Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Personal Responsibility

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.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life”

Rachel Carson (1907-1964 – Biologist, Writer and Ecologist)

It was on April 22, 1970 when Americans first celebrated Earth Day. That historic event actually had its origins eight years earlier, when then Senator Gaylord Nelson, concerned about the conservation of our natural resources convinced President John F. Kennedy to promote conservation and an environmental agenda. Consequently, Nelson organized a demonstration to honor Planet Earth, an event that is now 39 years ago.

More than a celebration, we should reflect on what are we doing to protect our habitat: Planet Earth. Environmental protection is an individual and personal responsibility for all human beings since we are all part of the biosphere.

There are individuals all across the United States mainland and territories doing their part to protect the environment. For them it is not a fad or political statement. Their main concern is to protect our ecosystems and, at the same time, educate others about the importance of our natural resources and the species that inhabit them and are affected by our daily activities. These environmental protectors are the ones that denounce any environmental wrongdoing and ultimately get results.

Even though mass media helps broadcast such an important message as environmental protection, it is the actions of these unsung environmental heroes that raise awareness among the general public. Let’s commend the work of these anonymous environmental heroes. Let’s foster an environmental dialogue in our homes, communities and learning centers. We need to make environment protection a personal responsibility. That is the only way future generations can make a contribution to Planet Earth’s yet to be written history.

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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Planeta Tierra: Responsabilidad personal

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.

“Cuanto más centramos nuestra atención en las maravillas y realidades del Universo que nos rodea, menos ganas tendremos de destruirlo”

Rachel Carson (1907-1964-bióloga y escritora estadounidense)

Fue el 22 de abril de 1970 que por primera vez se celebró el Día del Planeta Tierra. Ocho años antes, el Senador Gaylord Nelson, muy preocupado por la conservación de los recursos naturales convenció al finado Presidente John F. Kennedy de realizar visitas a varios estados para promover la conservación y establecer una agenda ambiental. Como resultado en 1969, Nelson se dio a la tarea de organizar una demostración en honor al Planeta Tierra y fue así como inició un movimiento que hoy cumple 39 años.

Más que una celebración, este día nos debe servir como una reflexión sobre lo que estamos haciendo cada uno de nosotros para proteger nuestro hábitat: el Planeta Tierra. La protección ambiental es una responsabilidad que todos tenemos como individuos y no nos podemos deslindar de ella por que todos somos parte de la bioesfera.

Puerto Rico, estados de la unión y otros territorios estadounidenses cuentan con cientos de héroes anónimos que día a día hacen de la protección ambiental su norte. Para ellos y ellas no es una moda o un asunto de política. Su responsabilidad primordial es proteger nuestros ecosistemas y a la vez educar a otros sobre la importancia de nuestros recursos naturales, las especies que habitan en nuestro entorno y cómo estas se ven afectadas por nuestras acciones diarias. Son los que se atreven a denunciar a viva voz pero a la vez logran calladamente resultados y acciones favorables al medioambiente.

Y si bien los medios de comunicación ayudan a difundir tan importante mensaje, estas personas no necesitan reconocimiento mediático. Su mayor satisfacción es ver un Puerto Rico más limpio y ciudadanos educados con conciencia ambiental. Ellos no necesitan hacer ruido para realizar su trabajo ya que granito a granito construyen un mejor país. Son héroes de vocación y de oficio. Para estas personas, entidades, empresas y organizaciones de base comunitaria no hay protesta que no vaya acompañada de una propuesta y una solución.

Aplaudamos la labor de estos héroes anónimos del medioambiente. Mantengámos un espacio en nuestros hogares, comunidades y centros educativos para la discusión del tema ambiental. Respondamos al llamado de proteger el Planeta y hagamos de este nuestra responsabilidad personal. Solo así generaciones futuras podrán hacer sus contribuciones a la historia que queda por escribir 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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Science Wednesday: Nice Dear, But What’s Sustainability?

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

About the author: Cynthia Nolt-Helms is the Manager of EPA’s P3 – People, Prosperity and the Planet – Program

image of authorOn vacation last week visiting my husband’s family in Florida, I had to answer a flood of work-related emails and phone calls. By the second day, everyone around me was puzzled and a bit annoyed about what was so important that I couldn’t take even a few days break from my job.

