Monthly Archives: November 2009

Question of the Week: How do you recycle?

We put cans and bottle out for curbside recycling. We take electronics to a collection center. Kids collect newspapers to raise money for school projects. Share what you do. November 15 is America Recycles Day.

How do you recycle?

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: ¿Como usted recicla?

Colocamos latas y botellas en la acera para reciclar. Llevamos equipos electrónicos a un centro de acopio (recolección). Los niños recogen periódicos para recaudar dinero para proyectos escolares. ¡Comparta con nosotros lo que usted hace! El 15 de noviembre es el Día de Reciclaje en Estados Unidos.

¿Como usted recicla?

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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10 Years of Sound Science at EPA’s Environmental Science Center

Well it’s over. Yup, after weeks of planning, EPA’s Environmental Science Center’s 10th Anniversary celebration came to a successful conclusion.  After a 1996 groundbreaking, the Science Center opened for business in February 1999 and was dedicated by a host of politicians in April, 1999.  From then on it’s been my pleasure to be the facility manager.

I may not use Avogadro’s number very often, but I get to interact with both in-house customers and work with our hosts – the US Army.  Back in the mid-1980’s due to an earlier Base Realignment and Closure effort (BRAC for short), the Army was looking to transform Fort Meade into a federal office complex.  And EPA sought a modern home that consolidated facilities in Annapolis and Beltsville, Maryland and Cincinnati, Ohio.  While we normally enjoy poking fun at politicians, I have to say that Maryland’s two senators at the time enabled EPA to have a green, state-of-the-art facility to allow applied environmental analytical chemistry and microbiology to flourish.  The Army agreed to provide land for the new Environmental Science Center and Congress provided EPA the funds to design and build the facility.  Because EPA owns the Science Center, it’s facilities management’s job to make sure it serves the technical and scientific needs of the staff and scientists without getting in their way.

A lot has changed in the past 10 years.  When we arrived at Fort Meade, it was an “open post.”  Employees and most visitors were free to come and go with little or no interaction with the military.  Of course all that changed on that 2001 September day.  Managing a non-Defense facility on the other side of the fence line hasn’t been easy for us non-DoDer’s.  Fortunately, our hosts have gone out of their way to make us feel part of the community and we’ve learned to become more security aware.  Like all Americans we’ve adjusted to the times.  While we fight to protect the nation’s natural environmental resources, we work side by side with the men and women who defend our liberty day to day.

Our 10-year celebration gave us a perfect reason to step back and reflect on the sound science and other important achievements the staff has performed over the years.  All too often we’re so enmeshed in our day to day duties and focusing on the next crisis that we don’t take time to reflect.  Fortunately, there is something about the calendar and decennial time periods that force us to think about our recent past. When we did that to prepare for the anniversary, we were amazed at how many people who were with us in 1999 still work at the Science Center.  Seventy four of our 143 original employees still work here.  That’s a good sign that the Agency in general and the Environmental Science Center in particular is a satisfying, challenging place to work.

I’ll be back in touch with Greenversations for our 20th reunion.

About the author: Rick is a thirty plus year career federal employee with the Environmental Protection Agency. While with EPA, he has served in multiple capacities, and has been the Facility Manager at the Environmental Science  Center since the Center’s opening in 1999.  He is interested in travel, fly fishing, crabbing, genealogy and foreign languages.

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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Test Your Home for Radon!

Hey Pick 5’ers, 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 #5: Test your home for radon! Please share your stories as comments below.

I never really thought that radon would ever become an issue in my home. Radon is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and chemically inert. Unless you test for it, there is no way of telling how much is present in your home. According to EPA estimates, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. I’m a non-smoker and I needed to know if radon is present in my home.

So on my day off, I decided to visit my county health department to get a free radon test. I received the test. It was easy to set up. So I did the testing for three days. I then sent the kit back to the manufacturer for my results. Later I went on line and used my serial number from my test and got my results. I was really happy to know that my home was radon-free.

EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month.  Please get your home tested; radon is serious.

Now it’s your turn: how do you test your home for radon? 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, save electricity, and reduce, reuse, recycle.

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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Greenscaping Techniques Are For The Birds, Too!

As the migratory birds of North America start their yearly trek to warmer areas, birdwatchers may feast their eyes on new visitors passing through backyards and parks. While this yearly event may be often ignored by the average citizen, our daily actions have a definite impact on bird populations no matter where you live. Certain bird species are threatened by human activities, reduced habitats, pollution, and climate change, among other factors. Simple steps we take at home and in our community can protect the environment and go a long way to protect our avian visitors during their migration.

At home, my mother and I have always debated which is better for the birds: providing bird feeders with abundant birdseeds year-round or planting native plants in the backyard. I thought that by providing birdfeeders along migratory routes you were making birds stay longer in northern areas instead of migrating on time. Research on the subject indicated that seasonal changes rather than abundance of seeds were the determining factor for bird migration. There isn’t one easy answer to the birdfeeder debate. Definitely, if you decide to set up birdfeeders in your backyard, maintenance and placement of the feeder play a role in the protection of the birds. Furthermore, you should clean the feeders regularly to prevent mold from developing and harming the birds. Personally, I prefer greenscaping techniques like integrated pest management and planting native shrubs and trees that naturally invite birds and other wildlife to your backyard.

