Monthly Archives: April 2009

Earth Day Overkill – Has Earth Day Been Too Commercialized?

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 week prior to Earth Day I was surprised by the number of “green advertisements” on TV, in print, and on the Web. Everywhere you looked businesses where jumping on the Earth Day bandwagon. Eco-marketing was alive and well! While surfing the Web on Earth Day, I even came across a blog of some one who was complaining of the waste generated by all these so call “green ads.” Personally, I don’t necessarily classify these green ads in the same category as junk mail in terms of paper waste. But you do wonder if given all the resources used in the process—are people getting the true message about Earth Day? Well, my response is a resounding yes! Is this attention excessive? Definitely not! And should we do more? Absolutely! Let me explain.

I think in the last couple of months or so, the general public is starting to wake up to the idea that Earth Day goes beyond that one day of the year, April 22nd. Many schools and business were celebrating Earth Week. At EPA, we were gearing up to Earth Month many months prior to April. I believe that the willingness to take action in favor of environmental protection today is very similar to the first days of the green movement nearly 40 years ago. It’s true that thanks to the leadership of many known and unsung heroes, the environment is much better today than it was in 1990. Nonetheless, today we have new challenges that need to be addressed and require immediate attention.

More and more people are realizing that Earth Day is each and every day. We only have one Planet Earth with finite natural resources that have to be protected. Increasing awareness is just the beginning. Taking action is the most important part. So what are you going to do for the environment today?

We’ve made it simple. Pick 5 for the environment so you can go green everyday!

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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¿Acaso estamos celebrando el Día del Planeta Tierra excesivamente? – ¿Piensa que el evento se ha comercializado demasiado?

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.

Me sorprendió ver el gran cantidad de “publicidad verde” en la televisión, prensa escrita y el Web durante la semana anterior a la celebración del Día del Planeta Tierra. Dondequiera que iba se podían ver los negocios uniéndose a la fiebre del Día del Planeta Tierra. ¡El mercadeo ecológico estaba rampante! Mientras navegaba por la Red en el Día del Planeta Tierra incluso vi un blog de alguien que se estaba quejando del desperdicio generado por estos llamados “anuncios verdes”. Personalmente, yo no calificaría estos anuncios verdes en la misma categoría de correspondencia basura en términos de los desechos de papel. Sin embargo, me pregunto si dados todos los recursos utilizados en el proceso–¿acaso las personas están recibiendo el mensaje real del Día del Planeta Tierra? Bueno, mi respuesta es un sí rotundo! ¿Acaso esta atención es excesiva? ¡Definitivamente no! ¿Debemos hacer más? ¡Absolutamente! Déjenme explicar.

Me parece que en los últimos meses, el público en general está empezando a entender que el Día del Planeta Tierra es una celebración que va más allá de un día al año, el 22 de abril. Muchas escuelas y negocios estaban celebrando la Semana del Planeta Tierra. En EPA llevábamos varios meses antes de abril preparándonos para el Mes del Planeta Tierra. Creo que la voluntad, el deseo de tomar acción a favor de la protección ambiental que existe hoy en día es muy semejante al que presenciamos al inicio del movimiento ambientalista casi 40 años atrás. Es cierto que gracias al liderazgo de muchos héroes conocidos y desconocidos, el medio ambiente está en mejores condiciones hoy del cual estaba en el 1990. No obstante, en la actualidad hay muchos nuevos desafíos que tenemos que abordar y que requieren atención inmediata.

Más y más personas se están dando cuenta de que el Día del Planeta Tierra es todo y cada uno de nuestros días. Sólo tenemos un Planeta Tierra con recursos naturales limitados que tenemos que proteger. El crear consciencia es tan sólo el principio. El tomar acción es la parte más importante. ¿Entonces, qué piensa hacer hoy por el medio ambiente?

Pues, se lo hemos hecho fácil. ¡Seleccione 5 cosas por el medio ambiente y usted puede ser verde todos los días!

