Monthly Archives: August 2008

Something to Remember

About the author: Maria Pimentel is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation who joined EPA in 1995. Prior to that, she worked in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.
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Sometimes I wonder if those of us growing up in an island are especially aware of their connection with the environment and their community.

I spent my childhood somewhere between the sun and the sea in the beautiful island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. From the rich and fertile volcanic soil we harvested tropical fruits, vegetables, and grass for farm animals. The gifts from the sea were fresh seafood, life-abundant waters, rich with sea coral and beauty. Vieques is also home of the Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay, one of the most unusual live phenomena in the world.

In this small island, we had no drinking water reserves, so we learned to conserve water for drinking, until the construction of an underground pipeline from the main island. Before then, the source of drinking water was rain collected in tanks, and a desalinization plant which utilized sea water as raw material. As I look back, I realize our long history of loving this island.

The Taino Indians, the first habitants of Puerto Rico had a special connection with their environment. Together with their benevolent god Yukiyu, (who lived in the rain forest, El Yunque) and their destructive god Huracán or Hurricane, who sometimes still strikes in anger, there was a balance. Since ancient times, the community had a strong, simple, yet vital connection between survival, nature, and natural events.

Experts tell us that our early events determine our makeup in life. This is a possible explanation for my innate curiosity to understand how nature “works” and the path that my journey took when I later moved to the main island, Puerto Rico, went to college and, after several detours, continued a higher education in science.

After a productive career as an educator, researcher and health scientist at EPA, I have come full circle. My ultimate goal is still to understand, educate, and protect the environment we all live in.

I would like to invite you to go back in time and share your childhood memories related to the environment. And to do what you can to enjoy, preserve, and protect the environment around you. Your contributions will be enjoyed by all of us.

Algo para recordar

Sobre la autora: María Pimentel, científica en la Oficina de Aire y Radiación, ha estado laborando en EPA desde 1995. Con anterioridad, trabajó en el Instituto Nacional de Ciencias de Salud Ambiental.

Algunas veces me pregunto si los que viven en una isla comprenden su conexión con el medio ambiente.

Yo crecí en un lugar entre el sol y el océano en la bella isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico. Durante mi niñez, del rico suelo volcánico cosechábamos frutas tropicales, vegetales y hierba para los animales de corral. El mar nos regalaba mariscos frescos, abundante vida marina llena de arrecifes de coral y belleza. En Vieques también se encuentra la Bahía bioluminiscente de Mosquito uno de los fenómenos biológicos más raros del mundo.

En esta pequeña isla caribeña, no existen grandes reservas de agua potable. Por ende, aprendimos a conservar agua hasta que se construyó un acueducto submarino proveniente de la isla grande. Previamente, las fuentes de agua potable en la isla eran el agua de lluvia, la cual recolectábamos en cisternas, y una planta desalinizadora de agua, la cual utilizaba agua de mar como materia prima. Según voy recordando el pasado, me doy cuenta de cuan larga es nuestra historia de amar a nuestra isla.

Los indios taínos, los primeros habitantes de Puerto Rico, tenían una conexión especial con el medio ambiente. Junto al dios benevolente, Yukiyu (el cual habitaba en el busque lluvioso, El Yunque) y su dios destructor Huracán (el cual algunas veces, todavía golpea con ira) existía un balance. Desde tiempos antiguos, en la comunidad existió una fuerte, simple y, a la vez vital conexión entre la naturaleza, los eventos naturales y la supervivencia.

Los expertos coinciden que las experiencias en nuestra temprana vida determinan nuestras características adultas. Tal vez, es esta razón por mi curiosidad innata acerca de cómo la naturaleza “trabaja” y la senda que tomé cuando mi familia se mudo a la isla grande, Puerto Rico, asistí a la universidad y, luego de varios desvíos, proseguí una carrera en ciencia.

Como bióloga, he gozado de una carrera muy productiva en educación, investigación científica y ciencias de la salud en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA por sus siglas en inglés). Sin embargo, mi objetivo sigue siendo comprender el medio ambiente en que vivimos y educar acerca de cómo protegerlo.

Ahora, quisiera invitarle a retroceder en el tiempo y compartir los recuerdos de su niñez relacionados al medio ambiente. He invitarle a disfrutar, conservar y proteger el medio ambiente que le rodea. Todos nosotros nos beneficiaremos de su contribución.

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: Giving Sea Turtles a Head Start

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

About the author: Sandy Raimondo is a research ecologist with the Office of Research and Development in Gulf Breeze, FL. She joined EPA in 2003 and models potential effects of toxicants on organisms and populations.

Close up of Loggerhead Sea TurtleIt’s a big ocean out there, little turtles! May the safety in numbers be with you.

