Monthly Archives: June 2009

Using Web 2.0 Technology to the Government’s Advantage; EPA’s Water Quality Video Contest

After the success of President Obama’s political campaign, it became impossible to ignore the importance of emerging Web technologies. A Web presence characterized by information sharing, social networking and online communities emerged as a powerful way to transform a fledging grassroots movement into a national campaign. In 2008, Craig Hooks, former Director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds, recognized the opportunity for EPA to utilize Web technology to get citizens involved in addressing environmental challenges together. He proposed the idea of a video contest to engage the public and to help solve problems associated with non-point source water pollution.

Although there have been great improvements in water quality over the past three decades, there is still a massive problem resulting from human activity on the land. Educating citizens about actions that they can take to reduce their impact is vital to improving the nation’s water quality.

The contest was a new way for the Office of Water to experiment with participatory governance using the Web. I’m happy to say that it worked well beyond our expectations. We marketed the contest using social media channels, creating a special EPA group on YouTube and filming our own promotional video, publicizing it on various Web pages, such as VidOpp.com and Fastweb.com, creating a Facebook group page as well as using more traditional outreach such as listservs. It helped that I am a twenty-year-old intern, comfortable with these cutting-edge marketing technologies.

We had modest expectations. The Radon Video Contest conducted last summer by the Office of Air and Radiation generated thirty videos, and we assumed we would receive about the same number. We were wrong. As the contest drew to a close, we began to get overwhelmed. By midnight, more than 250 videos had been submitted.

The judging proved somewhat challenging because of the range of topics and variability in quality. But in the end, we selected two outstanding top videos, “Protect our Water-Check Cars for Oil Leaks” by Lucas Ridley and “Dastardly Deeds and the Water Pollution Monster” by Nora Parren, along with twenty-one videos honorable mentions.

This contest was a monumental success. Collectively, our YouTube contest channel generated more than 18,000 collective views at the contest close and 28,839 views as of today. The interest it has generated has been amazing, and EPA has begun to realize the potential for government to gain the public’s interest using emerging Web technologies. We have been flooded by calls and emails from other EPA offices as well as other government agencies and nonprofit groups that wish to run similar Web contests. On June 10, 2009 Web 2.0 became the one millionth word to be added to the English language dictionary, showing how truly epic this movement is. This is the beginning of a new age for the government and with social media tools at our disposal, individuals can truly participate in their government.

Check out the contest winners.
View all the contest entries.

About the author: Rebecca Neary has been interning with the Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds at Headquarters since January 2009. Rebecca will be beginning her Masters Degree in Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management at Indiana University this fall.

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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Homebuyer Be Aware – Healthy Indoor Air

My family and I just sold our first house. If you’ve ever been through this, you know how many details are involved in sprucing up a home to put on the market – painting, landscaping, cleaning, and on and on. Just like the roof, the furnace and the plumbing – healthy indoor air requires maintenance, and maybe even some elbow grease.

Working at EPA means I’m pretty up to speed on the importance of healthy air. Being a dad, the message is clear to me. When my younger daughter showed signs of developing asthma, in addition to following the pediatrician’s orders, we took extra effort to keep the house in tiptop shape. Since we bought a fixer-upper there was plenty to do. The basics for maintaining clean indoor air go like this – eliminate or remove pollutants, ventilate with fresh air, control moisture, test for radon, and regularly service appliances like heating and air conditioning, and cooking appliances. For more tips than I have room for, check out http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/careforyourair.html.

Selling and buying a home has made me realize that taking steps to protect indoor air quality actually added value to our sale and helped us spot value when we were looking for a new home. Certainly folks can take a “do-it-yourself” approach like my family did by following EPA’s tips. But wouldn’t it be nice if “indoor air quality” were built in? The good news is EPA has launched a program called Indoor airPLUS. To earn the Indoor airPLUS label, a new home must include a comprehensive set of indoor air quality requirements and a third-party verifies it.

As a dad, having good indoor air means living healthy as well as having peace of mind.

About the author: John Millet started at EPA in 2002 and is the Director of Communications for the Office of Air and Radiation covering climate change, emissions, and acid rain. He is the proud dad of two girls and a new home.