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: 2008 P3 Winner – The Learning Barge

About the author: A winner of EPA’s 2007 P3 sustainable design competition, Danielle Willkens, Associate AIA, FRSA, is the Project Manager of the Learning Barge. She has been a member of the project team since 2007 and holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Virginia.

In 2007, I participated in the EPA’s P3 Design Competition as a student representative for the Learning Barge project, a design/build initiative within the Schools of Architecture and Engineering at the University of Virginia, to create a unique environmental classroom and field station.

Despite months of planning and building, we seemed to have the odds stacked against us as competitors: after spending a night loading a U-Haul with a portion of the Learning Barge’s prefabricated classroom our truck refused to start the morning we were to drive from Charlottesville, Virginia to Washington, D.C to display our project at the National Sustainable Design Expo.

When we finally, arrived rainclouds threatened to drench our exhibits outside of the tent area. Although we had a nerve-racking start to the competition, our P3 ‘ulcers’ were quickly mended a few days later when it was announced we were winners of a Phase II grant.

The Learning Barge will be located on the Elizabeth River, the most polluted tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, and will provide interactive kindergarten through high school, and adult education about how the river and human activities are inextricably linked.

Unlike environmental education centers located in pristine “nature,” the Learning Barge will traverse an important urban river linking Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Moving to a different river restoration site every few months, the Barge will teach participants about the tidal estuary ecosystem, wetland and oyster restoration, and sediment remediation efforts. It is estimated that more than 19,000 students and adults will visit the Barge annually.

The design of the vessel harnesses energy from the sun and wind, filters rainwater and gray water in a contained bed wetland, and utilizes recycled materials and “green” technologies.

Currently, we are just a few short months away from completion, when the non-profit Elizabeth River Project will take over operation of the barge. In anticipation of our launch this summer check us out at: http://www.arch.virginia.edu/learningbarge/.

The recognition we received from EPA’s P3 Competition helped secure several other key grants and awards: an American Institute of Architects Education Award, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards Prize, Waterfront Center Award, United States Green Building Council GoGreen Award, and National Endowment for the Arts Access to Artistic Excellence grant.

Editor’s Note: Winners of the 2009 P3 Design Competition were announced on April 21, 2009.

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: Electronic Recycling

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).

The use of electronics has become a major factor in our everyday life. Sometimes I find myself carrying around three or four electronic devices at a time. Our society has changed into a fast paced electronic friendly culture. In the late 1980’s home computers were introduced to our society and less than 20 years later almost every home has a computer. The advancement in technology has allowed people to carry portable phones, computers and music devices. The manufacturing and use of electronics has dramatically increased. This increase in electronic use has also increased the necessity to recycle old electronics. Recycling electronics helps reduce the pollution that is created when manufacturers create new appliances. There are many ways to reuse and recycle these appliances.

Donating old electronics can be a good way to keep electronics from entering the waste stream. Donating used electronics to charity organizations will benefit low-income families that cannot afford electronic equipment. Electronics can also be donated to schools and other non-profit organizations.

States and local governments have been working with manufacturers on creating places to recycle and reuse old appliances. There are many places that you can take used electronic appliances such as local electronics retailers, repair shops, charitable organizations, and electronics recycling companies. Many manufacturers accept used appliances free of charge. I would suggest contacting the maker of your appliance and see what sort of recycling initiatives that they have. Here is a website that identifies local electronic recycling companies by just typing in your zip code http://www.eiae.org/ .

The manufacturing process of electronics uses lots of energy and resources. Essential resources like metal, copper, and plastics are always used in the manufacturing of electronics. By recycling electronics we will be able to reduce the amount of valuable resources used and recycle the used resources. For more information on recycling electronics please visit these websites:

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/index.htm

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/partnerships/plugin/recycleit.htm

If you know of any other cool places to drop off old electronics fill me in!!!

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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Air Quality Awareness Week—Runners Wanted

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

I’m a runner. I wasn’t always a runner. But, after my first race this spring, I had to admit it. Running may have been an easy sport to pick up when the first marathon was run in Greece, but today there are many more considerations.

