Monthly Archives: September 2008

Science Wednesday: Science, the Environment & Nanotechnology

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

About the author: Nora Savage is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Her focus areas include nanotechnology, pollution prevention, and life cycle approaches for emerging technologies.

I became interested in science after learning about the scientific method: observe, develop a hypothesis, and test—if it holds you have a theory! If not, alter the hypothesis and try again. I used this process when I was a kid to discover that addressing an envelope backwards would get my letter delivered without a stamp. Woodsy Owl (‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’) showed me the importance of protecting the environment and reducing pollution. The EPA merged these two interests with nanotechnology and a career was born!

Photo of five testubes, each glowing a different bright color.Nanocrystals can have different colors depending on their size. Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, observe and control at the atomic and sub-atomic level, where new material properties arise that are unlike those of the same material at a larger size. Take gold, for example. The kind used in jewelry is yellow, not very reactive, and melts at 1200°C. At about three nanometers gold is red, very reactive, and melts at 200°C.

How is this related to the environment? First, nanotechnologies can help protect the environment. New nano-compounds and engineered nano-materials can quickly and inexpensively detect and remove pollutants, even very small amounts located in difficult-to-access areas. Utilizing nanotechnology can lead to more efficient manufacturing processes, cutting down on toxic materials used.

We are also aware of the potential for unintended consequences. For example, our use of certain chlorinated compounds to improve aerosol dispersions harmed the ozone layer.

My job is to help tap the potential benefits of nanotechnology while developing a better understanding of the potential trouble they might also bring, and consequently eliminating or minimizing it.

How? By looking at the “life cycles” of new materials and products. By that I mean considering the product from a holistic perspective, including the acquisition of raw material, its manufacture, its use, and eventually its disposal or recycling. My goal is to advance the science that helps determine the exposure potential at each stage, assessing potential hazards, and developing ways to eliminate or reduce them.

Nano Sites:
National Nanotechnology Initiative
The Adventures of Nano

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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Performance Matters

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”– Benjamin Franklin

Last fall, Benjamin Franklin spent a few minutes with EPA and State environmental leaders at a meeting in Philadelphia (No Really!) Ben related how Philadelphia addressed some of the environmental challenges it confronted during his day and noted a number of improvements (see the video to the left, or read the transcript below). At EPA, we also want to know how we’re doing in addressing some of today’s challenges.

The EPAStat Quarterly Report (EQR) (formerly known as the Quarterly Management Report) provides part of the answer. Every few months – quarterly, not surprisingly – EPA produces a report characterizing how we’re progressing on selected performance measures. The report includes both environmental measures and internal management benchmarks. For example, measures about how we’re working with our partners and stakeholders to improve air and water quality and other measures about how we’re running the agency.

OK…so how are we doing? This quarter’s report indicates two important things. First, from a national perspective we’re on track to meet our goals for the fiscal year. Second, a few results really stood out – in a good way and a few in a not-so-good way. Overall, while performance in many areas is roughly the same as it was last year, during this past quarter EPA and its partners have made a number of impressive gains. We have improved air quality, improved water quality and increased land restoration. In particular, the SmartWay program continues to bring in new partners to reduce transportation-related emissions, which results in measurable air quality and/or greenhouse gas improvements and cost savings (Box 30). On the not-so-good front, there are also a few areas where performance is lagging, but we anticipate significant gains during the fourth quarter, which will enable us to meet our targets in areas such as increasing the number of homes along the Mexico border with improved drinking water services (Box 28) and the completion of assessments of high and moderate production chemicals (Box 42).

Also note that this quarter’s report — in keeping with Ben’s advice about continual growth and progress — reflects a couple changes. First, the report has a new name, EPAStat Quarterly Report. The new title more accurately places this report in the ‘context’ of EPA’s overall performance management activities and EPAStat program (our internal performance management program). Second, we’ve improved the web navigation of the report. The new approach, we think, helps readers get to the data they want more quickly.

