Monthly Archives: May 2009

Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me! (‘cause I’m studying wetlands!)

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: Dale Haroski is the Science Advisor to the Office of Public Affairs. Even with years of field work and a doctorate in Ecology and Evolution, she has endangered her fiancé’s life several times after abandoning the driver’s seat (while moving) to flee from assorted small spiders and insects.

Ask any wetlands ecologist what life is like in the field and, if they’re honest, you be regaled with tales of long days and longer nights, weather, mud, being stuck in the mud, boats breaking down, people breaking down and bugs – lots and lots of bugs.

All of my graduate research took place in east coast estuaries where seemingly serene swaying fields of salt grass hide one of the most ferocious and fearsome predators known to ecologists and beachgoers alike: the greenhead fly. I know what you’re thinking, “It’s a fly! Sure they’re annoying but aren’t we being a little dramatic?” If you’re thinking this then you’ve clearly never experienced Tabanus nigrovittatus. With razor sharp mouth parts and giant green eyes capable of tracking a target with military precision, the greenhead is impressive, intimidating and seemingly indestructible. Smack, swat, slam or smash it and the greenhead pauses (probably chuckles evilly to itself) and swoops in for the next round of attack. Oh and I haven’t even begun to discuss the painful bites nor the resulting huge welts.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Ok, they sound pretty nasty but one or two flies isn’t the end of the world.” Ah, but we’re not talking about one or two flies! Scientists at Rutgers University have collected over 1000 greenhead flies PER HOUR all seeking a “blood meal.” (shudder) If that number doesn’t give you nightmares then imagine my panic when greenheads even attempted to fly down my snorkel in their quest for blood! This is the stuff of horror movies folks yet wetlands scientists persist, nay even thrive, in such an environment. Perhaps the greenhead has met its match?

I’ve done field work all over this country and have encountered numerous creepy crawlies. Heck, I once even had an alligator try to bite a fish trap out of my hand yet greenhead flies stand out. And yet, when reflecting on my many wetland adventures, do I mostly remember the beauty and complexity of the estuary right down to that unique marshy smell (malodorous to some and perfume to others)? Absolutely. Did I tolerate greenheads because my fascination with wetlands overrode my seemingly genetically programmed response to flail my arms around while screaming and swatting? Absolutely. Would I do it all again? Absolutely!

Wetland field stories…if you’ve got ‘em, I’d love to hear ‘em!

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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Environmental Leadership on Tribal Lands

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: Sara Jacobs recently celebrated her 10th year working at EPA Region 9. She has spent most of her years in the Drinking Water Office, but is currently on a detail to the Superfund Division, working with the Navajo EPA.

When I saw that Lenore Lamb had been chosen as one of the EPA Pacific Southwest Environmental Award Winners, I was thrilled since I know first hand of Lenore’s accomplishments as the Environmental Director for the Pala Band of Mission Indians. I met Lenore in 2001 and three wells, three kids (two were mine), and eight years later, I have seen Lenore grow from a one woman show to managing a staff of 12. She’s gone from a young, eager environmental learner to an expert and leader in her field. Her efficiency and energy amazes me and I get the impression that she does the work of three people. (She tells me it’s due to large quantities of caffeine.)

Here are just some of her contributions:

  • Providing safe drinking water and wastewater disposal for both the Pala Band as well as a tribal community in Mexico by securing funding and overseeing infrastructure projects.
  • Developing a “Green Team,” with representatives from the Pala Casino Resort and Spa, that has implemented energy and water efficiency programs and diverted 170 tons of solid waste since implementation of their program last year.
  • Active involvement in the Upper San Luis Rey Resource Conservation District. Lenore has been instrumental in the clean up of illegal dumpsites along the creek beds within the reservation boundaries.
  • Supporting education and outreach programs through annual earth day events, tribal publications, exercises for the Pala Boys and Girls Science Club, and by developing a “Creating and Managing Tribal Transfer Stations” course.
  • Securing tribal funding and overseeing design and construction of a transfer station. The facility is open to the public, includes electronic waste collection, a green waste and composting program, a secured hazardous waste collection location, a state certified buy back center for recyclables, and a used oil collection program.

image of cardboard stacked at Pala Transfer Station

From my own experience working with tribes, I know that tribal environmental managers face enormous challenges. I’m even more impressed by Lenore since her accomplishments are more forward thinking than many non-tribal governments, even in a state like California, which is often on the cutting edge. Lenore has not only made significant contributions to improving the environment at Pala, she has contributed to improving environmental conditions throughout Indian Country.

