Monthly Archives: March 2009

Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Cuándo fue la última vez que reparó una fuga o goteo?

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.

Un hogar estadounidense promedio desperdicia un promedio de 11,000 galones de agua al año en inodoros con fugas, grifos que gotean, u otro tipo de fugas caseras. Del 16 al 20 de marzo es la Semana de Repare el Goteo.

¿Cuándo fue la última vez que reparó una fuga o goteo?

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: Change in Weather

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: About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

March 6, 2009 (Day 26)

For most of our trip so far, the weather has been very good to us, and we’ve been able to keep to our itinerary. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, all of our plans are thrown off. Unfortunately, that’s the current situation that we’ve found ourselves in as a strong, low pressure front is upon us and the weather is quickly becoming a problem. Rain is now pelting down, and winds are howling out of the northwest with gusts up to 39 knots (about 45 mph).

iimage of scuba flag in windThis will prevent us from working at our remaining stations on the northwest of St. Thomas. It’s not the rain that concerns us, but the sustained high winds that are creating rough sea conditions and will make it virtually impossible to be able to put our small diving boats out into the water. It is what it is, and we all have to keep in mind that this is beyond our control. We go back to the drawing board to figure out what is in our control. We decide to cast off from our dockage in Charlotte Amalie, cruise east, and anchor in Coral Bay in St. John. We’re hoping that the stations in this embayment on southwest St. John, are protected enough to allow diving.

We are so grateful for the assistance of The Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resource in helping us transport some of our divers, using their fast monitoring boat, the Vigilant. She’s been docked in St. Thomas, so crossing Pillsbury Sound to rendezvous with us could be a difficult task if the seas are rough. But as the BOLD bounds into 4 to 6-foot seas before turning into Coral Bay, we anchor and it seems calmer, and we’re delighted to see the Vigilant anchored at our meeting point. It’s time to get to work.

We’re able to safely load the Vigilant and two BOLD rigid-hulled, inflatable boats on the leeside of the massive BOLD hull. Although stiff winds prevail, the sea surface tucked behind these mountains seems to be staying down enough to allow diving. We’ll find out as divers return and have a chance to report back to us.

image of inflatable boat with people

As the boats return, the sun is now shining and we learn of success; the waters are workable. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’m confident that we’ll have success in our next two days here on the south side, and we’ll ultimately get the weather to allow us to return to complete our stations on the north sides of St. Thomas and St. John.

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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Wrap It Up…Not So Fast!

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.

In our everyday day lives, we pride ourselves in doing everything faster, better, and more efficiently. However what has become convenient has also resulted in some unforeseen costs. In this case, I’m thinking about fast food and, especially, fast food packaging.

Whether at work or play, we encourage everyone to eat their food in reusable utensils and if possible aim for a waste free lunch. However, the truth is having a sit down meal at home is not always possible. When it comes to eating, frequently we just look for the nearest fast food restaurant, carryout or drive thru. And then we dispose of the waste in the nearest trash can. While I can see using our reusable mugs at the local coffee shop, taking reusable plates to a drive thru may not be practical for most people.

Some might have noticed that not so long ago, most of the common fast food chains used polystyrene foam (AKA Styrofoam) and non-environmentally friendly packaging to serve and wrap food and beverages. In recent years, responding to popular pressure, some companies are adopting waste reduction measures and using biodegradable packaging. More and more companies are actively engaged in the redesign of sustainable packaging. In fact, EPA is a founding member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a group of industry professionals formed in 2004. This broad coalition goes beyond the food packing industry. It provides a framework for collaborating on various sustainable packaging issues in order to reduce the environmental footprint of packaging. Bear in mind that the environmental impacts of packaging go beyond what enters the waste stream. There are energy impacts and associated greenhouse gas emissions at each stage of the life cycle of each product from extraction and acquisition of raw materials, manufacturing of raw materials into products, the actual product used by consumers and ultimately, product disposal.

EPA’s WasteWise partnership program also highlights success stories in the areas of food processing and packaging as well as the beverage industry.

So, if you’re seeking more information on the environmental sustainability techniques used by your favorite restaurant or nearest fast food establishment, you can visit Earth911.com for a Restaurant Report Card. Above all—get involved. You can make a difference in encouraging many industries and the general public to become more environmentally sustainable.

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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Hurry – Mom Has a Meeting Today!

About the Author: Kelly Leovic manages EPA’s Educational Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park, NC and loves sharing science with students of all ages. On occasion, she has to dress up for meetings. Kelly is a regular blogger here on Greenversations. Some of her most recent blogs can be found at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/2009/01/30/what-would-you-do-with-1-million-and-an-acre-of-riverfront-property/ and http://blog.epa.gov/blog/2009/01/13/watts-up-with-school-energy/.

