Monthly Archives: January 2009

What Would YOU do with $1 Million and an Acre of Riverfront Property?

About the author: Kelly Leovic works in EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory and manages the Environmental and Community Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
 
I asked this question to the 3rd grade class at Y.E. Smith Elementary School at EPA’s Science Day on December 5th. EPA began hosting the annual Science Day at the downtown Durham school in 2004 as part of our outreach efforts to inspire students’ interest in science and the environment.
 
Twenty-two EPA employees, as well as four community volunteers, participated in EPA’s Science Day, by teaching hands-on environment science activities. Each presenter shared their lesson with three classes, linking their activities to the N.C. Standard Course of Study to supplement the grade level curriculum. Topics ranged from geology to energy consumption to water quality.
 
image of author holding a large map in a classronSo, getting back to my 3rd graders…I give each student a fake $1 million dollar bill, a “piece of land,” and colored pencils to draw what they would build on their riverfront property with their million dollars. The idea is that each student’s piece of land is part of the ecosystem and what one person does on their land can affect others as the pieces are assembled. The activity is called “Sum of the Parts” and is from Project WET. As the students complete their million-dollar drawings, we put together the pieces of the river “puzzle” on the floor and then brainstorm about the types of water pollution that could come from what they built on their property. Types of pollution included run-off, litter, oil from boats, fishing line, and my personal favorite, sewage, which I referred to as pee and poop. We then begin to talk about how upstream development and the resulting pollution can affect those downstream.
 
Most of the 3rd graders built huge houses; some even drew “mansions.” Having done this activity with students of all ages, I always enjoy seeing their creativity followed by their recognition that consumption can affect the environment. In comparison, middle schoolers like to build malls and shoe stores, and adults tend toward solar homes and organic gardening. Regardless, “Sum of the Parts” is always a hit because it encourages the students to think about the impact of their personal activities on the environment. Plus, it gives them the opportunity to be creative with their drawings, and, much to their delight, they get to keep the fake $1 million!
 
To learn more about past EPA Science Days, go to the Durham Public Schools Partners in the Community link at http://www.dpsnc.net/channel-4/partners-in-education/epa-science-day. If you are located in the Research Triangle Park area and would like to have EPA come speak at your school or to your community group, check out our Speakers Bureau at www.epa.gov/rtpspeakers. Speaking topics include air quality, climate change, sustainability, and water quality, as well as science fair judging.

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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Truth from the Mouths of Babes

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.

The other day I was running some errands with my 7 year old daughter. As we approached the car, she noticed some litter scattered around and said spontaneously “Littering is bad because it’s mean to the Earth. We should protect it.” I was speechless. I was impressed with her insight, but at the same time sad that we are being “mean” to Planet Earth with the senseless things we often do-like generating so much trash in the first place.

While in my family, we try our best to live by the three R’s —reduce, reuse and recycle—I must confess that the hardest R seems to be reducing waste from the outset of any activity. In our daily lives, there are so many things that generate waste like excessive packaging, fast food wrappings, disposable products, to name a few. With some planning, we can reduce the trash even before it’s created.

Here are some suggestions:

There are numerous possibilities if we put our mind to it. These are just some consumer tips that can be easily used at home for waste prevention. I also highly recommend my colleague’s blog with an extensive list of habit-changing tips.

If our children can take care of Mother Earth at an early age, why can’t we?

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La verdad a través de los ojos de los niños

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.

El otro día estaba haciendo varias diligencias con mi hija de siete años. Cuando nos acercamos al auto, ella notó que había basura regada en el suelo y dijo espontáneamente <<el echar basura es malo para el Planeta Tierra. Debemos protegerlo>>. Me dejó atónita. Me impresionó su sensibilidad, pero a la misma vez me entristeció por lo “malos” que estamos siendo con nuestro Planeta Tierra debido a las cosas que hacemos frecuentemente sin pensar—como la generación desmedida de tanta basura.

