Monthly Archives: January 2010

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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If You See Something (Environmentally-Related), Can You Say Something?

By now you’ve probably heard the catchy tagline for transit security “If you see something, say something.” This social marketing campaign engages users of the transit system to bolster security efforts, which might otherwise seem out of their hands, by appealing to people’s desire to help and ability to see. The desired action is quite simple: if you see a bag unattended, or anything else that looks unusual, ask the person nearest if the bag is theirs and/or report it to an official or worker at the station. Anyone can do it, and it makes common sense, but it requires us to approach a stranger unsolicited and speak to them.

This weekend, I saw people releasing bunches of helium balloons from the second story windows of a club, just after I had gotten off the Metro and heard “If you see something, say something.” So, without thinking, I ran over to the building and shouted to the people that they shouldn’t be littering and that whales were going to eat the balloons and die (see p. 21). It wasn’t my best developed message or delivery, and I am no whale expert! Overall, I doubt it did much to advance the environmental cause, because a shrill shout turns people off more than it educates, engages or convinces them.

So, I began to wonder if getting the delivery right was the only barrier to a successful “If you see something” campaign for an environmental issue, such as reducing littering or global warming pollution. Like national security, environmental issues often feel too large for people to have an impact. And, it’s pretty easy to spot people littering, and even identifying global warming pollution could be done even if it is a bit more difficult. That said, approaching a stranger who is littering might be different, because it is difficult to avoid explicitly or implicitly reprimanding them. Reducing global warming pollution to an even greater extent delves into peoples’ personal choices and lifestyle, and unlike littering, there are no laws against leaving all the lights, televisions, and other appliances on in your home or driving your large inefficient vehicle around the block twenty times looking for a parking space. (Although there are great voluntary programs run by EPA and Department of Energy to promote the alternative behaviors for which I have provided links.)

Perhaps our society’s experience with smoking can offer lessons on the topic. Over time, it has become more and more unacceptable to smoke in public places, and people feel more and more empowered to ask people not to smoke in their presence. Maybe creating excessive global warming pollution will rise to that level, but we’re a ways from there now.

Do you have ideas for environmental issues that might work with the “If you see something, say something” framework?

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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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Cómo verificó su hogar para determinar si había radón?

Enero es el Mes Nacional de Acción del Radón. Hace un año le preguntamos sobre cómo protege su hogar del radón. Comparta lo que usted encontró cuando hizo la prueba en su hogar y cómo la hizo.

¿Cómo verificó su hogar para determinar si había radón?

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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Lab Safety—Use Common Sense!

image of author sitting in a lab surrounded by equipmewnt and wearing safety goggles.Beakers and pipettes and chemicals, oh my! Science labs are full of gadgets and substances waiting for student scientists to explore, whether they’re trying to make soap, dissect a shark, or extract the DNA of a plant.

While labs can be exciting and the results of experiments can be interesting—even dramatic!—here at the EPA, I make lab safety a priority. December is a great time to continue to practice lab safety so that we can all end the year on a good note!

Some of the most useful tools I have in dealing with lab safety are ones that I carry with me at all times—I’m talking about my senses. Besides putting on my safety glasses and protective gear, what I see, hear, and smell offers important signals to what’s happening in my lab. I put all this information together because it’s common sense! I want you to have fun and avoid accidents.

What do I see in this lab? Do I see a number of unlabeled containers? If I do, I surely can’t be in an EPA laboratory! Ask your teacher or lab assistant if you’re unsure — don’t guess!

Do I hear something strange? Do you hear the sound of a vacuum pump and see a bunch of glass tubing connected together? This could be an evacuated glass line and it may be very dangerous to be around. If you hear something unusual, notify your teacher or lab assistant.

Is there a smell of chemicals? Do they smell like chemicals that may be flammable? I may want to think before lighting a burner.  How about the smell of something hot?  Are there burners or hotplates in use and where are they? Is someone watching them? If not, alert the teacher or the lab assistant!.

Tuning your senses in to what’s happening in your lab is a great way to make sure you and your fellow scientists stay safe—so put your eyes, nose and ears to work.

About the author: William Rugh is the Lab Manager of EPA’s Integrated Stable Isotope Research Facility in the Western Ecology Division located in Corvallis, Oregon

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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Beware of Silent Killers

Old Man Winter definitely has been hitting with a vengeance this season. While these spells of subfreezing temperatures and wintry mixes cause numerous problems on the nation’s roads, one of the areas of greatest risk might be in our own homes if we don’t take the right steps to protect our families.