As the mother of three, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve rushed my kids out the door yelling, “Hurry, I have a meeting today!” As they matured (yikes – the oldest is in high school!), they began to pick up on the visual cues foreshadowing a meeting: a suit, heels, and coffee in the container with a sippy-cup lid. But a question still lingered in their minds: what really happens in those meetings our moms and dads keep rushing to attend?

In February, 40 preschoolers from First Environments Early Learning Center found out when they walked over to EPA’s Campus in Research Triangle Park. Our little visitors showed up at the Security check point ready to go – complete with their very own ID badges with hand-drawn pictures of themselves. They slipped through the metal detector, careful not to touch the sides and showed their IDs to Ms.Burton at the Guard’s Station.

image of small children sitting at conference tableWe spilt the kids into two groups, and I headed to the elevators with my 20 preschoolers and three teachers. We stopped along the way to visit Brian, a dad who works on the 4th floor and has lots of computer screens. Next was our big meeting on the 6th floor, a great room with a commanding view of the campus and lake. The students took their places around the table, and I explained that we were having this meeting because we had to solve the problem of too much trash going into our landfills. (Being mostly kids of EPA parents, most know what a landfill or dump is!) I showed them my big bag of “trash,” and we sorted through it trying to figure out how to keep each item out of the landfill. I was so impressed with the creativity of these bright 4 and 5 year olds. With their innovative ideas, nothing was left in the trash, and very few items even made it to the recycle bin. Instead they suggested numerous ways for most items to be REUSED!

image of small children in lab listening to scientist speakAfter our very successful meeting, we rode the elevator down to the 2nd floor where Miss Susan showed us the library with their very cool movable shelves. Some parents work in laboratories, so we visited Miss Sania in the demo lab to learn what research scientists might do when they go to work. One of my favorite questions from an inquisitive young lady was “Where do all the hallways go?” We soon found out as we strolled into our sunny atrium, enjoying the natural light. We ascended to the 5th floor on a different elevator where we saw another dad, Mr. Rocky, in the hallway who showed us all of his computers. We could all tell that Mr. Rocky really loves his job.

image of small children looking at model of EPA Research Triangle Park campusAs we headed back to the Cafe for snack, the kids thought it was neat that we have a Post Office and Fitness Center, but the most exciting part for me was to see the smiles that the kids brought to the faces of our EPA employees as they passed in the hall.

So whose idea was this field trip anyway? A teacher explained that one day on the playground overlooking our campus, they noticed that several of the kids had constructed a mini-EPA building with their blocks. This architectural feat led to conversations about what parents do at work, and the next thing you know, we had a field trip in the works. Do you think we need to include some preschoolers in our next “brainstorming” meeting?

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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¡Envuélvalo—no tan rápidamente!

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.

En nuestro quehacer cotidiano, nos vanagloriamos de hacer todo de manera más rápida, mejor y más eficientemente. Sin embargo, lo que se ha convertido en la conveniencia también ha resultado en costos imprevistos. Por ejemplo, me refiero a la comida “rápida” y en especial, a la envoltura de esta comida de rápida preparación.

Sea que estemos trabajando o en momentos de ocio, alentamos a todos a comer su comida en utensilios reutilizables y si es posible seleccionar un almuerzo libra de desechos. En realidad, el comer en casa sentados alrededor de la mesa familiar no siempre es posible. Cuando se trata de comer, con frecuencia vamos al restaurante de comida rápida o servi-carros local. Y después buscamos el basurero más cercano para deshacernos de los desperdicios. Mientras puedo entender el llevar tazas de café reutilizables a la cafetería más cercana, aún no veo como práctico el llevar platos reutilizables a la cafetería o al servi-carros más cercano.

Habrán notado que hasta hace poco la gran mayoría de las principales cadenas de comida rápida usaban el foam de poliestireno (conocido comúnmente como Styrofoam) y las envolturas no beneficiosas para el medio ambiente para servir y envolver comida rápida y bebidas. En años recientes, en respuesta a la presión popular, muchas compañías están adoptando medidas de reducción de desechos y utilizan envolturas biodegradables. Más y más compañías están participando activamente en el rediseño de envolturas sostenibles. De hecho, EPA es un miembro fundador de la Coalición de Envolturas Sostenibles, un grupo de profesionales de la industria establecido en el 2004. Esta amplia coalición va más allá de la industria de envolturas de alimentos. Brinda un marco de colaboración en varios asuntos relacionados a la envoltura sostenible a fin de reducir la huella medioambiental de la envoltura. Tengan en cuenta en que los impactos medioambientales de la envoltura van más allá de los desechos que entran a la cadena de desperdicios; como por ejemplo, los impactos de energía y las emisiones de gases con efecto de invernadero en otras etapas en el ciclo de vida de cada producto desde la extracción y adquisición de materia bruta, la elaboración de materia prima en productos, el uso de los productos por los consumidores y finalmente la disposición de los productos.

