Monthly Archives: June 2009

You Can Still Enjoy the River During Dredging

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

With the formidable, 40-mile-long Hudson River dredging project underway, some people may have the idea that the river is off limits for recreation, but this isn’t the case. Granted there are a lot of project vessels on the water, especially around Rogers Island in Fort Edward, but by taking basic precautions for safety, people can use the river in all the ways they have in the past. As a matter of fact, the flurry of activity involves a lot of neat construction equipment, and people can visit the yacht basin in Fort Edward to see the dredging up close and personal.

To scoop the 400,000 tons of sediment (more than 94 acres) targeted this year, GE has mobilized an armada of equipment, including 11 dredges, 17 tugboats, 20 barges, and more than 400 rail cars, as well as skiffs, cranes and other machinery. At peak dredging during July and August, as many as 80 to 90 vessels are expected to be in the river each day. That’s a lot of water traffic congestion in a relatively narrow section of the Upper Hudson, but the river remains navigable by commercial and recreational boaters and open to water skiers, kayakers, swimmers, and anglers.

Boaters traveling in areas where dredging is being performed are being asked to avoid work areas, which are marked by buoys. New York State Canal Corporation regularly posts project information for boaters on their website. EPA and the New York State Department of Health representatives have been telling people recreational activities such as swimming and water skiing are acceptable during dredging, but individuals should try to avoid the immediate areas where dredging is being performed to minimize the potential for exposure. Also, people are being reminded to wash off after going in the water, not just because of PCBs, but because unfiltered river water is known to contain bacteria, viruses and other “bugs” that can make people sick. People are surprised to learn that they can still swim in the river with the project going on, but the main risk of exposure to PCBs at dangerous levels is through eating contaminated fish — and, for now, fish are strictly for catch and release in the Upper Hudson.

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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Science Wednesday: Science is Cool

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

Imagine powering your computer using an energy cell fueled by cow manure. Or using gold dust as the key ingredient in a glamorous yet inexpensive sunscreen?

These products aren’t so far away, and the minds behind these amazing ideas are students between 14-18 years old. Over 1,500 high school students met in Reno, NV last month to showcase their independent research at the world’s premiere pre-collegiate science competition – the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Forget about the blue ribbon and $20 gift certificate for the homemade volcano. These kids were bringing some serious science: biochemistry, electrical and mechanical engineering, environmental management, nuclear and particle physics, cellular and molecular biology, and medicine and health sciences—just to name a few.

Because it looked like such an amazing opportunity for EPA’s Year of Science 2009, activities, I wrote a proposal that would include EPA in the 2009 ISEF as a Special Awards presenter. EPA’s award included an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the P3: People, Planet and Prosperity Student Design Competition for Sustainability and display their project on the national mall.

High school sophomore Ryan Alexander was the winner of EPA’s 2009 Sustainability Award with his outstanding project, Gone with the Windmills: An Analysis of the Effectiveness of an Oscillating Wind Energy Generator. Our judges were blown away with this guy (okay, pun intended). Not only was he brilliant (he is skipping the next 2 years of high school to attend college) but he was a poised, charismatic salesman. Ryan was pitching his project with the prowess of a seasoned CEO. We joked about buying stock in his future company.

The best part of my experience at the competition was interacting with the students. After all, they were just kids, but to hear their casual conversations was inspiring. They joked about algorithms and played anagram games. Here, the quintessential nerd did not exist. There were no classifications, just regular people who felt that science and knowledge was the status quo. It reminded me of something I felt at a much less prestigious science fair I participated in many years ago. You can’t let anyone tell you that science is just for people who wear dorky glasses and study quantum physics all the time. Science allows you to appreciate more about the world. By learning and studying it, you can understand anything from how to program a video game to how wormholes might connect possible alternate universes. It even energizes people about manure. How can you say that is not cool?!

