5 months ago

What’s behind today’s drinking water?

This is National Drinking Water Week, a week in which we highlight the essential role of drinking water in our society and economy. But how did we get here?

Municipal water systems are a more recent development than many realize. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, workers and their families moved from rural areas and cities grew to support the factories driving the Industrial Revolution. Many got their water from a well in the backyard and used a nearby outhouse in the same back yard. Waterborne disease was common, and it was not unusual for cities to lose tens of thousands to fevers and other water-borne diseases, especially in hot summers. Visionary leaders in various locales across the country 150 to 120 years ago saw the need and the resultant benefits of municipal water systems.

As a result, clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world. We see clean water ministries and initiatives around the world today and they are worthy of our support. We take for granted here in America that our tap has clean and pure water safe to drink, cook, and bathe. And while the price we pay for this precious and necessary component of our lives is moving toward the cost to provide it, it remains the greatest value in our budgets.

When these municipal water systems were built, options were few, and cast iron was the pipe material of choice. With a plethora of contemporary material options today, modern ductile iron continues to be the strongest, most sustainable and most resilient material. It’s made from recycled iron and steel, requires less energy to operate and use, lasts longer and has greater life-cycle value than alternatives. Other pipe materials such as lead, asbestos-cement and PVC have come and some have gone, but iron pipe remains sure and steady as the standard for quality municipal water system construction.

Birmingham, Alabama, is the ductile iron pipe manufacturing capital of America, and the Alabama Iron and Steel Council is proud to salute our ductile iron members and the products they manufacture to build the world’s safest and most sustainable drinking water systems. Iron Pipe: It’s what America is Built On.

Maury D. Gaston is Chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama. He is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University, 37-year water industry veteran, and Manager of Marketing Services for AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe.

1 hour ago

University of Alabama creates pediatric fellowship for family medicine physicians

The University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences has created an innovative fellowship program to provide comprehensive instruction for family medicine physicians seeking additional skills in pediatric care.

The year-long pediatric fellowship will offer a variety of transformative experiences in both primary and tertiary care settings. Fellows will also receive research time and financial support for continuing education activities.

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“Many family medicine physicians are not comfortable taking care of extremely ill children because they don’t get a ton of exposure to pediatrics during their residency,” said Dr. Sara Phillips, assistant professor of pediatrics at the College and fellowship director. “The new program will provide fellows with ample opportunities to hone their pediatric skills.”

According to Phillips, most of the children seen by medical residents don’t have chronic illnesses or genetic disorders. Through the new program, fellows will get to treat neonatal intensive care unit patients and manage care plans for those with complex pediatric conditions.

In addition, the fellowship will equip family medicine physicians to care for chronically ill children in rural areas that may not have pediatric physicians.

“Family medicine doctors are the frontline care for kids in rural areas,” said Phillips. “Our program participants will have the advantage of seeing what children experience in the NICU and emergency room settings.”

Interviews for the program will begin in the fall with the fellowship starting in July 2020. For more information about the program, contact Dr. Sara Phillips at sbphillips@ua.edu.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama’s website

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Alabama’s newest ‘Smart Neighborhood’ to be finished in 2020

Holland Homes, builder of the state’s next “Smart Neighborhood,” says construction of the subdivision’s 51 homes will be complete by the end of 2020.

The builder hosted media outlets Monday at the model home in the Northwoods subdivision in Auburn. Owner Daniel Holland says seven of the 51 lots have been sold and plans to have the other 44 complete by the end of next year.

“Things are going good and going quick,” Holland said.

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Holland Homes is partnering with Alabama Power to develop Northwoods as a Smart Neighborhood community. All homes will be designed to make customers’ lives more comfortable, convenient and connected through features that can be managed by smart devices and voice activation. Energy-efficiency will be a key part of the neighborhood, and each home will be built with advanced energy products.

“One of the big benefits is the financial factor — the savings each month on your energy bill,” Holland said. “A 65 HERS score rating is going to equate to a huge savings in your pocket every month from a power bill perspective.” HERS stands for “home energy rating system” and is a recognized way to measure a home’s energy efficiency.