There is no doubt that pollution prevention and bird conservation initiatives [http://www.epa.gov/owow/birds/bird.html] overall will both have a positive impact on our feathered friends and our Planet Earth. So, how about pledging to take five simple steps in environmental protection? You can start today! [http://www.epa.gov/pick5/]

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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Técnicas de jardinería ecológica protegen el medio ambiente y las aves también

Mientras las aves migratorias de Norteamérica comienzan la travesía anual a terrenos más cálidos, las personas que se dedican a observar las aves pueden disfrutar el paso de estos nuevos visitantes en sus jardines y parques. Mientras este evento anual muchas veces pasa por desapercibido del ciudadano común, nuestras acciones cotidianas definitivamente tienen un impacto en las poblaciones de aves independientemente de donde vivamos. Ciertas especies de aves están amenazadas por las actividades humanas, la reducción de los hábitats, la contaminación, el cambio climático y otros factores. Pasos sencillos que tomamos en el hogar y nuestra comunidad pueden proteger el medio ambiente y hacer mucho para proteger las aves durante su migración.

En mi casa, mi madre y yo frecuentemente nos cuestionamos qué opción es mejor para las aves: tener comederos llenos de alimentos para pájaros todo el año o sembrar plantas autóctonas en el jardín. Yo pensaba que al tener los comederos con semillas y alpiste en las rutas migratorias hacía que las aves permanecerían en las áreas norteñas en lugar de migrar a su debido momento. Al investigar el tema encontré que los cambios de temporadas en lugar de la abundancia de semillas era el factor determinante en la migración de aves. No hay una respuesta fácil para el debate sobre los comederos. Independientemente, si usted decide colocar un comedero para las aves en su jardín, el mantenimiento y la colocación del mismo desempeñan un rol en la protección de las aves. Además, debe limpiar los comederos regularmente para evitar que se creen hongos que podrían perjudicar a las aves. Personalmente yo prefiero las técnicas de jardinería ecológica como el manejo integrado de plagas y la siembra de arbustos y árboles autóctonos que naturalmente invitan las aves y la vida silvestre en su jardín.

No hay duda de que la prevención de la contaminación y las iniciativas de conservación de aves [http://www.epa.gov/owow/birds/bird.html] tienen un impacto positivo en las aves y nuestro Planeta Tierra. Por consiguiente, ¿podría comprometerse a tomar cinco pasos sencillos a favor de la protección ambiental? ¡Comience hoy! [http://www.epa.gov/espanol/seleccione5/]

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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Year of Science Question of the Month: What is Green Chemistry?

For each month in 2009, the Year of Science — we 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 November is Chemistry. Green chemistry—also known as sustainable chemistry—is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. It applies across the life cycle, including the design, manufacture, and use of a chemical product.

If you could be a green chemist, what would be the first product you would want to invent or develop?

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: Nano Goes for the Green

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays. While Kermit the Frog’s famously laments that it is not easy being green, it is becoming increasingly clear that we have no choice but to develop innovative and creative ways to minimize our impact on the environment. For the past 35 years or so, I’ve been involved in searching for ways that science—chemistry in particular—can help.

Chemistry has become so important to modern life that it’s virtually at the center of everything we make. That’s why the development of “green chemistry” is so important. The 12 principles of green chemistry have been laid out very clearly, focusing on reducing, recycling, or eliminating the use of toxic materials in chemical synthesis or manipulations.

The first wave of green chemistry research focused primarily on replacing the use of toxic, volatile organic solvents by using microwaves, ultrasound, and photochemistry. Now, I’m excited to be involved in the next generation of green chemistry research, exploring the use of nanomaterials (particles 100 nanometers or smaller—a nanometer is about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair).

One big question we asked ourselves was “why not use a single compound that nature uses to build nanomaterials from a single, environmentally-benign source?” Turns out it was a good question. We discovered that we can use almost anything to reduce metal salts, including vitamins (B1, B2, and C), tea and wine polyphenols, and natural surfactants, to their nano forms. This newer thinking provides a simple, one-pot, greener synthetic alternative to bulk quantities of nanomaterials, as compared to conventional methods that use toxic reagents.

We also discovered that we could easily synthesize noble, uniform-size nanostructures using microwave (MW) heating (yes, the same used in the kitchen). Using this technology, we’ve developed extremely strong and light materials by cross-linking polymer matrices into carbon nanotubes.

What’s next? How about making biodegradable cellulose composite films with nanometals? We figured out how to do that heating the salts with carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), essentially the same compound found in the diet supplement Metamucil, facilitates the alignment of carbon nanotubes.

image of authorGreen chemistry means green jobs, too. We are already working with VeruTEK, a Connecticut-based company this is using patented nanotechnology for green environmental remediation (clean up) by using zerovalent iron, also known as ‘iron nanoparticles’. They have created lots of Green jobs while targeting pollutants in soil and water.

