Monthly Archives: November 2009

El futuro: pañales productores de energía

Recientemente escuché un reportaje interesante de radio sobre el reciclaje de pañales y la producción de energía. En efecto, está leyendo correctamente. Esta compañía en el Reino Unido está reciclando pañales usados y produciendo combustible verde. Como parte del proceso de reciclaje, los materiales son esterilizados y separados en componentes individuales que incluyen residuos orgánicos, plásticos y polímeros muy absorbentes. Estos componentes luego son reciclados en madera plástica, tejas plásticas, materiales de absorbción, productos de papel reciclado, entre otros. Lo que recapturó mi atención fue la producción de energía verde! Si escuché el reportaje correctamente, seis megavatios de energía verde eran producidos como parte del proceso de reciclaje. Uno era utilizado por la compañía para operar la planta y los otros cinco megavatios eran vendidos a la empresa eléctrica local como combustible. ¡Anota una por el medio ambiente! Esto es una gran manera de reducir aún más la cantidad y toxicidad de nuestros desperdicios sólidos.

Personalmente, cuando mis hijas eran bebés, yo no sopesé cuál era la opción de pañales más beneficiosa para el medio ambiente. Seleccioné el método más conveniente para mi familia: los pañales desechables. Es curioso que hace unos meses atrás, en una de nuestras “Preguntas de la semana” sobre la selección de pañales, se suscitó una interesante conversación verde en la cual más de 170 personas opinaron sobre cuál era la mejor opción para el medio ambiente, pañales desechables o de tela. Presentaron argumentos bien articulados a favor de cada una de las opciones. Al menos con compañías como ésta están encontrando maneras creativas para reducir los desechos con el beneficio adicional de producir energía verde.

A medida que leí varios artículos en preparación para escribir este blog, aprendí que toma 450 años para un pañal desechable se desintegre en el océano y sobre 500 años en los vertederos municipales. Mientras todos debemos esforzarnos por adoptar medidas más beneficiosas para el medio ambiente [[http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/wycd/index.htm ] a fin de reducir los desechos, al menos en el caso de los pañales me da alguna esperanza de que vayamos a obrar más ecológicamente. ¿Próximamente podremos hablar de la energía producida por los bebés en una planta de reciclaje cerca de usted? Esa podría ser la opción del futuro.

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: Sustainability Through the Eyes of a Chemist

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

As a research chemist at EPA for more than ten years, I have had the opportunity to be  at the forefront of developing novel technologies to achieve the Agency’s mission—to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment. I have also had the good fortune that this period has also marked the burgeoning of Green Chemistry.

There is no doubt that within the past 10+ years the field of chemistry has exploded with the integration of philosophies associated with Green Chemistry.  Very simply, one can envision and justifiably define Green Chemistry as “preventing pollution at the
molecular level.”

It follows, that if the pollution is not created in the first place, there is no need for clean-up and remediation technologies. The research undertaken where I work, the National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio has focused on applying the principles of Green Chemistry and merging them with the principles of chemical engineering.

The overall goal is to develop novel methodologies to produce organic chemicals with a minimized environmental footprint.  Our research has demonstrated that a researcher can use chemistry to influence process design as well as using novel reactors to design new chemical routes for organic synthesis.

As my research career in the area of Green Chemistry continues to grow, I feel that in order to move this field even further, I have to expand on this integration of chemistry and chemical engineering.

I believe that if one is take full advantages of the philosophies of Green Chemistry, researchers must begin to think holistically, and think past the “chemistry bench.” If you look at all the opportunities that exist for process improvements, one must not just be limited to the chemistry, but now must be looking at the plant and not just the bench.

This is where I developed the term Sustainable Chemistry.

image of the authorAbout the author: EPA research chemist Michael A. Gonzalez, Ph.D, has served as a primary investigator for Green Chemistry and Engineering projects. His focuses on the development of sustainable chemical processes, incorporating a holistic view of on-going chemistry and processing. He is currently the Branch Chief for the Systems Analysis Branch.

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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More, more H20!

