Monthly Archives: June 2008

High School Interns Arrive

About the author: Kelly Leovic has been with EPA in Research Triangle Park, NC since 1987 and has served as the Project Officer for the Research Apprenticeship Program since 1996.

June 11 was my second favorite day of work during the summer. Eight high school seniors arrive on campus at 7:40 a.m. to begin their 6 week internships. The students are excited, yet quiet and polite, and I get the sense that this is going to be a great group.

A group of student interns walks in the door at EPA.The students are in their 4th and final year of the Research Apprenticeship Program, a cooperative training agreement between EPA’s Office of Research and Development and Shaw University, a Historically Black University in Raleigh. The Program began in 1990 to encourage high school students to pursue advanced degrees in environmental science. During the first 3 years, students take classes at Shaw, and the summer before their senior year, they intern at EPA.

I begin by explaining that they will learn a new language this summer called “Acronym Soup” and not to be intimidated. “Nicolle, you’ll be working in ORD in NHEERL’s ECD and, if you look across the lake, you can see NIH’s NIEHS. Caitlin will be in OAQPS which is part of OAR.”

It is a smart group of kids but, because they are teenagers, we review the program guidelines and dress code, i.e., EPA is a workplace, not a nightclub. Conveniently, cell phone use isn’t an issue because we don’t get reception inside. Next, it is time for safety training. Only a few labs on campus allow high school students, so it is important that they know the rules.

My coworker Suzanne then takes the students for ID badges. They always enjoy this part and, when the program ends, are usually bummed that they have to return their EPA badges. The students relax during lunch and genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company. Being a mom myself, I try and strike a balance between giving them free time to “chill” and learning a bit more about them individually, such as where they would like to go to college. Finally, their mentors arrive, we make the introductions, and then send them off for a 6-week science adventure.

In case you were wondering…my favorite day of work will be July 18, when the students present their summer projects to an audience of nearly 100, including mentors, co-workers, family, and friends.

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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A Green Thumb of My Own

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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Some people are born with a green thumb, some aren’t. At least that’s what I heard when growing up. My earliest memories as a child are from my maternal grandparent’s house in the town of San Sebastián. In this hilly town located in the northwestern area of Puerto Rico my Corsican-Italian ancestors settled in the 1800’s to grow coffee. Being green came as a second nature to me, as I grew watching my grandmother Carmen taking care of her beautiful orchids and roses and my grandfather Víctor, a farmer, growing sugarcane, plantains, oranges, and coffee.

Part of my job at EPA is devoted to attending public outreach activities where people ask not only about environmental topics but also about plants, composting and greenscaping. Besides providing them the brochures, I enjoy answering their questions and giving them advice on how to plant and the proper care certain plants and trees need. Sometimes, when asked about orchid care, I give my grandmother’s special recipe-milk and water. But I was not prepared for some questions of my own, when I decided to grow organic eggplants. With rising food costs I was looking for a way to grow a garden in our backyard. I already have navel oranges, therefore I thought this was going to be an easy task.

On a Sunday afternoon in late March I planted my eggplant seeds. A week had passed a nothing was growing. The next Saturday, I went to my grandparents’ home for a visit. After the usual exchange of happenings in the family, I told my grandfather about my eggplants. “Sun” he advised. The next day I moved my planter box from under the acerola tree to a sunnier spot. The next Friday, my grandfather passed away at age 90. This morning, before leaving for work I went to my backyard to hang some clothing on the clothesline. As I was enjoying the beauty of my heliconias and orchids I realized that my thriving eggplants and oranges have turned into little reminders of not only my green thumb, but of him.

Talento propio para cultivar

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

Hay personas que nacen con una excelente “mano” o talento para cultivar plantas, otras no. Bajo esa premisa crecí yo. Las memorias más tempranas de mi niñez se remontan a la casa de mis abuelos maternos en el pueblo de San Sebastián en dónde abundaban las plantas y el verdor. Fue en este pueblo montañoso del interior norteño en el que se establecieron mis antepasados corsos-italianos para sembrar y cultivar café en el siglo 19. El amor por la naturaleza es parte de mi personalidad ya que crecí jugando entre las rosas y las orquídeas de mi abuela Carmen y los plátanos, caña de azúcar, café y cítricos que mi abuelo Víctor, un agricultor, cultivaba con tanto esmero.