Last evening I witnessed young loggerhead sea turtles emerge from their nest and swim off into the dark Gulf of Mexico that would be their home for the next 50 years or so. As a volunteer for the National Park Service, I was there to help hatchling sea turtles that might become disoriented by all of our shiny light pollution and head in the wrong direction after emerging. Without a doubt, it was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

I woke up this morning a groggy, happy camper and came to work, where I sit at a computer and model what-if scenarios involving pollution of the toxicological variety. If such-and-such happens and we do this or that, this could be the outcome. For as disconnected as the beauty of sea turtle hatching and computer modeling may seem to some people, this morning it was crystal clear to me. Several years ago I was reading some papers on population modeling and one on loggerheads stood out in my mind. Based on the results of their modeling, the authors offered suggestions on how to aid the conservation of the threatened species by focusing efforts on particular life stages. The results of these models have helped to guide national efforts to keep these amazing animals from becoming extinct.

Author releasing Loggerhead Sea TurtleIt would be awesome if spending time with sea turtles was part of my job and I could go out at night and call it “just another day at the office.” But what if the modelers of loggerheads would have said that 20 years ago, and never took the time to sit in front of their computer to play with numbers? Maybe 20 years from now some bright-eyed volunteer will be out in an estuary somewhere and marvel at the diversity of life and the health of the water. That would be awesome too. And maybe somewhere in their subconscious they’ll even thank the people who sat at a computer to help keep it that way.

Learn more about sea turtles and their conservation.

Sneak preview: from sea-going reptiles to forest-dwelling mammals…
Aaron Ferster here. Next week, we’ll be coming to you from the forests of Connecticut. Monday, we’ll be using Twitter to send updates from the field as a team of researchers surveys small mammal populations. They’re studying the links between the landscape, biodiversity, and human health. Wednesday, we’ll post a full update here in Greenversations.

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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Traveling on an Environmental Budget

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

It is summer. I want to take my family on vacation but given all the focus on climate change, I am very concerned about how my travel plans might impact the environment. So, I sit down with my family and ask them – what do you want to do on vacation and how can me make it “green”? Of course, the first question was – what is a green vacation? Here is the list we came up with:

  • It is fun and we can all be together
  • Minimizes traveling
    • Car is better than airplane
    • Biking or Walking is better than car
  • Can cook for ourselves using fresh ingredients
  • Doesn’t damage existing natural resources
  • Can stay in either a tent, a friends house or one room together
  • Measure our carbon emissions and offset them

My kids wanted to know if this ruled out Disneyland. Not completely but it did make it harder to go. We would have to make choices about how we would get there, where we would stay, what we would buy while we were there and how we could offset our emissions.

Other trips we considered were camping at a lake, a train trip across Canada, the beach and a staycation – staying home and touring our own city, Seattle. Eventually, we decided to do a combination of camping, the beach and a staycation. When the kids looked at both the environmental and financial costs of all of the choices, they realized that they were getting more vacation for their resources if they stayed closer to home and chose less high profile activities. We decided to use some of the resources on EPA’s website to figure out exactly how much impact our vacations did have – tracking mileage, evaluating hotel stays, and figuring out how much we can recycle.

When I look back on the conversation, I realize that I learned lessons too. 1) being green means making substantially different choices – not just figuring out how to do the same thing using less, 2) my kids care about the environment and see it directly affecting their future and 3) it can be done but it isn’t easy. We are off on our vacations and staycations next week. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are all having both a fun and green summer too. I’d love to hear how you are making your vacation green.

The Sierra Club has a more detailed comparison of cars vs. planes.

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: What Would Make You Change your Driving Habits?

About the author: Dominic Bridgers joined EPA’s Office of Public Affairs as a summer intern.

I believe a lot of people are changing their driving habits. I have done so myself. Usually, I tend to make one big trip. During the week I only drive from my house to the Metro in order for my commute to work. On the weekends I take my car for a spin once or try to carpool with my friends wherever we go.

Public transportation 56, High Gas Prices 25, Flexible Schedule 19, Saving Money 7, Working at Home 4I read some typical responses from the June 30th Question of the Week: “What would convince you to change your driving habits?” Almost half of you said if there was better access to public transportation you would dump the car and hop on a bus. Then, a quarter of you said you would change your driving habits based on the high gas prices we are facing, and another bunch said if their schedule was more flexible then you would change your driving ways. The rest suggested other things that would change their driving habits, like saving money, being able to work at home, and if it was easier to bike safely.

Thanks for your time in responding to “What would convince you to change your driving habits?”

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 use a gasoline, electric, battery-operated, or push lawn mower?

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.

For many, mowing the lawn is a summertime fact of life. We cut the grass in different ways, each of which varies in its convenience and how it can affect the environment.

Why do you use a gasoline, electric, battery-operated, or push lawn mower?

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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.

