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What About Where You Live?

2009 November 13

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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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Brenda permalink
    November 13, 2009

    This is some good information. I live in Lakewood, WA and we have a beautiful creek called Chambers Creek. I have taken pictures of it at a few locations. The city has preserved it as naturally as possible because of the fish population. I have enjoyed it because of the birds. At one point there’s a fish hatchery for salmon that are released back into the creek. It’s there I have seen Ruby Crowned Kinlet.
    Thank you for the tweets on conservation.

  2. Dennis permalink
    November 13, 2009

    It looks like 80% of the material that the town recycles consists of high-BTU material. Burning these wastes in the waste to energy incinerator would be a better use for them. (page5)

    You imply that all of the ripped up asphalt cement is reused in the replacement pavement. Normally, the concentration of recycled asphaltic pavement (RAP) allowed by building codes is 5% to 10% of the new pavement. That leaves a lot of RAP needing disposal. Where does it go? (page 7)

    Burning household hazardous waste (HHW) in the incinerator does not emit “hazardous fumes into the air”. Destruction of organic compounds in high efficiency combustion processes nearly complete, between 99.999% and 99.9999% of all organic compounds never leave the combustion process. The minuscule residual has zero impact on the environment. (page 8)

    Combustion of the HHW in the incinerator leaves no organic material in the ash that could conceivably cause any harm to the landfill liners. (page8)

    “Particulate” is an adjective. “Particulates” is therefore a plural adjective; a construct not supported by the English language. Filtration removes “particles”. (page 10)

    Addition of lime to the treated water also alleviates the slippery feeling you get when you bathe in extremely soft surface water. (page 10).

    Again with the plural adjective. (page 12)

    I do not believe that EPA has ever developed a credible link between typical (or even high) levels of radon and lung cancer, or any other disease. The entire radon scare was much ado about nothing. (page 13)

    There is nothing inherently “environmentally friendly” about any of the alternative energy sources that you mention. Each has its own set of problems. Wind turbines are land intensive and kill bats and birds. Solar is land intensive, inefficient and creates hazardous waste disposal problems. There are no geothermal sources east of the Mississippi, unless you are talking about deep (5 miles deep into the magma deep) energy wells. Biofuels are land intensive, compete with food crops and are energy neutral. In addition, none of them or even all of them in combination can provide a significant portion of out energy needs.

    You clearly have bought into the mythologies that use of locally grown produce benefits the environment and that legally applied pesticides harm the environment. Neither stands up to impartial scrutiny.

    Recycling is a profligate waste of time, energy, money and national resources. Burning the combustibles in waste to energy plants, recycling the aluminum and placing the rest in landfills with the incinerator ash is optimum technology.

  3. Erick Mcguire permalink
    November 14, 2009

    Wow, Dennis. Let’s all just give up and throw everything in the landfill, that will fix things, since the concepts of recycling and alternative energy are such a crock of hooey.

    My family uses local plants in our landscaping and waters them with greywater, recycles everything that is actually recyclable, composts, and throws out a miniscule amount of garbage. We have solar PV and water panels on our roof, enough to provide almost all our energy needs. My backyard windmill has a mesh around the blades to keep our local birds, including the owls that live in our owl house, and the bats that live in our 3 bat houses, safe, and hey guess what, it still works great.

    You do what you can at the local level, and like drops in a bucket, it adds up to a lot when everyone does their part.

    cheers,

    Erick

  4. Dennis permalink
    November 16, 2009

    Erick,

    As a matter of fact, throwing everything into landfills is not such a bad idea. Let’s use Nancy’s estimates of 0.73 tons per capita year, and an average population of about 200 million persons in the US during the 20th century. Now let’s assume a trash compaction to 40 pounds per cubic foot and 50% trash and 50% fill dirt in a sanitary landfill. We then can calculate that all of the household waste created during the 100 years of the 20th century would fit into a landfill 100 feet deep and 2.3 miles on a side (5.24 square miles). Just for reference, the land area of the 48 contiguous United States is approximately 3 million square miles. If we incinerate we can reduce this minuscule land requirement by a factor of 10. If we burn the trash in electric generator boilers we get an additional benefit of a small amount of electricity.

    It sounds to me like you and your family has developed systems to extract every ounce of benefit from each of your resources. I am not certain that all that you describe is cost effective. For example, I suspect that your cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity is 3 or 4 times higher than the cost of commercially available electricity. I also suspect that your system is not widely applicable to a significant portion of the US population. I am thinking about Manhattan Island, for example.

    I assume that by greywater, you mean the effluents from dish, clothes washers and from sinks and showers, that you send only your sanitary wastewater to the septic tank. You should be careful with greywater however, because it too can contain biological hazards.

    You are correct, what you can do is a drop in the bucket. Unfortunately, not everyone, even if everyone was willing to tolerate the inconvenience, can possibly do a part.

  5. kaden permalink
    November 22, 2009

    i live a a state that is covered in 75% forest bu t my local tows place has a huge industrial park and i live in the middle of it

  6. kaden permalink
    November 22, 2009

    i live a a state that is covered in 75% forest but my local towns place has a huge industrial park and i live in the middle of it

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