Progress visible on Alabama’s next Smart Neighborhood from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Jim Goolsby, a senior market specialist for Alabama Power, said the 65 HERS rating in the Northwoods homes puts them far ahead of typical Alabama home as far as energy efficiency.

“The average home is 130 on the HERS score, so these homes are going to be an average of 50 percent more efficient than an average home in Alabama,” Goolsby said. “In order to do that, we have to protect the house thermally with things like spray-foam insulation on the roof deck, advanced air ceiling to eliminate air infiltration of the home and double-pane Low-E windows.”

Goolsby said these materials make it easier to cool your house in the summer and warm your house in the winter.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of materials that thermally protect the house so that we don’t have to run those mechanical systems as often,” Goolsby said. “We’re ahead of the game because we’ve built a better box.”

The Northwoods subdivision is the state’s second Smart Neighborhood and the first to be built under Alabama Power’s new Smart Neighborhood Builder Program. Each smart home in the neighborhood will feature:

  • Google Home smart speakers for voice control of the home.
  • Nest Learning thermostats to help save energy and provide more control over the home’s temperature when the owner is at home or away.
  • Advanced energy-efficient building features, including improved insulation, high-efficiency heat pump and water heater and Energy Star appliances.

In addition to Holland Homes, two additional builders are planning Smart Neighborhood developments this year. Harris Doyle Homes will build another community in Auburn and Curtis White Companies has one planned for Leeds. To learn more about those projects and Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood Builder Program, visit www.apcsmartneighborhood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Discovery of an endangered species in a well-known cave raises questions

You’d think there’d be no way someone could newly discover an endangered species hanging out in Fern Cave in the Paint Rock River valley of Jackson County, so close to Huntsville, home to thousands of spelunkers exploring every cave, nook and cranny.

But Matthew Niemiller and colleagues did.

In a discovery documented in a paper in the journal “Subterranean Biology,” Dr. Niemiller, an assistant professor of biological sciences at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), found a specimen of the Alabama Cave Shrimp Palaemonias alabamae while doing a biological survey of Fern Cave in summer 2018 as part of a team of four.

The endangered shrimp had previously only been discovered in six caves in four cave systems in Madison County.

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“Fern Cave is the longest cave in Alabama, with at least 15 miles of mapped passage and five to seven distinct levels,” Dr. Niemiller says. The cave features a 437-foot deep pit and exploring most of its lower levels is reserved only for the very fittest, since the trip involves an arduous journey including drops to be rappelled.

Dr. Niemiller and team’s route to their discovery was no easy feat, either. The team entered the cave’s bottom level via the Davidson Entrance at the base of Nat Mountain on the Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge. The section of Fern Cave is only dry enough for exploration without scuba gear at the height of summer. Otherwise, it takes a dive to explore its flooded passages.

“You go in that entrance, and immediately you are in water up to your chin,” Dr. Niemiller says. From there, the journey twists and turns through tight spots and chambers, and the team sloshed through plenty of water at times.

The biological surveys of Fern Cave are part of a two-year project funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that has involved over 20 biologists, hydrogeologists, and cavers to date from several organizations, including USFWS, UAH, U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc., Kentucky Geological Survey, Huntsville Grotto and Birmingham Grotto.

The scientists relied on the knowledge and expertise of Steve Pitts who has mapped much of Fern Cave and is its guardian for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc. “He has visited the cave more than any person alive, more than 450 times. Without Steve, this project wouldn’t be possible,” Niemiller says.

“We went there to look for everything,” Dr. Niemiller says. “It’s the biggest cave in Alabama, but really, we didn’t know much about it from a biological perspective.”

The cave houses the largest winter colony of federally endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens), and there are other commonly found cave dwellers, like salamanders and millipedes.

“We were working on documenting any life we could see,” Dr. Niemiller says. “We’re looking at the ceiling, in the water and on the floor to see what we could find. We’re looking under rocks and into crevices, as well – every nook and cranny.”

