Monthly Archives: August 2009

Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Cómo crece su jardín?

El verano es la época de flores, frutas, y hortalizas en el huerto. Comparta las maneras en las cuales su jardín reduce los efectos medioambientales…sea usar más composta, menos sustancias químicas, más agua de lluvia, menos irrigación, u otros factores.

¿Cómo crece su jardín?

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Remnant of Historical Fort “Discovered” By Dredging

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

On August 14, a dredge operator working along the southeastern side of Roger’s Island, near the site of a colonial-era fort (built in the 1750s) that is the namesake of the Town of Fort Edward, unfortunately dislodged two timbers associated with the ancient fort’s purpose as a supply depot. Sadly, next to nothing is left of this important historical structure within the archaeological site that contains its artifacts, so the incident greatly alarmed local residents, historians, and archeologists.

Prior to the project’s start, archeologists extensively studied the river bank in the entire 40-mile project area, and they did a river bottom survey. However, because of the PCB contamination, they were not allowed to disrupt the river bottom. In their investigation of the six-mile dredge area (where the project is taking place this year), the archaeologists found and documented more than 10 underwater vessels, the timber thought to be part of the fort, and several other artifacts.

image of Because the timber was thought to be the only remaining remnant of the fort extending into the river, dredge operators were instructed to avoid it, as well as a section of the river where the timber rested. However, unbeknownst to everyone, another timber was buried in the sediment underneath the exposed timber, and this timber extended past the exclusion zone and into the area approved for dredging by EPA. This second timber was 21 feet long. When the dredge operator came in contact with the buried timber and pulled it upward, it caused the other (exposed) timber to come free from the riverbank.

image of decaying logA flurry of archeological activity has been focused on the timbers and riverbank. Although experts need to determine the extent of contamination of the timbers, this incident now provides an excellent opportunity to carry out a detailed archaeological investigation of both the land area of the fort site, as well as the in-river areas adjacent to the site. The work will focus on defining the context and function of the timbers in question, as well as adding to the understanding of the activities carried out at the fort by controlled excavation and subsequent analysis of recovered artifacts. Of particular interest to the officials in the Town of Fort Edward is the opportunity for the public to observe the excavations.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Next Generation of Environmental Leaders

I had an indication that I am raising a little environmentalist on my daughter’s 100th day of school. Each child was asked to write what they wanted 100 of. The most popular answers where items such as dollars or Pokeman cards, but Zoe wrote, “I would like 100 gardens in my neighborhood.” Yes! Maybe it’s due to the lack of front yards in our San Francisco neighborhood, but I’m claiming progress towards raising another environmentally conscious individual. As I became involved in the Pacific Southwest environmental awards ceremony, I was particularly interested in the four award winners below.

  • Laura Anderson/West Hawaii Youth Fisheries Council (WHYFC) – Smoking was banned at all Hawaii County Parks in 2008 as the result of a group of students in West Hawaii who belonged to the WHFYC. They performed research to support the bans, including two state science fair projects by Laura Anderson. They gathered signatures on petitions, testified before the Hawaii County Council, and even helped write the bill to ban smoking at Kahalu’u Beach Park.
  • Suzanne Kretcshmer and Grades of Green – Suzanne, along with a small group of parent volunteers, recently founded Grades of Green to increase sustainability efforts on school campuses throughout the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. They worked with the District, City, and Waste Management, the local waste hauler, to develop programs such as “Trash Free Tuesdays,” “Walk to School Wednesdays,” lunchtime recycling and composting, and more.
  • Katharine Noonan of Oakland High School – Since science is best learned through experience, Katherine provides fieldtrips for her students to the Marine Mammal Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Catalina Island, and the EPA Region 9 Lab. Katharine and her students collect water samples from Lake Merritt for analysis and share the data with City officials and the general public. Katherine also sponsors internships and many other exciting opportunities for her students such as participation in the Otter Bowl.
  • Sewer Science – Sewer Science is a high school wastewater science laboratory developed through a collaboration of San Jose State University, the City of Palo Alto, and 13 high school science teachers from seven high schools. During the week-long laboratory, students simulate wastewater and wastewater treatment processes. They take environmental measurements and learn problem solving and decision making skills.

