When Buildings Compete, We All Win

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

On average, Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. So the buildings where we work, learn, and shop have an important role to play in our wellbeing. At the same time, buildings also contribute to the health of our surrounding environment. In 2015, about 40% of total U.S. energy consumption was consumed in residential and commercial buildings. And commercial buildings are responsible for nearly 20% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Improving energy efficiency has proven to be one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways for businesses and organizations to save money, create jobs, and improve employee wellbeing. Plus, facility improvement measures can actually improve employee productivity by creating more comfortable spaces for people to work.

Since 2010, EPA has run the ENERGY STAR® Battle of the Buildings, which enlists interested building owners from across the country to compete in saving energy and water.

Last year, 143 teams – made up of at least five buildings each – along with thousands of individual buildings signed onto the challenge, setting out to slim down their energy and water “wastelines” by making behavioral changes, upgrading inefficient equipment, and optimizing mechanical systems.

The 2015 results are in. All told, last year’s Battle of the Buildings competitors achieved impressive savings, to say the least. More than 60 buildings cut energy use by 20 percent and 40 buildings cut water use by 20 percent or more in just 12 months.

Seven people stand in front of an industrial facility with the Texas A&M logo

Pictured: The Texas A&M University – ESCO Project’s energy management team

GOLD FOR ENERGY: Texas A&M University – ESCO Project,in College Station, improved energy efficiency by 35 percent and saved nearly $550,000 across their six competing buildings. All told, they prevented more than 1,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the emissions from the annual energy used by more than 150 homes. The team completed a full lighting retrofit, updated the building automation system, and installed occupancy sensors and a pump variable frequency drive. They maximized savings related to heating and cooling by connecting lighting occupancy sensors to an automation system that controls the HVAC system. They also appointed a full-time team to work closely with students and faculty to ensure comfort while conserving energy.

A large group of standing people.

Pictured: The coaches at Southface Energy Institute who helped Team Boys & Girls Clubs All Stars save energy

GOLD FOR WATER: Team Boys & Girls Clubs All Stars cut water use by more than 50 percent across their 12 competing buildings in seven different states, with help from their “coaches” at the Southface Energy Institute. The biggest savings opportunities came from eliminating water leaks, upgrading plumbing fixtures, securing faucets, and replacing toilets and urinals with low-flow equipment. The Boys & Girls Clubs also switched from potable water to rainwater for some of their educational projects. Today, the building features a new rainwater harvesting system that collects water from the roof of the facility for use in the garden. Savings from reduced water costs have allowed the Boys & Girls Club to allocate more resources toward hiring staff, purchasing program supplies, and fulfilling its mission: “Enabling all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Check out the full list of winners and a wrap-up report with advice and best practices on the competition web page.

Do you have what it takes to join the Battle of the Buildings?

This year, the competition will return as the 2016 ENERGY STAR BOOTCAMP – a 90-day competition to reduce energy and water use in our nation’s buildings. Register to participate in the 2016 ENERGY STAR BOOTCAMP now through July 17, 2016.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Science Guides Public Health Protection for Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

As a country, we’ve come a long way toward providing clean air, water, and land – essential resources that support healthy, productive lives. But we have more work to do to make sure that every American has access to safe drinking water.

That’s why EPA launched a concerted engagement effort with key partners and stakeholders – including state, tribal and local governments, drinking water utilities, and public health, environmental and community stakeholders – to develop and implement a national action plan to address critical drinking water challenges and opportunities.

As always, our work to protect public health and the environment must consistently be built on a foundation of sound science and data. When it comes to drinking water, scientific information helps us identify pollutants of concern – including new or emerging contaminants – assess potential health impacts, and understand the steps needed to address them.

Today, based on the latest science on two chemical contaminants called PFOA and PFOS, EPA released drinking water health advisories to provide the most up-to-date information on the health risks of these chemicals. These advisories will help local water systems and state, tribal and local officials take the appropriate steps to address PFOA and PFOS if needed.