About the author: Patrick Hurd  joined EPA in September, 2008 and is an intern in the S.T.E.P. program. He has a background in marine biology and is currently working with the Science Communications Staff in the Office of Research and Development.

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: Reduce More Than Half Your Waste by Composting

In 2007, 245.1 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the United States. Of that waste, organic materials—yard trimmings, food scraps, and paper products—made up more than two-thirds of our solid waste stream. Even though organic waste makes up most of our waste stream, it is something that we can reduce. Composting can turn our organic wastes into valuable compost which can be used for landscaping and gardening purposes. By composting we can also reduce methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heating potential of carbon dioxide which is largely produced from the organic wastes in our landfills.

There are many types of composting options to choose from. At the end of the composting process you will end up with a great, free product for greening lawns and producing strong, healthy garden plants.

So here’s how you can start. Look at your options. Some include vermicomposting, compost bins, or installing a composter in the sink like a garbage disposal. Discuss with your caregiver or principal which option works easiest and best for your home or school. Then work on making successful compost by watching what you put into the composter. EPA’s web site has great information for creating a compost pile right in your own backyard.

So take action against producing so much waste and reduce green house gas emissions. By composting you can eliminate the threats to climate change, water quality and pollution by transforming your waste into a product that will benefit your lawn and garden. Talk to your friends and family about how they can start a composting project at home. You can also become a climate ambassador by starting a composting program at your school. You will find that it can be fun, especially if you like to garden! Be sure to tell us your composting plans. Let us know which option works best for you, how much waste you will be reducing and what you plan to do with your compost.

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

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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Earth Day – Reflections from Someone There at the Beginning

image of people standing at table with a banner overhead reading With Earth Day 2009 in the recent past, I got to wondering about what happened at the First Earth Day. Luckily, one of my colleagues in the Dallas regional office, William Rhea, was there and glad to share his thoughts.

Q: Why did you attend the first Earth Day in Washington 39 years ago? Was it connected to a school project or driven by your personal interest in participating?
A: In 1970, I was working for General Electric in Evandale, OH. I was visiting Washington to see a friend who had played on the University of Kentucky basketball team and was then an assistant coach at George Washington University. I went to the Earth Day festivities on April 22, 1970, because my friend said I should go to see what Washington demonstrations were like.

Q: What is your most vivid memory? Was it like a concert/festival or a demonstration?
A: Most vivid memory was the huge mass of people that were so passionate about the environment. It was like another world experience in that it was so new. After taking a job in Washington in 1970, I likened Earth Day to the Vietnam protest rallies – masses of people united by a thought. The other vivid memory was the incredible diversity of people, their ways of showing their environmental passion, and their ideals.

Q: Where were you in school at the time? Did you go on your own or with others?
A: I had graduated from the University of Kentucky in Mechanical Engineering the year before. Actually walked to the Earth Day rally from my friend’s apartment in Arlington, Va. and was alone or as alone as you can be in a crowd of several hundred thousand individuals.

Q: Was attending the first Earth Day your inspiration to a career at EPA working on environmental issues?
A: Attending Earth Day gave me the idea about working in Washington. Since I was raised on a farm, environmental issues were always important. It then took 7 months to translate that into taking a job with the National Air Pollution Control Administration, which became EPA on December 2, 1970.

I’ve known William for close to 30 years and can tell you that he is as passionate and curious about the environment as he was back in April 1970. EPA is lucky to have this Charter Employee still onboard and serving the American people.

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

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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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: ¿Cómo han cambiado sus hábitos de ir al trabajo en bicicleta?

Hace un año atrás recibimos cientos de comentarios cuando preguntamos si ustedes iban al trabajo en bicicleta. Ahora un año más tarde, díganos cómo han cambiado sus hábitos en la bicicleta y por qué.

¿Cómo han cambiado sus hábitos de ir al trabajo en bicicleta?

