Monthly Archives: September 2008

At Sea with the Bold: Hurry Up and Wait

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 2 (9.6.08):

It’s about 5 pm and our Chris arrived, but unfortunately, the rumors are true – eel grass is keeping us here! We’re all really anxious to get going.

I’m told a diver has been booked for early morning to get beneath the ship and unclog the cooling intakes before we push off. Hopefully this delay won’t slow down the survey.

We all want to get going and start the sampling! VIDEO: Day of waiting.

orange sunset over water

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At Sea with the Bold: Eel Grass Blues

Two staff members, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, joined nine environmental scientists and the crew of EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold to document science and research in action. Read the blog posts by Margot Perez-Sullivan from our San Francisco office to get an in-depth look at some of what’s involved in protecting our waters.

Day 2 (9.6.08):

It’s about 3 p.m. on Saturday and we haven’t left yet. We are waiting on Chris who is due to arrive any minute now. The engineers on board want to leave as soon as possible because the Eureka harbor is glutted with eel grass which is getting sucked into the ship’s cooling intakes and causing overheating problems for the Bold’s engines and other machinery. Rumors spread like wildfires on ships and I’m hearing that we might need to get a couple divers in the water to unclog our cooling intakes before we leave.

Since it was our first full day on the boat, and only a couple of us have been on Bold surveys before, the Captain and crew had a ship orientation for the swabbies or green horns (aka the newbies). We covered safety procedures mostly– which included the steps for a “man overboard” incident. SCARY! Makes me think of the film “Open Water.” If you haven’t seen it, don’t. It’s a true story. Enough said, but I digress…During the orientation we all filled out emergency contact information and got a tour of areas we will be working in and the ground rules, which include wearing life vests and hard hats while on deck during all survey operations.

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At Sea with the Bold: Waterworld…The Bold Basics

Photo of the EPA Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold

This week we’re focusing on OSV Bold, one of EPA’s research ships. Two usually shore-based EPA staffers, Margot Perez-Sullivan and Margaret Ford, went out on the ship with the researchers a couple of weeks ago with one goal: come back and share what it’s like. They wrote and photographed each day, but had no Internet access at sea, so we’re posting their blog entries this week. And the EPA folks will read and respond to comments all week. We’ll resume our usual blog features next week: Question of the Week, Science Wednesday, and Lina’s multilingual musings. Let us know whether this kind of in-depth reporting floats your boat! — Jeffrey Levy, Greenversations editor.

Day 1 (9.5.08):
I’ve never been on a cruise. Never spent the night on a boat…at best it was a ferry here and there or the random tourist trap night cruise. When I found out I was invited to tag along and document science and research in action on the EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold, I was thrilled. And a little scared.

The EPA uses the OSV Bold to monitor coastal waters throughout the United States. This summer marks the Bold’s maiden voyage to the west coast and this is her last survey before returning to the eastern seaboard. The Bold has an enormous mission and its surveys are carefully planned to maximize monitoring and research year-round. The Bold is 224 feet long, has a full crew of 18 and can accommodate up to 19 scientists on any one survey.

Our west coast scientists are excited to have the research vessel on this side of the country and are taking every opportunity possible to get out to sea and conduct research and sampling surveys on the Pacific.

Photo of research team on dock nex to Bold shipA team of nine scientists descended upon Eureka, California this September and began mobilizing for the upcoming Humboldt Open Ocean Disposal Site (HOODS) survey. HOODS is an ocean disposal site for dredged materials. West coast ports are the gateway to Asia; the Port of Los Angeles alone receives 50% of the nation’s foreign goods. These mega ships need deep ports to come into, which is where dredging and ocean disposal sites come into play. In a nut shell, sites like HOODS receive sands and sediments from local ports that need to move this material to make sure large ships can come into ports. A sediment testing program is in place to make sure that only clean, nontoxic sediments are taken to HOODS.

That said, during this survey, scientists are taking samples to determine the chemistry of HOODS’ sediments to confirm that the sediment testing is accurate, ensuring the sand and sediment material being dumped from the ports meets EPA standards, meaning it’s clean and doesn’t negatively impact the ecosystem near the site. Our scientists are also documenting the presence of benthic organisms (tiny sea critters that live on the ocean floor) in and around the HOODS disposal site. The results will be put together to make sure the HOODS site is being taken care of properly. VIDEO: Scientist Brian Ross discusses the survey plan.

