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We Can All Benefit from Learning More About Our Environment

2014 October 17

By Nneamaka Odum

When I was young, I wondered how the earth worked. It wasn’t until attending a special middle school, that I was able to begin my environmental education. As I continued to learn, my passion for the environment grew. My friends who learned with me were all interested in protecting the environment as well. We frequently talked about environmental news, and we especially talked about our future careers. Some of my friends, like me, have gone on to study environmental science, wildlife, and even conservation. I can imagine what it would be like if everyone received the education and resources we did.

Since starting my internship here, I’ve learned that EPA has lots of interesting publications on topics from climate change to asthma control, and much more. And, anyone can get these publications for free – this includes parents, teachers, and schools. So, order some for students and help them start learning about the environment today.

The more kids learn about the environment, and how the earth works, the more they’ll benefit.

Even as a senior in college, I now use these publications in my classes to brush up on environmental science knowledge and share public health information with my family members. Recently, I learned how high energy usage can not only be a result of using appliances, but it can also be caused by water usage in homes.

At any rate, even if you’re not a young student, it’s always good to stay informed!

About the author: Nneamaka Odum is a senior studying Environmental Science and Policy at University of Maryland. She works as an intern in EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA Grant Makes Great Strides in Education and Health

2014 October 15

One of the many things we do in the EPA Denver office is work on education and children’s health. We wanted to share some work that Denver based National Jewish Health completed as part of an environmental education grant.  This grant allowed National Jewish Health to work with regional projects that focused on environmental education and health. One of the objectives is to work with research organizations to bring the best science to address children’s health.

National Jewish Health is a Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center (Children’s Centers).  Jointly funded by EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Children’s Centers conduct research to understand the complex interactions between the environment, genetics, and other factors, and how those interactions may affect children’s health.

Air quality and health was a program that allowed a network within EPA Region 8 to increase skills related to air quality and human health, and provide environmental education to schools, higher education institutions, and not for profit organizations to help tailor implementation and stewardship activities to meet the needs of their community.

image of two girls standing in front of lockers at a display table

East Middle School in Aurora, Colorado during a back to school night discussing asthma and environmental impacts on lung health.

In total, there were 19 projects reaching over 25,000 youth in EPA Region 8. More than 15 lesson plans/resources were developed and nine public schools, three higher education institutions, and seven community organizations were funded to conduct a variety of activities in diverse settings. Here are some of the projects:

  • The Clean Air Engines Off! program is an anti-idling education program offered through the American Lung Association to local schools.
  • At the Conservation Center in Paonia, Colorado, students conducted investigations on topics including airplane emissions, indoor air quality, effects of train traffic and the creation of carbon dioxide during physical exertion. Students presented their findings to the public through a community meeting organized by The Conservation Center.
  • At the Denver Green School students’ projects included connecting basic circuits to a microcontroller and programming it both to control the circuit and to interface with a user. The students worked with environmental sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and air quality.
  • At the John McConnell Math and Science Center in Grand Junction, Colorado an interactive, computer‐based program and kiosk was developed to teach  students about:
    1. Formation and sources of ground-based ozone
    2. Differences between “good” and “bad” ozone
    3. Effects of ozone on lung health and the environment, and
    4. Exploration of what individuals can do to reduce the creation of ozone.
  • The Utah Society for Environmental Education provided skills in linking air quality and health and offered three workshops reaching teachers from along the Wasatch Front.

It’s very rewarding to see the successful outcomes of our grant programs.  These grants allow environmental programs to reach a greater audience than EPA could reach alone.

For more information about protecting children’s health, visit www2.epa.gov/children.

About the authors: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8. Kim Bartels is the Children’s Environmental Health Coordinator for EPA Region 8. The authors are sharing these stories to celebrate Children’s Health Month.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Children’s Health Month: Now That I’m a Mom

2014 October 14

By Jessica Orquina

This is my first Children’s Health Month as a mother. Last October, I wrote about how my concerns and habits had changed as an expectant mother. Now, my son is almost one year old and I’m still learning how to best protect his health, and our planet.

Since the baby arrived, my husband and I have been making sure our house is clean and dust-free to help him breath better. And, I made sure that the toys I buy are safe and kept clean.

