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Know Your Air

According to the 2010 State of the Air Report conducted by the American Lung Association and published on its website, the quality of Bowling Green’s air may be at risk.

Ozone, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency glossary, is a gas in the atmosphere that is produced naturally or through human activities. Human activities include photochemical smog, commonly produced from factories.

High concentrations of ozone can be harmful to humans and many other living organisms as they breath in harmful chemicals. According to the State of the Air Report, Bowling Green is at risk.

Read the rest of this entry »

BGSU Refuses to Sign Presidential Climate Commitment

The American College and Universities President’s Climate Commitment has nearly 700 signatures nationwide, but Bowling Green State University is not one of them.

The organization currently represents 5.8 million students and holds its universities accountable for creating a seven-part action plan to reduce carbon emissions, with a long-term goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Bowling Green State University is one out of four baccalaureate Ohio universities that have not signed. BGSU President Carol Cartwright has been asked twice by Gary Silverman, director of the center for environmental programs and operations, to sign the commitment. However, Silverman said Cartwright did not respond to either of his requests.

Some BGSU students attended a meeting with President Barack Obama at the 2011 Power Shift Conference in Washington D.C. Photo by Gabriel Morgan.

“The university needs to step up,” Silverman said. “We’re not doing it in comprehensive way. It’s invisible to a lot of students.”

Cartwright says she did not sign the commitment because she cannot guarantee that the university will reach the goal of zero carbon emissions in the future.

“I do not make promises that I cannot keep,” Cartwright said. “The initiative calls for a number of specific actions that simply won’t work for a university like BGSU and that we would be unable to implement.” Read the rest of this entry »

Local Company Assists in Rebuilding Ozone Layer

Tanks outside of the RemTec plant on North Enterprise Road. Photo by Nikia Washington

The United Nations Environment Programme released that by 2035, an estimated 150 million diagnoses of various diseases caused by the hole in the ozone will have been avoided. In 1989 the Montreal Protocol ordered a phase out of certain ODS, in order to save the ozone, having a direct correlation with the dismissal of these diseases. RemTec International is a local company assisting in the phase out.

The ozone layer is a layer in the Earth’s atmosphere that absorbs ultraviolet rays from the sun, protecting the Earth’s surface. Over the past century, ozone-depleting substances have created a hole in the ozone layer, allowing ultraviolet rays to reach the Earth’s surface, harming the human population and the environment. UV rays cause cancer and other health problems.

The Montreal protocol, which went into effect in 1989, is an international treaty that prohibits the production of refrigerants, particularly CFCs such as freon, that deplete the ozone layer. These refrigerants are commonly found in older refrigerator and air conditioner tanks.

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan was quoted on the U.S. Department of State website saying this was perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date. The EPAs  website states that today, over 190 countries are participating in the Montreal Protocol.

Headquartered is Bowling Green, Ohio, RemTec International is one of 35 companies nationwide that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards to recycle refrigerants, said Tim Kearny, vice president of RemTec. 

Originally, the company started out as a manufacturer of fire extinguishers, Kearny said.

“In the late 80s, early 90s it was determined that some of the agents being used were ozone-depleting substances,” said Kearny. There was then a move to recycle these materials. RemTec bought equipment to recycle ozone-depleting materials, and soon they were receiving more calls for recycling than for fire extinguishers.

“Our main focus is on ozone-depleting gases,” said Scott Warner, plant manager of RemTec.

Warner, a Bowling Green State University graduate, said the company works closely with the federal and local environmental agencies, and the facility is an EPA-approved facility.

According to RemTec’s website, the company provides three main services: buy back and recovery, destruction, and cylinder certification.

The buy back and recovery program buys uses refrigeration tanks containing old refrigerants from their clientele. Warner explained the company then refurbishes and reclaims the refrigerants to sell to consumers who still use older model technologies that can use the chemicals. The Montreal Protocol states that these CFCs can no longer be produced for new technologies, but allows the use of recycled CFCs to be used for older models that are only compatible with these types of refrigerants.

“The biggest user is the U.S. military,” Kearny said. “They have a lot of old equipment that still needs these refrigerants.”

Company president Richard Marcus said in a video from The World Business Review that the Montreal Protocol requires that these agents are recycled.

“We make sure the product isn’t able to escape,” Warner said.

Although most times the refrigerants are recycled, there are circumstances in which they must be destroyed. RemTec’s website states that in some cases, the ozone-depleting substances cannot be recycled because they can no longer be used legally or are extremely deteriorated. Warner said the destruction consist of removing these refrigerants from the tanks and destroying them on site, through either burning or destruction by use of other chemicals.

RemTec’s Bowling Green office is located on Haskins Road. Photo by Nikia Washington.

RemTec is one of six facilities in the United States that meet the standards of the EPA to destroy ozone-depleting substances.

Warner said that RemTec operates on a closed booth system, meaning they function in a way that the chemicals should not escape.

