Monthly Archives: November 2008

We’ll see you in 2012!

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.

image of cows walking in toward a van driving through a fieldThe silly season is finally over for my staff. No more traveling to small towns off the beaten path. No more chatting with folks at the grain elevator or eating chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy. No more coaxing the locals (of the four hoof variety) to shift their stance to the right or to the left. We won’t be back this way for another 4 years.

No I’m not talking about the election; I’m talking about our work supporting the National Rivers and Streams Survey (NRSA). This survey helps citizens and governments measure the health of our waters, take actions to prevent pollution, and evaluate the effectiveness of protection and restoration efforts.

Next year Region 7 will be sampling larger rivers and then take a year off as the survey moves to coastal waters. We won’t see our favorite small streams until we do some recon in 2012 in preparation for visiting them again the following year. I would like to say a special thanks to all of those scientists across the country that helped to “GET OUT THE BOAT,” as part of this survey.

imaage of two men walking in stream with cows watching them from the bankA bit of parting wisdom for all of you future volunteers… I guarantee you getting a cow to change its position is tougher than getting a person. Just look at how distrustful these cows were of Shawn and Bray. They just wanted them to MOOOOOOOve on. Send all requests about the NRSA to riversurvey-ow@epa.gov. Send all complaints about bad puns to robichaud.jeffery@epa.gov.

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: Into the Woods, Exploring Mercury in Northeastern Forests

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

About the author: Jason Townsend is a Ph.D. student in Conservation Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. His work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Scientists have known for some time that mercury is accumulating in America’s waterways and the ocean. Emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute significant amounts of mercury to the atmosphere. Mercury-laden precipitation is especially severe in parts of the northeastern U.S. directly in the line of prevailing winds from Midwestern, coal-powered power plants.

Accumulation of this potent neuro-toxin poses a threat to wildlife and people through consumption of contaminated fish.

We do not know, however, the extent to which mercury is accumulating in non-aquatic environments—forested areas of the Northeast, for example. It is possible that mercury-laden precipitation is accumulating in leaves, soils, and leaf-litter on the forest floor. This could lead to contamination of land-bound wildlife with unknown effects on their reproduction.

Accumulation of mercury in forested areas might also contribute to waterways for many years to come because the mercury might slowly run off the land and leach into watersheds.

My study is designed to compare mercury accumulation in several forest types in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The study takes place in the heavily forested Ashokan Reservoir watershed, an area that provides drinking water to approximately nine million people in and around New York City.

Image of man entering data into laptop in the woodsI am currently collecting samples of soils, leaves, leaf litter, insects that live in the leaf litter, salamanders that eat the insects of the leaf litter, and blood samples from birds that consume both insects and salamanders. In this way I will be able to identify the amount of “biomagnification” in the forest – the extent to which any mercury that is deposited by rainfall is increasingly concentrated in organisms higher and higher up the food chain. The study takes place at multiple elevations, from the banks of the Ashokan Reservoir at 600’ elevation to the headwater streams at the top of the Catskill’s highest peaks at over 4000 feet.

This information will be critical for identifying “biological hotspots” – areas that exceed the mercury levels deemed safe for human and wildlife populations. It will also provide monitoring information to help regulators determine the magnitude of mercury emissions reductions that will be necessary in the coming decades.

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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More Holiday Cheer, Less Holiday Waste

About the author: Felicia Chou is a Communications Specialist in EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. She recently graduated from Syracuse University with a M.S in Media Management.

This is always a crazy time of year. In my family, the holidays are all about large quantities: lots of food, lots of gifts, and lots and lots of relatives. This year, I’m going to simplify one part of the holiday experience (and help the environment at the same time) by reducing the amount of material that gets thrown out after the holidays. There are a lot of things you can do to reduce waste around the holidays – here are a few:

Find the greenest tree. You can save a tree (and reduce greenhouse gas emissions) by buying a potted tree that you can plant after the holidays instead of cutting a tree down. If you do decide to dispose of your tree, look for ways to recycle it instead of sending it to a landfill; your community solid waste department may collect the trees for mulching.

Send personal, paperless greetings. Save paper by creating your own greeting cards from scrap paper – this can be a fun family project or a way to give your cards a personal touch. You can also skip the paper altogether and e-mail an electronic card. If you do plan to buy cards, look for ones containing a high percentage of recycled content.