I know there are many other environmental youth programs out there and would love to hear about them!

About the author: Sara Jacobs usually can be found in the EPA Region 9 Drinking Water Office. However, she is currently on a detail to the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program where she spends much of her time out in the field helping to identify contaminated structures which are a legacy of uranium mining.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Heat, Environmental Factors, and Working Out

I have always liked working out outdoors. While I exercise indoors at the gym most of the time, during the weekend I like to go running and walking along a trail by the Bayamón River banks. The beautiful scenery and birds are part of what makes this workout something I look forward to the whole week. However a recent diagnosis of temporary high blood pressure prevented me from working out for a few weeks. Resuming exercise involved only working out indoors and eliminating all high intensity workouts. At first, I was reluctant to refrain from running outdoors. So I have resumed my runs at a slower pace and during the early morning hours.

While I am sunwise during outdoor activities and protect my skin from UV rays by wearing a wide baseball cap, sunscreen and sunglasses, I was not aware that other environmental factors can contribute to heart disease and aggravate high blood pressure. Excessive heat and poor air quality are the most common environmental culprits related to heart problems. Hot weather can worsen ground-level ozone and air quality. In Puerto Rico, during the summer, Sahara dust particles make the situation even worse. According to NOAA’s website, high temperature, humidity and physical exertion can lead to heat disorder or heat stress.

Heat stress occurs when the body can no longer keep blood flowing to supply vital organs nor send blood to the skin to reduce body temperature. Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • weakness
  • headache
  • breathlessness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • feeling faint or actually fainting.

It takes 30 minutes at least to cool the body down once a person suffers heat exhaustion. If not treated promptly, heat exhaustion can lead to serious heart problems. Preventing heat stress is simple. Here are a few suggestions I am currently following in order to enjoy exercise in the great outdoors without putting my overall health at risk.

  • Take rest breaks–I pause for 5 minutes intervals during my 4-mile jog
  • Limit heat exposure time—Perform outdoor activities early in morning or late afternoon hours
  • Check the air quality index — Avoid exercising when air quality is poor
  • Wear light and loose-fitting clothing
  • Drink plenty of water

Simple steps will allow you to stay healthy while you exercise!

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

El calor, los factores ambientales y los ejercicios al aire libre

Siempre me ha gustado hacer ejercicios al aire libre. Mientras hago ejercicios en el gimnasio la mayor parte del tiempo, durante los fines de semana me gusta ir de jogging por un camino a lo largo de las riberas del Río Bayamón. El bello paisaje y las aves son parte de lo que más me atrae de esa experiencia y es algo que aguardo con interés la semana entera. Sin embargo, un diagnosis reciente de hipertensión temporera me ha impedido hacer ejercicios por un par de semanas. Ahora que estoy reanudando mi rutina, me he tenido que conformar con limitar mis ejercicios a entornos cerrados y eliminar aquellos de alta intensidad. Al principio, estaba renuente a eliminar las carreras al aire libre de mi rutina deportiva. Por ende, reanudé mis carreras a un ritmo más lento y temprano en la mañana.

Aunque sabía de las precauciones a tomar durante actividades al aire libre para proteger mi piel de los rayos ultravioletas como usar una gorra de ala ancha, crema protectora y gafas de sol, no estaba consciente de que otros factores medioambientales pueden contribuir a enfermedades cardíacas y agravar la alta presión sanguínea. El exceso de calor y la pobre calidad del aire son los principales factores ambientales que contribuyen a los problemas del corazón. Las temperaturas elevadas pueden empeorar el ozono a nivel terrestre y la calidad del aire. En Puerto Rico, durante el verano, las partículas de polvo del Sahara pueden agravar la situación aún más. De acuerdo al sitio Web del Servicio Nacional Meteorológico de NOAA, la alta temperatura, la humedad y el esfuerzo físico pueden conducir a desórdenes de calor o insolación.