However, the Toxic Release Inventory shows that during the past four years, RemTec has released more than 10,000 pounds a year of toxic waste. All of the waste were chemical gases, including 54 pounds of freon, one of the ozone-depleting substances.

Kearny said the chemicals listed on the TRI report are refrigerants.

“There is no human harm,” Kearney said of these releases.  He did say, however, they cause can cause harm to the upper atmosphere, which is the exact issue they are trying to prevent.

Phillippa Cannon of the Office of Public Affairs for the U.S.  EPA Region 5 said TRI data is not sufficient to calculate potential effects on human health or the environment.

RemTec has four additional locations around the globe:  Italy, Canada, Australia and California. RemTec’s website identifies Australia’s location as a destruction and processing plant, and the other locations as sales offices. Other than headquarters, Bowling Green also has a manufacturing division.

“More than manufacturing, we focus on reclaiming and reselling,” Warner said.  Kearney said it is mainly titled the “manufacturing division” because of the previous production of fire extinguishers.

Warner said RemTec moved its office from Holland, Ohio, 12 years ago to Bowling Green, where the company had room to expand.

“We have a lot of local ties to Bowling Green,” Warner said. Some of the company’s staff are BGSU graduates, including Warner and Marcus. RemTec also chose to relocate to Bowling Green because the utilities were cheaper.

How the Montreal Protocol Works

The Montreal Protocol functions in a series of phases. Phase one was to phase out class one substances, CFCs and halons. The United States completely ended the production of these gases in 1996, but they were produced globally until December 2010.

Truck brings in refrigeration tanks to RemTec plant. Photo by Nikia Washington.

“The class one substances have now all been completely banned from production,” said Kearny.

Phase two consists of the phase out of class two substances, HCFCs, which were replacements for CFCs. These are said to be completely banned by year 2030.

“The United States is accelerating that phase,” Kearny said. “Hopefully by 2020 [HCFCs] will be down to zero production.”

Chemicals made to replace ozone-depleting HCFCs, HFCs, have been found to be greenhouse gases that cause global warming, presenting the next issue to be tackled.

In the future, RemTec will focus on working with the Montreal Protocol to eliminate these gases from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Kearney said work is currently being done on products which do not promote global warming or ozone depletion and can be used as a refrigerant, likely to be available in the next two years.

Are GMOs Really Dangerous?

Almost everything that we consume has been genetically altered in one way or another, which makes it nearly impossible to have a diet that is completely free of genetically modified foods.
Many have begun to protest the amount of genetically modified foods that people are consuming.  Some say they are dangerous and will affect us in ways that we won’t see for years to come. Others believe that they are completely harmless, and quite necessary in order to help feed the world’s growing population. So are GMOs really as dangerous as some make them out to be?

“They’re not that big of a deal,” said Craig Wessels, a teacher at Perkins High School in Sandusky, Ohio said.  “We’ve been hybridizing stuff for years. Nothing’s like how it used to be.”

Wessels teaches a Global Issues class where a large portion of his lesson plan focuses on educating his students on genetically modified organisms.

“Ideally it would be great to grow everything organically, but it’s not terribly practical,” he said.
At Bowling Green State University, the Vegetarian Club works to help educate fellow students about sustainable foods. Though the club’s main concern is not eating meat, members discuss food and educate each other on genetically modified foods. A few weeks ago, the club showed a movie called “Fresh” in the Bowen Thompson Student Union Theater. The film talked about agriculture, including genetically modified foods.

Miriam Hitchcock, president of the Vegetarian Club doubts it’s a good idea to use GMOs. Hitchcock and other members of the club take trips to different stores to buy organic foods t that are free of genetic modification.
“We shop a lot at Squeaker’s, or Kroger,” she said. “We also shop at the farmers’ market when it’s open during the school year, and Whole Foods in Ann Arbor.”
Squeaker’s, an organic café and health food store located in downtown Bowling Green, is a place for students to purchase organic food that is not far from campus.

Schlessman Seed Co., the largest seed company in Ohio, celebrates its 95th anniversary this year. (Photo by Hannah Mingus)

Sclessman Seeds- A close to home example of genetic modification

Schlessman Seed Co., the largest seed company in Ohio, has been modifying its seeds for nearly 100 years. The company is best known for its corn hybrids.
According to its web site, the company has made several agreements with other companies who already have already advanced their technology, and produced new genetically enhanced hybrids. Farmers are now able to grow weed- and insect-free crops with this new seed, all while improving the environment and increasing efficiency, the company says.
Besides corn, the company produces soybeans, wheat and popcorn seeds as well. Schlessman grows two types of seed corn -field and sweet. Field corn is mainly produced for livestock feed and ethanol, while sweet corn is what people eat.

“In the 1920s people said hybrid seed was dangerous and people would die, but 99 percent of the market stayed at hybrid,” said   Darryl Deering, president of Schlessman Seed Co. “In 1995, there was the first genetically modified seed, and today 80 percent of corn is genetically engineered. There’s not one time when someone became ill or injured.”

