Monthly Archives: July 2009

I Know That Data Is Here Somewhere…

I have to admit that after 15 years of working at EPA, I still have trouble finding environmental data. Web searches don’t help that much so I rely on people like my friend Tim to email me data about hazardous waste. But I shouldn’t have to know every database manager to get EPA’s data.

It turns out that I’m not the only person with this problem. Last year EPA’s Office of Environmental Information hosted the National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information to learn about the information access needs of our major audiences. We held listening sessions throughout the country and encouraged people to comment using blogs and wikis. From the thousands of comments we received we developed EPA’s Information Access Strategy, which describes key themes and a direction for EPA to address these needs. One of the common themes was: we need environmental data, but we don’t know where to find it. In response to these comments we’ve built Data Finder, a single place to find EPA’s data sources, so people can access and understand environmental information.

screenshot of Data Finder homepage Data Finder points to data sources: EPA-hosted web sites where numerical data can be downloaded. You can find data sources by clicking on key words or by typing terms into a search box. One click brings you to the source itself. By making data EPA information easier to find, understand, and use, Data Finder complements the Obama Administration’s commitment to a transparent and participatory government. It helps lay the foundation for more open conduct of Agency business and broader, more effective participation by the public.

I think Data Finder is a good first step for finding EPA’s data, but I know it only contains a subset of the data that’s out there. Please try Data Finder and tell us what information you’d like to see and how to make the site more useful. We’ll post your comments and tell you how we’re updating the site in response to your comments. And let’s leave Tim out of this.

About the author: Ethan McMahon has worked at EPA since 1994. Most recently he helped develop the Agency’s Information Access Strategy and the 40-page Report on the Environment: Highlights Document. Prior to working at EPA he evaluated alternative refrigerants and designed high efficiency heat pumps. Ethan believes that making information available can enable lots of people to find solutions to environmental problems.

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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OSV BOLD:Day 1 – July 30th – Wrap Up

The sun set around 7:45, and my first shift began! Sporting a bright orange vest and hard hat, my team helped to deploy the CTD off the starboard side of the BOLD just off Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.

In this first day (and a half day at that) we were able to sample 7 stations!  Chlorophyll samples are being sent to EPA New England’s laboratory on land in Chelmsford, MA.

Stations labeled “R1…” are located on the Captain’s Log page. New Stations have the latitude and longitude.

At a bit past midnight, my shift ended and we were on course to New Hampshire’s coast. Said, “hello and goodnight” to my roomie who caught the tough shift, she will get back to the room around 4 am.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

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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OSV BOLD Tweets Its Way Up the New England Coast

Hi there! Each day thousands of people are working at EPA to help clean up our environment. I’m one of the lucky few that gets to see how this work is done out on the ocean! My name is Jeanethe Falvey, I’m 24 years old and have worked for EPA for just over two years since I graduated from Bates College in 2007. This week, from July 30 – August 6, I will be onboard the OSV BOLD, EPA’s only ocean research ship. Scientists will be studying the health of New England’s coastline from Boston Harbor to Penobscot Bay in Maine, and I’m here to help show you what life is like onboard the ship. Learn more at http://www.epa.gov/ne/boldkids/ and follow me on Twitter @epalive!

Jeanethe Falvey works in EPA’s Boston office.

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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Pharos Project Recognized for Taking Green Labeling to New Heights

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I’m always on the lookout for healthy and green products, but it’s tough to get unbiased information on a product’s real impacts. Now that green is hot, greenwashing – the deceptive use of green marketing – is definitely on the rise.

EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region selected the Pharos Project from the Healthy Building Network as an environmental award winner.  Their mission is to transform the market for building materials – more than three billion tons per year – to advance best environmental, health and social practices. In 2008, Pharos — a revolutionary on-line tool for evaluating and comparing the impacts of building materials in a comprehensive and transparent way — was developed.

The Pharos Project is re-defining green labeling practices to develop a consumer-driven vision of truly green materials using a 16-attribute visual lens and label. This offers more information than any other green label on the market, including the ability to compare actual ingredients. Together, the lens and label will allow the public and the building community to buy products with the attributes most important to them.

The Healthy Building Network has also worked to –

As I look through the Pharos lens, everything seems important, but I’d have to say that my Pharos-pie-piece priorities are High Hazard Toxics, Indoor Air Quality, Global Warming, Fairness and Equity, Habitat, and Renewable Materials.
What are yours?

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.

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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Green Books for Kids

The nation’s students are practically at the midpoint of their summer vacation. Judging from my own children, the luster of summer activities has started to wane. We just aren’t seeing the same enthusiasm when preparing to go to the neighborhood pool or park as we did during the first days of summer.

