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Question of the Week: If you could ask the public one question about the environment, what would it be?

2008 November 3

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.

Here on the blog team, we try to come up with Questions Of The Week that are relevant and engage reader interest. But we also want the questions to be balanced and avoid leading the reader to any particular conclusion. What question would you ask?

If you could ask the public one question about the environment, what would it be?


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.

Aquí en el equipo del blog, tratamos de elaborar Preguntas de la Semana que sean relevantes y generen el interés del público. Sin embargo, también queremos que las preguntas sean equilibradas y eviten encauzar al lector a una conclusión en particular. ¿Cuál pregunta haría?

¿Si pudiera plantear al público una pregunta sobre el medio ambiente, cuál sería?

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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100 Responses leave one →
  1. eric tri permalink
    November 4, 2008

    How many people know what the Form R Report is and does it really provide value if a large majority of citizens have no idea what it is and how to find it and that much of the data reported is already publicly available?

  2. Steph permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Do you think it would be a better idea for the US government to give each person (population estimated at 317 million) 1 million dollars to stimulate the economy by purchasing more efficiant cars, solar panels, energy saving appliances, etc., instead of giving corporate buy-outs? It would be cheaper for the federal government in the long run.

  3. Sharon Tinianow permalink
    November 4, 2008

    So many great questions have been asked so far. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtfulness behind them. Here is my question:

    How would you describe your relationship to the environment?
    a) I am apart from and superior to the rest of the species that inhabit this planet.

    b) I am charged with taking care of the planet for all species.

    c) I am an integral part of nature’s web and responsible for behaving in ways that honor the right of all species to exist.

    d) other?

  4. Anonymous permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Why is it people don’t use public transport for travelling to office? Especially in developed countries people tend to use their own transport than Public transport. Even the educated lot don’t want to use public transport and save Earth?

  5. Lance permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Environmental Scientists use the same scientific method doctors use when attempting to diagnose a cancer patient. If you knew they were just “guessing” how would that make you feel? BTW – There are cities and communities right here in America that are running out of landfill space. They are bulk hauling their trash at great distances and cost to dispose of the refuge.

  6. Boise permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Would you be willing to publicly boycott Exxon Mobile until they agree to spend some of thier HISTORIC PROFIT they made off of us last quarter on renewable and alternative energy resources?

  7. Beth permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Will You act to add the Rights of Nature to the United States Constitution? Will you afford Nature the Right to be free from abuse? The Right to live? The right to thrive in natural harmony?

  8. jmorin permalink*
    November 4, 2008

    Regarding the federal government’s “wasteful” spending, it all depends on what programs you’re looking at. If you consider EPA’s spending in recent times, the money being used in areas such as clean water, Superfund, and enforcement has been wholly inadequate to the environmental needs.

    I’m not sure people living next to Superfund sites that have been spewing contamination for 10 or 20 years think the fed is overspending on cleanups. And federal money for clean drinking water and wastewater treatment has been stagnant at best just as so much of the nation’s water infrastructure is in serious decline and desperately in need of upgrades.

    If you took just a tiny fraction of the mega billions being pumped into our adventure in Iraq and put it into environmental programs, the impact for the better would be immense.

    So maybe a good question would be: Are you aware of how much funding the fed puts into environmental problems that affect you the most?

  9. Bill S. permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Regarding the federal government’s “wasteful” spending, it all depends on what programs you’re looking at. If you consider EPA’s spending in recent times, the money being used in areas such as clean water, Superfund, and enforcement has been wholly inadequate to the environmental needs.

    I’m not sure people living next to Superfund sites that have been spewing contamination for 10 or 20 years think the fed is overspending on cleanups. And federal money for clean drinking water and wastewater treatment has been stagnant at best just as so much of the nation’s water infrastructure is in serious decline and desperately in need of upgrades.

    If you took just a tiny fraction of the mega billions being pumped into our adventure in Iraq and put it into environmental programs, the impact for the better would be immense.

    So maybe a good question would be: Are you aware of how much funding the fed puts into environmental problems that affect you the most?

  10. Kathleen Foley permalink
    November 4, 2008

    Do you comprehend the complete lifecyle costs of making consumer goods, e.g., your “stuff”?

  11. Lina-EPA permalink*
    November 4, 2008

    Thanks for your bilingual question! Good recommendation.

  12. bill permalink
    November 4, 2008

    A question for the site administrator:

    Why are questions that are posted removed when they present an opposing view to the eb and flow seen within the blog? Such opposition, when presented in a professional manner, might well produce more meaningful discussion than a string of atta-boy, back slaps when reading the string or postings.

