LEXINGTON PARK, Md. — Despite the Navy’s assurances, residents near an air base by the Chesapeake Bay are worried about whether chemicals are contaminating their water.
The military looms large in St. Mary’s County, where Navy, Marine Corps and Army banners hang in a cafe near Naval Air Station Patuxent River and residents rely on the base for jobs.
But they are also concerned about chemicals known as PFAS found in firefighting foam that have caused drinking water contamination near other military sites across the country (E&E Daily, Mary 4).
NAS Patuxent River, located at the mouth of the Patuxent River in Lexington Park, is the county’s largest employer, providing about 25,000 jobs, according to Maryland’s Department of Commerce.
“What happens at the base impacts everybody one way or the other,” said Bill Hunt, 68, of Leonardtown.
[+] Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News
The Navy no longer uses firefighting foam, which contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, during training, but it is used in the event of an emergency fire.
Traces of cancer-causing pollutants have been found in Clovis, N.M.’s drinking water, linked to PFAS use at Cannon Air Force Base. Contamination was also found in Coupeville, Wash., near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Outlying Field Coupeville. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said addressing PFAS pollution at these and other military sites is a priority (E&E News PM, Feb. 27).
A public meeting Tuesday night that drew over 250 people to Lexington Park Library addressed the Navy’s progress in identifying possible contamination around NAS Patuxent River.
Officials from the Navy, EPA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the St. Mary’s County Health Department, and the Maryland Department of the Environment were there to answer questions, as community members crowded around poster boards that showed known and suspected areas on the installation where PFAS-containing foam was used.
“What were they doing to clean it up? How did they clean it up? Where were they taking it?” asked Geri Lloyd, 59, of Lusby, Md. She lives in Calvert County, about 15 miles from the installation. Her husband works on the base, and her sister lives nearby.
David Steckler, the remedial project manager who runs the environmental restoration program for NAS Patuxent River, said that the installation sampled its own water and that the local water supplier for residents outside the base tested its water. Both were found to be free of PFAS.
“There is no drinking water exposure in the area, surrounding the base or at the base itself,” he said.
Patrick Gordon, public affairs officer at NAS Patuxent River, said the Navy does plan to conduct PFAS sampling at 18 sites at the installation.
Steckler said the Navy is “extremely early in the process” of testing the sites for potential contamination. It’s a lengthy process, he said.
“If we come to the end, and we find a site that needs to be cleaned up to protect human health and the environment, we will do so,” Steckler said.
Geri Lloyd, 59, lives about 15 miles from the installation, and her husband works on base. “What were they doing to clean it up?” she asked Tuesday about PFAS. Bev Banks/E&E News
Lloyd said she first learned about PFAS when her sister “read an article in the paper and told me about it.” Before then, Lloyd said, she “didn’t have a clue.”
Hunt said he didn’t know until the Navy’s meeting that PFAS were “used so widely on the base” to put out fires in the airplane hangars.
One St. Mary’s City resident has been especially outspoken about potential contamination, conducting his own sampling that residents brought up at the meeting.
Pat Elder, 64, collected water samples from St. Inigoes Creek near his home and sent it to the nonprofit Freshwater Future, which issued a report that showed the presence of PFAS above EPA advisory levels. Elder published the results online.
He argued that the creek is contaminated due to its proximity to the Naval Outlying Field Webster, an extension of NAS Patuxent River about 12 miles from the base.
“It’s not good enough to say, ‘Well, we trust the Navy to do the job, we trust the Navy to protect the health of people in Maryland.’ No, that’s what I’m about right now,” Elder said.
Julianna Parreco, a 22-year-old student at St. Mary’s College, read online about the St. Inigoes Creek testing. She was worried about PFAS levels because “Inigoes Creek is like five minutes away from my house.”
Gordon, the NAS Patuxent River public affairs officer, cast doubt on the test results and said the Navy has cautioned against misinformation.
“While they can do testing at home, it’s important to understand that there are very few labs in the United States that are actually certified to test for PFAS,” Gordon said.
Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 70 years old and friends with Elder, traveled from Baltimore to protest outside the Navy’s forum. She held a cutout of an oyster in front of her face to show her distress over possible PFAS contamination in seafood.
“I am concerned for pregnant women, for children, for all of us, because the, you know, the oysters, the fish, the water, all of that needs to be pure and clear,” Sevre-Duszynska said.