So if we could talk with Ben …we’d tell him that we continue to grow and progress. We hope you agree. In any case, we’re trying out some new ideas and we hope that you’ll let us know your ideas for ways to keep improving. Please use the “feedback” link on the webpage and let us know what you think!

See you next quarter,

EPAStat Quarterly Report Team

Transcript of Ben Franklin’s remarks shown in the video above
Ben Franklin: But the thing was, we had some real problems in the early days. Pollution was our biggest problem here in Philadelphia. The wells and the privy pits were too close together. You didn’t dare drink the water in Philadelphia. The river was so badly polluted that when we wanted to cut ice we had to cut it from the school hill and bring it across town. Anything beyond 6th or 7th Street was out in the country.

We had a terrible problem with the air. Our city was heated with wood fires for the most part. During the winter you could barely breathe, but even during the warmer months, we were still cooking with those fires. It was a dusty, dirty city, because the streets were not paved. You couldn’t breathe. Most of the people in Philadelphia slept sitting up because the air quality was so bad that you couldn’t breathe if you were lying down.

Now my friends, I tell you that little story because, my friends, you are the drivers. You need to know the best way to do things, the safest places, the cleanest places, because you’re in charge of it. If we are not creative, if we are not innovative, if we are not working towards solutions, we are going to be left behind as all of the new things come on and as they happen. And your agency is responsible for an awful lot. You basically are responsible for the quality of life in this nation.

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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Canvas Bags Go Mainstream

About the author: Jeff Maurer manages Web content and does communications work for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. He has been with EPA since 2005

We had a question of the week a little while ago about what type of bags people use at the grocery store. There were a lot of interesting answers, and a lot of creative ideas about how to reuse plastic grocery bags (dog owners, for obvious reasons, seem to be enthusiastic re-users of plastic bags). Our intern counted up the comments responding to the grocery bag question of the week, and posted the final numbers in a followup. Now, I realize that readers of this blog aren’t a random sample of the population, but I think we can still conclude: canvas grocery bags have gone mainstream.

This is great news. We’ve recommended reusable grocery bags on our list of environmental shopping tips for years. I started using canvas bags a couple years ago, and they’re becoming ever more common at my grocery store. For those of you who haven’t yet made the switch, let me share a few things about canvas bags that you might want to know:

Canvas bags hold a lot of stuff. As many of the commenters in the Q&A noted, canvas bags are sturdier than paper bags and hold more than plastic. As a member of a warehouse shopping club, this is a priority for me: a 10-pound tub of gummi bears will decimate your average paper or plastic bag. My canvas bags have a long strap that you can throw over your shoulder, and I’ve also got an insulated one that helps keep cold things cold.

The people working at the store are used to canvas bags. There was a time, long ago, when presenting a bagger with your own bag would unleash utter confusion. When you did manage to explain what you were doing and why, you were viewed as some sort of fringe naturalist, the type of person who lives in a cabin with no plumbing and makes their own clothes out of hemp. Those days are over; plop your canvas bags next to the register nowadays, and everyone knows what to do. Also – and this is in response to something my wife once wondered out loud – it is okay to use bags bearing a certain store’s logo at another store. The 16-year-old kid bagging groceries isn’t getting paid enough to bag groceries AND be the brand identity police.

Canvas bags save money. More and more places are charging a small fee for plastic bags. A couple of stores do it, and a few cities are considering it as well. All of Ireland does it. The charge isn’t much, but neither is a canvas bag: I bought mine for a dollar each. Considering that I’ll probably use them for several decades, it won’t take me long to recoup that investment.

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 Use: Paper, Plastic, or Reusable Bags?

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

I never really thought about what bags I use when I go to the grocery store. I usually tend to get plastic, because I feel I can reuse a plastic bag over and over again for taking out the trash, bringing in lunch, picking up the dog’s mess, etc.

