Monthly Archives: December 2008

Science Wednesday: Protecting Water Quality in Metropolitan Areas

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

About the author: Tracy Hadden-Loh is completing her Ph.D. at the Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is looking forward to a career that will provide communities with more and better tools to plan for the future. Her work is funded by an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Many of America’s streams, rivers, and lakes are not clean enough for swimming or fishing. In the past, much of the nation’s water quality problems were caused by industrial and municipal dumping. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, however, many of these sources of pollution have been greatly reduced.

So why are America’s urban rivers still not swimmable and fishable?

The answer is that every time it rains, the streets and rooftops of developed areas are washed clean by the downpour. All that water has to go somewhere. Stormwater runoff carrying loads of various contaminants has been the top water quality problem in the U.S. since 1994.

One strategy for dealing with polluted stormwater runoff has been to keep it from flowing too far—using devices such as rain barrels, retention ponds, green roofs to catch, slow down, and treat it. While these engineering devices help a great deal, they apply to small, distinct points across watersheds that are spread out over large regions.

That’s where my work comes in.

I am building a computer simulation of urban development and hydrology in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (the home of the city of Charlotte) in order to explore how different regional urban forms of development could impact future water quality.

Rapid urban growth and its environmental consequences are a big concern in many American communities. I hope my work will help local decision-makers understand the tradeoffs involved with different policy directions.

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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Protecting Our Valuable Resources – Our Waters

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.

A lot has been portrayed lately in the media-with a sense of urgency-regarding a possible future food crisis and water shortage due to the increasing demands of emerging economies. The world’s water consumption rose sixfold between 1900 and 1995 – more than double the rate of population growth – and keeps on growing as farming, industry and domestic demand all increase, specially in said economies such as India and China. Yet, every species living in the planet needs water for sustenance and it can’t be consumed by some and on the shortfall for others. Farming, which accounts for 70% of the world’s water consumption, is also essential to the life of all humans.

On the other hand, climate change has brought excessive rainfall to some areas and droughts in others affecting farming practices and the food supply chain. While many people have grown aware of the climate change issue, efficient use of water in our home to industrial and agricultural practices still needs to be taken into account. I recently read an article in The Economist that blamed the problem of a future water shortage on bio-fuels and while it correctly pointed out our that one third of the world’s population could be affected by the scarcity of water by 2025 it offered no real solutions to the issue at hand.

Climate change aside, we have to understand that every day activities also affect our fresh-water supplies. This is not a distant problem, but rather one for which every single citizen is responsible. Erosion from incorrect land use provides excess sedimentation which in turn diminishes our reservoirs accumulation capacity while introducing pollutants that affect not only water quality but ecosystems as well. According to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service soil runoff can impact, directly or indirectly, water quality and water usage. Surface and stormwater runoff from urban activities also impact our rivers and lakes by delivering pollutants into them.

In my six years at EPA I have participated in countless beach, lake and river cleanups. The amount of trash and sediment from illegal dumping that goes into our water bodies might surprise anyone who has not seen it. Large toys, stoves, tires, construction materials and even cars, just to name a few, all have been retrieved from our reservoirs, creeks and rivers. Education is the key to prevent a water shortage in the future. After all water is finite and we all need it.

 

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Protegiendo nuestro recurso más preciado-nuestras aguas

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.

Informes presentados recientemente por los medios de comunicación advierten con sentido de urgencia acerca de una potencial crisis por escasez de alimentos ligada a una escasez de agua debido a las demandas cada vez mayores de las economías en desarrollo. El consumo de agua en el mundo aumentó exponencialmente-entre 1900 y 1995-más del doble del crecimiento poblacional y sigue en aumento debido a la creciente demanda que tiene para usos industriales, comerciales y agrarios en las economías antes mencionadas como India y China. Todas las especies en el planeta necesitan agua para vivir y no podemos segmentar su uso. La agricultura, que consume el 70% del agua a nivel mundial, es también esencial para nuestras vidas.

