Monthly Archives: March 2009

Climate for Action: Spring Cleaning

About the Author: Loreal Crumbley, a senior at George Mason University, is an intern with EPA’s Environmental Education Division through EPA’s Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).

For many of you, spring cleaning is just around the corner. I don’t know about you but my family has already begun cleaning our home. Washing windows, dusting, cleaning pipes, washing and packing away winter necessities are just a few things families do when cleaning.

We all use household cleaners, solvents and detergents. Most household shelves are filled with toxic substances. Ordinary household cleaners and solvents contain materials that can pollute our air and water systems. These materials contain acids, volatile organic compounds (VOC), lye, and other toxic chemicals. The release of these toxic chemicals into our environment can cause air pollution, as well as soil and groundwater damage. Contaminating our air and water can threaten human health and other organisms living in our environment.

We can limit the amount of toxic chemicals that are released into our environment by changing how we clean our homes. To begin non-toxic cleaning, you should use natural methods to clean your home. Some examples are:

  • Baking soda is frequently used to reduce the effects of odors in water and in the air. Many use baking soda to freshen-up carpets and as air fresheners. It can also be used when cleaning kitchens, bathrooms and windows.
  • Vinegar and lemon juice can be used to clean scum and grime off of dishes. They are also good when cleaning copper or brass objects. Vinegar can be used when cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, floors and appliances.
  • Bar soaps can be used in the place of bleaches, ammonias, and detergents. When doing laundry these detergents can be harmful to our environment and sometimes cause allergies and skin irritation. Bars soaps are less toxic and can reduce allergies and skin irritation.
  • Hang drying your clothes can be an alternative to using a dryer. Chemically loaded fabric softeners are sometimes used in dryers; hang drying can eliminate this as well as reducing the amount of energy you use in your home.

These are just a few tips to non-toxic cleaning around the home. I’m sure lots of you have your own special home recipes that you use. Please let me know; we all need to reduce the amount of toxics that we release into the environment.

Remember it is our job to keep our environment healthy and beautiful!! Keeping our environment clean and safe will protect the earth and our health!

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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Time Change – Time to Reflect

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

With the recent change to set clocks forward a couple of weeks ago, now would be a great time to think about your personal power usage.

As you went around changing those clocks, especially the electrically powered ones, did it seem that you had more and more to do this year? One of the biggest uses of electrical power in your home or office is also very discretionary.

If you have a school-age child at home (or you can do it yourself), have them draw a map of your residence, mark every electrical outlet and inventory its use. What is plugged in 24 hours a day? Ask if those lights and appliances are necessary to be “standing by” for use? For example, in my kitchen, the coffee maker and the microwave are next to one another. Both come with clock features and when plugged in are both using power 24 hours a day. Unless you have your coffee maker come on before you wake up, does it need to be plugged in all day? Does anyone need the microwave to come on at certain time or do you really need to have it run for a set number of minutes? Unplug it when not in use.

image of several clocks on mantel

And not all of these energy users have clocks. Why does an electric toothbrush need to be plugged in 24 hours when it is only going to be used a couple of times a day? Consider plugging it in for charging when you get into the shower or during the nightly news and then unplugging it after each use.

Don’t get me started on all of the chargers for personal and work cell phones, Blackberries/PDAs, cameras, and iPod/MP3 players that are plugged into the grid, but never seem to be charging any device. Do you have a television and DVD player in a guest bedroom waiting to be used? Unplug until the guest arrives.

Reduce your electrical power demand. Reduce your home electricity bill. Reduce your personal carbon footprint.

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: Why did or didn’t you observe Earth Hour?

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.

On the evening of Saturday March 28, millions around the world turned off their lights for an hour to demonstrate their awareness of the need to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Why did or didn’t you observe Earth Hour?

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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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Por qué observó o no observó la Hora del Planeta Tierra?

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.

En la noche del sábado, 28 de marzo, millones de personas alrededor del mundo apagaron las luces por una hora para demostrar su concienciación sobre la necesidad de conservar energía y reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero.

¿Por qué observó o no observo la Hora del Planeta Tierra?

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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Teens have the Power!