‘More questions than answers’
More than 250 southern Maryland residents attended the Navy’s forum on PFAS on Tuesday night in Lexington Park, Md. Bev Banks/E&E News
Some people still had questions after attending the Navy’s meeting.
“I definitely walked away with a lot more questions than answers,” said Rosa Hance, 31, of Great Mills, Md., who asked about how frequently the Navy tests for water contamination.
As the chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter executive committee, Hance has received questions from the community about PFAS. She said the Navy’s answers made it difficult for her to understand the path forward.
“I’m walking into the unknown here,” Hance said. “I don’t, I’m not sure what the plan is and what citizens should be expected to know or what we should do.”
St. Mary’s County resident Bob Lewis, 64, executive director of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, said the Navy “did a fairly good job” assuring people there was not a threat to their drinking water, but he also left the meeting without a sense of clarity.
“It seemed like the questions that I want answered, that my organization needs answered, didn’t get answered and are not going to be answered anytime in the near future,” Lewis said.
Published in conjunction with E&E News
Veterans asked for full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in meetings with congressional offices yesterday.
As volunteers from the Vet Voice Foundation popped in and out, some lawmakers decided to sign on to the LWCF bill.
“I met with Sen. Martha McSally, who’s my senator from the great state of Arizona,” said former Army 1st Lt. Corey Harris, a volunteer. “She’s also a veteran, and we found out at the meeting that she signed on to it while we were sitting there in the meeting to support the LWCF as a co-sponsor.”
McSally, a Republican, signed on yesterday as a co-sponsor of S. 1081, the “Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act,” her office confirmed.
Harris, 44, of Phoenix, was elated. “To have my home senator jump on board, it just felt, felt powerful,” Harris said. “It felt like we were able to make a difference, and that’s what all of us veterans want to do anyway.”
Volunteers also met with Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who introduced the LWCF bill last April.
On the House side, Democrats last month asked chamber leaders to schedule a vote on companion legislation (E&E Daily, Jan. 27).
Congress approved $495 million for LWCF in the fiscal 2020 spending compromise, but the authorized level is much higher — $900 million.
LWCF boosters say full funding would provide veterans a greater opportunity to reconnect with society after returning from the battlefield.
Former Michigan Army National Guard Sgt. Kristina Lodovisi, 39, said access to public lands is “a mental health issue.”
“We go into the wilderness to bring ourselves back together,” Lodovisi said. “There’s a lot of people who are working with, through PTSD, and that’s exactly what they need.”
Lodovisi said she visited the offices of Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Michigan Democrats. She said she was sure they would sign on to the bill.
Retired Army Col. Steve Ball visited Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an original co-sponsor of the bill. Ball said the LWCF was a “critical vehicle for veterans to reconnect.”
“It is essential to not just recovery but really identity for many, many veterans coming home,” Ball said.
In addition to providing veterans spaces to decompress, fully funding the LWCF would yield economic gains, volunteers said.
Retired Army Capt. Donald Martinez, 40, of Colorado, said the funding was “critical” for the state’s local economy.
“There’s two major industries that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is relying on,” Martinez said. “That’s why we need to secure these funds because it’s better for our local economy.”
For retired Air Force Master Sgt. Brent Lindstrom, 52, the revenue in his home state of Minnesota has skyrocketed for the outdoor industry.
“It’s an economic issue too, that if we don’t have these public lands, you don’t have people leaving their homes to go out and do this,” Lindstrom said.
All volunteers wanted lawmakers to commit to the permanent funding for future generations of veterans and civilians.
Former Marine Corps member Scott Mulvaney, 62, of Los Angeles, said he hoped that lawmakers would preserve the lands that veterans “fought to defend.”
“The improvement of these areas is something that any senator, any representative can be proud of,” Mulvaney said.
Reporter Kellie Lunney contributed.
Published in conjunction with E&E News
Nearly 100 conservative activists visited 76 Republican congressional offices yesterday to discuss a topic that some GOP members often avoid — climate change solutions.
Volunteers from Citizens’ Climate Lobby spent a day on Capitol Hill to highlight the importance of climate action from Republicans.
“It would mean a lot to hear that leadership coming from both the executive branch as well as our elected representatives in Congress,” said volunteer Andrea Zink. “I think we need all of them on board engaging in a solution.”