Para muchos, el cortar el césped es una actividad veraniega común. Cortamos el césped de varias maneras, cada una varía en su conveniencia y cómo puede afectar el medio ambiente.

¿Por qué usa una cortadora de césped a base de gasolina, que funciona a base de baterías, o cortadora de cuchillas tradicional?

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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Divested

People around a meeting table wearing identifying vests.

About the author: Dan Heister has been an on-scene coordinator with Superfund in Region 10 since 2000 and joined EPA 13 years before that. Dan’s responses have ranged from fifty gallon oil spills on a small creek to spending seven weeks in a FEMA trailer helping with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

During large scale events (Katrina, the California fires, large oil releases) EPA, implements the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS was developed in the 1970’s by California wildfire agencies in response to some catastrophic fires near Los Angeles. ICS is a command and control structure that is stood up quickly to manage people and resources in a timely and efficient manner.

Command and General Staff officers wear vests that designate their role within the organization. Large patches on the back of the vest have black letters set on a fluorescent background (INCIDENT COMMANDER, OPERATIONS SECTION CHIEF, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, etc.). The vests facilitate identification within the Command Post so officers can be located, especially in an emergency.

I have donned vests during numerous incidents and have had various titles. I have noticed a curious phenomenon about the vests. A magical thing occurs; middle aged bald guy (me) is transformed and I am called “Sir” or “Mister”, despite my protests. People treat you as though your IQ is 20 to 25 points higher, and they believe you have answers you may not have. It’s humbling to go home where my wife is in charge and my teenage daughter sees me as the fat, stupid person with money. At least I can sleep in my own bed.

In October 2007, Portland was one of three venues for TopOff 4, a week long, national “dirty bomb” exercise. A year earlier my manager called to ask if I would like to be the Incident Commander (IC) in Portland. I said “no”. He took that to mean “yes”.

So there I was the IC, wearing the “heaviest” vest for the entire week. After four long days in the Command Post I arrived the last day at a pay parking lot downtown. My IC vest on, deep in thought I walked toward the Command Post, the sun rising in the east. A late model Mercedes Benz entered the parking lot and drove slowly toward me and stopped. Was this the Mayor? A VIP? The driver’s window came down and the woman inside handed me the keys. “I’m running late, park it for me.” I felt like Rodney Dangerfield. I guess I had it coming.

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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Don’t Bother Me Mosquito!

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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Working in the garden and enjoying the outdoors has many rewards. However, outdoor activities may come with some negatives—mosquito bites. Personally, I seem to be a mosquito magnet. No, I’m not talking about those modern contraptions that claim they’ll eliminate mosquitoes. Quite the contrary—whenever I go outside the mosquitoes seem to feast on me. I’ve tried using some natural remedies such as eating garlic, using musk oil, but they haven’t been very effective in my case. I have used insect repellents safely, but they have not been able to keep those pesky mosquitoes away for long. I wonder if some people are more prone to mosquito bites than others. My father works in the garden all day—no bites—nada. I walk outside to get the newspaper and come back with a bite or two. Not fair.

In the meantime, there are things we can do to control mosquitoes around the home. First of all, remove their habitat (where they live and breed). What does this mean? Eliminate standing water from rain gutters, old tires, buckets, etc. When we think of stagnant water as a breeding ground, we normally think of the big puddles. We rarely think of the little cracks in the pavement that will collect water after the rain. Do you know that a mosquito can lay its eggs in just a teaspoon of standing water?

There are several steps you can take deter biting insects. Make sure your home window screens are repaired. Wear long sleeves and long pants whenever possible. Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. If necessary, use repellent safely.

When using insect repellents or any pesticide product, read the label first! Organic repellents have been successful measures for some people. One single action will not eliminate these pests from the face of the earth. Nonetheless, some of these tips may help you enjoy the outdoors more while protecting yourself and your family from mosquito bites. Have a nice summer.

¡No me moleste mosquito!

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.

Trabajando en el jardín y disfrutando del aire libre tiene muchas recompensas. Sin embargo, algunas de las actividades exteriores pueden tener aspectos negativos, como las picaduras de mosquitos. Personalmente, soy un imán para los mosquitos. No estoy hablando de ningún invento moderno que se adjudica el poder de eliminar los mosquitos. Al contrario. Siempre que salgo parece que los mosquitos me comen viva. He tratado remedios naturales como comer ajo, usa aceite de almizcle, pero no han sido muy eficaces en mi caso. He usado repelentes de insectos de manera segura, pero no parecen haber apartado estos molestosos insectos por mucho tiempo. Me pregunto si algunas personas son más propensas a las picaduras de mosquitos que otros. Por ejemplo, mi padre puede pasar todo el día en el jardín—ni una picadura—nada. Yo salgo un momento a buscar el periódico y regreso a la casa con un par de picaduras. No es justo.

