September 23, 2013: Death of Ruth Patrick; 1986: A Civil Action; 2012: NYC Water Tank

0923 death of ruth-patrickSeptember 23, 2013: Death of Dr. Ruth Patrick. “Dr. Ruth Myrtle Patrick (born November 26, 1907) was a botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology, who developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established a number of research facilities.

Dr. Patrick’s research in fossilized diatoms showed that the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina was once a forest, which had been flooded by seawater. Similar research proved that the Great Salt Lake was not always a saline lake. During the Great Depression, she volunteered to work as a curator for the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she worked for no pay for ten years. Her work has been widely published and she has received numerous awards for her scientific achievements, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 1993, the National Medal of Science in 1996, the Heinz Award Chairman’s Medal in 2002, and the A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center in Aiken, South Carolina, is named after her.”

Commentary: In 1974, I took a course on biological limnology from this amazing woman. She brought in luminaries such as Luna Leopold noted fluvial morphologist to give lectures as well as providing some of the most interesting classes herself. One anecdote that that was told to me while I was taking her class concerns some work she did during WWII. She was asked to identify organisms from scrapings on the hulls of German U-boats that had been captured. Her knowledge of diatoms was so encyclopedic that she pinpointed the location of the U-boat pens, which helped the Allies destroy them.

CivilactionbookSeptember 23, 1986New York Times headline–Settlement Averts Key Trial in Deaths Tied to Pollution. Eight families, who charged that water pollution by W. R. Grace & Company had resulted in the death from leukemia of five children and an adult, announced a settlement with the company today.

Lawyers for each side refused to disclose the terms of the agreement except to say it was ”substantial.” The announcement came as the second stage in a complex trial was to begin in Federal District Court here this morning.

The trial had attracted widespread attention because of belief that a jury finding might have set a national precedent holding polluters responsible for the medical consequences of their action.

Members of the eight families from Woburn, an industrial suburb, and a spokesman for Grace differed about the implications of the settlement. ”With the settlement,” said Anne Zona, whose brother died of leukemia in 1974 at the age of 8, ”they are admitting to what they had done and paying for it.”

The settlement and the legal struggles leading up to it formed the basis for the book and film, both entitled “A Civil Action.”

September 23, 2012:  New York times article that was a follow up to “A History of New York in 50 Objects”–”The thousands of wooden water tanks that punctuate the skyline are maintained mostly by two family-run companies, Rosenwach Group and Isseks Brothers, which both date to the 19th century. The city’s gravity-fed water supply from upstate reservoirs generally reached only six stories high, so water was pumped to rooftop tanks (they hold, on average, 10,000 gallons) to maintain pressure on upper floors for tenants and to assist firefighters.”

Commentary:  I have always wondered who looks after the aging, wooden water tanks that dominate the rooftops in Manhattan. It is good to know that there are two family-run companies that do this. Now, if they could clean up the outsides of the tanks, it would make rooftop viewing all that more pleasant.

0923 NYC Water Tank

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