Monthly Archives: May 2009

Pick5ers, Speak Up!

Go to Pick 5 for the EnvironmentIf you’ve Picked 5 for the Environment, this is your chance to share your stories and exchange tips with others to help you achieve your environmental goals. If you haven’t, head over there now, commit to at least 5 actions out of the 10, and come back to share (we’ll add you to our mailing list so you’ll get advance notice, too).

This is the first time we’re “opening up the lines,” but we’ll post regular items like this to help Pick 5 community members talk to each other.

Thanks for committing to helping protect the environment!

Note: to ward off advertisers using our blog as a platform, we don’t allow specific product endorsements in our comment policy. But feel free to suggest Web sites that review products, suggest types of products, and share your experiences using them.

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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Clean Out the Chemicals

About the author: Jeff Maurer manages Web content and does communications work for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

When my mom first starting teaching in 1971, duck-and-cover drills – in which students were taught to curl up underneath their desks in the event of a nuclear attack – were still in vogue. Apparently, desks were much sturdier back then – strong enough to withstand a nuclear blast.

When we lived in Kentucky, Mom taught at a school that practiced regular tornado drills. By the 1990s, teachers were being taught how to treat cuts in ways that prevent the spread of hepatitis and HIV, and “lockdown” drills became common after the Columbine shootings. By the time Mom retired last year, school safety training had been expanded to include managing students’ gluten, seafood, and peanut allergies.

Clearly, student safety in schools came a long way during Mom’s career. But in all of her years as a teacher, my mom was never once taught how to safely manage chemicals that are commonly found in schools.

That needs to change. School science labs, trade shops, and janitorial areas – any area of a school – can contain hazardous chemicals that can be harmful to students and teachers if improperly managed. Beyond the obvious health hazards, chemical spills can result in lost school days, cleanup costs, and liability.

Chemical management should be part of every school’s safety routine. Thankfully, EPA’s Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) is making it easy for schools to clear out unneeded chemicals and make sure that needed chemicals are properly managed. The SC3 provides a wealth of resources – including a promotional video and a tool kit for starting a chemical management campaign – to teachers, parents, school administrators, community groups, and just about anyone concerned with safe chemical management in schools.

It works, too; schools across the country are implementing successful chemical management campaigns. In my area, the Arlington Public Schools system removed 600 pounds of chemicals from its secondary schools. That hits home for me because my sister – following in Mom’s footsteps – works in the public school system here in Northern Virginia.

For my sister’s safety and for everyone’s safety, I’m glad that safe chemical management in schools is catching on. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week; I think that a good way to celebrate might be to see if the schools in your area are practicing safe chemical management. After all, the danger posed by hazardous chemicals, unlike certain other safety concerns, can’t be neutralized by simply hiding beneath a desk.

More information about healthy school environments is available online.

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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Don’t Let Asthma Spoil the Fun

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.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, my husband and I took the kids kite flying to El Morro Fort in San Juan. Our three year-old marveled at the hundreds of kites in the sky and flew his with our help. But what caught his attention and gave him the most thrills throughout the sunny afternoon was rolling down the hills that surround the El Morro’s esplanade. Soon he forgot about his colorful kite and left his father and sister to enjoy the afternoon while I watched him roll in the grass. By Sunday morning all fun had disappeared from his face as he had developed a full blown asthma attack. While trying to pinpoint what had been the trigger and reviewing our daily routine, only one thing stood out: rolling on the grass. I know that mold, strong odors, second hand smoke and Sahara dust particles can trigger an asthma attack in my son, but I was dumbfounded this time. After some research I found out that nearly 80% of adults and children with asthma are allergic to trees, pollen and grass. While browsing for information I stumbled upon EPA’s Asthma Research Strategy where scientists study and develop an understanding of exposure, health effects, risk assessment, and risk management of indoor and outdoor environmental pollutants linked to asthma. This site was very helpful since it provides additional resources and publications related to projects supported by EPA. Among the studies that caught my attention were those that linked susceptibility and genetic factors with environmental exposures.

Even though I have identified most indoor triggers, and EPA provides a great wealth of information in that area, I was working on identifying outdoor environmental stressors. My search yielded the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health site. One interesting, but simple thing I learned on its website was to avoid outdoor activities on windy days. That made perfect sense since February through April is the windy or “kite” season in Puerto Rico. I also learned that most common grasses can trigger an allergic reaction in asthma patients. Now armed with this new information I can work better on identifying other outdoor environmental asthma stressors for my child.

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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No dejes que el asma impida la diversión

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.