About the author: Dr. Rajender (Raj) S. Varma was recently awarded the Visionary of the Year Award at the Green Technologies fo rthe Environment Conference held in Bloomfield, Ct. Varma is a research chemist with EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory.

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 Life is Like Working in a Green Building?

While this photo may appear to be that of a lush meadow in the foreground of a big city, it is actually a vegetated rooftop on a 9-story building in downtown Denver. When EPA Region 8’s office moved to a new “green” office building in Lower Downtown Denver, I did not know what to expect. I had never worked in a green building before. I really did not think it would be that different from a regular building. Was I wrong… Not only was the building very beautiful, it was the most comfortable building I have ever been in. From the lighting to the indoor air quality, I knew we were in a top quality and healthy working environment.

Our building is environmentally friendly and provides daily opportunities for us to practice environmental stewardship. Some features of 1595 Wynkoop Street our building that help us decrease our environmental impact include:

  • Extensive use of daylight to reduce need for artificial light
  • A vegetated green roof to control storm water and decrease urban heat island effect
  • Waterless urinals and low-flow plumbing fixtures to decrease water use
  • High recycled content materials throughout the building help preserve resources
  • A daytime cleaning crew that uses less toxic cleaning products and allows our building to shut down at time???
  • Proximity to public transit reduces the impact of employee’s commute
  • Redeveloping a site that was an eyesore and underutilized???

But however, it is not enough to simply build a green building; a big part of the equation is how the building is operated and the behavior of the occupants. Region 8’s Environmental Management System helps us improve our environmental performance by quantifying and managing the impacts of our operations (e.g., electricity and water use, waste generation and transportation, to name a few) and taking actions to reduce those impacts.

As a newly constructed building, 1595 received a Gold rating in the Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Now, Region 8 is working toward a Gold rating in LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM) to ensure that our building is performing to the standards it was designed to meet (though this was put on the back burner for a while so need to check with Kate).

The green design, construction, operation and maintenance of 1595 Wynkoop, combined with close attention to our collective actions, help EPA Region 8 EPA in our efforts to practice what we preach.

I feel very lucky to be able to work in a green building. We have a lovely green roof we can sit near and have our lunch or conduct a meeting. We have convenient recycling and bike storage. Our building sits right on the 16th Street mall which has a free shuttle we can ride to numerous public transportation options and great lunch spots!

I also enjoy seeing all the tour groups that come through our building. Almost 10,000 people have visited us since we opened. I especially love to see the kids viewing a green building for the very first time, teaching them how a plastic bottle gets recycled into fiber and then turned into products like carpet (??) then challenged to make their school as green as possible when they leave.

Working in a green building is the only way to work in my mind. I can see better with natural day lighting. I have clean air to breathe. I have more energy throughout the day which I attribute to the environmentally healthy aspects of our building. I have the pleasure of knowing my work day has also been less of an impact to the environment. You can find out more, hear an audio tour and see lots of pictures of our green building.

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 11 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

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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Be Careful With That Green Thumb

While it may not be the time where you think about gardening, it is getting to the point where many outdoor plants will finally make the move inside until spring and warm weather returns again. In my office area I am surrounded by all sorts of house plants and it makes me miss my jungle of a basement back home. There is one room in our basement that is filled with all sorts of house plants. However, upon closer look, if you were visiting my house you could see that 75% of the greenery in abundance is just from one single plant: the aloe plant. My mom has created quite a little forest of aloe. That plant, I’m almost positive, will live forever. We can be gone for weeks on vacation without watering and it will look the same as when we left it. And it grows at an exponential rate. My mom does more repotting of that plant than she does of watering it. But it seems to work. We’re stocked in case of a sunburn outbreak. Luckily, the aloe plant does much more good than harm (other than its hasty growth rate). As the weather finally starts to get cooler and you put your plants back inside, you will probably start looking at your house plants a lot closer. Some plants can be harmful. So, I thought it might be beneficial to provide some helpful tips about what to do with house plants that can be dangerous, and how to keep children safe around them.

  • Know that the leaves or sap from some plants can be poisonous to animals and humans
  • Poisonous plants have the potential to cause illness or a severe reaction
  • Know the names of your poisonous plants around the house
  • When there are babysitters or visitors in your house, make sure they are aware of where the poisonous plants are as well
  • Keep these plants out of reach, perhaps on a tall bookshelf, from children and pets as well
  • Some examples of poisonous plants are:
    – Mums: leaves and stalks are poisonous.
    – Common English Ivy: leaves are poisonous.
    – Dumbcane, Giant Dumbcane, Spotted Dumbcane: all parts
    are poisonous.
  • As we approach the upcoming holiday season remember that, although they are wonderful decorations, berries from mistletoe and all parts of poinsettias* are poisonous and should be placed out of reach as well.

This list is just a small sample of dangerous plants but a more comprehensive list can be found here. Plants can create a little paradise inside while the weather outside is everything but utopia. Just make sure that your greenhouse of house plants can be safely enjoyed and admired.

*NOTE: Please read comments below regarding poinsettias, as it has been brought to our attention that there are many misconceptions about poinsettia toxicity.

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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