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 rockRecently my dad and stepmom came to visit me and told me about the new house they bought. My dad told me about what they are doing to the house to get ready for moving in – painting, new appliances, and some remodeling. I asked my dad if he had bought Energy Star kitchen appliances and the blank look on his face said it all – he didn’t know. I was disappointed that I had missed an opportunity to help my parents make environmental decisions appropriate for them and potentially save a lot of money on their electricity bills, water consumption, etc. over the years.

My dad didn’t talk to me about any of these decisions probably because I don’t live at home anymore (and haven’t for a long time). This is not to say that my dad wouldn’t have appreciated the advice. I remember when they first moved to New York State over a year ago he asked my younger sister about cell phone plans. He ended up buying the phones that my sister recommended. I guess he thought my sister was more technical savvy, but this means he listens to at least one of his daughters!

My dad is not alone when it comes to asking for technical help from the kids. Turns out there is tons of research that shows parents rely on their (teenagers) kids’ advice when it comes to making purchases especially for electronics. Guess my dad doesn’t ask me because I am not a teenager anymore! It might be hard to believe, but teenagers like you have a lot of power to help your parents make all kinds of purchasing decisions.

I am sure you can’t imagine buying a washing machine or a dishwasher right now, but someday you might. Or it could be a new microwave, TV, or other electronic device. It doesn’t even have to be about electronics – there are all kinds of home improvement projects you could do with your family. Or maybe you have been dreaming about a car to drive when you can – you’ll definitely want to participate in that decision! Now’s a good time to practice making these kinds of decisions and working with your parents to figure out what works best for your family and budget.

Check out the Energy Conservation page on our Web site for some tips. What are some ways that you have already helped your family with these types of decisions?

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 Tire Story

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.

Rubber protects my bones and ligaments while I jog in my neighborhood park. Yet if not properly recycled, it can be more harm than good. In Puerto Rico 4.7 million scrap tires are disposed of every year and nearly 300 million in the United States. While there is a market for their proper recycling and productive use, such as the ground rubber surface I love to run on, almost one quarter of scrap tires end up in landfills and illegal dumps every year.

While tire regulations vary from state to state, and they are not treated generally a hazardous waste, they are threats to human health and the environment when not properly disposed of. Rodents and mosquitoes, such as aedes aegypti, may live and breed in them if they collect water. Fires, which are hard to extinguish, can release hazardous gases, heavy metals and oils that can contaminate not only the air but also the soil.

Tires can be used in environmentally safe applications such as ground rubber, like the one used in rubber-modified asphalt and playground applications, and rubber mulch. Some 56 million tires are recycled in the US for civil engineering projects and some 16.5 million are re-treaded.

image of tire floating in water taken from the side of a shipIn spite of all these good uses and outreach efforts being performed by local and federal environmental agencies and municipal anti-tire dumping laws, many scrap tires end up in our rivers and beaches harming habitats and ecosystems. Furthermore, during the last OSV Bold trip to Puerto Rico we found some tires floating in the ocean, miles away from the Atlantic coast.

In order to help state and local governments reduce the economic burdens and environmental risks associated with scrap tire piles, EPA Region 5 created the Scrap Tire Cleanup Guidebook. This guidebook provides the experience of dozens of professionals to assist government officials in reducing scrap tire dumping and creating prevention programs.

As an individual citizen there are many things that can be done to prevent tires from ending up in the wrong place and becoming a nuisance. If you have unused tires at home, you may be able to return surplus tires to either a tire retailer or a local recycling facility that accepts them. Also buy durable tires and take proper care of them by checking air inflation, driving in a manner that does not put unnecessary demand on tires, rotating them, balancing the wheels, and maintaining proper wheel alignment. And last but not least, support the recycled product market.

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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Sobre Llantas y Neumáticos

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.

La goma protege mis huesos y ligamentos mientras corro en el parque de mi urbanización. Sin embargo, si la goma no es apropiadamente reciclada puede ser más dañina que beneficiosa. En Puerto Rico 4.7 millones de llantas son dispuestas cada año y en Estados Unidos 300 millones. Aun cuando hay un mercado para el reciclaje y uso productivo de los neumáticos, como la superficie en la que me ejercito, anualmente una cuarta parte de las llantas terminan en un relleno sanitario o vertedero ilegal.