I went hiking while visiting a park this past weekend and was reminded of just how relaxing natural water formations can be. I took in the sounds of water gurgling over rocks and under leaves and fallen trees. It reminded me of how I used to spend a lot of my time in my backyard in our creek. I would spend literally the whole day back there working on our ‘fort’ and/or ‘clubhouse’. I always anticipated the beginning of warm weather when my dad would annually, and dutifully I might add, rake all of the dead leaves and clear the path for our trail. Sometimes, I would pretend that I was living in a different century that required me to ‘live off the land’. Although I think to that extent, my ‘living off the land’ just included eating some onions and raspberries from our garden nearby. And while there was the impression of clean, drinking water all around our little creek that ran through the woods, I knew and was informed that it was not to be consumed by me or any of my neighborhood friends. We didn’t mind, though. I was so busy with my friends making more rooms for our outdoor palace and games that I rarely went up to the house that often. When I did, I welcomed the big glass of ice cold water. The risk of drinking water in the creek was more outweighed by my taste buds rather than the information of drinking water only from the tap, but one that I obeyed nonetheless. It is vital for children’s health to consume water on a daily basis. Therefore, it is important that children know where they should get their water and that clean water is readily available. Water is a win-win for all. It has no calories, caffeine, or sugar, and helps almost every part of the human body function. Here are some important facts to know about your drinking water:

  • EPA’s current drinking water standards are designed to protect both adults and children.
  • Standards for lead, nitrates, and nitrites, are specifically based on risk to children because they are most vulnerable to these contaminants.
  • If you have a private well, you are responsible for testing your water to make sure it is safe and you should test it annually. Resources are available here.
  • You can learn about your local drinking water by reading your Consumer Confidence Report to learn whether your water system meets all drinking water standards here.
  • Get to know the source of your drinking water and get involved in activities to protect it.
  • These include: taking used motor oil to a recycling center and properly disposing of toxic house hold trash e.g. batteries by taking them to special collection sites.

Water is essential for children and adults alike. Water can be fun in its natural state for viewing and admiring. (Or a place of play for all of my creek-stomping days). Just remember to only drink from safe water sources at your home or wherever you may be. And help children to remember to do the same!

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: What do “green” products mean to you?

Environmentally friendly “green” products can help protect the environment more, and pollute less than other, equivalent products. Share how and when you look for green purchasing when you are shopping.

What do “green” products 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: ¿Qué significa la expresión “productos verdes” para usted?

Los productos beneficiosos para el medio ambiente denominados “verdes” pueden ayudar a proteger más al ambiente y a contaminar menos que otros productos equivalentes. Comparta con nosotros cómo y cuándo usted busca productos verdes al momento de comprar.

¿Qué significa la expresión “productos verdes” 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.

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What About Where You Live?

How much do you know about the environment of where you live? That’s right, not the rain forest, not the polar icecaps, but your neighborhood. Lots of us take our environment for granted. Water comes out of spigots and waste gets carted or flushed away. Unless there’s an environmental problem nearby, like a polluting factory, most folks don’t give it a second thought. Our environment just is.

But environmental protection starts at home, and it is important to understand how one thing affects another, so here’s the challenge (actually a great project for a class to do) – find out and then write up a report so others can understand your local environment too.

I did this a few years ago for the town in which I live, Narberth, Pa. I looked into:

How our electricity is produced.

  • Where the oil that runs my heater came from.
  • Where the natural gas that runs my stove came from.
  • The origin of my drinking water.
  • Where my waste water goes.
  • What happens to the recyclables (plastics, paper, glass) that are collected.
  • What happens to our yard waste that’s picked up.
  • Where my household waste/trash goes.
  • The quality of the air I breathe.The levels of radon from the ground.
  • What happens to our rainwater after it goes down the storm drains.
  • The name of our watershed and the location of our streams.
  • Our climate and planting zone.
  • Where our gasoline comes from.
  • What mass transit is available.
  • Our topography and geography.
  • How our town is zoned.
  • The location of our historic buildings.

In the process I discovered some interesting things. Some streams had been piped underground and weren’t on the surface anymore. Our household waste goes to an incinerator where it is burned to produce electricity. Our rainwater goes directly into streams; it’s not treated first. The oldest intact structure in Narberth is a Swedish log cabin. But since it has had many additions, it just looks like a normal house now.

My report is on the web.  Feel free to use it as a model for yours. Go out and discover your local environment!