For many years, PFOA and PFOS were widely used in carpets, clothing, furniture fabrics, food packaging, and other materials to make them more resistant to water, grease, and stains. PFOA and PFOS were also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.  Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer. And EPA asked eight major companies to commit to eliminate their production and use of PFOA by the end of 2015 and they have indicated that they have met their commitments. While there are some limited ongoing uses of these chemicals, in recent years, blood testing data has shown that exposures are declining across the country.

For most people, their source of exposure to PFOA and PFOS has come through food and consumer products. But drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in the small percentage of communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies.  This is typically a localized issue associated with a specific facility – for example, in communities where a manufacturing plant or airfield made or used these chemicals.

EPA’s assessment indicates that drinking water with individual or combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS below 70 parts per trillion is not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure.  These levels reflect a margin of protection, including for the most sensitive populations.

If these chemicals are found in drinking water systems above these levels, system operators should quickly conduct additional sampling to assess the level, scope, and source of contamination.  They should also promptly notify consumers and consult with their state drinking water agency to discuss appropriate next steps. Public notification is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because of the impact these chemicals can have on the development of fetuses and breastfed or formula-fed infants. There are a number of options available to water systems to lower concentrations of these chemicals in the drinking water supply.

EPA will continue sharing the latest science and information so that state and local officials can make informed decisions and take actions to protect public health.  This is an important part of our broader effort to support states and public water systems as we work together to strengthen the safety of America’s drinking water.

For more information on the health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, visit the webpage.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Moving Forward for America’s Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

Our nation’s record of progress in advancing public health under the Safe Drinking Water Act is significant.  But too little water in the West, flooding from extreme weather in the Midwest and Southeast, and the recent water quality issues in Flint, Michigan have rightly focused national attention on America’s drinking water.  As a country, we can and must do more to make sure that every American has access to safe drinking water.  EPA is committed to working together with our governmental partners, communities and stakeholders to strengthen the nation’s drinking water systems. That is why, today, we are announcing the next steps in that effort.  Beginning next month, EPA will lead a series of engagements to inform a national action plan on drinking water, to be released by the end of the year.  In addition, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has begun a new study of the science and technology relevant to ensuring the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

THE PROGRESS WE’VE MADE

With public attention rightly focused on drinking water quality in communities across the country, it’s worth remembering how far we’ve come in providing clean safe drinking water.  Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974 – granting EPA the authority and the funding to take action and affirming the leading role of states and municipalities – more than 40 percent of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the most basic health standards.

Today, over 300 million Americans depend on 152,000 public drinking water systems and collectively drink more than one billion glasses of tap water each day.  Our agency has established standards for more than 90 contaminants, and our compliance data show that more than 90 percent of the nation’s water systems consistently meet those standards.  Clean water is the lifeblood of healthy, vibrant communities and our nation’s economy.  Making sure that all Americans have reliable access to safe drinking water is essential, and a core task for EPA.

Over the years, through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund established by Congress in 1996, $30 billion in low-interest loans have supported infrastructure projects that are delivering drinking water to thousands of communities across the country.  This has supplemented local and state finance of drinking water infrastructure – especially in low-income communities and where public health risk is the highest.

And, relatedly, our Clean Water Rule is a major step forward to protect our nation’s precious water resources, including streams that are the source of drinking water for 117 million Americans – over one third of the country’s population.

We’ve come so far.  But our work is far from done.

NEW AND REMAINING CHALLENGES

The crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought to the forefront the challenges many communities across the country are facing, including from lead pipes that carry their drinking water and uneven publicly-available information around drinking water quality.  At the same time, as new technology advances our detection ability, we’re detecting new contaminants in our water from industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other sources that can pose risks to public health.

And science now shows that climate change – especially the extreme weather and drought impacts it brings – are placing added stress on water resources and creating uncertainty in many regions of the country.

In some areas, pollution threatens upstream sources like rivers and lakes that feed into our drinking water.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans were cut off from drinking water because of a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia and a harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie that impacted the drinking water for Toledo, Ohio.  We need to protect our drinking water sources and the Clean Water Rule is critical to that effort.

Meanwhile, EPA data show that at least $384 billion in improvements will be needed through 2030 to maintain, upgrade and replace thousands of miles of pipe and thousands of treatment plants, storage tanks and water distribution systems that make up our country’s water infrastructure.  And if local and state governments do not lean into these investments and instead defer and delay, rebuilding our water infrastructure will only become more expensive.