According to the Ohio State Extension and Purdue Extension Partnership, non-GMO growers run the risk of having their crops contaminated by genetically modified pollen. According to Peter Thomison, an agronomist of the Ohio State University Extension, “pollen drift” is a growing concern among farmers who grow strictly organic food. He said it would take a lot of coordination between the two types of farmers to make this effective

Deering said recently farmers have been shying away from genetically modified seeds, but

Schlessman Seed Co. not only produces seeds, but also has its own local brand of popcorn in Ohio and Pa. (Photo by Hannah Mingus)

it  has not affected his company. He explained that there is an extra cost to use genetically engineered seed, and some farmers just cannot justify the extra money. In areas that contain fewer pests, these crops are just as good without the genetically modified traits. In other places insects, they attack crops that have not been modified. This is why most farmers prefer the genetically modified seeds, he said.

Deering believes that without GMOs, the world food supply would go away.
“We’d all be skinny,” he said. “Organic production is so labor intensive, so many would have to go back to the farm.”

Darryl Deering gives some background on Schlessman Seed Co.

Mark Hertsgaard speaks on climate change

Were you born after June of 1988? Then, according to author and environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard, you are a member of Generation Hot.

Hot: Living through the next fifty years on Earth, puts a new perspective on climate change. (Contributed Photo)

Hertsgaard, the author of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, spoke at the 25th Edward Lamb Peace Lecture at Bowling Green State University on March 28 in the Bowen Thompson Student Union Theater.  He discussed climate change, the subject of his latest book.

Hertsgaard coined the term “Generation Hot” using the date in 1988 that NASA scientist James Hansen warned the U.S. Senate about global warming. There are nearly 2 billion people around the world who were born after June of 1988.

“You all are fated to spend the rest of your lives coping with the hottest climate that our civilization has ever known,” he said to the audience of the lecture.

Hot was released Jan. 19 and has received rave reviews from various publications such as The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and The Boston Globe.

Hertsgaard said he got the idea for the book following an interview with Sir David King in London in October 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.  Hertsgaard said King is the most influential person on climate change, besides former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

After the interview, Hertsgaard was walking through London and heard children’s voices in a park, which reminded him that he was a father, and that his daughter Chiara would have to live through climate change.  He was determined to use his journalistic abilities to find out what it would take to survive.  Chiara was the inspiration for Hot.

Hertsgaard said that when he first began his research, climate change was said to

Hertsgaard with daughter Chiara, the inspiration for his book. (Contributed Photo)

be a very dangerous but very distant problem, and it was not expected to hit until the year 2100.  Scientists also thought it was a preventable problem.  Climate change ended up arriving 100 years earlier than expected because the Earth was more sensitive to greenhouse gases than scientists originally thought.

Hertsgaard also said many people use the terms “global warming” and “climate change” interchangeably, when they actually refer to two different things.  Global warming is the rise in temperature caused by excess greenhouse gases, he said.  This temperature change causes climate change which includes “extreme weather” such as an increase in precipitation or a stronger drought.  Even if people immediately stopped everything that is causing climate change, temperatures would still continue to rise for another 50 years, he said.

In the United States, many people do not believe that climate change is happening and think it is one big hoax.  Hertsgaard said this mindset only occurs in the U.S., and the Republicans are the single political party in the world that does not believe in it.  Climate change is as controversial as gravity in the scientific community.

“Man-made climate change is happening now, and it’s dangerous,” he said.

The United States is the No. 1 climate polluter, yet it does not have a global climate treaty.  According to Hertsgaard, the U.S. would if “Washington wasn’t dragging their feet.”  The Netherlands has a 200 year plan to cope with climate change.

Hertsgaard explained that the industrial countries started the

Mark Hertsgaard speaking at the Edward Lamb Peace Lecture at BGSU. (Photo by Hannah Mingus)

problem, and now everyone has to pay.  Capitalism is environmentally blind and doesn’t think long term which is the government’s job, he said.

The audience of Hertsgaard’s lecture mainly consisted of Bowling Green students, who were members of Generation Hot.   

Sophomore Meghan Duran-Whitmore attended the lecture as part of her international health class. She said she learned the difference between global warming and climate change. She also left feeling angry at prior generations. 

“I’m mad at the people before Generation Hot,” she said. “They didn’t have any respect for the people coming after them.  They just did what they wanted, and now we have to pay.”

According to the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency enforced its first greenhouse gas regulations on Jan. 2, 2011.  These new laws will mainly focus on building new facilities and modifying already existing plants.  In the next 10 years, the regulations will  “impose efficiency and emissions requirements on nearly every industry and every region.”

EPA’s report on climate change, says the “eight warmest years on record have all occurred since 2001, with the warmest year being 2005.”

Hertsgaard ended his lecture, by offering a bit of hope to the audience, especially to the members of Generation Hot.

“I am hopeful but only because I insist on being hopeful,” he said.  “Hope is faith.  Hope is believing.  Hope is an active verb.  Hope is a choice to believe that you can make something different, even when it looks dark.  …I am hopeful because when I look out to the members of Generation Hot I see so much potential.”