Recently, my son started scooting around and becoming curious about everything he can get his hands on. So, I’ve been baby proofing our apartment. We use safer cleaning products, like those with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label, but I still make sure they are all out of reach of small hands. I’ve stored them all up and out of reach and put locks on the cabinet doors.

It’s important to remember, children are not little adults. They are more vulnerable to environmental exposures because their systems are still developing, they often play on the floor or ground, and they like to put things in their mouths. As parents we need to remember to keep their environments safe and protect them.

Here are some tips to protect your kids from environmental health risks.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of Public Affairs as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and son.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Childhood Home All Dried Up

2014 October 8

By Stephanie Guizar

My parents first decided to move to Riverside, California in 2003. Back then, it was an average-sized desert city with orange groves that went on for what seemed like forever and a man-made lake that seemed like it would overflow. Fast forward 11 years later to 2014, the orange groves are almost nonexistent, and the lake is nearly empty.

This past summer I moved back in with my parents before leaving for Washington, DC for an internship program. In the two and half months I was there, I noticed just how much Riverside has changed. I drove by Lake Matthews two weeks before I left, and was stunned at how bad the drought had depleted its water source.

California recently passed a law asking homeowners to reduce their water bills by 15% by taking shorter showers, doing full loads of laundry, and avoiding the unnecessary use of water. If homeowners didn’t do so, they will get fined $500. This was one of the efforts to reduce water usage and hopefully get the state out of the drought.

Riverside, however, is an incredibly hot and dry city, with temperatures reaching up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s hard to not want to use up so much water, whether it’s drinking water, running in the sprinklers, or taking multiple showers a day.  Nonetheless, being back home and seeing what the drought has done to this city made me realize how important it is to protect the environment, not only for ourselves but for the generations to come. This is my childhood home, I remember spending countless hours outside with my sister enjoying the sun and having the time of our lives. If we let the drought continue and only worsen that won’t be a possibility for the next generation because we won’t have any water left. I believe protecting our environment is our duty because it’s our home. If we don’t do it, who will?

Here are ways you can conserve and protect our water every day:

Did you know a single quart of oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of drinking water? By taking oil or antifreeze to a recycling center you can ensure our drinking water is clean. In California, we have to deal with insane traffic. By taking the bus or public transportation once a week, you can prevent 33 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per day, and save money too. Timing is very important for watering gardens and lawns in California, set your sprinklers to go on between sunset and sunrise when temperatures are low.  Make sure your irrigation system is in good shape: watch out for leaks or broken and clogged sprinklers that could waste several gallons of water.

About the author: Stephanie Guizar is a student at the University of California Irvine studying Public Health Policy with a minor in Civic and Community Engagement. She is a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority and actively participates in several environmental philanthropies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40

2014 October 7

As a child in Cleveland in the 1960’s I grew used to seeing the signs of our bustling industrial city; flares on tall smokestacks just off the highway, the elegant Terminal Tower shrouded in haze and smog barely visible on a hot summer day, and the awful smells near “the Flats” by the Cuyahoga River. This was all just another part of living near the city. But like most kids, I was still eager to find new places to play outside, even downtown. One of these was Edgewater Beach on Lake Erie, right in downtown Cleveland.

Whether we were there to see the fireworks on the 4th of July or stopping by to get near the water on a hot Sunday afternoon, we were uneasy about taking a swim. Even as a 7-year old, I understood that something had to be really wrong when the Cuyahoga River caught fire. What I didn’t understand was that the water that I watched burning on the nightly news, flowed into the source of my drinking water.

Cities around the country faced similar source water challenges that impacted drinking water quality, and they are part of the reason the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974. I didn’t understand until much later the very important role that implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act played in protecting the health of Americans by cleaning up Lake Erie and waters all across the US. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the law, which requires all public water systems to comply with strict drinking water quality standards.

Safe drinking water is central to our lives and to our health, but there are many continuing and emerging challenges to providing safe drinking water. To mark the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we will highlight stories and examples of the importance of drinking water to our economy, our health, and our environment. We will also share the efforts currently underway to address the challenges our drinking water supplies face. You can follow and share these stories by going to the Safe Drinking Water Act 40th Anniversary website  or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is Director of EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Helping Communities Plan for Climate Change

2014 October 6

image of sunset over water

Before coming to EPA, I had an opportunity to work at Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, studying climate change in North and South Carolina. These two states have some of the most beautiful beach towns I’ve ever visited, and both enjoy breathtaking mountain views in their upstate areas. Unfortunately, many of these scenic places, and the communities and habitats within them, are threatened by climate change impacts like sea level rise, increasing precipitation and increasing temperatures. The health of people and the environment, and the viability of the local economy are all at stake. When I spoke to people in the area about the situation, they repeatedly told me that they need tools to help them identify specific climate impacts and potential solutions.

