Monthly Archives: February 2009

On Board the OSV BOLD: Sediment Sampling in Paradise

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

About the author: Doug Pabst is the chief scientist for the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage. He leads the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Feb. 17, 2009 – 8:00 pm (Day 9)

We left Ponce at 6 a.m. and conducted more bongo net tows several miles offshore of Guayanilla, Puerto Rico. After the tows we proceeded west towards La Parguera to conduct sediment sampling operations.

La Parguera is a small fishing village in the town of Lajas on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. The waters off La Parguera consist of small coral encrusted islands topped with mangroves. It is also home to Phosphorescent Bay, where at night the water will glow brilliantly when disturbed. This is caused by a small organism (a dinoflagellate) that lives in abundance in the area and glows when subjected to movement, similar to a firefly. This place is like paradise, with its natural beauty and picturesque tropical settings. I can see why some license plates here bear the slogan “Island of Enchantment”

We decided to anchor the OSV BOLD and use our smaller rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBS) to conduct the sediment sampling. The OSV BOLD will serve as our platform to process and store the sediment samples. We dropped anchor at approximately 1 p.m.

image of round, flat sieve with grainy sediment in the bottomWe broke up into three teams. Two teams sampled in the RHIBS and one team stayed on board the OSV BOLD to process the sediment samples collected by the other teams. We will analyze the sediment samples of sand, silt and clay for grain size, total organic carbon (TOC), and benthic community analyses (organisms that live at the bottom of the ocean). The grain size and TOC samples are placed into a refrigerator and will be shipped to our lab for analysis. The benthic community samples are placed into a sieve, small round pan with a 0.02 inch (0.5 mm) screen on the bottom.

four specimen jars with pink water and sediment in bottomThe remaining material is gently scooped into a plastic container. The contents are preserved and stained, which allows for easier identification of any organisms. We then wrap electrical tape around the lids to further prevent leakage of the preservative. Our results will be utilized to help better protect and preserve the coral reefs and their associated ecosystems.

We ended the day with additional bongo net tows for marine debris off of Cabo Rojo. We’re schedule to do more bongo net tows at 6 a.m. and arrive at Mayaguez around noon. We will be in Mayaguez the rest of the day on the 18th and open to the public for tours from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on the 19th.

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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Cleaning the Chesapeake Bay

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.

As I’ve mentioned before, my weekend agenda is pretty much controlled by the activities that my youngest has scheduled. Recently, she was invited to a friend’s birthday party in Pasadena, MD. The home where they were having the party was about 45 minutes from our house. I had never been to the area and it wasn’t until we got there that we discovered the house was right on the Chesapeake Bay! There was a beautiful view of the majestic Chesapeake, the largest estuary in the nation, right at our footsteps.

I started speaking with the mom and she told me how they had recently moved into their new home. She also mentioned that she was looking forward to the spring to start gardening and planting new flowers and trees in her yard. I recommended that she plant native shrubs and trees which would help protect the Bay. Native plants reduce the need to use pesticides and fertilizers. Letting these shrubs grow densely along the waterway prevents non-point source pollution and erosion. Greenscaping techniques are beneficial anywhere you live and near a watershed these techniques have an added value.

There are several simple steps you can take at home to prevent non-point source pollution from harming such a national treasure or any watershed for that matter. As we get closer to Earth Day, we can start to think of ways to encourage our children and communities to get involved in environmental protection. The protection of our waterways is a good place to start. With spring just around the corner, there are many green activities which the entire family will enjoy.

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 limpiar la Bahía del Chesapeake

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.

Como he mencionado en el pasado, la agenda de mis fines de semana está controlada mayormente por las actividades que mi hija menor tiene programadas. Recientemente, tenía una invitación para un cumpleaños de una amiguita en Pasadena, MD. La casa donde se celebraba la fiesta estaba a 45 minutos de nuestro hogar. ¡No fue hasta que llegamos que descubrimos que la casa estaba justo en la ribera de la Bahía del Chesapeake! Una hermosa vista del majestuoso Chesapeake, el estuario más grande de la nación, estaba literalmente a sus pies.

