Monthly Archives: August 2008

Solving the Biggest Health Risk You've Never Heard Of

About the author: Jacob Moss joined EPA’s air program in 1999 and has led a variety of air quality, energy, and international efforts since that time.

During my Peace Corps service in Togo, West Africa, in the late 1980s, I would often chat with local women while they cooked in their kitchens. These visits couldn’t last more than a short while simply because the smoke from the stoves was so dense I would start coughing, my eyes would sting, and I would have to go outside to breathe. These women, like nearly half the world’s population, cooked on rudimentary stoves using solid fuels. They typically used wood or charcoal, but in other regions of the world crop residues, coal and dung cakes are also used extensively.

In 2002, the World Health Organization ranked indoor smoke from cooking stoves as the 4th worst health risk factor in poor developing countries – after undernourishment, unsafe sex, and lack of clean water supply and sanitation. Breathing elevated levels of indoor smoke from home cooking and heating practices more than doubles a child’s risk of serious respiratory infection; it may also be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth and low birth weight.

In 2002, I helped EPA start an initiative called the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA), to help galvanize global efforts to address these risks. Since its foundation, we’ve grown from 13 initial partners to more than 190 partners today. In India alone we have over 20 partner organizations from the government, NGO, academic and private sectors. Similarly, in the East African region (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), we work with over a dozen partnering organizations. EPA’s projects will bring cleaner cooking practices to over a million people, while our partners collectively plan on reaching about 30 million people in the next couple of years. We’ve worked with partners to ensure that the clean stoves and fuels being promoted are measurably and significantly reducing people’s exposure to this smoke.

Now I’m leading a process to expand PCIA to make it independent, sustainable, and capable of achieving large-scale results. In the next five years, we’d like to work with partners to demonstrate the ability to reach 50 to 75 million people who are currently exposed to poor indoor air quality. In the longer-term (say, 15 years), we’d like to work with our partners to design and implement a strategy to eliminate these risks for half of the affected global population – about 1.5 billion people.

I am happy to discuss some of our lessons learned from the field in future blogs. In the meantime, let me know what you think. How do you think we can most successfully expand PCIA?

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 More Than The Birds and the Bees

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.

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Judging from previous blogs, there’s quite a bit of interest and concern towards the apparent lack of butterflies this summer. Yet we haven’t addressed something even potentially more worrisome—honeybees. The situation has been identified as the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The disappearance of these pollinators could have serious repercussions on U.S. agriculture and ultimately the entire food supply. Experts still do not know the exact cause for the vanishing of the honeybees. Among the theories considered are: invasive parasitic mites, new and emerging diseases, pesticide poisoning, poor nutrition and I’ve even read some articles that attribute the situation to climate change.

Nonetheless, EPA, USDA, universities and the private sector have moved into action. The Agency is addressing the CCD through regulatory and voluntary programs. And it’s actively participating in the Colony Collapse Disorder Steering Committee and Working Group. One of the many collaborative efforts to address the issue has been a partnership between the Agency and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

As I’ve been reading up more on this crisis, images of childhood–my grandfather with a hat and a veil tending to the bee colonies in his farm in Guayama, Puerto Rico come to mind. I also remember eating sticky, deliciously sweet, fresh honey. More recently, my daughter’s boyfriend, Scott, concerned over the CCD decided to take a beekeeping class by the Bowie Upper Marlboro Beekeepers Association (BUMBA) at Watkins Park Nature Center in Maryland. Both he and his brother started raising bees in their backyard in March. They started with one box and in June added a second one on top for them to expand. Scott hasn’t had any major problem and only one bee sting while working on the hive. The bees have made some honey, but he’s trying to save it for the winter. That will be the real test to his success so far.

While I haven’t taken the challenge to set up my own bee colony, I’ve been trying to use greenscaping techniques to minimize the use of pesticides in my garden. Overall, integrated pest management principles both at home and in agriculture, can go a long way to protect the ecosystem of these invaluable pollinators. We can’t live without them. So don’t just buzz by this blog, help to take action.


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Va más alla de las aves y abejas

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.

Juzgando por el interés de previos blogs, hay muchas personas preocupadas por la aparente falta de mariposas este verano. Sin embargo, todavía no hemos abordado un tema de mayor preocupación—las abejas de miel. La situación se ha identificado como el desorden del colapso de colonias (CCD, por sus siglas en inglés). La desaparición de estos polinadores podría causar serias repercusiones en la agricultura de Estados Unidos y en la totalidad del suministro de alimentos.