To learn more about the Pala Band’s environmental programs, go to http://www.palatribe.com/programs/environment/. Look for additional environmental tribal leaders in future posts.

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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Paint and Kids Don’t Always Mix

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.

It’s time for the dreaded task again: time to paint our house. As I discussed with my husband the possibility of hiring a contractor to paint the house exterior and for us to paint inside, our son’s asthma became a sudden concern. Paints, stains and varnishes release low level toxic emissions into the air for years after application . These toxic emissions stem from a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are a by-product of petrochemical-based solvents used in paints. Exposure to VOC’s in paint can trigger asthma attacks, eye, throat and nose irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, allergic skin reactions and dizziness among other symptoms. As one can imagine, painting our house would require extreme planning, including a temporary move.

EPA studies indicate that when people use and store products containing organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels. These elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed, thus causing the quality of indoor air to deteriorate.

Given our concerns, I decided to embark on an internet research of our alternatives for painting the house without affecting our son’s health. These is a list of the suggestions I found on various sites, including EPA’s

  • Low VOC or No VOC paints are an excellent alternative for painting the inside of our house.
  • Ventilation is very important while painting.
  • Warnings in the labels are extremely important since these are aimed at reducing exposure of the user.
  • Buying limited quantities might save us something more than money. By buying only what we need we won’t have to worry about the fumes and toxic materials emitted by these paints while being on storage. Gases can leak even when the containers are closed.
  • By using the right equipment-including masks–as with any other household project–we can reduce our exposure to hazardous substances while completing our task.

So before mixing that paint, take the necessary steps to protect your family.

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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Pintura y Niños: Una mezcla peligrosa

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.

Es tiempo de pintar la casa, una tarea no muy fácil. Mientras discutía con mi esposo la posibilidad de contratar los servicios de un pintor para que pinte la parte exterior de la casa, mientras nosotros pintamos el interior, nos percatamos que esta vez tenemos que tomar en consideración a nuestro hijo de 3 años. La casa había sido pintada previamente en el 2005, al poco tiempo de su nacimiento, pero nosotros no vivíamos en la residencia ya que se encontraba en proceso de remodelación. Nuestro hijo es asmático y los olores fuertes agravan su condición al irritar sus vías respiratorias. La pintura y productos relacionados liberan al aire emisiones tóxicas aún años después de aplicarlas. Estas emisiones provienen de una variedad de compuestos orgánicos volátiles (VOC’s) que son producto de solventes a base de petróleo. La exposición a estos VOC pueden provocar un ataque de asma al igual que irritación de ojos, nariz y garganta, problemas respiratorios, nausea, reacciones alérgicas en la piel y mareos, entre otros síntomas. Como es de suponer, pintar nuestra casa conllevará mucha planificación, entre ellas una mudanza temporera.

Los estudios de EPA indican que cuando las personas utilizan y almacenan productos que contienen sustancias químicas orgánicas pueden exponerse a ellas y a otros altos niveles de contaminantes. Estas concentraciones elevadas pueden persistir en el aire una vez la actividad haya sido completada y deteriorar la calidad del aire interior.

Debido a nuestras preocupaciones, decidí iniciar una búsqueda en Internet sobre nuestras alternativas para pintar la casa sin afectar la salud de nuestro hijo. Esta es una lista de las sugerencias que encontré en varias páginas electrónicas, incluyendo la de EPA

  • Utilice pintura baja en VOC o que no contenga VOC. Estas son una excelente alternativa para las paredes interiores.
  • Mantener ventilación apropiada a la hora de pintar
  • Lea las etiquetas ya que estas están diseñadas para evitar el riesgo por exposición inadecuada.
  • Comprar pocas cantidades puede ahorrar algo más que dinero. Al comprar sólo lo que necesitamos no tenemos que preocuparnos por los gases tóxicos que estas pinturas puedan emitir al estar almacenadas. Los gases pueden escaparse inclusive en envases cerrados.
  • Al utilizar el equipo adecuado–incluyendo mascarillas–en cualquier proyecto casero podemos reducir nuestra exposición a sustancias tóxicas mientras completamos nuestras tareas

Así que antes que comience a mezclar esa pintura, tome las medidas adecuadas y proteja a su familia.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Environmental Protection and the Green Economy

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: Diana Bauer, Ph.D. is an environmental engineer in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research where she serves as the Sustainability Team Leader.