Listen to a clip from Hertsgaard’s lecture at BGSU

For more on the book:


Book Reviews: (Courtesy of

“Passionate and somber…[HOT’s] urgent message is one that citizens and governments cannot afford to ignore.” —Boston Globe

“Informative and vividly reported book…passionate.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Climate change is well underway, writes Hertsgaard, and we must begin to adapt to it even as we work to stop it….The author’s stated goal is to make readers feel hopeful so that they will act, but he is candid about his own lapses into despair. . . . Hopefully, this book will prompt readers to action. Starkly clear and of utmost importance.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“In Hot, one of America’s finest journalists confronts one of the world’s most urgent problems. Hertsgaard cuts through the denial and disinformation about climate change, offering a clear, tough-minded view of our predicament. More important, he shows that the worst harms of global warming are not inevitable and outlines the steps that can help to avert disaster. Hot bravely takes aim at perhaps the greatest climate threat of all: apathy.” —Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

“I know what you’re thinking: The problem is so massive I can’t bear to read any more about it. But you’re wrong. Mark Hertsgaard not only makes the workings of climate change clear, vivid and comprehensible but gives us some reasons for hope. Some of the ways to fight or adapt to global warming are simpler—and more unexpected—than you would think, and some of the places where these lessons are being applied you never would have guessed. Hot is a lively, personal, very human piece of reportage about an issue that will ever more be at the very center of our lives.” —Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost

“Like the fairy tales that Mark reads to his daughter, Chiara, Hot is full of out-sized challenges and glimmers of hope. In this brilliant postcard from the year 2060, Mark explores a world that will be defined, for better or worse, by decisions made today as we conduct a massive planetary science experiment—one that future generations will grade us on.” —Terry Tamminen, Secretary of the California EPA for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger “Passionate and somber…[HOT’s] urgent message is one that citizens and governments cannot afford to ignore.” —Boston Globe

Bowling Green State University Re-Store

The Re-Store at Bowling Green State University in Ohio promotes the idea of reusing what students already have instead of buying new. Customers can hold their cash; the entire store is free.

Bowling Green State University Re-Store from Black Swamp Journal on Vimeo.

The Re-Store at BGSU is getting students to remember the three R’s of conservation: reduce, reuse and recycle. The store, located in residence hall Kreischer Compton-Darrow, is completely run on donations. Customers can get goods three ways:

  • Swapping an item they already have for something in the store;
  • Giving a cash donation and getting a good in exchange;
  • Or simply taking some of the store’s free books and folders.

The store was a concept created by BGSU Sustainability Coordinator Nick Hennessy’s and his interns. Other universities have similar programs. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the program Surplus with a Purpose is similar to the Re-Store. The program repurposes the university’s surplus goods. All items are redistributed to non-profit agencies or sold to the public.

At BGSU, the store receives the majority of its donations from the “When you Move Out Don’t Throw it Out,” program. Bins are placed in residence halls, where students can donate items they no longer want. At the end of the school year Re-Store workers collect materials from the bins, clean them and place them on Re-store shelves for customers to exchange.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors how much municipal solid waste is produced every year. According to the EPA in 2009 Americans produced 243 million tons of municipal solid waste. Visit the EPA’s website to learn more about household goods that can be recycled.

Going green in the home

Going green in something that everyone wants to do, but often times it seems like it is easier said than done.

There are a few, simple things that can be done around any house that can save energy emissions and even lower energy bill costs.

This video shows the benefits and some simple ways to go green, and these easy, cheap tricks are something that can be done in any home.

Go Green in the Home from kayceelyn5 on Vimeo.

This video was first created for Dr. Kathy Bradshaw’s Advanced Broadcast News JOUR 4300 class.

Phosphorus bans in soap are small help to pollution problem

Phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie is a big problem, and there could be a little solution: changing the dishwater detergent people use.

Lake Erie has a long history of phosphorus pollution. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

Detergents commonly contain phosphorus, a chemical that helps to bind dirt and remove it. Phosphorus is particularly good at binding iron, a major component of soil.

“Analyze soil and it’s mainly all iron. And phosphorus will bind the iron. So if you want to get soil out of clothing get a detergent with phosphorus and it will take it right out,” said Michael McKay, a professor of biology at Bowling Green State University.

The problem is excess phosphorus is extremely harmful to bodies of water. It causes algae blooms in lakes. Some of the most prominent cases of phosphorus pollution in Ohio are Grand Lake St. Marys near Columbus, and more recently, Lake Erie.

“It’s the algae that makes it difficult to put your hand in the water and look down and see your hand,” said McKay.

These algae blooms wreak havoc on the habitat of the waters where it grows. Too much algae in the water can lead to oxygen depletion, an affect known as hypoxia. Most fish can’t survive in water with too little oxygen and have to move to a different area of the lake, which throws off the ecosystem.

Phosphorus comes from various sources, including agriculture, wastewater treatment plants, and urban runoff.

