Monthly Archives: August 2008

Gustav Preparation

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. She’s keeping us updated on how her office is responding to Hurricane Gustav.

Our Regional Administrator set the tone in today’s meeting, “People in harm’s way along the gulf coast are depending on EPA to respond to their needs. They could not be better served than they are by the federal, state, and local partners who are ready, tried and proven through hard earned experience in recovering from the environmental impacts of natural disasters. We will not let them down.”

Preparation efforts continue at EPA Region 6. In this morning’s meeting, we discussed when to begin flyer dissemination, fuel waivers, and when we expect to have people on the ground doing damage assessment. A Gustav website should come up later today detailing how Region 6 is preparing.

As Homeland Security Coordinator, my job during disasters is to work with our Regional Incident Coordination Team and also work with Response Support Corps deployment. We learned from Katrina and are using these lessons in our Hurricane Plan that we are following. We are setting objectives and timeframes for specific actions next week. I have been working on a deployment one-pager for Response Support Corps personnel. I have also been setting up a meeting schedule for next week’s Regional Incident Coordination Team. We continue to coordinate with State and Local officials. We continue to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

EPA info about hurricane preparedness. This page is also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

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: Wanted: Seal Instructor for Environmental Education

About the Author: Dr. Dale Haroski is the science advisor to the Office of Public Affairs where she translates science for the public, and more recently, has begun exploring marine mammal outreach opportunities. As a new hobby, she enjoys pointing and yelling “SEAL!” when her fiancé ventures near any type of water.

Kayakers on waterWe had our wetsuits. We had our paddles. We were ready. “One last thing,” said our perky kayaking instructor. “The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that you stay 100 feet away from any marine mammals so don’t approach any closer than that. They can be inquisitive, however, so if they approach you just remain quiet, avoid eye contact, and they will eventually leave.” Ok. No problem. Avoid marine mammals. Let’s paddle.

On a recent family vacation to California my fiancé (also an EPA employee) and I decided to take his eight-year-old daughter kayaking in Monterey Bay. His daughter and I quickly set out in our two person kayak and charted a course for the kelp forest.

Soon, we spotted a harbor seal attempting to climb onto a small piece of driftwood. “Aw look! A little seal!” we sighed as it disappeared from sight. Then, out of nowhere, the little seal head popped up directly next to me and peered at me with those big soulful eyes. “OOOHHHH LOOOOK!!!!!” I squealed in a high pitch normally reserved for puppy and kitten sightings. “It’s right here! It’s soooo cute!” I shouted to no one in particular. He circled around us a few times and disappeared once again.

My fiancé started to put away his camera when the little guy popped up behind his kayak. “He’s behind you!” we yelled! Then, right before our stunned eyes, the little seal jettisoned himself out of the water and attempted to haul out onto the back of my fiancé’s kayak! We howled with laughter at my fiancé’s panic as his kayak rolled from side to side. The seal soon gave up and we breathed a sigh of relief while wiping away the tears of laughter.

Just when we thought it was safe two little eyes popped up again behind his kayak. “PADDLE HONEY PAAAADDDDDLLLLLE!” I shouted, thinking that a moving target would be harder to hit. Scenes of Jaws flitted through my head. Finally the little seal gave up and all I could think was “Great. I can see the headlines now: EPA employees found in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.” It wasn’t our fault officer, really!

Kayaking was enjoyable after that but it made me realize that environmental regulations really only work if people know about them and follow them. Now if only someone could educate the marine mammals we’d be all set.

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 Ready for Gustav and Hanna!

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.

There’s a flurry of activity today at EPA Region 6 . . . it’s Hurricane Season! This time it’s Gustav and as usual, it’s always on Labor Day Weekend! We are getting ready for what we think will be a pretty sizable hurricane. As discussed previously in Dan Heister’s blog on Incident Command, we have designated an Incident Commander, an Operations Section Chief, a Planning Section Chief and a Logistics Section Chief. We are checking on staff availability for next week, particularly in our Response Support Corp. Since Gustav is expected to make landfall somewhere in Texas or Louisiana on late Monday or Tuesday, we expect to be in full mode next week.

Within EPA, we manage major incidences through something called the Regional Incident Coordination Team (RICT). The RICT has been meeting to discuss plans for activation. EPA is coordinating with both Louisiana and Texas through conference calls. In fact, we have added a section to our website on hurricane preparedness. This page is also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Even though Gustav making landfall is still days away, it is always best to “lean forward” in preparation for the worst. In Region 6 that is what we are doing . . . preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.

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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¡Preparándose para Gustav y Hanna!