El programa de consorcio WasteWise de EPA también destaca los avances exitosos en las áreas de procesamiento y envoltura de alimentos así como en la industria de bebidas.

Asimismo, si está buscando más información sobre técnicas de sostenibilidad usadas por su restaurante favorito o cafetería de comida rápida más cercana, puede visitar Earth911.com para consultar un informe de calificaciones de restaurantes. Sobre todo, involúcrese, participe. Usted puede hacer una diferencia para alentar a muchas compañías y al público en general a seleccionar prácticas sostenibles beneficiosas para el medio ambiente.

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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Fix A Leak: Fix Leaks, Save Water & Money

About the author: Steve Burton* the SW territory contact for Ferguson Enterprises, Inc.’s Private Label Program. Ferguson is the EPA’s 2008 WaterSense Retailer/Distributor Partner of the Year.

We have a two-person household in an average-size home in Oro Valley, Arizona. In November 2008 we discovered the guest bathroom had a slow internal leak caused by an aging fill valve inside the toilet tank. The only reason we thought to look for a leak was the spike in our water bill that month.

We found a slow leak inside the toilet tank in our hall bathroom. The noise was faint. If the fan was on or if you were not directly in the bathroom, you could not tell there was a noise coming from the toilet tank.

The impact this one slow leak had on our water usage/ bill during November 2008 is below.

  • Sept 2008 $41.97
  • Oct 2008 $51.33
  • Nov 2008 $148.30
  • Dec 2008 $58.66
  • Jan 2008 $33.64

This drove home how important it is to check/ maintain water fixtures in our home to conserve water and save money. For about $15, we were able to fix a leak that was costing us $100 a month!

EPA does not

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: A Tree Falling in the Ocean

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.

March 6, 2009 – 2:00 p.m. (Day 26)

About the author: John Senn is a press officer in Region 2, New York City. He covers water issues, including water permits, wetlands, coastal water and beaches, oceans and lakes, as well as RCRA, and Voluntary Programs. John’s been with EPA for 2.5 years.

Everyone’s heard the riddle about whether a tree falling in the woods when no one’s around actually makes a sound. A similar analogy can be made for the work being one right now on the OSV BOLD; if no one sees what we do, just how valuable is our work?

images of school children listening to a presentation be given by a diverYesterday, some 200 people—about half of them students from local middle and high schools—got a close up look at EPA’s coral reef survey and the BOLD’s inner workings through an open house at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. EPA scientists, the ship’s crew and members of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources served as tour guides, and demonstrated the coral reef survey techniques and diving operations currently underway.

Apart from seeing all the cool gadgets and gizmos that make the ship run, as well as our dining hall and living quarters, visitors heard about the importance of studying, protecting and enhancing the health
of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands. Bill Fisher, an EPA scientist from Florida who’s been contributing to this blog, told the visitors about how the Virgin Islands, like many small islands around the globe, are specially vulnerable to the potential impacts of global climate change and human activity.

Rising sea levels affect how close people can live to the coast. Elevated ocean temperatures can alter marine habitat and change how some animals, plants and fish function, including coral reefs. The reefs, Bill explained, benefit islands like the Virgin Islands by acting as a natural (and free) barrier to destructive storm surges; man-made barriers cost millions of dollars to construct.

Coral are also particularly sensitive to even the slightest changes in the water around them, so they’re good indicators of looming water quality problems. Bill was clear to explain how almost everything we do on land affects what goes on in and under the sea. He emphasized to our visitors, especially to the students, that lowering one’s carbon footprint can have a demonstrable benefit in their backyard.

Many of the students who came aboard seemed excited to see and hear about what we were up to. Hopefully we inspired them to take action to protect this beautiful and ecologically-significant place. Maybe a few will even become environmental scientists and carry on our work someday.

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: Lessons on Modern Toxicology – How Darwin Saw It Coming.

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

About the author: Dr. David Reif is a Statistician in the National Center for Computational Toxicology with the EPA’s Office of Research and Development in Research Triangle Park, NC. He holds degrees in Biology, Statistics, and Human Genetics—giving him an abiding appreciation for the lasting impact of Darwin’s theories.