Empecé hablar con la mamá de la amiguita y me contó que se habían mudado recientemente a su nueva casa. También mencionó que estaba esperando con interés la llegada de la primavera para dedicarse a la jardinería y sembrar su jardín. Le recomendé que sembrara arbustos y árboles nativos que ayudarían a proteger la Bahía. Cabe señalar que el sembrar plantas nativas reduce la necesidad de tener que utilizar pesticidas y fertilizantes. El dejar que los arbustos crezcan densamente a lo largo de una vía acuática evita la contaminación de escorrentías y la erosión. Mientras que las técnicas de jardinería ecológica son beneficiosas en cualquier lugar, en las proximidades de una cuenca fluvial tienen un valor añadido.

Hay muchas maneras de tomar pasos sencillos en el hogar para evitar que la contaminación de fuentes difusas perjudique este tesoro nacional o cualquier cuenca. A medida que se acerca el Día del Planeta Tierra, debemos empezar a pensar en maneras en las cuales podemos lograr que nuestros hijos y comunidades participen en la protección ambiental. La protección de nuestras vías acuáticas es una buena manera de comenzar. Con la primavera al doblar de la esquina, hay muchas actividades verdes para toda la familia.

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: On Board the OSV Bold

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

About the author: Doug Pabst is the chief scientist for the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage. He leads the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Gone Fishin’

Feb. 13, 2009 – 8:00 pm (Day 5)

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

The crew of the OSV BOLD spent today fishing with University of Puerto Rico (UPR) scientists and students. It’s not what you think; we towed bongo nets—they’re called that because the opening looks like the drums—behind the ship to collect floating marine debris (garbage, plant material, plastic, etc.) and plankton (small animals and algae).

Marine debris is a problem in oceans, coasts and watersheds throughout the world. It can result from human activities anywhere in the watershed, from an overturned trash can many miles from the ocean, or from litter left on a beach. Detergent bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts, and discarded fishing line can become marine debris. Birds, whales, turtles, dolphins and other marine animals become injured or die by becoming entangled in debris or by confusing it with their natural food.

image of two net shaped like bongo drums skimming the waterTo collect marine debris, the bongo nets are towed through the water at the surface for 30 minutes or longer. We then retrieve the nets onboard and examine the contents. The UPR scientists also collect and preserve animals and algae in the bongo for counting and identification back in their laboratory.

Our first stop was off the north shore by Arecibo. The trade winds continued to blow hard, making our “fishing” all the more difficult. We continued west off the Rincon Lighthouse for more floatable fishing. Here we were more protected from the large ocean swells on the north coast. Several humpback whales appeared out of the water upon our arrival as if to say hi and welcome us to the west coast. Our last fishing stop of the day was off of Mayaguez. The good news, so far, is we found very little garbage. Our main catch was small jellyfish and the blue variety of a little animal called a copepod, which looks like a blue flea. We were treated to a spectacular sunset as we completed operations for the day and sailed east along the south coast towards our next mission off Jobos Bay.

Hunting for Treasure

Feb. 14, 2009 – 6:00 pm (Day 6)

The day started at 5 a.m. in the darkness off the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a chain of 15 tear-shaped mangrove islets known as Cayos Caribe and the Mar Negro area in western Jobos Bay. The Cayos Caribe islets are fringed by coral reefs and sea grass beds with small beach deposits and upland area. The Mar Negro area consists of mangrove forest and complex systems of lagoons and channels interspersed with salt and mud flats.

The reserve is home to the endangered brown pelican, peregrine falcon, hawksbill sea turtle and West Indian manatee. It is commercially important for marine recreation, commercial and recreational fishing and ecotourism. The area is managed by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and our data will be provided to the two agencies to assist in their management of this important and beautiful area. Our main goal is to map of the seafloor south of the reserve.

image of long, tubular, rocket shaped side scan sonar componentWe towed the side scan sonar, which resembles a small rocket, off the side of the ship. The side scan sonar uses sound waves to detect seafloor types (sand, mud, silt) and objects (coral, rocks, manmade debris, ship wrecks, etc.). With good images you can see sand waves and identify objects about size of a car tire. In order to produce a map of the survey area, we tow the side scan sonar in tightly spaced overlapping lines. We call this mowing the lawn because our survey pattern mimics how you’d typically mow your lawn. Sadly we didn’t find any sunken treasure, but several resident dolphins paid us a visit, which was reward enough.