Reusable 110, Plastic 22, Paper 21I collected data from the July 21st Question of the Week, “What do you use: Paper, Plastic, or Reusable bags?” Among people who use paper or plastic, the answer came down to be pretty even. However, I was very surprised to see that almost all of the commenters said that they use reusable bags. The reason why most people use reusable bags is because they feel as if those bags are sturdier and they hold more. I must say that when that I am in the grocery store, I have not once seen a person with a reusable bag!

Thank you for taking your time in responding to “What do you use: Paper, Plastic, or Reusable bags?”

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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Beyond Translation Forum Journal

Last week, Lina Younes blogged about the Beyond Translation Forum series. Today is the National Forum in Washington, DC. Various people will send brief updates during the day, and we’ll update this post though the day.

Lina Younes, Multilingual Communications Task Force Chair, 11:40 am: It’s been only two hours and we’re already producing results. Have been able to make some good contacts and identify potential partnerships. Many local community and state representatives are very interested in continuing the dialogue in favor of environmental protection. Go team!

Marcus Peacock, Deputy Administrator, 12:05 pm: It’s so satisfying seeing an initiative grow from an idea two years ago to the flourishing partnerships we have today. And it is just going to keep rolling along. I expect our existing collaborations will get stronger and we’ll continue to meet new partners. We’ve gone from acorn to sapling with a mighty oak in our future.

Bill Briggs, Director of Public Outreach, 12:30 pm: Sometimes its hard to tell how an event is going when you and your team are on the line for its success. From all the information and input I am gathering, the forum participants are glad this is happening and are helping to achieve the forum’s goals by networking and engaging close collaboration. Someone mentioned to me that they want to have a forum in almost every region. I will be fine for successfully finishing the first national forum before taking on bigger projects.

Bill Briggs, Director of Public Outreach, 1:40 pm: We have begun the real work of the forum: the breakout sessions. Here is where the experts have a dialogue with the stakeholders on how to “go green”, get a contract with EPA and expand the number of college students choosing careers in environmental science and related fields.

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

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Question of the Week: What did you or your school do to be greener this year?

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.

Classroom supplies, school buses, building maintenance, indoor air quality, books and pencils – everything about a school can affect the environment or the people who spend time in school. But there are lots of new ways that schools can be greener such as “clean diesel” buses, recycling, or safer chemicals in classrooms.

What did you or your school do to be greener this year?

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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.

Los artículos escolares, autobuses escolares, el mantenimiento de edificios, la calidad del aire interior, libros y lápices–todo lo relacionado con la escuela pueden afectar el medio ambiente o las personas que pasan el tiempo en el colegio. No obstante, hay muchas nuevas maneras en las cuales los colegios pueden ser más verdes sean los autobuses de”diesel limpio, el reciclaje,  o sustancias químicas más seguras en los salones de clase.

¿Qué hizo usted o su escuela para ser más verde este año?

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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Podcasting: Teamwork Makes It Less Difficult Than We Thought It Would Be

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

With decades of EPA service under my belt, I’ve been a part of, and sometimes led, dozens of workgroups aimed at improving how EPA does business. Almost all bore fruit—some with longer shelf-life than others—and it’s easy for me to say that EPA is a good place to raise and lend a hand.

Our initial experience this summer producing the Mid-Atlantic region’s series of podcasts shows what a talented group can do, from scratch and on a shoestring budget. We carefully chose the name “Environment Matters” for our podcast series, knowing that “matters” is both a noun and a verb: we’re providing diverse information about the environment and, we hope in an interesting way, convincing people that what they do everyday makes a difference.

