Monthly Archives: August 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

One minute I am sitting in Argentina at the end of my study abroad dreading the return to the Detroit suburbs and the next I am told that I was chosen for an internship at the EPA. I found out quite last minute but that just made it all the more exciting. Good news is I am learning more than I could have imagined and am having a great experience.

One of my favorite experiences so far was working the EPA booth at the Taste of Chicago. This is one of many festivals that bring people from all over to the city during the summer. The EPA often has information and activity booths at festivals all over the country.

image of author leaning over an environmental jeopardy game boardAlthough it was raining, we eagerly unloaded the van of the Environmental Jeopardy board I had worked on for about a week and the Energy Star bike which were our main attractions at the Taste this year. I was a little nervous about how appealing the Jeopardy game would be to kids and told myself I would be happy if kids stayed long enough to answer more than one question. The questions were in categories like Energy Issues, H2O, and Climate Change and the kids got to choose which category they wanted just like real Jeopardy. To my delight most kids wouldn’t leave until they answered all of the questions. There were kids all the way from 4 years old to 18 years old and there wasn’t a moment of silence at my table. It was really rewarding to see that so many kids were interested in the environment. Our EPA kids’ websites are a great place for kids to learn about different environmental issues. With the Energy Star bike on the other end of the table, EPA’s booth turned out to be a great success and seemed to have reached lots of kids of all ages as well as their parents.

My EPA experience will have been short but sweet. Soon I’ll be back in Michigan but I do plan to stay involved with my new found passion for Environmental Education.

About the author: Kelly Archer is an intern working with Environmental Education and Indoor Air Programs in Region 5. She is a junior at Michigan State University working on a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy.

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.

Leading Cultural and Sustainable Building

I first heard about Paula Allen and the Potawot Health Village in 2008, during a Regional Tribal Operations Committee meeting on green buildings. Paula’s name came up when people began discussing cultural values and a “sense of place” as a guide for sustainable building and land use practices.

These are certainly not new ideas in Indian Country.  However, the notion of local, cultural knowledge is not a major focus of today’s green building movement, so I was curious to learn more about Paula.  From what I’ve learned, she is truly deserving of her recognition as an EPA Southwest Pacific Region Environmental Award winner.

Paula is the traditional resource specialist for United Indian Health Services, Inc (UIHS),  a private, Indian owned, non-profit organization that provides out-patient health care for 15,000 Native Americans and their families in Arcata, CA.

The Potawot Health Village was completed in 2001. Paula ensured that the building and site reflected the cultural values of the local Native communities.  Potawot is located near several historic tribal villages that had been used for hunting, fishing and gathering traditional foods and medicines.  As Paula says, “Not understanding our history or being in connection with our spirituality is where a lot of our sickness comes from. It is rooted in those things.”

The design of Potawot also embodies the culture and values of the communities it serves.  From the outside, the facility looks like the traditional redwood plank houses of coastal tribes. Reclaimed redwood was creatively used on interior walls and regional native art and basketry are featured throughout the building. Restored wetlands and native grasses now grow on the site, along with gardens that provide traditional foods and medicinal herbs.

Stormwater from rooftops and parking surfaces serve as a supplemental water source for the project’s wetlands. Potawot planned their building locations to support and facilitate an optimal array of solar panels. The ultimate goal is to have the entire energy demand supplied by solar energy. The current size of the solar energy system is 42 Kilowatts and the current savings is allocated towards community outreach and educational programs.

Paula’s work is truly a unique and inspiring example of how traditional Native American culture and values can inform sustainable building design and land use decisions.  Her commitment to cultural values and wisdom, and her own sense of place have inspired many people – including me – to recognize cultural knowledge as an invaluable sustainable design resource.

About the Author: Michelle Baker works as the Tribal Green Building Coordinator in EPA’s Pacific Southwest Office. She works with the Tribal Solid Waste Team in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste. Michelle primarily works with tribes in northern California on waste and materials management issues.

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.

Nature, History, Family and other things

I just got back from a brief family vacation in Puerto Rico. Since my 7-year old had never visited the island, I decided to play tour guide so she would “discovery” the Island.