Parte de mi trabajo en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos está dedicado a interactuar con las personas en actividades públicas y contestar preguntas sobre sus preocupaciones ambientales, cómo hacer composta o utilizar técnicas apropiadas para hacer aún más verde su jardín, entre otras. Además de proveer literatura escrita disfruto mucho de conversar y aconsejarles sobre el cuidado apropiado de ciertas plantas y árboles. A veces cuando alguien me pregunta el por qué sus orquídeas no florecen les doy la receta especial de mi abuela–vertirles la leche que queda en el recipiente de la leche mezclada con un poco de agua. Sin embargo, no estaba preparada para un evento inesperado cuando sembré berenjenas orgánicas. El alto costo de la comida me llevó a decidirme a comenzar un proyecto de jardín casero en nuestro patio. Como ya teníamos cítricos, pensé que esta tarea sería una sencilla.

Una tarde de domingo el pasado mes de marzo planté mis semillas de berenjena. Había pasado una semana y nada crecía. Me preocupé ya que casi todo lo que siembro crece. El próximo sábado fui a visitar a mis abuelos. Luego del intercambio habitual de aconteceres familiares, le conté a mi abuelo de mi aventura con el huerto casero y las berenjenas que no crecían. “Sol” me aconsejó. Al día siguiente las cambié de abajo del árbol de acerolas a un lugar un poco más soleado. El viernes de esa semana mi abuelo falleció a la edad de 90 años. Esta mañana antes de irme a trabajar fui al patio a poner la ropa en el cordel de secar la ropa. Mientras contemplaba la belleza de mis heliconias y orquídeas pensé que mi pequeño huerto casero se había convertido en un recordatorio no sólo de mi habilidad para cultivar, sino también de mi abuelo Víctor.

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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Question of the Week: What do you drive, and why?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Got wheels? There are as many reasons you have a car, truck, or whatever you drive, as there are types of vehicles from which to choose. But there are also trade-offs in your vehicle choice that affect the environment and your wallet.

What do you drive, and why?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

¿Tienes ruedas? Hay muchas razones para escoger su medio de transporte, sea un automóvil, un camión, o lo que usted decida conducir, así como hay una gran variedad de vehículos que puede escoger. Asimismo, se hacen trueques al seleccionar su vehículo que afectan el medio ambiente y su bolsillo.

¿Qué tipo de vehículo conduce y por qué?

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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Follow up: Biking to Work

About the author: Kay Morrison joined EPA’s Office of Public Affairs in January.

I moved to DC in January without a really good idea of what it would be like to live in an urban setting, but one thing I knew was that a city like this doesn’t play nice with bikes. So much for what I know – I’ve learned that my neighbors can ride bikes through Rock Creek Park all the way down town … I could do it too if I had a bike. From reading the answers to the May 12 question of the week, “Why are you or aren’t you biking to work,” I have learned that a surprising number of our readers do bike to work, all over the country.

The question really hit a nerve for our readers. Back when we “only” had 704 comments we counted them up (thanks to our intern, Dominic) to see who does, and who doesn’t, bike to work, and why. I assumed that far fewer people would bike to work than those who don’t, but it turns out to be really close. 345 commenters said they do bike, 359 said they don’t. Some of you combine biking with public transportation, some bike part of the time, some can’t bike to work but you use your bike when you can.

Bar chart showing number of comments why people don’t bike to work. Too dangerous: 119. Too far: 111. Too hot or too cold: 61. No place to shower or lock up the bike: 61. Taking children to school: 23.Of those who do bike to work, you do it to be green (saving carbon emissions not to mention $$ on gasoline and parking), or for the exercise, or for the pleasure it brings to be out in the air with critters and birds.

Those of you who do not bike to work were concerned for your safety – it’s clear that there aren’t enough safe biking routes, bike trails, or driver awareness of bicyclists. You also live pretty darn far from where you work.

What have you or your bike club or town planning commission done to make your community more bike friendly? How did you get your employer to support biking to work? Share your success stories and current projects. What steps can we, as citizens and bike to workers, take to make our communities and work places more bike friendly?

Thanks so much for all your interesting and thoughtful comments on this topic. I’ve learned a lot about biking from reading them – one of these days you may see me biking to work too!

