Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Captain America Eulogies

Sadly, when I thought I had finally encountered the last mildew damage in my comic book collection, I as wrong. Here are more mini-obituaries, this time from my Captain America collection.

Captain America and the Falcon #203 (Nov. 1976). “Alamo II”. Grade: A-. Jack Kirby's pencils are not at their best; some of the figures are way off in proportion, even for Jack. The Falcon being brainwashed by insane scientists always struck me as too dark for this title. And yet, we get Texas Jack as a great, one-time sidekick; a terrific plot that mixes sci-fi and western genres; and, just as rare in Cap's book, we see him beating the bad guys by outsmarting them. I bought this issue just a few years ago, but it had a sequel in Marvel Team-Up that was the first issue I ever owned of Marvel Team-Up back in '76.

Captain America and the Falcon #204 (Dec. 1976). “Unburied One”. Grade: B. The best stuff here is Cap having to decide if he should retire to be with Sharon Carter or not. And there is a nice build-up of dramatic tension to the show-down next issue. The Falcon is still brainwashed, though (bleh), and the super-zombie is just...weird. Why does SHIELD think he's from the future again? I just read it and I don't get that part.

Captain America and the Falcon #205 (Jan. 1977). “Argon Walks the Earth”. Grade: B-. The opening is pretty effective, following through with last issue's cliffhanger promise of a shock. Argon does look pretty shocking when we see how he's changed this issue. Now the super-zombie is suddenly super-talkative and sounds just like a hundred of Stan Lee's villains. Is that intentional?

Captain America #247 (July 1980). “By the Dawn's Early Light!”. Grade: A+. Man, is it hard giving up the Stern/Byrne classic run on this title! Stern's mastery of Marvel continuity has seldom been matched and Joe Rubinstein brings out the best in anyone he inks. Even without Rubinstein, Byrne makes it all look so easy.

Captain America #248 (Aug 1980). “Death, Where Is Thy Sting?” Grade: A+. Even pursuing a fleeing Dragon Man for half an issue is exciting in these guys' hands. And the showdown with Machinesmith is remarkable for its surprise twist ending.

Captain America #251 (Nov. 1980). “Mercenary and the Madman.” Grade: A++. A two-page origin recap, the return of Batroc the Leaper and Mister Hyde – better handled than ever, Steve Rogers with stubble (a Byrne technique to humanize characters he would re-use with Mr. Fantastic and Superman later), more of Bernie, and a great cliffhanger!

Captain America #252 (Dec. 1980). “Cold Fire!” Grade: A+. Stern wisely leaves Mr. Hyde unstoppable by both Cap and Batroc, setting the stage for Hyde to be a much bigger menace when he next faces Spider-Man. Batroc is just too much fun. And the bonus feature reminding us about the not-seen-enough supporting great it would have been to see Stern stay on longer and develop them all more. Poor Bernie! J.M. DeMatteis tried to use her well when he took over, but he was never Roger Stern.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Find Out About Flu (Swine or Otherwise)

Swine Flu Information Available via the Cook County Government

Swine Flu Updates.
Cook County Dept. of Public Health, Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

Illinois Documents

IL/AUG 1.21:F 67
Management Audit of the Flu Vaccine Procurement and the I-Save Rx Program.
Illinois. Office of the Auditor General, 2006. 131 p.

Swine Flu Information Available via the Illinois Government

Influenza: Get Your Flu Vaccine!
Illinois Dept. of Public Health.

Federal Documents

HE 1.2:H 75/5
Home Health Care Services Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist,
Version 5.
Washington, D.C.:Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2006. 4 p.

PR 43.8:H 75/2/IN 3
National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza [electronic resource].
Homeland Security Council (U.S.), 2005. 12 p.

Y 4.C 44:F 67
China's Response to Avian Flu: Steps Taken, Challenges Remaining, and Transparency: Roundtable before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, One Hundred Ninth Congress, second session, February 24, 2006.
United States. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2006. 40 p.

Y 4.G 74/7:F 67/6
Working through an Outbreak [microform]: Pandemic Flu Planning and Continuity of Operations: Hearing before the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives, One Hundred Ninth Congress, second session, May 11, 2006.
United States. Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 2006. 128 p.