Los golpes de calor ocurren cuando el cuerpo ya no puede mantener el flujo de sangre necesario para suministrar a los órganos vitales ni enviar sangre a la piel para reducir la temperatura del cuerpo. Las señales de insolación o golpes de calor incluyen:

  • Debilidad
  • Dolores de cabeza
  • Falta de aire
  • Náuseas o vómitos
  • Sentirse mareado o desmayarse

Toma al menos unos 30 minutos refrescar el cuerpo una vez que una persona sufre de un golpe de calor. Si no se trata rápidamente, la insolación o golpe de calor puede conducir a serios problemas del corazón. El prevenir el estrés por el calor es sencillo. He aquí unas sugerencias que estoy siguiendo en la actualidad para disfrutar de ejercicios al aire libre sin poner en peligro mi salud en general.

  • Descanse con regularidad—Hago una pausa en intervalos de cinco minutos durante mi carrera de cuatro millas
  • Limite el tiempo de exposición al calor—Hago mis ejercicios al aire libre sea temprano en la mañana o tarde por la tarde
  • Consulte el índice de calidad de aire –Evito los ejercicios cuando la calidad de aire no es buena
  • Usar ropa holgada de colores claros
  • Beber mucho agua

¡Estos pasos sencillos le ayudarán a mantenerse saludable mientras hace ejercicios!

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: The Challenges and Rewards of Health Assessment

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

Conducting health assessments for chemicals at EPA involves synthesizing the available scientific literature on a particular chemical and determining the health risks that the chemical poses to humans. Personally, I find it fulfilling to be involved in this type of career because the information is useful to the public.

Being a health assessor is rewarding but there are also several challenges in determining how a chemical might act in the human body. One challenge is determining the effect of a chemical in the body when you don’t know much about the toxicological data. There are sophisticated tools, such as microarray analysis and structure-activity analysis, to study compounds with limited information. In microarray analysis, scientists treat particular genes with a chemical and then monitor the results. So if a data-poor chemical has a similar gene profile to an endocrine disrupting chemical, then we hypothesize that this chemical could be a potential endocrine disruptor. Structure-activity analysis helps classify a compound based on its chemical structure. Both of these types of analyses can be completed quite quickly to understand how these data-poor chemicals could act when humans are exposed.

It is also quite challenging when a chemical has been studied extensively. When there is a lot of research on a chemical, arguments sometimes arise about the validity of the research or if a chemical is actually responsible for a resulting health effect. To add to the confusion, although there could be several studies on a chemical, they might not necessarily indicate a clear health effect. In some cases, chemicals have many studies showing health effects in animals but no evident effects in humans.

As health assessors, we generally assume that humans are more sensitive to health effects than animals. Therefore, if a chemical causes toxic effects in animals, then humans should be more susceptible. To reduce this uncertainty, it is important to understand the difference in a chemical’s effect between animals and humans.

Even though there are challenges in evaluating the health risks of chemicals to humans, it is rewarding to know that this information can be used to help keep people healthy. Overall, my job is to understand the potential health risks that could arise from exposures to chemicals in the environment.

About the author: Ambuja Bale works as a risk assessor in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment. She has a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Collaboration is Key to Environmental Monitoring

March 2009 marked a memorable month in the 19 years I have worked for EPA’s Office of Water. That is when Environmental Monitoring and Assessment published two articles about EPA’s National Lake Fish Tissue Study. I had the privilege of managing this study for the 8 years required to complete it.

image of men holding fish This study was a unique achievement. It was the first statistically-based national assessment of freshwater fish contamination to be conducted in the United States. It also included the largest set of chemicals (268) ever studied in fish. Field crews worked 4 years to collect fish samples from 500 lakes selected randomly from a statistically-defined set of about 147,000 lakes in the lower 48 states. Tony Olsen in EPA’s Office of Research and Development designed the study and directed statistical analysis of the concentration data. The design of this study generated results that allowed EPA to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs across the country with fish tissue concentrations of specific chemicals, such as mercury, above levels of concern for human health.