As part of EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) project, I’ve been able to help develop some of these tools, while working on climate resiliency on a national scale. We recently published, “Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans,” which is intended to help environmental managers and planners identify climate change risks and select adaption actions to address the most pressing ones. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program in Puerto Rico has already successfully used the workbook to identify its climate risks; the report they’ve developed will be used to inform future efforts to develop an adaptation action plan.

The CRE program will feature the workbook and the San Juan Bay pilot project during several webinars and conferences throughout the next year to introduce it to stakeholders and provide technical assistance on the methodology.

I’m pleased that although I no longer work in the southeast, I am still able to support those communities and others across the country through my work with EPA. I encourage you to learn more about what EPA and other federal agencies are doing to help Americans adapt to current and potential climate change risks, and download your copy of the workbook. Maybe you can help your community increase its resiliency to climate change.

About the author: Ashley (Brosius) Stevenson is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant working with Climate Ready Estuaries in EPA’s Office of Water. She received her Master’s in International Affairs from American University, as well as a Masters in Natural Resources & Sustainable Development from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. She enjoys spending time with her family at their beach home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Memories of a childhood home with a septic system in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2014 September 25

By Hiwot Gebremariam

A couple of years ago during SepticSmart Week, my colleague Maureen Pepper (Tooke) shared her experience growing up with a septic system in New Jersey. Let me share mine from another side of the world.

I grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on a septic system that didn’t work well for many reasons. It was built in the lower part of a steep landscape, which means rainwater drained into it. We drove our car over it daily because our garage was next to it. At some point, we even built a livestock barn on top of it! The septic system was built on clay soil common in Addis Ababa, preventing the downward flow of wastewater, and in dry seasons the soil cracked.

The result was the system quickly overflowed (especially in rainy seasons), upsetting our neighbors. We had to bear the expense of having it pumped twice a year.

I’m not sure what type of septic system we had, but the sewage effluent was going straight into the Bulbula River, which looked so brown and dirty no one ever swam in it. Nevertheless, the river was used to irrigate a flower and vegetable farm about 300 meters away from my house, where I had spent a lot of time playing with friends and picking fruits to buy. Now I wonder if the two diagnoses of giardia and one for typhus I had were caused by it.

I never made these connections at the time; that happened only when I learned about septic systems while serving as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant at EPA. Almost everything in EPA’s SepticSmart brochure would have been handy for my family back then — except the fact that we didn’t have a garbage disposal to start with, which may have prevented us from pouring fat and solids into the sink.

This week is SepticSmart Week. I will remember my childhood home and how I had a great time growing up playing with what nature gave me. I’ll also remember how the environment and public health can be protected with the right type of information and practice no matter where we are in the world.

About the author: Hiwot Gebremariam is an ORISE Research Participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three sons.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Ignite the Passion with Citizen Science

2014 September 24

By Grace Robiou

Citizen science is forcing us to rethink how science is performed, for whom science is conducted, and its role in our society.

In essence, citizen science refers to the participation of the public in the activities and tasks of scientific experimentation. The main objective of citizen science is to engage non-scientists by having them contribute ideas to a scientific endeavor. Basically, citizen science motivates non-scientists to develop new knowledge that contributes to a better understanding of the role of science in our society. Just like citizen journalism has gained relevance over the past few years, with blogs and tweets carrying the news of the moment, citizen science is also gaining ground. Most scientific disciplines will soon have some elements of citizen science involvement in their investigations.

Currently, Puerto Rico is home to several citizen science projects. The Citizen Science Program run by Para La Naturaleza, an independent unit of the Conservation Trust for Puerto Rico, is quite advanced. They conduct investigations in archeology, botany, coasts, birds, the land crab, and bats, and so far their work has engaged over 2,100 citizens who participate in the collection of data and the management of different aspects of the studies. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program also has a citizen science program that involves people in monitoring water quality. Other projects include the Sierra Club – Puerto Rico chapter and their tenacious and successful effort to preserve an ecological corridor that spans the northeast section of the island; Basura Cero, a zero-waste initiative; and the Sociedad Ecoambiental, which conducts activities with university students. Junte Ambiental, Mi Puerto Rico Verde, and the Institute for Caribbean Studies, also promote citizen science actively within their networks.