Swine Flu Information Online via the Federal Government

2009 H1N1 Flu Virus
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Questions and Answers on the 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus and the Food Industry

Medline Plus: Swine Flu.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Dispatch.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One-Stop Access to U.S. Government Swine, Avian and Pandemic Flu Information.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Questions & Answers: H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Swine Influenza: General Information.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Swine Flu Information Online via International Organizations

Assessing the severity of an influenza pandemic

Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR): Influenza A(H1N1)
World Health Organization.

EOC Update on Influenza A/H1N1
Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Adult Non-Fiction

Global Epidemics.
Mari, Christopher. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 2007. 189 p.

Flu: the Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It, 1st ed.
Kolata, Gina Bari. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. 330 p.

616.9/ROT (New Books)
Germ Proof Your Kids: the Complete Guide to Protecting (Without Overprotecting) Your Family from Infections.
Rotbart, Harley A. Washington, DC: ASM Press, 2008. 380 p.

Young Adult Non-Fiction

YA 614.58/GRA
Deadly Invaders: Virus Outbreaks around the World, from Marburg Fever to Avian Flu
Grady, Denise. Boston, Mass.: Kingfisher, 2006. 128 p.

Childrens Non-Fiction

J 614.518/PET
The 1918 Influenza Pandemic.
Peters, Stephanie True. New York: Benchmark Books, 69 p.

Report on EPA and Village of Hanover Park Public Conference over Mallard Lake Landfill Leak

October 6, 2008

On Oct. 1, I attended a public meeting on the Mallard Lake Landfill at the Hanover Park Village Hall. I was expecting less. I expected maybe one EPA officer addressing a small crowd of concerned homeowners, fielding some questions, and then sending everyone home. Instead we had two EPA officers – Steve Faryan and Mike Joyce, plus two or three guys working for the EPA (Steve Ryan and Thomas Kruger among them -- consultants? Kruger looked familiar, but I can’t imagine where I had encountered the man before), Carol Fuller from the Ill. EPA (her name should be recognizable from a lot of IL/EP documents); and in the audience, someone from the DuPage County Health Dept., the Mayor of Hanover Park (Rod Craig), at least one trustee for sure (Wes Eby), and possibly up to two other trustees. So, besides the purpose of assuring homeowners that methane gas would not kill them, the function of this meeting was a political one, to be seen and be seen taking an active role in dealing with the methane leak issue. In all, there were maybe 25 people at the meeting.

We have hundreds of pages of material on the landfill and the leak the EPA has given us, but the story boils down pretty much to this: If you are going to build homes around a landfill, you should have a protective liner – no more than a thick sheet – under the shallow soil you are building on. Carol Fuller said before 1993 (or maybe she said 1991), there was no regulation requiring landfills to have that liner, so Mallard Lake was initially built without any liner. Later, when homes were going to be developed by the south end of the landfill, a liner was finally laid down that would protect those homes. There have been no methane leaks found near the south end of the landfill, thanks to the liner.

Under the landfill is a vacuum chamber that creates a negative pressure. Methane gas is drawn towards a negative pressure, which keeps the methane from spreading – normally. Without the liner, the gas is also to touch the water table when it rises. Methane does not mix with water, so the gas just rests on top of the water table. But, in times of drought, the water table lowers back down, creating a low-pressure opening that the methane gas fills. Later, when the water table goes back up to normal levels, it pushes the methane gas against the soil above it and, because the methane still will not mix with the water (except under great pressure), the methane spreads out over the surface of the water table. Now, it can be virtually anywhere. And while that may sound like a good reason to move to a new neighborhood, the truth is that this diffusion of the gas is a good thing. As long as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), like methane gas, found in quantities below health-based screening levels, it does not pose much of a danger. The other thing to be concerned about is how high into the soil the methane gas has seeped. If the gas reaches the shallow soil near the surface, it can poison plants and seep into basements.

Up to this point, while all this sounds very dangerous, there was not much of a problem. Methane gas leaked slowly from the landfill, as it typically does from landfills, and the water table acted as a natural remedy to gas accumulation, diffusing the gas over a wide area. All that changed in October 2007 when BFI, the company maintaining the landfill – powering the vacuum pump under the landfill – suffered a power outage. It was like unlocking all the doors in a prison; lots of methane escaped.

The landfill is dotted with probes that monitor the soil for methane leakage. Soon after the power outage, one probe detected methane in the shallow soil. It was now a situation that required the federal and Illinois EPAs to be called in. Through November, the EPA tested homes in the area. Sub-slab ports were installed under six homes and 224 homes have been monitored with a combination of above-ground detectors and sink-bar tests. The sink bar is a three-foot long metal pipe with sensors at the bottom end that is slammed into all the way into the ground.