Aunque yo y mi familia tratamos de vivir bajo los principios de las tres R’s —reducción, reutilización y reciclaje—confieso que la “R” más difícil de implementar es el de reducir la basura antes de emprender una actividad. En nuestras vidas cotidianas, hay tantas cosas que generan desechos como el embalaje excesivo, las envolturas de comida rápida, los productos desechables, por ejemplo. Si planificamos con antelación, podríamos reducir la basura aún antes de crearla.

He aquí algunas sugerencias:

Hay numerosas posibilidades si se lo propone. Incluyo también algunos consejos para el consumidor que son fáciles de seguir en el hogar para la prevención de basura. También les invito que consulten el blog de mi amiga Brenda que delinea una extensa lista de consejos para cambiar los hábitos a favor de la protección ambiental.

Si los niños se preocupan por nuestro planeta a temprana edad, ¿Por qué no lo hacemos nosotros también?

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A Portuguese Spring

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

About the author: Stephen S. Hale joined EPA’s Atlantic Ecology Division (Narragansett, RI) in 1995 as a Research Ecologist. Last spring, he spent two months in Portugal with the Embassy Science Fellows Program.

image of author I gazed over the podium at the Portuguese faces waiting to hear how the U.S. EPA measures the health of U.S. estuaries and coastal oceans. A conference in the Azores was comparing the approaches used by the U.S. and the European Union (EU). A few opening pleasantries quickly exhausted my what-you-can-learn-from-ten-CDs knowledge of the Portuguese language and I switched to English.

A two-month Embassy Science Fellows Program brought me to Portugal. The U.S. State Department draws upon other federal agencies to provide scientific and technical expertise to American embassies around the world. Portugal held the revolving EU Presidency, and the Embassy in Lisbon requested help with coastal and ocean issues resulting from the EU’s Water Framework Directive (akin to our Clean Water Act) and Marine Strategy.

If I sailed due east from Rhode Island along the 41st parallel, I would bump into Portugal, a small country that could hold 23 Rhode Islands. My previous experience with things Portuguese—other than Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish that sometimes land on our shores—was a peripheral involvement with research my division conducts on the Superfund site in New Bedford Harbor, MA, an area with many people of Portuguese descent and common ties with (earlier) whaling, and now fishing.

In Portugal, I met with government agencies, universities, and environmental groups to learn how the EU directives are being met and to explore areas for collaborative research. Fueled by strong coffee (bica) and cream tarts (pastéis de nata), at universities all over the country, I gave seminars on developing ecological indicators for the U.S. National Coastal Assessment and on the EPA research that has led to the U.S. National Coastal Condition Report. The Portuguese were keen to adopt some of the study design and methods I shared. In turn, I learned about methods used to intercalibrate indicators among different EU countries.

While serving on two scholarship panels (Fulbright Commission and Luso-American Development Foundation), I saw a flotilla of bright Portuguese students who will come to the U.S. for graduate study.

Throughout my stay, I met dedicated and passionate people who were determined to turn Portugal’s proud sea-faring tradition into modern-day leadership on environmental research and policy to keep our oceans healthy. I returned fortified with different ways to advance our shared goals—better water quality and healthier marine ecosystems. Obrigado.

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Greening My House

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

image of houseA few months ago, my wife and I bought a house slightly bigger than our current home, but organized inside in pretty strange ways. Since we plan to spend the next 30-40 years there, we decided to renovate it. We want to do it in the greenest way possible. That means reduce, reuse, and recycle through the renovation.

“Reduce” starts with choosing where to live. Both our current house and the new one are about ½ mile from Metro, the DC-area subway; I walk and ride in. We also accepted smaller houses than what was available much further out.

The environment gains from these choices in a few ways: less fuel to commute and less energy used to heat and cool our house. But our quality of life is also better, because my short commute leaves me more time at home, and I’m relaxed on the train instead of driving in rush hour. Not everyone can choose where to live, but I think not enough people put living close to work on their “wants” list when house hunting.

Reducing also means:

  • choosing sustainable, low-emitting cabinets and flooring (THAT decision is a whole blog post by itself)
  • insulating well
  • replacing drafty windows with efficient ones, and
  • finding efficient plumbing (2-mode flushing toilets, anyone?)

It also meant asking the contractor to seal the basement so the heater isn’t running nonstop to keep the pipes from freezing.