Team members meticulously documented their findings in notebooks and took photos of specimens. In cases where the species was not readily identifiable, they collected voucher specimens for later study.

“We came up on this passage where we could see there was a muddy bank, a place that maybe at other times of the year you didn’t want to be, an area that was clearly underwater for most of the year,” Dr. Niemiller says.

At this spot there were vestigial pools, left when the water receded in the dry summertime. Dr. Niemiller peered into one.

“We are finding cave crayfish, cavefish and sculpin in this pool. Then I looked down and saw this weird thing, this little white crustacean swimming toward me, and I said, ‘That’s a cave shrimp!’”

The team collected a live sample because at the time it was unsure if the specimen was actually the endangered shrimp or possible a new undescribed species. After leaving the cave, Dr. Niemiller called USFWS and got permission to retain the specimen, which is now housed in the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.

But there’s more. The team found three other cave shrimp on that day in August 2018 and observed another two on a return trip in July of this year. The little animals pose some interesting questions for science.

First of all, there’s the Fern Cave location, in the Paint Rock River watershed, which led Niemiller to wonder if the shrimp was an undescribed species. However, the shrimp found at Fern Cave have been morphologically and genetically linked to those found in Madison County, a different watershed area.

“Fern Cave is in a different county and a different location than the other caves where this species has been found,” Dr. Niemiller says. How did the Alabama Cave Shrimp make it there?

Little is known about the shrimp’s ecology. How does it breed, what is its lifespan, how does it survive and what foods does it eat? And why and when did the shrimp lose its eyesight and live in caves?

“Does this species represent something that went underground a million years ago? Two million? Five million?” Dr. Niemiller asks.

What are its closest relatives? “We need to explore the genetics of the species in more detail to find that out.”

Perhaps the most interesting question is, what is the actual range of the shrimp, since it was newly found in a distinct watershed.

“We have to get a better understanding of the distribution of the shrimp,” Dr. Niemiller said. “We’re hoping to get additional funding to survey other sites in Alabama for the presence of the cave shrimp and other cave species of conservation concern.”

After all, perhaps the Alabama Cave Shrimp is doing better than scientists think, even though a population has disappeared in one cave in Huntsville where it was seen in the early 1970s.

Caves in this region of the country are far more extensive than they are amenable to human exploration, and here the tiny shrimp has had scientific impact. Dr. Niemiller’s team has developed a genetic assay that uses the shrimp’s environmental DNA. Shed in the normal course of living, this DNA could be detected in water samples taken from caves and springs by the assay, allowing science to peer into inaccessible areas in search of Palaemonias alabamae.

In northern Alabama and southern Tennessee, cave systems often are so extensive that anyone could be standing atop a habitat for the Alabama Cave Shrimp and not even know it.

“It could be right under your feet,” Dr. Niemiller says. “It could be in a cavity, a well or a cave system underground.”

Tiny cave passages too small to explore link together with underground gravel deposits flowing with water to offer lots of species habitats and opportunity for dispersal, and most of them science as-yet knows nothing about. In this respect, biological cave exploration is much like exploring the deepest recesses of the oceans.

“That’s what draws me to it,” Dr. Niemiller says. “Every cave is different, and differently populated. We’re making many new discoveries.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville)

6 hours ago

USA leads $1.3M fight against opioid addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die every day after overdosing on opioids. This national crisis includes the Gulf Coast, but a new program at the University of South Alabama will help address this problem.

USA’s College of Nursing has received a $1.3 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to recruit and train psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, students, nurse professionals and other professionals. It will focus on opioid and substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services in high-need areas in this region.

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“We are in the process of creating the program, which will include three interdisciplinary online courses and stipends to start in January 2020,” said Dr. Kimberly Williams, associate professor of nursing and project director for the grant. “We have created an interdisciplinary team to support this program, which will help underserved and rural communities.”

