Monthly Archives: November 2009

Question of the Week: What does “environmental protection” mean to you?

EPA was established on December 2, 1970 and since then the nation has made enormous strides in protecting the environment. But every day, we all make individual choices that can affect the environment. One of Administrator Jackson’s priorities is broadening the definition of “environmentalism.”  Share your thoughts about what it means to you.

What does “environmental protection” 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.

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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Que significa para usted la “proteccion ambiental?”

EPA fue establecida el 2 de diciembre de 1970 y desde entonces la nación ha logrado enormes avances en la protección ambiental. Sin embargo, todos los días hacemos selecciones individuales que afectan el medio ambiente. Una de las prioridades de la administradora Jackson es la expansión de la definición del “medioambientalismo”. Comparta sus ideas sobre lo que esto significa para usted.

¿Que significa para usted la “proteccion ambiental?”

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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Brownfields 2009–Sustainable Communities Start Here

About 10 months ago, I wrote an entry for Greenversations on Region 6’s Brown-to-Green initiative to develop renewable energy on previously contaminated sites. Today, I wanted to bring you up to date on this continuing effort to make your community more sustainable.

Brownfields 2009 was held in New Orleans, Louisiana on November 16 through 18. Each year thousands of like-minded citizens; commercial developers; financiers, and municipal, state, tribal and federal agency representatives gather together to share success stories, lessons learned and new approaches to bringing properties back into useful production across the country. Some of the country’s top urban planners and commercial developers spoke, took part in panel discussions and were available for interaction with the conference participants. This year over 4,500 individuals registered to participate in the dozens of panel discussions and workshops.

And while it is too late to participate in this year’s conference, in the next few weeks you will be able to access the presentations at Brownfields 2009. There is a lot of great work going on across the country and it could be applicable to your city or neighborhood.

For me, some of the conference sessions were quite informative: Joint Planning for Renewable Energy Projects; Green Infrastructure on Brownfields; Using Brownfields to Update America’s Industrial and Energy Production Capacity; Brownfield & Redevelopment Efforts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the Wake of Katrina; and I Have an Oil Well in My Backyard! – Oil and Gas Exploration & Production experiences. I chaired a panel entitled “Making the Connection to Renewable Energy: A How-to Guide for Renewable Energy Projects” that attracted over 100 audience members and ran over 1.5 hours due to the in-depth nature of the speakers’ presentations and high caliber of questions raised by the audience.

In addition to taking part in the formal panels and discussion groups, sampling some of the world’s greatest cuisine and unique musical venues, several dozen EPA staffers and managers from around the country worked Sunday afternoon at the Andrew H. Wilson Elementary School planting trees and bushes as part of the water collection and diversion system. Wilson Elementary was damaged by flooding during Hurricane Katrina but has been rebuilt and expanded as a LEED certified “gold” public school, incorporating the original 1907 structure. The school is scheduled to re-open in January 2010.

About the author: Rob Lawrence joined EPA in 1990 and is Senior Policy Advisor on Energy Issues in the Dallas, TX regional office. As an economist, he works to insure that both supply and demand components are addressed as the Region develops its Clean Energy and Climate Change Strategy.

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: A Visit to the Geo-VI Plenary

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

“I’ll never get lost again,” I exclaimed as I opened the box containing my new GPS unit, an early holiday gift from my folks. Now I can harness the power of coordinated satellites as I confidently venture toward my destination, forever settling the age-old argument over the efficacy of stopping to ask for directions.

It seemed fitting that my new toy arrived the same week the Group on Earth Observations, better known as GEO, held its 6th plenary meetings. Thanks to EPA securing the space, the gathering took place in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, just a few floors below my office.

GEO members, including some 80 governments, the European Commission, and 56 intergovernmental, international, and regional organizations with mandates in Earth Observation or related issues, are coordinating their efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS.

The goal of GEOSS is to create a flexible network where all sorts of earth observations—from direct observations of temperature and other climate data, to networks of open-ocean buoys, and high-tech satellite imagery—are standardized, coordinated, and shared.

The end result will be kind of like the Internet, except instead of Facebook-like social updates, content providers will supply a wealth of earth observation data, providing decision makers access to an extraordinary range of information right at their desktops.