Phosphorus in laundry detergent is banned all across the United States. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

Starting in the 1970s, phosphorus was banned in laundry detergent following a huge algae outbreak in the 1960s in lakes and rivers across the United States. In the 1950s laundry detergent contained almost 10 percent phosphorus and by the end of the 1960s it was up to nearly 15 percent phosphorus.

Lake Erie in particular had huge amounts of algae outbreaks. This created a dead zone in Lake Erie in the 1960s. Algae became so prominent in the lake that it would wash up on shores and carpet the sand green. Many fish populations in the lake drastically declined.

All 50 states of the United States now have bans on phosphorus in laundry detergent. States have begun to ban phosphorus in dishwasher detergent as well.

“When that was done back in the early 70’s, dishwashers weren’t in every kitchen like they are now,” said Peter Richards, the Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research located at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

The laws banning phosphorus in dishwasher detergent vary state by state. “There are some states, for example, Wisconsin, that have banned phosphorus in their detergents and as a result have seen significant decreases in the phosphorus levels in their water,” said Aaron Kornbluth, who has been working on the Hypoxia Program along with the Environmental Protection Agency for the past two years.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency and a local environmental group called the Lake Erie Waterkeepers, there are currently 17 states that have banned phosphorus in dishwasher detergent, the most recent being New York.

View States with Phosphate Bans in Dishwasher Detergent in a larger map

These state bans take several years to go fully into place. For New York, phosphorus isn’t expected to be out of soap until 2013.

There is no national law making phosphorus in dishwasher soap illegal. According to the EPA, each state should know what is best for it as far as a solution for phosphorus pollution is concerned.

In the meantime the government and environmental groups are trying to find a solution to help save Lake Erie. According to Bihn, of the Lake Erie Waterkeepers, the best way to get rid of phosphorus pollution from the lake is to stop the sources. Laws that ban phosphorus in detergent help, but don’t solve the problem altogether.

The Phosphorus Problem

Lake Erie calls people from all over to swim, boat and fish. Last summer was no exception to the fun, except for the harmful algae blooms and dead zones

Lake Erie at Crane Creek State Park

Lake Erie at Crane Creek State Park. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

that developed on the lake. Scientists are expecting Lake Erie to be in for much of the same this summer.

“Nutrients that go into the lake now are going to cause algae blooms in a couple months. We’ve certainly had a lot of rain this spring so it holds the potential for more this summer,” said Peter Richards, the senior research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

Not only do algae blooms harm the lake itself, but can also keep tourists away.

“If the lake is gross, you’re going to see an effect on the local economy for lower tourism,” said Robert McKay, a scientist specializing in biology at Bowling Green State University.

A certain type of algae known as blue-green is associated with a bacteria called cyanobacteria, which can cause liver toxins to develop in humans and animals. This algae can cause health problems in elderly people, young children and pets. There were even cases where several dogs died from ingesting lake water.

“In 2010, there were 10 suspected cases of health issues resulting from contact with the algae in Lake Erie,” said Sandy Bihn, the founder and president of the Lake Erie Waterkeepers environmental group. “There were 10 also in Grand Lake St. Marys. Those seemed to be more serious.”

McKay said some of the health effects are long-term.

Canadian Goose family at Magee Marsh

Phosphorus and blue-green algae can wreak havoc on a whole ecosystem from the bottom up. Magee Marsh is a popular breeding area for Canadian Geese and if there's a bad blue-gree algae outbreak it would prove hazardous to them as well. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

“Now are you going to get liver toxicity by having a mouth full of Lake Erie water? No. If you accumulate the surface scum and make a milkshake with it? Maybe,” McKay said.

Receiving low doses of a toxin over an extended period of time is known as chronic poisoning; cases of this have occurred with the blue-green algae in other parts of the country.

“When they’ve done epidemiological studies of areas where the inhabitants draw their water from lakes or reservoirs that have these recurring blooms of blue-green algae, there’s a higher incidence of liver cancer in those regions,” McKay said.

According to McKay, there is no evidence of this being the case in Northwest Ohio, but the blue-green algae has only been seen for the past 10 years in this region. Communities that draw water from the lake need to use extra filtration, which raises costs, Richards said.

“If the water treatment plant is using the lake for drinking water, there needs to be extra filtration which raises costs, “ Richards said.

The source of algae blooms is a nutrient necessary for all living organisms—phosphorus.

Phosphorus is one of the nutrients needed for growth. This is not only true for humans, but for animals and plants as well.

Excess levels of phosphorus cause algae to multiply like crazy. When the algae die and sink to the bottom of the lake, they are decomposed by bacteria. The bacteria use a lot of oxygen to do this, thus depleting it from the water. This causes hypoxia, a term referring to areas of water that have an extremely low level of oxygen and can no longer support life. This effectively creates dead zones.

“Any creature that is incapable of swimming away from the water will get sick or die, and any creature that is capable will swim away to different areas,

A drainage pipe releases water into the Portage River

A drainage pipe releases water into the Portage River eventually to lead to Lake Erie. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

causing habitat change,” said Aaron Kornbluth, a member of the Hypoxia Program with the Environmental Protection Agency for the past two years.