For our marine biologists, the benthic samples will give them a good idea of the health of the ocean floor. There is a direct correlation between the types and health of these tiny ocean floor critters and the overall ocean floor environment.

Photo of bunks on Bold Research VesselWe’ve got nine environmental scientists on this survey with over 5 decades of education combined. Our nine environmental scientists are: Allan Ota, ocean disposal site expert and co-Chief Scientist; Brian Ross, ocean disposal site expert; Amy Wagner, marine biologist; Greg Nagle, chemist; Kevin Ryan, drinking water expert; Tina Yin, watersheds expert; Eugenia McNaughton, Ph.D in algae plankton and quality assurance guru; Carolyn Yale, Ph.D. watershed planner; and Chris McArthur, Chief Scientist from our Atlanta regional office.

Margaret Ford our videographer and I are on board to document the survey.

We arrived this evening and got our room assignments, a short orientation of the survey schedule and a walk around the work areas with Allan. Often, to maximize time at sea, Bold surveys run on 24-hour operations, luckily we are only on 8 hour shifts for this survey. VIDEO: See our arrival.

We are scheduled to push off tomorrow afternoon…

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Playing By The Rules

About the author: Karen Reshkin manages the Web site in EPA’s Chicago office. She’s been there since 1991, and can still remember life before the Internet.

A few weeks ago, I declared that I’d try to diminish my ignorance about some of the things EPA does. Turns out it’s hard to write about things you don’t know! I hope you’ll bear with me if some of this seems a bit elementary. I want to understand better how enforcement works at EPA, so I’ll start with laws and regulations.

EPA is charged with implementing federal environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Statutes like these are passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. They may get amended, as happened with the Clean Water Act in 1972, 1977, 1981…

Those laws look quite, um, legal to me. Why would you need regulations on top of that? Turns out the statutes usually don’t contain the details you’d need to actually enforce them (e.g. allowable concentrations of particular substances in water). EPA is a regulatory agency, which means Congress has authorized it to write regulations that explain how to implement a statute. There’s a whole process for doing that, and it generally includes an opportunity for the public to comment on a proposed rule (regulation).

The Web provides an excellent way for people to get involved in rulemaking. You can view the proposed rule online and provide comments online as well. (More traditional methods like paper mail still work, too.) The collection of documents related to a rulemaking is called a docket and it includes public comments, background reports, Federal Register notices, and other supporting documents. Dockets are accessible to the public and Regulations.gov serves as EPA’s electronic public docket and online comment system.

This didn’t really bring us to enforcement yet, but I’m getting there.

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Back to Green School

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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It’s been almost a month since our kids have been back in school. However, a radio report that I heard on the morning my youngest returned to school is still bugging me. In essence, the report mentioned that most students seem to “lose interest” in academic pursuits in middle school. The way parents, teachers, and the students themselves address the situation during that timeframe basically determines if they obtain a college degree or if they ultimately drop out of school.

I regret not having looked for the referenced study that same day, but I have found another article on why middle school matters that I’m sharing with you. I would like to give some suggestions, and welcome your opinions as well, as to how we can engage students to go on to college. I’m particularly interested in encouraging these young students to pursue careers in the sciences, mathematics and technical fields.

While Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft has been sounding the alarm for years now, I think that we as parents have to take a more proactive approach in encourage students to like science and math from an early age. We don’t have to be scientists ourselves, but we have to make science studies relevant to them. We should help them understand more about our environment. Children of all ages need to know that the simple steps they take at home, at school, at work, and in the community have a greater impact on the environment as a whole.

With this recent interest in having greener schools we can help our students learn more about renewable energy sources, the importance of protecting our water supply, air quality, greenscaping, etc. All these issues are based on science. Love for the environment does not come from a text book. It starts at home, our backyard or local playground. We shouldn’t wait until middle school to encourage them to discover nature. By then it might be too late.

I could go on an on, but I would like to here from you. How can we help our children become better environmental stewards while helping them do better in school?

Retorno a la escuela verde

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.

