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Kids Deserve Safe Drinking Water at School and at Home

2014 November 18

By Dr. Francine St-Denis, OGWDW

I love watching my boys playing outside. After running around, they’ll bound up to the nearest water fountain for a drink of water. Nothing seems to beat the fascination my boys and most young kids seem to have with water fountains. It could be that the bubbling stream of water offers numerous possibilities for misadventures like splashing your brother. But I know they need water to stay healthy and hydrated. As a parent, I am very interested in making sure that the water our children are drinking is safe. As a scientist in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, that is my top priority!

The majority of kids in the United States, including my own, spend large portions of their day in school. Most schools and child care facilities receive their drinking water from nearby public water systems. Public water systems must comply with the strict drinking water quality standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Water pipes and plumbing fixtures in school buildings can affect the quality of the drinking water. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen water fountains at child care facilities or schools that needed cleaning. Best practices for drinking water in our schools and child care facilities include the following actions:

  1. Clean water fountains daily (reduces bacteria) and clean debris out of faucet outlet screens (to remove particulate lead and other sediments).
  2. Test for your drinking water for lead. The only way to know if your children are exposed to elevated lead levels is to test it.

Over the years, we’ve taken steps to raise awareness of lead in drinking water as a possible source of lead contamination and to encourage facilities to test. As an example of those efforts, EPA has entered into a three-year agreement with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Calhoun County Public Health Department to conduct testing at schools and child care facilities in Calhoun County, Michigan, for lead in drinking water.

For recommendations on how to improve the drinking water in your building, please read EPA’s Drinking Water Best Management Practices for Schools and Child Care Facilities Guide.

For more information about the Safe Drinking Water Act, visit: www2.epa.gov/safedrinkingwater40

About the author: Francine St-Denis is a chemist in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW), where she serves as the implementation rule manager for the Lead and Copper Rule and the Radionuclides Rule. She also leads OGWDW’s efforts to reduce lead in drinking water in schools and child care facilities.

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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An Internship that Wasn’t a Waste

2014 November 17

By Sarah Martynowski

During the summer, EPA hosts several events to provide interns with enriching experiences in the D.C. metropolitan area. Last summer, we visited the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, located along the Potomac River.  Designed to treat an average daily flow of 370 million gallons of wastewater per day, Blue Plains is the largest treatment plant of its kind in the world. It’s known globally for its state-of-the-art technology and innovative research.

We began the tour at the point where 1,800 miles of pipes bring both raw sewage and stormwater into the plant from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The first step screens and removes grit.  Then the wastewater moves through primary and secondary treatment. Primary treatment is a physical process that removes floating materials, while secondary treatment is a biological process that removes organic matter. And while most treatment plants stop after primary and secondary treatment, the advanced system at Blue Plains continues the process to remove nitrogen and phosphorous that can hurt local waterways. The treated water then passes through filters and is disinfected before flowing into the Potomac River.

Blue Plains is currently constructing an anaerobic digestion facility and a thermal hydrolysis process to further treat the solids that are removed in the treatment process. The digesters will produce enough biogas to generate 10 megawatts of electricity: enough to provide one-third of the plant’s own power requirements. The thermal hydrolysis process will create “Class A” biosolids that can be safely applied to land as a fertilizer.

DC Water is also working to improve treatment of its “combined sewer system,” meaning that storm water and wastewater come together when it rains.  A massive tunneling project called “the Clean Rivers Project” will capture excess flows.  Currently, many of these combined sewers become overloaded during storms and raw sewage overflows into local rivers.  When the tunnel system is complete in 2025, most of these excess flows will be captured and conveyed to Blue Plains for treatment.  As a result, DC Water expects to reduce overflows by 96 percent.

Our tour was an excellent opportunity to learn about wastewater treatment plants, beyond just the information found in my environmental textbooks. I may never operate a wastewater treatment plant, but I think it’s important to understand how they work and their vital role in keeping our waters clean and healthy.

About the author: Sarah Martynowski is a senior at the University of Cincinnati majoring in environmental studies and political science. She was an intern for EPA’s Office of Water during the summer of 2014.

 

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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Your city tests your tap water regularly. Find out what they’ve learned.

2014 November 6

By Adrienne Harris

“Is my city’s tap water safe?” I get this question from friends and family a lot because I work in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Just recently, my parents moved to a new city and asked me if there was anything in the drinking water that they should be worried about. My response was, “Go read the latest Consumer Confidence Report!”

