Monthly Archives: December 2009

Pick 5: Enjoy the Outdoors Safely!

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 #9: Enjoy the Outdoors Safely! Please share your stories as comments below.

After surviving the biggest snow storm of the season, I had a lot of snow to clear. I cleared three, count ‘em three decks, plus a set of steps in between two of them. After a lot of time in the sunshine getting to know my snow shovel, I decided to call it a day. I was amazed to find out that I had sunburn across my nose and cheeks. I’ve always been aware of the UV index level. During the summer months I’ve always used sunscreen, but never thought I would need it during the winter. Boy was I wrong. After doing a little research, I realized that using sunscreen is critical whenever the sunshine is strong, not just when it’s hot outside.

I’ve never been a fan of cold weather and have always stayed inside during the winter months, so I’ve never given much thought to protecting myself from the sun when it’s cold out . So make sure you enjoy the sunshine safely, regardless of the season.

Don’t hesitate to share your other Pick 5 tips on how you save water , commute without polluting , save electricity , reduce, reuse, recycle , test your home for radon , how do you check your local air quality, use chemicals safely and eCycle!

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 New Canary in the Coal Mine

I recently saw the Disney Movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” in which the animators recreated the colorful and melodious experience of the Louisiana Bayou. As suggested by the title, the frogs of the Bayou played a stellar role. As I watched the movie with my youngest, I was thinking of the vulnerabilities of these precious wetlands and growing threats to their inhabitants—the frogs.

With the ongoing debate over the health and environmental effects of climate change on animals, increasingly, frogs and their fellow amphibians are becoming the new “canaries in the coal mine.” Since amphibians’ skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature, they are considered a “sentinel” species, hence, the term of the “canary in the coal mine.”

There are over five thousand species of amphibians worldwide. Many live throughout North America. In Puerto Rico, our favorite amphibian is the coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus comes from the Greek meaning free toes. Coquí, its popular name, refers to its high decibel chirp “co-KEE.” In general, these amphibians have adapted well to urban sprawl on the Island, however, pollution is taking its toll. While over 16 species are endemic to Puerto Rico, several coquí species are currently threatened. Some species known by their popular Spanish names haven’t been heard in years. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, these small frogs have been introduced to neighboring Islands, Florida and even Hawaii where they are considered an invasive pest.

We all can do something to protect wildlife and the environment in our daily lives. How can we help protect the frogs and their fellow amphibians from environmental contaminants in our own back yard? Well, one of the first steps is to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in our lawn that are carried by runoff and end up polluting their aquatic habitats miles away. By planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees in your garden you also minimize the need for using toxic chemicals around your home. While I don’t recommend kissing a frog, please help protect it and its habitat. A healthy environment is a gift for all.

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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Un nuevo canario en la mina de carbón

Recientemente vi la película de Disney, “La princesa y la rana” en la cual los animadores proyectaron la colorida y melodiosa experiencia de los pantanos de Luisiana. Como sugiere el título, las ranas de esa área pantanosa desempeñan un papel estelar. Mientras veía la película con mi hija menor, pensaba en la condición precaria de estos preciados humedales y las crecientes amenazas a sus habitantes, las ranas.

A medidas que transcurre el continuo debate sobre los efectos a la salud y al medio ambiente del cambio climático en animales, las ranas y sus compañeros anfibios se están convirtiendo en los “nuevos canarios en la mina de carbón”. Como la piel de los anfibios es permeable, estas creaturas son más susceptibles a los contaminantes y cambios en sus hábitats acuáticos. Por su misma naturaleza, son considerados como una especie “centinela” encargada de avisar la llegada del enemigo o condiciones peligrosas, de ahí viene el término, “canario en la mina”.

Hay más de cinco mil especies de anfibios a nivel mundial. Muchos viven en Norteamérica. En Puerto Rico, nuestro anfibio predilecto es el coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus proviene del griego y significa dedos libres. Coquí es el nombre popular y se refiere a la onomatopeya de su cantar. En general estos anfibios se han podido adaptar bien al crecimiento demográfico en la Isla, sin embargo, la contaminación está teniendo efectos adversos. Mientras más de 16 especies son endémicas a Puerto Rico, varias especies se encuentran amenazadas en la actualidad. Algunas de estas especies con nombres populares como coquí de Eneida, coquí palmeado, caqui dorado del Cayey, coquí guajón, coquí martillito y coquí caoba, no se han escuchado en años. Como he mencionado en blogs anteriores, estos pequeños anfibios han llegado a islas vecinas, Florida y hasta las islas de Hawái donde son consideradas como una especie invasora.