Los expertos aún no conocen la causa exacta de la desaparición de las abejas de miel. Algunas teorías son: pequeños ácaros parasíticos invasivos, nuevas enfermedades, el envenenamiento por pesticidas, la pobre nutrición y algunos artículos incluso atribuyen la situación al cambio climático.

Mientras tanto, EPA, el Departamento de Agricultura Federal, las universidades y el sector privado han entrado en acción. La Agencia está tratando el tema mediante programas de regulaciones y voluntarios. También está participando activamente en el Comité Timón y Grupo de Trabajo sobre el Desorden del Colapso de Colonias. Uno de los muchos esfuerzos colaborativos para abordar este asunto es el consorcio entre la Agencia y la Campana de Protección de Polinadores de Norte América. [http://www.nappc.org/PesticidesWebsite.html]

Mientras voy leyendo más sobre la crisis, surgen las imágenes de mi infancia en Puerto Rico—mi abuelo con su sombrero especial cuidando de las abejas en su finca en Guayama, Puerto Rico. También me recuerdo comer la miel fresca, pegajosa y deliciosamente dulce…Recientemente, Scott, el novio de mi hija, preocupado por el colapso de colmenas decidió toma una clase para criar abejas que ofrece la Asociación de Apicultores de Upper Marlboro (BUMBA, por sus siglas en inglés) en el Centro de Naturaleza del Parque Watkins en Maryland. Tanto él como su hermano empezaron a cultivar las abejas en su patio en marzo. Comenzaron con una caja y en junio añadieron una más como una extensión para que las abejas pudieran expandir la colmena. Scott no ha tenido problemas en esta empresa y sólo una abeja lo ha picado. Las abejas han producido miel, pero él quiere conservarla para el invierno. Esa será la prueba real.

Mientras no ha tomado el reto de desarrollar mi propia colonia de abejas, estoy tratando de usar técnicas de jardinería verde para minimizar el uso de plaguicidas en mi jardín. Sobre todo, los principios para el manejo integrado de plagas tanto en el hogar como en la agricultura pueden contribuir enormemente a la protección del ecosistema de estos valiosos polinadores. No podemos vivir sin ellos. No ignoren este blog. Por favor, tomen acción.

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: High School Interns Take the Podium

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.

Last month I “introduced” eight high school student interns in EPA’s Research Apprenticeship Program, a collaborative program between EPA and Shaw University. The Program encourages high school students to pursue advanced degrees in environmental science.

intern using lab equipment at a workbenchThe internship provides students with hands-on research experience by immersing them in an EPA laboratory or computer project. This summer, the students learned cell culturing techniques, identifying cell DNA damage, fluorescent microscope use, analyzing filters to measure air pollution, and the application of databases in environmental research and regulations.

About halfway through the internship the students began to get really serious and a bit nervous. Why? Because on July 18 they would be presenting their projects to nearly 100 people, including their peers, parents, and EPA mentors.

On July 16, my coworker Suzanne gathered the students for a “dry run.” Some needed more work than others, but this is why we practice. The next day, we did another practice session – things were getting better. We share tips from previous years such as avoiding slides that are too fancy and, my personal pet peeve, for every slide that has a graph EXPLAIN the x and y variables FIRST.

As the students took the podium on July 18, I could tell that they were ready. All gave professional presentations on very complex topics, showing their understanding of the work that they did during their internship. Once they completed their presentations, they would each pause to ask, “Any questions?” Fortunately, we had a lively audience, so most of the students had at least a question or two. Although they dread this part, I tell them that it will make them stronger and that they will appreciate it in ten years.

We are so proud of the students who have interned at EPA. As of June 2008, 109 students have completed the four-year program, and 100% of these students attended college, with 62% majoring in a field of study related to science or math. In addition, 57% have gone to graduate school. The extra support provided by the program has also helped many of the students to receive scholarships. I guess you could say that they “took the podium and kept on going!”

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 Things Come in Large Packages

About the author: David Piantanida has been a senior policy analyst in EPA’s headquarters compliance office since 1990. He’s led efforts in workforce planning, environmental policy analysis and environmental advocacy. David has also been a liaison to diverse groups including trade associations, non-profits, tribes, and state government.

Photo of author with new battery powered lawn mowerThis past May we came home to find a giant box on our porch. I saw the writing on the side of the package and knew instantly what it was. We tore off the side of the recycled cardboard box to unveil our new, rechargeable battery-powered lawn mower. It came with 360 watt-hours of battery energy, a 19” cutting blade, rear grass collection bag, side discharge chute, mulching plug, battery charger and safety key. And it has a 23 pound rechargeable battery, a two-tone green logo on the side, and produces zero emissions when mowing our lawn.