“Reuse” comes in several forms. First, we’re keeping the existing appliances. I haven’t done the math, but it’s hard for me to believe that on a life cycle basis, even more efficient appliances are better than getting the full life out of existing ones. It just takes so many resources to create a new item. We also had the contractors keep trim work so they can reinstall it. Old kitchen cabinets will go in the basement. And what we’re not reusing ourselves, we’ll donate.

“Recycle” in this context includes scrap wood, metal, and bricks. We’ve been searching the web for help with that. It also includes recycling stuff we no longer want and won’t move with us (need an old computer power supply?).

Since it’s Radon Action Month, I should also mention we tested the house before we bought it, and it’s fine.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for renovating in a green way? Remember we don’t allow advertising in our comments, so please stick to generic product descriptions instead of specific companies.

UPDATE on Feb. 8. 2010: In a followup post, I discuss many of our decisions and invite you to share your favorite green features of your home.

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Surprising "Other" Website Demographics

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.

It’s considered an especially helpful Web practice to know who our audience is as we design and write Web pages. After all, a page about climate change intended for kids should be quite different from one prepared for the general public, and even more so for web content aimed at research scientists. Learning about the demographics of our readers isn’t easy: surveys are the only way to ask about age, occupation, education, location, technological savvy and the like, and even survey results can be dogged by sample bias and low response.

Somewhat related, if a bit less important, is a profile of the people who work on our website. As web content coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic regional office, I host monthly meetings of our Web staff and work with these earnest, talented people on a variety of projects and processes. So, I’m in a position to know, at no cost to the taxpayers-just using eyes and ears-quite a bit about the group’s demographics. And if you’re guessing that our group is a bunch of geeky twenty-somethings, please guess again.

Here’s a sketch of our surprisingly (pardon the euphemism) “mature” Web committee members, the 15 people who develop and maintain our Web pages (but not the people who, much more occasionally, provide the content):

  • Nine are in their 40s and 50s, four are no longer that old, with one each still in his 20s and 30s.
  • Only five work almost entirely on the Web.
  • Eleven are EPA employees, two work for our IT support contractor, and two are members of EPA’s wonderful Senior Environmental Employment program.
  • Only one, or possibly two, learned about Web work in college; most made mid-career changes after many years of more traditional (EPA or non-government) jobs. (EPA is good about allowing and sometimes encouraging this change.)

Demographics don’t reveal all that counts, and I’m feeling confident that our “experienced” Web committee’s work will continue to excel as we focus on (a) refining and coordinating our content (Web 1.0) as we (b) improve our work processes (via a new Web content management system) and (c) bring the public more fully into EPA’s data and decisions (Web 2.0). More on these challenges in future Greenversations posts.

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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Resolve to Protect Your Family and Kick Radon Out of Your Home in 2009

About the author: Builder Fuad Reveiz* is a former professional football placekicker and a current
Member of the National Association of Home Builders. He has his own building and development company in Knoxville, Tennessee. He includes radon-resistant features when building new homes.

Recently the headlines have been pretty dire – crises in the financial and housing markets, a poor holiday season for retailers. Reflecting on this state of affairs a friend recently said to me, “at least I’ve got my health.” How right he was! I cherish my health and that of my family. As a builder, homeowner, and parent, I know that having a healthy and green home is extremely important in protecting the health of my family.

In my experience as a builder, homes built for health and safety sell faster. More and more of my customers know the importance of indoor air quality to their families’ health. They also know one of the most dangerous indoor air pollutants is radon. Some years ago, I learned about the health risks of breathing radon from the American Lung Association, and I learned about ways to build new homes so radon can be prevented from entering them.

Radon is a deadly radioactive gas that rises up from underground and can seep into any home. Breathing in radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking – and among non-smokers it’s the leading cause of lung cancer.

The good news is that homes can be built safer, healthier, and radon-resistant. The techniques to prevent radon from entering a home are practical and straightforward for any builder. It’s an inexpensive way to offer families a benefit that could reduce their risk of lung cancer. And it’s a smart way to build trust between builders and their customers. If you are looking to buy a new home, ask your builder about radon-resistant features or seek out a builder that builds radon-resistant to make your home healthier and greener at the same time.

