at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center and Executive Director of the National Coral Reef Institute, says, “Oil entrained in the loop current could be delivered to the coral reefs of South Florida and Southeast Florida, from the Dry Tortugas in the south, throughout the Florida Keys, to Palm Beach in the north. A long duration spill could have toxic substances entering the water column and affecting corals anywhere from mucous production to damaging their reproductive system, to bleaching and mortality.” Dodge says dispersants, now being used to help break up the spill, “should NOT be used in proximity to coral reefs because this will make the oil more toxic and available to corals and the plants and animals that live in coral reefs.”

And if it takes a while before the oil reaches Florida? Could be even worse news, Dr. Dodge says. “If oil arrives during the spawning times of coral in August, this could be highly detrimental to the reproductive success of corals, threatening the next generation on the reef.”

Dr. Dodge is also quick to point out the economic impact loss of such unique habitats would have. “Florida has 84% of the nation's coral reef ecosystems,” Dodge says, “hence it is important to recognize that vital national resources are at stake. It has been estimated in a 2000 study by NOAA that reefs represent an annual economy of over $6 billion for South Florida, as well as over 71,000 jobs.”

Massive amounts of oil could also be disastrous for Florida’s sensitive mangrove forests, home to thousands of animals, from alligators to bobcats. “Mangrove forests serve as nursery grounds for many species of fish and shellfish. They also bind sediment. Loss of these forests would result in the collapse of this type of ecosystem,” Dr. Dodge says.

And if the currents and tides really conspire just right, the oil could infest Florida’s seagrass beds. “If this slick made it up on to the southwest Florida Shelf and was transported in the prevailing current direction to the south, it could end up at the mouth of Florida Bay,” according to Dr. Jim Fourqurean, professor at Florida International University. “This worst-case scenario is not particularly likely – but if it occurs, it will be devastating,” Fourqurean warns.

Due to the complex properties of the bay, the oil “would likely be there for an extended period – maybe even years. Florida Bay averages only 3 feet deep over the 2,000 km2 of the bay, and most of that area is within the boundaries of Everglades National Park. Florida Bay is carpeted with seagrass beds,” Fourqurean explains. “One small piece of good news is that seagrasses themselves are quite resistant to the effects of oil spills, so we would expect loss of seagrasses only in places that oil were pushed in to intertidal areas and stranded for extended periods at low tide.” So the seagrass might be fine, but what about the animals that frequent these beds?

“Oil contains many toxic compounds that could kill most of the important animals that reside in the seagrass beds, including commercially import pink shrimp; valuable game fish like tarpon, bonefish, redfish and seatrout; juvenile spiny lobsters; juvenile fish that use the bay as a nursery; and the wading birds that feed on these animals. Air-breathing manatees and sea turtles would be poisoned and covered with oil, wading birds would be covered ...” and Fourqurean leaves it at that, the implication clear.

Fish
Though I’ve said thus far it’s kind of a best-case scenario with the spill, some variables don’t bode well for the survival of fish, according to Dr. David W. Kerstetter, a research scientist at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center. “Many of the fish species in the Gulf have pelagic (open-water) eggs that float at the surface, where the oil layer congregates,” Kerstetter says. And he points out it doesn’t take much oil to start causing trouble, saying, “Studies have suggested that concentrations of 1 part-per-billion have toxic effects to fish eggs.”

It’s also just plain bad timing, with now “the time of the year in which the western Atlantic population of bluefin tuna congregate in the northen Gulf to spawn, a population which is already at extremely low levels,” Kerstetter points out. “Should the sheen spread and persist, a loss of a whole year's larval fish production in some species is possible.”

“The spill will likely impact sensitive coastal saltmarsh estuary and barrier lagoon systems in the northern Gulf – some reports are that the oil already is there – systems which are important nursery grounds for shrimp, sharks, and many other species of fishes, as well as adult habitat for species such as oysters, redfish (red drum), and sea trout,” Kerstetter says.

And the top-of-the-food-chain fish, the ones targeted by both commercial and recreational fishermen, will also be affected, according to Dr. Kerstetter. “As these pollutants (including the oil dispersant chemicals) are released into the water, they’re likely to be absorbed into the prey species' tissues and then re-absorbed into the tissues of predator species, like tunas and sailfish. We know very little about how some of these substances affect growth, reproduction, and even basic survival for most of these fish species.”

The Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center is probably the best place on the Web to find the latest information about the oil spill. They list a hotline number to report oiled wildlife: (866) 557-1401.

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The Dangers Of Pools

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 by Kyle Scribner

The CDC recently released the results of a 2008 analysis of more than 121,000 public pool inspections. 61% of the inspections revealed code violations, including nearly 23% that showed either a total lack of disinfectant or improper disinfectant levels.

As would be expected, many of the violations occurred at the likes of city-run pools and kiddie spots, but a more surprising fact is that about 35% of pools at hotel/motels, apartment/condos, and water parks had circulation and filtration violations.

The most common health problem from improper pool upkeep is gastroenteritis, which is on the rise, according to the CDC.

There’s not much you can do about how others take care of their pools, other than to avoid them, but if you have a pool at home, you should be aware of proper maintenance, including the right way to use chlorine.

Chlorine, the cleaning agent of choice for the vast majority of pool owners, is a dangerous element that, in certain uses, can pose a major environmental hazard (such as in the production of PVC).

But does the form of chlorine in pools, and the relatively low levels used, present a real risk? The World Health Organization gives a qualified “no.”

WHO explains it’s not chlorine itself that’s a health risk but the chemicals produced when chlorine interacts with other substances in pool water. WHO acknowledges these risks, but concludes, “the risks from exposure to chlorination by-products in reasonably well managed swimming pools would be considered to be small and must be set against the benefits of aerobic exercise and the risks of infectious disease in the absence of disinfection.”

The key phrase there would be “reasonably well managed.” There are some health horror stories as a result of mismanaged pools, but what about when you’re doing everything right with your pool upkeep?

Pool industry group The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals recommends daily testing to ensure a minimum level of 1 ppm of free chlorine – the specific form that acts as the cleanser – in your pool, up to the EPA-mandated maximum of 4 ppm. So optimally you should shoot for around 2 ppm.

However, there are studies indicating even these levels may be hazardous. Research published in 2003 in Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows a link between regular use of indoor pools and asthma, and a 2004 study in the American College of Sports Medicine shows a link between respiratory problems in trained swimmers and chlorine, even at levels as low as 1 ppm.

So how does the EPA reach its 4 ppm recommendation? Remember, it’s not the free chlorine itself, but the chlorine’s interaction with other stuff in a pool – anything from tree litter to splashed-off makeup to urine – that creates the dangerous chemicals. So the APSP sticks by its numbers, and stresses the importance of overall pool procedures, including maintaining proper pH balance, keeping pools clear of debris, properly venting indoor pools, staying out of the water when sick, taking frequent bathroom breaks, showering before swimming, and, of course, not swallowing pool water (perhaps a physical impossibility).

But beyond the possible health risks, some people simply don’t like the feel of chlorine in the hair and on their skin, not to mention the smell. There are options:

Ozone generators – These machines release ozone into the water to kill microorganisms, and requires you to use much smaller doses of chlorine. But ozone has its own problems, according to the EPA.

Ion generators – Copper and silver are used to clean out the bad stuff.

Organic cleansing – Probably the most extreme alternative, this system pumps water through rocks and plants to clean your “natural swimming pool.”

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About

Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.

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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.