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: How will you green your 4th of July?

Independence Day is celebrated across America often outdoors with picnics, fireworks, pool parties, or vacation trips.  Share what you plan to do to be red, white, and blue – and green!

How will you green your 4th of July?

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.

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: ¿Cuán verde será su 4 de julio?

El Día de la Independencia se celebra por todos los Estados Unidos con frecuencia al aire libre al irse de picnic, fuegos artificiales, fiestas en la piscina, u otras excursiones vacacionales. Comparta lo que planifica hacer en favor de los colores patrióticos rojo, blanco, y azul – y para ser verde también!

¿Cuán verde será su 4 de julio?

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.

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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Clamshell Buckets? Are they the Right Choice for the Project?

go to EPA's Hudson cleanup site
In 2009 dredging began in the Upper Hudson River to remove sediments with PCBs. Read more.

I’ve had many people ask me why the dredging is being performed with environmental clamshell buckets instead of using the hydraulic (with a hose and suction) method. These people point to the fact the clamshells are encountering a large volume of logs, sticks and wood shavings, which prohibit the jaws of the buckets from closing tightly and cause water to spill out as the buckets are raised from the river bottom.

Interestingly, that copious river debris (a casualty of the Adirondack logging trade) is one of the main reasons hydraulic dredging wouldn’t work well for this project. That debris – and the rocky nature of the river bottom – would clog hoses and greatly hinder dredging progress. Furthermore, the project spans 40 miles, so using hydraulic dredges would require an extensive infrastructure of pipeline and pump stations up and down the river corridor. But the most important factor is that engineers determined the resuspension of sediment is nearly the same using either method of dredging. Resuspension occurs when the river bottom is disturbed and dirt (in this case dirt with PCBs clinging to it) gets churned up. When this happens, the water-born sediments float downstream, so keeping resuspension to a minimum is an important project goal.

It is important to remember that PCB-tainted sediment dropping out of the clamshells typically settles to the bottom in a relatively short distance and gets removed in subsequent passes of the dredge. Moreover, PCB levels during all dredging operations are closely and continuously monitored to ensure compliance with EPA’s resuspension standard. And, so far, the monitoring has shown the sediment resuspension hasn’t caused an the drinking water standard for PCBs to be exceeded, and the first monitor is only one mile downstream of the dredging. Information about the monitoring for the project can be found at this site: www.hudsondredgingdata.com/. All things considered, the decision to use clamshell buckets was the right one.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

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 Change, Wildlife and Wildlands: A Toolkit for the Educator in You

 image of people working near a shoreline Students participate in the Baldwin County Grasses in Classes program to help grow native plants for wetland and dune restoration projects.

Do you want to educate, inspire, and engage students, scouts, park, zoo or museum visitors, or even your neighbors and family members to do something about climate change and how it may affect wildlife and their precious habitats? We (Karen, a former teacher and Mike, who monitors local water quality as a volunteer for the Audubon Naturalist Society) are impassioned about the climate change issue, especially as it may affect wildlife and wild places, and how important it is to get everyone involved in solving the problems associated with it. So two years ago we gathered together educators from 6 other federal agencies to develop the new Climate Change, Wildlife and Wildlands Toolkit for Formal and Informal Educators to help the educator in each of us spread the word on what is at stake and what we can do about it.

It was not an easy task to find and organize staff members from agencies as diverse as National Park Service, NASA, NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, but we were determined to create an educational product that demonstrated a strong, unified voice on climate change and that was built on the efforts of scientists and educators from government agencies that work on issues involving climate change, wildlife and wild places. After two years of meetings, phone calls, emails, data dumps, arguments, hugs, long drives to video shoots, and lunches for grousing and/or celebrating, we are extremely proud and excited about the end result of this truly unique collaboration.

Please go to the inter-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) site where the toolkit is being hosted and see for yourself! Let us know what you think!

About the Authors: Karen Scott is an Environmental Education Specialist for the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education after spending more than 10 years with EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, Climate Change Division. Michael Kolian is a physical scientist with EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, Climate Change Division.