Aside from my intense feeling of pride in providing leadership for this major scientific study, I look back in amazement at the number of people who volunteered years of effort to make this study possible. EPA relied on the participation of scientists from 58 state, tribal, and federal agencies for 5 years to evaluate sampling sites and collect fish samples. Their long-term commitment to maintaining the highest standards of quality while participating in the study produced scientific results that earned the praise of senior EPA managers, industry representatives, and members of academia. I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of the scientists across the country that support EPA. In the end, it was their hard work and dedication that made this study a success.

Leanne Stahl is an environmental scientist in the Standards and Health Protection Division of the Office of Water, where she conducts research on chemical contamination in fish and surface waters.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Question of the Week: How was the water quality on your last beach trip?

Americans make an estimated 900 million trips to coastal areas each year. “The beach” is a classic vacation or day trip – but before you go, check your beach water quality.

How was the water quality on your last beach trip?

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Cómo era la calidad del agua en su última visita a la playa?

Los estadounidenses hacen un estimado de 900 millones de viajes a zonas costeras cada año. “La playa” representa unas vacaciones clásicas o una excursión de un dia. Sin embargo, antes de salir, consulte la calidad del agua de su playa.

¿Cómo era la calidad del agua en su última visita a la playa?

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Environmental Engineering in the Office of Water

My sister once asked me to speak to her fifth-grade class on career day. All the kids raised their hands when I asked them if they thought it was important to protect the environment. However, they were stumped when I asked them if they knew what I do as an environmental engineer at EPA. To be fair, this is a difficult question, as environmental engineering is a relatively new profession and it includes topics from many other studies like biology, chemistry and hydrology. I told the class that my job is to collect, organize, and analyze data so that decisions can be made on how best to protect the environment. To be a little more specific for all of you who think you are smarter than a fifth grader, my job is to help establish technology-based regulations to control industrial wastewater discharges to sewage treatment plants and to lake and rivers.

To better explain how I use science to inform EPA’s decision-making, I described to my sister’s class how I use wastewater sampling, industry surveys, and visits to industrial facilities to gather the basic data to help identify the best available technologies for treating industrial wastewater. My colleagues and I sample industrial wastewater to identify pollutants in the wastewater and to quantify the amount of pollution. Industry surveys help us identify available and affordable best management practices and technologies to reduce and treat industrial wastewater. Finally, visits to industrial facilities help us learn more from industry experts on how to better reduce and control industrial wastewater pollution. I use the data we collect and my engineering skills to identify the capabilities of different technologies to treat industrial wastewater and the related costs and pollutant reduction benefits. For example, some wastewater technologies like reverse osmosis can produce very clean water but certain pollutants must be removed prior to their treatment by reverse osmosis. The industry data we collect (wastewater sampling, industry surveys, site visits) help me identify how to configure different wastewater treatment technologies for the different wastewaters across all industry sectors for EPA’s studies and regulations.

One of my favorite site visits involved taking a helicopter to an offshore oil and gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico. I went to this platform to see how they reduced their discharges of drill cuttings, the small bits of rock excavated by the well drilling, through use of newer and better technology. I gathered the information from this site visit and other data to establish a new rule to control the amount and types of wastes that can be discharged from offshore oil and gas platforms. We estimate that industry’s compliance with our new rule reduced the annual discharge of drill cuttings by 118 million pounds! Numbers like that helped my sister’s students understand how I use science and engineering to help protect the environment. And by the end of my career day talk, all the kids thought my job wasn’t so boring after all, as I get to visit interesting places, meet people from all over the country, and occasionally do cool things while protecting the environment.

About the author: Carey Johnston works as environmental engineer 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.