Mientras tanto, hay cosas que podemos hacer para controlar los mosquitos alrededor del hogar. En primer lugar, elimine su hábitat (donde ellos viven y se crían). ¿Qué significa? Elimine donde se pueda apozar el agua en los desagües, las llantas viejas, los cubos, etc. Cuando pensamos en lugares que pueden servir de criaderos, normalmente pensamos en grandes charcos. Rara es la vez que pensamos en las pequeñas grietas en el asfalto donde se puede acumular el agua después de llover. ¿Sabía que un mosquito puede poner huevos en tan sólo una cucharadita de agua apozada?

Hay varios pasos que puede tomar para evitar las picaduras de insectos. Asegúrese que las mallas sobre las ventanas estén en buenas condiciones. Use mangas y pantalones largos cuando sea posible. Evite salir al amanecer y el anochecer cuando los mosquitos están más activos. Si es necesario, use repelente de manera segura.

Cuando use repelentes de insecto o cualquier producto de pesticida, siempre ¡lea la etiqueta primero! Los repelentes orgánicos han sido eficaces para algunas personas. Ninguna acción singular eliminará estas plagas de la faz de la tierra. No obstante, he aquí algunos consejos que le ayudarán a disfrutar de actividades al aire libre mientras se protege a usted y a su familia de las picaduras de mosquito. Que tengan un verano feliz.

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: What Do You Drive, and Why?

About the author: Dominic Bridgers joined EPA’s Office of Public Affairs as a summer intern.

I have a Toyota Solara, it was given to me as a Christmas present a few years ago. I love my car because it is comfortable and it is gas efficient, rounding off at about 30 mpg. I believe those should be the main reasons for buying a car these days.

Going through and collecting the stats from the June 16th Question of the Week, “What do you drive, and why?” I came up with the following. Most of the bloggers drive a midsize/sedan type of vehicle, almost half of the people that responded drive either SUVs and trucks, and a handful of people like to throw on their leather jackets and let the wind hit their face when they jump on their motorcycles, a very fuel efficient vehicle!

bar graph of SUVs and trucks: 53, midsize and sedans: 122, public transportation: 7, motorcycles: 19.Most of the bloggers responded that they drive what they drive because it is gas efficient. While some people said their vehicles suit there personnel needs, such as picking up the kids or loading luggage. I was surprised to see that a handful of bloggers said they picked their vehicle because they don’t have to spend as much on maintenance, while others chose their vehicle because it is comfortable and it is what they can afford.

Thanks for your time in responding to “What do you drive, and why?” and remember to buckle up!

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: Summer Science

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

About the author: Darius Davis is a summer intern in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I recently graduated from Withrow University High School and plan to attend Ohio State University in Columbus, OH in the fall of 2008. I will be studying Chemical Engineering with a minor in Pharmacy.

This is my second year interning at EPA through the black employment program. I feel that this program has not only opened up many opportunities for me, but allowed me to get a hands-on experience in the science field. The last two years I have worked in two different areas at the EPA. The first year, which was my junior year in high school, I worked with microbiology and this year with drinking water. While in the microbiology area, I worked and did experiments with E.coli bacteria. The name of this experiment was UV Disinfection on E. coli Bacteria. I really enjoyed working in this area because there were many chemicals involved and we used a lot of different machinery in order to carry out the experiment. This year with drinking water was also very interesting. I was able to work with a database and observe a lot about the copper pipes, which were sent in from various locations throughout the country. I was then able to make reports about the pipes and what we observed from them. The objective was to figure out why the water that ran through these pipes were forming holes in the pipe and what could be done to prevent the holes from forming within the pipe. While at EPA, I was also acknowledged for my once in a lifetime achievement of receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship. This scholarship covers ten years of my college education through my doctoral degree at the college of my choice with ALL expenses paid, including one year of study abroad.

I feel that working at the EPA really broadened my horizons on what all goes into making the environment a better place to live. This experience also made me more confident with studying the sciences when I attend college. Anyone who is ever offered an opportunity like this one should definitely take advantage of it, because in the end it will all be worth it!

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: Do celebrities who champion the environment influence your decision making, and if so, how?

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.

Many people feel that protecting the environment is important. Celebrities sometimes use their high public recognition to raise awareness for causes they support: for example, things you should do (or not do) to protect the environment.

Do celebrities who champion the environment influence your decision making, and if so, how?

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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.

Muchas personas consideran que la protección ambiental es importante. A veces las celebridades usan su renombre público para crear conciencia sobre causas que ellos apoyan, por ejemplo, las cosas que se deben hacer (o no hacer) para proteger el medio ambiente.

¿Las personas que abogan por el medio ambiente influyen la toma de sus decisiones? ¿De ser así, cómo lo hacen?

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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