I hope you’ll resolve to protect your loved ones by learning about radon, testing for it and kicking it out of your home. The winter season is a great time to get informed about radon, as January is National Radon Action Month, a time dedicated to increasing radon awareness. As someone who knows quite a lot about kicking, I suggest you kick off this New Year right because living in a healthier home starts from the ground up.
 
For detailed information about radon-resistant new construction, radon testing, and National Radon Action Month visit www.epa.gov/radon/.

*EPA does not endorse this particular builder or any other commercial service or enterprise.

 

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Comprométase a proteger a su familia y elimine el radón de su hogar en el 2009

Acerca del autor: El constructor Fuad Reveiz* es un ex jugador estrella del fútbol americano profesional y un miembro de la Asociación Nacional de Constructores de Viviendas. El tiene su propia compañía de construcción y desarrollo en Knoxville, TN. Además, incluye elementos resistentes al radón cuando construye nuevas viviendas.

Recientemente los titulares han sido bastantes sombríos—crisis en los mercados financieros y de vivienda, una temporada adversa para los minoristas, por ejemplo. Al reflexionar sobre estos asuntos, un amigo me dijo recientemente “al menos estoy en buenas condiciones de salud”. ¡Cuánta razón tenía! Yo atesoro mi salud y la de mi familia. Como constructor, propietario de vivienda, y padre, sé que el tener una casa saludable y verde es extremadamente importante para proteger la salud de mi familia.

En mi experiencia como constructor, las casas que son construidas tomando en cuenta las normas de salud y seguridad se venden más rápidamente. Día a día son más los clientes que saben cuán importante es la calidad del aire interior para la salud de su familia. También saben que uno de los contaminantes más peligrosos del aire en entornos interiores es el radón. Hace varios años aprendí sobre los riesgos a la salud que surgen al respirar el radón de la Asociación Americana del Pulmón y aprendí cómo se podrían construir nuevos hogares prevenir el radón penetre en los mismos.

El radón es un gas radioactiva mortal que sube desde debajo del suelo y penetra en cualquier hogar. El respirar radón puede ocasionar cáncer pulmonar. De hecho, el radón en la principal causa de cáncer de los pulmones después de la de fumar—y entre los no-fumadores es la principal causa de cáncer pulmonar.

Las buenas nuevas son que las casas pueden estar construidas más seguras, más saludables y resistentes al radón. Las técnicas para prevenir el radón de entrar en el hogar son prácticas y directas para cualquier constructor. Es una manera de bajo costo para ofrecer a las familias un beneficio que podría reducir su riesgo al cáncer pulmonar. Es una manera inteligente de desarrollar confianza entre los constructores y sus clientes. Si está pensando comprar una nueva vivienda, pregúntele al constructor acerca de los elementos resistentes al radón o busque un constructor que utilice estas prácticas resistentes al radón para hacer que su hogar sea más saludable y verde a la vez.

Espero que usted decida proteger a sus seres queridos al aprender acerca del radón, realizar la prueba del radón, y eliminarlo de su hogar. La temporada de invierno es un buen momento para informarse acerca del radón ya que enero es el Mes Nacional de Acción del Radón y es una buena época para crear conciencia sobre el radón. Como alguien que ha dedicado tiempo a este esfuerzo, recomiendo que inicie el nuevo año con el propósito de tener una casa más saludable comenzando desde los cimientos hacia arriba.

Para información detallada acerca de la nueva construcción resistente al radón, las pruebas de radón y el Mes Nacional de Acción del Radón, visite: http://www.epa.gov/radon/.

*EPA no auspicia ningún contratista en particular ni ninguna otra empresa o servicio comercial.

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Coquis and EPA

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.

Saludos-Greetings-Aloha to one and all in the new year.

When I wrote last May about the unwelcomed arrival of the Puerto Rican coqui frogs to Hawaiian shores, little did I know that there was going to be such a heated debate in blogosphere. Personal feelings aside, the multiple responses received motivated me to actually find out what is the Agency’s role in addressing the growth of the coqui population throughout the 50th state. After making several calls and sending some emails, I was surprised to find that EPA’s role is limited.

