Monthly Archives: September 2009

Dredge Tugs & Tractor Pulls at the Washington County Fair

It feels like going home when I arrive at the Washington County Fair near Schuylerville, New York. This year, the fair was held August 24-30 and I helped staff EPA’s information booth for the Hudson dredging project. Walking around the fairgrounds, I could almost see my Uncle Joe showing his prize Jersey cattle at the Southeast Missouri District Fair in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, my hometown. I also saw all the many distractions and temptations, like the 4-H milkshakes, livestock exhibits (the poultry barn is my favorite), Ferris wheels, and tractor pulls!

You can easily feel a strong sense of community and meet salt-of-the earth locals who tell it like it is. It’s EPA’s sixth year at the fair and a unique opportunity to gauge local issues outside of the media coverage and beyond what we hear at EPA’s public meetings. Many who came to the EPA booth had not been to our public meetings. Most folks seemed to really enjoy the chance to talk with us about dredging in a personal setting. It’s not every day that you can watch a tractor pull while discussing barge tugs pushing loads of sediment.

We spoke to 850 property owners, teachers, kayakers, retired seniors, children and others who paused from the fun and food to say hello, watch a dredging video, look at a map. “Where’s my property on this map?” ”When are they going to dredge there?” “Why did EPA select clamshell dredging over hydraulic?” A few of the typical questions asked. Some felt dredging is unnecessary. “Let sleeping dogs lie!” a few said, but then stuck around to learn more. What struck me was the number of “thank yous” (some whispered) and support for the cleanup. It was encouraging to hear in these dog days of dredging.

Sneaking over to the 4-H food booth, I remembered my dad, who worked as a riverboat mechanic on the Mississippi River. He taught me a lot about rivers. Summer mornings as a child were spent fishing the Mississippi. We set out trot lines baited with chicken liver. Every morning my heart would be racing as we pulled in the lines, mostly catching catfish (some taller than I was). Occasionally we’d get a real surprise when we pulled in a snapping turtle or an eel. My summers on the Mississippi ignited a love of and respect for rivers and a desire to clean and protect them for others to enjoy. I guess I also learned then, as I’m reminded now with the Hudson, that when it comes to rivers, be surprised if there are no surprises!

Like the midway rides at the fair, with their ups and towns, the dredging project has shown us some ups and downs and surprises. But EPA and its partners in the cleanup persevere, I believe, because on some level a river connects us all. And the fair reminds EPA who exactly the Hudson connects us with.

About the Author: David Kluesner grew up in rural southeast Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Geological Engineering. He has worked for EPA for 22 years as a hazardous waste site cleanup manager in EPA’s Atlanta office, and in EPA Headquarters in enforcement and policy development, and presently serves as a Community Involvement Coordinator in EPA’s New York City office where he works on a number of sites in New York and New Jersey, including the Hudson cleanup project.

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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A Trip to the Woods: Revisiting Childhood at Islandwood Environmental Center

This year EPA’s Community Involvement Training Conference was held in Seattle, Washington. EPA employees as well as staff from other federal and state agencies and the private sector attended the three day conference. As part of the conference, various field trips were offered. I signed up for mine in advance and was very excited to learn more about this facility. My expectations were met and exceeded. Islandwood Environmental Center is a school in the woods for kids in grades 4th to 6th. Nestled among a 255-acre woody area – hence the name – on Bainbridge Island, Islandwood is the place we all wished we could have attended as kids. During our visit, Ginger, our tour guide, gave us a glimpse of what it is like to be a student visiting Islandwood. Using Puget Sound’s rich cultural history and the environment around it, the programs integrate art, science and technology. Their facilities are all sustainable and energy efficient and it is not uncommon to run into compost piles in the large dining room.

image of a teepee shaped treehouseIslandwood is not open to the general public. Instead it operates as an overnight four-day stay for schools from within the state that otherwise do not have resources to provide their students this kind of experience. I marveled at their integrated curriculum that included hands on learning. This state of the art educational facility boasts a wet lab, a greenhouse called the Living Machine, an art studio, a floating observation classroom inside a marsh, a bog tree house and a 190-foot-long suspension bridge.

Islandwood is a great example of how communities, the private sector, the government and academia can work together to provide a one of a kind experience that can foster environmental stewardship. Graduate students from the University of Washington along with artists, biologists and educators work together to help students fulfill Washington State’s requirements of mandatory environmental education (1990).
After touring the facilities and walking for a few miles inside the woods, observing ancient large leafed maple trees, pine trees, wild blueberries and birds, I did not want to leave. In fact, I was one of the last people to get back on the bus. Islandwood was a unique experience and reminded me why I love my career in the environmental field so much.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialists in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and 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.

