Monthly Archives: October 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Hey Pick 5ers, it’s time again for you to share what you’ve done, how you did it, etc.  If you haven’t done it yet, Pick 5 for the Environment and then come back to comment. Today we cover action #4: reduce, reuse, recycle. Please share your stories as comments below.

In my house, we try to recycle everything. For example, I use newspapers instead of paper towels to clean windows, glass tables and mirrors. Afterward, I shred them to be placed in my compost. We save our cans to take them to a collection facility once a month. Money made from the cans is used to buy gas for our next recycling trip to the collection facility.

When making my trips to the grocery store, I bring my own canvas bags instead of getting plastic bags at the counter. Canvas bags are offered at the grocery store, are very inexpensive, and using them helps to save our landfills from filling up.

I also have a compost box in my backyard. All of my kitchen waste is placed in there along with my yard waste and other items. I use this soil in the spring to plant my garden. It’s amazing how little changes in your life can help save the environment. It’s been a lot of fun seeing what I have done to help.

Now it’s your turn: How do you reduce, reuse, and recycle? If you’re not sure what you can do, learn more on our site.

You can also still share how you save water, , commute without polluting, and save electricity.

Note: to ward off advertisers using our blog as a platform, we don’t allow specific product endorsements.  But feel free to suggest Web sites that review products, suggest types of products, and share your experiences using them!

About the author: Denise Owens has worked at EPA for over twenty years. She is currently working in the Office of Public Affairs in Washington, DC.

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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Asking the Right Questions to Prevent Lead Poisoning in Children

Recently, I took my youngest to the pediatrician for her yearly physical. I was very happy to be able to answer “no” to all the screening questions regarding possible exposures to lead. Why is lead a problem?

Well, even if your child does not show symptoms of lead poisoning, exposure to lead can definitely have long-term adverse effects on your child’s health. That’s why asking the right questions is important in lead poisoning prevention.

For example, I’m lucky to have a pediatrician that regularly asks parents to fill a questionnaire to identify possible exposures to lead. But, how many families are unaware of the risks of lead exposures? How many doctors have not received the proper environmental health training to look for warning signs among their young patients? Furthermore, the problems can be compounded if there are language barriers between these patients and their physicians.

On that note, several months ago, I asked one of my nieces who is in medical school about her studies. I was interested in what she was learning about environmental health issues such as asthma, lead poisoning, mercury, and others. Bottom line, it seems that our young med students just don’t receive enough training in environmental health. So, if that’s the case with doctors, what are we to expect from the general public that might be unaware of the link between our health and the environment?

As we’re celebrating National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, let’s increase awareness of the potential lead poisoning. While most of the focus is related to reducing the risk of lead based paints found in homes build before 1978, our children may also have some non-traditional routes of exposure due to their behavior or for cultural reasons which might put them at a greater risk. Have you resorted to folk remedies such as greta, azarcón, ghasard, bali goli, to treat ailments stomach ailments or colic? Has your child eaten candy or foods canned outside the United States? Do you cook foods in imported or glazed pottery?

If you have reasons to believe that your child might be at risk of lead poisoning, contact your health care provider to find out whether to perform a blood test for lead. This test is the only way you can tell if your child has an elevated lead level. Asking the right questions can help prevent lead poisoning in our children.

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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Las Preguntas Correctas Pueden Prevenir El Envenenamiento Por Plomo Infantil

Recientemente, llevé a mi hija menor a la pediatra para su chequeo anual y me alegré de poder responder “no” a todas las preguntas de rastreo referentes a posibles exposiciones al plomo. ¿Por qué es un problema el plomo?  Aún si su hijo no tiene síntomas de envenenamiento por plomo, la exposición al plomo definitivamente puede tener efectos adversos de larga duración en la salud de su niño. Por esa razón es importante hacer las preguntas adecuadas para prevenir el envenenamiento por plomo.

Por ejemplo, tengo suerte de tener una pediatra que regularmente pide a los padres llenar el cuestionario para identificar posibles exposiciones al plomo. Sin embargo, ¿cuántas familias desconocen los riesgos de las exposiciones al plomo? ¿Cuántos médicos no han recibido la capacitación adecuada en temas de salud ambiental para identificar las señales de alerta en sus jóvenes pacientes? Y si a eso le añadimos el hecho de las barreras lingüísticas entre estos pacientes y sus médicos, el problema se agrava.

