Monthly Archives: January 2010

Remembering a Colleague

image of pilot, Ray Bentley, standing in front of an orange planeI had the pleasure of meeting Ray Bentley, a pilot-biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, last summer during a visit to EPA’s Western Ecology Division in Corvallis, Oregon, when he took me, photographer Eric Vance, and scientists Steven Klein and Scott Leibowitz on two flights to photograph and document ongoing EPA research from the air (I blogged about one of the flights for the August, 26 “Science Wednesday”)

Thanks to the skill, professionalism, and patience of our pilot, we landed with a portfolio of several hundred stunning aerial photographs to support science and outreach efforts, a far better understanding of EPA ecosystem services research, and a deeper appreciation for the spirit of collaboration between EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thanks to Ray’s quick smile and generous spirit, the trip was both fruitful and fun.

Last week, I learned the tragic news that Ray, along with his passenger biologist David Pitkin, died on January 17 when their plane went down in a wooded area west of Philomath, OR. The two were returning from a day spent flying over estuaries along the Oregon coast, counting ducks, geese, and swans for an annual mid-winter waterfowl survey.

Even though I only spent the better part of an afternoon with Ray, he made a big impression. His love of flying and wildlife were evident. As a wildlife aficionado and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee myself, I loved hearing his tales of survey flights over wilderness areas and National Wildlife Refuges from Chesapeake Bay to Alaska. He even extended our first flight a few minutes to see if he could find a grey whale to show us off the coast of Newport. (No such luck.)

One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with people—scientists, photographers, and pilot-biologists included—who clearly love what they do. Ray’s passion for flying and wildlife conservation were obvious, and infectious. The flights he took us on were the highlight of a great week, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him.

I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families, and many friends and colleagues of Ray Bentley and David Pitkin.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer-editor for EPA’s 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.

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.

Yes, Throw It Out—Safely

In last week’s blog “When In Doubt, Throw It Out!,”

I discussed the use of toxic metals in some toy jewelry and metal trinkets produced overseas. As the title suggested, I recommended if you were concerned over the potential toxicity and risks of these toys, the best thing to do was to dispose of these products. However, I didn’t address another legitimate concern: is it safe for the environment to simply throw these articles in the trash? Well, the answer is yes. I will explain why.

First of all, I would like to thank two individuals, Mauricio D’Achiardi and Joan, for their comments last week. They actually posed the question regarding the proper disposal of these toy trinkets. Since I didn’t have an answer, I consulted with our experts in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. The guidance is: “Consumers can check with their local recycling facility to see if they collect these kinds of contaminated jewelry and trinkets. To find a local recycling facility, they can go to www.earth911.com . If their local recycling facility doesn’t take these articles, consumers can go ahead and throw them in the trash. Our modern landfills are made to be able to hold such contamination without leaking it into the environment.” So, we can dispose of these safely.

For more information on the disposal of waste, please visit our Website. For information on product recalls and keeping people safe in and around the home, visit the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Neighborhood Safety Network. And please keep those comments coming. We all can learn from this Greenversation.

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.

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.

Sí, puede echarlo a la basura de manera segura

En el blog de la semana pasada “Si tiene dudas, échelo a la basura”, mencioné el uso de metales tóxicos en algunos juguetes y baratijas de metal producidos en el exterior. Como sugiere el título, recomendé que si usted está preocupado sobre la posible toxicidad y los riesgos de estos juguetes, lo mejor es disponer de estos productos. Sin embargo, no abordé otra preocupación legítima: ¿es seguro para el medio ambiente echar estos artículos a la basura? Bueno, la respuesta es sí. Explicaré el por qué.