“I’m planning the National Sustainable Design Expo which is part of EPA’s P3 Award Competition,” I told them all proudly.

“That’s nice dear, but what’s that and why don’t they leave you alone,” my mother-in-law asked politely.

I explained to her that the Expo is the culmination of a year’s hard work. The program I manage, EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet Program (“P3” for short) gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the movers and shakers of the next generation. EPA awards grants of $10,000 in the fall to universities for teams of students to design and research ideas for ways to live more sustainably on the planet.

The teams work on their projects and then come to Washington, DC in the spring to the National Sustainable Design Expo to exhibit and compete for an EPA P3 Award and additional funds. The students are bright and passionate about the environment, and their projects demonstrate great creativity and ingenuity. As a long-time federal employee who has worked most of her career for EPA in Washington, DC, I am exhilarated every year by the students’ optimism and idealism. They give me hope for the future.

At this year’s Expo — running this coming Saturday through Monday — we expect to see some amazing ideas: a solar powered water heater, wetlands for cleaning up dairy wastewater, solar panels to remove salt from water, even a method for using the sun to disinfect water.

Hmmm, now that I think about it, we need to plan for sunny weather!

But these are just a few of the 48 team projects and 35 exhibitors from nonprofit and government organizations that will be under the Expo tent on the National Mall between 3rd and 4th Streets, NW in DC. If you live in the area, or are visiting DC this coming weekend, I hope you can join us on the Mall to “See the future today!” I know you will be glad you did.

The 2009 National Sustainable Design Expo featuring EPA’s P3 Award is cosponsored by EPA and Beyond Benign, a nonprofit focused on sustainability and green chemistry.

Expo Hours: Saturday, April 18th – Noon – 5:00 pm; Sunday, April 19th – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; Monday, April 20 – 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

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: Becoming a Climate Ambassador

About the author: Loreal Crumbley, a senior at George Mason University, is an intern with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education through EPA’s Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).

image of Climate for Action logoAcross the globe, climate change has become a major subject of concern. A significant change in the Earth’s climate has caused the average temperature on the Earth’s surface to increase. This has become one of the most important issues of the twenty first century; and as young people, we play a major part in the fight against climate change. We are the future leaders of the world and the most threatened by climate change. Now is our time to take action and become leaders in this crisis by becoming Climate Ambassadors. You can become leaders and stand up to polluters by spreading awareness about climate change and how to reduce energy use and waste. Becoming a Climate Ambassador allows middle school and high school students to take charge on this important issue and inspire others to address climate change and children’s health.

It is easy to become a Climate Ambassador. Visit these sites and find out what issues you are passionate about, then you can play a more effective role in reducing climate change. Some examples of things you can do are:

  • Motivating students to give presentations on climate change and children’s health to their schools, youth organization or other students. This will help spread information on climate change and motivate others to become active. EPA has created a presentation that students can use to increase climate change and children’s health awareness.
  • Getting people in your community, your school or school district involved in ENERGY STAR pledges and challenges. The pledges and challenges encourage conservation throughout homes and schools.
  • Recruit a leader from your community, school, or other organization to issue a climate change and children’s health proclamation. This proclamation will encourage youth to take action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy, and creating a new climate for action! Check out EPA’s sample proclamation.

Since we are all contributors to climate change, we can all work together in creating a new climate for action! I think it is important for all us to come together and work towards creating a healthier environment. Because as you know, we are the future leaders and the future of our world lies in our hands. As young people, we will be the most affected; we need to step up and take a stand in creating a better world. Become a Climate Ambassador and motivate others to do their part for climate change and children’s 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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EPA’s Green Symphony

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

Lots of people complain about government, and often for good reason. But few really dig deep to find the core problems with bureaucracies, and how to fix them.

Bureaucratic systems aim to solve problems by dividing these problems into steadily smaller pieces. This works, up to a point. The problem is that somebody has to make sure that all those individual instruments, while they’re playing their own pieces, also fit well into a broader symphony.

Here at EPA, we divide up problems at the broadest level into the issues of air, water, land & materials, and toxics & prevention. We then break them down into even finer levels of detail. This allows us to devote greater scrutiny to a whole host of issues, but the challenge is to ensure that, in the process, we don’t lose the big picture.