Hace varios meses, le pregunté a una de mis sobrinas que está en la escuela de medicina sobre sus estudios. Estaba interesada en saber lo que le enseñaban sobre asuntos de salud ambiental como el asma, el envenenamiento por plomo, y temas relacionados. En fin de cuentas, parece que los jóvenes estudiantes de medicina simplemente no reciben suficiente entrenamiento en salud ambiental. Si esto es el caso de los médicos, ¿qué podemos esperar del público en general que desconocen el vínculo entre su salud y el medio ambiente?

Mientras celebramos la Semana Nacional de Prevención del Envenenamiento por Plomo, creemos conciencia sobre los riesgos del envenenamiento por plomo. Mientras la mayoría de los esfuerzos están relacionados a reducir el riesgo por las pinturas a base de plomo que se encuentran todavía en viviendas construidas antes de 1978, los niños pueden tener otras vías de exposición debido a su comportamiento o por razones culturales, razones que los ponen en mayor riesgo. Por ejemplo, ¿ha utilizado remedios como greta o azarcón para tratar problemas estomacales o cólico? ¿Su hijo ha comido dulces o alimentos enlatados fuera de Estados Unidos? ¿Cocina sus alimentos en cazuelas importadas o en vasijas de cristal vidriado?

Si usted tiene motivo para pensar que su hijo puede estar en riesgo del envenenamiento por plomo, comuníquese con su proveedor de salud para que le haga la prueba por el plomo a su hijo. Esta prueba es la única manera en la cual usted puede determinar si su hijo tiene un nivel elevado de plomo en la sangre. Haciendo las preguntas correctas puede proteger a su hijo de este problema de salud ambiental—el envenenamiento por plomo.

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: Nanotechnology and the Environment-A 46,000-step Program

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

Nearly a decade ago when I was approaching my 40th birthday, I decided to confront mid-life crisis by taking up long-distance running. Specifically, I set my sights on running a marathon. Before making this decision, I had never run more than three or four miles. So 26.2 was an intimidating prospect. I run in about one-yard strides, so a quick calculation told me that it would take me 46,112 of those choppy strides to cross the finish line.

It seemed overwhelming.

But on Thanksgiving day, 1999, I began with a three-mile run, a week later extended it to four miles, and so on until – one year later – I finished my first marathon. I’ve since run four more. It was all about building up endurance, one stride at a time.

This idea of one-step-at-a-time progression is pretty much the same when it comes to trying to understand the possible environmental impacts of nano-sized particles—tiny manufactured particles that are 100 nanometers or smaller. (A nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter, or about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.) You start with a little bit of knowledge – say, for example – that you know the size and shape of the particle – and build on that to understand whether the size and shape of the particle at the nanoscale makes the particle behave any differently than a larger-sized particle of the same material.

Let’s take, for example, silver, even though I will never win a medal of that color (and surely not gold and, sigh, not even bronze) in any of my marathons. Nano-sized versions of silver are being made for use in clothing, medical equipment, and other things because it is very good at killing bacteria.

Some of our first steps in the nanosilver marathon are to understand if nanosilver behaves differently than larger-sized silver (which we already know quite a bit about). Then we build on that to learn if any differences we find make nanosilver more (or less) toxic than larger silver. And we keep going from there, pushing the limits of our understanding to learn still more.

image of author standing in front of mountainsBe sure to keep an eye on Science Wednesday next month for training tips and things we’re picking up along the nanotechnology course. To learn more about how Jeff Morris is taking the long view of tiny particles, visit EPA’s Nanotechnology Research web site.

About the author: When he’s not running marathons or training for one, Jeff Morris is National Program Director for Nanotechnology in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Stopping The Secondhand Smoke Blues