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Un viaje al bosque: Un viaje a la niñez

Este año la Conferencia de EPA para Relaciones con la Comunidad se llevó a cabo en la ciudad de Seattle, en el estado de Washington. Personal de la agencia al igual que empleados del gobierno federal, estatal y la industria privada asisitieron a este adiestramiento de tres días que tuvo como propósito primordial analizar las tecnologías emergentes a la hora de comunicarnos con las comunidades y ofrecernos herramientas para ser más efectivos a la hora de llevar a cabo nuestro trabajo. Como parte de este evento se coordinaron varias visitas de campo. Yo me anoté en la mía con varios meses de anticipación ya que sabía que esta era la mejor parte de la conferencia. Y ciertamente no me equivoqué. El Centro Educativo Ambiental Islandwood es una escuela en el bosque. Ubicado en un predio de 255 acres de terreno forestal en la Isla de Bainbridge y cerca de un viejo aserradero, Islandwood es el lugar que muchos de nosotros quisimos visitar de niños. Utilizando la historia cultural de Puget Sound y el medioambiente a su alrededor como trasfondo, los programas de Islandwood integran arte, ciencia y tecnología para enriquecer el currículo de estudiantes de 4to a 6to grado.

Islandwood no está abierto al público en general. Opera como una escuela con estadía nocturna de cuatro días en sus facilidades sustentables. Muchos de los chicos que llegan a Islandwood provienen de escuelas que no pueden proveer a sus estudiantes este tipo de experiencia. Sus facilidades incluyen un laboratorio, un estudio de arte, un invernadero llamado The Living Machina, un salón de clases flotante dentro de una ciénaga, una casa-árbol y un puente de suspensión de 190 pies de largo.

Esta facilidad es un gran ejemplo de cómo la comunidad, el sector privado y las instituciones académicas pueden trabajar juntos para proveer una experiencia singular a jóvenes que no cuentan con este tipo de facilidad o medioambiente a su alrededor. Estudiantes graduados de la Universidad de Washington así como artistas, biólogos y educadores trabajan juntos para ayudar a los estudiantes a cumplir con el requisito del estado de Washington de educación ambiental mandatoria (1990) .

Luego de visitar las facilidades tuvimos la grata experiencia de caminar unas cuantas millas dentro del bosque. Entre la vegetación de árboles milenaros y coníferos me sentí nuevamente como una niña. Por poco no llego de vuelta al autobús! Islandwood me recordó el por que amo tanto mi carrera en el campo ambiental.

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.

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Year of Science Question of the Month: How Do You Think Biodiversity Affects You?

For each month in 2009, the Year of Science — we will pose a question related to science. Please let us know your thoughts as comments, and feel free to respond to earlier comments, or post new ideas.

The Year of Science theme for September is Biodiversity and Conservation. Biodiversity is a catch-all term that refers to the variety of life at all levels, from the range of genes within in a breeding population (more genetic diversity helps to prevent inbreeding problems), to how many different species there are, all the way to the variety of different ecosystems. EPA scientists are exploring how biodiversity is linked to human health and well being.

How do you think biodiversity affects you?

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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EPA and the Smithsonian: Partnering in a Land Use and Biodiversity Study

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

In March 2007, an agency-wide Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Smithsonian Institution (SI) was signed, recognizing a shared interest in collaborating to promote intellectual exchange and the advancement of education and outreach on a wide range of scientific topics.

One of the areas in which we have been working in partnership with the Smithsonian is in studying the relationship between land use, biodiversity, and human health. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) network of tropical forest plots is being developed into a system of Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatories (SIGEO), which has and will continue to provide critical scientific data about how tree biomass and biodiversity are responding and adapting to increases in atmospheric CO2 and global warming. In addition to modeling the global carbon budget, we recognized that SIGEO serves as an excellent platform to explore the dynamics and mechanisms underlying the relationship between anthropogenic stressors, changes in biodiversity, and disease transmission to humans because the sites have been so well characterized ecologically. EPA and STRI are working together to inventory and monitor important animal groups such as vertebrates and arthropods that can play important roles in human disease transmission.

Why is this a timely research opportunity? Mosquitoes are medically the most important group of Diptera, both in the numbers of disease agents they transmit and the magnitude of health problems these diseases cause worldwide, and climate change is predicted to expand vector range and exacerbate disease.

Our collaboration will use appropriate temperate and tropical plots that are part of the SIGEO network to assess the status and trends of mosquito species populations over time and evaluate whether infectious disease transmission risk is being altered in response to changes in climate and surrounding land-use. CDC has also joined as a partner to evaluate collected mosquitoes for the presence of arboviruses of public health importance and identification of the vector species they are utilizing in distinct habitats. Comparison of the findings from this study with an ongoing CDC study of arbovirus presence in nearby Guatemala will provide a better estimate of the risk of human and animal epidemics due to movement of zoonotic arboviruses throughout Central America. Mosquito monitoring will also add new information to Smithsonian’s MosquitoMap, a new web-based, geospatially referenced clearinghouse for mosquito species collection records and distribution models.