What’s a podcast? Webcontent.gov says it’s “a way of publishing MP3 audio files on the web so they can be downloaded onto computers or portable listening devices, such as iPods …. ” (Please note that they can be video, too.) A best practice to grow an audience is to publish the podcasts regularly. We started on July 25 about saving gasoline, followed on successive Fridays with a unique environmental program for students, water quality monitoring at beaches, a baseball stadium built on a brownfields site, and back-to-school advice for the green-minded. We expect to post two or three a month, and so far there’s been no shortage of topic ideas (and if there’s a little healthy competition among our environmental programs to feature their topics, good).

Back to the collaboration that’s made our quick learning possible. I know, there’s an element of show biz that must be at work here. But “Star Wars” this ain’t, so that intriguing factor can’t explain the enthusiasm and creativity that a dozen people have brought to this environmental education project. The jobs and roles of our podcast team reveal the skills needed to launch “Environment Matters”: senior management for the go-ahead and (surprisingly modest) budget; managers in public affairs and IT to energize and select people for each podcast; communications experts to write scripts, host the podcasts, and coach subject expert speakers; web developers to design and feed our multimedia website; transcribers who make the content accessible to deaf people; and one aspiring movie director with an IT day job; he and his boss are audio editing mavens. (You don’t know your colleagues’ hidden talents until you ask.) And help from our headquarters gave us some needed encouragement. Most of us have known each other for years, but our podcasting has quickly boosted our teamness. Do I sound a bit gushy, after all these years?

Two requests of you: ideas for making better podcasts, and topics you’d like us to cover.

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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Reducing our Carbon Footprint

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

Last year I was having a conversation with former Region 2 Deputy Administrator Kathleen C. Callahan about recycling. I told her about the many things we were doing in our household of six to reduce our carbon footprint and recycle as much as 60% of our waste. She encouraged me to share the experience. I forgot about her suggestion, until a few weeks ago when I had to prepare a presentation on the issue for an EPA outreach event.

For most people “carbon footprint” is still an unfamiliar term. During this specific presentation, I wanted to engage the public in seeking solutions. To explain things in laymen terms, I revisited my conversation with Kathy and incorporated many of the things we are already doing at home. Many of these are outlined in EPA’s Climate Change page.

For starters, we bought and remodeled an old house in Puerto Rico. We sought to take advantage of nature by installing windows and doors that let light and air in. Our garage door is perforated allowing cross ventilation and light inside the house while providing us with security and privacy. Thus, we rarely have to use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) inside the house during the day. Also, all of our appliances acquired or replaced since 2003 are Energy Star. Since our weather is sunny most of the year, I have two clotheslines to air-dry our clothes. This is not an easy task, but the reduction in our greenhouse gases emissions and energy bill is worth the effort.

Around the house, strategic planting of native and tropical species reduce the amount of heat from direct sunlight and provides us with a lush backyard. A special insulating treatment in our concrete ceiling reduces the temperature during very hot days and ceiling fans keep the house cool even during 95F degree temperature. In our bathrooms, efficient showerheads help us save water thus reducing our carbon load.

Our shopping habits have changed dramatically in the last three years helping us recycle and compost more. We try to buy most of our fruits and vegetables from local farm stands and anything else has to come in a recyclable package.

Even though we still have a long way to go to further reduce our carbon load, please share with us the innovative and creative ways you have minimized your carbon footprint.

Reduciendo nuestra huella de carbono

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.

El año pasado conversaba sobre reciclaje y reducción de desperdicios con Kathleen C. Callahan, ex sub-administradora de la Región 2, cuando me sugirió plasmar por escrito las medidas que tomábamos en nuestro hogar de 6 para reducir nuestra huella ecológica y reciclar hasta un 60%. Olvidé la recomendación de Kathy hasta hace semanas atrás cuando la agencia fue invitada a participar en un evento masivo y me asignaron una presentación sobre la huella de carbón para educar a los asistentes al evento sobre el tema.

Aunque para muchas personas el término “huella de carbón” es desconocido, tenía como meta hacer una presentación sencilla y en la que pudiese involucrar al público en la búsqueda de soluciones. Al preparar la presentación recordé todo lo discutido con Kathy e incorporé muchas de las cosas que hacemos en nuestro hogar. La mayoría de las medidas tomadas en nuestra casa están sugeridas en la página electrónica de la EPA sobre cambio climático.