Too often, the toughest infrastructure challenges are found in low-income, minority communities – both large and small – where inadequate revenue and investment have left many water systems crumbling from age and neglect, and where citizens lack the resources and timely and accurate information about their water quality to do something about it.

These are big challenges and EPA recognizes that no one can tackle them alone.

MOVING FORWARD – ENGAGING KEY PARTNERS AND STAKEHOLDERS ON A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR SAFE DRINKING WATER

That’s why we’re launching a concerted, strategic engagement with key partners and stakeholders – including state, tribal and local governments, drinking water utilities, and public health, environmental and community stakeholders – to develop and implement a national action plan to address the critical drinking water challenges and opportunities before us.

EPA has already intensified our work with state drinking water programs with a priority focus on implementation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, including directing EPA staff to meet with officials from every state to make sure they’re addressing any high lead levels and fully implementing the current rule.

We sent letters to every governor and every state environmental and/or health commissioner of states that implement the Safe Drinking Water Act, urging them to work with EPA on steps to strengthen protections against lead and on a broader set of critical priorities to keep our drinking water safe.  We’re following up with each and every state on actions to increase public health protection, transparency and accountability.

We’re now taking the next step forward.  In the coming weeks, EPA will launch a targeted engagement with key state co-regulators, regulated utilities, and nongovernmental stakeholders on priority issues related to implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The focus of that engagement will include:

  • Advancing Next Generation Safe Drinking Water Act Implementation:  Identify key opportunities and initiate work on critical next steps to strengthen and modernize state and federal implementation of Safe Drinking Water Act regulations and programs, including ways to increase public data transparency and accountability.
  • Addressing Environmental Justice and Equity in Infrastructure Funding:  Identify additional steps federal, state, tribal and local governments, and utilities can take to better ensure that drinking water infrastructure challenges of low-income environmental justice communities and small systems are being appropriately prioritized and addressed, including through increased information, sharing and replicating best practices, and building community capacity.
  • Strengthening Protections against Lead in Drinking Water: Prioritize opportunities to collaborate and make progress on implementing the current Lead and Copper Rule, particularly in environmental justice communities and expand and strengthen opportunities for stakeholder engagement to support the development of a revised rule.
  • Emerging and Unregulated Contaminant Strategies:  Develop and implement improved approaches through which EPA, state, tribal and local governments, utilities and other stakeholders can work together to prioritize and address the challenges posed by emerging and unregulated contaminants such as algal toxins and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

In each of these areas, we will work together with our partners and stakeholders to set a strategic agenda and identify and implement priority, near-term actions we can take in the coming months.  By the end of this year, we will release a summary of our progress and a national action plan for the future.

At the same time, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is beginning a new study of the science and technology relevant to ensuring the Nation’s drinking-water quality.  PCAST will seek input from EPA, other relevant agencies, and a wide range of experts on ideas on investments in new technology and infrastructure to protect drinking water resources, detect pollutants, advance treatment to remove contaminants and pathogens, and develop improved infrastructure for the future.  Following this review, PCAST will recommend actions the federal government can take, in concert with cities and states, to promote application of the best available science and technology to drinking-water safety.  This builds on current efforts by the Administration to draw on the power of existing and breakthrough technology to boost innovation in water supply.

We owe it to our kids today and to future generations to take steps now and develop future actions to ensure that all Americans have affordable access to high-quality water when and where they need it.  We look forward to partnering with the public and stakeholders in the development of this plan.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Superfund is Making a Visible Difference

By Mathy Stanislaus

Thirty-five years ago, the Superfund program was created to clean up sites where hazardous releases have occurred or might occur.  At some of these sites, there are potential long-term human health effects from contamination, such as cancers, birth defects, or respiratory issues. Contaminated sites can also cause long-term harm to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources if not addressed and managed.  At other sites, the risk might be more immediate in the form of fires and explosions.  By implementing the Superfund statute with the help of residents, and collaboration with state, tribal and local officials, we can restore these sites that threaten the health and environment of communities across the country.  That is why we recently added five sites, and proposed adding an additional eight to the National Priorities List (NPL).

