Monthly Archives: October 2009

Year of Science Question of the Month: What Information Could You Use?

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 October is Geosciences and Planet Earth.

Geoscientists study the composition, structure, and other physical aspects of the Earth. An environmental atlas is a product of geosciences.

What would you like to see in an Environmental Atlas about a place that you are familiar with?

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: Into the Future: Celebrating the Year of Science and Children’s Health Month

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
I’ve never been much of a multitasker. Perhaps it stems from my preferred mode of transportation. As a bike commuter, texting on the way to work is really out of the question. So, I was really stressing when I realized today’s Science Wednesday blog post had to pull double-duty: follow the year-long pattern of aligning topics for the first post of the month with the 12 themes for Year of Science, and helping EPA celebrate October as Children’s Health month.

Then I checked out this month’s Year of Science theme: “GeoSciences and Planet Earth.” Piece of cake. What do EPA research efforts in geoscience and planet earth have to do with children’s health? A lot, actually. (Thanks for asking!)

To start, EPA is helping lead a national and international effort to build the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), a vast, coordinated network of earth observations, environmental monitoring technologies, datasets, and tools. GEOSS will bring together existing and new hardware and software, making it all compatible in order to supply data and information to environmental managers and health officials.

GEOSS promises to pay big dividends, including reducing disasters, helping people better manage the risk of Lyme disease, and improved water and air quality forecasting.

What makes these benefits particularly important for children’s health is that children, for a variety of reasons including their small size, behavior, and the fact that they are still growing, are often at greater risk to environmental threats than us big people.

Harnessing the collective power of a wealth of geoscience efforts is a great investment in the future of our children. But come to think of it, I’m not sure there are any EPA research efforts that don’t, at least in some way, benefit children. Keep an eye on Science Wednesday throughout the month to read about more examples, from EPA’s Children’s Environmental Health Centers, to a recent report highlighting a decade of children’s environmental health research from EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Program.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the chief science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is the Science Wednesday editor, and a regular contributor.

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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October Is Children’s Health Month, Trick Or Treat!

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I always looked forward to visits to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard in October. Fall just makes me yearn for caramel apples with crushed nuts, apple cider, and finding the perfect pumpkin to carve; it is without a doubt my favorite time of year. I still love the orchards and you can’t help but feel energetic when the smell of leaves fills the air and the air turns just a bit more brisk. This year I’m enjoying the beginning of fall in the same way, albeit hundreds of miles away from my home town of Indianapolis. And not only am I spending my favorite autumn season in our nation’s capitol, I am observing another celebration of sorts in the office I’m interning in. October is Children’s Health  Month! This year’s theme is that ‘Everyone can help to provide a safe environment for America’s children’. During my time here thus far, I’ve learned so much about what everyone can do to make environmental health better for children and consequently, you! All children deserve an October to enjoy and there are plenty of things that you can do to help make the environment safe for America’s children! Who doesn’t want to enjoy the crisp, fall air and roll around the leaves besides kids at heart like me? In honor of my favorite month, here are some ‘trick or treat’ centered tips to enjoy October as Children’s Health Month!

  • Trick or treat, trick or treat, give me something good to eat! Washing vegetables and fruits can make the world of a difference and it only takes a few seconds under the kitchen sink.
  • ‘Trick’ your parents into having those air vents in your house cleaned out to reduce asthma triggers. No, but really, if they don’t get tricked, you can arrange it yourself, and everyone’s lungs will thank you later!
    Treat yourself and children to a smoke-free home.
  • Trick or just really convince your schools to go green! In honor of Children’s Health Month, suggest a day where everyone can come in with the best green costumes in honor of being ‘environmentally green’.
  • Here’s a free treat: walk to school in October or ride a bike! Before the snow starts to fall, you can get some exercise and be proud that you’re not putting harmful emissions into the air!

There’s a ton of activities going on this month and you can visit a calendar of tips every day as well as learn about environmental hazards and prevention in honor of Children’s Health Month. Happy haunting and happy October! Everyone can help to provide a safe environment for America’s children!

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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Don’t Mess with Mercury

A recent snowboarding trip one long weekend was cut short when my cell phone rang and my boss asked if I’d be willing to go to Phoenix. “There’s been a mercury spill in a high school near Phoenix,” he said. “Another one?” I asked. Just one week before, my colleague was sent to Calexico, California to help respond to a mercury spill in a school and help the on-scene coordinator and school district handle the situation. “Yep,” he said. “We got another one.”

I packed up my belongings and headed to Avondale, a Phoenix suburb. I arrived at Agua Fria High School to find emergency responders staged in the “black box” (the school’s drama room) to screen potentially contaminated belongings.

Mercury spills are an immediate health danger. At Agua Fria, a couple of boys got their hands on mercury and split it up into jars and went to their final class of the day.

Emergency responders identified exposed students and retraced their steps to find all potentially contaminated areas. Two buses and five classrooms were contaminated and cleaned up. The 1,700-student high school was closed for three days.

