Monday, April 20, 2009

Fly Ash, Toxic? Shocking?

I was wondering how long it was going to take for a story like this to come out. No, it's not because I am inherently cynical, although I have my moments. It's because from the moment the coal fly ash spill occurred near Knoxville, TN onward the Tennessee Valley Authority was spouting what seemed like nonsense.

For starters, fly ash is a residue from coal burning.
Fly ash contains trace concentrations of heavy metals and other substances that are known to be detrimental to health in sufficient quantities. Potentially toxic trace elements in coal include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, radium, selenium, thorium, uranium, vanadium, and zinc.
Those are some pretty nasty elements you got going on right there. It always seemed to me that if the fly ash retainer failed the potential for groundwater contamination became pretty darn significant. No worries, according to the TVA as quoted in the article above. Maybe there is a wee bit of stuff in the water now, but nothing earth shattering. And if it is more than a wee bit, the treatment plants can filter out those pesky toxins. Drink away East Tennessee.

Mr. Moulton said Friday that the levels exceeded safety limits for drinking water, but that both metals were filtered out by water treatment processes.

Mercury and arsenic, he said, were “barely detectable” in the samples.
I never believed that company line and I know local residents didn't buy it either. Now an article from The Nation calls attention to the shady data generated by TVA following the fly ash spill. It is confirming a lot of what has been feared from the very beginning.
New evidence indicates that in the wake of the disaster, the TVA may have intentionally collected water samples from clean spots in the Emory River, a major supplier of drinking water for nearby cities and a popular site for recreational activities such as swimming and fishing. Third-party tests have found high levels of toxins in the river water and in private wells, while the TVA has assured residents that tap water, well water and river water are safe.

In recent weeks, an inquiry in conjunction with The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund uncovered satellite positioning locations for the authority's water sampling stations inside a TVA dredging permit application. The data were pinpointed on aerial maps and shown to independent experts in an effort to determine whether the TVA skewed its choice of water sample sites.

Donna Lisenby, a river monitor for Appalachian Voices, said the location data gave critics a smoking gun. "You can skew the data by putting testing points in odd locations, such as behind a sandbar or far upriver away from the spill," she said. "The GPS locations show that that is what the TVA has been doing." Bob Gadinski, a former hydrologist for the State of Pennsylvania, said that the TVA's use of only five testing locations was "too few."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Got Gas? I Seriously Doubt It!

I don't think I have ever seen a case of what you believe will come to pass that surpasses what is going on this very moment with gas prices. If we ever needed proof that we are a society that is utterly addicted to oil, this is it.

I heard rumblings about how Knoxville was going to experience a gas shortage because of Hurricane Ike. I didn't believe it. Sure, gas shortages in the Houston area with all the people trying to evacuate, I get that. But seriously people....a gas shortage in Knoxville as a result, you have got to be kidding me. Oh how wrong I was!

Here is a piece from the local news about the impending local gas shortage. The minute there was a whisper of gas prices going up because of the shut-down of off shore drilling and on shore refining people went nuts. There were people at my work who went out at lunch time with over a half a tank of gas in order to top off. Stupid me thought it was all a joke so I stayed put with my not quite quarter of a tank. On my way home, I saw $3.99 at a gas station that I pass and was pissed. Then I passed another gas station and saw $4.47. I became irrate. The line was 5 cars deep. Hell people, you'd think there was a mandatory evacuation order for Knoxville because of this storm.

OPEC has got to be shitting a glee brick right now to watch the U.S. behaving like a bunch of oil starved maniacs.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Knoxville in the News

That's right...Knoxville, TN has been in the news a lot lately. Church shooting, school shooting. It isn't what is expected around here. And yet, CourtTV is camped out in this relatively small town city now for coverage of the Eric McLean trial.

I don't have a grand point to this post. I think what I want to write about is the whole misguided notion that society seems to have about "it could never happen here". Plain fact of the matter is, it can happen anywhere, anytime. Loading society up with guns wont stop it. If someone is going to go ballistic, they are going to go ballistic Metal detectors in schools? Fine, the shooting will occur right outside the school. Locking our kids up instead of letting them roam free? Fine, the predators will bide time. Monitoring computer usage? Fine, go anonymous. It just seems to me we can't stop a lunatic without stopping the behavior at a very early age.

You know, I suppose some of this comes from my new found jaded perspective of my job. Honestly though, I think I had come to this conclusion a long time ago. We are lost. I don't know how we find our way back, but there are lost souls out there who are going to do crazy things. And none of the rest of us will ever understand why.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Got Records?

I know, I know...everyone is tired of me writing about sprorts. What's a girl to do though when she has just witnessed history? I've mentioned before that I started swimming competetively when I was six years old. I also tried diving, gymnastics, track and field, softball, and basketball before I fell in love with swimming. It was not an uninformed decision for me. So, as an informed lover of the sport let me count the ways that this has been an unbelievable experience for me as a fan.

(1) Clearly Michael Phelps has held the news media attention this year. There has even been talk about how his presence this year has been bad for the sport, but come on people...he just won eight gold medals. Eight! I was two months old when Mark Spitz won his seven gold medals in Munich in 1972. As a ten year old, I had the opportunity to swim in the same pool that the Spitz did when he won seven gold and set seven world records. In fact, I got to swim there with my mom. It gave us both goose bumps. This evening I got to see Phelps break that long standing record.