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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The Environment Gets Top Billing

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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Equipped with my new pedometer, I decided to brave the 100 degree Fahrenheit heat during my lunch hour to stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue and visit one of the newest Washington, DC attractions—the Newseum. This interactive museum offers visitors numerous exhibits which will immerse you in major events that have shaped our nation’s history.

This midday stroll was going to satisfy two of my basic needs—one, getting some exercise and two, getting my daily dosage of news. Yes, I have to confess. I am, as we say in English, a news-junkie. I need my daily fix. While the worldwide Web allows me to surf for news from all over the world in several languages just sitting in front of my computer, I still relish the experience of taking a real newspaper in my hands—ink and all–and reading it thoroughly.

In front of the Newseum, they display in showcases, the front pages of newspapers from across America and several foreign countries. The showcases are updated daily. As I walked—I noticed a common theme. Yes, there were many stories on the scorching heat, the high price of gas at the pump (the new U.S. average is $4.00 per gallon), the high price of oil, the economy, etc. However, what really struck me was the high number of front page stories dedicated to environmental issues. Energy conservation, water conservation, changing commuting habits to save money, recycling, reducing the carbon footprint were some of the issues covered on the front pages of the newspapers featured today at the Newseum. Some of the most interesting articles I found were from Delaware and Oregon respectively–“Seaford schools teach green lessons”, “Flower brigade: Volunteers help native plants flourish through the summer,” It all boils down to the fact—environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility. The simple steps we take at home, at school, at work, or in our community have an environmental impact. So, while many of us in EPA are doing our part to increase environmental awareness, I’m happy to see that the media and the general public are proactively trying to plant the seed of going green.

El Medio Ambiente Domina Los Titulares

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Con mi nuevo pedómetro, decidí enfrentar el calor de 100 grados Fahrenheit durante mi hora de almuerzo para caminar por la avenida Pensilvania y visitar un nuevo lugar de interés en Washington, DC—el Newseum. Este nuevo museo interactivo ofrece numerosas exposiciones sobre los principales eventos noticiosos que han formado la nación.

Este paseo iba satisfacer dos de mis necesidades básicas—primero, estar más activa, y en segundo lugar, mi dosis diaria de noticias. Sí, tengo que confesar que soy lo que se le dice en inglés, una news-junkie, soy adicta a las noticias. Mientras el Internet me permite viajar por todo el mundo leyendo periódicos en varios idiomas mediante mi computadora, todavía disfruto de la experiencia de tener un verdadero periódico en mis manos—con tinta y todo—y leerlo de rabo a cabo.

Frente al Newseum, hay vitrinas con las primeras planas de los diarios de Estados Unidos y varios países extranjeros. Se actualizan los periódicos diariamente. Mientras caminaba mirando los diarios, pude identificar un tema en común. Sí, habían muchas historias sobre la ola de calor, el elevado precio de la gasolina (el nuevo promedio en Estados Unidos es de $4.00 por galón), el alto precio de petróleo, la economía, etc. Sin embargo, lo que me saltó a la vista fue el alto número de historias de primera plana dedicada a asuntos medioambientales. La conservación energética, la conservación de agua, los cambios en los hábitos de viajar al trabajo para ahorrar dinero, el reciclaje, la reducción de la huella de carbono eran tan sólo algunos de los temas destacados en las primeras planas proyectadas en el Newseum . Algunos de los artículos que me parecieron más interesantes fueron de Delaware y Oregón respectivamente—“Escuelas de Seaford enseñan lecciones verdes”, y “Brigada de flores: Voluntarios ayudan a que las plantas nativas prosperen durante el verano”.
En fin, la situación se resume de la siguiente manera—la protección ambiental es responsabilidad de todos. Hay pasos sencillos que tomamos en el hogar, la escuela, en el trabajo o en nuestra comunidad que tienen un impacto ambiental. Mientras muchos en EPA estamos poniendo de nuestra parte para fomentar la concienciación ambiental, me alegra ver que los medios y el público en general están tratando de manera preactiva de sembrar la semilla para ser verde.

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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On the Green Road: Island of Sustainability

About the author: While Karen Reshkin of our Chicago office enjoys her vacation, she’s sending along environmentally relevant thoughts and pictures.