So what do we do to entertain kids? TV, video games, computers, movies, are the easy way out. How about a novel concept–it’s not so innovative when you come to think about it–how about getting lost in a good book?! That’s my favorite regardless of age. Like a magic carpet, a book can allow you to travel anywhere across the globe in space or time. You can explore new worlds, learn new things, and live new experiences from the comfort of your home.

I’m pleased to see an increasing variety of books and educational materials available for children nowadays. In addition to the children’s classics, there are numerous books that have literary and educational value. Many of these books are actually instilling environmental values without being didactic. For example, “The Lorax“, by Dr. Seuss, was frankly ahead of its time. First published in 1971, the book chronicles how mindless progress can ravage the earth’s natural resources if we don’t take the necessary steps to protect the trees. Also, the book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, “I see a Kookaburra!” helps you explore the animal habitats of indigenous animals of several regions such as the American South west, the rain forest in the Amazon River basin, the grasslands of central Africa and the Australian forest. Popular children’s series are also getting on the green bandwagon with “Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers” and The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore). Another favorite of mine tells the story of the bioluminescent bay of La Parguera with the coquís (Puerto Rican tree frogs) Rafi and Rosi by the Puerto Rican author and illustrator Lulu Delacre .

In exploring educational activities for children I found an annotated bibliography of children’s literature with environmental themes I would like to see if any of your favorites are on this list. I urge you to go on a green adventure. Happy reading.

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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Libros infantiles con temas ambientales

Para la gran mayoría de los estudiantes a nivel nacional ya ha pasado la primera parte de sus vacaciones de verano. Juzgando por mis propias hijas, el júbilo generado por las actividades veraniegas ya ha comenzado a desvanecer. Ya no vemos el mismo entusiasmo cuando nos preparamos para ir a la piscina o al parque del vecindario que veíamos en los primeros días del verano.

¿Entonces, qué podemos hacer para mantener los niños entretenidos? La televisión, los juegos de video, las computadoras, el cine, son las opciones más fáciles. He aquí un concepto novel—no es tan innovador cuando uno lo piensa realmente—sin embargo, ¿qué pasaría si empezamos a leer un buen libro? Ese es mi pasatiempo predilecto independientemente de la edad. Como una alfombra mágica, un libro nos permite viajar a cualquier parte del globo en espacio y tiempo. Podemos explorar nuevos mundos, aprender cosas nuevas y vivir nuevas experiencias en el confort del hogar. Es una experiencia única para nuestros hijos.

Me alegra ver un mayor número de libros y materiales educativos disponibles para los niños y jóvenes hoy en día. Además de la literatura infantil clásica, hay numerosos libros con un valor literario y educativo singular. Muchos de estos libros están realmente inculcando valores medioambientales sin proyectar una seriedad didáctica. Por ejemplo, El Lorax, por Dr. Seuss, francamente, es uno con una visión ambientalista muy perceptiva para su época. Publicado en 1971, el libro relata como el progreso desmedido puede diezmar los recursos naturales del planeta si no tomamos los pasos necesarios para proteger a los árboles. También está el libro de Steve Jenkins y Robin Page, Veo un kookaburra (“I see a Kookaburra!”) el cual ayuda a explorar los hábitats de animales indígenas en varias regiones como el sudoeste estadounidense, la selva pluvial de la cuenca del Río Amazonas, las praderas del centro de África y los bosques australianos. Varias series infantiles populares también están explorando temas ambientales como los libros de Charlie y Lola y el reciclaje “Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers” y los Osos Berenstain que luchan en contra de la contaminación. “The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore).” Otro libro que me encanta son los cuentos de los coquí Rafi y Rosi que visitan la bahía bioluminiscente de la Parguera en Puerto Rico escrito por la autora e ilustradora puertorriqueña Lulu Delacre.

Mientras navegaba por el ciberespacio buscando actividades educativas para niños, encontré esta bibliografía de literatura infantil con temas ambientales [http://teachers.net/archive/envirobks.html] que quisiera compartir con ustedes. Espero que encuentren algunos de sus favoritos en esta lista y les exhorto a emprender una aventura ambiental. ¡Que se diviertan!

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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Science Wednesday: The Changing Environment – What Does It All Mean?

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

The state of the nation’s environment is changing. Sometimes the changes are obvious and sometimes they are subtle. When does it matter and why should we care?

One of the more visible and memorable events of the early environmental movement was when the Cuyahoga River, which runs through the heart of my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire in 1969. Some say that it was this event that prompted President Nixon to sign the Clean Water Act into law and create the Environmental Protection Agency.

The River that once burned now runs through a lively and bustling downtown area to Lake Erie. This is not to say that the water quality in the river and lake are now pristine, but that the improvements over time are so profound that it’s noticeable to the naked eye.