Overdose deaths more than doubled between 2016 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 19.7 million people who are age 12 or older had a substance abuse disorder in 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“The students and professionals will have a better understanding of opioid and substance use disorders care involving integrated behavioral health settings through this experience,” Williams said. “By positioning psychiatric providers such as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners within these medical facilities working alongside medical providers, it allows direct access to mental health services that may not otherwise be available. The direct service can reduce morbidity and mortality associated with illness through timely referrals, assessments and treatments.”

Dr. Heather Hall, dean of USA’s College of Nursing, said the award provides nursing faculty the opportunity to advance nursing education and practice. “The grant team will serve in key roles to expand the Gulf Coast region’s opioid workforce and substance use disorder workforce serving children/adolescents in areas with high mortality rates and high mental health provider shortage. We are proud to have an interprofessional team of faculty and health care providers collaborating to provide additional education and training to develop opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery specialty courses.”

The USA interdisciplinary team is also planning to connect with Project ECHO, the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, which is part of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Project ECHO is considered a collaborative model connecting healthcare professionals to discuss complex conditions and issues via video conferencing.

“Project ECHO encourages connections of interest through building ECHO hubs throughout the country and the world.  Williams said, “According to Project ECHO, this is a lifelong learning and guided practice model with an aim of strengthening local resources to provide evidence-based care for underserved patients within the U.S. and worldwide.”

The USA interdisciplinary team is also planning to connect with Project ECHO by creating their own ECHO hub. “We will recruit healthcare professionals from the three targeted areas to join our ECHO hub,” Williams said. “The use of this model will enhance prevention, treatment and recovery for persons with substance abuse disorders and other complex conditions.”

The team members for this grant along with Williams are:

  • Dr. Casey Elkins, co-project director, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Candice Selwyn, co-project director, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Kirsten Pancione, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Melanie Baker, College of Nursing
  • Dr. Brandon Browning, department of professional studies, clinical and mental health counseling, College of Education and Professional Studies
  • Dr. Stephen Young, department of social work, College of Arts and Sciences

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

7 hours ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Supporting STEM education

Did you know that four billion people on the planet use a mobile phone? Over the past two years alone, 90 percent of all the world’s data has been generated. NASA plans to put man on Mars within the next 20 years, and self-driving cars are being tested around the world.

Right now, we are living in the “future” we’ve talked about for generations, and our modern world requires a workforce educated in science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly known as STEM.

Between the years 2000 and 2010, STEM-related jobs grew at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs. But, at the end of 2018, nearly 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled, because STEM education is not readily available for many students, especially in rural areas of our country. This is a critical problem, and I will briefly share some numbers to demonstrate just how important it is that we fix it.

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The number of STEM jobs is projected to increase by 13 percent by 2027, compared to nine percent for non-STEM jobs. Opportunities in computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing will lead. The average median hourly wage for STEM jobs is $38.85, while the median earning for all other types of jobs in the United States is $19.30. The national average for STEM job annual salaries is $87,570, whereas the national average for non-STEM occupations is $45,700 – roughly half.

The STEM fields provide fantastic career opportunities, but according to the National Math and Science Initiative, only 36 percent of all American high school graduates are ready to take a collegiate science course. According to the Department of Labor, universities in the United States are only expected to produce 29 percent of the number of graduates necessary to fill the 1.4 million vacant computer specialist job openings.

The demand isn’t going to disappear, so it is our responsibility to expose the next generation of workers to STEM education so they will be equipped to fill these important jobs that will lead us further into the future we envision.

I recently participated in a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on STEM engagement, during which I had the opportunity to speak directly with experts from NASA and the National Science Foundation. Since we are experiencing such a severe workforce shortage, I brought up the issue of how we can generate increased interest in STEM-based jobs for the next generation. I also asked for an update about the programs currently in place to target underrepresented, rural areas across our country. I appreciated their time and thoughtful responses to my questions, and I was encouraged by what I learned.

In Congress, I have and will continue to support strong funding for STEM education opportunities. We must do all we can to expose more young people to these increasingly important fields so that today’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s jobs.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.