The potential benefits of such a system are enormous: improved understanding of environmental factors affecting human health, disaster reduction, integrated water resource management, ocean and marine resource monitoring and management, weather and air quality monitoring and management, sustainable land use, development of energy sources, and adaptation to climate variability and change.

The Plenary-VI meeting featured a large public exhibit area where delegates from across the world demonstrated their research efforts. My EPA colleague and fellow Science Wednesday blogger Dr. Montira Pongsiri staffed the US-GEO booth, sharing highlights of her GEOSS work exploring the links between biodiversity and human health.

Of course now that I have my own, personal satellite access, my favorite exhibits were those illustrating how GEOSS is harnessing high-tech satellite datasets and imagery. It was all very exciting, and I didn’t even need to stop and ask for directions on my way back to the office.

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the “Science Wednesday” editor and a regular contributor. He is the lead science writer for 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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Let’s Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is in just a few days. Hard to believe that it’s already here. Sometimes it seems like ole Turkey Day gets sideswiped by the gift buying and holiday madness the day after. It’s almost as if Thanksgiving is a part of the countdown to holidays in December. People can sometimes forget to slow down and actually remember what it’s all about. A time to give thanks.

One of the traditions in my family growing up was to write down what we were thankful for. We would write simple things down on slips of paper and place them into a pilgrim boat craft made by one of the grandkids long ago. After stuffing our faces and sitting around the table enjoying each other’s company, we would pass the slips around the table and everyone would read one out loud. Granted, several of the slips ended up being more humorous than anything. Sometimes it turned into a game to figure out who wrote what, but we all smiled and laughed and said ‘aw’ at heartfelt responses. We were together. And we all were thankful for that. And while this year we are all spread out across the country and not reading our paper slips, I know that we still have a lot to be thankful for, including one another. Not to mention, our stomachs were thankful for all of the food that we stuffed ourselves with.

As you begin preparing your feast in a couple of days, I thought it might be prudent to bring up some facts about pesticides. It is important to note that infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks from pesticides because their internal organs are still developing and maturing, they eat and drink more than adults in relation to their body weight, and certain behaviors like crawling on the ground or putting objects in their mouths may increase a children’s exposure to pesticides. Pesticides can harm children by blocking absorption of nutrients from food and can also cause harm if a child’s excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Under the Food Quality Protection Act (1996), EPA evaluates children’s exposure to pesticide residues in and on foods they most commonly eat. The EPA ensures the pesticide residues on foods are safe for children. To learn more about why children may be especially sensitive to pesticides you can visit this website. Some consumers are purchasing organically grown foods to reduce their exposure to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Other ways to reduce pesticides on food include washing, peeling and trimming food, and selecting a variety of foods. You can learn more about what organic means to you and your family by clicking here. You can also purchase food from local farmer’s markets to reduce harmful emissions into the air. So as you begin your preparations for Thursday, take the time to eliminate risks for pesticides. That’s one thing you and your family can always be thankful for.

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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Question of the Week: How are you traveling green for Thanksgiving?

To be with friends and family on holidays, we drive across town and fly across the country. But most forms of travel can affect the environment…  Share how you go “over the river and through the woods.”

How are you traveling green for Thanksgiving?

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: ¿Cómo está viajando verde para la Fiesta de Acción de Gracias?

Para reunirnos con amistades y familiares durante las fiestas, conducimos por toda la ciudad y viajamos en avión por todo el país. Sin embargo, algunas formas de viajar pueden afectar el medio ambiente… Comparta cómo se transporta para realizar estas visitas.

¿Cómo está viajando verde para la Fiesta de Acción de Gracias?