On Monhegan Island, Maine, everyone is quite aware of sustainability. They need to balance out the vastly different summer and winter populations. Only about sixty people live there year round. They’re very serious about water conservation, since they have well water and must be careful not to exceed its withdrawal capacity. They are similarly careful about energy conservation, since there is one fuel-powered generator station on the island. No street lights. To preserve the forested areas from erosion, no mountain bikes nor trail strollers are allowed. No one seems unhappy with this more limited way of life. The year-rounders understand that this is the way to preserve their way of life.

houses along the rocky coast of Monhegan Island

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EPA's Second Quarter Results

About the author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

EPA’s Quarterly Management Report (QMR) for the second quarter of FY 2008 is now available at http://www.epa.gov/ocfo/qmr. A comparison of mid-year data for FY 2008 versus FY 2007 indicates mixed results and that, overall, EPA is currently performing at about the same level as we did last year. We are clearly improving in some areas. For instance, the SmartWay program has more than doubled the amount of greenhouse gas emissions avoided (700,000 metric tons in 2008 vs. 300,000 tons in 2007, see graph). It also reveals areas where we may be challenged. For instance, there has been a dip in the number of significant water discharge permits issued in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (61 in 2008 vs. 150 in 2007). That’s important because fewer revised permits means pollution limits may not be getting tightened as quickly as last year. We need to find out if this is a problem (perhaps someone from the Chesapeake Bay Program wants to comment on this). I encourage you to look up, question, and use the measures, if any, that reflect what is going on in your area.

line graph: SmartWay Program GHG Emissinos Avoided (MMTCE) 2007: Q1, .1; Q2, .3; Q3, .5; Q4, 1.4. 2008: Q1, .4; Q2, .7

EPA is still the only federal agency which issues quarterly performance results to the public. While everyone at EPA should have a good idea of how we are doing, I think we are obligated to show the public how we are performing on a regular basis.

The QMR itself continues to improve. This report came out two weeks earlier than prior quarters. There is also now a Web-based version providing more contextual information and some ‘drilling down.’ The Web-based version, which we will continue to improve, can be found at http://iaspub.epa.gov/qmrpub/qmr_rpts.qmr_reports.

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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Question of the Week: Why do you keep your home as cool (or not) as you do?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

It’s getting hot! Air conditioning makes our homes much more comfortable during hot weather, but a million air conditioners running at once have environmental impacts. A programmable thermostat helps reduce the impacts by cooling only when you need it.

Why do you keep your home as cool (or not) as you do?

Follow-up: Summary of the comments submitted for this blog entry.

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

¡Se están calentando los días! El aire acondicionado hace los hogares más confortable durante el temporada de calor, pero el tener un millón de unidades de aire acondicionado funcionando a la vez tiene impactos ambientales. Un termostato programable ayuda a reducir los impactos al refrescar la temperatura sólo cuando realmente lo necesita.

¿Por qué enfría su casa (o no la enfría) de la manera que lo hace?

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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Energy Star and Innovation at EPA

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, superfund, and air programs.

I am a huge fan of the Energy Star program. To me, this is an extremely innovative program that encourages energy efficiency and saving money. The Energy Star program is a joint venture between EPA and the Department of Energy.

refrigerator showing two top doors and a bottom freezerI recently got my chance to look at the latest Energy Star refrigerators. In addition to Side-by-Side refrigerators, there are the French door refrigerators. These refrigerators have two doors on the top and a bottom freezer, making them extremely energy efficient. The more energy efficient refrigerator should result in a savings $4.00 or $5.00 a month on my utility bill. For more information on Energy Star appliances, see energystar.gov.

aerial view of the parking lotAnother program within EPA is the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Innovative Pilots, which funded several projects that tested new or underused ideas in environmental protection. One pilot was called “Creating an Integrated “Green” Parking Lot and Urban Wetlands on a Former Commercial Site.”

aerial view of the parking lotThis pilot occurred at the Heifer International Headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. Heifer International constructed a wetland ecosystem and integrated its parking lot into it. Small green parking areas were designed to collect, cleanse, and recycle storm water into the environment. This project was so successful that EPA prepared a case study on the Heifer Parking Lot (PDF) (43 pages, 353 KB). Get PDF reader

The combination of the parking lot with other innovative and sustainable designs within the Heifer International Headquarters resulted in Heifer International’s Headquarters receiving the highest Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating of platinum. Not bad for an old industrial site!