In order to experience different sites and sounds, we decided to venture outside of the San Juan Metropolitan area. We started with a visit to El Yunque National Forest, the only rainforest part of the U.S. Forest Service. This area of 28,000 acres is well known for its biodiversity. More than 100 billion gallons of precipitation fall each year. My daughters were truly impressed by the luscious greenery and sounds of the rainforest. I had to convince the little one that the chirping came from little frogs, the coquis, not birds. We all enjoyed El Yunque. It has the potential of being designated as one of the new 7 wonders of the world!  Definitely has my vote!

Another escapade took us to the southeastern town of Salinas which faces the Caribbean Sea. My daughters were struck by the rich aquamarine colors of the sea. We had lunch at an open terrace restaurant right at the coast. The children were entertained by a family of crabs that was playing on the sea-bathed rocks.

During another day excursion, we walked through the cobblestone streets visiting the historic sites of Old San Juan including forts, museums, and a pigeon park. A short film at the San Felipe del Morro Fort described the role these forts had played in defending the capital of Puerto Rico during Spanish colonial times. After exploring the historical venues, we enjoyed tropical flavored Puerto Rican snow cones commonly referred to on the Island as piraguas.

During the course of our vacation, we took time to visit with family, attend my high school reunion, and enjoy the beaches. When it was time to bid farewell, we took one last drive along Piñones, an area along the northern coast outside of San Juan to enjoy some Puerto Rican culinary delights (alcapurrias and bacalaítos) which we washed down with some fresh coconut water. We drank it straight from the coconut. It was truly a memorable experience.

We packed many events during our brief sojourn in Puerto Rico. We’ll have to schedule day excursions to visit the karst region, Camuy Caverns, and the bioluminescent bay in Vieques. Next time.

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.

El Morro bridge and beach closeup of bright red flamboyan flowers Sentry box over the ocean dense green jungle foliage Lamina Falls flowing through the jungle trees

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.

Naturaleza, historia, familia y otras cosas

Acabo de regresar de unas breves vacaciones familiares en Puerto Rico. Como mi hija de 7 años de edad nunca había visitado la Isla, decidí servir de guía para ayudarla a “descubrirla”.
Para experimentar sitios y sonidos diferentes, nos aventurarnos fuera del área metropolitana de San Juan. Empezamos con una visita al Bosque Nacional del Yunque, el único bosque pluvial tropical que forma parte del Servicio de Bosques de EE.UU. Esta área de 28,000 acres es conocida por su biodiversidad. Más de 100 mil millones de galones de precipitación caen anualmente. Mis hijas estaban impresionadas por el exuberante verdor y la riqueza de sonidos. Tuve que convencer a la pequeña que el supuesto gorgojeo que escuchaba provenía de pequeñas ranitas, los coquíes, no de aves. Realmente disfrutamos El Yunque. Tiene el potencial de ser designado como una de las siete maravillas del mundo! ¡Voy a él!

En otra escapada fuimos al pueblo costero del sudoeste de Salinas que mira al Mar Caribe. Mis hijas estaban impresionadas con la gama de tonos aquamarina del mar. Almorzamos en un restauran de terraza abierta frente a la costa. Las niñas se entretuvieron mirando una familia de cangrejos que jugaban sobre las rocas bañadas rítmicamente por las olas.

Otro día caminamos por las calles de adoquines para visitar los sitios históricos del Viejo San Juan incluyendo fuertes, museos y el Parque de las Palomas. Una breve película sobre el Fuerte de San Felipe del Morro describió el papel que desempeñaron estos fuertes en la defensa de la capital de Puerto Rico durante la época colonial española. Después de explorar los sitios históricos, disfrutamos de unas deliciosas piraguas* con sabores tropicales

Durante el curso de nuestras vacaciones, también aprovechamos para visitar a familiares, asistir a mi reunión de escuela superior, y disfrutar de las playas. Cuando llegó el momento de despedirnos, decidimos guiar por Piñones, un área a lo largo de la costa norte entre San Juan y Luquillo para disfrutar de especialidades culinarias puertorriqueñas como alcapurrias y bacalaitos que nos tomamos con agua de coco bien fría. El agua de coco la tomamos directamente del coco y nos comimos lo que en Puerto Rico se conoce como “la telita.”’ Fue una experiencia inolvidable.

Aunque tuvimos la oportunidad de realizar varias actividades durante nuestra breve estadía, todavía nos queda por visitar la región kárstica, las Cuevas de Camuy, y la Bahía Mosquito bioluminiscente de Vieques. Ya será la próxima vez.