We left Jobos Bay and conducted several bongo net tows looking for marine debris and marine life on our way to our next port of call in Ponce. We arrived in the Port of Ponce around 9 p.m. to transfer scientific personnel and stayed overnight.

The Midnight Watch

Feb. 17, 2009 – 12:30 am (Day 9)

It’s just after midnight and we’re 20 miles south of La Parguera conducting water column profiles, a series of scans that help create a cross-sectional view of the sea. Our crew, along with University of Puerto Rico (UPR) researchers, is sampling down to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) every two hours and made one profile down to 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). The ship and scientific crew are working around the clock in 24 hour mode (four hours working and eight hours off).

This far out at sea, you are unable to see the lights of land, but the moon is brightly shining. However, by looking out from the opposite side of the ship, staring out into the abyss, you can’t help but be humbled by the stars and seemingly endless ocean night. You tend to get philosophical on the midnight watch. It seems like we left Ponce a week ago, but we only left at 6 a.m. yesterday and have been working out here since about 9 a.m.

image of smpling equipment consisting of several tubular tanks in a round cage-like deviceOur water column profiler consists of an electronics package with many sensors that measure ocean parameters (salt content, temperature, density, depth, dissolved oxygen, and many more) as the instrument is lowered through the water column. Water sampling bottles are placed around the instrument package and allow us to collect water samples at up to 12 different depths. We’re providing ship time to UPR to allow them to collect information to better understand this area of complex ocean water layers.

There are many different layers of water in the deep ocean. Some start in the North or South Pole and slowly work their way deep below the warmer surface water of the Caribbean Sea. The surface temperature in this area starts at 81 degrees Fahrenheit, drops to 41 degrees at 3,280 feet and seems to level off at 39 degrees at 8,200 feet. Cooler water is heavier and sinks below the warmer, lighter water. In addition to using the data to protect the environment, scientists are also studying this layering of ocean water as a potential way to generate energy using the different physical properties of the water layers.

I’m off watch now and getting ready to get some sleep. We plan to tow the bongo nets later today on our return trip to Ponce. We will be transferring scientific personnel and mobilizing for our next adventure off La Parguera later today.

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: Save Big on Your Heating Emissions by Thinking Change

About the Author: Michelle Gugger graduated from Rutgers University in 2008. She is currently spending a year of service at EPA’s Region 3 Office in Philadelphia, PA as an AmeriCorps VISTA

In Philadelphia, it can get pretty cold in the winter. Tomorrow’s temperature is going to be a high of 18 degrees. On days like these it’s hard to think about being energy efficient. If you’re like me, you probably want to get out of the cold as soon as possible and into a heavily heated place. Fortunately, there are things we can do to keep nice and warm and energy efficient at the same time. Here are a few easy things that you can do at home:

  • Inform your parents that lowering your thermostat by 2 degrees can save 2,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions a year from entering our environment.
  • Also inform your parents that lowering your thermostat while no one is home or at night can save their energy bill an average of $180 a year — in addition to big greenhouse gas savings.
  • Put an end to wasteful heating. Some examples of wasteful heating include leaving your windows/doors open in the winter or putting furniture in front of radiators which prevents heat from circulating.
  • Use nature to keep your home warmer by leaving your blinds open during the day and shutting them at night.

At home, heating is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases according to the EPA. But, you would be surprised with the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that you could save by doing a few simple things! If you want to find out just how much, calculate your emissions before and after you make the changes. When you’re done, I’d love to hear about the positive changes that you could make.

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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Plugging the Sun into the Grid

About the Author: Bill Clugston joined EPA’s Administrative Systems Division in 1991. Later, in 1994 he moved to the Region 10 Seattle office as a Computer Specialist in the Information Resources Unit. He develops software for Region 10 and occasionally develops an EPA national application.