Primero que todo, quisiera agradecer a dos individuos, Mauricio D’Achiardi y Joan, por sus comentarios la semana pasada. En efecto, ellos plantearon la pregunta referente a la disposición adecuada de estos artículos de juguete. Como yo no tenía la respuesta a la mano, consulté con nuestros expertos en la Oficina de Conservación de Recursos y Recuperación. He aquí los consejos que me dieron: “Los consumidores pueden consular con la instalación de reciclaje de su localidad para ver si reciben este tipo de joyería y baratijas contaminadas. Para encontrar una instalación de acopio y reciclaje, visite www.earth911.com . Si su instalación local de reciclaje no acepta estos artículos, los consumidores pueden simplemente echarlos a la basura. Nuestros vertederos municipales o rellenos sanitarios están capacitados para contener dicha contaminación sin que se filtre al medio ambiente”. Pues, ahí está. Puede disponer de estos productos con seguridad.

Para más información sobre la disposición de residuos, favor de visitar nuestra página Web. Para más información sobre productos retirados del mercado y la manera de mantener a la gente segura dentro y fuera del hogar, visite la página de la Red para la Seguridad de la Comunidad de la Comisión para la Seguridad de los Productos de Consumo de EE.UU. Y por favor, continúe enviándonos sus comentarios. Debemos continuar esta conversación ambiental, Greenversation. [blog.epa.gov ]

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.

Science Wednesday: Lisa Jackson, Eco-Warrior!

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

How great it would be to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone! (…or would it be Spin now?) Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show aspired to this position in their famous song of 1972, written by Shel Silverstein. Well, getting an article about you in Rolling Stone is almost as good. So I was thrilled to read the current issue of Rolling Stone (Feb. 4, 2010) which has an article on our “Eco-Warrior” administrator, Lisa Jackson. Reporter Tim Dickinson says, “Taken together, Jackson’s efforts represent a sweeping attempt to revitalize an agency…The goal, as she (Administrator Jackson) sees it, is to once again base environmental regulations on science and the law…”

Sustainability is often described as a three-legged stool, with one leg each for the environment, the economy, and society. I think that the legs are not even, and the major support comes from the environment. Without the natural capital provided by our environment, we’d have no society or economy. Convincing evidence for the importance of the natural environment came from the Biosphere 2 project.

In the early 1990’s, a huge structure was built in the Arizona desert. Over 3 enclosed acres housed a variety of ecosystems with manmade recycling systems designed to imitate earth’s natural systems. The project, however, could not independently sustain humans or the other organisms inside. There were problems with oxygen and food, and outside electricity had to be used. Because of Biosphere 2, we learned that people don’t have the ability to design a self-sustaining ecosystem for human life. If we lose our natural ecosystem by failing in environmental protection, in the words of Dr. Gro Brundlant, chair of the first World Commission on Environment and Development, there will be no sanctuary. EPA’s mission, protecting the environment and human health, is key to our sustainability and survivability.

At EPA we rely on science and our intelligent leaders like Lisa Jackson to carry out this mission. Rolling Stone has duly recognized her, and I am very proud. Maybe next year she will make the cover!

About the Author: EPA Environmental scientist Dr. Barbara Karn focuses on “green” nanotechnologies, including using green chemistry, green engineering and environmentally benign manufacturing to make new nanomaterials and products for preventing pollution.

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.

Radon Reflections at the Tools for Schools Symposium

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Each year, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division hosts an indoor air quality, or IAQ, symposium in Washington D.C. This year’s 10th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium took place January 14 to 16 — during National Radon Action Month. As a scientist for EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, naturally I was delighted to have the opportunity to present radon information at the symposium.

Workgroup meeting at Indoor Air Quality SymposiumThis year’s symposium featured five school districts with specific IAQ design challenges. Each attendee played an integral role as a design team member, formulating strategies to help a school district improve IAQ management. As I interacted with teams, I discovered IAQ stakeholders in many forms: facilities managers, building technicians, nurses, principals, government and even parents. Despite their different roles, people were passionate for school health and worked together to produce excellent solutions in a short period of time.