Reuse wrapping paper. Not every piece of wrapping paper gets ripped to shreds; some can be saved and used again next year, which saves money and trees. You can also “wrap” gifts in reusable gift bags instead of wrapping paper. And if you want to avoid wrapping paper altogether, give gifts that need little or no packaging, such as concert tickets or gift certificates.

Look for Earth-friendly electronics. Electronics are a popular gift, and some electronics purchases are more environmentally-friendly than others. For example, before you buy a new computer, ask yourself if the performance you’re looking for can be gained by upgrading your current computer, perhaps by upgrading your hard drive or RAM. If you do decide to buy a new computer, make sure you buy one that is Energy Star-qualified, which can save both energy and money. Also, an online tool called EPEAT (exit disclaimer) makes it easy to find the computer with the best environmental attributes. Finally, don’t throw away the electronics that get replaced; there are lots of opportunities to reuse or recycle old electronics.

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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Climate for Action: Turn it Off!

About the author: Ashley Sims, a senior at Indiana University, is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education through the Washington Leadership Program.

“Come on and Click it, flip it, turn the handle to the right, turn off the water, twist the handle real tight” –Click it, Flip it Rap

I’ve blogged about many things we all can do to address global climate change and its effects on children’s health since we launched our campaign on October 6th. We’ve talked about issues such as water and energy efficiency, paper usage, taking public transportation, and packing a waste-free lunch. We learned that it only takes simple things, such as choosing to turn the water off while you’re brushing your teeth, to help address global climate change and its effects on children’s health. Now this brings me to this week’s topic – Turn It Off! As mentioned in the above rap, you can “Click it, flip it” to conserve energy and save the planet too.

Did you know some appliances still use a small amount of power when they’re switched off and plugged to an outlet? Most appliances that use electricity when switched off are things like VCRs, televisions, stereos, kitchen appliances, and computers. And if you’re like me, you keep your phone charger plugged in when not in use, but not anymore! According to the US Department of Energy, 75% of the electricity used to power home appliances is consumed when they are turned off. Seems like a waste to me. A way to avoid this is to simply unplug the appliances or use the switch on a power strip to cut the power off.

Another way to take action is to look for energy-saving ENERGY STAR home electronics and make sure your parents do too. These ENERGY STAR qualified products use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment and our health. Electricity generation from the combustion of fossil fuels contributes to unhealthy air quality, acid rain, and global climate change. It’s important to use less electricity to prevent harmful effects to our health.

In conclusion, make sure to switch off your electronics and lights when they are not in use. Even better, unplug them. Electronics still use a small amount of energy when they are plugged in, even when they are turned off. Plugging electronics into a surge-protector with an on/off switch is an easy way to do this. How do you use less electricity?

For more information, check out http://www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/home_office.html

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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Celebrate the Environment: Getting There in an Environmentally Friendly Way

About the Author: Mitch Greenberg is the manager of the EPA SmartWay Program in the Office of Air and Radiation.

Remember those ads that feature the surprise car in the driveway, complete with a big red bow on top? While I’m sure a new car is on many holiday wish lists this year, maybe even mine, in tight times like these we all have to be extra careful to make a wise investment in our wheels. If you have a shiny new car to buy for someone in your family, check out EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide to help you choose the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicles available.

No matter what size car, SUV or pickup you’re looking for, you may have smarter, greener options. Maybe you’ve seen our ads? You know, the ones for EPA’s SmartWay Leaf. If you haven’t seen them, the ads highlight the SmartWay brand and encourage all of us to look for the SmartWay leaf to help identify cars and trucks that are more environmentally friendly.

If you’ve been to a NASCAR race recently, you’ve probably already seen many of these cars. NASCAR and their auto company partners have been hosting auto shows at their tracks, allowing fans to get up close and personal with SmartWay-certified vehicles.

If you’re not in the market for a new car, you can still squeeze a few more miles per gallon out of the car you already own. During the holiday season, you can combine shopping trips to maximize efficiency. If you’re traveling out of town, carpool or take public transportation when possible. There are many ways to increase your car’s mileage (and reduce the amount of pollution it emits at the same time). Check out what you can do, but it all boils down to driving smart, taking care of your vehicle, and using it as little as possible.