During the last seven years leading our Office of Land and Emergency Management, I have seen first-hand the benefit of the Superfund program and how it invests in and transforms environmentally blighted sites into community assets.  The Superfund program is an excellent example of collaboration and public partnership.  For example, in downtown Corinna, Maine at the Eastland Woolen Mill site, a former 22-acre textile mill left extensive soil, groundwater and drinking water contamination, making the area a challenge for the community to develop.  The Town of Corinna took action and obtained a grant from us to develop a plan for the area.  Working with the town officials and community the Corinna Village Center reuse plan was completed.  When the work was finished, what once stood as a contaminated industrial site was a revived landscape complete with features including a restored downtown, recreational trail, river walk, and a community bandstand for events.

This success story isn’t limited to Corinna, or the state of Maine; it’s one that I’ve observed in hundreds of cities and towns across the country.  In addition to aesthetic and health benefits, research has shown that the cleanup of these sites can result in increased property values of between 18.6 – 24.5 percent for the surrounding areas as compared to their pre-NPL proposal values.  This creates economic vitality for areas that were previously challenged with the threat of contamination. We also found that last year 454 of our national clean-up sites in reuse supported 3,900 businesses, which employed more than 108,000 workers and generated annual sales of $29 billion. These workers also earned a combined income of $7.8 billion.  It’s all of these benefits that make lasting visible differences in our communities and demonstrate the impact of the Superfund program.  We will continue to work with communities across the country to address contaminated sites which will provide benefits to those areas for generations to come.  If you would like more information about the Superfund program, please visit https://www.epa.gov/superfund.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Permission to Build? Why Well-Maintained Hazardous Waste Permits are Good for the Environment, Good for our Communities, and Good for Business

By Mathy Stanislaus

We all know this principle: that which is built, also must be maintained. This applies to the houses and buildings we live in, the bridges and roads we travel, and the infrastructure that provides us reliable electricity and clean water. And it also applies to the facilities that treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste – including the operating conditions and requirements at manufacturing facilities that also manage hazardous waste (treatment, storage, or disposal facilities). These requirements are maintained in their hazardous waste permits.

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), facilities that treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste must obtain a hazardous waste permit in order to ensure safe management of those wastes (i.e., ensuring tanks have secondary containment and will not leak). RCRA regulations for general permitting standards have been in place for over 30 years, and the majority of hazardous waste facilities have been properly permitted by their state or EPA regulating authority. However, as our new Permit Modification Report describes, the initial permit tells only the beginning of the story of a RCRA permit.

Now that most of these facilities already have their initial permits, the bulk of RCRA hazardous waste permitting activity has shifted to tasks that maintain and modify these permits. Permit modifications enable improved operational efficiency, economic development, and environmental protection at hazardous waste facilities. Throughout the modification process, effective and meaningful public participation keeps the local community abreast of ongoing changes at the facility. Public participation also helps inform facility managers, as well as the regulating agency, of public concerns.

Permittees request changes to their permits to keep pace with evolving business practices, technology, cleanup decisions, and regulations. Timely permit modifications ensure that these changes maintain protection of human health and the environment. These modifications can help with the cleanup of contaminated soil or groundwater, increase recycling, reuse and sustainable materials management, reduce corresponding waste streams, minimize fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions and have economic benefits for the facility. At the same time, companies can keep pace with changes in the market place and bolster their competitiveness.

The 1,429 facilities permitted under RCRA and identified in the Permit Modification Report employ approximately 100,000 people and generate close to $400 billion in annual revenue. On average, states approve approximately 800 RCRA permit modifications annually. Details on that estimate are in our Permit Modification Report.

There is a wide variability on how many permit modifications a single facility will require, but, if evenly distributed, these facilities need changes to the permit on average about every 18 months, with the more active facilities requesting multiple changes in a single year. This important segment of the economy stands to benefit from responsive permitting programs that can address changes (modifications and renewals) in a timely manner while ensuring those changes are protective of the environment. In order for the permitting programs to remain responsive to modification requests, the state programs need adequate and available resources and staffing.