*Piragua—un refresco granizado puertorriqueño

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.

El Morro bridge and beach closeup of bright red flamboyan flowers Sentry box over the ocean dense green jungle foliage Lamina Falls flowing through the jungle trees

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: Making Climate Change the Next “Hot” Topic

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

“So how are we going to do this?” was the first question on our lips after we accepted an invitation to speak to a group of middle school students in EPA’s Student Environmental Development Program.  As scientists who focus on highly technical research questions to inform expert stakeholders, it was a rather scary prospect to attempt to convey what we do to a group of 8th graders. How could we discuss our research on climate change effects on the environment in a way that would be fun as well as educational?

What our guest appearance turned out to be was as much a fun, learning experience for us as we hope it was for the students.

“Does anyone know what the difference is between “climate” and “weather”?” Susan asked, as a means of opening her discussion on climate change.  What followed was a delightful and varied array of opinions and anecdotes from the enthusiastic students. We realized that this was an issue that the students were eager to learn more about.

“What is risk? What is adaptation?” Amanda illustrated these concepts with an example of shark attacks at swimming beaches, and asked the students to give examples of ways that communities could reduce risks to swimmers. Their idea of patrolling and marking “safe swimming areas” with buoys was an example of an adaptation, and provided an easy transition into discussing adaptations to climate change by wetlands managers.

“Is a coral an animal or a plant?” Jordan used corals and their sensitivity to climate change to lead the students in an exercise based on a real project in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. The students were asked to assume the role of coral reef managers and design a network of marine protected areas that would be most resilient to climate change. After only a brief “ training” in concepts of coral biology, physical oceanography, socioeconomics, and resilience theory, the students were surprised and excited to find that they chose the same coral reef areas for protection that a group of experts did!

We hope that this experience showed the students that, while climate change is a serious problem, there is a large community of scientists, managers and concerned citizens who are exploring and implementing actions to address the severest effects on the environment. What we learned was that the complex issues that we study in our research program can indeed be understood and appreciated by any age group. In fact, it is eager and motivated students such as these who will take up the mantle of “saving the world”.

About the authors: Jordan West, Susan Julius, and Amanda Babson work together in EPA’s Global Change Research Program, where they love to debate with their colleagues on how best to” save the world”.

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.

Greening History

I’ve been excited lately to see two of my passions – green building and American history – coming together. Several of our nation’s major historical sites are starting to incorporate green techniques in their visitors’ centers and sometimes even in their historic restorations. Such meaningful bridges between past and future are being built at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece in central Virginia, and at President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home, a newly restored site in Washington, DC.

The caretakers of Monticello made the wise move of honoring the cutting-edge architect of the 18th century with the cutting edge architectural development of our time. As Daniel P. Jordan, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation put it: “Sustainable design is a Jeffersonian concept.” Indeed – it’s based on a lot of concepts that just make sense – saving energy, water and materials; building healthy spaces; reducing the pollution and environmental impact of how we build and live.

The green features of the newly-built Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center include:

  • a geothermal heating and cooling system, which uses the relatively stable temperature of the ground to provide more efficient heating and cooling;
  • two “green” or vegetated roofs, a more natural solution to help insulate roofs, and reduce stormwater runoff and the “heat island” effect;
  • recycling nearly four-fifths of the project’s construction debris; and
  • a variety of water conservation and stormwater runoff reduction techniques.

At the Lincoln Cottage, the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully pulled off an even more amazing feat, greening a 104-year-old historic building! The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center was the first National Trust Historic site structure to qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard. Helped by a $1 million grant from United Technologies Corporation, this building’s green features include:

  • a computerized building management system that adjusts the mechanical systems based on occupancy and climatic conditions;
  • green cleaning and housekeeping practices; and
  • an energy recovery unit, which recaptures energy in exhaust air to pre-condition incoming air, thereby increasing ventilation without using more energy.

It’s important to view history not as dead and gone, but as something we participate in every day and continue to shape. That’s precisely what happening at these historical sites, where we honor great leaders of the past while doing a favor to the future too.

There’s more information available on Monticello’s green visitor’s center and on the Lincoln Cottage.

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

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: What does “environmentalism” mean to you?

Some people put plastic sheets on the windows for the winter to stay warm. Some do it to save money on the electric bill. Some do it to conserve resources and protect the planet.

What does “environmentalism” mean to you?

