Monthly Archives: July 2009

What Is Happening With The Sediment Being Dredged From The Hudson River?

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

I was viewing the dredging from the Fort Edward yacht basin with many curious onlookers recently, and people wanted to know what would become of the PCB-laden dirt and debris.

I told them the barge in front of us was nearly filled to capacity and would soon be moved by tugboat to a processing facility. A 110-acre facility specially constructed on the Champlain Canal between Locks 7 and 8 in Fort Edward is the sole processing facility for the project’s dredged material. There, the sediment and debris is sorted to remove remaining sand, sticks, silt and rocks (anything larger than 5/8 of an inch in diameter is separated from smaller material). Water is added to the remaining PCB-laden dirt to create slurry and to help move the material through pipes to 12 specially manufactured filter presses housed inside a sediment dewatering building. The presses squeeze the slurry to remove the water, and the water goes to a water-treatment plant to be cleaned to drinking-water standards before being returned to the Champlain Canal. The material remaining is called “filter cake.” The cake is then placed inside impervious liners inside railcars that make up 81-car trains. These trains leave the area every few days on their way to a licensed disposal facility in Andrews, Texas.

Right now, as the flow of the river allows, dredging operations are taking place 24 hours a day, six days a week, (Sundays are reserved for contingencies and maintenance) and sediment and water treatment are taking place around the clock, seven days a week. The project has 450 dedicated railcars continuously looped between here and the disposal facility. More information about this project can be found at the following websites: www.epa.gov/hudson/ and www.hudsondredging.com/.

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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Tweeting Away at EPA

Last fall, I wrote about this blog’s Twitter account, @greenversations. Since then, several folks across EPA have been trying out Twitter, with varying approaches.  Today, I got this question from Randa Williams, a researcher at the University of Washington who’s looking into best practices for businesses on Twitter:

I wonder when you will start having conversations rather than just broadcasting on twitter…Lots of EPA broadcast channels on Twitter, exceptionally few conversations. I know, engagement is more work, wondering if you had thought about expanding into this area.

It was such a good question, I thought I’d respond publicly as well as emailing her.

Randa is right: the gold standard is conversing on Twitter and other social media sites, not just broadcasting. But she’s also right that it takes resources.  Not just someone’s time, but also having the right person, who’s plugged into what’s going on around EPA and who knows how to speak to the world on EPA’s behalf.

There are also different ways to use Twitter, and we’re experimenting with most of them.  For example, we’ve done a little live tweeting, with plans to do more.  There are also different approaches to who to follow, how frequently we can commit to posting, etc.

We do have a couple of good examples of interaction for content on a smaller scale than “all of EPA:”

While we figure out the gold standard (interaction), we’re doing what we can on what I call the tin standard (broadcasting). Given the number of followers, it seems a decent number of people appreciate even that.  Here are some of our other accounts:

  • @EPAgov – our main account.  Primarily our automated news release headlines and blog posts, plus a few web updates and manual tweets.  This account combines content that’s also split into individual accounts, and is also available on normal Web pages:
  • @EPAlive – we’re occasionally experimenting with using this for live tweeting
  • @EPAowow – Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds
  • @EPAairmarketsmarket-based regulatory programs to improve U.S. air quality
  • @EPAregion2 – regional office in New York
  • @EPAregion3 – regional office in Philadelphia

We’re also working up some conventions, like starting our account names with “usepa” and using the same seal as the avatar.

Not quite in the same category, some of us are also tweeting professionally. We’re not “representing” EPA per se, but we’re using it as a professional network and information source.  For example:

  • @levyj413 – this is my Twitter account, and I use it to discuss social media in government (especially EPA)
  • @suzack777 – this is Suzanne Ackerman on our web team.  Suzanne uses Twitter to research projects like blogger outreach, and uses Twitter to make contacts and discuss related issues.

So thanks, Randa, for reminding me that we need to communicate more about what we’re up to.  Stay tuned for updates about our other social media efforts, too (in the meantime, join us on Facebook!).

Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

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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Keep on Truckin’

I was enjoying my early morning quiet office when the phone rang. The man at the other end, Jason, uttered a polite good morning, asked if I worked on air quality issues, and then started firing questions on emissions and idling rules for his 15 year old truck. Did I know about how the federal regulations differed from California’s or Nevada’s? Would he incur fines if he did not comply this year, or was it just starting next year? Was it true that some states had grant programs for upgrading? How about tax incentives? How could he tell which new technologies would work? I was speechless and trust me when I say, I am rarely speechless. I mumbled a response and promised to call him back. Did we really expect every trucker to figure all that out?

I set out on what I thought would be a long day of tracking down answers. The answer came quickly and definitively when I asked a colleague who is an expert on partnerships aimed at reducing diesel pollution. She said, “Have him call Cascade Sierra Solutions”. Could it be that simple? Apparently so!

Everyone knows that diesel powered trucks carry most of our freight and that they last 25-30 years while exhaling a lot of harmful pollutants. Truckers want to/ need to clean up the legacy fleets – but how?

Help has come to many in the form of Cascade Sierra Solutions (CSS), one of our Environmental Award Winners. At CSS, they remove barriers to awareness, capital cost and regulatory information. They know how busy truckers can be and how hard it is for them to find answers about the rules of the road. By forming a unique partnership with public agencies and clean diesel equipment suppliers, they’ve managed to educate truckers through outreach centers at popular truck stops. CSS is helping truckers receive grants, tax incentives, and low interest financing to stay in compliance and reduce fuel expenses. In the past three years, this non-profit has placed upgrades on over 1800 trucks and facilitated over 300 truck replacements which have all accounted for over 5.5 million gallons of fuel savings. More importantly, they’ve reduced over 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, 475 metric tons of nitrogen oxide and over 11 metric tons of particulate matter – the deadliest outdoor air pollutant in the US.

Thanks to CSS, Jason will keep on truckin’.

About the author: Niloufar Glosson is currently on assignment to the Office of Regional Administrator as a special assistant. Until recently she worked in the Air Program, where she learned how critical it is to reducing diesel pollution.

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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Lead In Pottery

I’ve always liked ceramics and earthenware. The color pottery sold in ethnic markets or overseas has a special appeal to me. There are even special recipes that are supposed to be cooked using earthenware such as cazuela de mariscos (seafood casserole) among others.

While some of these pottery and dishes might decorate many a kitchen across America, there is a risk that these ceramics may contain a dangerous element—lead. Yes, lead is a heavy metal that has harmful health effects, especially among babies and young children. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain and nervous system in young children. It also causes behavioral and learning problems and deafness. In adults, it can cause reproductive disorders and hypertension among other health problems. Although dust and paint chips from old lead based paint are the primary source of exposure, this toxic metal can come from other sources as well. Lead is occasionally used in the terra cotta clay or colorful glaze that decorates earthenware. If it is not baked properly, it can leach into the food or liquids contained in the pottery. Furthermore, with the daily wear and tear, the pottery can chip or crack enabling the lead to come in contact with the food. Many pottery makers, even overseas, are taking increasing measures to eliminate lead from ceramic glazes, but there are always risks.

So, we’re not telling you to dispose of all family heirlooms made of pottery or all the earthenware and ceramics purchased from abroad. We recommend, however, that you put these ceramics aside if you believe they might have some lead content. Use them for decorative purposes. Just don’t use them for cooking or holding food or beverages.

If you live in a home built before 1978 when the federal government banned lead-based paint in residential housing or you fear other routes of exposure, you can have blood test to allay your fears. Lead poisoning in children is preventable. A simple blood test is the first step.

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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El plomo en la cerámica

Siempre me han gustado las cerámicas y vasijas hechas de cristal vidriado. Las vasijas coloridas vendidas por artesanos en mercados en Estados Unidos y el exterior siempre me han atraído. Incluso hay algunas recetas especiales que requieren estas cazuelas de cerámica como las cazuelas de mariscos, por ejemplo, entre otras.

