Skip to content

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.