Aún cuando las reglamentaciones varían de estado a estado las llantas no son consideradas desperdicios peligrosas. Estas representan un peligro a la salud humana y el medioambiente, y pueden ser criadero de ratas y mosquitos como el Aedes aegypti. Los fuegos por acumulación de llantas son difíciles de extinguir y liberan gases peligrosos, metales pesados y aceites que contaminan el aire y el suelo.

Las llantas pueden utilizarse en aplicaciones seguras para el medioambiente como goma para superficie, asfalto modificado con goma, en aplicaciones para áreas de juegos infantiles y cobertura de césped. En Estados Unidos hay 56 millones de llantas son recicladas para usos de ingeniería civil y cerca 16.5 son recauchadas.

image of tire floating in water taken from side of shipA pesar de todos estos usos beneficiosos y esfuerzos de educación que llevan a cabo agencias federales, estatales y leyes municipales contra su disposición inadecuada muchas llantas terminan en nuestras playas y cuerpos de agua impactando adversamente habitats y ecosistemas. Durante el último viaje de la embarcación OSV Bold al Caribe encontré neumáticos flotando en aguas de las costas Atlántico.

Para ayudar a los gobiernos locales y estatales a reducir el impacto económico y los riesgos ambientales asociados con las montañas de gomas usadas, la Región 5 de la EPA ha creado La Guía de Limpieza de Neumáticos. Esta guía provee el insumo y experiencia de docenas de profesionales para asistir a los oficiales del gobierno a reducir el problema de la disposición inadecuada de llantas y crear programas de prevención.

Como ciudadano hay muchas cosas que usted puede hacer para prevenir que las llantas terminen en un lugar inadecuado y sean visualmente desagradable. Si tiene llantas sin usar en su casa, puede llevarlas a un detallista de llantas o a una facilidad de reciclaje. Compre neumáticos duraderos y verifique que se encuentren inflados en la presión correcta. Conduzca cuidadosamente y lleve sus gomas a rotar y balancear para mantener la alineación adecuada. Por último,y no menos importante, apoye el mercado de productos reciclados.

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: Planning for the Future

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

About the Author: Jay Messer, Ph.D. is a Senior Science Advisor at the National Center for Environmental Assessment in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is a lead writer of EPA’s 2008 Report on the Environment.

Watching my retirement recede into the future as the financial crisis deepened put me in mind of EPA’s 2008 Report on the Environment.

image of cover of the 2008 Report on the EnvironmentThe purposes of the Report are to “provide valuable input to EPA in devel­oping its strategic outlook and priorities, and [to] allow EPA and the public to assess whether the Agency is succeeding in its overall mission to protect human health and the environment.”

The release of the Report last spring marked the first time that such a wide range of objective, transparent, and scientifically-solid information about environmental status and trends has appeared under in a single EPA publication. I believe that it makes a valuable contribution in telling us how we’ve done over time (not bad!), but I’m less sanguine about its influence on planning for the future.

We in EPA are certainly familiar with “performance measures:”

  • EPAstat presents measures of quarterly performance, primarily aimed at short-term management “outputs,” and
  • EPA’s Annual Performance and Accountability Reports present measures of annual performance aimed at output and longer-term (e.g., 5-year) “outcome” targets for specific programs.

Performance measures are important management tools, but most of the agencies responsible for overseeing banks and securities received scores of “adequate” or better on their latest performance reviews. Apparently we needed more to protect the economy. So we probably need more to protect the environment.

Rather than measuring the performance of particular programs, the indicators in the Report on the Environment ideally reflect more on the outcomes of the way resources are allocated across and among programs, and on multi-program and multi-agency efforts to solve environmental problems and fill critical data gaps. EPA’s latest Strategic Plan notes that many of its targets are consistent with the trends in the Report, but there is no forum in which the Report is systematically used to inform strategic thinking at a higher level.

This is not a problem unique to EPA. Environmental agencies around the globe are facing the same challenge, and a review of several major environmental decisions suggests that environmental indicators seldom demonstrably inform strategic decisions. I’d argue that this needs to change and that EPA can and should provide international leadership in effectively using indicator information in strategic planning.