Hace casi un mes que los niños regresaron a la escuela. Sin embargo, un informe de radio que escuché la mañana en que mi pequeña regresaba a clases se me quedó en la cabeza. En el esencia, el informe mencionaba que la mayoría de los estudiantes parecen “perder interés” en los estudios cuando llegan a la intermedia. La manera en la cual los padres, maestros y los estudiantes mismos abordan la situación durante esos años básicamente determina si ellos obtendrán un diploma universitario o si abandonarán la escuela del todo.

Lamento no haber tomado nota del referido estudio ese mismo día, pero he encontrado otro artículo sobre el por qué la escuela intermedia es importante que comparto con ustedes. Quisiera brindar algunas sugerencias e invito que ustedes contribuyan sus opiniones al respecto sobre cómo podemos lograr un mayor interés de nuestros jóvenes para cursar estudios universitarios. En particular, estoy interesada en alentar a estos jóvenes estudiantes a considerar carreras en las ciencias, matemáticas y profesiones técnicas.

Mientras Bill Gates, el fundador de Microsoft lleva años dando la voz de alarma, pienso que nosotros como padres debemos adoptar un enfoque más proactivo por alentar a los estudiantes a interesarse por las ciencias y matemáticas a temprana edad. Nosotros no tenemos que ser científicos de profesión, pero sí debemos hacer los estudios de ciencia más relevantes para los jóvenes. Debemos ayudarles a entender más sobre nuestro medio ambiente. Los niños de todas las edades deben saber que los pasos sencillos que toman en el hogar, la escuela, el lugar de trabajo y en la comunidad tienen un gran impacto en el medio ambiente como tal.

Con este creciente interés en tener escuelas más “verdes” podemos ayudar a nuestros hijos a aprender más sobre las fuentes de energía renovables, la importancia de proteger nuestra suministro de agua potable, la calidad del aire, y la jardinería verde, etc. Todos estos asuntos están basados en ciencia. El amor por el medio ambiente no proviene de un libro de texto. Comienza en el hogar, [http://www.epa.gov/epahome/home.htm] en el patrio, en el parque local. No tenemos que esperar a la escuela intermedia para alentarlos a que descubran la naturaleza. Para esa fecha, podría ser demasiado tarde.

Podría continuar argumentando sobre el tema, pero quiero escuchar su opinión. ¿Cómo podemos ayudar a nuestros hijos a ser mejores guardianes del medio ambiente mientras les ayudamos a ser exitosos en sus estudios? Sus comentarios son bienvenidos.

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: Tweet! Tweet! Chirping from the Field.

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

About the Author: Melissa-Anley Mills is the news director for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She joined the Agency in 1998 as a National Urban Fellow.

Usually I sit in a Dilbert-style cube-farm, a warm, calm, enveloping sea of beige, beige, and more beige. So it was a rare and truly delicious treat to be invited to tag along on a field visit. The mission was simple: help Dr. Montira Pongsiri communicate her biodiversity research examining the link between biodiversity, the abundance and composition of animals, and Lyme Disease risk. To do this, my colleague, Aaron Ferster, (who previously blogged about our trip) and I had to see the researchers in action. We wanted to bring this experience to others via the web, so we loaded up on the technologies that would help us do that, a blackberry for “microblogging” (or “tweeting” on Twitter), and still and video cameras.

This turned into an experiment for the communication crew – the first time someone had microblogged live to the EPA’s Twitter account from the field. The first challenge we encountered was, of course, technical: spotty cell phone service. Recording the time and saving tweets in draft mode until reaching cell coverage solved that. But the real challenge was keeping the tweets short and sweet. Twitter has a limit of 140 characters (including spaces!) for posts. But there was so much to say about what we were seeing: white-footed mice, voles, baby opossums, catbirds, warblers, thrushes and ticks, oh my!

So there we were in the forest, watching and learning, tapping away on the blackberry, capturing video and photos, and lending a hand to the researchers. You can see the fruit of this labor on EPA’s biodiversity web page. Here you can read the tweets, and see the slideshows. Soon we’ll post video clips, so stay tuned.

Let us know what you think, suggestions are welcomed. What you would like to see in future “Field Notes” or visits with researchers?

Hopefully, through the images you’ll get a taste of this exciting research. Maybe it will encourage you to consider an environmental career as a field researcher, maybe a science teacher could use this as a teaching module, but I hope one thing is clear to see, the passion and devotion that these researchers have to gather the scientific data necessary to protect the environment and public health

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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Round Up the Dogs and Ponies, It’s Conference Season!