First, what shoes do I get? Are they light and supportive? Will they match my clothes? Sorry, I had to throw it in there.

Then you have to decide where to run. I love that I live so close to the city, but that also means I’m surrounded by busy roads and traffic. On my first run at my new house, I decided to just explore the neighborhood. After a mile, I noticed that it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.

Was I out of shape? Maybe it was just a bad day. After a couple more bad runs, it dawned on me. Maybe it was running next to a busy road.

Running near busy roads exposes you to higher levels of air pollutants. And breathing dirty air makes it harder to do just about everything. So, I made a few changes. I looked for routes that were in or near a park or on back roads. I even woke up earlier so I could beat the traffic.

But it’s not just busy roads that can affect air quality. Air pollution comes from many other sources. And it changes every day, so just like I check the weather, I started checking the Air Quality Index. For me, poor air quality days don’t mean skip the run, they just mean take it easy, slow the pace or cut the distance.

EPA uses a color-coded guide: green means the air quality is good, red means it’s unhealthy for everyone to breathe. You can check it on the Internet, sign up for daily emails, or check out your local weather report.

Cities across the country also have Air Quality Action Days. These days tell you when you should reduce your contribution to pollution. One of he easiest ways to do that is to leave the car at home. You can take public transportation or carpool.

Poor air quality can happen year-round, so no matter when you’re outside, check the AQI.

April 27 – May 1 is Air Quality Awareness Week.

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: What will you do differently now that Earth Day is over?

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.

Earth Day is a reminder about the importance of protecting the environment.  But after the events are over, we go back to the daily routine…  or do we.

What will you do differently now that Earth Day is over?

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: ¿Qué ha hecho diferentemente ahora que el Día del Planeta Tierra ha concluido?

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.

El Día del Planeta Tierra es un recordatorio sobre la importancia de proteger el medio ambiente. Sin embargo, una vez han pasado los eventos volvemos a nuestra rutina cotidiana…o acaso cambiamos.

¿Qué ha hecho diferentemente ahora que el Día del Planeta Tierra ha concluido?

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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MyEnvironment: A New Map App

About the author: Kim Balassiano has worked in EPA’s Office of Environmental Information since 2007. Before that, she was an EPA contractor for 12 years, doing mapping and spatial analysis.

Last summer, I read Rachel Carson’s “A Silent Spring,” which told the story of how unregulated chemical use, specifically pesticides, was leading to our undoing as evidenced by mass bird deaths. It didn’t take a PhD to connect the dots between animal and human health. I wished that the book could have included a map of how pesticide sprayings had impacted the neighborhood of my childhood. But I knew that EPA did have online maps showing a lot of environmental information.

When I was a contractor in 2001, EPA released Window to My Environment (WME). WME let the public zoom-in to their neighborhood and connect to environmental information . Imagine typing in your zip code and seeing the environment-impacting facilities upwind or upstream from your home, and which chemicals they release. WME used the latest mapping tools available at the time, giving the public an early whiff of online mapping.

Fast-forwarding to 2009, people expect to zoom into maps of their neighborhoods and back out to satellite images of our planet, all in a matter of seconds. The beautiful, data-intensive maps are not a miracle now – we want to see any content we care about. The real message is that we can use maps to bring transparency to the government’s work in a more meaningful way than ever before.

To modernize our online maps, yesterday we released an updated system called MyEnvironment. Our goal is still to help you answer questions about your own backyard, like who is operating down the block, receiving a new permit to release chemicals into the water, and most importantly, who is violating EPA standards for releases. We also pull together health information that you can use including the daily UV index, daily ozone and particulate matter forecasts, and potential cancer risk from air toxics.

Please use MyEnvironment below (also in the left column of our home page) and let us know what you think. I know that local environmental activism has helped to close the gap between what EPA does and what still needs to be done, and I hope MyEnvironment will help you find the information you need to get involved.

Try MyEnvironment

Enter a location such as address, zip, city, county, waterbody, park name, etc. (e.g., 22207, Arlington, VA or Difficult Run).