Adicionalmente, el cambio climático ha traído exceso de lluvia en algunas regiones y sequías en otras, lo que ha afectado la agricultura y la cadena de alimentos. Aunque muchas personas conocen sobre el cambio climático, el uso ineficiente del agua en nuestras casas, industria y agricultura también ha impactado adversamente nuestros abastos de agua. Recientemente leí un artículo en la revista The Economist en el que se culpaba a los bio combustibles por las posibles carencias de agua en el mundo. Aunque ciertamente planteaba que un tercio de la población mundial sufrirá por escasez de agua en el 2025, este artículo no ofrecía soluciones reales al problema.

Dejando el cambio climático a un lado, tenemos que comprender que son nuestras actividades diarias las que afectan nuestros abastos de agua dulce. Este no es un problema distante o ajeno, más bien uno sobre el cual cada ciudadano es responsable. Por ejemplo, la erosión ocasionada por el mal uso de la tierra puede causar sedimentación, lo que a su vez reduce la capacidad acumulativa de nuestras reservas. Esto también arrastra contaminantes que afectan no sólo la calidad de nuestras aguas sino también nuestros ecosistemas. De acuerdo al Servicio de Conservación de los Recursos Naturales de los Estados Unidos  las escorrentías impactan, directa o indirectamente la calidad de nuestras aguas y su uso. Los contaminantes de las escorrentías urbanas también impactan adversamente nuestros ríos y lagos.

En mis seis años en la EPA he participado de muchas actividades de recogido de basura en playas, lagos y ríos. La gran cantidad de basura y sedimento que llegan de forma ilegal a nuestros cuerpos de agua no debe sorprender a nadie. Juguetes grandes, estufas, llanta, materiales de construcción e inclusive autos, por nombrar algunos, han sido sacados de nuestras reservas, quebradas y ríos. La educación es la solución para prevenir una escasez de agua en el futuro, real o potencial. Todos podemos hacer algo para proteger este valioso recurso. Después de todo el agua es limitada y todos la necesitamos para vivir.

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 will you handle holiday waste?

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.

One of the “gifts of the season” we usually overlook is the amount of STUFF we have left over – food scraps, dead batteries, old fir trees, and more.  But most of these things can be recycled or reused in some way, or at least disposed of properly.

How will you handle holiday waste?

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: ¿Cómo maneja los desechos de las fiestas?

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.

Uno de los “regalos de la temporada” que solemos ignorar es la cantidad de COSAS que sobran y se acumulan – sobras de alimentos, baterías inservibles, viejos pinos, y más. Sin embargo, muchas de estas cosas se pueden reciclar o reutilizar de alguna manera, o al menos deben ser desechadas de manera adecuada.

¿Cómo maneja los desechos de 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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Science Wednesday: “First Date” on New Technologies

About the author: Mary Wigginton is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She recently attended an all-day public meeting of the EPA-Venture Capital Community Summit.

Attending the EPA-Venture Capital Summit last month was a little like watching two people on a first date.  Pleasantries were exchanged and the summit participants on each side of the table – EPA and venture capitalists – explained how they worked. Each side listened politely and then as the day progressed, you could see them becoming more interested and aware of a possible connection that might be worth pursuing.

The venture capitalists illustrated the value of their businesses for the U.S. economy in two charts describing the percentage of gross domestic product and the number of jobs that venture capital contributes.  These charts show that venture capital has contributed approximately 0.02% of total invested dollars, but in 2006 generated $2.3 trillion in revenue and 10.4 million jobs.  While the venture capitalists acknowledged current economic challenges, they continue to look for new opportunities to invest in innovative environmental technologies.

Rob Brenner, from EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, co-hosted the summit.  He started off EPA’s introductions by explaining how technology development has been important for EPA through the years.

“The times when we’ve been able to make progress on environmental protection have been when there’s technology available that we can employ as part of our rulemaking process or as part of our voluntary programs,” he said.  As an example, think back on how regulations and catalytic converters on cars improved our air quality.

Mr. Brenner went on to say that the environmental challenges we’re now facing are as much, or more, technology-dependent than any of the ones we faced in the past.  Because the nation’s infrastructure needs to adapt and change – to climate change, increased energy costs, and continuing pollution issues – we will need many, many new technologies.  But those technologies need to be moved from the development stages to commercialization at a faster rate if they are going to have an impact on these challenges.  The venture capital community could help.