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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Just One Word….Plastics

I still remember the brief exchange in the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” The actor Walter Brooke insisted on giving the young Dustin Hoffman one piece of advice: “Plastics….There’s a great future in plastics….” I guess this just shows my age. However, I still recall the time when most of the containers for household detergents and common hygiene products were made of glass instead of the more commonly used plastics that we see nowadays. During the past decades, advances in the petrochemical industry have led to positive uses for plastics in the fields of medicine, construction, automotive, packaging, and many others. The innovative usage of plastics has fundamentally changed our world. Unfortunately, its proliferation has had unintended consequences.

Today, plastics are a constant in our lives. From beverage containers, household items to packaging, plastics are everywhere. Ultimately, many of these items are discarded on a daily basis and they end up as trash in our landfills or oceans. For example, in the year 2007, almost 12.1 percent of the total municipal solid waste in the United States came from 31 million tons of plastics. Since plastics do not easily break down into simpler components, they become virtually everlasting in the environment. Increasing awareness of the situation is just the first step in addressing the problem. Recycling deals with just one area. Technological advances are only part of the solution.

That brings me to another aspect of the preponderance of plastics: their toll on the environment. The adverse effects of plastics are not solely related to the tonnage of plastic debris produced yearly. Moreover, the negative impacts on human health and the environment stem from some of the chemicals added to plastics during the manufacturing process.  Recently, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson outlined the Obama Administration’s principles for reforming the legislation commonly known as TSCA, the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act.  In a recent speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson spoke of the need to fix the weaknesses in TSCA with a new chemical risk management law. The planets seem to be aligning in the right direction. Important players in government, the private sector, health and environmental organizations all seem to agree that the time for reform is now.

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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Sólo una palabra….plásticos

Todavía me recuerdo del breve intercambio en la película de 1967 “El graduado.” El actor Walter Brooke insistía en aconsejar al joven Dustin Hoffman y resumió sus palabras sabias así: “Los plásticos…hay un gran futuro en el plástico”. Creo que eso pone en evidencia mi edad. Sin embargo, todavía me recuerdo de la época en la cual la mayoría de los envases de detergentes caseros y productos de higiene eran hechos de cristal en lugar de los plásticos que comúnmente vemos hoy en día. Durante las pasadas décadas, los avances en la industria petroquímica han conducido a usos positivos del plástico en los campos de la medicina, la construcción, la industria automotriz, en el embalaje, y en muchos otros. El uso innovador del plástico ha cambiado fundamentalmente nuestro mundo. Desafortunadamente, su proliferación también ha tenido consecuencias inesperadas.

En la actualidad, los plásticos son un constante en nuestras vidas. Desde envases de refrescos, artículos caseros, a la envoltura de muchos productos, los plásticos están en todas partes. En fin, muchos de estos artículos son descartados diariamente y terminan como basura en nuestros vertederos u océanos. Por ejemplo, en el 2007, casi el 12.1 por ciento de todos los desperdicios sólidos municipales en Estados Unidos provenían de 31 millones de toneladas de plásticos.  Ya que los plásticos no se descomponen fácilmente en componentes más sencillos, estos permanecen casi indefinidamente en el medio ambiente. El fomentar la concienciación sobre la situación es tan sólo el primer paso en abordar el problema. El reciclaje aborda sólo un aspecto. Los avances tecnológicos sólo son una parte de la solución.

Eso me lleva a otro aspecto de la preponderancia de los plásticos: su carga en el medio ambiente.  Los efectos adversos de los plásticos no sólo están relacionadas a las toneladas de basura plástica producidas anualmente. Asimismo, los impactos negativos en la salud humana y el medio ambiente están vinculados a algunas de las sustancias químicas que se añaden a los plásticos durante el proceso de manufactura y elaboración. Recientemente, la administradora de EPA Lisa Jackson delineó los principios de la administración Obama para reformar la legislación comúnmente conocida como TSCA, la Ley de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas de 1976. En un discurso reciente en el Club Commonwealth de San Francisco, la administradora Lisa P. Jackson habló sobre la necesidad de reparar las debilidades de TSCA con una nueva ley para el manejo de riesgos químicos. Los planetas parecen estar alineándose en la dirección correcta. Importantes protagonistas a nivel gubernamental, el sector privado, organizaciones de salud y ambientales todos parecen concordar que el momento de reformar esta ley ha llegado.