EPA is working with STRI, CDC, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, and the Gorgas Memorial Lab in Panama.

For more information on EPA’s Biodiversity and Human Health activities, see:
http://www.epa.gov/ncer/biodiversity

About the author: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor.

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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Back to School – Keeping our Children Safe and Healthy

In less than two weeks I will send my daughter, Hannah, to her first year of school – kindergarten, where the children will be assigned, I am told, actual homework – and I will experience a milestone day of parental reckoning. But after touring the school, meeting the teachers, and commiserating with the other parents, I am almost as excited as Hannah to experience her first day and let her begin to explore and fulfill her potential.

As someone who has worked on school environmental health since 1996, I know that indoor air quality (IAQ) issues will play a role in my daughter’s ability to do just that—live out her full potential. More and more research shows just how much IAQ in school buildings affects both student and teacher health and performance.

One might think that my knowledge of how poor IAQ can affect children’s health would add to my anxiety about Hannah going to school. But while my position has made me very familiar with the problems associated with poor IAQ, it’s also made me keenly aware of the solutions. I’ve walked a mile in school stakeholders’ shoes, and seen IAQ management from each individual’s perspective. I can personally attest to how passionate people in schools are about protecting children’s health, and how a community effort around these issues can create change.

And a big part of that community effort involves parents. I’d like all the moms and dads interested in advocating for healthy school IAQ to know that they, too, can make a difference at their children’s schools.

Become knowledgeable about the issues and the solutions. Open a dialogue with the school principal about how you could be a partner in their efforts. Offer to be the “parent liaison” for IAQ and share your knowledge with other parents; give a short presentation at a PTA meeting; give the principal an IAQ “fact of the week” to publish in the school newsletter. Better yet, encourage them to get involved in the IAQ Tools for Schools National Awards Program so they are rewarded for their efforts and progress in creating healthy environments. If you become partners with your children’s schools, you will accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

If you remember only one thing from this blog, I hope it is this: IAQ management, much like parenting, is a lifestyle—not a diet. You have to live it.

About the author: Jennifer Lemon has been working on indoor air quality issues in schools since 1996. She works in the U.S. EPA’s Indoor Environments 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.

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National Preparedness: Adventures in Radiation Monitoring

I love to climb up on roofs. I must have been a mountain climber in a past life. But, since I live in Chicago (where the land is about as horizontal as a thin crust pepperoni pizza), rooftops are about the only thing that can satisfy my need for altitude. However, this addiction to heights is a good thing, because one of my jobs is to get radiation monitors installed on rooftops around the Great Lakes.

image of a RADNET radiation monitorEPA’s national radiation monitoring network is called RadNet. RadNet monitors are near-real-time radiation monitors providing baseline data on background (a.k.a. normal) levels of radiation in the environment. In the event of a radiological incident, EPA will initiate RadNet’s emergency mode, allowing us to get a lot of data very quickly. We also have monitors that can be deployed to the immediate vicinity of the incident to assess the spread of contamination.

When we are finished installing monitors, RadNet will provide coverage for more than 70% of the geographic area in the United States. EPA has specific criteria for the placement of these monitors. In urban areas we often have to place these monitors on roof tops. I have had the pleasure of climbing roofs in Chicago, Toledo, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Detroit, Des Plaines, Bay City, and Champaign. But I’m not finished yet. I still have a few more roofs to scale.

I do want to say that – next to getting up on the tops of buildings – the best thing about the job is meeting all the great people who operate the monitors. State, local and tribal government volunteers operate most of these monitors. Without the great work and dedication of all our volunteer operators, the program simply wouldn’t work.

I remember standing on a roof in Cincinnati one very hot day. Heat waves were visibly shimmering off the black tar and my shoes stuck with every step. I don’t know how warm it gets in Hades (not yet, any way), but that Cincinnati roof couldn’t have been more than a few degrees cooler. I was working with folks from the health department and our EPA laboratory to get the RadNet monitor installed and operating. I looked out over the City of Cincinnati, wiped the sweat from my eyes and thought to myself, “I have just about the best job on Earth.”

About the Author: Jack Barnette is a senior scientist with EPA’s Region 5, Air and Radiation Division. Jack is a former Federal and State (Illinois) On Scene Coordinator. He currently is the preparedness coordinator for the Air and Radiation Division, and serves on the Response Support Corps and on the Regional Incident Coordination Team.

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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