When a child or even an adult analyzes a water sample that came from the river that runs just steps from his or her home, or takes a nature walk to identify the species, a personal transformation occurs within that individual. Public participation in science makes individuals aware of their surroundings and turns people into defenders of their environment.

Science is, and must be, a passion shared among members of society. Science can change the world. Through citizen science, you can participate, too. Do you want to join us?

About the author: Grace M. Robiou is the chief of the National Water Quality Standards Branch. A lawyer by profession, she’s been working at EPA for over 26 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Old Habits Can Be Broken

2014 September 22

By Maureen Pepper (Tooke)

When I moved into my position in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management, I knew a great deal about environmental issues. However, I knew little about septic systems other than the one attached to the house I grew up in.

Eight years later, I am speaking to all kinds of people about septic systems, especially during SepticSmart Week, which kicks off this year on Sept. 22. The bottom line is that just because it is out of sight does not mean it should be, or is, out of mind.

On occasion I hear people proudly say that they have never had their system checked or pumped, that it works fine and is not harming anything. A septic system is more likely to fail if it is not maintained, not used properly, or not properly chosen for the soil type. So I ask them if they have a private well for their drinking water and if they ever have it tested. In most cases, a quick geology lesson goes a long way.

Everyone has his or her own motivators. With a septic system you and you alone are responsible for the entire system on your property, inside and out. Trying to ‘sell’ this idea to a homeowner or a community can be surprisingly challenging.

During SepticSmart Week, EPA will provide homeowners with tips for septic maintenance, including:

  • Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should generally have their system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor, and have their tank pumped when necessary, typically every three to five years. Many septic system failures occur during the winter holiday season. Therefore, EPA encourages homeowners to get their septic systems inspected and serviced now before licensed inspectors’ schedules fill up around the holidays.
  • Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. For example, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products,cigarette butts and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day — too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield Your Field: Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

My simple analogy is that your septic is no different from your car — it must be maintained. I have heard people say, “Pay me now or pay me more later.” This could not be truer than when maintaining your septic system. So if keeping money in your pocket and in the value of your home motivates you, go for it. The added bonus is that you, your community, and your environment are protected.

EPA, in cooperation with states and partners, are working hard during SepticSmart Week and year-round to educate local decision makers, engineers and homeowners to find solutions for managing and upgrading their wastewater infrastructure in order to restore and protect the waters in which they swim, fish and drink.

About the author: Maureen Pepper (Tooke) works in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management out of the Idaho Operations Office. She recently married and is living in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and dog.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Do You Choose Clean Water?

2014 September 9

By Travis Loop

Do you choose clean water? If so, we need your voice. And the voices of your friends.

Clean water is important – for drinking, swimming, and fishing. We need it for our communities, farms, and businesses. But right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable. To have clean water downstream in the rivers and lakes in our neighborhoods, we need healthy headwaters upstream. That’s why we’ve proposed to strengthen protection for our water.

We hope you’ll support our clean water proposal. To help you do that, and get your friends to also voice their support, we’re using a new tool called Thunderclap; it’s like a virtual flash mob.

Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap post a one-time message on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr) on Monday, September 29 at 2:00 pm EDT. If 500 or more people sign up to participate, the message will be posted on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. But if fewer than 500 sign up, nothing happens. So it’s important to both sign up and encourage others to do so.

Here’s the message we’re asking you to let us post on your behalf: “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community. www.epa.gov/USwaters”
To sum up, you can participate through these two steps:

  1. Sign up to join the Thunderclap for Clean Water: http://thndr.it/1rUOiaB
  2. Share the link to the Thunderclap with your friends and followers so we get at least 500 people sharing the message:
    a. Facebook
    b. Twitter
    c. Tumblr

Watch EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy talk about our proposal to protect clean water: http://bit.ly/1h5JgjW

Read about the proposal to protect clean water: epa.gov/uswaters



About the author: Travis Loop is the communications director for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He chooses clean water for his kids and for surfing.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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.