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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Veterans, Visitors, And More!

My late grandfather was always full of advice and giving out tips. Whenever he visited, he always came with newspaper clippings and all sorts of articles from magazines. He had all sorts of information for everyone and would talk with each of us grandchildren or children about the information he found. He also would constantly remind me to tell people to spell my last name correctly. Even if it was ordering a pizza and giving your last name. No place was left out of hearing the spelling of our, somewhat lengthy, surname. Make sure you tell them two n’s, not one, he would say. He has made me so very proud of my family’s history. I learned a lot from his words of wisdom, more than I could type out in this blog. I always think about him, especially this time of year, when my grandparents would come and visit us in the fall. I also remember him around November because he was a World War II veteran. As Veteran’s Day quickly approaches, I thought I might provide some reminders of my own, to grandparents, parents, or any veteran out there with little ones. Here are some tips to keep in mind when kids come over to visit and stay with you, some things that you may not even think about normally, but may be important when you have younger company coming over.

  • Make sure to wash children’s hands before they eat and also wash fruits and vegetables.
  • In older homes particularly, make sure to wash floors and window sills to protect kids from dust and peeling paint that could be contaminated with lead.
  • Store pesticides and toxic chemicals far out of reach where children can’t get to them; try to put them in a locked cabinet or area first.
  • Make sure you close any container marked ‘child resistant’ very tightly after the product has been used. Child resistant does not mean child proof so you should still be careful with products with child-resistant packaging.
  • Store food and trash in closed containers to prevent pests from coming inside.
  • Don’t let children handle or play with mercury. (Find out where mercury containing product recycling programs are in your area.)
  • Hide medical prescriptions in a locked up location or a secure place so children can not reach them or mistake them for candy.

So as visitors start to pile in, especially children, take a moment to look over these tips and apply them around your home. Also, take some time to remember all of the veterans out there and all that they have given while serving our country.

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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1 Million ENERGY STAR Homes And Counting

I have worked with the ENERGY STAR for New Homes program for nearly 10 years – first as the program’s Partner Support Coordinator and now as its Communications Coordinator. When I first came aboard in 2000, less than 14,000 ENERGY STAR homes had been built since the program first kicked-off in 1995. Today, I am truly amazed that we have reached the milestone of 1 million ENERGY STAR Homes built. I could not be more proud!

Consider some of these numbers:

  • This year, families living in the 1 million ENERGY STAR homes will save more than $270 million on their utility bills, while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 370,000 vehicles.
  • There are more than 6,500 builders across the nation currently building homes that earn the ENERGY STAR label. These range from the largest national homebuilders to small custom builders to builders of manufactured and affordable homes.
  • Nearly 17 percent of all single-family homes built nationally last year earned the ENERGY STAR label, up from 12 percent in 2007. And market share for ENERGY STAR is 20 percent or greater in 15 states.

To earn the ENERGY STAR label, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by EPA. ENERGY STAR homes are at least 15% more efficient than those built to the 2004 Energy Code, and include additional energy-saving features that make them 20-30% more energy efficient than typical new homes. They achieve these energy savings through established, reliable building technologies and a whole home approach to home building, including: effective insulation systems, high-performance windows, tight construction and ducts, efficient heating and cooling equipment, and high-efficiency lighting and appliances. An independent Home Energy Rater conducts onsite testing and inspections to verify that the home’s performance meets ENERGY STAR requirements.

Our success would not have been possible without the tremendous level of support that our program has received from the organizations that have partnered with ENERGY STAR. From the homebuilders who put our label on their homes, to the Home Energy Raters who do the verification needed for homes to earn the label, to the utilities and other organizations that have sponsored ENERGY STAR in their markets through incentives, training, and consumer education and outreach.

It is truly gratifying to know that by looking for the ENERGY STAR, home buyers can get a home that provides greater comfort, saves energy and money, and helps them join in the fight against global warming.

I wonder how long it will take us to reach the 2 million mark?

About the author: Jonathan Passe is the Communications Coordinator for ENERGY STAR Residential Programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  In this role, he oversees national and local communication and outreach efforts to increase consumer awareness of ENERGY STAR in both the new home and home improvement markets.  He has supported EPA voluntary programs, as an Agency employee and as a consultant, for nearly 20 years.

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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