Many Americans get their water from a “community drinking water system,” including people living in cities, towns, manufactured housing communities and other facilities where people live full-time, such as nursing homes.  Each spring, all community water systems in the United States send an annual water quality report, or consumer confidence report (CCR), to their customers (either by mail or online). After explaining that to my parents, we hopped on the computer and quickly found the CCR for their city posted online. We learned that their city had performed a total of more than 150,000 tests for different contaminants in their drinking water – and none were found to exceed EPA’s drinking water limits.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was passed in 1974. In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to require all community water systems to provide consumer confidence reports to their customers. Every CCR must contain information about the water system’s drinking water source, possible contaminants and health effects, and other relevant information (to see all the requirements, go to http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/ccr/index.cfm). Systems are required to deliver this information to every consumer.  Sometimes the CCR contains other useful information, too. My best friend is an avid fish collector who appreciated the information in her CCR about using her drinking water for her fish tank.

Water systems are also able to link to their online CCR on EPA’s website. Not all systems do that, but you can check for yours at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/safewater/ccr/index.cfm.

Like my parents, I also rely on my CCR to keep me informed about my city’s water. The Safe Drinking Water Act has strict standards for water quality in order to protect public health. As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, take a moment to review your CCR.

About the author: Adrienne Harris joined the U.S. EPA in 2005 as an environmental scientist and currently works in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.  Adrienne serves a rule manager of the Disinfectants and Disinfection By-products Rules, Public Notification Rule and the Consumer Confidence Report Rule.

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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Getting an Education on Septic Systems

2014 October 30

By Leslie Corcelli

Most of us don’t think or talk about where things go when we flush. Let’s face it, it’s a little awkward. However, I’m fortunate enough to be an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Around here, wastewater is the topic. Guess what? There’s a lot more to it than you think.

Did you know that nearly one million households in Virginia have onsite wastewater treatment systems? Many of these are septic systems. For many households and communities, there are site limitations that prevent traditional systems from being practical. That’s where alternative systems are essential.

During EPA’s annual SepticSmart Week, I attended a tour that demonstrated five types of alternative onsite wastewater systems in northern Virginia. The tour covered Fairfax and Loudoun counties and was hosted by Virginia Department of Health, which was accompanied by the Fairfax County Division of Environmental Health and the Loudoun County Health Department.

We visited five very different sites — a residential home, a volunteer fire department, a low-income community, a commercial center, and a residential community with 25 homes. They ranged in age from old to new, and the amount of wastewater generated per day varied from 750 gallons to 22,000 gallons. There were dispersal systems, black water recycling, drainfield systems and sand filters.

In addition to the technical information, I took something else away with me. There are some seriously dedicated wastewater and health professionals at the local, regional, state and federal level who are committed to ensuring public health through effective wastewater management. They have to consider planning, design, installation, and ongoing operations and management, not to mention local, state and federal laws. They also engage with a variety of stakeholders, including the individuals and communities for whom the alternative systems are necessary. It’s quite a feat.

They’re amazing folks, but they need our help. I now realize how important it is for us to do our part. For those of us with septic systems, we need to think much more about what happens when we flush. These systems require maintenance and ongoing management. Maintaining your septic system will save you money and protect your property and environment. Go to http://epa.gov/septicsmart to learn how.

About the author: Leslie Corcelli is an ORISE research participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management.

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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Climate Change and the Dry, Wild West Part 2

2014 October 28

Welcome to part two of my blog on the California drought. In my last blog, I discussed how low rainfall and higher-than-average temperatures are worsening the drought and causing severe water shortages.

The changes that are affecting the drought in the Southwest – lower-than-average rain, higher temperatures, and changes in snowpack and runoff patterns – are consistent with the changes we expect to see with climate change. The Southwest is already the hottest and driest region in the United States, and, according to the National Climate Assessment this area is expected to get even hotter and drier in the future.

Impacts on Human Health
There are consequences of long periods of dryness. When vegetation is dried out or stressed, wildfires are able to start more easily and burn hotter. Wildfire data in California suggest a trend towards increasing acres burned statewide. The annual average of acres burned since 2000 is 598,000 acres, almost twice the annual average for the 1950-2000 period. This is almost the area of New York City and Los Angeles combined. Increased wildfires increase the risk of harmful respiratory and cardiovascular effects of those who are exposed to the smoke. Wildfire risks can even spread hundreds of miles downwind from burning acreage and affect the health of those many miles from the blaze. In addition, increased wildfires can cause significant damage ecosystems and property, and put firefighters and rescue workers at risk.

Impacts on the Economy
The predicted total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion, with a total loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs. The impacts of California’s drought – water restrictions, wildfires that threaten homes and health, and financial cost – will not only affect California residents, but may have ripple effects across the country. According to a study by UC Davis, expected water shortages through 2014 are projected to cause losses of $810 million in crop revenue and $203 million in dairy and other livestock value, plus additional groundwater pumping costs of $454 million. The water shortage not only threatens California’s agricultural production, but could impact food prices felt by the rest of the country.