A “lumex” is used to screen for mercury – it looks like a first generation ghost buster (think Igor’s prototype) with a high-pitched whine that could make anyone crazy.

Imagine: you’re a high school student; you find silver liquid that looks cool and beads up like oil in water when you touch it. You bring it to class, throw some at that girl you like, play with it in the locker room, take it home to show your little sister. Now your school’s been closed, EPA officials, the local fire department and the police department are questioning you and pretty much everyone you know. How much did you have? Where did you go? What have you touched? Where are the clothes you were wearing? Do you feel sick?

Two families had to be relocated while their homes were being cleaned up and some students didn’t get some of their belongings back because they were too contaminated to clean up. Those favorite pair of sneakers? Gone. The iPod you got for your birthday? Gone. That sweatshirt you’ve had forever? Gone.

Interestingly enough, a lot of people thought it wasn’t a big deal. Some said they used to play with mercury as children and were fine. There are always arguments about how things used to be done. Sometimes these arguments start with, “In my day…” The best answer I always come up with is that we didn’t know then what we know now.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin, it’s poisonous.  Don’t mess with mercury.

About the Author: Margot Perez-Sullivan works in the EPA’s Public Affairs Office in San Francisco handling media relations in Arizona, Nevada and the Navajo Nation. She has also worked for the agency in the Boston and Washington DC offices.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: How do you protect children from mercury?

Exposure to mercury can result from misuse or overuse of mercury-containing products.  Even something that seems as small as a broken thermometer needs to be cleaned up and disposed of properly. October is Children’s Health Month.

How do you protect children from mercury?

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 las Semana: ¿Cómo protege a los niños del mercurio?

La exposición al mercurio puede resultar del uso inapropiado o excesivo de productos que contienen mercuro. La limpieza y disposición de cosas tan pequeñas como un termómetro roto se tienen que hacer adecuadamente. Octubre es el Mes de Salud Infantil.

¿Cómo protege a los niños del mercurio?

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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Taking EPA to the Community

Beyond Translation logo bannerFor nearly four years, EPA has undertaken a multilingual outreach effort entitled Beyond Translation. The first Beyond Translation Hispanic Stakeholders Forum saw the light in San Antonio, Texas in the fall of 2006 as a Hispanic outreach initiative designed to increase environmental awareness among Hispanic leaders. Thanks to hard-working EPA employees, this initiative has blossomed into an effort that truly engages EPA and with Hispanic stakeholders from community-based organizations, small businesses, academia, and government officials. As the title suggests, the main objective is to go beyond the traditional mechanisms of reaching out to Hispanics in the US. While necessary, translating brochures into Spanish only produces limited results in increasing the environmental awareness of Hispanic stakeholders. The purpose of these forums is to take EPA to the community where people live, work, learn and play in order to sustain a productive and ongoing dialogue on their environmental concerns and challenges. Through this important tool, the Agency can effectively promote environmentalism among Hispanic communities in a language they can understand so they can actively participate in EPA’s decision-making process.

This year, EPA is once again taking its message to the community in a series of Beyond Translation Forums. The first one will be in EPA Research Triangle Park, NC on October 7th. The theme for this year’s RTP forum is: “EPA and the Hispanic Community: Building Environmental Awareness in Rural Communities.” I urge you attend either in person or virtually (webcasts will be offered) Stay tuned for the next one in our series. Together we can make a difference in environmental protection.

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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La EPA llega a la comunidad

image of Beyond Translation logoPor casi cuatro años, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental ha realizado un esfuerzo de alcance público para las comunidades multilingües llamado “Beyond Translation” (Más allá de las traducciones). El primer foro con líderes hispanos de Más allá de las traducciones se efectuó en San Antonio, Texas en el otoño del 2006 como una iniciativa de alcance público a fin de aumentar la concienciación ambiental entre líderes hispanos. Mediante la gran labor de empleados de la EPA, esta iniciativa rindió frutos y ha culminado en un esfuerzo que realmente logra una comunicación efectiva entre la EPA y partes interesadas hispanas provenientes de organizaciones de base comunitaria, pequeños negocios, académicos, y funcionarios públicos. Como el título sugiere, el principal objetivo consiste en ir más allá de los mecanismos tradicionales para alcanzar a los hispanos en los Estados Unidos. Mientras todavía es necesario, la traducción de folletos al español sólo produce resultados limitados para crear conciencia medioambiental entre partes interesadas hispanas. El propósito de estos foros radica en lleva a EPA a las comunidades donde el pueblo vive, trabaja, aprende y juega a fin de sostener un diálogo productivo y sostenido sobre sus preocupaciones y retos medioambientales. Mediante esta importante herramienta, la Agencia eficazmente promueve el ambientalismo entre las comunidades hispanas en un idioma que pueden entender y en el cual pueden participar activamente en el proceso de toma de decisiones de la Agencia.

