Monthly Archives: December 2009

So Long, Farewell

I’ve been putting off writing this blog for quite some time now. As I am sure you can tell by my title, this is my last blog for Greenversations. It has been quite the journey, and I am thankful for all of those that have read and commented on my writings. I have been trying to find the perfect way to end this blog, perhaps with the perfect story, perfect anecdote, perfect quote? I don’t know if it’s perfect but I’ll just finish with some final reflections. I came out here to Washington, D.C. from a smaller Midwestern city and have gained quite a lot of experiences. I learned how to navigate the Metro system without getting lost once. I can now honestly say that I know how to read maps. I learned some basic knowledge about how our federal government works. Note the word basic, but much more knowledge than when I came out here. I can probably understand all of the acronyms thrown at me that people in D.C. love to use. Probably. I developed an appreciation for all of the free things Washington has to offer. I can watch Congressional hearings on TV and actually understand what’s going on and enjoy it at the same time. I paid almost five dollars for a cupcake. In doing so, I gained a new appreciation for happy hour prices. I learned that poinsettias are indeed not poisonous. I learned the true value of family and friends. I met some extremely dedicated and passionate people within the Office of Children’s Health. They have taught me more than I can put in this blog. But even though my word limit may be restricted, I will still be able to return with a wealth of knowledge. I did not know very much about children’s environmental health issues before my internship. I’d like to share, for one last time, some tips that you can put to use and/or spread the word to protect and reduce environmental hazards for children.

  • One of the best and easiest things to do to improve indoor air quality for children is to not smoke inside the house.
  • Keep pesticides and toxic chemicals far out of reach where kids can’t get to them and don’t put them in containers that kids can mistakenly grab for food or drink.
  • Test your home for lead paint hazards if it was built before 1978.
  • Don’t let kids handle or play with mercury.
  • Read more here

I have enjoyed writing for Greenversations and hope you have learned more about children’s environmental health along the way. It’s been fun. I can now say that I’ve written eleven blogs. Cheers.

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 does a “green” holiday mean to you?

There are almost as many holiday traditions as people who celebrate them, and as many ways to help protect the environment as we enjoy the holiday season. Share your thoughts on a green holiday.

What does a “green” holiday 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 una fiesta “verde” para usted?

Durante las fiestas hay tradiciones tan numerosas como el número de personas que las celebran al igual que hay un sinnúmero de maneras para proteger el medio ambiente mientras disfrutamos de esta época especial. Comparta con nosotros sus ideas sobre lo que significa una fiesta “verde.”

¿Qué significa una fiesta “verde” 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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When Indoor Air Becomes Personal: One Scientist's Personal Journey, Struggles With Indoor Air Quality

Improving the quality of life for people, especially those disproportionately impacted by disease, the environment, poverty or other life circumstances is one of the basic goals I always work to accomplish with my social, academic and professional pursuits. Along with this goal, I have tried to choose activities that are in line with the principles that my parents taught. These include the importance of faith, importance of family, hard work, honesty, manners, sharing, respecting all people, remembering where you come from and that you are standing on someone’s shoulders with each upward step. In addition, they instilled in me the rule to first do no harm, never taking anything or anyone for granted, and take time to enjoy life and all you do with it. All of these ideals and goals have led me down many interesting paths including my current path in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, better known as IED. My work here not only has the potential to help improve the quality of life for people, including those disproportionately impacted, but also depends on many of the principles I was taught as a child.

IED is a non-regulatory part of EPA with the mission to improve indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and well-being of indoor occupants. Many times, the people we serve are not aware that their problems might stem from things in the indoors or they don’t know how to address or mitigate issues or how to help themselves live healthier lives indoors. Others need help in building or modifying buildings to protect from potential indoor air quality problems in the future. Since we do not regulate and cannot force by legal statutes people to change, it is important that we not only have strong credible science behind our messages, but that we use all of the basic principles I was taught by my parents to motivate change.