I recently traveled to a large city and while there I tried to take it all in – the food, sightseeing attractions, and the people. Unfortunately another thing I took in while visiting was all of the secondhand smoke on the crowded streets. At first, I didn’t realize the number of people smoking until I got back to my room and still smelled smoke. My clothes and hair had utterly absorbed it! Now you’re probably thinking that because I’m from Indiana and a smaller city than most, I wouldn’t really have a clue what big cities and people smoking all the time would be like. And while that has been true, I also find that here in Washington, D.C., I don’t really have a problem breathing fresh air either. So it truly was a surprise to me to experience such a ‘smoky’ city. I also grew up in a household where my parents did not smoke. I think that this is one of the greatest gifts I have been given by my parents and in doing so, they raised me not to smoke either. Not that I would have had any say in the matter as a child, but growing up in a smoke free household was a gift to my health and overall well-being. For this reason, smoke free homes are essential for children today. While you can’t really avoid secondhand smoke walking on the street in public, it makes it even more essential to have a house that children can go home to where they can easily breathe. Children spend the majority of their time at home and therefore it is extremely important to have a smoke free home. Children’s bodies aren’t as developed and their lungs can be brutally affected by exposure to second hand smoke. They have higher breathing rates than adults and have little control over their indoor environments. Choosing not to smoke in your house will reduce the risk of children getting sick with coughs, breathing problems like asthma, and developing ear infections. In honor of Children’s Health Month, you can take a pledge to make your home and your car smoke-free and get your very own pledge certificate. You can also read helpful information and read more about health effects. By making your home smoke free your children will thank you for it later! And you can be proud of yourself as well!

About the Author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

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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An “Aha” Moment – Just a Little Too Late

I’m a mom of four kids living in a house built in 1948 that was way too small for us until we expanded it three years ago. That’s around the time I became involved in outreach on lead poisoning prevention, and drafting outreach materials on EPA’s new rule requiring contractors who renovate pre-1978 housing and schools to be trained in lead-safe work practices and certified by EPA or a state (the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule).

We decided to stay in our house during construction – who has the money to rent a place and pay for the big renovation? Not us! At the time, I teased my contractor, Erik, about the upcoming requirements for renovators. He just laughed and lamented more money he’d have to pay the government. Then he put up big plywood sheets to block the rooms off and to keep dust out. But the plywood didn’t keep the dust out – it was everywhere. At the time, I thought, the new rule says to use plastic sheeting and tape off the rooms to keep dust out. But I didn’t say anything; all I was concerned about was how much longer we’d have to all live cramped in three rooms. I told myself, well, Jack is 10 and the triplets are 7, so their brains are pretty much already developed. But who knows how much exposure they have experienced because of the renovation. Recent studies show that renovation and repair activities are a major source of lead poisoning – from the dust!

Now that I’ve been steeped in the rule and working to get the word out to contractors to get lead-safe trained and certified, I realize that I should have insisted that my own contractor get himself educated about lead. It’s kind of an after-the-fact “aha moment” that leaves you with a real regret. The developmental effects of lead are real and they are irreversible – behavior problems, IQ deficiencies, learning deficits; scary stuff!

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 18-24, 2009. Take this opportunity to ask your plumber, electrician, repairman, or renovation contractor five words: Do you work lead-safe? If they stare back at you blankly, point them to our website. I recently found out that Erik is doing another renovation in the neighborhood. I’m going to work on him!

About the author: Sheila Canavan has more than 24 years of federal service, and has worked at EPA for 14 years. She coordinates web content and communications materials on OPPT’s efforts to address lead, mercury, PCBs and asbestos.

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: What do you do to protect your children from lead poisoning?

Childhood lead poisoning is a major environmental health problem in the United States. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, nervous system damage, kidney damage, and decreased intelligence.  National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 18-24.

What do you do to protect your children from lead poisoning?

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: ¿Qué hace para proteger a sus hijos del envenenamiento por plomo?

El envenenamiento por plomo es los ninos es un gran problema de salud ambiental en los Estados Unidos. El envenenamiento por plomo puede ocasionar problemas de aprendizaje, daño al sistema nervioso, daño a los riñones y disminución de la capacidad mental del niño. La Semana Nacional para la Prevención del Envenenamiento por Plomo es del 18 al 24 de octubre.

¿Qué hace para proteger a sus hijos del envenenamiento por plomo?

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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Healthy Schools, Healthy Children

I’ve never questioned that good indoor air quality in schools is critical to the success and health of our students and teachers. In addition to the health effects, students and staff that are exposed to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) experience decreased performance and diminished concentration levels. That’s why, as part of the Jicarilla Apache Nation Environmental Protection Office, I’ve been working with schools to improve their indoor air since 1995. Truthfully, we initially had mixed success. It was difficult to communicate to every school group why indoor air quality was important – from custodians to teachers to principals, everyone valued something different. So in 2000, when we heard about the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program and that it offered a framework for schools to do just that, we were on board. We didn’t know if the guidance would help us, but thankfully it did.