Dead zones are not specific to Lake Erie. Grand Lake St. Marys near Columbus, Ohio, is an extreme case, one that will take millions of dollars to fix.

According to a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch by Spencer Hunt, $600,000 has already been allocated to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys with an additional $750,000 being added by state lawmakers. That’s over a million dollars being used to clean one lake.

Back in 2009, the toxin caused by blue-green algae was at 100 times the limit set by the World Health Organization for swimming. Last summer state officials warned people not to touch water, take boats on, or even eat fish from Grand Lake St. Marys.

“Not just Grand Lake St. Mary’s and Lake Erie but I think it was 18 other lakes in Ohio last year that the EPA found manure and other fertilizers in that were washing off into the waterways,” said Lauren Ketcham the Communications Coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the organization that licenses organic farms in Ohio.

Ohio isn’t the only state in the nation to have this problem, and it doesn’t occur only in freshwater.

The Portage River in Woodville, Ohio

The Portage River in Woodville, Ohio runs all the way from Bowling Green to Lake Erie, passing through various farmlands along the way. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

The Gulf of Mexico is the second largest dead zone in the world, Kornbluth said. “Last measured, it was the size of the state of Massachusetts,” said Kornbluth.

According to Kornbluth and the EPA, phosphorus is a major factor in the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. Most of this phosphorus comes from the Mississippi River.

Kornbluth said that the EPA estimates roughly 43 percent of agriculture runoff along the Mississippi River ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.

During the spring months, snow melts and rain falls, carrying farm runoff into the river. In the 90 days it takes for the Mississippi River to run from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, enough phosphorus is collected to create massive algae blooms, and when those algae blooms die in early summer, the dead zone is created.

Phosphorus that comes from agricultural resources is referred to as non-point source phosphorus. It is diffused and harder to pinpoint, Kornbluth said.

Because the land in this region is used primarily for agriculture, most farmers are working to decrease any runoff.

“They’re making a living off that land. If they were abusing it or doing things that would attribute to the runoff or soil erosion, that’s the best soil that erodes and washes away down the streams. And if it carries nutrients, they have to replace those nutrients at the best time of the year so they’re wasting money,” said Allen Gahler, the organization director for the Ottawa, Lucas and Wood County chapters of the Ohio Farm Bureau.

The Ohio Farm Bureau encourages its members to do frequent nutrient tests to see what nutrients need to be added to the field and how much. That way, there won’t be excess chemicals to runoff into the tributaries that head towards Lake Erie.

“In Ohio, you’re allowed to apply liquid manure on frozen grounds, and it runs off when the ground melts and gets into the streams,” Bihn said.

The best time to apply fertilizer to the fields, as far as reducing runoff is concerned, is the spring after the snow melts. However, this is difficult for some farmers because most of the fertilizing is contracted to companies who come and apply it for them. This means there is limited equipment for an entire area, and it is difficult for every field to be done in the same period of time.

Flooded yard near Portage River in Woodville, Ohio

A flooded yard near the Portage River in Woodville, Ohio. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

“If it’s cold and wet and rainy, and if you have one person applying the nutrients and they’ve got to be 10 places at one time, they just can’t do that. There’s just some limitations on how the industry is set up now,” said Larry Antosch, the senior director for Program Innovation and Environmental Policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Several scientists believe that fertilizer being placed on the fields in the fall or winter is a contributing factor to the current trend: total phosphorus levels are decreasing nationally while the amount of what’s called “dissolved reactive phosphorus” is increasing. Dissolved reactive phosphorus is phosphorus that’s already broken down in the water and is readily usable for plants and algae, making it easier for algae blooms to occur.

“Farmers recognize that there’s a problem. Obviously with Grand Lake St. Marys, and then even the algae blooms we saw in Lake Erie this year, the entire industry as well as the general public should recognize that there may be issues that need to be addressed. But farmers are not going to stand up and say ‘It’s completely our fault. It’s got to be our fault. So regulate us and that will take care of it’,” Gahler said.

Farmers have not changed their agricultural practices drastically. According to the Ohio Farm Bureau, over the past few years, there hasn’t been any significant change in land usage or livestock numbers that would promote this increase in dissolved reactive phosphorus.

“There is some evidence that the amount of the dissolved reactive phosphorus is increasing although the amount of the application in the agricultural usage is decreasing,” said Kornbluth.

Phosphorus also comes from other places including wastewater treatment plants and other urban runoff. Wastewater treatment plants are referred to as

A ditch runs along farmlands near Bowling Green, Ohio

A large ditch stretches alongside farmlands near Bowling Green, Ohio. Photo by Kaycee Hallett.

point sources because they are large and easily identified. The mix of runoff from urban and rural sources depends on the area.

“In Chesapeake Bay, in Washington, D.C., much more of the contribution of phosphorus is coming from urban and population sources: 52 percent as opposed to the 12 percent in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kornbluth.