Discussions about radon were abundant at the symposium. While sipping my latte, a man started a conversation about radon in his school district. He whispered as if it were a secret, “We build radon prevention right into our new school designs.” My eyes lit up so bright; I think I startled him, or maybe he thought I was going to hug him. The importance of preventing pollutants from entering a building is no secret; think about how vapor barriers, gutters and even window screens keep a number of pollutants safely out of the indoor environment.

I overheard someone say, “How will they know if they don’t test?” I smiled and shook my head vigorously in agreement. Clearly this person had just grasped how important it is to test for radon. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, three children were recognized during the National Radon Poster Contest awards luncheon, and EPA’s Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, touted the benefits of recognizing radon in school IAQ.

As I reflect on activities at the symposium, it’s clear that radon is certainly at the forefront of school IAQ management. My hope is that symposium attendees will share their reflections on the symposium here or blog about it on radonleaders.org. Please comment, reply and get your story out there.

About the Author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public 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.

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.

Question of the Week: What’s the single most important choice you make to reduce your impact on the environment?

Every day we make choices that affect the environment, both positively and negatively. Share your thoughts on what you think is the single most important choice you make to lessen your impact on the environment.

What’s the single most important choice you make to reduce your impact on the environment?

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.

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.

Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Cuál es la selección más importante que ha elegido para reducir su impacto en el medio ambiente?

Todos los días hacemos selecciones que afectan el medio ambiente tanto de manera positiva como negativa. Comparta sus ideas sobre lo que usted piensa es la selección más importante que ha hecho para tener un impacto menor en el medio ambiente.

¿Cuál es la selección más importante que ha elegido para reducir su impacto en el medio ambiente?

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.

Louisville Turns Over a Green Leaf

Growing up in Louisville I was accustomed to a home town with a few things that were world class: college basketball, a premier horse racing event, a great bluegrass festival, and even good bratwurst at Oktoberfest. Meanwhile, Louisville was hardly known for progressive environmental protection. In fact, Louisville was rather notorious on the water quality scene, better recognized for disaster than innovation. I grew up in the Beargrass Creek Watershed, which was permanently posted as unsafe for body contact activities because of sewer overflows. We played in the creek anyway, and in retrospect I wonder if any of those ‘stomach bugs’ we occasionally suffered were related to exposure to pathogens in untreated wastewater. I was in high school in 1977 when Kentucky Liquid Recycling dumped a toxic mix of chemicals into the sewer system effectively shutting down city-wide wastewater treatment; untreated sewage was discharged directly to the Ohio River for months while the plant and the sewer system were decontaminated. I was at the University of Louisville in 1981when Ralston Purina released hexane into the sewer system and blew up miles of streets in the downtown area, including on campus directly in front of the dorm in which I was living. I still recall being awakened by the explosion, and sitting in a dark hallway with the rest of the woman on my floor anxiously speculating about what had happened.

I’m happy to say that I can now be cautiously optimistic, a little proud even, of how Louisville is responding to their federal and state mandates to finally resolve their water quality problems. While most cities with combined and sanitary sewer overflows continue to take traditional grey infrastructure approaches by building large storage, conveyance and end-of-pipe treatment systems, Louisville is among a few notable cities who have decided to “go green”. Unlike grey technologies, green approaches provide a multitude of benefits in addition to water quality improvement. They generally are also more cost-effective over the long-term. However, because most wastewater engineers are still tentative about technologies other than pipes, pumps, filters and flocculants, green approaches still aren’t mainstream. Louisville has undertaken the necessary environmental and economic analyses, and determined that green infrastructure makes a lot more sense for the community. They have committed to spend millions of dollars on wide-spread implementation of green roofs, green streets, urban reforestation, and other elements of a comprehensive green infrastructure program. Yes, that’s lots of money, but consider that they’ve determined that these solutions will actually SAVE them millions of dollars compared to grey technologies, while providing ancillary benefits that pumps and pipes could not. Though I’m not necessarily expecting to see a vegetated roof on the twin spires of Churchill Downs the next time I visit (though how cool would that be), I do expect to see Louisville transform itself with greener streets, campuses, roofs, parks, and alleys over the next decade or so. That’s good news for Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River, and great for the Louisville community as well.