Image of author

From an evolutionary perspective, should we be surprised that our bodies sometimes react inappropriately to novel chemicals encountered in the environment? According to the principles of adaptation by natural selection laid out by Darwin, the answer is “not at all.”

Each of us alive today is the product of tens of thousands of years of environmental adaptation. This long evolutionary process allows modern humans to respond appropriately to a remarkable set of naturally-occurring substances.

In contrast, people have had comparatively zero time to figure out how to handle the myriad of man-made chemicals introduced since industrialization. Even at the earliest centers of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve had less than 10 generations to obtain evolutionary solutions to previously unseen combinations of substances. Given that Darwin posited “incomprehensively vast” time periods for natural selection to arrive at workable solutions, he would not be surprised that humans have yet to adapt. Neither should we.

Modern civilization has given us all sorts of incredible tools for fighting diseases, making more efficient use of natural resources, and dealing with identifiably toxic substances. However, along with this progress, we have burdened ourselves with an unquantified volume of synthetic substances to which we are all exposed (to various degrees) on a daily basis. This tension between the needs of modern society versus the volume of new chemicals introduced into the environment puts enormous pressure on our bodies to appropriately respond.

Does that mean we must wait patiently while hoping that natural selection weeds through humanity to settle on appropriate adaptations for continuously shifting environmental conditions? No! Thankfully, a key adaptation of modern society is compassion—meaning that we must explore potential toxic effects of all new chemicals through smart science and careful consideration of relevant ethical, legal, and social consequences. Darwin would be proud.

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: Can We Recycle for Fashion?

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.

image of tote bag made from recycled Capri Sun juice bagsThis bag is made from recycled juice containers and sewn together to make a tote bag. I was given this bag as a gift, but I’m sure you could find one you like by doing a search on the internet for “recycled juice bags” or some similar search term. You could also probably easily make this on your own if you’re good at sewing.

I wore this bag a lot last summer and so many people would stop me on the street and ask me about it. If you know of anyone who likes wearing things that stand out, this tote bag would be a perfect present for them. But more importantly than wearing this for fashion reasons, this bag is a great way to reduce waste through reuse. Think of all the waste that you and your friends create at lunch with your juice containers. Also, think of all the bags that you could be saving by using this tote bag to go shopping. These recycled juice bags come in different styles and they even make recycled juice pencil containers and back packs as well. I was hesitant at first about wearing something like this because it looks so different from what everyone else is wearing. What would you think about wearing something like this?

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: A Day in the Life

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: About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

image of man with lots of air tanksWe’re at anchor in St. James Bay on the eastern corner of St. Thomas, giving us access to both St. Thomas and St. John stations. Our daily routine has already been well established, and with three dive teams making three dives each a day, filling scuba tanks is an essential task. The breathing gas that we use is Nitrox, which is air spiked with extra oxygen. Increasing the amount of oxygen decreases the nitrogen breathed in while diving, which in turn allows for longer dives without saturating our bodies with nitrogen levels that could cause decompression sickness or the “bends.” Nitrox is specially blended daily on board, with factory efficiency, by the BOLD technicians.

Planning for each day always starts the night before, when after dinner, the survey coordinators and BOLD captain meet to finalize dive plans that start the next morning. Dive team assignments are posted in the ship’s laboratory, which serves as a survey operations center. Divers are responsible for checking the oxygen content of the Nitrox in their tanks, and before retiring each night, they must analyze the air in his or her tanks assigned for the next day.

image of scuba diverIn the morning, divers check the assignment board to see which boat they’re in and the order of boat deployment. The teams stage their gear for loading onto the boats, with care to include all of the dive gear, survey and sampling equipment, drinking water, and oxygen kit. The gear is methodically loaded; missing one piece of equipment or gear would abort a survey and require a return trip to the BOLD. Once the boats are loaded, divers are on their way to start their work. GPS units are used to locate the station, and a snorkeler confirms that the site is appropriate to “count.” If it’s a go, two divers gear up and splash in to begin the survey; in about 10 minutes, two more divers descend to fill out the survey team. The observations are performed and recorded according to our protocol.

When the divers are finished, they return to the BOLD where samples are logged and refrigerated, data sheets are rinsed and dried, and dive gear is rinsed and hung to dry. Data is then entered into computer spreadsheets by the statisticians, with rigid review by the diver. Water samples are filter-processed for various analyses. Logged data for each diver is entered into the dive officer’s spreadsheet to track each diver’s activity and to ensure that no one has built up too much nitrogen in his or her system after several days of diving. After a long day of being the water, the whole process begins again for the next morning.

image of two women hanging papers to dry

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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