Mientras algunas de estas cerámicas y vajillas se encuentran en muchas cocinas, existe el riesgo de que algunas de estas piezas de cerámica pueden contener un elemento peligroso—el plomo [http://www.epa.gov/espanol/saludhispana/plomo.htm] Sí, el plomo es un metal pesado que tiene efectos de salud dañinos especialmente en los bebés y niños pequeños. El plomo puede ocasionar daño al cerebro y al sistema nervioso en niños pequeños. También ocasiona problemas de comportamiento y aprendizaje y sordera. En adultos, puede ocasionar problemas en el sistema reproductivo o hipertensión. A pesar de que el polvo y pedazos de la pintura vieja a base de plomo son las principales fuentes de exposición, este metal tóxico puede provenir de otras fuentes también. El plomo ocasionalmente se utiliza en el barro terra cotta o el barniz colorido que decora envases de cristal vidriado. Si no se hornea adecuadamente, puede contaminar los alimentos o líquidos contenidos en estas vasijas o cerámicas. Además, como parte del uso y desgaste diario, estas vasijas se pueden descascarar o agrietar lo cual facilitaría el contacto del plomo con los alimentos. Muchos de los alfareros, aún los que trabajan en el exterior, están empezando a tomar mayores medidas de seguridad para eliminar el plomo de los barnices, pero todavía pueden existir riesgos a la salud.

Por lo tanto, no estamos insistiendo en disponer de todas esas cerámicas y vasijas del tiempo de nuestras abuelas o que compramos en el extranjero. [http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1247400] Sin embargo, recomendamos que no utilice estas cazuelas para cocinar ni guardar alimentos. Sólo utilícelos para propósitos decorativos.

Si usted vive en una residencia construida antes de 1978 cuando el gobierno federal prohibió el uso de la pintura a ase de plomo en residencias privadas o si usted teme otras vías de exposición, usted puede pedirle a su médico que le haga la prueba de sangre para el plomo para calmar su preocupación. El envenenamiento por plomo en niños se puede prevenir. [http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/spanish/sp_plomo.htm] Una prueba de sangre es el primer paso.

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: Statistics and Science Improve Water Quality

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

You can’t talk science without talking about statistics! EPA’s statisticians are scattered throughout many different programs and their work supports the work of EPA’s scientists. We even have several statisticians who have been designated as Fellows of the American Statistical Association, a prestigious honor in our field. It’s a great feeling to know that a national statistical organization values the contributions of EPA’s statisticians, and it’s a heady experience to know that I can just pick up the phone or send an email to ask for help from one of the Fellows. They’ve always been very generous with their time and it’s fascinating to hear about their projects. We also have access to talented statistical contractors, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

After 20 years at EPA, I still find my job exciting and challenging. In the Office of Water, statisticians work with scientists and engineers. We move from project to project, learning about the subject matter and figuring out the best way to collect and analyze the data that’s needed. Because we use statistical techniques to select facilities for our surveys, our data analyses produce statistically valid estimates about water conditions for the entire country. Often, we have to find a different statistical technique than we’ve ever applied before for these surveys and data analyses. And then, because we strive to be transparent in statistics and every other aspect of a project, we spend a lot of time writing. Federal Courts have even referred to our documents in upholding water pollution regulations. We also participate in international statistics conferences to share what we’ve done and what we’ve learned about the environment by applying statistical techniques in collecting and analyzing data. We may not be considered a federal “statistical agency” like the Census Bureau, but statistics is very much a part of science at EPA.

About the author: Marla Smith works as a statistician in EPA’s Engineering and Analysis Division within the Office of Water. The Division works to reduce industrial and municipal impacts on water bodies and aquatic life by identifying technological solutions.