The EPA, which regulates the amount of phosphorus wastewater treatment plants can release into the waterways.

“Each plant has different standards; most are somewhat similar, but since we’re going straight to the river, our standards are fairly strict,” said Matt Cox, a chemist at the Bowling Green Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Not all plants are required to meet standards for phosphorus output. According to the EPA, there are roughly 16,500 wastewater treatment plants and fewer than 10 percent are required to meet standards on phosphorus.

The EPA relies on the states to decide what is necessary, as far as what restrictions are needed in the wastewater treatment plants. If the states don’t believe that a certain area needs control on phosphorus than that plant will not have phosphorus requirements.

Bowling Green Wastewater Treatment Plant

A filtration tank on the ground of the Bowling Green Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

“It’s been a very wet spring and that’s been kind of playing havoc with the way we do things. We change the flow around a little bit from the winter rains to treat the higher flow and effectively treat it,” said John Bella, the assistant superintendant at the Bowling Green Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The Bowling Green plant meets its standard set by the EPA of one milliliter of phosphorus with every liter of water released. Even during rainy springs like this year, roughly 0.7 milliliter of phosphorus per liter of water is coming out of the plant, and less in the summer. Not every plant in the nation does as well.

“Places like the Detroit Wastewater Plant have billions of gallons of sewer overflows that go into Lake Erie every year. In the 1970’s, it was the single largest phosphorus source from a single point source in Lake Erie,” Bihn said.

According to The Great Lakes Report, in 2009 alone, the Metro-Detroit Wastewater Treatment plant released more than 37 billion gallons of sewage overflow into the Detroit waterways, eventually making its way to Lake Erie.

“The estimation to upgrade all of the wastewater treatment facilities nationally to achieve more technology-based limits would be $45 billion to bring the treatment plants down to .1 milligram of phosphate,” Kornbluth said.

Whatever the source of the phosphorus, enough of it is finding its way into Lake Erie every year to cause blooms of blue-green algae. As a result, the environment changes.

Lake Erie at Crane Creek State Park

Waves on Lake Erie at Crane Creek State Park. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

“You have an increased amount of nutrients – phosphorus and nitrogen -getting into the system. Over time, the amount of nutrients that stay in the area increases and the ecosystem becomes more and more sensitive to the nitrogen and phosphorus,” Kornbluth said.

If things stay the same, we’ll continue to have the same kinds of problems we do right now,” Richards said.

“The reality is that Lake Erie is getting greener every year and the algae problem in Lake Erie is getting worse every year,” Bihn said. “There are ways we can work to help save Lake Erie and clean the water, but pointing fingers at each other takes up time and doesn’t get the problem solved.”

History of the Great Black Swamp

Some areas of the Great Black Swamp would have water waist high.

Some areas of the Great Black Swamp would have water waist high. The swamp water at Magee Marsh near Oak Harbor, Ohio isn't nearly that deep. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

Some 20,000 years ago Northwest Ohio was covered by glaciers. These glaciers melted and formed the Great Lakes. But the Great Lakes aren’t the only features left behind by the prehistoric glaciers.

One of the largest natural wetlands in Ohio was once in this area and now it is almost completely gone. Wetlands are an important feature in the environments in any ecosystem. Wetlands help to stop erosion and drainage into the lakes.

Great Black Swamp map

Historic Map of the Great Black Swamp. Created by Gary L. Franks for "The Maumee & Western Reserve Road: Its History and a Survey of the Milestones" published in 2008.

A great swamp left by the retreating glaciers covered a huge area of land going as far east as present-day Sandusky, Ohio as far south as Findlay, Ohio, and as far west as Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was a nearly impenetrable area of thick trees and murky water that sometimes was as deep as chest high.

The area was known as the Great Black Swamp and remnants of it can still be seen today.

If the Great Black Swamp was still more prominently present in Ohio the problem with agricultural runoff wouldn’t actually be as prevalent. Right now when there are heavy rains, or if fertilizer is not mixed into the soil properly, the nitrate and phosphorus rich soil drain into the rivers which in turn drains into Lake Erie.

The extra nutrients cause algae to bloom and when that algae dies and sinks to the bottom the bacteria that breaks it down uses up so much oxygen that life is no longer sustainable in that area. This is called hypoxia.

Remnants of the Great Black Swamp can be seen at Magee Marsh

Remnants of the Great Black Swamp can be seen at Magee Marsh, a few miles outside of Oak Harbor, Ohio. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

The destruction of the wetlands is not something specific to the Great Black Swamp, but because of its destruction according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio has lost 90% of its wetlands. This is second only to California which has lost 91%.Direct problems associated with the loss of the wetlands include more flood damages, more drought damages, and a decline in the bird population.

“The lake bed sediments are a lot of silt and clay, primarily clay, and water cannot move easily through that. So when the lake sank down to its present size, it left an area that could not drain very well. So water built up in it and it became a swamp,” said Associate Professor Sheila Roberts, a professor of geology at Bowling Green State University

The Great Black Swamp held many natural resources, good soil and lots of timber, but for years there wasn’t a way for settlers to get at them.