Zink, 34, of Jefferson City, Tenn., visited offices from her state’s delegation, including Reps. Tim Burchett and Phil Roe.
She also went to the Tennessee Tuesday event in the Capitol, where Sen. Marsha Blackburn was in attendance. Zink said her conversations were positive, and she saw serious interest in solutions.
CCL’s conservative lobbying day came amid a shifting landscape for congressional Republicans, particularly since Democrats took the House last year.
Most have done away with climate science denial, instead talking up clean energy innovation as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without drastically scaling back fossil fuels.
Still, Daniel Palken, co-leader for Colorado’s CCL chapter, said he would like to see Republicans speak louder and be more muscular on the issue.
Palken, 28, of Boulder, spoke with staffers for Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho.
“We’re in this room not to berate the politician but to try to work together to try to push nonetheless for more aggressive climate solutions than we’re currently seeing from many but not all Republican offices,” Palken said.
‘Take a lead role’
Tyler Gillette, 24, of Columbus, Ohio, also witnessed a shift in discussions with Republican legislators on climate issues. Gillette visited the offices of Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and of Ohio Reps. Brad Wenstrup and Troy Balderson.
“They definitely want to take a lead role in climate,” Gillette said. “They’re trying to find climate-related solutions that everyone can support, whether it be our bill or [other] climate-related bills, because we need something.”
Gillette spoke with GOP members about a carbon fee-and-dividend bill known as the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act,” H.R. 763, which CCL has long lobbied for in Congress.
Florida Reps. Ted Deutch (D) and Francis Rooney (R) introduced the legislation in 2019.
‘Missing an opportunity’
CCL conservatives said GOP leaders, including President Trump, are losing out on expanding their base by not addressing climate head-on.
Trump has made skeptical comments about climate science over the years — at one point calling climate change a “hoax” — but CCL conservatives said they wish the commander in chief would do more.
During last night’s State of the Union address, the president touched on energy and some environmental concerns but didn’t mention climate.
“The president is missing an opportunity on the climate issue to do something which is in line with conservative values and to make our nation stronger and better,” Palken said.
Gillette added that Trump “should touch on it,” but “he’s probably too busy with everything else.” If the GOP continues to downplay climate issues, Gillette said, it will see the consequences in future election cycles.
“If conservatives don’t take a lead, they’re going to start losing conservative voters, as well,” Gillette said.
‘Our voice should be heard’
In November 2019, the Pew Research Center released a poll showing that higher percentages of millennial Republicans believe the federal government is not doing enough on climate.
It’s one of many studies in recent months showing that younger voters are concerned about man-made climate change, and Republican lawmakers have started to take notice.
Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) noted the results of several such surveys in a private presentation he gave to other House Republicans last month urging them to develop a climate message (E&E Daily, Jan. 17).
“I certainly feel very strongly that our voice should be heard and represented on this issue, because our generation is really going to be affected by inaction if we don’t address these issues now,” Zink said.
Published in conjunction with E&E News
Close to 100 activists spent a rainy day with actresses Jane Fonda and Sally Field on the Capitol lawn to protest climate change as part of Fonda’s weekly “Fire Drill Friday” demonstrations. Read more: https://www.eenews.net/stories/106180…
Three decades ago, a Louisiana community had an idea to combat shoreline erosion and wetland loss using the most common holiday decoration: a Christmas tree.
“It was just magical” to see people in St. Charles Parish so willing to give their trees that first year to save coastal Louisiana, said Robert Thomas, who helped come up with the idea over coffee.
He was sharing that coffee with coastal science professor John Day and Allan Ensminger, former head of refuges with Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
At the end of the fall 1988 semester at Louisiana State University, they were chatting about Day’s research project. Inspired by a practice in the Netherlands of interweaving fences to trap sediment for marsh restoration, he wanted to try something similar in Louisiana.
The project was showing good results, Day said, but it was hard to interweave the fences over long periods of time in the bitter cold winter.
Then someone had an idea.
“None of us have a recollection of who it was, [but] somebody said, ‘What if you could get something that is already clumped up like Christmas trees that you don’t have to do any weaving, you can just drop them into a cage or something like that?'” said Thomas, director of the Center for Environmental Communication at Loyola University in New Orleans.