  13. Karen McCloskey permalink
    November 4, 2008

    When mixing “silver fillings” dental personel must put leftover filling material in a special container. It is forbidden to put into the trash. Dentist in many states have to put special filters on their sinks to catch “silver fillings” from going into the sewer system. This is because “silver fillings” are made up of 50% mercury. We know that is bad for the enviornment. If silver fillings are too toxic to put into the garbage, and the sewer, why isn’t too toxic for our mouths????

  14. Davcid Oates permalink
    November 5, 2008

    I will probably go back to my old ways of buying gas and saving money with my hybrid car because the prices only went down because they want the new president to look good but I guarentee it will be back up in the next few weeks.

  15. Matt B. permalink
    November 5, 2008

    This is an excellent question and I would love to see it posted and some feedback on it.

  16. Jeffrey Levy, Greenversations Editor permalink*
    November 5, 2008

    Hi. I’m not sure what you’re referring to. I agree that different viewpoints strengthen the discussion via our blog.

    Therefore, we post every comment that meets our comment policy. We do work normal business hours, though, so anything coming in late or over the weekend waits until the next business day.

    Now, we did hit a snag recently where some comments we intended to approve were accidentally deleted. We just restored them a few minutes ago. Was yours one of those?

  17. Anonymous permalink
    November 5, 2008

    Yes it was. Received quite a professional response via direct e-mail with a more that adequate explanation. Comment has been restored. Such a response was most appreciated. Thanks!

  18. Jess B. permalink
    November 5, 2008

    My question is along those lines because it does seem like many do expect the government to make the difference. I would add, “Or, do you expect your government to make the sacrifice for you?”

    Also, would you make different choices if you were provided with more information on the alternatives or reasons why the ‘norm’ is not always the best decision for the environment?

  19. The cost of going Green permalink
    November 5, 2008

    How much does the cost of going “Green” affect your decision to go green?

  20. Charles Whitmire permalink
    November 5, 2008

    I have been in the energy business for 35 years including Coal Gasification. Are the bottoms of railroad cars leakproof and if a train is going 35mph into a headwind of 35mph will coal blow out of the railroad cars. Since most coal is transported by trains and most train tracks are in close proximity of watersheds if the answer to any one of the first questions is yes. Can Raw Coal that contains lead, arsenic and mercury leach into our water via this close proximity?

  21. Ellie McCann, EPA Mercury Coordinator permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Whether mercury is harmful to people or the environment in a specific situation depends on the amount of mercury involved, the chemical form of the mercury, and other factors. The elemental mercury used in amalgam fillings has raised some safety concerns over the years because the amalgam can release small amounts of mercury vapor over time, and patients can absorb these vapors by inhaling or ingesting them. However there is little scientific evidence that the health of the vast majority of people with dental amalgam is compromised, nor that removing amalgam fillings has a beneficial effect on health. Only in rare cases of allergic reaction has any link been found between dental mercury and health problems. For that reason the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises, as a precaution, that pregnant women and persons who have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure should discuss dental treatment options with their health care practitioner. Dental amalgam use is regulated by FDA.

    Leftover dental filling material can cause environmental problems because the relatively large amount of dental wastes from thousands of patients over time can significantly pollute the waste water entering the sewer from a dental office. The mercury in the water can then be converted to a chemical form called methylmercury, which is absorbed by local fish and the fish are then eaten by people and wildlife. The most common way that people in the U.S. are exposed to mercury is by eating fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. More information on mercury health effects and dental amalgam can be found at

  22. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Please define “healthy”.

  23. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Easy enough to figure out… He’ll grow the size, scope, and budget; but probably not effectivness.

    He is, afterall, a Socialist.

  24. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Because, for now, America is still a free country.

  25. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    A and B, and part of C.

    As a Christian, I believe that I am indeed apart from and superior (intellectually, morally, etc) from all other life forms. Also as a Christian, I know that I’ve been called to be responsible with what’s been given me.

    However, the responsibility to “take care of the environment” takes a back seat to the responsibility to “take care of fellow man”.

    I believe that it’s entirely responsible to use 200 acres (out of 400,000) to drill for oil that millions of people would use; even at the expense of a few caribou and polar bears.

    I do not believe that ANY species has a “right” to exist, theologically speaking…

  26. Awalker permalink
    November 6, 2008

    The instant payback is not there. Until they can make a ton of money off of it, it’s going to have to be reactionary event (ex. mass public sickness, media outcry, a leader to push it along)

  27. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    If you study the oil industry, you’ll see that their PROFIT MARGINS aren’t out of line with most major industry. And, in fact, are often times much lower. Do you know that Coca Cola, just on the sale of Coke, has TWICE the profit margin that “Big Oil” does?