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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Saving the Planet, One Ride at a Time

Helping the environment doesn’t mean not having fun or forgoing the ways we like to celebrate.A case in point: for a lot of us, Las Vegas is all about traveling in high style and having a great time with friends.Nothing seems more a part of having a stylish night with friends than hopping aboard a nice ride.

They’re everywhere on the Strip, and they’re getting bigger and bigger. It’s not only the hotels, but the limos, vans, and SUVs that let people live the Las Vegas lifestyle if only for one night. As you can imagine, ultra-stretch SUVs and their related high style modes of transport need a lot of fuel… and that can use up fossil fuels, and increase air pollution.

Thanks to Earth Limos, doing it in style in Las Vegas can be easier on the planet. Earth Limos has a hybrid Toyota Prius and a Ford Excursion that’s powered by biodiesel. For larger transportation needs, Earth Buses has two limo-style party buses and a super stretch limo SUV that are all powered by biodiesel. Founder and Las Vegas native Lou Castro wanted to create the first eco-friendly transportation company in the city, and EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region honored Earth Limos as a 2009 Environmental Award winner. Lou has big plans to expand his fleet to use compressed natural gas and liquid propane in the near future. It’s an example for how small businesses everywhere can look to improve their environmental footprint and carve out a unique niche in their industry.

Gary Riley is an environmental engineer working in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office, Superfund Division. He works to investigate and clean up sites on EPA’s National Priorities List of the most polluted sites.

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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A Future Without Trees?

Recently, I was listening to a radio show in which commentators were talking about the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing. I remember that evening very well. I watched the images of that historic milestone with my great grandmother in Puerto Rico. She was 84 then and we discussed how the world had changed during her lifetime. She described seeing the arrival of the first cars to the Island. She contrasted those developments with the news-breaking story of that evening on July 20, 1969, when the first man landed on the moon. Looking back to these 40 years, we’ve witnessed great technological advances and innovations we now take for granted. Travel in space, communications, and nanotechnology are just some of the things that have changed in the past forty years. And that brings me to the subject today.

I’ve always been attracted to the concept of the future. In the sixties, I remember going to the World Fair in New York and watching several exhibits which forecasted how life was going to be in the 21st century. In fact, one of my favorite cartoons, The Jetsons, was an animated science fiction sitcom which portrayed life in the 25th century as conceived by the producers back in 1963. There were robots, electronic contraptions, and flying cars. If you come to think about it, other than the flying cars, some of their futuristic ideas have become a reality. However, in remembering this series, I noticed something recently which made me pause and think. There was hardly any vegetation in that “future.” There were hardly any trees. No greenery. Is that how life will become in the 25th century?

When you come to think about it, a future without trees or vegetation would not only be scary, but deadly for all mankind. Many animals, including human beings, would not survive without any vegetation on Earth. Plants are necessary for multiple reasons—they provide us with oxygen and they are at the foundation of all food chains. Furthermore, they play a fundamental role in ecology—they cleanse the atmosphere of excessively large quantities of carbon dioxide emissions. So, when we think of sustainable development and environmental protection, these are not the fads of the moment. They are essential to our survival. We can all start working to protect our planet by pledging to take action in favor of our planet on Earth Day and every day.

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.

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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¿Un futuro sin árboles?

Recientemente, estaba escuchando un programa de radio donde los comentaristas estaban hablando sobre el 40mo aniversario del alunizaje. Me recuerdo esa noche muy bien. Presencié las imágenes de este hito histórico con mi bisabuela en Puerto Rico. Ella tenía 84 años entonces y conversamos sobre cómo el mundo había cambiado durante su vida. Ella describió ver la llegada de los primeros automóviles a la Isla. Ella contrastó esos acontecimientos con la gran noticia de esa noche del 20 de julio de 1969 cuando el primer hombre pisó la luna. Mirando hacia los últimos 40 años, hemos sido testigos de grandes avances tecnológicos e innovaciones que ahora tomamos por sentado. El viaje al espacio, las comunicaciones, la nanotecnología son sólo algunas de las cosas que han cambiado en los últimos cuarenta años. Y eso me lleva al tema de hoy.