Even here in Washington, D.C., there are ways to observe environmental progress. I am lucky enough to garden in the city—a rare treat in the concrete jungle. Over the years I’ve observed changes in the insects and birds that visit our garden. Last spring my bachelor buttons were swarming with bees. This year, however, there weren’t as many.

What should I make of these changes in nature’s pollinators and natural pest management? What should our garden, city, and country do? Are the changes even relevant and is it appropriate for me to draw any conclusions? After all, I’ve only observed these changes while in pursuit of some other goal, such as watering my tomatoes, or driving through downtown Cleveland to catch a ball game.

If you find yourself wondering about the changing state of the nation’s environment and what it all means, there is one place you can go to find objective, scientifically sound information: EPA’s Report on the Environment.

EPA released its Report on the Environment (ROE) in May 2008 and has been updating it online ever since. It’s here that you can find information on the nation’s bird populations, stream water quality, air quality, and much more.

The ROE uses environmental indicators to present the status (i.e. condition) of and trends in (i.e., are things improving or not) for 85 different measurable areas of our nation’s environment in land, water, air, human health and ecosystems.

Check out the interactive Web site to see for yourself and tell us what you want to know about the nation’s changing environment.

About the author: Madalene Stevens joined EPA in 2001 and works on EPA’s Report on the Environment.

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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Paper or Plastic?

One day in my Global Environmental Issues class, a professor showed us a video on the floating island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I never knew the trouble that the convenient plastic bag could cause. On that day I decided to make a change in my life to reduce my contribution to the garbage patch and my carbon footprint in general. I wanted to do something productive to make a difference. I decided to stop using plastic bags. It may be a small step but at least it’s a step in the right direction. By switching to reusable bags I became a little greener and much happier.

I bought my first bag on Earth Day 2007 and I haven’t looked back. Now I use that bag and the few others I have accumulated every time I buy groceries or take a trip to the mall. Being a very poor college student, I never need more than one or two reusable bags when I shop. Those few bags carry for me about the same amount approximately seven plastic bags would hold — not to mention they are foldable and fit into my purse that I carry everywhere.

Now, with my reusable bags, I am helping the planet and making my walk to the apartment with the groceries much easier. Let’s face it: Two bags are easier to manage than seven that have a tendency to rip and tear. Next time a cashier asks you; “Paper or plastic?” say, “Neither!” and pull out your reusable shopping bag instead.

About the Author: Ashley White is a current undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. She is interning with OCHPEE for the summer.

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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Field Trip Day for EPA Interns

One of the great things about being an intern at EPA is that I have plenty of opportunities to get away from my desk. Sure, a trip to the Montgomery County (Maryland) Recycling Center – which happened earlier this month – isn’t the most exotic destination I could possibly imagine, but it’s still nice to get a break from staring at a computer screen. And, as it turns out, recycling centers are more interesting than you might think!

Everything about the Montgomery County Recycling Center – the bright colors, the pictures on the wall, and even our tour guide – exude enthusiasm about recycling. “We have a goal of 50 percent recycling for Montgomery County,” our guide told us (they’re currently at 44 percent). The Center is all about helping residents learn what they can do to recycle more; they try to make recycling as efficient and convenient as possible, and they even sort residents’ glass, cans, and plastic bottles (no need for residents to do it themselves!). That’s probably one of the reasons that Montgomery County is inching closer to a 50 percent recycling rate (the national average municipal solid waste recycling rate was 33.4 percent in 2007).

The Center receives about 200 tons of paper a year. Nationwide, 54.5 percent of paper products were recycled in 2007. I ran the numbers and figured that, if Montgomery County is consistent with the national average, then for every 200 tons of paper that come into the Center annually, there are about 167 tons of paper that are go into the trash. That’s not surprising – paper is the single biggest type of trash that we generate.

Right next to the Center is a solid waste transfer station, which accepts materials that the Recycling Center doesn’t, such as oil, point, dirt, electronics, batteries, propane, helium (who has excess helium? Clowns?) tires, scrap metal, and building materials. Just about anything that can be manufactured can be recycled.

In my program, the Industrial Materials Reuse Program, we deal with recycling every day. It was interesting to see where recycled materials actually go, and it was enlightening to look at the tons of materials in the Center – pile after pile of glass, metals, paper, and plastic – and realize that if they hadn’t ended up there, they would have ended up in a landfill.

About the author: Ayende Thomas is an undergraduate Civil Engineering major at Howard University with an interest in environmental engineering. She is currently a summer intern in EPA’s Industrial Materials Reuse 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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Question of the Week: How do you save energy during a heat wave?

Keeping cool in hot weather usually takes energy – turning up the air conditioner, driving to a swimming spot, and more.  But using more energy can affect the environment, too. Share how you keep from losing your cool.

How do you save energy during a heat wave?

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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