La autora: Mary Kemp labora actualmente como Coordinadora de Seguridad del Territorio Nacional en la Oficina Regional de Dallas, TX. Mary comenzó en 1985 y ha trabajado en los programas de asbesto, Superfund y aire.

Hoy a un revuelo de actividad en la Región 6 de EPA…es la temporada de huracanes! Esta vez se trata de Gustav y, como siempre, coincide con el fin de semana feriado del Día del Trabajo! Estamos preparándonos para lo que creemos será un huracán de gran envergadura. Como se discutió previamente en el blog de Dan Heister sobre el Comando de Incidentes, hemos designado un comandante de incidentes, un jefe de sección de operaciones, un jefe de sección de planificación y un jefe de sección para logística. También estamos verificando la disponibilidad del personal para la siguiente semana, en particular nuestra corporación de apoyo para respuesta a emergencias. Como esperamos que Gustav toque tierra en algún lugar entre Texas y Luisiana tarde el lunes o martes, esperamos estar trabajando a todo vapor la semana próxima.

Dentro de EPA, manejamos eventos importantes mediante lo que llamamos el Equipo Regional para la Coordinación de Incidentes (RICT, por sus siglas en inglés). El RICT se ha estado reuniéndose para discutir los planes de activación. EPA está coordinando tanto con Luisiana como Texas por medio de llamadas de conferencia telefónicas. De hecho, también hemos añadido una sección a nuestro sitio Web para preparativos de huracanes en inglés, en español, chino, y vietnamita.

A pesar de que Gustav todavía está a días de distancia de arribar, siempre es mejor estar “en avanzada” en preparación para lo peor. En la Región 6 eso es lo que estamos haciendo…preparándonos para lo peor, pero esperando que suceda lo mejor.

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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Vieques, “Isla Nena”

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.
Some links exit EPA or have Spanish content. Exit EPA Disclaimer

Ariel photo of Vieques, Puerto RicoUp in the sky I feel a little relieved. My flight to Vieques just took off on time, which means I will arrive on time to the Second Children’s Health Fair. In less than 12 minutes, and after crossing a stretch of seven miles off the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico I will arrive at my destination. The Caribbean sea underneath me divides this municipality, which is home to around 10,000 residents, from the rest of the big island. Though I am not a native of Vieques, it has become my favorite place in the world ever since I began working as community involvement coordinator in 2002 on the investigation of hazardous waste contamination on areas of the island.

photo of starfish in clear water Beginning in the 1940s, Vieques became home to the Atlantic Weapons Training Facility Area, when 25,000 acres in the western and eastern parts of the island were used as naval support and training facilities. After the U.S. Navy left in 2003, portions of the island were included in EPA’s National Priorities List for cleanup under the Superfund program. The eastern part of the island is now the Vieques Fish and Wildlife Refuge and has some of the most beautiful beaches and views in the Caribbean. Two of them opened in 2004: Blue Beach and Red Beach, or as locals call them, “Playa La Chiva” and “Playa Caracas.” Shades of blue, turquoise and light green make up most of the beaches in the site. I have also seen green turtles, stingrays and starfish swimming peacefully and monarch butterflies dancing in the hot dry air.

Due to the nature of the site, EPA established a field office in Vieques, where our Remedial Project Manager is stationed. As part of our outreach efforts I have participated in many activities over the course of the last six years. However it is the first time we participate in the Children’s Health Fair. More than 700 children, residents of Vieques, along with Puerto Rico’s First Lady and the Secretary of Health attended the activity. In our booth coloring books on asthma were given away along with environmental health materials. At the end of the day I am exhausted beyond words. The children seem to be as exhausted as I am but are quickly delighted to see the big spray of the fire truck. They run towards the water and I would love to do the same, but a 12 minute plane ride and 1.5 hour drive await me in order to get home

What is not to love about Vieques?

Vieques, Isla Nena

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.

Ariel photo of Vieques, Puerto RicoArriba en el aire me siento un poco más relajada. Mi vuelo hacia Vieques partió a la hora esperada, lo que significa que llegaré justo a tiempo a la Segunda Feria de Salud del Niño en Vieques. En menos de 12 minutos y luego de cruzar siete millas de la costa sureste de Puerto Rico llegaré a mi destino. Debajo de mi el mar Caribe, azul y tranquilo, divide este municipio del resto de la “Isla Grande”. Aunque no nací ni crecí en esta isla en la que habitan cerca de 10,000 personas, es mi lugar preferido en el mundo desde que comencé a laborar con la EPA como coordinadora de relaciones con la comunidad en el 2002 como parte de la investigación de lugares contaminados en esta isla-municipio.