Cuando comenzamos la búsqueda de una residencia decidimos que ésta fuese vieja para salvar el preciado espacio verde de nuestra isla. Remodelamos de acuerdo a la ventilación cruzada de la residencia y aprovechamos la abundante luz al instalar ventanas y puertas, incluyendo una puerta perforada de garaje, que permitieran el paso de la brisa y evitaran el encendido diurno de nuestras bombillas compactas fluorescentes. Además todos nuestros enseres adquiridos y/o reemplazados a partir del 2003 son Energy Star. Ya que nuestro clima tropical es soleado gran parte del año solemos tender la ropa al aire libre, lo cual no sólo ahorra energía, pero reduce las emisiones de gases de invernadero.

Alrededor de la casa, la siembra estratégica de árboles nativos y especies tropicales reduce la cantidad de sol directo que recibe esta además de brindarnos un patio fresco y verde. En cuanto al techo de cemento, éste fue insulado con un tratamiento especial que reduce la temperatura aún en el día más caluroso al igual que los ocho abanicos de techo instalados en los cuartos y áreas comunes de la casa. Adicionalmente, instalamos duchas eficientes en los baños para ayudarnos a ahorrar agua y reducir nuestra huella de carbón.

Por último, y no menos importante, hemos cambiado drásticamente nuestros hábitos de consumo en los últimos tres años. Tratamos de comprar menos alimentos enlatados y adquirir nuestras frutas y vegetales de vendedores independientes o que tengan empaque mínimo. El resto de nuestras compras tiene que estar empacadas en envases reciclables y no patrocinamos el uso de bolsas plásticas. Ahora reciclamos más y hacemos composta para abonar nuestras plantas con los desperdicios orgánicos.

Aunque todavía nos quedan muchas cosas por hacer para reducir nuestro impacto ecológico, ¿me encantaría conocer qué medidas creativas e innovadoras ha tomado usted para minimizar su huella de carbón?

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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Working Together for a Healthy Environment

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

As Hispanic Heritage Month fast approaches, many government agencies, schools, and community based organizations across the nation are getting ready to celebrate the culture and traditions of our fellow citizens who trace their roots to the Iberian Peninsula, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas.

Here, at EPA, we have started our own Hispanic outreach tradition called Beyond Translation. This is an initiative that originated in EPA’s Regional Office in Dallas and has gained momentum. The Beyond Translation Forum provides a framework by which EPA and the Hispanic community can engage in a fruitful dialogue as partners in environmental stewardship. Given the growth of the Hispanic population across the country, the Agency is working to improve access of environmental and public health information, both in English and Spanish, in a manner that is relevant to these diverse communities. These forums provide a venue for the Agency and Hispanics to work together to advance the Agency’s mission. The meetings include workshops on promoting higher education and careers in the environmental sciences, environmental health issues, and economic opportunities that exist for working with EPA.

Cultivating community involvement is one of the key elements EPA uses to engage the general public in the Agency’s decision-making process. We seek to further cultivate Hispanic community involvement during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond. During the next six weeks, we are going to be hosting four Hispanic stakeholder forums throughout the nation starting with the first National Beyond Translation Forum in Washington, DC on September 15th, followed by regional ones in the EPA Research Triangle Park campus on October 1st, McAllen, Texas on October 16 and in Philadelphia on October 30th. We must note that the Philadelphia event also seeks active participation of Asian-American and Hispanic community leaders in the EPA Region 3 area.

Regardless of cultural heritage, all of us at EPA understand that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility. We hope you can join us at a Beyond Translation Forum near you.

Trabajando juntos para un ambiente saludable

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.