Before joining EPA, I resolved to do my part on climate change by reducing my production of greenhouse gases. My family made all of the obvious changes – changing from incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lights, better weatherproofing, and changing to newer Energy Star appliances, but could we do more? I was familiar with photovoltaic power generation on my backyard observatory and my recreational vehicle, but neither of those systems reduced our household CO2 footprint. At this point, I investigated a grid-tie solar power system.

man on roof working on electrical fixturesmen raising solar panel to roofWhile experienced with electrical circuitry, I am not a certified electrician and I am definitely not qualified to connect power-generating devices into the power grid! Therefore, I went in search of a qualified solar installer. Fortunately, the time of my decision, coincided with the Solar Homes Tour making it convenient to ask other solar power system owners their recommendation for a solar installer. After selecting a solar contractor, he came by to do a site assessment to determine the location for the panels and to discuss my requirements. We decided on a 2-kilowatt power system composed of ten 200-watt panels and ten micro-inverters. The micro-inverters are a recent innovation in the solar power industry. The micro-inverters convert the direct current from the panels to 230-volt alternating current at each panel instead of tying all of the panels together into a single inverter. The one inverter per panel allows enhanced production when parts of the array are shaded and reduces the wire size required to carry power from the array to the power grid. System decisions completed, we paid the installer 80% down to order the system.

image of solar panels on roofBefore ordering the system, I removed one potential obstacle, our homeowners association. Our HOA turned out to be no obstacle at all! In fact, they were supportive of the project. The lesson learned here was send detailed information to your homeowners association. In the meantime, the system finally arrived in Washington State after surviving snowstorms on the way from California. System installation required two days and after a sign-off by the electrical inspector, the system was on the power grid. In case the readers of this post question how practical solar is in rainy Seattle, since system installation in late January 2009 total production is 25kwh of electricity and 42 pounds of carbon offset — not bad power production for a city known more for its mildew than its sunshine!

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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Back to School?

About the author: Amanda Sweda joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2001 and develops policy development for web related issues and serves on the Environmental Education Web Workgroup. Amanda is a former Social Studies and Deaf Education teacher and is married to a math teacher so education is an important topic in their home.

image of author sitting on a rock with woods in the backgroundMost of us would love to go back to our high school days. Sounds unlikely, huh? A lot of adults remember high school as being care-free – our families took care of the big stuff like food, bills, and “grown-up” stuff. As we get older we take those responsibilities on for ourselves – going to college or getting job training, working full-time, finding and taking care of where we live, settling down whether it be marriage or a steady relationship, starting families, and paying bills. But as we get older we forget that teenagers have a lot of responsibilities too and that our younger days were not just fun and games! There is homework, writing papers and doing research, practice for sports, debate, band, theater, etc., being involved in school clubs, volunteering and community service work, working part-time jobs, doing chores at home, spending time with friends and relaxing (very important!), and thinking about the future and what happens after high school.

Most of us who work at EPA are way past our high school days, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t think about high school issues. EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment – high school students are definitely included. One of the ways that we interact with high school students directly is on our Web site. There is a group of dedicated EPA staff who maintains this site – the Environmental Education Web Workgroup (EEWW). Our members work all over the country in our different region offices but we share a common goal – to make sure that our high school education resources is of the highest quality and meets your needs. We can always make the high school site better…and one of the ways that we’d like to hear form you is on this blog. Once a month on the last Friday of the month, a member of EEWW will post a new entry for high school students. We hope you’ll join us and share with us your thoughts and opinions. Let us know what environmental topics you are interested in. We’re curious to hear if your school has an environmental club and what kinds of projects they’re working on. Just so you know we are not going to do your homework, but we can help you find information about the environment, community service, and other topics that might be of interest to you.

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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On Board the OSV BOLD: Textbook to Reality

February 13, 2009 – 11:45 am (Day 5)

About the Author: Beth Totman is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. She covers Superfund, Emergency Response and Pesticides. She’s been with EPA since June 2007.