In fact, the Agency was asked to step in the control efforts when the State of Hawaii needed an exemption to use an unregistered product to control the coquis. EPA is involved in this issue because products sold and used as pesticides must be evaluated and approved by the Agency under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to ensure they can be used safety and without posing any unreasonable risks to people or the environment. In this case, Hawaii has requested an emergency exemption to use an unregistered product (calcium hydroxide or hydrated lime) as a pesticide in a quarantine program to control the invasive species, the Coqui. Hawaii is concerned that the frogs pose a serious threat to both agriculture and to the native Hawaiian forest ecosystems, including endangered species. I have been informed that the Agency is in the process of reviewing this request. Currently, there is a multiagency effort to stop the spread of the coqui in Hawaii led by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

While I confess that this dialogue in Greenversations has been eye-opening, I still yearn for the nocturnal coqui chants I experienced in my youth. Recently a friend asked why the coquís in Hawaii seem so much louder and active than the original coquis in their natural setting. In addition to the invasive nature of the coqui in Hawaii, I think we also can attribute the contrasts largely to the differences in population density and urban sprawl. In Hawaii, the population density is 188.6 inhabitants for square mile. In Puerto Rico, it’s 1,127 inhabitants for square mile! While there are numerous groups to save the coquí in Hawaii let’s not forget the plight of the coqui in Puerto Rico.

 

 

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Los coquí y la EPA

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.

Saludos y aloha para todos en el nuevo año.

Cuando escribí en mayo pasado sobre la llegada poco acogida de los anfibios coquí puertorriqueños a las costas hawaianas, nunca pensé que se fuera a producir un debate tan intenso en la blogosfera. Dejando a un lado mis sentimientos personales, las múltiples respuestas recibidas me motivaron a investigar realmente cuál es el papel que desempeña la Agencia para abordar el crecimiento de la población coquí en el estado número 50. Después de varias llamadas y correos electrónicos, me sorprendí al ver que el rol de EPA es limitado.

De hecho, se le solicitó a la Agencia intervenir en los esfuerzos de control cuando el Estado de Hawai necesitaba una exención para utilizar un producto no registrado para el control de los coquí. EPA está participando en este asunto porque los productos que son vendidos y utilizados como pesticidas tienen que ser evaluados y aprobados por la Agencia bajo la Ley Federal de Insecticidas, Fungicidas y Rodenticidas (FIFRA, por sus siglas en inglés) para asegurar que se utilicen de manera segura sin presentar riesgos irrazonables al público ni al medio ambiente. En este caso, Hawai ha solicitado una exención de emergencia para utilizar el producto no registrado (hidróxido de calcio o cal hidratada) como un plaguicida en un programa de cuarentena para controlar la especie invasora, el coquí. Hawai está preocupada de que estos anfibios representan una seria amenaza tanto para la agricultura como para los ecosistemas forestes autóctonos al Hawai, incluyendo especies en peligro de extinción. Se me ha informado que la Agencia se encuentra en el proceso de revisar esta solicitud. En la actualidad, hay un esfuerzo multiagencial para frenar la propagación del coquí en Hawai dirigida por el Departamento de Agricultura estatal.

Tengo que confesar que mientras este diálogo en Greenversations (Conversaciones verdes) ha sido aleccionador, todavía añoro el cantar nocturno del coquí que viví en mi juventud. Recientemente un amigo me preguntó el por qué los coquí en Hawai parecen tener un canto mucho más fuerte que sus parientes originales en su medio natural boricua. Además de la naturaleza invasora del coquí en Hawai, creo que los contrastes se pueden atribuir también a las diferencias en la densidad poblacional entre ambos grupos isleños. En Hawai, la población demográfica es de 188.6 habitantes por milla cuadrada. ¡En Puerto Rico, hay 1,127 habitantes por milla cuadrada! Mientras hay numerosos grupos que quieren salvar el coquí en Hawai, no nos olvidemos de los problemas del coquí en Puerto Rico.

 

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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