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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Under the Summer Sun – Be SunWise

EPA's SunWise program logoWith summer in full swing, it’s the perfect chance to be outside as much as possible. But you should be mindful of a few things before complete summer abandon takes over your life. When you’re spending so much time outside, it’s important to protect your skin against the harmful rays of the sun. You don’t want to grow up with lots of wrinkles or skin cancer because you keep getting tanned or sunburned! Here are a few great steps from the EPA’s SunWise site to keep you protected:

  • Seek Shade – even when you’re at the beach or playing soccer, take time to relax under a tree or bring a big beach umbrella.
  • Wear a Hat – a hat with a wide brim is a great way to protect your face and neck. You can also rock an eco-friendly hat too, like this one made out of recycled plastic grocery bags.
  • Wear Sunglasses – make sure they block all UV rays and feel free to find a pair made out of recycled plastic or sustainable wood like these:
  • Watch for the UV Index – it’s a forecast of how intense the sun’s rays will be. Use it to plan activities to prevent overexposure to the sun.
  • Avoid Sunlamps and Tanning Parlors – though it’s tempting to have a year round tan, this will continue to damage your skin. And this season, pale is in!
  • Always Apply Sunscreen – there are so many sun protection products for your face and body, you’ll be able to pick the right kind for you. Don’t forget to re-apply often.
  • Cover Up! – beach cover-ups and loose-fitting long sleeves are the best way to keep your skin protected and still keep cool.
  • Limit Time in the Midday Sun – between 10am and 4pm is when the sun is at its peak. This is the time when you need to keep all the above ideas in mind or stay out of the sun.

Since a trip to the beach is usually a given when making plans in the summer, and look up some of the fun beach cleanup activities or start your own World Water Monitoring Day if one hasn’t been started near you. These are just a few great ways to make sure that the water you play in is safe for everyone.

As always, the EPA High School (site is a great place to find all you need to know about these topics and more.

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

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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What About Where You Live?

How much do you know about the environment of where you live? That’s right, not the rain forest, not the polar icecaps, but your neighborhood. Lots of us take our environment for granted. Water comes out of spigots and waste gets carted or flushed away. Unless there’s an environmental problem nearby, like a polluting factory, most folks don’t give it a second thought. Our environment just is.

But environmental protection starts at home, and it is important to understand how one thing affects another, so here’s the challenge (actually a great project for a class to do) – find out and then write up a report so others can understand your local environment too.

I did this a few years ago for the town in which I live, Narberth, Pa. I looked into:

  • How our electricity is produced.
  • Where the oil that runs my heater came from.
  • Where the natural gas that runs my stove came from.
  • The origin of my drinking water.
  • Where my wastewater goes.
  • What happens to the recyclables (plastics, paper, glass) that are collected.
  • What happens to our yard waste that’s picked up.
  • Where my household waste/trash goes.
  • The quality of the air I breathe.
  • The levels of radon from the ground.
  • What happens to our rainwater after it goes down the storm drains.
  • The name of our watershed and the location of our streams.
  • Our climate and planting zone.
  • Where our gasoline comes from.
  • What mass transit is available.
  • Our topography and geography.
  • How our town is zoned.
  • The location of our historic buildings.

In the process I discovered some interesting things. Some streams had been piped underground and weren’t on the surface anymore. Our household waste goes to an incinerator where it is burned to produce electricity. Our rainwater goes directly into streams; it’s not treated first. The oldest intact structure in Narberth is a Swedish log cabin. But since it has had many additions, it just looks like a normal house now.

My report is on the web at: http://www.narberthpa.org/environment.htm. Feel free to use it as a model for yours. Go out and discover your local environment!

Editor’s note: you can get started learning what EPA knows about your area with MyEnvironment.  Try it out or read the Greenversations post about it.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

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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Moscone Center – A Bright Green Award-Winning Convention Center

I’ve been to a lot of “environmental” conferences over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of not-so-environmental practices. Some convention centers even throw away the floor coverings they use after every trade show. SMG’s giant Moscone Center, in San Francisco, is just one block away from my office, and this bright green convention center was recognized at EPA’s recent Pacific Southwest Environmental Awards Ceremony.