As someone who has been cutting grass since I was a teenager in upstate New York – I never really focused on the amount of particulate matter or greenhouse gas emissions that were emitted from our gas-powered mower. As a teen, there seemed to be only two options – gas or push mowers. The former allowed us to mow a lot more lawns in a shorter amount of time and collect a lot more money- making our decision an easy one.

Today, we have so many more choices, including clean, nearly maintenance-free alternatives to gasoline-powered lawn mowers. Technology has made the gas-free alternatives as powerful as their counterparts. Our new model easily cuts our ¼ acre of land and the battery fully recharges within about eight hours.

When I started looking at non-gas mowers, I learned a lot. Did you know that a conventional gas powered lawn mower spews nearly 90 pounds of the greenhouse gas CO2, and over 50 pounds of other pollutants into our air every year? I also read that over 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year refueling lawn and garden equipment – more petroleum than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez. And gas-powered mowers send over 1,800 times the hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, compared to battery-powered mowers.

The lawnmower has now been at our house for 10 weeks and I am pleased to report that he’s doing well – our grass looks great, he’s a new topic in the neighborhood, and we have taken another small step to reduce our impact on the environment. Besides, it’s fun to use, relatively quiet, and I actually look forward to mowing the lawn.

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 Keep Your Home as Cool as You Do?

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

This has been an up and down summer in DC, in terms of heat. Some days the sun has been too much to bear while other days it feels as if you should take your family out to the closest park and have a picnic.

Bar Graph showing comments indicating temperature: 3 responders:65-69F; 17 responders:70-75F; 35 responders:76-80F; 10 responders: 81F or higherI collected data from the June 9th Question of the Week, “Why do you keep your home as cool (or not) as you do?” The answers really came down to being pretty even between feeling comfortable, and saving money and energy. However, I was very surprised to see how many people do not use air conditioning. Instead of using air conditioning, a lot of people prefer to use either their ceiling fans or just crack the window for a cool summer breeze!

Thanks for your time in responding to “Why do you keep your home as cool as you do?”

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: Have you tried hypermiling and what's been your experience?

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.

Several commenters on a previous question mentioned “hypermiling,” which refers to techniques some drivers use to try to increase their gas mileage. Techniques range from simple to complex, from things EPA recommends to the controversial.

Have you tried hypermiling and what’s been your experience?

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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.

En respuesta a una pregunta anterior, algunos comentaristas mencionaron que practicaban el “hypermiling”, el cual se refiere a técnicas que varios conductores utilizan para tratar de aumentar el millaje de la gasolina. Las técnicas varían desde las simples a las complejas, así como las cosas que EPA recomienda hasta las controversiales.

¿Ha tratado de hacer el “hypermiling” y cuál ha sido su experiencia?

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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Saving Gas and the Environment

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

At a recent neighborhood block party (Happy 2nd Birthday Skylar!), when a new neighbor found out that I am the Energy Advisor in the Dallas regional office for EPA, she asked, “What can I do to save gas this summer?” I imagine that is a popular concern with a lot of folks today. It is hard to keep track of the fuel prices when they are changing so rapidly, including several times a week.

Here are some basic “best practices” to reduce your gas usage as well as the vehicle emissions that contribute to ozone problems and climate change. You may have seen some of the tips elsewhere, but I can attest that putting them consistently into action will benefit your financial as well as environmental well-being.

It may sound simplistic, but reducing the amount you drive each week is a major step. Take advantage of local non-driving options like walking or biking for short distance trips or increase your use mass transit or neighborhood carpooling. A couple of things that I have done include using the most efficient vehicle in our household whenever possible. It only takes a small effort to organize trips to eliminate multiple individual trips. For example, last weekend I was able to plan my Saturday errands in a circuit (home improvement store, pet supply warehouse, dry cleaners and grocery) so that I moved from place to place rather than making multiple trips over the same part of town.

How you drive can impact your efficiency too. Maintaining your car or truck by getting the engine tuned-up on schedule, replacing the air filter, and checking the pressure in your tires are good practices. Personally, unloading excess weight like those boxes of charity donations (not the spare tire or needed safety equipment) from the trunk was helpful in improving my mileage. Finally, watching your speed will greatly enhance your efficiency and ensure that you arrive safely.

It is all about reducing the number of miles you travel and then watching how you drive when it is necessary. For more tips, check out the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality Web site.

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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