I have been pleased in the past several months to see the “Green Economy” emerge as a priority for the nation. As an engineer who has been engaged in environmental research, I am particularly excited about new roles for engineering and new opportunities to avoid environmental problems through better design.

When I was in my first job as a mechanical engineer a couple of decades ago, I was dismayed when my colleagues and managers told me that I shouldn’t concern myself with where or how my work was used. My job as an engineer was to solve challenging technical problems. Others had the responsibility of worrying about the broader context, including what technology we should be investing in and how the technology would interact with people and the environment.

Later on, working at EPA and elsewhere, I have met many environmental professionals who were skeptical that engineers could have much impact for preventing or avoiding environmental problems, precisely because of engineers’ narrow focus.

In the years since that first job, I have enjoyed watching and contributing to fields such as Green Engineering, Green Chemistry, and Sustainable Engineering as they emerged and began to mature. These fields will be required as the nation addresses climate change through green energy and invests in transportation, and water infrastructure.

To contribute fully to the new green economy, engineers need to understand the environmental and social implications of their work.

National investments present an opportunity for EPA to collaborate with other departments and agencies across the government to ensure that holistic, multimedia environmental considerations are integrated into the development of green energy technologies, transportation, water infrastructure, and green building. Efforts such as these may reduce the future environmental issues that EPA will have to address with regulation.

One area where cross-government collaboration is already occurring is in Green Building. Commercial and residential buildings currently account for about 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from electricity and heating. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is coordinating across the federal government the Net-Zero Energy, High Performance Green Buildings Research and Development Plan to dramatically reduce energy consumption in buildings. The plan holistically addresses the challenge by focusing on water efficiency, storm water management, sustainable materials management, and indoor environmental quality.

Cross-cutting agendas such as this one can help engineers of my generation and those following to broaden our perspective and learn how to build a green economy while protecting the air, water, and land.

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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Students for Climate Action: Celebrate the Year of Science

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout 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).

EPA works to increase public awareness on many issues. This year EPA is collaborating with a grassroots network called the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) to initiate activism through science. The Year of Science 2009 is a year long nationwide initiative that encourages Americans to engage in activities that are related to science. For the past four months and the remainder of the year we will be celebrating the marvels of science as well as how we use science to protect ourselves and our environment.

Each month has a theme. EPA has a very informative site that highlights the theme for each month, and EPA environmental science events and activities. There are blog postings written by experts on the subject, along with podcasts, activities, and contests for people to join in and celebrate science.

These sites have helped me stay involved in celebrating this wonderful year of science!! May’s theme is Sustainability and the Environment. In order to celebrate sustainability we must celebrate the individuals and communities that have found ground-breaking ways to promote and live in balance with the environment. EPA’s website allows people from all over the country to post ideas on how to celebrate science.

You still have plenty of time left to get involved in the Year of Science. The remaining theme’s are:

  • June: Ocean and Water
  • July: Astronomy
  • August: Weather and Climate
  • September: Biodiversity and Conservation
  • October: Geosciences and Planet Earth
  • November: Chemistry
  • December: Science and Health

If you haven’t started celebrating The Year of Science 2009, don’t worry there are still seven more months left to become informed and involved!! Let us know how you celebrate science.

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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Why “Don’t Fry Day” Isn’t Just Another Friday

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: A skin cancer survivor, Stephene Moore is the wife of Congressman Dennis Moore and a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. She has been helping EPA’s SunWise Program since 2006. As part of this year’s Don’t Fry Day campaign, sponsored by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, EPA asked her to share her personal experience with skin cancer as a guest blogger on Greenversations. The Friday before Memorial Day is Don’t Fry Day.

image of author in radio studio
Stephene Moore, hours after Mohs surgery to remove a skin cancer above her lip, giving a radio interview.

With Don’t Fry Day just three days away, it’s important to remember to Slip on a shirt! Slop on some sunscreen! Slap on a hat! ® and Wrap on some sunglasses today and every day. I’ve learned the importance of being smart in the sun the hard way.