About the author: John DeLashmit began his EPA career over twenty years ago in Chicago. He spent many years working in EPA’s hazardous waste cleanup programs, and now serves as Chief of the Water Quality Management Branch in EPA’s Kansas City office.

Regional personnel are frequently asked to speak at conferences and meetings to supply information on the latest developments in the Region and Headquarters. The folks want a heads up on what’s coming next in our varied programs, particularly EPA’s “hottest” issues.

We accept as many invitations to present information as our resources allow. We recognize a prime opportunity to meet/converse with the folks that are affected by our statutes, policies, and regulations…our stakeholders. Remember, these stakeholders actually want to hear what we have to say. It’s not an ambush…they’ll gather, of their own free will, in the meeting room or auditorium to listen to us. Many of them have paid registration fees to the organizations hosting the meeting. The pressure to provide something useful is intense!

Our interaction with stakeholders reminds us of our accountability, highlights the tremendous ramifications of our actions, and underscores the fact that we have a huge financial and quality-of-life impact.

Before attending a stakeholder gathering I give my staff some pointers:

  1. Show up early for the event; we’re much more effective if we get a chance to meet members of the audience one-on-one before we take the podium;
  2. Talk to people… conversation will reveal (hopefully) that we’re human beings, not Code of Federal Regulation-quoting robots lacking common sense;
  3. Don’t be a glutton at the table of free coffee and pastries… nothing diminishes credibility like frosting fragments stuck in the corners of your mouth or a coffee stain racing stripe down the front of your shirt;
  4. Make sure to take a quick look around for boxes of rotten tomatoes and rocks, which can be used to provide emphatic negative feedback, and;
  5. Just in case things go in the wrong direction, wear shoes you can run in…you don’t see Olympic sprinters in wing tips, do you?

I’m presenting at one of these gatherings in a couple of days. I’ll be in a room with a couple hundred people, many of them listening raptly to me…I hope. I must admit that I’ve been a little worried since I had The Nightmare. When The Nightmare begins, I’ve just made a dramatic point, pausing in my presentation to look out at the room. Looking up, I see a room of bowed heads. I suddenly realize that they’re not saying an early grace for that rubber chicken lunch; they’re staring down into their laps at their Blackberries! Just before I wake, I realize that I’ve lost my audience to…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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Question of the Week: Do you compost yard waste 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.

Fall is upon us: time to take out those rakes! As you prepare for cooler temperatures, have you thought about what to do with all those leaves, old plants, and other debris?

Do you compost yard waste and why?.

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.

El otoño se avecina. ¡Ha llegado el momento de sacar los rastrillos! A medida que se prepara para las temperaturas más frescas, ¿ha pensado en qué hacer con la hojarasca, las plantas viejas y otros escombros del jardín?

¿Usted hace compostaje 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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Fall Reading List

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started in 1998. He serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

I’ll admit it; I am a voracious reader of non-fiction. Mostly I’m a fan of history but I do find time to fit in some reading that relates in some way shape or form to my profession. Instead of frittering more time away on the internet consider one of my favorite tomes from the past summer. Also think about checking them out from your local library…just another way to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn – A witty take on everything related to Americans’ manic approach to that patch of green outside our front door. Required reading for anyone who mows in shorts and black dress socks like I do.

Rubbish: The Archeology of Garbage – Ever wonder what happens to garbage once it goes into a landfill? Join teams from the University of Arizona as they don their Indiana Jones Cap and comb through odoriferous treasure troves. This book made me happy that we have a shredder.

The Prize – If you are a history buff, this is a fascinating read (it won a Pulitzer!). At well over 900 pages, it chronicles the history of our most prolific hydrocarbon from the original wildcatter well, through Spindletop, Ida Tarbell, Standard Oil, and World War II.

The Magic School Bus Gets Cleaned Up – Okay, a bit of a shameless propaganda for diesel retrofits from EPA, but hey I really did read this to my sons a couple times. And this title gets bonus points since it is available for FREE from EPA.

Why not share your Greenversations-related reading list in a comment below. I am always on the lookout for a good book to read.