Image of solar panels on the Moscone Center The two million square foot Moscone Center has one of the nation’s largest municipally-owned solar installations. Their 60,000 sq. ft. solar system generates enough energy to power nearly 400 homes and displaces more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually! They also did a major lighting retrofit. You can follow their lead by looking for ENERGY STAR lighting fixtures at home and at work.

SMG pioneered a recycling program at the Moscone Center ten years ago and recently added food composting. They now transform kitchen-based food scraps and corn-based serveware and utensils from large catered functions into compost to grow new food. The catering truck is even fueled with biodiesel. SMG also reduces waste by working with vendors to take back bread trays and pastry boxes.
The facility started using Green Seal certified cleaning products in 2008 and buys environmental products like post-consumer recycled paper, janitorial supplies and garbage bags.

SMG really focuses on improving indoor air quality. The Moscone Center takes the following step to achieve this:

  • Has a full-time air quality technician who regularly monitors and tests conditions ;
  • Requires forklifts to use a propane additive to reduce carbon monoxide emissions ;
  • Reduces diesel emissions by requiring trucks operated by service contractors to use filters;
  • Minimizes idling by drivers, and
  • Strictly enforces the no smoking ordinance.

They’re also improving air quality outside. The Moscone Center is close to nearly 20,000 hotel rooms, making it easy to avoid driving. SMG also promotes the use of public transit in telephone recordings and on the website, as well as encouraging employee participation in the Commuter Check program. The center’s van runs on compressed natural gas and bike racks are installed in front of the facility.

The list of green features at Moscone Center goes on and on, but you get the idea — Moscone Center is truly a model green convention center!

Please share your green conference and convention center information with us.

To learn more about other U.S. EPA Pacific Southwest Environmental Award winners, visit http://www.epa.gov/region09/awards.

About the author: Timonie Hood has worked on EPA Region 9’s Resource Conservation Team for 10 years and is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.
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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 Pests Spoil Your Outdoor Activities

As it starts to get warmer across the U.S. mainland, we’re beginning to plan more outdoor activities or just think of new ways to communicate with nature in the great outdoors.  Whether it’s gardening, swimming, hiking, fishing, or visiting our national parks, some of these outside activities might lead to some unwanted close encounters. I’m not talking about mountain lions, bears, wolves or snakes. I’m talking about other much smaller creatures—some creepy crawlers or flying insects. I know, I know…not all insects are bad. In fact, many invertebrates are actually good pollinators, like bees and butterflies. Others have a positive impact on the environment such as ladybugs and earthworms. The creepy crawlers I’m concerned about are those pests such as mosquitoes and ticks that can actually carry diseases. Those are the ones we want to avoid at all cost, if possible.

image of birdbath with standing waterGiven the unusually wet days we’ve been having in certain areas of the United States, we can anticipate a larger number of mosquitoes in urban and rural areas. A first piece of advice is to get rid of these flying pests with minimal use of chemicals? The most important thing you can do is remove their habitat (where they live and breed) in areas around your home. You have to eliminate standing water from rain gutters, old tires, toys, any open container where mosquitoes can breed. By the way, mosquitoes do not need a large quantity of water to breed and multiply. Did you know that over 150 mosquitoes can come out of a tablespoon of stagnant water? So, if you have bird baths or wading pools, please change the water at least once a week to prevent mosquito breeding. If you’re going to spend some time outdoors, use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent when necessary. Above all, read the label and follow directions closely. If there have been warnings of increased mosquito borne diseases in your area, such as the West Nile virus, check with your state or local health department for more information on mosquito control measures being taken where you live.

When enjoying the great outdoors, other biting pests such as ticks may carry Lyme disease. Personal protective measures are necessary, but repellents are effective as well. So, don’t let these pests spoil your vacation in the great outdoors.

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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