“I remember John saying, ‘I think that would work, but I could never get enough trees to do that.'”
Thomas recalled that three days later he was telling the public on a morning television show to gather their Christmas trees. They gathered about 10,000 trees the first year and 25,000 trees the next, he said.
He remembers a girl about 7 years old and her dad pulling up with a Christmas tree in the trunk of their car. “I went over to help and the little girl started tugging on the tree,” Thomas remembered. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and she said, ‘I’m trying to get the tree out of here because I’m saving the wetlands.'”
3 decades and 800,000 trees later
St. Charles Parish’s program was the pilot for placing recycled trees in the marsh for coastal restoration. Despite a lack of state funding for the project today, the parish still collects about 2,000 to 3,000 Christmas trees and puts them in marshland each year, according to Earl Matherne from the parish’s planning and zoning department.
Neighboring communities like Jefferson Parish also started collecting Christmas trees and placing them along the shoreline.
Today Jefferson Parish is still running its Christmas tree recycling program, with over 800,000 trees collected over the past 30 years.
In recent years, the parish’s Coastal Management Department has run the program from December until February. Last year, an estimated 5,000 trees were recycled with the help of 125 volunteers.
Lauren Averill, the department’s director, said Jefferson Parish has lost 30% of its land since the 1960s, “and so any ways that we can maintain the land that we have is super important.”
Averill explained that two-by-four wooden boards are placed along the shoreline to create “cribs” where trees are placed. The trees help increase the creation of sediment, reduce marsh loss and improve fish habitat.
“You get two benefits out of the Christmas trees: One, you get to enjoy it during the holidays. And two, it is actually helping to save land loss and prevent land loss within Jefferson Parish,” Averill said.
In 1997, the parish received 70 Christmas trees from the White House for recycling, but Averill said the collaboration ended.
‘This is a national issue’
Between 1996 and 2010, Louisiana lost 309 square miles of wetlands, according to NOAA, and the land loss increased the damage the state sustained from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
The U.S. government’s Climate Resilience Toolkit estimated that average erosion rates are 25 feet annually along barrier islands in the Southeast and 50 feet along the Great Lakes.
“This is not a Louisiana issue,” Thomas said. “This is a national issue.”
Christmas trees are recycled in locations across the country like Nevada, California, Florida and Washington, D.C. Recycled trees can help prevent erosion, restore dunes or enhance hiking trails with mulch.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York is recycled each year. Since 2007, the lumber from the iconic tree has been donated to build a Habitat for Humanity house.
In Louisiana parishes, the recycling program helped people understand how wetlands loss affects their state and local community, Thomas said.
“It gave the average citizen who cares about the environment a chance to do something,” he said. “They could bring their Christmas tree and drop it off. They knew that would in some way help the wetlands.”
For Averill, outreach is a key component of Jefferson Parish’s program because it teaches people why the project is so important to Louisiana’s future. Volunteers get a firsthand look at the wetlands.
“If you don’t get out into that coastal marsh, then you don’t see the loss and you don’t appreciate it for what it is,” Averill said.
Making a case for real trees
The National Christmas Tree Association represents the Christmas tree industry in the United States and also selects the White House Christmas tree each year.
The group encourages people to opt for a real tree rather than an artificial one.
“It’s endless what you can do with them,” spokesman Doug Hundley said. “They will decompose on their own, and fortunately, they can serve a purpose while they’re doing that.”
Hundley said 99% of the trees are grown on Christmas tree production farms, and after one tree is cut down, another is immediately replanted in its place.
Recycling used Christmas trees saves on landfill costs.
“Landfills are expensive — county and state expense for managing, building and maintaining and capping landfills is a big part of governmental expenses,” Hundley said.
Thomas also supports keeping trees out of the trash.
“All landfills are supported by tax dollars, so that means we’re actually paying tax dollars to fill them up after Christmas with Christmas trees,” he said.
Hundley hopes Christmas tree recycling will expand to more communities as they recognize the environmental and cost-saving benefits.
“Any county that’s not doing it will wake up and smell the coffee one day, I’m sure,” he said.
Published in conjunction with E&E News
It’s not just millennials leading climate change protests — grandmothers, including film star Jane Fonda, are getting in on the action, worried about the planet becoming uninhabitable for their grandchildren.