No methane was found in people’s homes or detected by the shallow soil tests. However, deeper wells drilled in the residential areas by the north end of the landfill and the portion of the Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve on the east side of Schick Road have turned up methane in the permeable, silty sand that is found 35 to 40 feet down. The clay layer above the sand layer has so far blocked the methane from rising higher. The only living things in danger at that depth are the roots of very old trees. One resident at the meeting complained about the prize tree on his property dying, and of him knowing one other tree that had died since October of last year.

Every time a well led to methane, another well was drilled a block further out to determine how far from the first spot the methane was concentrated. They called this “perimeter monitoring” and it is currently their top priority. As the search widened, it was determined that no gas had leaked as far as the west side of Schick Road, but gas was detected as far north as the vicinity of Greenbrook Elementary School, to which forest preserve land almost touches. No methane was found in the school.

Evidence was found recently of a methane gas fire underground. An underground fire was, the experts there admitted, an uncommon event. The recovery wells in that area were shut down and will not be re-opened until the waste-mass cools. Fuller said the underground temperature at a landfill site needs to stay below 131 degrees Fahrenheit.

The next step is to recover the leaked methane. There are currently five recovery wells, with another seven proposed. One main well, where the most methane has been detected, will have a pipe running gas straight back to the landfill. Since this method requires the most construction, most wells are using mobile compressors – basically 4-cylinder Ford engines running on propane – to pull gas up into the mobile units for later removal back to the landfill. Three will be in Hawk Hollow, three will be in residential areas, and one near the intersection of County Farm Rd. and Schick Rd. Landfill regulations say the clean-up will not be over until it can be proven that no landfill gas is going offsite. Right now, there are six wells where gas readings have gone up. No one has figured out why, though there are some normal explanations for it, such as barometric pressure fluctuations. The EPA wants to run deeper tests to see if any methane is somehow beneath the sand layer.

Steps will be taken to make sure this incident never happens again. BFI has been ordered to have back-up generators to maintain power to the vacuum chamber. This, more contingencies, is the EPA’s second priority. There is no required number of recovery wells the site must have per acreage to return all the lost methane, but however many necessary to prove no methane leak remains will have to be maintained, possibly for up to a year. This will be part of EPA’s “phase two” operation, about four months from now, when they will determine how many wells will be needed for the remainder of the investigation. Wells will then be monitored monthly (one persistent homeowner insisted the wells should be checked in random order, but everyone else agreed that would be a meaningless precaution, as methane gas travels too slowly for activity in one well to push gas towards another.

BFI is upgrading its gas collection system and re-sealing the surface of the landfill and may be made to report annually to the public, or maintain a public web site with updated monitoring data.

EPA has a superfund and has spent $300,000 of it already to oversee the clean-up. At some point, EPA will be in cost recovery mode, though that is a medium- to long-term issue. At that time, they will be looking at the DuPage Forest Preserve’s $100,000 landfill emergency budget.

The Forest Preserve District is checking groundwater separately. BFI has already tested their groundwater. In addition, Nicor Gas has done some of its own soil testing for its customers. This is sort of a “checks and balances” system that keeps everyone honest (one homeowner asked if EPA would hire a third party to monitor them).

A landfill produces methane gas on a bell curve. Mallard Lake has already peaked and is producing less methane now, but still has many years to go until it stops. The BFI permit has a court-ordered 100-year closure period (30 years is typical, though Blackwell’s is 100 years too). BFI can develop the landfill property if they wish as long (as per the rumored ski slope once proposed for the hill), as they have no gas leakage. Their ability to develop the property would be limited by their being completely surrounded by forest preserve land, which cannot be developed.

In the meanwhile, the EPA is willing to write “comfort letters” for homeowners looking to sell their property, assuring potential buyers that the neighborhood is environmentally safe. They are checking private wells one a time, as some owners have complained of gas contamination. However, air in the pressure tanks is a common problem that could appear to be gas contamination in the well, which is why the EPA has to come in and examine the equipment.

By 7:30, the questions were becoming repetitive, but for one and a half hours there was a lot of interesting information. After 8, everyone was invited out into the parking lot to observe a mobile compressor running, to allay fears that they would be too noisy. I did not think they were too loud, but then again, they won’t be on my property.