    What about the Silver and Copper industries? Both of these have a higher profit margin than does Big Oil. So does the Iron and Steel industry. Tobacco is also much higher than Oil.

    Why do you not want other companies to do the same with their profits?

    Also, if you do enough research, you’ll find that oil companies pour huge amounts of money into alternative fuels research and development, as well as into renewable energy source avenues.

    If you’re going to demonize “big oil” for their profits, even though their margins are lower than most big industries, then you should at least be intellectually honest enough to slam all industry that has higher margins.

  28. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Nature is not capable of entering into any kind of moral contract.
    “Nature” is not alive. Therefore, it can’t have any rights.

  29. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008


    Also, in certain areas, Prairie Dogs are quite harmful to the agriculture industry. And, as such, are classified as a nuisiance/pest and are treated as such.

  30. Jared permalink
    November 6, 2008

    I’m just curious if you’ve done any research on the total energy cost of recycling?

    Did you know that, overall, it takes LESS energy (in total) to produce paper from virgin trees than it does to recycle used paper into a re-useable product?

    Same for glass.

    And plastics.

    And most metals.

    Aluminum recycling is just about the ONLY recyclable material that takes less energy to reuse than to mine new.

    So, from a “total energy consumption” standpoint, recycling is harmful to the environment.

  31. Karen permalink
    November 6, 2008

    When people litter, where do you think that trash goes? Or maybe: What are you doing to improve water quality.

  32. Karen permalink
    November 6, 2008

    So we should USE less paper. Print on both sides, so we don’t have to make as much.

  33. David Bennett - EPA Region 10 permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Go to:

  34. Duane Murphy permalink
    November 7, 2008

    Did you know you are most likely drinking pharmaceutical drugs and household cleaners when you fill up your glass of water from your faucet at home or at work and when you drink water bottled with filtered municipal water supply? See:

  35. Jeff Maurer, EPA permalink
    November 7, 2008

    Jared is right about the energy savings from aluminum recycling, but he seems to have gotten some bad information about the other materials. In reality:

    – Recycling one ton of paper would save enough energy to power the average American home for six months;

    – Making glass from recycled glass cullet saves energy because cullet melts at a lower temperature than most conventional materials used to make glass;

    – According to the Ohio Department of natural resources, recycling one ton of plastic saves as much energy as 197 gallons of gas. The American Beverage Association calculates the energy savings from 1 ton of containers made from recycled plastics at 7200 kilowatt hours.

    – Recycling of other matierals, including metals, usually results in energy reductions as well. For example, according to the Steel Recycling Institute, the US steel industry has reduced its energy intensity per ton of steel shipped by 29% since 1990, mostly due to steel recycling.

    Here are some resources for you to explore:

  36. Karen permalink
    November 8, 2008

    Do you think that you are doing enough to protect the environment?

  37. Anonymous permalink
    November 10, 2008

    Because “they” want the new president to look good? Who exactly is “they?”

    The price drop is tied into the stock market fluctuations, and the fact that people have actually decreased consumption in recent months. More likely the price will go up when OPEC cuts production, consumers get complacent about saving, and/or the economy takes a turn upward.

  38. Anonymous permalink
    November 10, 2008

    FYI we don’t have a new president yet, Bush is still in office and prices started dropping several weeks BEFORE the actual election.

  39. Jeff permalink
    November 10, 2008

    Why is EPA more interested in providing politicians overly simpile solutions (e.g. we forced X into spending $Y to solve problem) thater than actually trying to help find solutions to those problems?

  40. Christine Smith permalink
    November 12, 2008

    My response: “What is plastic made from?”
    Alternatively: “How is electricity generated?”

    Both questions target the same thing conceptually–the appalling lack of environmental awareness of John Doe public. A story to illustrate this:

    I could be considered one of the “smart” or “educated” members of the public I suppose. I’ve been interested in environmental issues since I was a teenager, and I’ve always been a straight-A student. When I went to college, I majored in geology, and did quite well at it. So imagine my own surprise (and embarrassment!) when I was sitting in two environmental-elective courses (the semester before I graduated, mind you!), and “discovered” for the FIRST TIME that 1) plastic is made from oil, and that 2) electricity is often generated by burning coal or other sorts of fuels that pollute the environment in a multitude of ways. I had no idea!! And by becoming aware of these facts, it dawned on me just how important it was to conserve and recycle, not just becuase there was some nebulous “happy earth” feeling attached to it or because somehow it “saved trees”, but because there concrete environmental, economic, and natural security impacts associated with doing so. It gave me a whole new appreciation of conservation, just by learning more about where our finished products really come from.