Este año, EPA está llevando nuevamente su mensaje a la comunidad en una serie de foros de Más allá de las traducciones. El primero se celebrará en las oficinas de EPA en el Parque de Investigaciones del Triángulo (RTP, por sus siglas en inglés) en Carolina del Norte el 7 de octubre. El tema del foro de RTP este año es: “EPA y la comunidad hispana: creando conciencia ambiental en comunidades rurales.” Le instamos que participe sea en persona o por vía cibernética. Quédese sintonizado a nuestros blogs porque pronto brindaremos mas detalles sobre el próximo en la serie. Juntos podemos hacer una diferencia a favor de la protección ambiental.

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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Phase 1 of Hudson River Dredging Nears Completion

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

The last five months of my life have probably been some of the busiest I’ve ever experienced. Since the project began May 15, I’ve watched more than 240,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment being removed from the Upper Hudson River in the area of Fort Edward, NY, and there was never a dull moment. The actual dredging was kind of hypnotic, but all of the contentious public meetings, media attention, outreach events, and requests for information and tours kept me on my toes.

Now it is early October, and I’m starting to catch my breath again. The dredging is winding down and most of the project vessels will be out of the water by mid-November. We can only dredge from May to November each year because the project’s dewatering facility is located on the Champlain Canal which only operates during those months.

Just to recap how we did, dredging crews worked in 10 of 18 designated areas around Roger’s Island and near Griffen Island in the Upper Hudson. While crews did not dredge in eight areas they originally planned to complete, they removed as much contaminated sediment in the 10 areas they worked in as they expected to remove from all 18 areas. Dredge engineers encountered approximately 100,000 cubic yards of additional, contaminated logging debris attributable to the historical Adirondack logging trade and a timber dam that was removed in the early 1970s. Dredging this additional debris, and finding contamination at levels much deeper than anticipated, kept the crews from working in the other eight areas. These eight areas will be the starting point for dredging in phase two of the project.

During the winter of 2009, a peer review panel of independent dredging experts will convene to look at all of the production and monitoring data generated during Phase 1. This group will make recommendations to EPA and General Electric about changes that can be incorporated for phase two, so the project will be even more efficient and effective. The project review, completion of the final design for phase two, a public comment period, as well as any new construction that might be necessary at the dewatering facility, will take place in 2010. Therefore, the next opportunity to resume dredging will be May of 2011.

I’m looking forward to a slower pace of life this winter and next year, but I know the review process and the subsequent EPA and General Electric coordination will require a lot of public interaction and outreach. Happily, I’ll also look for opportunities to discuss the substantial progress we made during this first phase of this epic journey to clean up the Hudson River.

About the author: Kristen Skopeck is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is an 11-year Air Force veteran and was stationed in California, Ohio, Texas, Portugal, and New York. After working for the USDA for three years, Kristen joined EPA in 2007 and moved to Glens Falls, NY to be a member of the Hudson River PCB dredging project team. She likes to spend her time reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and meeting new people.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Our Nation’s Children

Each October, EPA celebrates Children’s Health Month through activities specially designed to increase awareness on the importance of protecting our children from environmental risks. First, we must note that no matter how precocious and bright children are nowadays, they are not little adults. Their bodies are in full development. They inhale more air, drink more water, and eat more food in proportion to their body size. Therefore, environmental exposures such as allergens, pesticides, chemicals and toxics present much greater risks in children than adults. Furthermore, their common behavior of crawling and taking many objects to their mouth just intensifies these risks. That’s why we have to keep their environments healthy—where they live, learn, and play. Our nation’s children need healthy environments at home, at day care centers, in schools, and their neighborhoods.

As EPA’s Hispanic liaison, I’m taking this message to Hispanic parents via Spanish-language media outlets, our Spanish portal and social media like @EPAespanol on Twitter in order to overcome their linguistic barriers to environmental awareness. It’s not only communicating the message in Spanish, but culturally tailoring the message to diverse Spanish-speaking communities. Why is it necessary to do Hispanic outreach? Census studies reveal that the Hispanic population, in general is younger than their non-Hispanic counterparts in the US. For example, 25% of the children in the US are of Hispanic descent. 62% of Hispanic households include children younger than 18. Furthermore, 53% of Hispanic 4 year-olds were enrolled in nursery school in 2007. In addition, when we take into account the fact that many Hispanic and multilingual communities tend to work, leave, learn, and play in areas where they may be subject to greater environmental exposures, we would be negligent if we did not make special efforts to take EPA’s message to the community—that will be the subject of a future blog.

In the meantime, please celebrate Children’s Health Month, learning how you can better protect all our nation’s children from environmental risks in the home, at school, or in the great outdoors. We have these tips available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.유해한 환경으로부터 어린이 보호하기 (2 페이지MS WORD/.doc)
What You Can Do to Protect Children from Environmental Risks

With these simple steps, we can go along way to help our children have long and productive lives. Let’s do this today to guarantee a better future for generations to come.

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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