Combining my academic training in chemistry, mathematics, and public health with my interest in theater and the arts, as part of the science team in IED, I get a chance to not only review and analyze the science but identify where there are gaps in what we know. I also get to work on projects that impact everyday consumers just like me and my family. I get to be on stage when I provide outreach through public speaking and with the help of some very talented artists and public relation specialist create public documents to spread our messages. One of my primary areas of focus is pollutants and sources with a special emphasis on consumer products and building materials. I really enjoy this work because I am getting to research and address issues (all the techie stuff I love) but also input into the awareness and understanding of the everyday person like myself and my family. I often get to talk to teachers like the ones who work in my son’s school or elderly people like my mother, or homeowners like my husband and I who just want to understand and know how to make good choices for our family’s air quality and health.

People spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors where some contaminant levels may be much higher than they are outdoors. All of us can be impacted by what we breathe inside of our homes, cars and workspaces. It can be very simple in most cases to control our exposure through source control and ventilation with fresh outdoor air, but most of us do not know enough about the potential problems or how to mitigate effectively. I encourage you to discover more about your indoor environment, what you might be breathing, and how you can limit any potential harm from indoor air quality concerns by visiting EPA’s Indoor Environments Web site.

About the author: Laureen Burton works as a chemist and toxicologist in EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, Indoor Environments Division. Since 1997, she has worked not only to advance the science behind indoor air quality, but also to increase the public’s understanding of the indoor environment and how it can impact the health and comfort of people.

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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Indoor Plants May Be Working Overtime

Given the winter weather forecast, I had to bring my potted plants inside. If it were up to me, I would have more plants everywhere in the house all year long. Unfortunately, I don’t have a green thumb, but when buying indoor plants, I look for those that will survive “my tender care.”

In researching hardy indoor plants that required minimal care, I came across an interesting NASA study  which highlights how some plants can actually improve indoor air quality. Although EPA does not endorse the NASA study on these alleged natural cleaning machines, I’ve found quite a few articles in the media and universities on the issue hailing the benefits of key indoor plants for indoor environments. Absorbing carbon dioxide, removing formaldehyde and VOCs are some of the positive effects from the plants’ presence, according to these studies. It was good to see that these beneficial plants should easily be found in local nurseries. Some of those plants highlighted for improving air quality are: English ivy, spider plant, Chinese evergreen, snake plant, philodendron, weeping fig, among others.

While I would like to extol the virtues of indoor plants, there are some that are not completely sold on the efficacy of plants as indoor air cleaners. Regardless, I believe the green foliage definitely contribute to a comfortable sensation and can have additional quality of live benefits be it in the home or the office.

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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Las plantas de interiores podrían trabajar horas extras

Con la llegada del frío invernal, he tenido que entrar varias de las plantas que tenía en tiestos al exterior de la casa. Si me dejaran, yo tendría plantas en toda la casa todo el año. Desafortunadamente, no tengo la buena mano para sembrar que tienen la mayoría de mis familiares. Por eso, cuando se trata de comprar plantas para el interior, busco aquellas que tienen mejores probabilidades de sobrevivir “mis atenciones especiales.”

Cuando estaba buscando información sobre las plantas de interiores más resistentes que requieren cuidado mínimo, encontré un interesante estudio de NASA el cual destaca cómo algunas plantas en efecto pueden mejorar la calidad del aire en entornos interiores. A pesar de que la EPA no patrocina el estudio de NASA sobre estas alegadas máquinas limpiadoras naturales, encontré varios artículos de medios noticiosos y universidades sobre el tema destacando los beneficios de plantas claves para entornos interiores. El absorber el monóxido de carbono, el remover el formaldehído y los compuestos orgánicos volátiles (COV) son algunos de los efectos positivos de la presencia de estas plantas según estos estudios. Es bueno saber que algunas de estas llamadas plantas beneficiosas deben ser fáciles de conseguir en invernaderos y centros de jardinería locales.

Mientras me gustaría me encantaría elogiar las virtudes de las plantas al interior, no todo el mundo comparte la visión sobre la eficacia de estas plantas por sus alegados efectos limpiadores en entornos interiores. Independientemente, creo que el follaje verde definitivamente contribuye a una sensación de bienestar y puede contribuir a beneficios adicionales para la calidad de vida sea en el hogar como en la oficina.

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”: News and Views on Latest Air Science Research

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

I joined the Air Team at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research this past July. Fresh out of a dual masters program in Environmental Science and Digital Media Journalism at Columbia University, I was excited to start and, frankly, to have a job at all.