About the Author: Jenny Molloy is an aquatic biologist currently working in Washington DC as USEPA’s green infrastructure coordinator. She was raised in Louisville, Kentucky.

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.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

With the latest news reports of toxic metals in toy jewelry and metal trinkets, you just wonder what is safe for children nowadays. A couple of years ago, there was great concern about lead used in children’s toys produced overseas. Now, the latest scare is due to another heavy metal—cadmium.

Why is lead in toy jewelry a concern? Exposure to lead in children remains a major environmental health problem in the United States. It’s particularly dangerous in children because it can cause serious damage to their developing brains and nervous system. It can also cause other behavior and learning problems. These hazards are also magnified in the case of children because of their behavior of taking their hands and other objects to their mouths. Children can easily put these lead based charms and trinkets into their mouths, hence the concern.

Now, we find that some manufacturers stopped using lead but turned to another heavy metal to produce these toy charms—cadmium. Exposure to this toxic metal in children and adults can have adverse effects on kidneys, lungs, and bones, even cancer.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission denounced the use of these heavy metals in children’s products. Hopefully this will put an end to the use of toxic metals in new toys, but what do we do with some of the toy jewelry and metal trinkets our children received over the holidays? At first, I thought that only the cheapest toy jewelry were the ones at risk of having cadmium or lead. But later I found out that even some of the jewelry with brand names might have these toxic metals as well. We could have these items tested. Yet, with these red flags, the practice I usually follow is—when in doubt, throw it out!

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.

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.

Si tiene dudas, échelo a la basura

Con los últimos informes de metales tóxicos en la joyería infantil de juguete y esos amuletos de metal, uno se pregunta cuán seguros son estos artículos en la actualidad. Hace un par de años, había gran preocupación por el uso del plomo en los juguetes infantiles elaborados en el exterior. Ahora, las últimas noticias preocupantes giran en torno al uso de otro metal pesado, el cadmio.

¿Por qué es el plomo en la joyería infantil de juguete motivo de preocupación? La exposición al plomo
continúa siendo un problema de salud ambiental en Estados Unidos. Es particularmente peligroso en los niños porque puede ocasionar daños serios en sus cerebros y sistemas nerviosos. También puede ocasionar otros problemas de comportamiento y aprendizaje. Estos peligros también se magnifican en el caso de los niños debido a su comportamiento de llevarse las manos y objetos a la boca. Los niños pueden ingerir el plomo fácilmente al chupar esta joyería de juguete y amuletos, he aquí la causa de alarma.

Ahora, los últimos informes indican que algunos manufactureros han dejado de usar el plomo y han optado por otros metales pesados para la producción de estos amuletos de juguete. Este metal es el cadmio. La exposición a este metal tóxico en niños y adultos tiene efectos de salud adversos al hígado, los pulmones y huesos y también puede ocasionar cáncer.

La Comisión para la Seguridad de los Productos de Consumo de EE.UU. ha denunciado el uso de estos metales pesados en los juguetes y joyería infantil. Abrigamos las esperanzas de que eso pondrá fin al uso de metales tóxicos en nuevos juguetes, ¿qué hacemos con esos artículos de joyería infantil y amuletos de metal que nuestros niños recibieron durante las fiestas? Al principio yo pensaba que sólo la joyería infantil más barata tenía probabilidades de estar contaminada por cadmio. Luego aprendí que algunas prendas infantiles de marca podían tener metales tóxicos también. Bueno, podría inspeccionar los productos haciéndoles una prueba especial para determinar la presencia de metales pesados. Sin embargo, si tiene la preocupación, pero no quiere realizar la prueba, quizás la mejor práctica a observar es de simplemente echarlo a la basura para proteger a nuestros niños.

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.