Learn more about projects funded through the OSWER Innovation Pilots program.

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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Make the World Your Classroom

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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As the school year comes to an end, many parents are in the predicament of finding activities to keep the kids entertained during the summer months. As a parent of a six year old, I want to find educational activities for her to do while I’m at work and on weekends.

Personally, I think this season is a golden opportunity to get the children interested in science AND, above all, in protecting the environment. The best part is that you can make it fun without letting them know that you are “teaching” them something. When talking about the environment any location can be your classroom—be it indoors or outdoors.

For example, while planting vegetables for the summer, you can teach the children about greenscaping. Playing outside or going to the beach are opportunities to talk to kids about protecting themselves from the sun’s powerful rays. And if there are any creepy crawlers in the home you want to get rid of now, visit an interactive Website in English and Spanish, Help! It’s a roach!

For parents of young children, I highly recommend some of EPA’s materials, in English and Spanish on the Planet Protectors Club. These are a series of workbooks and educational materials for young children designed in conjunction with teachers that basically focus on the three R’s reduce, reuse, and recycling of waste management.

Our Office of Solid Waste has other materials geared for middle school and high school students which have many applications.
Furthermore, two new publications, Working Together for a Healthy Environment and Teach English, Teach About the Environment help multilingual individuals and community groups learn more about recycling. Plus, there are numerous community service projects that enable students to apply the lessons learned in the classroom to real-life experiences.

OK. I’m getting off subject now. Let me go back to young children.

I must confess that as the mother of a six year old (and of three college students) I have also become aware of how much children learn from our example and daily comings and goings. Recycling has become second nature to them and I was very impressed by the little one reminding me not to get out of the house without sun block! Glad to know that I must be doing something right.

Que el mundo entero sea su salón de clase

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Mientras se avecina el fin del año escolar, muchos padres están en el proceso de encontrar actividades para mantener a sus niños ocupados durante los meses de verano. Como madre de una niña de seis años, quiero encontrar actividades educativas para que ella se entretenga mientras estoy trabajando y durante los fines de semana.

Personalmente creo que esta época realmente se presta como una gran oportunidad para interesar a los niños en las ciencias y especialmente en la protección ambiental. Lo mejor de todo es encontrar algo divertido sin que ellos se den cuenta de que se le está “enseñando algo”. Cuando se habla del medio ambiente, cualquier lugar puede ser un aula escolar-sea en entornos interiores como exteriores. Por ejemplo, mientras esté sembrando legumbres y flores para el verano, puede enseñar a los niños sobre la jardinería ecológica. Mientras está afuera o en la playa también puede aprovechar para hablar a los hijos de cómo protegerse de los poderosos rayos solares. Y si ve algunos insectos indeseables invadiendo su hogar y quiere enseñar a los hijos sobre cómo eliminarlos, visite el sitio interactivo en inglés y español, ¡Socorro, una cucaracha!

A los padres de niños pequeños, le recomiendo alguno de los materiales educativos de EPA en ingles y español del Club de Protectores del Planeta. Son una serie de folletos y materiales educativos para niños diseñados en conjunto con maestros y se centran básicamente en las tres R’s de la gestión de desperdicios-el reducir, reutilizar y reciclar.

Nuestra Oficina de Residuos Sólidos tiene otros materiales para estudiantes de intermedia y de escuela superior. Además hay dos nuevas publicaciones, Trabajando juntos por un ambiente saludable y Aprenda inglés, aprenda sobre el medio ambiente que ayudará a individuos y comunidades multilingües a aprender más sobre reciclaje. Además hay numerosos proyectos de servicio comunitario que ayudan a los estudiantes aplicar las lecciones aprendidas en el salón de clase a experiencias de la vida real.

Bueno, estoy divagando. Regresemos a los niños.

Debo confesar que como madre de una niña de seis años (y otras tres universitarias) he cobrado consciencia sobre el hecho de que nuestros hijos aprenden mucho de nuestro ejemplo y acciones cotidianas. El reciclaje ya es un buen hábito que han internalizado y me impresiona el hecho de que mi pequeña es la que me recuerda antes de salir de la casa que tenemos que usar la crema de protección solar! Después de todo parece que estoy haciendo algo correctamente.

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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