As Fonda, 81, holds her next “Fire Drill Fridays” demonstration on Capitol Hill today, other grandmothers across the country are also taking a stand.
“If my last breath on this earth is working to make their lives better, that’s what I do,” said 74-year-old Dorothy Brandt of Washington, D.C., a climate activist who has two granddaughters, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old.
Brandt maintains a busy schedule as a climate change advocate. She attended Fonda’s rally last Friday and then testified to the EPA this past Wednesday about her experiences with smog in Los Angeles and toxic waste in Tacoma, Wash.
Brandt is not alone in her fight. She belongs to Moms Clean Air Force, which has drawn over 1.2 million members since it was established in 2011.
One of its co-founders, Dominique Browning, 64, of New York City, has a 3-year-old grandson, who will turn 4 on Earth Day. As a grandmother, Browning said the projected impact of climate change is “completely 150% motivating” and that many of her peers feel obligated to protect the next generation.
“I think what a lot of older people really respond to [is] a feeling of moral responsibility and handing on a world that is as good as it possibly can be,” Browning said.
Geri Freedman, 68, of central Florida, couldn’t agree more. Freedman is the co-chair of Elders Climate Action, an 8,000-member organization that mobilizes older people to speak up and take action on climate change. The group has chapters across the country as well as internationally in Canada, India, New Zealand and Australia.
“I have two grandchildren ages 10 and 8,” Freedman said. “I look into their eyes and I know that I have to do everything that I possibly can to make sure that their generation inherits a planet that’s habitable.”
The planet’s future habitability is a major concern for Jean Cummings, 71, of Acton, Mass. Cummings belongs to Mothers Out Front, a nonprofit with 35,000 supporters in nine states. She has prioritized her activism on the effects that the fossil fuel industry has on the future of her grandsons, ages 8 and 11.
“I think about what their life is apt to be like unless some major institutional changes are made to get us off of fossil fuels in an accelerated fashion,” Cummings said.
‘What do we have to lose?’
Fonda’s weekly protests have inspired people of all ages to voice their outrage on climate change in the streets and halls of government.
During her Oct. 25 rally, Fonda encouraged the crowd to “put your body on the line, especially us grandmas, what do we have to lose?”(E&E News PM, Oct. 25).
Kathleen Rall, 72, of Frederick County, Md., attended Fonda’s protest that day because she worried that her daughter and 9-year-old grandson might one day experience an intense warming of the Earth.
“We actually might be destroyed by fire if we don’t cut the emissions quickly,” Rall said. “We have 10 years to cut them dramatically.”
After attending the Nov. 1 demonstration, Brandt said Fonda inspired her, and she got goose bumps listening to the speakers’ words (E&E News PM, Nov. 1).
“I’m proud to see Jane Fonda step up, and she stepped up, as far as I can tell, for all the same reasons that I did,” Brandt said.
Browning thought Fonda’s protests were fantastic, and she wished “more celebrities had their hair on fire about climate change.” Although she noted that you don’t have to be arrested to make a difference.
“I think we have to be very careful about checking our privilege,” Browning said. “There are not very many people who can afford to get arrested, who can afford to not show up at the end of the day to feed the children, who can afford to take a day off.”
Freedman noted that Fonda’s protests are connecting all generations to climate change.
“It’s hopefully making the point that it’s all generations that care about climate change,” Freedman said. “It’s elders. It’s youth. It’s everybody. It’s not one generation.”
‘My generation messed it up’
Millennials and members of Generation Z (born 1982-1996 and 1997-on, respectively) have often blamed older generations for creating the current climate crisis.
Brandt said that while everyone should take some personal responsibility for the environment, her generation has made mistakes that led to climate change.
“My generation messed it up good,” Brandt said. “I think we owe it to this new generation and the generations to come to clean it up.”
On the other hand, Browning said that her generation should not be the scapegoat for all of the effects and that young people are not alone in saving the planet.
“I’m excited about how the movement has grown,” Browning said. “I’m not particularly excited at this trope that baby boomers, my generation, have ruined the planet and it’s up to young people to save it.”
Browning explained that although civil disobedience is important, boomers have “been in the trenches” and engaged with legislators to change regulations.
In March, Gallup released a poll that showed demographic differences on global warming opinions. In the 18- to 29-year-old subgroups, 67% were concerned believers in contrast to 43% in the 50 to 64 age group and 47% of those 65 and older.