Recientemente, durante un pasadía un sábado por la tarde, mi esposo y yo llevamos los niños a volar cometas o chiringas como se dice en Puerto Rico frente al Fuerte del Morro en el Viejo San Juan. Nuestro hijo de tres años estaba maravillado con los cientos de cometas que volaban por los cielos y pudo volar la suya con nuestra ayuda. Sin embargo, lo que sí le atrajo más la atención durante esa soleada tarde fue el rodar por las colinas alrededor de los terrenos del Morro. Rápidamente se olvidó de su colorida chiringa y dejó que su padre y hermana disfrutaran la tarde a su manera mientras él se deslizaba y rodaba en la yerba y le observaba atentamente. El domingo por la mañana toda la diversión y el regocijo habían desaparecido de su rostro cuando desarrolló un severo ataque de asma. Mientras tanto, yo estaba repasando todas nuestras actividades matutinas y nuestra rutina cotidiana para ver que le había desencadenado este ataque. Lo único diferente que se destacaba era el hecho de haber rodado por el césped. Yo sé que el moho, ciertos olores fuertes, el tabaquismo pasivo y las partículas de polvo del Sahara pueden desencadenar un ataque de asma en mi hijo, pero esta vez, me quedé atónita. Después de investigar un poco más el tema, encontré que cerca del 80 por ciento de los adultos y niños son alérgicos al polen, a los árboles y a las hierbas. Mientras buscaba mas información, me tropecé con la Estrategia de Investigación de Asma de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) donde científicos estudian y desarrollan un entendimiento mayor de la exposición, efectos de salud, evaluación de riesgos, y manejo de riesgos de los contaminantes medioambientales en entornos interiores y exteriores vinculados al asma. Este sitio Web fue muy útil ya que brinda recursos adicionales y publicaciones relacionadas a los proyectos apoyados por EPA. Entre los estudios que más capturaron mi atención estaban aquellos en los cuales se vinculaban la susceptibilidad y factores genéticos a las exposiciones ambientales.

A pesar de que yo había identificado la mayoría de los factores desencadenantes en entornos interiores, y la EPA brinda amplia información en esta área, estoy trabajando para identificar los estresores ambientales en entornos exteriores. Mi investigación me llevó al sitio Web del Instituto Nacional de las Ciencias de Salud Ambiental de los Institutos Nacionales de Salud.  Algo muy interesante, pero sencillo, que aprendí de este sitio cibernético fue el evitar las actividades al aire libre en los días ventosos. Ahora eso me hace perfecto sentido ya que de febrero a abril es la temporada ventosa en Puerto Rico denominada comúnmente como la “temporada de las chiringas”. También aprendí que algunas hierbas comunes pueden desencadenar reacciones alérgicas en pacientes asmáticos. Armada con esta nueva información ahora puedo trabajar mejor para identificar otros estresores medioambientales de entornos exteriores que afectan a mi hijo.

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: Year of Science-Question of the Month

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

For each month in 2009, the Year of Science—we will pose a question related to science. Please let us know your thoughts as comments, and feel free to respond to earlier comments, or post new ideas.

The Year of Science theme for May is Sustainability and the Environment.

One of the most widely-cited definitions of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

What does sustainability mean to you, and what are you doing to achieve it?

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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Transparent Calendars

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the Director of Web Communications.

A couple of weeks ago, EPA Administrator Jackson issued a memo calling for maximum transparency in everything we do. The memo put into EPA terms the ideas first espoused in the memo President Obama issued on his first full day in office, saying that government must be transparent, participatory, and collaborative.  The overarching theme is that you, the public, are entitled to know what we’re up to.

Those of us in EPA’s Web community really took notice, because our site and various social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) offer so many ways to serve those goals.  We have several projects underway.

image of a calendar pageOne of the first is that the Administrator publishes her daily working calendar showing meetings with the public.  Next, she directed her senior management team to do the same.

We’re now setting up the process, and you’ll soon be able to see who’s meeting with top EPA leaders.

It occurs to us, though, that we could do better than simply giving you a calendar in table form. What if you could download multiple calendars across EPA and other agencies, and then create mashups as you saw fit?

So we want to publish machine-readable formats, too. And that’s where you can help us. Please let us know what works best: comma delimited, something else?

Also, please help us understand how you’d use the info; that’ll help us figure out how to make it easier.

We’ll be coming back to you to ask for your help on other questions, too, so here’s to a long, collaborative discussion!

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: Celebrating Sustainability and the Environment

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

About the author: Alan D. Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He has also served as the Associate Director for Sustainable Development, White House Council on Environmental Quality (2002-2003), and the Director of International Environmental Affairs for the National Security Council (2001-2002).

Charles Perrings, a professor of Environmental Economics at the Global Institute for Sustainability at Arizona State University, recently argued that the development of discipline-based science, while the source of nearly all the scientific advances of the past century, has limited the ability of science to address problems that span more than one discipline.

Sustainability science is a new discipline of a different kind: it draws upon many existing disciplines to forge a systems approach to environmental management. Its fundamental contribution is to solve problems.

Today, few of the world’s environmental problems can simply be addressed as an issue basically restricted to air, water, or chemicals. Sustainability science is the integration of all of these disciplines to better understand how humans and society interact as a system.

Sustainability science is asking the right questions:

  • Why aim merely to reduce toxic waste when we can eliminate it with new chemicals and processes?
  • Why handle and dispose of growing amounts of waste when we can more efficiently manage materials that eliminate, reduce, or recycle waste?