“They would finally get a road wide enough for maybe a wagon to go down, but if one person was coming from the north and another person was coming from the south somebody would have to get off into the swamp and let the other people pass, and they were constantly digging out horses and wagons and everything,” Roberts said.

While the Great Black Swamp put the settlement of Northwest Ohio on hold for the settlers of the time, some of the Native American tribes of the area were forced to live there, specifically the Ottawa tribe.

After a long history of dealing with the settlers as trading partners and allies in war, the Ottawa land was shuffled around and after signing the Treaty of Grenville in 1796 the white settlers pushed into the interior of Ohio and it quickly became a state. The Ottawa Indians were pushed to the Maumee River Valley at the edge of the Great Black Swamp.

While the Ottawa Indians lived only on the edge of the Great Black Swamp they did use the swamp for resources. They hunted in the swamp, something many white settlers would not do. The Ottawa’s overcame this by staying on sand ridges while hunting. These elevated areas of land were prehistoric beaches, formed while the glacial lake receded into the modern Lake Erie.

“They would follow the game in there, but they wouldn’t live in there because it was too mosquito infested,” said Danziger.

The Great Black Swamp was very tree-rich

The Great Black Swamp was very tree-rich and these trees here are small in comparison with those that stood in the swamp. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

The Ottawa Indians overcame their bug problem in several ways. Their housing had a hole cut in the top and a fire that could be lit on the inside. The smoke would keep away insects. They also concocted an insect repelling rub. They did their hunting in the winter months where the insects were less prevalent and wore long sleeves.

The Ottawa Indians began to forfeit their culture comply with the desires of their white neighbors. They began farming corn and wearing clothing similar to the white settlers, but it wasn’t enough for those settlers greedy for land on the Ottawa reservations.

The Ottawa Indians reservations were in the way of the proposed canal system and they were removed.

“They were doing exactly what American settlers wanted them to do and they were still forced to go,” said Danziger

By 1833 the Ottawa’s were relocated to Kansas.

Travel before the swamp was drained forced settlers had to detour south into the more central part of Ohio and were unable to head north again until around Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Great Black Swamp covered a huge area of land and draining the swamp would have been an extremely daunting task.

The idea of draining the swamp began with the construction of a road going from Fremont, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan through the heart of the Great Black Swamp. There was a lot of difficulty building a road through the swamp that wouldn’t get washed away by the natural movement of the water. Finally the constructors built a road leveled with rock underneath so it was higher than the surrounding land. They dug two ditches, one on either side of the road, and on top of that they dug culverts. The culverts were dug underneath the road to channel the water and enable it to go in its natural selection.

Today the majority of land that used to be the Great Black Swamp is used for agriculture.

Today the majority of land that used to be the Great Black Swamp is used for agriculture. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

Draining a small area of the swamp and the workers discovered that the soil underneath the water was very fertile. This led to the widespread draining of the Great Black Swamp starting in the 1850’s.

Draining the swamp was not the only thing that needed done in order to get at the rich soil. Since the Great Black Swamp was such a tree rich swamp, the trees also had to go. Timber had become a very useful and sought after commodity, one that was now easy to transport thanks to the canals running from Lake Erie to New York, the canals that cost the Ottawa Indians their land. Oak trees were especially plentiful in the swamp and were in demand worldwide.

“It was basically used for ship’s timbers, and they floated it out on rafts of wood all the way to Buffalo down the Erie Canal and all the way to England,” Danziger said.

“If you look at all the drainage ditches we have around here now, and digging those with the technology they had, it was quite a feat,” Roberts said.

A drainage ditch runs along farmlands, these are necessary to prevent flooding in the area.

A drainage ditch runs along farmlands, these are necessary to prevent flooding in the area. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

There are still some ways to see the remains of the Great Black Swamp now, even with the drainage ditches. This area is prone to flooding due to the clay that is still in the soil.

“After a big rainstorm, or when the snow starts to melt, you’ll notice there’s water ‘ponded’ in them [fields] and that’s because the water can’t seep into the ground because it’s so impermeable,” Roberts said.

A flooded farm in the spring shows is a common sight in Northwest Ohio thanks to the Great Black Swamp.

A flooded farm in the spring shows is a common sight in Northwest Ohio thanks to the Great Black Swamp. Photo by Kaycee Hallett

Flooding isn’t the only way to see some of the features of the Great Black Swamp. There are a few state parks that preserved what the Great Black Swamp would have looked like. Crane Creek and Magee Marsh near Oak Harbor, Ohio, are two such areas. Even here in Bowling Green, Ohio there are some attributes from the drained swamp such as the Sand Ridges in the Cemetery located on Bowling Green State University campus and on Sand Ridge Road.

State and national governments are beginning to allot money into expanding and replanting some of these wetland areas lost in draining the swamp, in hopes that this will help reduce the harmful agricultural runoff, that would have prevented had the swamp been preserved.

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