In short, the drought in California is serious, and climate change is increasing the odds for longer and more intense droughts like the one occurring now. Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives underway to reduce the carbon pollution driving climate change, and to better prepare for the changes that are already happening. States, like California, have taken the lead in reducing emissions through market-based initiatives, and many states are making strides with climate action plans, renewable portfolio standards, and energy efficiency resource standards. Under the President’s Climate Action Plan, EPA is promoting standards for vehicles and power plants that build on what these states have accomplished and will provide billions of dollars in climate and health benefits in the next few decades.

With our combined efforts, we can reduce the risks we all face from our changing climate. I’m proud to support EPA’s climate efforts – for the sake of my home town and all those impacted by climate change.

Learn more about the causes and impacts of climate change, what EPA is doing to address it, and what you can do about climate change on our website.

Learn more about California’s response to climate change on the state’s website.

A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.  Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.
Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

About the author: Krystal Laymon is an ORISE Fellow in EPA’s Climate Change Division. She has a background in environmental policy and communications. Krystal received her master’s degree in environmental science and policy at Columbia University and currently resides in Washington, DC with a turtle named Ollie.

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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Pediatricians’ Perspective: Ensuring Clean Air, Protecting Children’s Health

2014 October 28

By Jerome Paulson, MD, FAAP, and Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP

When we recognize October as Children’s Health Month, bringing awareness to children’s unique health needs, it can be easy to overlook one variable that impacts each one of us every day, especially the health of our children—changes in our environment.

The health effects of increasing pollution levels on child health may not be as easy to see as a sore throat or runny nose, but they can still cause damage, leading to adverse reactions like asthma and reduced lung function. As pediatricians whose number one job is to keep children healthy, we believe that our changing climate and its impact on children’s health warrants our full attention.

To help ring the alarm bell on this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently hosted a Twitter chat with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, which reached more than 7 million people, emphasizing the need to keep our air clean for children.

Children are uniquely susceptible to changes in their environment. They breathe more air, eat more food and drink more water per unit of body weight, making them more vulnerable to pollutants. Children today are already experiencing climate associated health impacts, including worsening allergic and asthmatic disease, changes in patterns of climate-sensitive infectious diseases such as Lyme Disease and displacement from extreme events like Hurricane Katrina. In fact, more than 80% of the current health burden due to changing climate occurs in children younger than five years old.

Children also have a fundamental right to inherit a planet that is as safe, productive and beautiful as the one our generation has enjoyed. Given our knowledge of the grave and potentially irreversible impacts of rising greenhouse gas concentrations, to continue on our current emissions trajectory is an unprecedented injustice to future generations.

There is no one solution to this sweeping public health concern, but the EPA has taken a step in the right direction by proposing a rule that would help to limit carbon emissions. Pediatricians are committed to working with the agency to ensure the strongest possible standards are implemented to protect children’s health, and are calling on public health advocates across the country to join us. We have no time to waste– the health and security of our children depends on our success.

About the authors: Jerome Paulson, MD, FAAP, and Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, chair and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, respectively, are pediatricians based in the Washington, DC metro area.

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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Sharing What I Learned About Lead – Help Spread the Word

2014 October 22

By Michelle Jang

During my summer internship in EPA’s lead program, I got to see how many organizations work together to protect people, especially children, from lead poisoning. This effort includes everyone from Congress and EPA to local governments and communities. I was also able to participate in international initiatives to spread awareness to countries that still use lead-based paint. I believe these efforts can lead to a healthier and cleaner environment all over the world. Joining together can – and has – made a huge difference in reducing this major environmental health threat.  However, in the end, it’s up to each of us.

I learned more about lead in these nine weeks than in my entire school career, so I still want to do my part. Here are some things that really stuck with me.

I learned that lead is harmful to children in even the smallest amount and that it can cause permanent damage in early brain and muscle development.

I also learned that homes built before the lead-based paint ban in 1978 might still have walls painted with lead-based paint. Lead also can be in the paint used for pots and toys. This new knowledge made me realize – and become a bit paranoid – that I could have been exposed as a child, or even worse, how my future children may become exposed.

I learned that federal law requires that renovators who work in homes built before 1978 must receive special training.  Also, the companies they work for must become “lead-safe certified” for the safety of home owners and their families. I realized the importance of getting that message out: lead is dangerous if you live in a pre-1978 home, you need to hire workers certified by EPA in lead-safe work practices.

I’m sharing this information because I want to make this world a better place to live. I hope that you’ll pass it along, too; awareness is an important step in protecting ourselves, our families and the environment from the dangers of lead.