EPA’s Green Building Workgroup is one of our efforts to ensure that we’re all playing from the same sheet of music. Our agency has a lot of strong programs to deal with specific buildings issues, like Energy Star, WaterSense, Indoor Environments and Industrial Material Recycling. But a building is a whole system and if you only focus on one aspect of it, you may lose other opportunities or cause more problems. In the 1970s, when we started tightening buildings for energy efficiency, some of them starting having indoor air quality problems due to inadequate ventilation. We’ve since learned how to build and operate buildings that are both energy efficient and healthy.

Similarly, when we’re looking at buildings’ energy profiles, we need to take into account not only the energy used to power them, but also the energy used to manufacture building products, bring water to buildings, and convey and treat wastewater from them. Not to mention the energy we use to commute to and from buildings – which gets to an even larger issue, that buildings themselves are part of our development patterns – neighborhoods, towns, metropolitan areas. Here we get into the purview of another EPA program, Smart Growth, which focuses on how to design and manage communities that enhance the quality of life, health and nature.

These are all important programs, and the Green Building Workgroup works to coordinate them so that they all make great green music together. Please help us stay in tune by letting us know what EPA green building resources you would find most helpful.

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’s the most important environmental issue in your local community?

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.

Different things can affect the local environment where we live, such as air pollution, abandoned waste sites, or asbestos problems. But (thankfully!) not everyone is affected by everything at once.

What’s the most important environmental issue in your local community?

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: ¿Cuál es el asunto ambiental más importante en su comunidad?

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.

Diferentes cosas afectan el medio ambiente en la localidad donde vivimos, asuntos como la contaminación atmosférica, sitios de desechos abandonados, o problemas de asbesto. Sin embargo, (por suerte) no todos estamos afectados por estos factores al mismo tiempo.

¿Cuál es el asunto ambiental más importante en su comunidad?

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: Innovation and Improving Emergency Response Capabilities

About the author: Jed Harrison’s research background dates back to 1974, starting in agriculture, then indoor air quality. Since 1992, Jed has been Director of EPA’s Radiation & Indoor Environments National Laboratory (R&IE) in Las Vegas. Jed oversees several programs including the western contingent of the EPA’s Radiological Emergency Response Team (RERT).

image of authorOne of the things that makes us special as a Radiation Laboratory and Response Team is that we’re radiation measurement specialists. In the event of a radiation incident, our lab has an important role in determining the extent of the contamination, characterizing that area, and ensuring a successful decontamination and cleanup. We do this by using our specialized field and lab-based measurement capabilities.

Responding to a radiation disaster, we may be working on a scale that exceeds anything that EPA has ever experienced. We will be under great pressure to work quickly and effectively so that people’s lives can get back to normal as fast as possible. Our goals will be to get people back in their homes with access to safe food and water and to see local businesses reopen so that people can return to work and school. The ability of local economies to recover will depend upon the success of small businesses to get back on their feet, and time will become an enemy.

image of two women adjusting a portable radiation monitorSo, a large focus of the R&IE laboratory has been on developing methods, tools, and capabilities that can increase our speed and efficiency, without sacrificing the measurement quality needed to make good decisions. I believe that EPA will have the greatest success by shifting the proportion of our measurement efforts toward field-based analysis using real time instruments, and rapid methods using field lab capabilities.

Decades of field experience – at contaminated sites and emergency responses – has helped us evolve. This yields capabilities like R&IE’s scanning systems that integrate real-time radiation monitoring systems, G.P.S., and wireless data communication. Mounted in trucks, all-wheel drive tractors and portable “buggies,” these systems allow us to cover large areas quickly, collecting a great “density of data” which can be viewed in a map format and superimposed over aerial images. This greatly simplifies data interpretation, allowing us to make better decisions faster.

image of all wheel tractor & portable buggie

As a Lab Director, it’s my job to keep our laboratory capable and relevant. We’re always looking for better ways to do our work, and opportunities to partner with others. We may never have all the resources that we would like to have; we realize we have to “work smarter.” By partnering with our colleagues on the RERT, EPA’s On Scene Coordinators, and EPA’s Environmental Response Team and National Decontamination Team, good ideas are created. These ideas are based on real world experience and foresight which become seeds of continual improvement and innovation.