Todos podemos poner de nuestra parte para proteger a la vida silvestre y al medio ambiente en nuestras vidas diarias. ¿Cómo podemos proteger a las ranas y demás anfibios de los contaminantes medioambientales en nuestros propios jardines? Bueno, una de las primeras cosas que debemos hacer es reducir el uso de productos pesticidas y fertilizantes químicos en nuestro césped las escorrentías llevan y luego contaminan sus hábitats acuáticos a millas de distancia. Al sembrar hierbas, arbustos y árboles autóctonos en su jardín también puede minimizar la necesidad de usar sustancias químicas tóxicas alrededor de su hogar. Aunque no recomiendo que bese una rana, por favor, ayude a protegerlas y su medio ambiente. Un medio ambiente saludable es el mejor regalo para todos por igual.

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: OnAir – Cracking The Da Vinci Color Code

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

Constaninos Sioutas, Ph.D. typically conducts air pollution research on polluted highway roadsides or near running diesel engines. But a recent project lured him to a much more refined location— face to face with Leonardo da Vinci’s, The Last Supper.

Sioutas is a co-director of the Southern California Particle Center, a consortium of universities researching air pollution. The Center is funded by a multimillion-dollar EPA grant. Sioutas’ current research focuses on exposure to mobile air pollution sources and their potential toxicity, begging the question—what in the world does he have to do with da Vinci?

I got the chance to ask him in person when I traveled to his laboratory in October. As it turns out, over years of conducting air pollution research through EPA grants, Sioutas developed several new scientific instruments for capturing air particles and measuring their properties. One of these instruments, a Personal Cascade Impactor Sampler separates airborne particles by size and allows for analysis of the particles’ toxic content.

After developing this new technology, Sioutas started to think outside the box. What if this instrument could be used to understand how exposure to air and particle settling would affect the color longevity of a painting such as, say, The Last Supper?

image of DaVinci's Last Supper and Sioutas

Sioutas traveled to Milan to present a research proposal to The Last Supper’s curator, Dr. Alberto Artioli, asking just that question. He proposed to use his Impactor to take a series of measurements both inside and outside the legendary Refettorio, where the mural is on display.

Dr. Artioli was “positively impressed” and accepted Sioutas’ proposal. One goal of the project will be to determine the sources of particles settling on the painting, down to such diminutive possibilities as erosion from visitors’ shoes and clothing fibers, in addition to outdoor sources like traffic exhaust.

“It is really an amazing experience,” Sioutas said, beaming, “getting to apply these instruments for such a different task.” According to the project proposal, the study will draw conclusions about “the degradation risks to the Leonardo da Vinci’s painting.”

Read more about the EPA-funded research for developing the Personal Cascade Impactor Sampler at http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/5835

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development. Her “OnAir” Science Wednesday posts chronicle EPA-funded research on clean air.

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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Playing Outside: Important For Children’s (And Adults’) Health

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I’m sure you’ve heard about the record amount of snow that the DC area got this past weekend. As a native Bostonian, and a recent resident of northern New England, I get excited about big snow storms, particularly an unusual one such as this!

Mostly, I like snow storms because I like playing outside. As a kid, I’d often join up with friends at a favorite sledding hill or build forts for snowball fights. These days, I try to grab my skis (cross-country or telemark) as quickly as possible, though I sometimes settle for just tromping around. An important ingredient for these activities is some amount of nearby (ideally hilly) open space, parks or woods. These areas are also favorite spots for me during the non-snowy seasons for running, walking, birding, and biking. I’ve been really lucky to live in places where I could access public open space pretty easily. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have those areas available for kids and adults to enjoy.

Given that childhood obesity has tripled among adolescents and extensive efforts are underway to get kids to play outside more, providing open spaces for kids to be physically (and mentally) active should be more of a priority for developers, redevelopers and town planners. A lot of communities, particularly disadvantaged ones, could use more sporting fields, courts and playgrounds, so that every kid has one around the corner. Based on my experience, I think it’s important not to overlook the “informal” spaces for simply playing outdoors, too. Where else are kids going to sled when the snow falls? (No soccer field or baseball diamond I ever played on was steep enough for sledding!)

Folks here at EPA are promoting healthier communities that incorporate open spaces and recreational areas for communities. They’ve supported a lot of important research and community-level engagement efforts to promote open space and other elements of smart growth. Among other things, access to community space for recreation and outdoor exercise has been associated in some instances with declining levels of obesity, which is in part why open space provides economic benefits for communities.

I encourage you to enjoy your neighborhood’s open spaces and to ask your local officials and community leaders about getting an open space project off the ground.

About the author: Matthew H. Davis, M.P.H., is a Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, working there on science and regulatory policy as a Presidential Management Fellow since October 2009. Previously, he worked in the environmental advocacy arena, founding a non-profit organization in Maine and overseeing the work of non-profits in four other states.

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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Going Green Can Be Easy and Even Put Some Green Back in Your Wallet!

image of graphic on Green Building WebsiteThis past year while on special assignment to assist the EPA Green Building Program, I had the opportunity to create the EPA Green Homes website.  This website provides pages of useful, practical information and advice for the homeowner or apartment dweller to live a greener, more energy efficient life at home.

While I was developing the website, my wife and I decided to implement as many of the recommendations as possible to see if we could live greener, and after six months the results are in!