The public participation aspect of the permit modification process allows communities to be informed and involved, and it ensures that the regulating agency can consider and address local concerns—especially environmental justice concerns. We recommend expanded public participation efforts, such as the use of social media that goes beyond regulatory requirements. For example, greater public outreach may be needed for changes to permits that involve potential off-site impacts to the community, such as air emissions or cleanup of releases that may have migrated off-site. Greater outreach may be warranted when the facility is located in disadvantaged neighborhoods or when the facility is clustered near other industrial facilities and may add to cumulative impacts to adjacent communities. One report from 2007 found that neighborhoods surrounding hazardous waste facilities are 56% people of color compared to 30% people of color in neighborhoods without hazardous waste facilities. Additionally, the report found that poverty rates in neighborhoods with hazardous waste facilities are 1.5 times greater than neighborhoods without hazardous waste facilities.

We have information currently available on our website regarding expanded public participation, and we are updating our RCRA Public Participation Manual to provide further guidance. We will post the draft updated public participation manual for public review, and we will provide notice through our mailing lists. I encourage you—regulators, facilities, and citizens alike—to learn more about the Permit Modification Report and the hazardous waste permitting process. After all, well-maintained hazardous waste permits serve everyone’s need for economic and environmental well-being in the areas we call home.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Expanding EPA’s Partnership with State Health and Environmental Experts

By Gina McCarthy

EPA is, at its core, a public health agency. The simple fact is, you can’t have healthy people or a strong economy without clean air, clean water, healthy land, and a stable climate.  And we’ve come a long way over the last 45 years to help protect those resources for the American people.

But we haven’t done it alone. EPA shares the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment with state environmental and health officials. We depend on these partnerships every day to achieve our missions.

That’s why I am really proud to announce that EPA, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to work even more closely together to share information and advance public health protection in the United States.

I got my start as a local health official in my hometown of Canton, Massachusetts and then worked for the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut before joining EPA. Whether I was investigating asthma triggers or helping a community deal with contamination from a local chemical facility, I quickly learned that public health and environmental health are one and the same. I also learned that effective protection happens when people at every level of government work together.

That’s why this partnership is a big deal. By working together—not just with state environmental commissioners at ECOS, but with health officials at ASTHO—we can do more to prevent environmental exposure and keep people healthy.

Since EPA was established, we have made tremendous progress together in protecting Americans’ health from pollution. Fifty years ago, our smokestacks, cars, and trucks pumped out black soot unabated. Rivers burned, litter was widespread, we pumped toxic leaded gas into our cars, and we even smoked cigarettes on airplanes. One newspaper headline described the smog in Los Angeles as “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.”

Forty-five years later, by working with our state partners, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent, we’ve cleaned up beaches and waterways from industrial pollution, and we’ve helped pregnant women and mothers have healthier and safer children—all while our national GDP has tripled.

But not everyone has shared fully in these benefits. Too many communities have been left behind—especially low-income and minority communities—which face disproportionate levels of pollution, and suffer disproportionate health impacts.

Recent events in Flint, Michigan and in struggling communities across the country show that environment and health officials at all levels of government need to find ways to be more responsive, innovative, and inclusive. Today’s MOA is an important step toward expanding our engagement and sharing information to protect all Americans from environmental health threats.
Moving forward, we’ll look at how states and EPA are tapping into each other’s expertise, whether we have the technologies, tools, and investments necessary to protect people—and how to best focus on underserved communities that are too often left behind, so we can meet the challenges of the future.

That’s why I’m so proud of today’s MOA. Because by working with our nation’s health and environmental experts, we can help keep our kids healthy and our economy strong.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Environmental Governance: A Key Stepping Stone on the Path to Peace and Stability

By Ethan Shenkman

Public participation. Information disclosure. Implementable and enforceable laws. Strong accountability mechanisms. In the United States, we sometimes take principles like these for granted. For those who practice environmental law here, we feel intuitively that they are necessary features of any effective legal system.  But in many countries around the world — grappling with fundamental issues of democracy and rule of law — these basic principles of “environmental governance” take on an even greater meaning and significance.