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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All Bottled Up

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.

image of squished plastic bottleLast night, while shopping with my family, my three year-old son asked an employee for a recycling bin to dispose of a plastic bottle he had been drinking water from. Needless to say, the store clerk was baffled by the request of such a young citizen. Unfortunately, neither the store nor the shopping center had recycling bins, despite the fact that thousands of people visit the mall on a daily basis. I had to take the bottle home with me.

While recycling has increased in various municipalities throughout the island, and outreach efforts by non-profit groups and environmental agencies such as EPA have made an impact on citizens, widespread recycling at public places is still not very common in Puerto Rico. A recent article in The Economist analyzes the fact that while recycling is good for the environment, it is costly due to the meticulous process of manual separation. Some countries and cities, concerned about those costs, are shipping the materials to other parts of the world where manual labor is less expensive.

Materials like aluminum, steel, paper and glass are easy to recycle and cost-effective due to the high cost and damage to the environment caused by mining and refining the raw materials. Recycling aluminum has turned into a profitable business, even for individuals who collect cans. These monetary incentives are having an impact. For example, in recent beach and river cleanups, aluminum cans are not among the commonly found items. Plastic bottles and related items, however, are easily found. While most glass is recyclable and some states provide an incentive for those who return glass items, it is not feasible in every place and I find myself collecting these at every cleanup too.

Even though the plastic industry has developed a series of markers to identify recyclable plastics, not all municipal and state programs recycle them. While researching some information for this blog, I learned that plastic needs to be meticulously separated. Even a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can ruin the melt of recycled plastic.

In our house, we recycle at a rate of 40% (sometimes it can be more) and we try our best to practice the 3 R’s. I think it is time to stress the first R: Reduce more. That way I won’t have to take a plastic bottle home to recycle it anymore.

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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Botella

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.

Anoche, mientras estaba de compras con la familia, mi hijo de tres años le solicitó a la empleada de una tienda de ropa un envase de reciclaje para depositar una botella plástica. La empleada quedó perpleja con semejante solicitud, más aún proviniendo de un niño. Desafortunadamente, ni la tienda ni el centro comercial contaban con envases de reciclaje. Aún cuando el centro comercial es visitado por cientos de cientos de personas diariamente no cuenta con envases que promuevan el reciclaje. Tuve que guardar la botella y llevármela a casa.

Aunque el reciclaje ha incrementado en varios municipios de la isla mediante los esfuerzos de grupos comunitarios y agencias ambientales como la EPA, los envases de reciclaje en lugares públicos no son algo común en Puerto Rico. Un artículo reciente en The Economist analiza el hecho que aunque el reciclaje es bueno para el medioambiente, este resulta costoso por el proceso de separación tan meticuloso que conlleva lo que se traduce en que el costo a los municipios y cidudades es alto y por ende no reciclan. Es por esto que algunos países y ciudades, preocupados por estos costos, envian sus materiales a reciclar a otros lugares donde la mano de obra es más barata.

Algunos materiales como el aluminio, el metal, papel y vidrio son más fáciles de reciclar y resultan costo efectivos por que le daño al medioambiente causado por la extracción en minas y la refinería de materiales vírgenes es mucho mayor. El reciclaje de aluminio es un negocio muy rentable, inclusive para las personas, quienes guardan sus latas de este material y obtienen una ganancia, en vez de reciclarlas. Estos incentivos económicos tienen un impacto en el medioambiente. En limpiezas que he participado recientemente ya no encuentro latas de aluminio. Sin embargo, encuentro muchos artículos de plástico como botellas y cubiertos. Aunque el vidrios es reciclable y algunos estados proveen un incentivo por botella si es devuelto a un centro de acopio, esto no es posible en todos los lugares y me encuentro cada vez más recogiendo vidrio en las limpiezas costeras.

La industria del plástico ha desarrollado una serie de indicadores para identificar los que son reciclables, pero no todos los municipios o estados reciclan todo tipo de plástico. Mientras buscaba información para este blog, aprendí que el proceso de separación del plástico es muy específico. Una pequeña cantidad del plástico erróneo puede dañar la mezcla de plástico a ser reciclado.

En nuestro hogar reciclamos generalmente un 40% (a veces es más) y tratamos de practicar las 3 R. Pero creo que de ahora en adelante tendré que enfatizar más en la R de Reduce y así no tendré que regresar a cas con otra botella plástica para poner en el envase del reciclaje.

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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