A joint survey released in June 2019 between Yale University and George Mason University explained that while younger generations are more likely to engage in climate activism, they are no more likely than baby boomers (born 1946-1964) or the silent generation (born roughly 1925-1945) to contact government officials about global warming.
A grandmother’s act of love
A sense of hope is central to Cummings’ mission to ensure her grandchildren have a livable climate when they’re adults.
“I think all of us would like to give the future generations the chance to experience our amazing natural world in the way that we were able to do it,” Cummings said.
For Browning, thinking about the age of her children and grandchildren helped her frame the immediacy and urgency to act with climate projections for 2050 and 2100.
“We’re talking about when my son is my age, when my grandson will be his father’s age,” Browning said. “He will be a young adult as this catastrophe deepens.”
After Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg came out “speaking truth to power” for the next generation, Brandt decided that she couldn’t sit at home and read during her retirement.
“I’m never too tired. I’m never too sick,” Brandt said. “I’m never too old.”
Published in conjunction with E&E News
Fossils from 66 million years ago have pointed to a potential link between mass extinction of marine life and ocean acidification.
A study published yesterday by the National Academy of Sciences revealed how the collapse of marine species occurred following a meteorite’s impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. The meteorite increased carbon levels in the atmosphere and altered the chemistry of the Earth’s oceans over time.
Researchers studied marine animals with shells, known as foraminifera, to determine how a spike in carbon levels increased ocean acidification.
Their findings argued that the disappearance of the organisms occurred after pH levels dropped 0.25 unit between 100 and 1,000 years after the meteorite hit. Acidification then intensified.
One of the study’s authors, Ellen Thomas, a senior research scientist in Yale University’s geology and geophysics department, noted how increased ocean acidity raised the risk for extinction of marine organisms with shells.
“If we have more acidic oceans, then on the one hand, it is more difficult, it takes more energy for organisms to make a calcium carbonate shell,” Thomas said.
As chemical changes occur when salt water reacts with carbon dioxide, the pH level falls and ocean acidity levels rise.
NOAA reported that following the Industrial Revolution, the pH levels in oceans dropped by 0.11 unit. That translates to a 30% hike in acidity levels.
NOAA launched its Ocean Acidification Program in 2011 as part of a larger effort to monitor, research and educate the public on the impacts of the changing chemistry of the oceans.
The program has funded multiple research projects along the Gulf of Mexico, in coral ecosystems and in the Southeast.
Emily Osborne, a University Corporation for Atmospheric Research visiting scientist with the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, explained how the study’s findings coincided with NOAA’s modern-day research on ocean acidification.
“Model projections suggest that if business-as-usual scenarios continue into the future, we might see pH decline on the scale that was observed in this study as a result of that [meteorite] impact,” Osborne said.
Ocean acidification is reversible, but Thomas pointed out that changes in chemistry cannot be altered for thousands of years.
“They are reversible on time scales that are so long that humans are not really interested in that,” Thomas said. “We’re talking reversible on time scales of 10,000 to 100,000 years.”
Published in conjunction with E&E News and Scientific American
WASHINGTON — On an evening in late March, Jan Day is standing outside her red brick rowhouse in Capitol Hill holding a white helmet fastened with black netting. Day’s 8-year-old airedale terrier, Echo, barks as she strolls past the garden, toward the back of her house.
Neighbors driving by in a white car wave and yell, “Jan and her bees!”
Day beams with pride.
“We used to be known on our block as Echo’s mom and dad, but now I’m also the bee lady,” she says.
By day, Jan Day is the director of client success for Starfish Retention Solutions by Hobsons, an educational technology company. But it’s her after-hours hobby that’s earned her the nickname, and plenty of new friends in her neighborhood.
“People are moving in all the time,” Day said. “It’s amazing how, as soon as someone hears, ‘Oh have you met the bee lady on our block?’ suddenly people are just like ‘Oh I’ve got questions for her.’”
Day’s wooden front door opens up to reveal a flight of hardwood steps that creak as she climbs upstairs to her porch, which is attached to her bedroom. A blue patterned quilt lays neatly on the bed. Outside, nearly 100,000 bees await.
Day throws on a white puffy jacket and zips the hood with a black screen around her face and neck before stepping out onto the porch.