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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One Down, Three To Go

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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Beyond Translation Conference Banner“…Regardless of our heritage, we all have the same interest in a clean, healthy environment. Hispanics, with their deep sense of family and community, can help EPA spread the ethic of environmental stewardship to all segments of our society.” – EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson

Hard work pays off! We successfully hosted our first National Beyond Translation Forum on September 15th. Participation surpassed our expectations. Feedback from the attendees has been very positive.

This event was the first Beyond Translation Forum held at the national level in Washington, DC as a result of the successful initiative originated by employees in Dallas three years ago. EPA Employees in partnership with Hispanic organizations and state representatives came together for this important event.

As the theme of the conference suggests, “EPA and the Hispanic Community: Partnering, Engaging, and Building Awareness,” we’ve learned that our work has just begun. It didn’t end with the event last Monday. Far from it. Currently, we are identifying opportunities in which stakeholders will be able to work together. We plan to collaborate in order to increase environmental awareness on environmental health issues of interest to the Hispanic community as well as potential economic opportunities for Hispanic small business and organizations to work with the Agency.

After the presentations, it was very exciting to see many of the stakeholders come to me and other conference speakers to discuss ways in which we can join forces to build on the momentum generated by this important event. As administrator Stephen L. Johnson said in his speech at the BT Forum in Washington, DC this week, “with the help of the Hispanic community, we will continue our environmental successes.”

The next forum will be held on October 1st at EPA Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. At the EPA-RTP campus, we will be focusing on children’s environmental health.

Once again, thanks to the team members from the EPA Office of Small Business Programs, Office of Cooperative Environmental Management, our Office of Civil Rights, the staff from our program and regional offices, as well as many of the speakers from HHS, NASA, LULAC, AFOP, Hispanic College Fund, LCLAA, and others who gave their all for this event. It was a true labor of love.

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.

Beyond Translation Conference banner“…Independientmente de nuestro patrimonio cultural, todos tenemos el mismo interés en un medio ambiente limpio y saludable. Los hispanos con su profundo sentir de familia y comunidad pueden ayudar a EPA a difundir los valores de protección medioambiental a todos los segmentos de nuestra sociedad”. – Administrador de EPA Stephen L. Johnson

¡La ardua labor tiene recompensas! Auspiciamos exitosamente nuestro foro llamado “Más allá de las traducciones” el 15 de septiembre. La participación sobrepasó las expectativas y las reacciones han sido muy positivas.

Este evento fue el primer foro celebrado a nivel nacional en Washington, DC como resultado de una exitosa iniciativa originada por empleados en Dallas, Texas hace tres años atrás. Empleados de EPA en asociación con organizaciones y representantes estatales hispanos se unieron para este importante evento.

Como sugiere el título, “EPA y la comunidad hispana: Creando conciencia mediante colaboración y diálogo”, vemos que nuestra labor tan sólo ha comenzado. No culminó con el evento del pasado lunes. Al contrario, ahora estamos identificando oportunidades mediante el cual las partes interesadas empezarán a trabajar juntas. Esperamos colaborar a fin de fomentar la concienciación medioambiental sobre asuntos de salud ambiental que sean de interés a la comunidad hispana así como potenciales oportunidades económicas para pequeños negocios y organizaciones hispanas que quieren trabajar con la agencia.

Después de las presentaciones, fue excitante ver a muchos participantes acercarse a nosotros para discutir maneras en que podemos aunar fuerzas para seguir el ímpetu generado por este importante evento. Como el administrador Stephen L. Johnson declaró en su discurso en este Foro de Más allá de las traducciones en Washington, DC esta semana, “con la ayuda de la comunidad hispana, continuaremos nuestros éxitos ambientales”.

El próximo foro se celebrará el primero de octubre en las Oficinas del Triángulo de Investigaciones de EPA en Carolina del Norte. Allí nos enfocaremos en la salud ambiental infantil.

Nuevamente, mil gracias al equipo de EPA de la Oficina de Pequeños Negocios, la Oficina de Gestión Cooperativa Ambienta, nuestra Oficina de Derechos Civiles, el personal de nuestras oficinas programáticas y regionales, así como a los oradores de agencias federales y organizaciones como HHS, NASA, LULAC, AFOP, el Hispanic College Fund, LCLAA, y otros que dieron su máximo por este evento. Realmente fue una labor encomiable.

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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