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What About Where You Live?

2009 June 12

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: 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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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    June 12, 2009

    Interesting. Had never taken the time to find out about these issues at the local level. Perhaps now I will. Thanks.

  2. Susanne permalink
    June 12, 2009

    Participating in the Northwest Earth Institute discussion course, Discovering a Sense of Place, is a nice way to explore some of the community aspects Nancy raises:

  3. Johnny R. permalink
    June 14, 2009

    Where I live, the growing population is building mountains of landfill and pretending they don’t exist. Meanwhile, the global ocean is assaulted by tons of sludge and trash, but no one I know dares to admit it. I guess it’s supposed to be a big secret (!)

  4. Anonymous permalink
    June 14, 2009

    Hi Nancy,

    I would suggest the following link:

    This website is from the American Public Transportation Association- What an excellent reference tool!


  5. Quasar63 permalink
    June 14, 2009

    Thank-u for the list, I know Radon is an issue in my location, I also know my tap water made me ill.(chlorine)? I see a green fungus on many trees, it appears to be affecting the bark. I ? the effects of asphalt on our soil and the surrounding veg. and water, not to mention air quality. I fear the collapse of the economy and Americas work ethic may have put us all in grave danger of poisioning the very enviroment that provides us life. I’m afraid to keep looking , but look I shall.

  6. Boris permalink
    June 25, 2009

    Here in Panama City, we have a bay that is located in front of the city….and on not so fresh days when the tide is in – one knows exactly where the run off has begun going for decades.

    Fortunately the City and National government are working on cleaning up the Bay. Hopefully this will work as the Bay really is a sour spot in an otherwise pretty decent city.

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