As a teen, I used to cover myself in baby oil that we girls all added iodine to, and sit out in the sun by the pool or in the backyard. As an adult, I even hopped into a tanning bed once in awhile to get a “safe tan” so I wouldn’t burn on a beach vacation! Little did I know at the time that there’s no such thing as a “safe tan,” unless it comes from a bottle.

My sun-seeking and tanning caught up with me in November, 2007. I was taking off my makeup and noticed a tiny black spot that I couldn’t wipe off. I waited a month before visiting my dermatologist in the hopes it would go away. When it didn’t, I set up an appointment. Just a few days after the doctor biopsied the spot on my nose, a nurse called with the results: it was skin cancer!

A small pit in my stomach began to form after hearing the “C” word: cancer. Hearing the word “cancer” used in the same sentence as my own name is a little unsettling. Luckily, the cancer I had was very treatable. I’ll never be able to say I’m cancer-free, but after three surgeries, the doctor was able to remove all the cancer they could find. The experience has left a lasting impression—literally and figuratively.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are responsible for most skin cancers. UV reaches the Earth’s surface in two forms: UVA and UVB. UVA is associated with premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. UVB, which is associated with sunburn, is mostly blocked by the ozone layer. Unfortunately, the ozone layer isn’t perfect. While on behalf of the United States, EPA works with 194 other countries to heal the ozone layer, it’s more important than ever to be smart in the sun.

To protect my skin and eyes, I wear a hat and sunglasses, and keep extra sunscreen all over the house and in the car, so I remember to put it on year round. I’ll never know which day by the pool or trip to the tanning bed gave me cancer, but please learn from my mistakes and remember to Slip! Slop! Slap! ® and Wrap! each time you spend time outside.

For more sun safety tips from the SunWise Program.

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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Blogging from the Bog: How Healthy are the Nation’s Wetlands?

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: Michael Scozzafava has been with EPA since 2004 and the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds since 2006. He is project lead for the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment and chair of the National Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment Work Group (NWMAWG).

How healthy are the nation’s wetlands? Existing data sources make it almost impossible to answer this question with any confidence. The most recent Water Quality Report to Congress provided data for only 1.5% of wetlands nationwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Wetlands Status and Trends Reports provide invaluable information on the amount of wetlands (quantity), but are not designed to assess overall wetland health (quality).

It is vitally important that we answer this fundamental question to effectively plan wetland protection and restoration efforts. Currently, we don’t know if we’re using resources wisely or focusing work in areas that need the most help. We can’t identify the most common wetland threats and develop strategies to reduce those threats. The U.S. FWS documented that the country is gaining 32,000 wetland acres each year, but the data suggests we may be increasing the number of low quality wetlands that provide only one service (like storing excess rain water) and losing high quality wetlands that provide a range of services. So, although we’re increasing the total number of wetlands, we’re probably losing natural filtration for our drinking water, protection from coastal storm surges, habitat for birds and wildlife, and nursery grounds for fishes. We need to better understand the nature of wetland gains and losses, identify the types of wetlands that are especially at risk, and implement policies to reverse trends of wetland degradation.

EPA will collaborate with states, tribes, and other federal agencies to implement a field-based survey of the nation’s wetlands in 2011. We will sample about 900 randomly-selected sites using standard monitoring protocols that characterize the plants, algae, soils, and relative wetness of each sampling location. We will also test for high concentrations of chemicals and search for evidence of human and natural impacts at each site. In 2013, we will combine all of this information to produce a baseline assessment that reports the overall health of the nation’s wetlands and identifies the most common wetland threats.

It is crucial that the results of this assessment are used by decision makers to improve how wetlands are managed, restored, and protected. EPA has considered many possibilities for how the information might be used, but certainly have not identified every opportunity. So the question to decision-makers, wetland managers, and the general public is: what information can EPA provide to help you protect wetland resources?

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: Where do you think more scientific attention should be focused?

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.

Many people are concerned with scientific issues around the world.  Health issues, climate change, water quality, sustainability, and many more. Tell us what issues you think scientists should focus on more.

Where do you think more scientific attention should be focused?

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: ¿Dónde piensa que se debería enfocar más la atención científica?

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.

Muchas personas están preocupadas por asuntos científicos alrededor del mundo. Asuntos de salud, el cambio climático, la calidad del agua, la sostenibilidad y muchos más. Cuéntenos acerca de cuáles asuntos donde deberían enfocar la atención.

¿Dónde piensa que se debería enfocar más la atención científica?

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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