Snow and ice storms can lead to blackouts. People often resort to portable generators to power up the house. Others use combustion appliances to stay warm. Please note, that generator exhaust is extremely toxic! These generators need to be outside, away from doors, windows, and vents. They produce carbon monoxide (CO) which builds up quickly and is deadly. Since you cannot smell, see, or taste this exhaust, this gas can buildup with tragic consequences.

Furthermore, area heaters which operate as combustion appliances also present their own environmental hazards if not used properly. These appliances that burn fuels liquid kerosene, coal, and wood have to be properly maintained and installed in order to minimize the production of toxic gases in the home such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Once again, ventilation is key!

While we’re addressing those invisible and silent killers like carbon monoxide, we cannot forget radon. It is a radioactive gas that may be present in your home. Exposure to radon causes lung cancer in non-smokers and smokers alike. In fact, EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. The Agency recommends that homeowners and renters have their home tested for radon. Test kits are easy to use. They can be ordered online or purchased at a local hardware store.

For other suggestions on how you can do something today to protect the environment where you live, work, and play, just visit our Pick 5 page. That’s a good way to start the new year.

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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Ojo a los asesinos silenciosos

La temporada invernal ha sido implacable este año. Mientras las gélidas temperaturas y nevadas pueden ocasionar numerosos problemas en las carreteras a nivel nacional, una de las áreas de mayor riesgo podría estar en nuestros propios hogares si no tomamos las precauciones necesarias para proteger nuestras familias.

Las tormentas de nieve y hielo pueden ocasionar apagones. Hay personas que utilizan generadores portátiles para producir electricidad en las casas. Otras usan enseres a base de combustión para calentar. Tengan en cuenta que los gases de escape de estos generadores son extremadamente tóxicos. Estos generadores tienen que ser colocados al exterior de la casa lejos de puertas, ventanas o rendijas. Estos generadores producen monóxido de carbono (CO) que se acumula rápidamente y puede ser mortal. Como no se pueden oler, ver ni saborear los escapes, este gas se puede acumular con trágicas consecuencias.

Además, las unidades de calefacción a base de combustión también presentan sus propios riesgos medioambientales si no son operados adecuadamente. Estos enseres que queman combustibles como querosén líquido, carbón y madera deben ser instalados y manejados debidamente para minimizar la producción de gases tóxicos en el hogar como el monóxido de carbono, el dióxido de nitrógeno y el dióxido de azufre. ¡La ventilación es clave!

Al mencionar los asesinos invisibles y silenciosos como el monóxido de carbono, no podemos olvidarnos del radón. Este es un gas radioactivo que puede existir en su hogar. La exposición al radón ocasiona cáncer pulmonar entre los no-fumadores y fumadores por igual. De hecho, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de Estados Unidos ha designado enero como el Mes Nacional de Acción del Radón. La agencia recomienda a los propietarios e inquilinos que hagan la prueba del radón en el hogar. Estas pruebas son fáciles de hacer. Se pueden ordenar vía el Internet o comprar en una ferretería cercana.

Para más sugerencias sobre lo que usted puede hacer hoy mismo para proteger el medio ambiente donde vive, trabaja y juega, visite nuestra página de Seleccione 5 Esa es una buena manera de comenzar el nuevo año.

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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Wash Your Hands!

By Lina Younes

Winter is commonly referred to as the cold and flu season. Given the cold temperatures, increasingly people will stay indoors where they may be more exposed to others who already have colds. No doubt that indoor air quality is essential for our health. So, what can we do to prevent these colds? Maintaining a distance from those who are sick may be helpful, but what do you do when a close family member is sick or you come in contact with someone who still doesn’t show signs of a cold? Well, preventing colds may be easier than you think. Point of advice: wash your hands often!

Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of germs including those of the common cold. It’s important to wash hands before, during and after preparing food as well as eating. Also wash your hand after coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading your own germs. Although hand sanitizers can reduce germs in some situations, good old fashion water and soap still remains the best cleaning method.