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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Passion and Action – President's Environmental Youth Awards

Do you have a passion for the environment? Have you put the passion into action? Well, you need to let us know and learn about the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). PEYA is an award program for students K – 12th grade. Whether you completed an environmental awareness project as an individual, a group, or class, you are eligible, and encouraged, to apply.

image of PEYA logoI have been managing the PEYA program in EPA’s Region 1office for over 5 years. It is one of my favorite programs in the agency and is truly a hidden gem. So many students create projects centered around the environment. How cool is it to be recognized for your passion with an award ceremony in Washington, DC, potentially meeting President Obama, and hanging out with kids from across the country with the same passion for the environment as you. I am always amazed and impressed with the scope and depth of some of the projects submitted. I have had winners who have created a rain garden behind their town hall to prevent runoff from contaminating the river behind it; an Eagle Scout who created a program to have fisherman use an alternative weight to lead sinkers; an afterschool group who created an energy audit and program for its school district and so many more.

The regional award program is conducted once a year, and each of the 10 EPA regions selects a regional winner. Each regional winner is invited to an EPA-sponsored award ceremony in Washington, DC and receives a presidential plague.

I never get bored with students’ passion and action towards the environment. We want to read about your great projects and EPA knows you have worked hard on a project so why not get some recognition? You can get the program details (including applications deadlines), check out previous winning projects for inspiration, and get the application at epa.gov/peya. Get the credit you deserve for putting your passion into action and making the environment a cleaner, healthier place, and remember, it’s never too early to start a project for next year!

About the author: Kristen Conroy is the Environmental Education Coordinator in the EPA Reg 1’s Boston region. Kristen has been with EPA since 1991.

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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How Do You Check Your Local Air Quality?

Hey Pick 5’ers, it’s time again for you to share what you’ve done and how you did it.  If you haven’t done it yet, Pick 5 for the Environment and then come back to comment. Today we cover action #6: how do you check your local air quality? Please share your stories as comments below.

Local air quality affects how you live and breathe. It’s like the weather; it can change from day to day. When I purchased my home years ago I really was thinking about the money I would save by heating with the wood burning fireplace. I never thought about the air quality in and around my home. When I had my chimney cleaned, the tech asked if I ever had a carbon monoxide detector. When I told him no, he suggested that I invest in one. It had never crossed my mind, but I purchased one the next week, and was surprised how inexpensive it was. The detector, which simply plugs into an electrical outlet on the wall, helps me monitor carbon monoxide levels in my home.

By making changes in my daily routine, I’ve also started to help keep the air clean. I no longer warm my car in the morning, since the extra emissions contribute to unhealthy air quality. When I cleaned my garage this summer, I properly disposed of some household paints, solvents and pesticides; the materials I kept I now store in airtight containers so that they don’t leak any fumes. Fumes from these items can cause unhealthy air.
Now it’s your turn: How do you check your local air quality? If you’re not sure what you can do, learn more on our site.

Don’t hesitate to share your other Pick 5 tips on how you save water, commute without polluting save electricity , reduce, reuse, recycle , and test your home for radon.

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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The Future: Energy-Producing Diapers

As I was listening to the radio the other day, I heard a very interesting report on diaper recycling/fuel production. Yes, you read correctly. This company in the UK is recycling soiled diapers and producing green fuel. As part of the recycling process, the materials are sterilized, separated into individual components which include organic residue, plastic and super absorbent polymers. These components are then recycled into plastic wood, plastic roofing tiles, absorption materials, recycled paper products, among others. What really caught my attention was the production of green energy! If I heard correctly, six megawatts of green energy were produced in the recycling process. One was used by the company to operate the plant and the other five megawatts were sold to the local grid. Go green! That’s a great way to reduce even further the amount and toxicity of our garbage.

Personally, when my children were babies, I didn’t consider which was the most environmentally friendly option when choosing diapers.  I just selected the most convenient method for our family: disposable diapers. It’s interesting that several months ago, in one of our Questions of the Week on diaper selection, we had a very interesting green conversation going with well over 170 people weighing in on which is the best option for the environment, disposable or cloth diapers. There are many articulate arguments in favor of both options.  At least, companies like this one are finding creative ways to reduce waste while having the added bonus of producing green energy.

As I was reading up on the issue for this blog, I learned that it can take 450 years for a disposable diaper to disintegrate in the ocean, and over 500 years in landfills. While we all should make an effort to adopt more environmentally practices to reduce waste, it gives me hope that at least in the case of disposable diapers there is some hope to go green. So, will we be talking about baby power at a recycling center near you? That might be the way of the future.

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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