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: ¿Qué significa “ambientalismo” para usted?

Hay gente que coloca hojas de plástico sobre las ventanas en el invierno para conservar el calor. Algunas personas lo hacen para ahorrar dinero en la factura de la electricidad. Otras lo hacen para conservar recursos y proteger el planeta.

¿Qué significa “ambientalismo” para usted?

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.

Clean Water Enforcement Action Plan

On July 2, 2009, Administrator Lisa Jackson asked me, as the head of EPA’s enforcement and compliance program, to examine our water enforcement program in light of information showing that water quality goals are not being met and that there are too many violations in too many places. She asked me to report back in ninety days with recommendations to improve transparency, strengthen clean water enforcement performance, and expand our use of technology to increase efficiency and to provide useful information to the public. Our recommended action plan needs to improve compliance and address the problems that are having the biggest impact on water quality.

To help us achieve the Administrator’s goals, we invite you to share your ideas through our discussion forum. The blog can be found at http://blog.epa.gov/cwaactionplan Your ideas will be considered for recommendations to the EPA Administrator about the future direction for EPA’s water enforcement program. In all our discussions, EPA will be mindful of the need to focus on the most important work for protecting water quality and improving compliance with the Clean Water Act, given resource constraints that require us to place a premium on innovation and efficiency.

About the author: Cynthia Giles is Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

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.

Dredging Challenges Contribute to Spikes in Air and Water Monitoring

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

Last week, media who routinely cover the Hudson dredging project ran several stories about increased PCB levels recorded by EPA for both water and air monitoring. Be assured, water and air quality are being closely monitored, and EPA is working with the New York State Department of Health to ensure there are no immediate risks to people’s health. People can track the monitoring at www.hudsondredgingdata.com. I thought I would take this edition of the blog to clarify what happened on the river last week and tell you what was done about it.

Since the beginning of the project, dredging has taken place around Roger’s Island, one of the most heavily contaminated areas of the river and one of the most complex areas to dredge, due to physical conditions such as shallow water depths and a river bottom of uneven bedrock. We’ve found sediment in this area contains very high levels of PCBs mixed with a tremendous amount of small debris (i.e. tree limbs, etc.). In addition, since May 15, more and more dredges have been added throughout the six-mile project location, and we are nearly operating at full capacity (12 dredges, 18 barges and 18 tugboats).

Last week, when GE staged several dredges in a particularly contaminated area, the monitoring numbers began to elevate. Levels of PCBs in the water were measured as high as 514 parts per trillion at the first monitoring station (located near Thompson Island) on Saturday, August 2, which is above the drinking water standard of 500 ppt. At the same time, the river had started to rise and the flows were starting to exceed the safety level of 10,000 cubic feet per second, so the dredging was halted.

If PCB levels reach the drinking water standard, and are confirmed by two subsequent lab samples, any dredging activities that may have caused the exceedance will be halted until EPA is satisfied that the proper changes have been put into place to lower the levels. The two follow-up water samples came back below the drinking water standard, so EPA determined there had been a spike in the PCB levels, and it was probably because of the combination of dredging and high river flows from recent rain events. After that determination, EPA told GE it was okay to dredge again, once the river flows decreased to less than 10,000 cubic feet per second. As of Monday evening, August 3, the dredging had resumed. Additional water samples have been taken at Thompson Island and are all below the drinking water standard, and samples taken further downriver are well below the standard. Those results can be found at www.hudsondredgingdata.com .

The air standards are equally protective. The standard for exposure for PCBs in the air in residential areas, for instance, is based on levels that would be acceptable for a child under the age of six to breathe 24 hours a day for 365 days a year for six years. If that standard is exceeded, EPA and New York State investigate, and GE is directed to take actions to decrease the levels and provide sampling results faster to help identify the cause of the spikes.

So what actions were taken – we determined the combination of too many dredges in a heavily contaminated area and the release of vapors from barges loaded with contaminated sediment drying out in the sun were key contributors to the monitoring spikes. As a corrective measure EPA has now required that dredging be scaled back in the highly contaminated area around Roger’s Island and that the barges with high concentrations of PCBs are loaded evenly, that they are kept wet to prevent PCBs from evaporating into the air, and that they are immediately off-loaded into an enclosed storage structure at the dewatering facility. These measures have worked to dramatically reduced levels of PCBs in the air and the water.
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.