The legal community, both in the U.S. and abroad, increasingly recognizes a direct connection between environmental governance and the promotion of rule of law more generally.  And we see, based on firsthand experience, how sound environmental governance is essential to ensuring public health — and a healthy economy.

"Good environmental governance is critical not only to achieving a healthy environment, but to achieving a healthy economy." Ethan Shenkman, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join diplomats from the State Department in Vienna, Austria for the Economic and Environmental Forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The OSCE includes more than 50 countries from North America to Europe to Central Asia. It has a comprehensive focus on security and its activities range from conflict resolution to energy security. The OSCE hosts several Economic and Environmental and Forum events each year because it recognizes the importance of effective environmental institutions, laws, and enforcement in promoting economic growth and ensuring peace and stability in the region. As the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, emphasized in his plenary statement, environmental governance is an area that “touches all of our lives.”

While discussing environmental governance with officials from throughout the OSCE region, including the newly independent states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, I was impressed by the uniformly positive response and desire to engage on these issues. The forum recognized promoting strong environmental governance and sustainable development as central elements of OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security and stability. Other countries highlighted a number innovative pilot projects, ranging from the use of microfinance to green the economy, to harnessing the ideas generated by civic participation in promoting resource efficiency.

We look forward to following up on numerous opportunities to transform principles of environmental governance into progress on the ground.  Exciting possibilities ahead range from an important international initiative to help countries establish and implement laws to reduce the use of lead paint, particularly in homes where vulnerable children are exposed; to compiling legal framework models to reduce air pollution; to providing implementation assistance for countries seeking to modernize and improve their environmental laws.

EPA has useful wisdom to share on advancing environmental governance given our decades of experience in developing and implementing environmental regulations while the U.S. economy has expanded steadily over time. Supporting international cooperation to address environmental problems is essential to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. Pollution and other failures to protect valuable natural resources have concrete and direct impacts on people’s lives, and those problems do not respect borders. Because effective governance systems are fundamental to the success of environmental protections, helping build strong environmental institutions and legal structures is a top priority.

About the author: Ethan Shenkman is EPA’s Deputy General Counsel.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Good News for our Health at Home: Safety Sells

By Gina McCarthy

Last spring, EPA unveiled a new label to help consumers make informed choices about the products they use at home.

Today, hundreds of products with the Safer Choice label are on store shelves at major retailers in all 50 states. We’re starting with household cleaners and laundry detergents, and will soon expand the label to a wider range of other cleaners, car and yard-care products, and do-it-yourself items like coatings and adhesives.

The name says it all: the Safer Choice label can help you find cleaning products that are made with ingredients that are safer for you, your kids, your pets and the environment. EPA scientists use a strict set of health and safety standards when reviewing products to allow them into them Safer Choice program. So consumers can trust that any product with the Safer Choice label is backed by EPA science.

So far, feedback has been spectacular. Last summer, Consumer Reports released survey data showing that nearly half of American consumers would be willing to pay more for safer products.

But the great news is… they don’t have to.

A price comparison study found that Safer Choice products are cost-competitive – most often costing about the same as cleaners without the label, and sometimes – costing even less.

And in marketing studies, some manufacturers have found that the label isn’t just informative, it’s attractive to consumers – leading many companies to move the label front and center on their product packaging.

The point is – consumers want to make informed choices about the products they’re bringing into their homes, and around their kids and pets. And companies know that developing and selling safer products is good for business. When they demonstrate a commitment to the health of their customers and the planet, consumers respond.

Already, more than 500 manufacturers make products with the Safer Choice label – and new companies are seeking to join the program in force.

Here’s some more good news. Not only does the Safer Choice program put the power of choice into the hands of consumers, it actually incentivizes manufacturers to change the ingredients in their products – so they can meet the strict safety criteria the Safer Choice label demands.

That means more products made with ingredients that are safer on store shelves, and less harmful chemicals in households across America.

So keep your eye out for the Safer Choice label when you’re out shopping.

You can visit EPA’s interactive map to find Safer Choice products that can be used in your own community — at schools, stadiums, homes, and businesses near you.