When EPA was created in 1970, its focus of attention was on reducing obvious sources of pollution to the environment. When the oil slick and debris in the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire in June 1969, it drew attention to other environmental problems across the country and helped to spur the environmental movement that led to the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Since its creation in 1970, EPA has been largely successful in addressing many of the most obvious and pressing environmental issues of that time, such as the quality of air and water. But new approaches are now needed to deal with emerging and newly recognized problems:

  • the expanding population and economy and their demand for energy and materials;
  • the changing rates of urban sprawl and loss of biodiversity;
  • nonpoint, trans-boundary, and trans-media sources of pollutants such as storm water runoff;
  • genetically modified organisms;
  • the potentially harmful effects of these products as well as endocrine disruptors and nanoparticles; and
  • the cumulative impacts of all these factors on the environment and public health.

Addressing these and other environmental issues in an integrated manner will demand a greater focus on sustainability and the vital need to develop sustainability science. We will need to apply what we learn to foster policies and best practices that can help people coexist with the planet.

The development and achievements of sustainability science deserve the increasing recognitions that it is receiving great deal of credit for this progress. Among this recognition is the May 2009 celebration of the month of Sustainability and the Environment as part of the Year of 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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Climate for Action: Start a Paper Recycling Program at Your School

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 children dumping bins of paper into a mixed paper recycling collection bin.There are many successful paper recycling programs that schools start every year and their efforts certainly make a big difference. For example, 28 schools in Central Virginia started a paper recycling program in 2007 and have been able to collect more than 156 tons of paper to date. The 156 tons of paper that they recycled have saved more than 2,000 trees, 823,000 gallons of water, and 411 yards of landfill space.

Why not become a climate ambassador and educate your classmates about the benefits of paper recycling? By recycling your schools used paper, you can save water, energy, landfill space and you can reduce the impacts of deforestation and global climate change.

If you are interested in starting a paper recycling program at your school, here’s a guide for you to follow to help make your program successful:

  • Talk to your principal about setting up a collection for paper waste and finding a local paper recycler.
  • Educate your school about the importance of paper recycling and what bins to recycle their used paper in.
  • Organize a club to help make sure that the bins are being used properly.

You can make a big difference by starting a paper recycling program at your school. With every ton of paper that your school recycles, the EPA estimates that you can help save 7,000 gallons of water, 3.3 yards of landfill space and reduce one ton of carbon from entering into the atmosphere. So, become involved in helping your school protect the environment – start a paper recycling program and educate others on the importance of recycling. Be sure to let us know if you plan on starting a paper recycling program and why.

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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Winning the College and University Green Power Challenge

About the Author: Dan Garofalo is the Environmental Sustainability Coordinator and a Senior Facilities Planner at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a founding member of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council and has served as the Chairman of the organization’s Board of Directors since 2008.The University of Pennsylvania led the Ivy League’s victory in this year’s Green Power Partnership College and University Green Power Challenge.

The University of Pennsylvania finds itself in an interesting position when it comes to energy consumption and management. Since Penn is currently unable to produce its own electricity, like the many colleges and universities that own steam and co-generation plants, purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) is one way for Penn to directly contribute to the development of clean energy sources while reducing its own carbon footprint.

Penn’s commitment to purchasing wind power RECs represents an investment in the future of renewable energy in America. More specifically, Penn’s initial commitment to purchase ten years of 40,000 megawatt hours of wind RECs from the Bear Creek Wind Farm near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, allowed the renewable energy developer, Community Energy (community Energy has since been purchased by Iberdrola), to finance the entire wind farm operation and expansion. We’re proud to be recognized by EPA’s Green Power Partnership as a role model in alternative energy consumption and hope other institutions will follow our lead.

Earlier last year, I had a chance to visit a nearby wind farm, and I was able to examine first hand the type of operation that Penn was helping to fund. Staring up at the graceful swinging blades above me, it was immediately apparent that the money invested by the University was going towards an important component of our country’s renewable energy strategy. Clean power is a very real and pressing need in our environment.
The University is currently focused on connecting its external sustainability efforts, such as support of wind power, to the implementation of several campus-wide conservation and education initiatives. Penn’s Green Campus Partnership serves as the umbrella organization for Penn’s environmental efforts and includes the University’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee , which will produce Penn’s Climate Action Plan in September 2009.

The Climate Action Plan will include many recommendations from student, staff, and faculty committees on sustainable academics, energy, recycling, waste reduction, and our campus buildings and landscape. As these recommendations are implemented over the next several years, Penn will be making a bigger and better impact on our environment, and on our future. Check out our website (www.upenn.edu/sustainability) for more information about Penn’s current sustainability initiatives, and stay tuned for the release of our Climate Action Plan in September!

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 is your definition of science?

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.

Science is a lot of things to a lot of people. Some folks think of science as beakers, test tubes and experiments, others as statistics and numbers. Tell us what science means to you.

What is your definition of 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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