To see what others are doing and to tell us how you’re traveling green this holiday season, check out this week’s  Question of the Week.

Remember green travel isn’t just for the holidays. You can do it year-round. Check out some of our previous posts to see how you can make your new holiday travel habits permanent.

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: How did you minimize environmental impacts while making holiday travel plans?

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.

Thanksgiving is usually the busiest travel time in the U.S. Millions of us will be driving, flying, taking trains, or even walking to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.

How did you minimize environmental impacts while making holiday travel plans?

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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.

La Fiesta de Acción de Gracias suele ser la época de más viajes en EE.UU. Millones de nosotros viajaremos por automóvil, avión o trenes, o hasta caminaremos para disfrutar de las fiestas con amistades y amigos.

¿Cómo minimizaría los impactos medioambientales al trazar sus planes de viajes para las fiestas?

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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@Wormlady is our 400th Twitter follower

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the National Web Content Manager.

Two weeks ago I wrote that we’d hit 300 people following us on Twitter. I invited them to mention us, to see whether our follower count would jump, and promised a follow-up.

Only one person did tweet us, as far as I could find on Twitter search. Thanks, wingy22!

Yet in the past two weeks, we’ve picked up another 100 followers. Six months from 0-300, two weeks from 300-400. Errr … 401 … 402 … umm … wait a sec … 403 … make that 408. Anyway, @wormlady was #400. I put her name in the title because that’s about all that actually shows up in Twitter’s 140-character posts, so I’m hoping she’ll notice her name the next time she logs in.

Anyway, the sudden jump amazes me. Was it as simple as noting we’re on Twitter in a post, as opposed to just having the link on the right?

Let’s try the same thing on Facebook and MySpace. We’re not doing much there yet, but we have big plans, and knowing there’s interest helps. If you want to know when we do get going, become our fan on Facebook and MySpace.

How to engage the most people isn’t an idle question. The first time, for example, that we take comments on a regulation via social media, we’ll want to get the biggest bang for the least effort (efficient use of your tax dollars, doncha know).

What do you suggest?

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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A Week’s Lofty Distraction

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.

I think you’ll understand why, as a Jewish father, my thoughts late last month were a bit more lofty, maybe more cosmologic, than usual: After two weeks of religious holidays that commemorated the birth of our planet and our purpose on earth, my family celebrated my daughter Miriam’s bat mitzvah, when she became responsible as an adult to follow life’s rules. Coincidentally and adding to what distracted me that week, which portion of the Torah did Miriam read from? The first portion of the first book (commonly known as Genesis), both called Bereisheet, describing creation of the heavens and earth, the flora and animals, and our traditional early generations.

You don’t have to be an environmentalist, and certainly not a believer, to appreciate how the first words of Miriam’s reading (“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”) — with its endless, hopeful possibilities — contrast with the last (“The Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on earth, and his heart was saddened.”) Colorful, provocative, judgmental language, yes?, and what’s more human and easier to understand than receiving a nurturing, pristine garden of eden and promptly squandering it?

What a profoundly disappointing shame, just pages after “In the beginning….”! And what an apt metaphor for what we face today, but with our greatly enhanced tools for assessing, preventing and countering what we’ve done to Mother Nature! Responding to this challenge is what crosses my mind when friends and colleagues (lately, more frequently—is it the thinner, grayer hair?) ask if I’m getting ready to retire from EPA (no, not even close). Thinking of our stewardship of earth and people – Tikun Olam, our mandate to improve the world – doesn’t just sustain my devotion to EPA’s mission. It’s also a big part of why I was all verklempt (choked up—remember SNL’s Linda Richman?) while Miriam embodied the future as she invoked our origins three weeks ago.

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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Celebrate the Environment: Look for the ENERGY STAR® to Give Green

About the author: Maria Tikoff Vargas has worked at EPA for over 20 years and is currently the Brand Manager and Communications Director for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program.

Choosing holiday gifts can be challenging. I try to consider what each person wants, what they need, what’s on sale – the usual. But, since I work on EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, I realize that new purchases can have a big impact on household energy use and on the environment. Luckily, by looking for the ENERGY STAR, it’s easy to find gifts that save energy, save money on utility bills, and help fight global warming.