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

Yesterday’s Open Ship was a huge success. Over 600 schoolchildren and teachers passed through the ship to see the two labs on board, the captain’s bridge, the living and sleeping quarters, the side scan sonar room, the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth recorder), which is a piece of equipment used to test water quality, and the diving operations room, with the different kinds of wetsuits for the divers. It was pretty remarkable to see how excited each child got when concepts like radar and sonar were described. My role was to take groups through the ship from station to station, so I heard each scientist and crew member describe her station over and over again. It really helped me understand, even better, just what happens on the ship.

Crew member shows a wetsuit to kidsIt was good to spend the day talking about the science that happens on this ship, but now it’s time to go out and do that work. Right now, we are heading to the northwest coast of Puerto Rico, off of Arecibo to look for marine debris. The goal of this leg of the trip is to test out various types of gear and methods to provide information to develop an Agency-wide, uniform protocol for marine debris monitoring. All debris that is collected will be counted and categorized.

Then tonight we will sail around the western end of Puerto Rico to Jobos Bay on the south coast. There we will use side scan sonar to map the outer reef area, at the request of Puerto Rico government and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We’ll gather data to help create maps to show the extent and condition of essential recreational fisheries and habitat types.

It’s amazing what this ship can do! In just four days, this ship has been used in an unplanned mission, as an educational tool for schoolchildren, as a means to collect crucial information and data for the Agency, and as a helping hand to other environmental agencies that have like-minded goals in protecting and conserving our environment. I am mid-way through my trip at this point, and will continue to report out on the OSV BOLD.

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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On Board the OSV BOLD: More Than a Thousand Words

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

February 12, 2009 – (Day 4)

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.

When the OSV Bold was deployed Monday to do work along the northern coast of Puerto Rico, all EPA employees on board were asked to place themselves in various observation points throughout the ship and inform our Chief Scientist of any material floating around. About a half an hour into the sail, I spotted with binoculars a big box. The ship circled the item for a closer look and found out it was an old refrigerator floating in the ocean.

According to EPA’s Marine Debris website there are two sources of marine debris. The first comes from land related activities and it includes stormwater runoff and solid waste carried by rivers and streams. The second source of marine debris is from the ocean and it includes waste and trash from other ships and recreational boats, including fishermen.

photo of refrigerator floating in the waterI have been wondering ever since how this refrigerator ended up in the midst of Puerto Rico’s north coast. Could heavy rains have carried it from somewhere up in the mountains to the ocean? Was it not properly disposed of – perhaps just thrown into an illegal dump next to the coast that had eroded with time? We will never know for certain, but one thing is clear – in addition to presenting a navigational hazard, this refrigerator must have leaked all of its contents into the ocean, affecting marine life.

They say a picture says more than a thousands words. From now on, I will bring this picture with me to presentations and let the picture speak for itself.

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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Eliminating Pests Without Poisons

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.

As I was getting ready to go to work, I was listening to the gardening segment
on the local news radio station. The announcer was giving advice on how to eliminate those unwanted critters that might invade the home to escape from the winter cold without having to use toxic substances. He recommended using mouse traps, for example, instead of fumigating or using rat poison.

As I listened to his useful tips, I realized that he was basically advocating for Integrated Pest Management,
a practice that here at EPA we highly recommend,

Without having to use toxic chemicals, you can prevent pests from seeking refuge in your home if you create an environment that is not pleasing to them. How, you may ask? Well, basically, be a very inhospitable host. What do I mean by that? Well, don’t give them any food to eat, nothing to drink, and no shelter! I know we wouldn’t welcome these pests knowingly, but frankly, when we leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight, or leave water for our pets overnight, or even let water accumulate under our plant pots or around the home, or we have a cluttered home, we are extending an open invitation to the unwanted critters!!! Why do I mention clutter like newspapers, bags, boxes, etc., because you don’t want to create the perfect hiding place for them nor their relatives….

So, even if you follow these steps and you get a visit from an unwanted guest like these pests, consider using baits and traps so you can keep toxics out of your home. Keep a healthy home for you, your family, as well as your pets.

 

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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