A rusted container billows smoke as Day squeezes the accordion-like handle eight times. The smoke inhibits the communication pheromones that bees use to alert the hive of danger. Then she opens the hives for the first time this spring.
Day slowly pulls out a wooden frame. Bees crawl over the cells with golden honey inside.
When she first started beekeeping, Day wondered if the honey would have “diesel overtones” from the urban environment. She was surprised to find it tastes wonderful.
“Because of the mix of the variety of flowering plants—from tulip poplar to basswood or linden to japanese scholar trees—the quality and quantity of nectar in the city is amazing,” she says.
A few years ago, a longtime Washingtonian beekeeper explained to DCist:
“The foraging material in urban context seems to be a lot more plentiful and diverse than it is in the rural areas. In the District specifically, we have a very green canopy that includes a lot of trees, on the streets and in parks. Trees are great for bees. As the season wanes, a lot of non-native species are here that extend the nectar flow—the nectar availability season. Plus there’s a lack of competition in the urban environment. We don’t have a lot of other competing pollinators, so it makes for a smorgasbord for the bees.”
Beekeeping in the District wasn’t always so straightforward.
While the practice was technically legal, the law was ambiguous enough that many people kept their hives in secret. That changed in 2012, when an omnibus bill more widely legalized the practice.
The legislation established standards for keeping bees and required beekeepers to register their hives with the city’s Department of Energy and Environment. Since 2015, there have been 443 colonies registered with the city, and 104 people are currently keeping bees in the city, according to the department’s records.
Day and her husband, Charles, first attended a beekeepers’ group meeting on the recommendation of a friend, Del Voss, about a year before the law passed. In 2012, the group officially became known as the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance.
The organization now has almost 250 members that gather monthly to share advice about maintaining their hives and listen to experts talk.
Toni Burnham, the president of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance, says she wants the public to see beekeeping as normal part of the community, rather than as an eccentric hobby.
“Beekeepers should be a little bit more boring than model railroad people and a little bit less boring than the composters,” Burnham said. “We should just be another one of those groups, a normal part of the city’s DNA.”
That seems to be happening. Day conducted a survey last year to figure out just how much honey is being collected. She found that local beekeepers had harvested about 6,190 pounds of honey—roughly the weight of a Ford Explorer.
With her own hives thriving, Day started her own honey and candle making company, Second Story Honey, in 2017. She sells tea lights, honey jars, owl-shaped candles, and other products online. On nice days, she’ll bring out a card table and sell her products outside her house—just feet from the hives.
Seven years after becoming a beekeeper, Day has been instrumental in mentoring and encouraging other people to take up the hobby.
One of them is her co-worker, Amy Reitz, who enlisted Day’s help at a holiday party in convincing her wife to let her buy some bees.
Now she’s going into her third year of beekeeping. Day has been a support system through tough times, like when Reitz lost her hive.
“Jan was really helpful in being able to say, like, ‘everybody loses their bees,’ ‘I’ve lost bees,’ right? And it’s a learning process,” Reitz said. “I think talking through her kind of really helped me regain the confidence.”
But Day says one of the reasons she loves the hobby is because there’s still so much to learn.
“I find beekeeping ever fascinating because scientists are learning something almost every week about bee behavior, whether its a social aspect of their lives, biological aspects of their lives, an economic impact that they have,” she says. “There’s so much that we still haven’t learned about how this superorganism works and behaves, and I just love that.”
Day also serves on the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance Swarm Squad, which is on call in the spring when swarms of honey bees search for a new home. The trick is to capture them in a box that includes the queen.
On Sunday afternoon last year, she and Voss were called to Dupont Circle Day put a netted veil over her short brown hair and climbed into a white baggy suit that resembled something out of a “Ghostbusters” movie. She climbed 30 feet up a tree and retrieved a swarm of bees that had entranced the neighborhood.
Dozens of people gathered around Day and Voss as they put the honey bees into a copier paper box and shut the lid. People stuck around to chat with the pair about beekeeping and the significance of the swarm as the honey bees form a new colony.
Day describes it as “just a magical moment combination of saving the bees and being able to talk to all of these people who had lots of questions.”
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf told officials from 33 states and territories Monday that his state’s efforts to reduce one of the highest opioid death rates in the country were built on creating 45 centers to address the mental health and behavioral issues that lead to addiction.