ENERGY STAR’s new, stricter qualification for televisions was recently released, so a flat-screen TV will certainly make my husband happy while using 30 percent less energy than standard units. He’s excited to watch HD programming, and both he and my son will be thrilled to play their new video games on a big screen. I’ll also pick out some movies that we can watch together on our new ENERGY STAR qualified Blu-ray DVD player.

My daughter is taking piano lessons, so she’s getting an MP3 player loaded with Mozart. I’m sure Miley Cyrus will find her way on there soon, though. I’ll look for a model that comes with an ENERGY STAR qualified power adapter, which is 30 percent more efficient than a conventional model. We’ll also set up a power strip where she can plug in the charger, making sure to switch off the strip when not in use.

For the kids’ teachers and the newspaper carrier, I’ve stocked up on ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs, which make small but useful presents. At home, I’m planning to switch to ENERGY STAR qualified decorative light strings. They consume 75 percent less energy than conventional incandescent light strands. We’ll also make sure that our regular green habits don’t fade away during the holidays, diligently using our programmable thermostat and sealing any drafty cracks to make sure the house stays cozy. These and other actions throughout the year are simple ways our family tries to help our environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

I definitely have some work ahead this season, but I feel good about giving fun, useful gifts that are also environmentally friendly. And just in case you know my husband, I’ve had my eye on this great little ENERGY STAR qualified laptop… Maybe you could drop a hint?

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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Celebre el medio ambiente: Seleccione la etiqueta ENERGY STAR® para regalos verdes

De la autora: María Tikoff Vargas ha trabajado en EPA por más de 20 años y actualmente es la directora de comunicaciones y gerente de marca registrada del programa de EPA, ENERGY STAR.

El seleccionar regalos para las fiestas puede ser un reto. Normalmente, tomo en consideración lo que la persona quiere, lo que necesita, y lo que está en venta especial. Sin embargo, como trabajo en el programa de EPA ENERGY STAR, me doy cuenta que muchas nuevas adquisiciones pueden tener un gran impacto en la energía utilizada en el hogar así como en el medio ambiente. Por suerte, al buscar los productos ENERGY STAR, es fácil encontrar regalos que ahorran energía, ahorran dinero en la factura eléctrica, y ayudan a combatir el calentamiento global.

Nuevos requisitos más estrictos de ENERGY STAR para los televisores fueron publicados recientemente por lo cual un nuevo televisor de pantalla plana definitivamente agradaría a mi esposo mientras a la misma vez utilizaría 30 por ciento de energía menos que las unidades tradicionales. Le encantará ver la programación de alta definición digital y tanto a él como a mi hijo les encantará jugar con los nuevos video-juegos en una pantalla grande. Yo aprovecharé para seleccionar algunas películas que podamos ver juntos con nuestro aparato DVD tipo Blu-ray con la etiqueta de ENERGYSTAR.

Mi hija está tomando clases de piano y está descargando mucha música de Mozart en su aparato MP3. Estoy segura que eventualmente la música de Miles Cyrus llegará al MP3 también. Estoy buscando un modelo con el adaptador electrónico con la etiqueta ENERGY STAR que es 30 por ciento más eficiente que los modelos convencionales. Además, lo conectaremos a un enchufe múltiple donde se pueda enchufar el cargador para asegurarnos de apagar la unidad cuando no esté en uso.

Para los maestros de los niños y el joven que reparte periódicos, ya he seleccionado varias bombillas fluorescentes compactas que serán regalos pequeños, pero útiles. En el hogar, ya estoy planificando seleccionar bombillas decorativas con la etiqueta de ENERGY STAR. Estas consumen 75 por ciento menos de energía que las luces incandescentes convencionales. También nos aseguraremos que nuestros hábitos normales verdes no desaparezcan durante las fiestas, y de manera diligente utilizaremos nuestro termostato programable y habremos de sellar cualquier grieta para que la casa permanezca en una temperatura acogedora. Estas y otras acciones durante el año son pasos sencillos que nuestra familia toma para ayudar a nuestro medio ambiente y reducir nuestra huella de carbono.
Definitivamente tengo muchas cosas que hacer durante esta temporada, pero me siento bien por el hecho de ofrecer regalos que sean divertidos, útiles y también beneficiosos al medio ambiente. Y en caso de que conozca a mi esposo, he visto una pequeña computadora portátil tipo laptop que sería un gran regalo….¿Acaso podría plantearle la idea?

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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