As a child, I was always prone to colds. I didn’t completely outgrow them, but I have noticed that in the last year or two they have become less frequent. What have I done differently? Well, after I go to the bathroom and wash my hands, I keep a clean paper towel to open the doors along the way, thus preventing exposure to some hard surfaces like door knobs and elevator buttons which might be contaminated with cold germs. I cannot say scientifically if the combination of increased hand washing plus the paper towel is the main cause, but I’ve definitely seen the benefits by suffering less colds.

Since small children tend to put their hands and objects in their mouth, teaching them to wash their hands well and often will be good preventing medicine. Washing hands often is a good habit that applies to people of all ages. Have a health year!

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 in Greenversations 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.

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: Greetings from a “Strategic Optimist”

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

I received a great holiday gift on December 24 when the U.S. Senate confirmed me as the Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD). I am thrilled that President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson have trusted me with this incredible opportunity.

I take great pride in joining EPA’s leadership team, and am eager to get started with the important work ORD does in making a real difference for the American people.

Coming to EPA is kind of a homecoming for me. Over twenty years ago I joined the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances as chief of the industrial chemistry branch, and I’ve been fortunate to keep in touch with my many EPA friends and extraordinary colleagues over the years.

The Office of Research and Development is a cornerstone of this Agency, seen in the fact that both President Obama and Administrator Jackson have emphasized cutting-edge, independent scientific analysis as critical to the work of EPA. We here at ORD have a chance to not only explore innovative solutions to protect our health and the environment, but to reassure the American people that nothing will compromise our commitment to openness and scientific integrity.

As we look toward the 40th anniversary of EPA’s founding, the issues we face are more complex and subtle than they were at our founding—and the need for the best science is greater than ever.

Those who know me well know that I consider myself a “strategic optimist.” That means I bring to the table an ambitious vision, and a firm understanding that we can only get there if we take the correct actions. Identifying those actions will require the best science and technology that ORD has to offer. That is why—like Administrator Jackson—my highest priorities for ORD are the integrity, independence, and transparency of the scientific processes, and the application of this science to the programs throughout EPA.

image of Assistant Administrator Paul AnastasAbout the Author: Prior to his confirmation as the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Paul T. Anastas was the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment at Yale University, where he also served as the director of the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering. He is widely known as “the Father of Green Chemistry.” Anastas earned his B.S. from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and his M.A. and Ph.D. in chemistry from Brandeis University.

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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There’s Something Fishy With Fragrances

So, I have what feels like a confession to make: I’m one of those people who gets headaches after being exposed to fabric softener-laced clothes dryer exhaust. And my throat closes up when I have to sit near someone on the Metro wearing way too much perfume/cologne/etc… (Luckily, I’m usually riding my bike where I don’t have to worry about fragrances as much as car exhaust and getting flattened.) So what’s the deal—am I chemically sensitive? Is that a diagnosable condition? Are all of us affected in some way by fragrances and I’m just more aware of the trigger? What about the long-term health effects of being exposed to volatile organic compounds found in some fragrances? There are a lot of questions surrounding multiple chemical sensitivity and fragrances, of which these are just a few.

Fragrances are ubiquitous in our modern society. It isn’t too hard to avoid them in my own home (as long as I don’t rent the unit right by the dryer vents, which I sadly have some experience with), by choosing fragrance-free or mildly- and naturally-scented cleaning and beauty products. Kids don’t have much choice, and add to that the countless public spaces where even I can’t avoid overpowering smells. That adds up to the potential for a lot of exposure to volatile organic compounds and other chemicals in fragrances over the stages of childhood (and adulthood).

It’s also very difficult to figure out what is in fragrances, since there is no disclosure required by the Food and Drug Administration or other regulatory agencies for the fragrances in a wide range of consumer products. One recent study found 10 volatile organic compounds designated toxic and hazardous by the EPA in six common air fresheners and laundry products. Here at EPA, the team at Design for the Environment is promoting less harmful alternatives for fragrance chemicals in cleaners and the Indoor Air Quality team is monitoring the scientific research on the topic. I hope that the EPA’s new approach to chemicals management will shed some scientific light on fragrances and their health effects, and protect people from potential harm.

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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Question of the Week: What are your New Year’s resolutions to help protect the environment in 2010?

Happy New Year!  I will combine more trips and drive efficiently. I will unplug my rechargers when not using them. I will read more pesticide labels and use them carefully. I will…
Share what YOU will do to help protect the environment in 2010.

What are your New Year’s resolutions to help protect the environment in 2010?

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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