And in case you missed it, my dog Emma joined me in debuting the new Safer Choice label last year. Check out the video below.
 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The Deepening Story of How Climate Change Threatens Human Health

This is a joint blog from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Climate change poses risks to human health through many pathways, some more obvious than others. Rising greenhouse-gas concentrations, driven by human activities, result in increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. These climate-change impacts endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the climate-related risks to human health will continue to grow.

Today, building on the Third National Climate Assessment issued in May 2014, the Administration released a new report summarizing the growing understanding of how climate change is directly and indirectly affecting human health.  The report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, finds that “every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.” Drawing from decades of advances in the science of climate change and its influences on ecosystems and human society, the report strengthens our understanding of the significant threat that climate change poses to the health of all Americans and highlights factors that make some individuals and communities particularly vulnerable.

Among the new assessment’s specific findings is the projection that, under mid-range growth of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the combination of resulting summer temperatures in the United States and the known physiology of human sensitivity to heat would result in an increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature heat-related deaths per year by the end of the century. Extreme heat poses a particular risk for children, the elderly, disadvantaged and socially isolated groups, and even people taking some prescription drugs that may impair the body’s ability to regulate temperature. The increase in heat-related deaths in most regions is expected to outweigh any reduction in cold-related deaths from warmer winters.

Changes in the climate also affect air quality. Human-induced climate change has already made conditions more favorable for ground-level ozone pollution – the key component of smog – in some regions of the United States. Higher temperatures increase the rate at which ozone forms, and associated changes in meteorological conditions can lead to stagnation events where large pockets of still air allow pollution levels to accumulate over a region. These effects are especially concerning when combined over urban areas. Unless offset by additional emission reductions of ozone-forming pollutants, these climate-driven increases in ozone will cause increases in premature deaths, hospital visits, lost school days, and acute respiratory symptoms.

Rising temperatures and hotter, drier summers are projected to increase the frequency and severity of large wildfires, especially in the western United States. Wildfires emit fine particles and ozone-forming pollutants that in turn increase the risk of premature death and adverse chronic and acute cardiovascular and respiratory health symptoms. Firefighters, in particular, are exposed to significantly higher levels of combustion products from fires.

A changing climate is also affecting the seasonality and geographic ranges of vector-borne diseases – such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, which are transmitted, respectively, by  ticks and mosquitoes. Between 2001 and 2014, both the distribution and number of reported cases of Lyme disease increased in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. The assessment found that vector-borne pathogens of a number of kinds are likely to emerge or re-emerge due to the interactions of climatic factors with many non-climatic drivers, such as changing land-use patterns and human population density.

The assessment also highlights the disproportionate impacts of certain other climate-change-related health issues on certain communities. Indigenous people, for example, face decreasing access to traditional wild and cultivated foods, which have both health and cultural implications for these communities. And warming can exacerbate shellfish disease and make mercury more readily absorbed into fish tissue, posing a particular hazard to indigenous communities that consume above-average quantities of fish and shellfish.

The assessment highlights how climate change can exacerbate existing health risks, but also create health threats in new locations or new times. Some threats will occur over longer time periods, or at unprecedented times of the year. For example, increases in water temperature will alter the geographic range and seasonal window of growth for harmful bacteria and algae, exposing more people in more places. Changes in temperatures, precipitation, and extreme events such as flooding are also expected to increase risk of foodborne illnesses from pathogens like Salmonella and E Coli.

Impacts on people’s physical health can also affect their mental health. In addition, many people exposed to extreme weather events experience serious mental health consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. The mental health impacts of hurricanes, floods, and drought can be expected to increase as more people experience the stress—and often trauma—of these disasters.

Reducing the health risks from climate change is a top priority for President Obama and will be a key benefit of implementing his Climate Action Plan. The information about those risks contained within this new assessment should be a strong additional impetus for decision-makers across the Nation to support all three elements of the Plan—reducing domestic emissions of the carbon pollution that is driving global climate change, investing in measures to increase preparedness and resilience against the changes in climate that occur, and working with other nations around the world to encourage and help them to do the same.

John Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy is the U.S. Surgeon General.

Kathryn Sullivan is Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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