Over the past nine years, we’ve had a lot of successes. We were able to get everyone in our schools advocating for healthy indoor air quality and convinced them that by using a systematic approach, and ready-made checklists and resources, they could lead this effort. I’d like to share a couple of our stories that show just how much a comprehensive program can make a difference.

The first story is short, but it packs a lot of punch. Not long after we met with teachers for a formal IAQ training, we received a report from a teacher who was concerned that her classroom was making her and her students sick. When we investigated the room, we discovered a major mold problem. Following remediation guidance, we were able to clean up the mold and the teacher and students were able to enjoy a safe and healthy learning environment once again.

The second story revolves around radon, another important component of an IAQ management program. As part of our comprehensive IAQ effort, we conducted radon testing in all of our schools. At the Dulce Middle School, we discovered levels well above EPA’s action level of 4 pCi/L and undertook five distinct mitigation projects to guarantee low levels of radon. In the end, our mitigation effort was successful, but it took a lot of work, time and money.

I encourage anyone who works with schools, in schools, or for schools to take these stories to heart and advocate for an IAQ management program. You will make a difference. Start with the EPA guidance and if you can, attend the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Symposium – a premier event that helps brings this guidance to life.

About the Author: Pauline Electric-Warrior is a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. She works in the Environmental Protection Office of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Dulce, New Mexico.

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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Being Green is Not Black and White

Since people know I work for EPA I sometimes get asked, “What can I change in my life so that I’ll be living in a way that’s more environmentally friendly?” Or, sometimes people ask more specific questions like, “Here’s what I do when I …. Is that the best thing?” They often just want a simple answer like — do this, but don’t do that.

But the environment is not black and white but a full spectrum of colors and choices. Often, there’s not a best answer, and sometimes the answer you might think is best really isn’t when you look at the situation more closely.

Here’s an example. A local environmental non-profit put out a short quiz on how to live green. One question was, what would be the best way to commute to work in Philadelphia? The possible choices were:

  1. Ride your bike
  2. Walk to a train station and then take the train in
  3. Drive a hybrid car

They said the right choice was 1) Ride your bike. I disagreed and here’s why. The area I live in is a first tier suburb of Philadelphia. It would be impossible and probably illegal to ride your bike on the Schuylkill Expressway. Instead you’d need to ride on the 1 or 2 -lanes-in-each-direction streets. There is hardly ever a designated bike lane since the roads are so narrow. That means during rush hour a person riding their bike on say, Montgomery Avenue in Lower Merion Township, would back up traffic in a major way, causing those vehicles to use more gasoline and spew out more fumes. Plus, you would put wear and tear on the bike and resources would need to be used to keep it in good working condition.

My best choice instead was 2). Walking and then riding the train into the city wouldn’t use any additional fuel and the money paid for tickets would help support public transit. You may disagree, but for my area I think that’s the best choice.

When making environmental choices it is important to look at the “life-cycle costs” of what you do. Cradle to grave, what are the impacts? One of my favorite books on this topic is, Stuff, the Secret Lives of Everyday Things by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning. They walk you through what it takes to make things like a cotton-polyester blend t-shirt down to the pesticides used on the soil to grow the cotton and the transportation costs involved in getting the raw materials to the factory and getting the finished product to you. Even if a t-shirt sports an environmental message, buying it is probably not the right answer if you already have enough t-shirts.

To get you started, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself before making a purchase, even a purchase of something that’s already been used.

  • Do I need it?
  • How many do I already have?
  • How much will I use it?
  • Is there anything that I already own that I could substitute for it?
  • How long will it last?
  • Could I borrow it from a friend or family member? Could I rent it?
  • Am I able to clean, maintain and/or repair it myself? Am I willing to?
  • Have I researched it to get the best quality for the best price?
  • How will I dispose of it when I’m done using it?
  • Are the resources that went into it renewable or nonrenewable?
  • Is there excess packaging?
  • Is it made of recycled materials, and is it recyclable?
  • If it uses energy, is it energy-efficient?

For other tips on going green, please visit our mid-Atlantic “Go Green” website.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

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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