photo of starfish in clear water Desde los 1940’s Vieques albergó las instalaciones de la Flota de Entrenamiento de Armas del Atlántico de la Marina de los Estados Unidos en unos 25,000 acres que eran utilizados como facilidades de apoyo y entrenamiento. Luego que la Marina partió en el 2003, porciones de la isla fueron incluidas en la Lista Nacional de Prioridades de la EPA. La parte este de la isla es hoy día un Refugio de Vida Silvestre manejado por la Agencia Federal de Pesca y Vida Silvestre. Allí dos de las playas más hermosas del Caribe fueron abiertas al público general en el 2004: Playa La Chiva y Playa Caracas también conocidas como Red Beach y Blue Beach. En estas playas azul turquesa y de arena blanca como el azúcar he podido ver mantarayas, estrellas de mar y tortugas. También he visto mariposas monarcas danzar en el aire caliente y seco de los terrenos del refugio.

Dada la magnitud y naturaleza del caso, la EPA estableció una oficina en Vieques en donde nuestro gerente de proyecto supervisa las labores de investigación y es el enlace inmediato con la comunidad. Como parte de nuestros esfuerzos comunitarios hemos participado en decenas de actividades en los últimos 6 años. Sin embargo, ésta es la primera vez que participamos de esta Feria. Cerca de 700 niños residentes de Vieques junto con la Primera Dama de Puerto Rico y la Secretaria de Salud participaron de la actividad. En nuestro exhibidor repartimos libros de colorear sobre asma y materiales educativos para los padres. Al final del día los niños han terminado tan exhaustos y acalorados como yo, sin embargo ellos emocionados corren al camión de bomberos donde un gran chorro de agua los refresca. Me gustaría poder hacer lo mismo que ellos y empapar mi ropa de agua fría. Pero me espera un vuelo de 12 minutos y manejar una hora y media para poder llegar a casa.

¿Por qué no me ha de encantar de Vieques?

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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Science Wednesday: Translating Science into English

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Grace Camblos is a writer and photographer. Since 2006 she has worked as a student services contractor with the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communication Staff.

Photo of author, Grace CamblosIf an EPA scientist were to tell you, “we use Bayesian analysis to find the range of possible parameter values for our pharmacokinetic models”…would you know what she meant? What if you read in an EPA report that “exposure to residual oil fly ash increases airway reactivity and pulmonary eosinophils during allergic sensitization”?

If you have a background in science, those phrases might make perfect sense to you. But what about those of us without degrees in molecular biology or organic chemistry?

To a large chunk of people, the language of science seems full of mysterious jargon and phrases designed to make our eyes glaze over – or worse, that threaten to overwhelm us and make us feel stupid.

As a writer with EPA-ORD’s Science Communication Staff, it’s my job to translate the language of science into words that everyone can understand, regardless of their familiarity with science. I help write the articles, press releases, fact sheets and web copy that people might find as they browse EPA’s Web site.

Translating science into English can be challenging, to say the least. It’s a balancing act: my words need to be accurate enough to convey what the scientists really mean, but understandable enough to keep the readers interested. It does no one any good if I write about a fascinating, important study, but the reader gives up after the first two sentences.

My own lack of a science background actually has advantages in this situation. I have no problem asking questions when talking to scientists, because if I don’t understand, then there’s a fair chance that readers won’t either. (On the other hand, not having a science background does make getting through those dense scientific reports more difficult. But then, it’s my job to read through the science-ese so others don’t have to. Just think of me as the Cliffnotes version of EPA science.)

Communicating EPA’s science to the public is an important job. As a federal agency, we’re answerable to the public, and clarity of language goes a long way toward more transparency in government. Plus, as more people understand and support the work we do to protect the environment, more funding for environmental protection may come available, creating yet more chances to do good work.

Good science communication: It’s a win-win idea.

To read articles written by the Science Communication Staff, check out www.epa.gov/ord.

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: Why Do You Drink Bottled or Tap Water?

About the Author: Dominic Bridgers was a summer intern in the Office of Public Affairs.

I usually drink whatever is convenient for me. If I’m in the house I will fill the glass up with tap water, but if I’m on the go I think bottled water is more convenient.

Tap: easy 113, cheap 97, taste 63.  Bottled: convenient 63 taste 33, health 23I collected data from the July 7th Question of the Week, “Why do you drink bottled or tap water?” The majority of the bloggers responded that they drink tap water primarily because they have easy access to it, you think it’s healthier, it’s cheaper than bottled water, and it tastes just as good as or better than bottled water. However, some of you prefer bottled water over tap water because it is more convenient, it tastes better and you think it’s healthier.