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: Save Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Some Cash by Switching Your Light Bulbs

Do you have ENEGRY STAR light bulbs in your home? ENERGY STAR light bulbs are light bulbs that conserve energy and wear a label that says ENERGY STAR on them. Compared to an incandescent light bulb, an ENERGY STAR light bulb uses up to 75% less energy. These light bulbs conserve energy and therefore reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use. In fact, by replacing just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR light bulb you can save 400 pounds of greenhouse gases from entering into the atmosphere! So, let’s make an impact by using ENERGY STAR light bulbs in our homes, not only will we be helping the environment, but these light bulbs will also save our families some money. Some ENERGY STAR light bulbs last ten times longer than incandescent light bulbs and will save $30 over the course of their lifetimes. Therefore, by using ENERGY STAR light bulbs, we are able to save energy, greenhouse gas emissions from entering into the atmosphere and some cash! Encourage your friends and family to use ENERGY STAR light bulbs so that they can also be a part of these savings. Let them know that by acting together we can make a difference. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if every American replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR light bulb, we would save enough energy to light three million homes for a year, we would save more than $600 million in energy costs in a year, and we would reduce greenhouse gases emissions equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road. Who knew that such a simple task like replacing a light bulb could make such a difference! Become a climate ambassador in your community and take the ENERGY STAR pledge today! . Do you have any products in your home that help conserve energy? If so what are they and how do they help benefit our environment?

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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Question of the Week: How do you protect the environment during summer vacation?

No more homework! But now that you have free time in the summer, tell us the things you like to do (or your kids, if you’re a grown-up reading this) that help protect the environment during the summer.

How do you protect the environment during summer vacation?

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: ¿Cómo protege al medio ambiente durante sus vacaciones de verano?

¡No más tareas ni asignaciones! Pero ahora que tiene tiempo libre en el verano, cuéntenos acerca do le que le gusta hacer (o lo que sus hijos hacen, si es que usted es un adulto leyendo esto) para ayudar a proteger al medio ambiente durante el verano.

¿Cómo protege al medio ambiente durante sus vacaciones de verano?

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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Life’s a Beach

As the Beach Program Coordinator for EPA’s office in Chicago, I’m often asked whether it’s safe to swim in Lake Michigan. My answer is yes, it is safe to swim in the lake, but there are things that swimmers need to know before they go to the beach to help keep themselves – and others – from getting sick at the beach.

When you’re at the beach, be sure to wash your hands as soon as you leave the water and alwaysbefore eating anything. Don’t feed the birds, as their fecal matter can contribute to poor water quality and may cause beach closures. Also, be sure to use the bathroom facilities when nature calls, and encourage your friends to do the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the beach and hear people tell their friends they have to go to the bathroom – then watch them get up and walk towards the shore! The most important tip is make sure that you stay out of the water if you are sick, as you may share your illness with others.

Even though many beaches are regularly tested for bacteria levels, it can take up to a day to get water quality samples back from the lab, so water quality results aren’t posted until the following day. Being an informed swimmer will help keep you healthy. I generally tell beach goers that a good rule to follow is to avoid swimming during, and up to a day or two after, a rainstorm. Pollutants, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste, may be washed off the land and into the water during the rain, which could pollute the beach water.

What do you do when you see a sign at the beach that advises against swimming? Swimming in contaminated water can make you sick, ranging from sore throats and diarrhea to more serious illnesses. EPA and CDC are currently studying the relationship between water quality and illness, and the results of the study, due out in 2011, will help better protect swimmers.

In the meantime, you can help make your favorite beaches better during your summer break by volunteering to adopt a beach! Go to the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ website at greatlakes.org to find out how you can become part of their Adopt-a-Beach TM program.  Volunteers help collect data on different aspects of their beach to investigate pollution sources, collect and dispose of litter, and sample water quality. Or visit http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=icc_home in the 24th annual International Coastal Cleanup on September 19. Let’s keep our beaches clean! Do you know of other ways to volunteer to keep our beaches clean? Share your stories and contacts with us here!!

About the author: Holly Wirick started with EPA in 1991 and has served as the Regional Beach Program Coordinator since EPA’s Beach Program was established in 1997.

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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