Because we all look forward to a healthy, well-protected environment that we can (eventually) retire to!

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: Choosing an Alternative to Polystyrene

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.

I remember all throughout school, all the plates and cups in the cafeteria were polystyrene.  For the students, if we were buying lunch we had no choice but to use the polystyrene dishware.  Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t know the negative impacts on the Earth that we were all creating by using these products, or that because polystyrene is non-biodegradable, the dishware that I threw out after lunch would still be floating around in the environment today and continue to do so years from now.

Polystyrene creates waste that just does not go away.  In what ways then do you think polystyrene will impact our environment?  One of the most important ways, I feel, will be the health of our land and water environments.  I’ve already seen polystyrene dishware floating around in streams and in parks.  This is not only ugly to look at, but it’s also dangerous for the animals if they eat it.  In addition to affecting our land and water environments, polystyrene impacts our environment by releasing pollutants into the air.  In 1986, the EPA identified 57 chemical byproducts that were released into the air through its production and many of the pollutants are known to cause serious health effects such as the reduced functioning of the lungs and nervous systems.  Check out Earth’s Resource’s website to learn about the ways polystyrene can affect our health and environment.

So let’s reduce our impact!  Reduce air pollution and the waste in our environment by taking action.  How can you do this?  Can you think of ways to influence your school to change their polystyrene-only policies?  How?  Every year Americans waste enough polystyrene that it could circle the Earth 426 times.  Let’s protect our health and keep our environment clean by reducing this waste—and choose a different alternative to polystyrene.

Editorial Correction: The first version of this blog posting incorrectly used the term styrofoam® instead of polystyrene foam. Comments to the blog also reflect this misuse of the term. The DOW Chemical Company is the owner of several registrations for the trademark Styrofoam® which is used on Dow’s plastic foam insulation and construction products for use in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings, and on floral and craft products. The term was incorrectly used in the blog as a generic description of foam products. We regret the mistake and any inconvenience this may have caused.

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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"…Like a Train Wreck"

About the author: Dan Heister has been an on-scene coordinator with Superfund in Region 10 since 2000 and joined EPA 13 years before that. Dan’s responses have ranged from fifty gallon oil spills on a small creek to spending seven weeks in a FEMA trailer helping with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Nine out of ten OSCs agree, if you’re going to respond to a petroleum spill, red diesel is the best kind. It floats, it’s less flammable and aquatically toxic than gas. It doesn’t persist and stain like a heavy oil, and wind and sunlight degrade it relatively quickly. It’s also red for higher visibility. It’s dyed red to indicate tax-exempt status for off-highway use (farm equipment, locomotives, etc.). That said, it is still extremely problematic for humans and the environment when spilled.

I responded to a train derailment in SW Oregon in October 2004. The train was on a steep grade when the tracks snapped, simultaneously derailing the train and puncturing the locomotive’s saddle tanks. Over 3800 gallons of red diesel went onto the ground and some into Cow Creek fifty feet below. Luckily there were no tank cars involved. Ten out of ten OSCs agree that derailed tank cars are a nightmare. The cargo was lumber, flatbed after flatbed. Going up the windy mountain road to the derailment (where my derailments always happen), you were struck by what looked like piles of tooth picks strewn along the other side of the river. Only they were 10, 12, and 16-foot long 2 by 4s.

The Command Post (CP) was placed .5 miles up from the spill, at the first wide spot in the road we located. On the second day the media began to make inquiries. A local TV station sent a reporter who appeared to be fresh out of college. She had made her way up to the CP to interview me. It was a small station (most outside Portland are) and she was camera man, producer, and reporter. Her questions were short and to the point and I answered them directly. As she was packing up her tripod she asked: “Could you show me where the wreck is?” I looked over my shoulder up the road knowing it dead-ended about five miles away, and then I asked her which way she took to get to the CP. As I had suspected she had come up past the wreck, but had not seen the carnage. I went back down the road to show her the “tooth picks.” She looked stunned and seemed a bit sheepish. I then said: “Hence the expression, ‘like a train wreck.'” Sheepishness quickly turned to a glare.

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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