    Based on my experience since then (I’ve posed the questions every so often to a random retail cashier or friend/family member), I think that this general ignorance is pervasive in our society. We have become so accustomed to going to the store and getting a nice, neat product in a box, or flipping a switch, etc.; we have become so disconnected from the manufacturing and industrial processes which bring those things to us, that in general WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW OUR CONSUMPTION PATTERNS ACTUALLY IMPACT THE WORLD. I think the environmental movement would gain a lot more traction in the consumer’s mind, if they learned more about where they’re products came from, and the impacts that those products have during the course of the entire life cycle.

    Hope this helps :)

  41. Christine Smith permalink
    November 12, 2008

    As a Christian, I completely disagree with you Jared. Every species, indeed every individual, has intrinsic value precisely because they are created by God. Indeed, in Geneis, God gives the vegetation as food not ONLY to us, but ALSO to the animals, implying that they too have a RIGHT to life in creation. It was only by God’s grace and gift that He bestowed on us the role of steward, which necessitated our having a greater intelligence, morality, etc.. This role is intended to be exercised with the grace and compassion that Christ exhibits towards us–Christ is the Good Shepherd, we are His “sheep”–the good shepherd gave his life for his sheep. In the same manner, we, as “shepherds” of creation (creation including all life on earth, including mankind), must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of creation, of our “sheep”. It is true that we are of “more value than they” (the animals), but then, inherently, that makes them the “least of these”, does it not?

    In Christ,

  42. Markian permalink
    November 12, 2008

    Christine, totally agree… I have educated, techie friends who were surprised to realize that plastic comes from OIL. I was surprised that they were surprised. I don’t know WHERE they thought plastic came from. But they were surprised to realize how much oil (as plastic) we simply throw away into garbage piles. Like there’s a cheap endless supply of oil…

  43. Anonymous permalink
    November 14, 2008

    michele This concern for finding someone in the government to be concerned about the community has already occurred. We are the government and we hire and fire these people with our votes. However the people who call and actually visit personally with those elected are the ones that are responded to. Your personal representative is your employee. Get busy.

  44. Neil from Canada permalink
    November 14, 2008

    If we know smoking will eventually kill us, why do people still smoke? If we know that the decisions we make today will lead to harm of our children, how do we carry on in good conscience?

    I am willing to support change that may limit my choices of excess/conspicuous consumption today in order to save a family of prairie dogs. If I can’t save a family of lousy prairie dogs, what hope is there for a future for people I actually care about. The question – what good are prairie dogs? is best answered with the question – what good are you?

  45. Jay Warner permalink
    December 21, 2008

    In our kitchen we have a list of stores on each major ‘side’ of town, and when someone is going there we check to see what we need from that area. So we will commonly combine 3-5 trips into one.

    In addition, I usually write out what I’m off to get, and then map out mentally a route to cover everything in a minimal loop.

    We have done this for a long time; it saves our time as well as gasoline. The only “change” in lifestyle needed is to plan one’s trips, instead of reacting to impulses.

  46. Amy Bathurst permalink
    June 4, 2010

    Dental offices should have an amalgam separator to prevent the release of mercury into the environment.

  47. VN Index permalink
    April 3, 2011

    Wow this article its really good. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and i wont stop and also Very informative post, I’ll definitely go look for more info about this. Thanks for sharing.

  48. Dawn Junkins permalink
    July 1, 2011

    Jeff I love how you listed some resources for Jared to explore about recycling! You also have wonderful communication skills. Thank you for sharing.

  49. Dawn Junkins permalink
    July 1, 2011

    I beginning to think there was way too much energy sent to the grid and we baked ourselves. The amount of soot that has been seen on every other roof makes me believe it came from the cable and telephone wires. Also, could that same energy have affected the quality of gas during that time? Heat attracts water and I believe the American Recovery Act consists of more than meets the eye. By the way, what happened to the energy, insulating material and fiber optics after the deep cable cuts were discovered in the Ocean? Where does that stuff go? How far and fast does it travel? Has anyone revealed the cause of these cuts?

  50. Dawn Junkins permalink
    July 1, 2011

    Sadly, Sandra it would require taking a large step backward in technology to save ourselves and future generations to avoid and stop catastrophic events that are happening so subtly at times that most people don’t even notice. Do you really think that if we found out that wireless technology and computer and telephone communication was going to be responsible for the destruction of all things living we could stop it? The only thing we can do is to find another way to counter act it’s harmful effects before it’s far to late.

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