At the end of the summit, both sides had a new appreciation for what the other could do to make a difference in the future.  Though not a real “first date,” the summit was a good start. And perhaps these groups could continue working together with states, other federal agencies, and the international community to implement technology solutions to meet our environmental challenges.

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

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Green Building Blog: The Green Way Out?

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.  He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality. 

Downturn. Recession. Even putting aside the practical implications of these terms, the very words are depressing.

So it was uplifting for me to spend a recent week in Boston at the largest green building conference, Greenbuild. Large as in 30,000 people in attendance. As Michelle Moore, the US Green Building Council’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Public Affairs pointed out, it was more than the population of the entire county where she grew up.

And an especially surprising number when you consider that the building sector is among the hardest hit industries in our current economic crisis. Yet as a developer that I spoke with at the conference noted, financiers are now actually beginning to favor green building projects as a better bet – as opposed to just an extravagant cost center. It makes sense, since as conference speaker Van Jones of the organization Green for All noted, green is what your grandma used to call “Don’t be a fool!” It’s about common sense – don’t foul your own nest, don’t waste water or materials or energy (including free energy, like sunlight and wind) – or money, to which all these other resources ultimately equate.

Green as the favored approach to building is new, and it was also the theme of the conference – green building not as a boutique trend anymore, but as a solution. Green building creating jobs, as a stimulus that can create value not only for the economy but also for the long term health of both people and the planet. It’s the kind of solution that allows us to explore the hard-to-define concept of sustainability. Sustainability requires looking beyond the bounds of categories like economics, environment and society, to find the largest long-term context that makes sense across all these categories.

And it’s a ray of hope to keep your eye on amidst all the current economic gloom. Which in itself is worth a lot.

For more information about Green Jobs, see the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report, “Current and Potential Green Jobs in the U.S. Economy” at http://www.usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/GreenJobsReport.pdf

 

 

 

 

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 do you heat your home?

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.

No matter how you do it, home heating is a major consideration in cold areas. Some people use traditional fuels such as oil or gas for home heat. Some use renewable fuels, for example wood or solar, to heat or add to the main heat source.

How do you heat your home?

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: ¿Cómo calienta su hogar?

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.

No importa cómo lo hace, la calefacción del hogar es una consideración importante en áreas frías. Muchas personas utilizan combustibles tradicionales como petróleo o gas para la calefacción del hogar. Algunos utilizan combustibles renovables como la madera o la energía solar para calentar o suplementar la fuente principal de calefacción.

¿Cómo calienta su hogar?

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: My first holiday season in a radon-healthy, new home

About the author: Andrea Drinkard is Web Content Coordinator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation

From finding the right house to signing on the dotted line, buying my first home was an exciting, scary and nerve racking process. It may have been months ago when I made a life changing investment, but getting ready for the holidays in a home that’s mine has brought back those memories.

One thing that stands out, not for how much it scared me, but for its simplicity and its importance is the radon test. It’s one of those steps you barely notice, it took about five minutes for the radon testing company to place the kit and one week to get the results, but knowing that my house didn’t have a radon problem meant more than just peace of mind

Now as I wrap up my holiday shopping and make sure everything’s crossed off my list, I want to pass on the gift of good health to my friends and family. Those little radon test kits, dressed up with some festive wrapping paper and bow (of course), make great stocking stuffers. The best way to know if a home has high radon levels is to test for it. Your loved ones may not immediately know what the test kit is, but they’ll thank you every day they are healthy and happy.

Builders are going the extra mile to make sure your home is safe from radon, even before you move in. Many encourage new homes to be built radon-resistant and existing homes with high radon to be fixed.

It’s easy to protect your family from this invisible radioactive gas that seeps up from underground. So this holiday season, when you’re thinking about stuffing those stockings, consider including a radon test kit. With radon action month just around the corner in January, you’ll be ahead of the game and your friends will be ready to test their homes in the new year.

Radon test kits can be ordered online and in many hardware stores. You can also call 1-800-SOS-Radon to get a kit from the National Safety Council.

Learn more about radon at epa.gov/radon.

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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