Learn More

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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EnviroFacts/Window to my Environment

About the author: Kim Blair is currently an intern with Environmental Education and Indoor Air Programs in Region 5. She has an extensive environmental education background and is enjoying utilizing her previous experience at the EPA. She has been working with the EE coordinator on facilitating grants and the Web Workgroup along with getting hands on experience working on a geographic initiative in Northeast Indiana with the Indoor Air Programs.

When I was in high school I spent a lot of time doing research for different projects from history to chemistry. There was always some project that I was struggling to finish or striving to think of a way to make my research stand out to the teacher. Well, the EPA has a great tool to impress your teachers and to get information you didn’t think was even out there. It’s called EnviroFacts. Besides the flashy name – it’s ok to admit that you think it is a pretty cool name too – there are so many interactive things that this program can do. Visit http://www.epa.gov/enviro/ to get started exploring this newly updated program.

So what exactly is EnviroFacts? It’s a program that maps your area of choice with specific details about water quality, hazardous waste, air and land toxics, compliance issues and more. The tool is based on GIS (Geographic Information Systems) where data that is collected is input into a visual format like a map. You can customize what type of information you would like to display on your map or even map by topic instead of location to learn more about that issue. You can also share this site with your friends over Facebook, Stumbleupon and other social networks.

Here’s a sample of a map I looked up by zip code to get even more specific data displayed using the Enviromapper and Window to My Environment. I mapped the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to see what kinds of environmental impacts are important to the area. You can modify your map according to your area of interest and find out a lot about that area besides just the hazardous waste sites. You can also obtain facility information for potential or current pollution issues.

Sample map and legend from GIS

The possibilities are endless as you explore your world on a different level. This resource can be used for school or for your own personal interests. Maybe it could lead to community service projects based on the pollution issues in your area or a great visual for a class project. You can also take a look at the Community Service Projects page on EPA’s High School Website or just see the resources out there for you to use.

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 Notebook: On the Mind of a Modern Day Health Physicist

About the Author: Mike Boyd joined EPA in 1988 as a health physicist in what is now the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. Health physics is the profession of radiation protection. Mike’s work at EPA focuses on radiation risk assessment.  He helps develop federal guidance, the rules and regulations that protect the American public from the harmful effects of radiation.

image of author sittingHealth physics is a term most people don’t understand. People often guess that my job has something to do with physical therapy. Actually, the term was coined during the Manhattan Project – a national effort to develop the first atomic weapon during World War II.

There are several stories about how the term originated. I like the one that says that “health physics” was chosen over “radiation protection” because it “conveyed nothing.” The Manhattan Project was very secretive, so a name that disguised any association with radiation would be appropriate. I imagine someone in charge saying, “Some of you physicists need to design the protective shielding for this project and some of you need to monitor worker exposure. Raise your hand if you want to be our health physicists.” Maybe it didn’t happen just that way, but it could have!

As fascinated as I am by the challenges facing these first health physicists, their work has little resemblance to what I do today with EPA. Radioactive elements are commonly found in nature. Since there is no such thing as “zero radiation,” how do we determine how safe is “safe” and how clean is “clean?” These are the questions I deal with.

This raises an interesting question. After a radiological emergency, should “clean” be a constant, or should it depend on a larger context? Is “clean” the same for a major nuclear incident in a large city as for a small scale event in a rural area? What if it means abandoning a city? Will people accept an increased lifetime cancer risk to be able to get back to their homes and livelihood? There is no easy answer.

Chernobyl teaches us that some people will try to go back home no matter what the radiation levels and risks. Others will stay away, no matter how low the levels eventually reach. My personal opinion is that it is best to approach such situations on a case-by-case basis, hoping, of course, that there is never even one such case. We have benchmarks to begin the process of determining clean-up levels, including the history of what was achieved at radiation-contaminated sites around the country.

We cannot know in advance what emergency managers may face in the future, but we know that no decision regarding cleanup will mean anything without serious public involvement. These are just some thoughts of one EPA health physicist. I’d like to hear what you think!

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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