EPA Region 3
Topic: EPA Mid-Atlantic Dive Team
Size: : 4664k
Date: July 13, 2011
Bonnie Lomax: With summer now in full swing, many of us are taking time to enjoy our coastal waters, lakes, and rivers. Many people may not know that EPA has a Dive Team which helps keep these waterways clean.
Hello, I’m Bonnie Lomax of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of environmental podcasts. Today we’re talking to Steve Donohue, an environmental scientist and a member of the EPA Mid-Atlantic dive team. Welcome, Steve.
Steve Donohue: Hey, Bonnie, thanks for having me here today.
Bonnie Lomax: I didn’t know EPA had a dive team. What do you do?
Steve Donohue: The scientific dive team supports EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region in a wide range of underwater operations, everything from emergency response to surveys of bottom-dwelling organisms. We also collaborate with a number of external partners in aquatic assessments.
Bonnie Lomax: What are some of your recent projects?
Steve Donohue: Recently, in early June our team completed a week of diving 16 nautical miles off the coast of Delaware, where we were assessing subway cars that were sunk and are being used as artificial reef. Last year we assessed the recovery of the freshwater mussel population after a bridge was constructed over the Allegheny River northeast of Pittsburgh.
Bonnie Lomax: What kind of conditions do you usually encounter?
Steve Donohue: The conditions we encounter as scientific divers are not typical for most recreational divers. Most of our diving is done in cold water with limited light penetration and reduced visibility. It’s definitely [slight laugh] not for everybody.
Bonnie Lomax: What has been your deepest or longest dive?
Steve Donohue: I was once down to 120 feet, but the subway car artificial reef we just dove on is in about 85 to 95 feet of water, which is about as deep as we ever dive in our Region. My longest duration dive was two and half hours. I was in 15 feet of water in the Allegheny River. It was very relaxing just laying on the bottom searching for and collecting freshwater mussels, some about the size of my fingernail. I could have stayed longer since I still had plenty of air in my tank, but I was so cold I had to come up to warm up.
Bonnie Lomax: Steve, what kind of training does it take to be an EPA diver?
Steve Donohue: Members of the dive team are experienced divers. They to to an intensive week-long training course to learn to be scientific divers at EPA's National Diver Training Facility in Gulf Breeze, Florida. That’s where all the EPA divers are trained. Most of the divers in our region have also undergone an additional week of intense training at this facility to become EPA Dive Masters, who are capable of leading other EPA divers on different missions. In addition, all our Region 3 divers are HAZMAT trained and current with first aid, CPR/AED and oxygen administration. So we all know we can count on each other.
Bonnie Lomax: When you’re underwater, what kind of tools do you use?
Steve Donohue: When I started diving we had analog gauges to tell us how deep we were and how much air we have left in our tank, but now we have dive computers that are amazing and tell us all this and more--like how long we can stay down and how fast to come up. In our area with limited visibility in the water just navigating is difficult so we all carry a compass and a reel of line so we can search and find our way out and back from where we started. In addition we also carry tools such as a tape measure, half meter grid, bags, floats, weights, and I have a knife/pry bar I always carry in case I need to cut rope or lines underwater.
Bonnie Lomax: I can see that EPA divers are very professional and very well trained, but what traits are important to have as a diver?
Steve Donohue: I think number one you must be very comfortable in the water. You know, water is 400 times denser than air and every muscle you move you’re burning air, which is your air supply. You have to move slowly and deliberately so you don’t waste your air supply and energy. Everything takes longer under water so you need to be focused and concentrate on the task at hand, and just take things one step at a time.
Bonnie Lomax: I want to thank you for being our guest today and for providing insight on the EPA dive team, and I want to thank our listeners for tuning in. For more information on the Mid-Atlantic Dive Team, please visit our web-page at epa.gov and then type “dive team” in the search box.