(2) I do recall watching Janet Evans set a world record at the Olympics some nineteen years ago (the longest standing swimming world record) and last night I got to see that record fall in the 800 freestyle. It was a little sad for me to see that record fall since I did get to see it set, but records are meant to be broken.

(3) I grew up watching Dara Torres and tonight I got to watch a 41-year old heroine of mine win silver in the 50 freestyle (damn that 0.01 second out-touch...I thought she had it). And did you see the joy on Dara's face with that silver? It was so utterly joyous. Then she came right back in about twenty minutes for the women's 4 x 100 medley relay to win silver again. And every member of that team had the grace to say how Australia simply was the better team. Dara's comment after all of that was that she would want to tell her two year old daughter who probably wont remember the evening that you shouldn't put an age limit on your dreams.

(4) On top of it all, Natalie Coughlin just won six medals in one Olympics and that was also a record for a woman.

For me, it has been an amazing Olympics!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Got Olympics?

I have to admit, it never occurred to me that anyone might hate the Olympics. Nor has it ever occurred to me that anyone might question the benefits of intense sporting competition. Allow me to define whom I see myself to be. I am a daughter, sibling, partner, friend, woman, feminist, scientist, depressive, athlete. None of that defines me any more than the other, but they are all part of who I am. I write this particular piece as an athlete.

It truly saddens me to hear that people hate the Olympics. It actually saddens me to the core because it seems to extend beyond the Olympic games into sports in general.

First, the Olympics. I understand how there can be issues with the Olympics. Certainly I did not and still do not necessarily think that Beijing should have received this summer's Olympics. I understand the human rights issues that swirl around it. That is why I think that the U.S. choice for flag bearer was undeniably brave. Lebanon has women on its team. In the grand scheme of things, how amazing is that?! In my mind, there can be no doubt that the Olympics brings about change like nothing out there ever has managed to do. Despite all else, it brings together the world for the briefest of times.

I understand that there may be issues with the commercial aspect of what is supposed to be an amateur event. However, whether we like it or not, the Olympics is a business just like everything else. Film, the arts of any fashion, the corporate world. There may be issues with the money that comes along with being an Olympic athlete. Be it endorsements or money given for a medal in certain countries...I see how that can be hard to swallow. Focusing on those issues, however, fails to acknowledge that an athlete chooses to give their life for a short period of time to all the training that goes into it. In many countries, there is nothing to gain from this. In fact, in many countries athletes live below the poverty line while they are training.

Finally, I understand that there might be questions about how this may or may not be healthy for the children who choose to follow the path of an Olympic athlete. Is it in the child's best interest? I think if the child is talented enough to be an elite athlete, it is. How is it any different from an intellectual child prodigy? How is it any different from a piano or violin child prodigy? If someone has the talent to excel, is it not in their best interest to strive towards excellence?

The concept of competition as a zero sum scenario misses the point for me. I started competing as a swimmer when I was six years old. I tried all sports out there before finding that swimming was it for me. Never was I destined to make it to the Olympics. I think I realized that fairly early on. However, I always had the goal of being the best I could be in the venue that I loved. How is that any different from what anyone ever does in whatever endeavor they choose? It isn't always win, lose, or go home. For me, and for most athletes I know, it was do your very best. When I fell short, I was disappointed, but I learned from that disappointment. I learned that you can't always be the best there is, but you can always be the best you can be.

I know for a fact five things. (1) All the times in my life when I suffered from a major depressive episode coincided with when I was not swimming. (2) All the times in my life when my grades suffered was when I was not swimming. (3) Swimming taught me discipline, focus, and grace in victory or defeat. (4) Swimming gave me a sense of community...with my teammates, with my school, with my family and friends. (5) Swimming gave me a way to express myself. I don't see how that is any different than anything else anyone else identifies with at a deep level.

To the very core of my being I believe that the athletes at the Olympics are there to have the chance to be the best in the world and if not that then to be a heroine/hero for their nation just by competing. Does the media make more out of it than they should? Probably. When do they not? But like it or not, the world identifies with sport. In the end, I honestly believe that, medal or not / money or not, an athlete competes because it is the ultimate acceptance of the gifts that they have been given. Regardless of how one feels about all the hype that surrounds it, to not accept the talent would be far worse a fate.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Famous Little City

It isn't often I get to brag about Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The town has never quite recovered from the pull out of Phillips Petroleum Company. It's hard when an oil town no longer gets to be an oil town. Surprisingly though, Bartlesville still has its own unexpected claim to fame. Bartlesville is proud owner of its very own Frank Lloyd Wright building. Even more, the Price Tower still manages to provide a bit of wonder to those few people who still find themselves passing through Bartlesville, like Wayne Curtis did, which he writes about here.

I grew up about ten long Oklahoma blocks away from the Price Tower. I saw it every day as I walked to swim practice downtown. Green copper paneling, triangle can you not love it? The last time I was in town was when I was there packing up my mom from the house I grew up in following my dad's death. I'm not sure when I might make it back there since no family remains in the town, but it is nice to know that there will still be a little bit of fame waiting for me if I do.

(Photo courtesy of: The Price Tower Arts Center)