Siempre me ha atraído el concepto del futuro. En los años sesenta, me acuerdo de haber ido a la Feria Mundial en Nueva York y haber visto varias exhibiciones que pronosticaban cómo la vida sería en el siglo 21. De hecho, mi programa favorito de dibujos animados, los Jetsons, era una serie cómica de ciencia ficción en animación que proyectaba la vida del siglo 25 como era concebida por los productores del programa en 1963. Habían robots, aparatos electrónicos, y autos que volaban. Si nos ponemos a pensar, la mayoría de estas ideas futuristas, salvo los autos voladores, se han convertido en realidad. Sin embargo, al recordar esta serie, noté algo recientemente que me puso a pensar. No había casi ninguna vegetación en ese “futuro”. No había árboles. No había verdor. ¿Acaso así será la vida en el siglo 25?

Si lo analizamos realmente, un futuro sin árboles ni vegetación no tan sólo sería preocupante, sino sería mortal para toda la humanidad. Muchos animales, inclusive los seres humanos, no podrían vivir sin vegetación alguna en la Tierra. Las plantas son necesarias por múltiples razones—nos brindan oxígeno y son la fundación de muchas cadenas alimenticias. Además, desempeñan un papel fundamental en la ecología—sirven para purificar la atmósfera de cantidades excesivas de emisiones de bióxido de carbono. Por lo tanto, cuando pensamos en desarrollo sustentable [http://www.epa.gov/Sustainability/index.htm ] y la protección ambiental, estas no son modas pasajeras. Son esenciales para nuestra supervivencia. Todos debemos de trabajar a favor del medio ambiente al comprometernos a tomar acción a favor de nuestro planeta [www.epa.gov/espanol/seleccione5 ] el Día del Planeta Tierra y todos los días.

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.

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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Pollinator Protection—Spreading the Word

Just as I finished mowing my lawn last month, a neighbor strolled over and commented on what appeared to be a half-done job. “Looks like you missed a few spots,” he commented wryly.

My neighbor is a retiree who mows his two-acre plot twice per week. Though he’s tolerant of weeds and other “imperfections,” its overall height is closely maintained; dandelion, clover, and other “weedy” blooms never last long. His comment about my lawn, while delivered with a smile, was also a friendly nudge—peer pressure, perhaps—to get me to comply with modern social norms regarding landscaping.

He wasn’t wrong about me missing a few spots. In fact, his comment was wonderfully understated. There are seemingly random patches in my lawn that I hadn’t mowed in weeks. But rather than firing up my mower and bringing my yard into monotonous harmony with everybody else, I shared my personal pollinator protection plan.

close-up image of a bee on a flowerI explained about the plight of pollinators, including the widely publicized issue known as Colony Collapse Disorder. I mentioned that honey bees are having a tough time, and noted that I don’t see as many of them now as I used to. My neighbor’s face lit up. Apparently, a few months ago he was talking to an amateur beekeeper friend, who commented that he’s down to only one hive now where he used to have five. “The fella said he doesn’t have any idea what’s happening to his bees,” my neighbor said, “but it’s interesting you should bring that up.”

I continued by observing that a lawn devoid of blooms is a barren desert to honey bees and other pollinators, which brought us back around to my somewhat unkempt yard. What looks like random patches of unmown lawn are actually thick patches of clover that I allow to bloom. I only mow them when the blooms fade and begin to transform into seeds. Doing so seems to bring on a new blush of fresh, white blossoms. I also pointed out that since I stopped mowing weekly, other wildflowers have sprung up, and the place is abuzz with various six-legged visitors.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed a sort of shagginess to parts of my neighbor’s formerly uniform lawn the following week! Not only was clover blooming in patches, my neighbor had even one-upped me by planting a half-dozen flowering trees!

Now, if only I could figure out how to get him to apply that friendly peer pressure on our other neighbors in favor of this bee-friendly approach, this could be the start of something big!

For additional environmentally-focused lawn care tips, see http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/garden.htm.

About the Author: Quentin Borges-Silva works in communications for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and is a member of the Agency’s Pollinator Protection Team. He’s also the Bicycle Coordinator for the Pesticide Program, helping co-workers “protect human health and the environment” by biking to work.

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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