26 May 2014

Remembering the 1966 Riga Confined Space Tragedy

Remembering the 1966 Riga Confined Space Tragedy

On a Saturday afternoon in May 1966, five men lost their lives, wives lost their husbands, and twenty children lost their fathers. Consider it a cautionary tale about the lethal danger of hydrogen sulfide. The confined space was a cistern fed by a 300-foot deep water well and the gas apparently occurred naturally in the ground. The accident was reported as far away as Sidney, Australia via Associated Press wire …

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9 March 2014

Wetlands and Flood Mitigation: The 10 Percent Solution

Wetlands and Flood Mitigation: The 10 Percent Solution

Following the Great Flood of 1993, an official report called for more research to find ways to prevent flood devastation, apparently unaware the problem had been mostly solved over a decade earlier. But the implementation of a national wetland restoration program has faced intractable political and economic obstacles. The Problem Given the current extensive snow cover across the United States, communities are bracing for worse than average floods. According to the National Weather Service, …

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2 January 2014

Dams and Demand for Sand Threaten World Beaches

Dams and Demand for Sand Threaten World Beaches

Documentary filmmaker Denis Delestrac has recently completed the movie Sand Wars, which looks at the intense demand for what may seem like an abundant natural resource. In some cases worldwide, the sand business has taken on a dangerous criminal dimension. In a TedxBarcelona Talk called Let’s talk about sand, Delestrac introduces the complex subject of beach sand, including erosion and exploitation, with style and charisma. There are also some good …

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24 November 2013

On Site Wastewater Disposal Systems: Soil Considerations

On Site Wastewater Disposal Systems: Soil Considerations

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 1990 there were 24.67 million residences serviced by on-site waste disposal (OSWD) systems, representing 24.1 percent of the total number of households. The highest concentration of OSWD systems is found in the New England states where Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have about 50% of their households using them. That number has surely grown, but, unfortunately, 1990 data is the most up-to-date …

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3 October 2013

NRCS Web Soil Survey and Soil Data Mart Shut Down

The popular Natural Resources Conservation Service Web Soil Survey and Soil Data Mart are currently shut down, due to the federal government conflict over funding. As an environmental science consultant in the private sector, I frequently use these soil mapping and data resources when characterizing existing site conditions associated with major infrastructure projects. In years past, consultants typically kept a collection of hard-copy county soil survey books but got away …

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25 August 2013

Is Fukushima Out of Control?

Is Fukushima Out of Control?

Following up on a recent post, the news out of Fukushima just got worse last week in what appears to be shaping up as a major environmental crisis requiring a massive and coordinated international response. A spike in radioactivity led to the acknowledgement by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) of a leaking tank used to store some of the more heavily contaminated water from the damaged reactor. Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory …

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18 August 2013

Groundwater Whack-a-Mole

In two high-profile cases, efforts to block the flow of contaminated groundwater resulted in short-term relief – until water tables rose and leaks started popping up all over the place. It’s groundwater whack-a-mole. Red and Bonita Mines Near Silverton, CO, owners of a metallic mine with an acid mine drainage problem and state regulators reached a consent decree that was supposedly going to solve the problem. A tunnel access to the …

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31 July 2013

The Ins and Outs of Fracking and Underground Waste Injection Wells

The Ins and Outs of Fracking and Underground Waste Injection Wells

When the Akron Beacon-Journal Online publishes its updated interactive map of active, permitted, and producing oil and gas wells in Ohio, it places another map right below it. The second map shows underground waste injection wells. These two maps belong together because underground injection wells are used to dispose of the polluted flowback water from high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations. When thinking about potential for groundwater contamination, hydrofractured oil/gas …

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1 July 2013

Soil Anisotropy: Mechanisms and Hydrologic Consequences

Soil Anisotropy: Mechanisms and Hydrologic Consequences

Introduction Anisotropy, which is the opposite of “isotropy,” is a term used to denote preferential flow direction in soils and other geologic materials. If soil consisted of perfectly spherical grains, flow rates would be isotropic – the same in all directions, other factors being equal. Soil doesn’t consist of perfectly spherical grains, however. It’s commonly understood that flow of air and water through soils is greatly influenced by grain size, …

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17 May 2013

Deja Vu: Remembering the 1947 Texas City (Fertilizer) Explosion

Deja Vu: Remembering the 1947 Texas City (Fertilizer) Explosion

The 1947 Texas City Disaster is known as the worst U.S. industrial accident and the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. The disaster, like the recent West, Texas disaster (video), was preceded by a fire. Nearby firefighters and spectators were among many of those killed or injured. The Texas City incident began with a fire that broke out on the French registered SS Grandcamp, which was loaded with 2,300 tons of …

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