Learn more about EPA’s lead program and Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

About the author: Michelle Jang is a rising senior studying Civil Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. She was an intern with the Lead Program in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention during the summer of 2014.

 

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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Time for a Change: The DfE Safer Product Label

2014 October 21

By David DiFiore

Change isn’t easy. Whether it’s starting a new job, moving to a new city, or even something simple like trying a new laundry detergent, change often involves parting with the familiar and embracing the unknown. But sometimes change is necessary—to get to a better place. As a founding member of the Design for the Environment Safer Product Labeling Program, there are many aspects of the program I’d never want to change, like our ability to understand and advance safer chemistry—the use of chemical ingredients in products that help protect people, other living things, and the environment.  However, one prominent feature of the program—the label shown on products that meet our program’s stringent standards—is getting a much needed makeover.

As the DfE program has grown stronger and more valuable, our label, with its seventies-era graphic, increasingly appeared behind-the-times.  Inarguably familiar and comfortable to some (like me), the program—with strong encouragement from our partners, especially in the consumer product sector — realized that the time for a change had come.  Even our name, “Design for the Environment,” only tells half the mission, leaving human health protection unrepresented.  And a globe with longitude and latitude lines is not only dated, but is hard to reproduce and even harder to reduce in size to legibly fit product labels.

So, about a year-and-a-half-ago we launched our logo redesign.  We wanted to take our time to ensure that all our partners and stakeholders—as well as the general public—had an opportunity to weigh in on the draft designs.  Redesigns are infrequent and listening to commenters is key to   getting it right; for us, that means a logo that not only better communicates our mission, is modern and easy to manipulate, but also eye-catching and memorable.

After all, we have high hopes for the new logo and its ability to propel our efforts with retailers and growth in the consumer product sector.   A logo that connects with consumers will make it easy to spot safer products, again and again.

Are you interested in helping us redesign our DfE Safer Product Label? Do you look for safer products in stores? Whether you’re familiar with our program or not, we hope you will join us for a Twitter Chat on the DfE Safer Product Label, on October 22 at 2:00pm EDT by following @EPAlive and using the #saferproducts hashtag. Ask us a question, share your ideas, and join the conversation on safer products.

Learn more about Design for the Environment
Learn more about the DfE Label Redesign
Connect with us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/epadfe

About the Author: David DiFiore joined the Design for the Environment program in 1997. Before that, David worked in several other EPA programs, including the New Chemicals Program, where he learned the science and art of identifying and promoting safer chemicals and products.  

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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Climate Change and the Dry, Wild West

2014 October 21

By Krystal Laymon

I grew up in a small town in California called Placerville (population 10,000), located near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada foothills. There, in the mountains, snow days were frequent in the winter, and for fun in the summer we’d kayak on the Sacramento River.. When I call my family, I get updates on how things are going in Placerville, but I also get regular updates on the ongoing drought in California.

Drought has become a bigger and bigger problem for Californians since I moved to the East Coast four years ago. Just this January, the Governor of California declared a state of emergency and the state has been classified as an Exceptional Drought area (the highest rating of drought possible). As a Fellow with EPA’s Climate Change Division, I wanted to learn more about the causes and effects of drought in my home town, and how climate change may be playing a role.

Under the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the Southwestern United States, which includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, have been experiencing drought conditions since 2000. Low precipitation is part of the problem. Higher temperatures are also playing a role, increasing the rate of evaporation and contributing to drying over some land areas. While much of the American Southwest generally has low annual rainfall and seasonally high temperatures, every part of the Southwest experienced higher average temperatures between 2000 and 2013 than the long-term average (1895–2013). Some areas were nearly 2°F warmer than average.

 

Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.  Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.
Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Higher temperatures have also prompted early spring melting and reduced snowpack in the mountains in some parts of California. This can result in decreased water availability during hot summer conditions. Snowpack, through runoff, provides about one-third of the water used by California’s cities and farms. Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas to the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California’s residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley, and runs hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state’s electricity, has decreased by about 9 percent over the past century. The importance of conservation has not gone unnoticed and restrictions were implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board in July, which limits outdoor water use in an attempt to conserve water.

As you can imagine, the drought is having an impact on the daily lives of my family in Placerville, and every Californian. Fortunately, the policymakers in California and at EPA are taking action to help protect against the worst impacts. Check out my next blog for part 2 of this story, looking at some of the impacts of the drought in California, and policy initiatives to address the problem.

About the author: Krystal Laymon is an ORISE Fellow in EPA’s Climate Change Division. She has a background in environmental policy and communications. Krystal received her master’s degree in environmental science and policy at Columbia University and currently resides in Washington, DC with a turtle named Ollie.

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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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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