I read up on EPA extensively, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. What was EPA going to do with a science journalist?

I was thrown head first into a whirlwind of scientific papers and air quality regulations. I was stalked by a rapidly multiplying army of acronyms (Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres = ALOHA) and struggled to keep the identities of all the Barbaras in our office straight (there are at least three).

But soon I began to get a clearer picture. NCER provides funding to conduct research that health care professionals and policymakers use to protect public health. While unlimited funds would be nice, the finite allowance means having to determine what science is most critical.

As it turns out, the air research funded by NCER is pretty exciting. Results have emerged showing that air pollution increases mortality risk, air pollution exposure can lead to heart attacks, the diabetes community may be more susceptible to air pollution risks than others, and air quality improvements thus far have lengthened human lives by seven months— just to name a few.

So… why am I here?

This exciting science needs to be communicated so that folks without a PhD in atmospheric chemistry can understand these groundbreaking results. We want the research to be as transparent and accessible as possible so that everyone can understand the science behind the air they breathe.

I am beginning a tour of research labs across the country. To start, I’ll be visiting the five EPA-funded Particulate Matter (PM) Research Centers, where scientists work together across disciplines to address the health risks of air pollution. I’ll also be visiting EPA’s own scientists and labs, where innovative in-house research on air pollution is taking place.

I’ll use Science Wednesday as a venue for sharing some of what I find— interesting projects, intriguing personalities, and exciting results.

I’ve recently returned from my first visit to the Southern California Particle Center; posts from the trip are coming soon.

image of authorNext stop… Harvard.

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.

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 Best Gifts

For all of you out there who didn’t attend the Black Friday shopping sprees or surf the web for Cyber Monday deals, there is still hope. There are plenty of homemade gifts just waiting to be created. When I was a little kid, my parents always told me that a homemade gift is always appreciated more than one bought from the store. Not that I could have driven to the store anyway. Nevertheless, thankfully, I had plenty of art classes and industrial art classes from which I could produce enough gifts for the whole family. Am I old enough to say that ‘those were the days’? My parents still have all of my gifts scattered throughout the house. A plastic bowl I formed and melted, a metal paper weight that I forged and cleaned, ceramic bowls, plastic picture frames, and more. These are the gifts that stay around. Another gift that isn’t really tangible but extremely easy to construct are the coupon books I used to give my parents. These would be things that I would do around the house or yard, such as vacuuming, pulling weeds, dusting, and the dreadful picking up sticks. I admittedly despised picking up sticks, but in light of the holiday season, I truly gave my all. As the years went by and I finally got my driver’s license, the gifts gradually decreased from homemade to almost all store-bought. However, now when money can be tight, I think it’s important to note that coupon books can still be given and greatly appreciated. Ever heard the saying “time is money and money is time”? Giving your time to help can be easy on your wallet and can be beneficial to you and your family’s health as well. Here are some ideas for your own coupon book and ‘green’ gift ideas:

  • Give the gift of recycling. In cities where recycling isn’t free, offer to get them started and pay for a couple of months.
  • Make coupons for washing floors and window sills to protect kids from dust
  • Offer to make a delicious meal for your family and rinse fruits and vegetables under running water before eating
  • Create coupons for cleaning bikes and tennis shoes for when the weather gets warm to take walks
  • Compose a coupon to vacuum and dust your house to prevent triggers to asthma attacks and allergies

There are many other things that can be added to your coupon book to help your family stay green and healthy this season. Just click here. And remember that you don’t always have to spend a lot to give a lot.

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 are you doing to use less energy during this holiday season?

At this time of year we travel more to visit friends and family or take more shopping trips. We also decorate with extra lights and turn up the heat to ward off the early winter chill.  Share how you conserve energy.

What are you doing to use less energy during this holiday season?

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 está haciendo para usar menos energía durante la época de fiestas?

Es la época del año en la cual viajamos para visitar nuestras amistades y familiares y hacemos más compras. También decoramos con luces adicionales y subimos la calefacción para combatir el frío invernal. Comparta cómo usted conserva energía.

¿Qué está haciendo para usar menos energía durante la época de fiestas?

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.

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.