A medida que nos acercamos al Mes de la Hispanidad, muchas agencias gubernamentales, escuelas, y organizaciones comunitarias se están preparando para celebrar la cultura y tradiciones de nuestros conciudadanos cuyos antepasados trazan sus raíces a la península ibérica, México, y las naciones hispanoparlantes de las Américas.

Aquí en la EPA, hemos comenzado nuestra propia tradición de alcance público a la comunidad hispana conocida como “Más allá de las traducciones”. Esta iniciativa que se originó en la oficina regional de EPA en Dallas está tomando auge. El Foro “Más allá de las traducciones” brinda un marco mediante el cual EPA y la comunidad hispana pueden sostener un diálogo fructífero como socios en la protección medioambiental. Dado el crecimiento de la población hispana a nivel nacional, la Agencia está trabajando para mejorar el acceso a la información ambiental y de salud pública, tanto en inglés como en español, en una manera que sea relevante a estas comunidades diversas. Estos foros brindan un vehículo mediante el cual la Agencia y los hispanos puedan trabajar juntos para avanzar la misión de la Agencia. Estas reuniones incluyen talleres para promover la educación avanzada y las carreras profesionales en las ciencias ambientales, asuntos de salud ambiental y oportunidades económicas que existen para trabajar con EPA.

El cultivar la participación comunitaria es uno de los elementos claves de EPA de involucrar al público en general en el proceso de toma de decisiones de la Agencia. Buscamos fomentar una mayor participación de la comunidad hispana durante el Mes de la Hispanidad y todo el año. Durante las próximas seis semanas, estaremos auspiciando cuatro foros hispanos en diferentes ciudades. El primero Foro Nacional Más Allá de las Traducciones (Beyond Translation) se efectuará en Washington, DC el 15 de septiembre seguido por otros regionales en el campus de EPA Research Triangle Park en Carolina del Norte el primero de octubre, en McAllen, Texas el 16 de octubre y en Filadelphia el 30 de octubre. Cabe señalar que en Filadelfia también estamos buscando la participación activa de líderes de las comunidades asiática e hispana en el área de Región 3 de EPA.

Independientemente de nuestro patrimonio cultural, EPA entendemos que la responsabilidad ambiental es responsabilidad de todos. Esperamos verle en uno de los foros de “Más allá de las traducciones” que se llevará a cabo cerca de usted.


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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September 11

About the author: Marcus Peacock is the Deputy Administrator of EPA.

In 1940 Nazi Germany was consuming Europe. The United States was doing its best to stay neutral. In fact, it was illegal for a US citizen to join a warring power’s military or even ‘hire someone for the purpose of traveling outside the United States to enlist in a foreign country’s military.’ The penalty for doing so was a $10,000 fine and five-year jail sentence.

Despite this, dozens and dozens of US citizens tried to leave the country and join the fight against the Nazis. They included Billy Fiske, who a few years before, at age 16, was the youngest American to ever win an Olympic gold medal. They included a budding poet, John Magee, Jr., who gave up a full scholarship to Yale to fly for the Royal Air Force (see poem below).

And then there was Art Donahue. Art grew up on a farm in Minnesota and at age 19 became the youngest qualified commercial pilot in the state. War broke out when he was 27. The bumper corn crop that year didn’t obscure his view of what was going on. He said, “I felt that this was America’s war as much as England’s and France’s, because America was part of the world which Hitler and his minions were so plainly out to conquer.” In July of 1940 Art wangled his way to London believing it was his mission to defeat what he called barbarism. He saw first hand the courage and composure of the English people. “To fight side by side with these people would be the greatest of privileges,” he said.

Over the next two years Donahue fought all over the world. He flew in England, the Mediterranean, and Singapore. He was shot down twice and horribly burned. Yet he returned to fight again. On September 11, 1942 he went out on a mission over Ostend, and didn’t return. His body was never recovered.

High Flight
by John Magee, Jr
killed December 11, 1941

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

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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