Although the data has not been fully reported from all counties, “It looks like 2018 might be the first year we actually see a decline in opioid deaths in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in his address to the National Governors Association’s Opioid Summit for New Administrations, a two-day event for state governments and nonprofits across the U.S. to discuss solutions for reducing opioid use and death.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017, Pennsylvania had one of the highest rates of deaths related to drug overdose with around 44 deaths per 100,000 people.
Last year, Wolf established an Opioid Command Center comprised of six state agencies that collaborate on how to prevent and reduce opioid use. Wolf’s office also announced the success of 45 state-funded opioid use disorder treatment centers known as the Centers of Excellence.
In a 2018 report, the American Medical Association highlighted Pennsylvania’s success with these centers in addressing mental and behavioral health disorders related to addiction.
Many advisers to governors across the country were in attendance for the opioid summit. Some of those representatives came from Alabama, Alaska, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Wisconsin.
Jane Wishner, executive policy adviser for New Mexico’s Health and Human Services Department, asked Wolf what he would have done differently with his experience in expanding Pennsylvania’s opioid treatment services.
Wolf said he would have started his campaign against opioid use disorder sooner.
Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, was grateful that Wolf used the term “substance use disorder suffered.”
“I’ve never heard that,” Criss said. “It’s very compassionate so I want to thank you for that.”
Wolf also noted that governments cannot celebrate the slowdown of the epidemic because other addictive drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine are replacing opioids.
“This is a chronic illness. It’s not something you can take something for and you’re over it,” Wolf said. “It doesn’t work that way. This is a lifelong thing.”
The Democratic governor also said combating the opioid crisis “actually is not a very partisan issue.”
“Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, all seem to come around this issue in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Published in conjunction with Pennsylvania Capital Star
WASHINGTON, April 3 — Could humans regrow their limbs? Researchers are considering this possibility as they study the regrowth of tail fins and other organs in zebrafish.
Zebrafish are a member of the minnow family that live in freshwater and are no bigger than two inches in length.
Despite their small size, this fish has changed how scientists and researchers understand treatments for cancer, spinal cord injuries, and potentially the regeneration of limbs in humans.The study of zebrafish heart regeneration has led to conclusions about preventative and reactive measures to tissue breakdown in the human heart.
In 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published its findings on how zebrafish research has influenced basic understandings of human scar tissue in the heart.
Dr. Jon Lorsch is the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at NIH and he said zebrafish studies are shaping the future science of regenerative medicine. Lorsch said scientists and doctors are questioning the possibility of human limb regeneration through zebrafish studies.
“If we could figure out how to turn those pathways back on in a human could we actually allow someone who has lost a limb to eventually regenerate the limb?” Lorsch asked. “That’s the dream.”
According to NIH data published in 2016, grant funding applications for zebrafish studies have increased overall compared to other model organism research.
Dr. Eric Glasgow is a researcher and director of Georgetown University’s Zebrafish Shared Resource, a database of findings related to the study of zebrafish and human diseases. He has studied zebrafish for over 20 years and he didn’t think limb regeneration was a remote possibility until now.
Glasgow said the similarities in the cell types of zebrafish and humans have helped researchers test different treatments for diseases and focus on the regeneration of human tissues.
“When you give these guys drugs, or you manipulate a gene you actually get the effect on the whole organism that reflects what you see in humans,” Glasgow said.
Despite these new findings for human health, animal rights groups are concerned that zebrafish are harmed in the process of research.
Vice president of laboratory investigations cases at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Dr. Alka Chandna, said that the overcrowding of zebrafish in tanks has a major impact on their social well-being and individual longevity.
“Zebrafishes are social animals and so this kind of overcrowding can make a fish depressed they can become aggressive, certainly any type of social cohesion entirely falls apart,” Chandna said.
Chandna also noted the lack of research dedicated to how zebrafish are impacted in regenerative studies. She said the similarities of human and zebrafish genes are not a sound basis for scientific research on these animals.
“The differences are so great in the physiology that you really have to question the scientific integrity of using these animals in the first place,” Chandna said.
For Glasgow, zebrafish are the future of this type of research and there are no alternatives to using them.
“It comes down to is it valuable to animal research,” Glasgow said. “My opinion is there’s absolutely no substitute to an organism.”
Published in conjunction with United Press International