  • We are using 35% less electricity,
  • We are using a bit less water,
  • We are recycling 75% of all our household waste,
  • Most storm water runoff stays on our property during each rainfall,
  • We are gradually eliminating our ½ acre of lawn (and all the work that goes with it) and turning it into a garden of native plants by re-naturalizing our yard.
  • We purchased 100% Green Power (renewable electricity) from Dominion Power through their new program.
  • And, we’ve done all this with minimal expense and are saving almost $550 a year on energy bills!

Our energy audit indicated that our 10 inches (R-25) of fiberglass insulation in the attic is far below Energy Star’s currently recommended insulation depth (R49-R60) for the Northern Virginia.  So we hired a contractor to blow in another 12 inches of fiberglass insulation to give us a total of about R-55.  The house already feels more comfortable and it will be fun to see how much we save on our natural gas heating bill.  On top of this, the Federal and Virginia State governments want to give us 50% off the cost of the insulation in tax credits and rebates!!!

So how can you lose?  Going Green really can pay off!

I encourage you to visit the website and challenge yourself to do as much as you can to go green.

EPA’s new Green Homes website is at- www.epa.gov/greenhomes

About the author: Bill Swietlik has worked in EPA’s Office of Water in Washington DC since 1988.  For the past year Bill was on a special assignment to the EPA Green Building Program creating a Green Homes website.  In this blog he shares his experience of greening his home.

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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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 logró sus resoluciones medioambientales para el 2009?

Hace un año le pedimos que compartiera sus resoluciones para el Año Nuevo 2009 para proteger el medio ambiente. Díganos lo que hizo y por qué.

¿Cómo logró sus resoluciones medioambientales para el 2009?

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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Hands-on Science Activities

Just this past weekend I took my youngest to the Spark! Lab at the National Museum of American History. This is one of our favorite areas at this museum. At the lab, scientists demonstrated to the children how water and dry ice (solid state of carbon dioxide) form carbonic acid. It was fascinating to see young kids actively engaged in scientific experiments. One of the best things of these children-friendly museums is that most of the experiments and activities are “hands-on.”  By being able to manipulate the materials and actively participate in the experiments, these activities turn into truly learning experiences. Children remember the information better during these types of activities. An added bonus—these “hands-on experiments” are actually fun! Definitely beats just reading about scientific processes in a textbook.

In the larger Washington, DC area, we are very fortunate to have museums and centers like the Smithsonian Institution and the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore relatively close by. Similar centers and children’s museums exist throughout the country. I would like to share with you a listing of hands-on science centers worldwide . By visiting these centers during the weekend, we can instill in children the love of science and the environment at an early age. Furthermore, we don’t have to be science teachers by profession to try many of these experiments at home. They can be a great activity for the entire family.

Geography should not be an obstacle to visiting some of these locations. With the use of the Internet, you can actually visit these learning centers online. In fact, these sites provide resources for parents, teachers, and kids to increase understanding of the value of science in our society.
That’s a valuable lesson for us all.

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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Aprender de forma activa

Este fin de semana llevé a mi hija menor al laboratorio Spark! del Museo Nacional de Historia Estadounidense. Esa es una de nuestras áreas favoritas del museo. En el laboratorio, los científicos hicieron experimentos para enseñar a los niños cómo el agua y el hielo seco (bióxido de carbono en estado sólido) forman el ácido carbónico. Fue fascinante ver cómo los niños pequeños activamente participaban en experimentos científicos. Una de las mejoras cosas de estos museos diseñados para niños es enseñanza mediante actividades consideradas como “hands-on” en las cuales los niños manipulan los objetos directamente. Al poder manipular los materiales y activamente participar en estos experimentos, estas actividades se convierten en verdaderas experiencias de aprendizaje. Los niños recuerdan la información mejor. La absorben y un beneficio adicional—estos experimentos de manipulación activa son realmente divertidos. Definitivamente son más atrayentes que simplemente el leer sobre los procesos científicos en un libro.

En el área alrededor de Washington, DC, tenemos la suerte de tener museos y centros como los del Instituto Smithsonian y el Centro de Ciencias de Maryland en Baltimore que también está relativamente cerca. Centros similares y museos del niño existen por todo el mundo. Quisiera compartir con ustedes un listado de centros de aprendizaje científico activo a nivel mundial.  Al visitar estos centros durante el fin de semana, podemos inculcar en los niños el amor a las ciencias y al medio ambiente a temprana edad. Además, no tenemos que ser maestros de ciencias profesionalmente para tratar de hacer muchos de estos experimentos en el hogar. Además, son una excelente diversión para toda la familia.

La geografía no debe ser un obstáculo para visitar muchos de estos lugares. Mediante el uso del Internet, puede visitar muchos de estos centros de aprendizaje cibernéticamente. De hecho, muchos de estos sitios Web brindan recursos para padres, maestros y jóvenes para concienciar al público sobre el valor de las ciencias en nuestra sociedad. Esa es una valiosa lección para todos.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.