Thank you for taking your time in responding to “Why do you drink bottled or tap water?”

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

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It’s Hurricane Season!

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.

Recently, Dan Heister mentioned the Incident Command System. The Incident Command System is part of how we respond to emergencies under the National Response Framework (NRF). We are responsible for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #10, Oil and Hazardous Materials Response under the NRF. An example of ESF #10 activities was after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita we collected and properly disposed of thousands of paint cans, propane tanks from gas grills, and other hazardous household items that were tossed around.

View of a hurricane from space
Seeing the destruction that Hurricane Rita left on a community that was located along the Gulf in Cameron Parish was absolutely unbelievable. Every house in this community was swept away! The only thing left of the community was a few pilings, the concrete of the carport bays, and a couple of child’s toys. When I first saw it, I asked the group I was with, “You mean there was really a community here?” We were later told that the debris field from the community ended up about 9 miles north in the Marsh.

The Storm Surge from a major hurricane can be incredible. In Cameron Parish, the only structure left standing was the Courthouse. We were told later that the Storm Surge from Hurricane Rita was up to 20 feet. In fact, we were also told that the entire Parish was under water after Hurricane Rita came ashore. Because of the destruction from Hurricane Rita, we set three hazardous waste collection points within Cameron Parish. All of these activities were under ESF #10.

We have been involved with several major disasters including the World Trade Center, Space Shuttle, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, etc. We have learned the need for better preparedness and the need to utilize other EPA employees that are field trained. We tested this concept called the Response Support Corp during the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery. We have also learned that we need to set a goal of being able to manage more incidences at once. To improve our preparedness, we have goals within the Current Strategic Plan.

In closing, we are moving into the peak of Hurricane Season, typically August and September. If a hurricane is heading your way, please secure paint cans, propane tanks, etc. in a place where they won’t be swept away. We don’t want to find your paint cans or propane tanks in a marsh or along the side of the road.

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: When it comes to computers, do you minimize energy use?

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

It’s time to go back to school, so many Americans are replacing their computers. You can look for the Energy Star label to find one that uses less electricity. When you get your computer home, you can choose energy-saving settings like when to turn off the monitor.

When it comes to computers, do you minimize energy use?
(leave a comment | en español)

[poll id=”7″]

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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.

Ha llegado el regreso al colegio y muchos estadounidenses están reemplazando sus computadoras. Busque la etiqueta Energy Star para encontrar una que use menos electricidad. En casa, puede seleccionar opciones para ahorrar energía como apagar el monitor.

¿Cuando se trata de computadoras, cómo minimiza el uso de energía?

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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Green Building Blog: The Meaning of Green

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling, and indoor air quality. Find out more about EPA’s green building programs at www.epa.gov/greenbuilding.

Photo of Ken Sandler standing on mountainSo what does it really mean to be green?

That may sound like one of those dreaded philosophical questions you have to ask of a white-bearded guru sitting cross-legged and barefoot on a mountaintop.

But as green becomes the hottest marketing term around, you do have to ask what it means. As everyone from your dry-cleaner to your gas station tries to convince you that they’re the greenest, how do you know who is and who isn’t?

The Federal Trade Commission, which monitors marketing claims, is looking into this issue as it updates its “Green Guides” . But the answers are not always as straightforward as we might like.

In my area of expertise, green building, EPA is considering how we can help this field better define itself. Here are a few of the questions we’re grappling with:

1) Essential components: The popular green building rating systems in the marketplace provide great flexibility to trade off among many strategies, from low-flow toilets to low-emitting paints. But are there any elements so essential that they shouldn’t be traded off – like energy efficiency?
2) Levels of green: A related question is how far you need to go to be called green – for instance, if a company changes its light bulbs to more efficient compact fluorescents, but does nothing to improve its inefficient heating and cooling system – how green can it really claim to be?
3) Lifecycle impacts: One of the most complicated exercises in the sustainability field is life cycle analysis (LCA). An LCA is the Herculean task of comparing the environmental and health impacts of a product throughout its “life” – say, from when trees are cut down or metals mined, through manufacturing and use, to ultimate disposal. An incredible challenge – and yet how can we know what’s truly greenest until we figure out how to do this type of analysis effectively?
4) Maintaining green: Finally, how long will the building or product remain green, and what maintenance will it need to keep that nice green glow from fading?

Maybe some day all of the answers will be easy to find. In the meantime, when you hear green claims, make sure to ask a lot of questions, compare and contrast products, and request as much background information as possible.

But please don’t attempt to climb any treacherous mountains looking for green gurus. No need, actually – these days, most gurus have email.

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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