Monthly Archives: February 2010

Video Town Hall

An Inside Job

It wasn’t too long ago that I was working to improve human health and the environment from outside the government. Only a year ago, I was working with communities to redevelop properties at brownfield sites. When you’re outside the government, gaining access to the government officials who make decisions that affect your work can be a challenge. Now that I’m in the government, I have a chance to provide the access that’s so important to people and groups with environmental concerns. That’s why I’ve started a series of Video Town Hall discussions that will help me hear what you have to say.

Our first Video Town Hall was held in December, and I was very happy with the discussion that took place. The topic was the Superfund program, and we fielded questions from people and groups across the country. Our plan was to answer as many questions as time allowed, and I was pleased that we were able to answer every single question that we received.

Our next Video Town Hall will be held on February 23 from 1:30-3:00 PM Eastern Time. For this Town Hall, we plan to cover two topics.

First, we want to talk about how people and businesses can reduce their carbon footprint through reducing, reusing, and recycling. We all know that climate change is one of the great challenges facing our nation. Any effective strategy to fight climate change will require that we rethink the way that we buy new products and dispose of old products. I want to know how you’re fighting climate change through materials management, and what my office can do to help you reduce your carbon footprint.

The second topic is EPA’s upcoming environmental justice analysis of the Definition of Solid Waste Rule. We recently began seeking input on our draft plan, and we’d like to know what you think.

There are two ways to participate in the Town Hall: over the internet or by phone. You can send questions to townhallquestions@epa.gov before or during the discussion, and we’ll also take a few questions from the phone toward the end of the call. All the information you need to participate is available on our Video Town Hall page.

I know that people outside of the government have important things to say about the environment; they just need someone to listen. Now that I’m the guy on the inside, that’s what I intend to do.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

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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Never Too Late For A New Year Resolution

Part of my morning routine consists of packing my youngest daughter’s lunch. Although her school encourages waste-free lunches, I have found that lately I haven’t been observing green practices. Let me explain. Even though I had purchased several sets of reusable plasticware, these reusable containers remained in the cabinet untouched. On the other hand, I was using, on average, two disposable sandwich bags daily for her lunch. Those disposable bags add up. When you come to think of it, these bags just end up as trash in our landfills.

I must confess that being green can take extra work. Call it laziness or simply a bad habit, but you can easily fall into the trap of not minimizing waste, not saving energy, or not saving water. So, I decided that even though it’s February, I was going to set a new green New Year resolution for myself. I am committing to using reusable containers when preparing lunches for my daughter and myself. By abiding by this pledge on a daily basis, I will prevent more than 500 disposable plastic sandwich bags from reaching our landfills in one year.

So, even though many of our traditional resolutions may have not survived the first week in January, it would be nice to recommit our efforts to going green. I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue. How have you been able to minimizing packaging and waste at lunch time? Remember, we cannot promote any commercial brands or products, but tips are definitely welcomed because it’s never too late to go make a new green resolution any day of the year.

For more suggestions on how to reduce wastes and recycle, visit our consumer tips. [http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/wycd/funfacts/index.htm ] I’m sure that you will find something green that you can do today.

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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Nunca es demasiado tarde para una resolución para el nuevo año

Parte de mi rutina matutina consiste en preparar el almuerzo para mi hija menor. A pesar de que su escuela alienta a los padres a proveer almuerzos con el mínimo de desechos he encontrado que últimamente no he estado observando las prácticas más beneficiosas para el medio ambiente. A pesar de que había adquirido varios conjuntos de plásticos reutilizables, estos envases reutilizables permanecen en el gabinete sin usar. Por otra parte, he estado utilizando un promedio de dos pequeñas bolsas desechables para sándwich diariamente al preparar su almuerzo. Estas bolsas desechables se acumulan y terminan en nuestros vertederos.

Tengo que confesar que el ser realmente “verde” conlleva un esfuerzo mayor. Sea pereza o simplemente malos hábitos, pero es fácil caer en la trampa de no minimizar los desechos, no ahorrar energía o no ahorrar agua. Por lo tanto, he decidido que aunque ya estamos en el mes de febrero, voy hacer una nueva resolución ambiental para el nuevo año. Me he comprometido a utilizar envases reutilizables al preparar el almuerzo para que mi hija se los lleve a la escuela o yo me los lleve al trabajo. Al cumplir con este compromiso diariamente, evitaré que más de 500 bolsas desechables lleguen a los vertederos en un año.

Por lo tanto, aunque la mayoría de nuestras resoluciones tradicionales quizás no sobrevivieron la primera semana de enero, sería bueno que nos redoblemos nuestros esfuerzos a favor del medio ambiente. Me encantaría escuchar su sentir sobre este tema. ¿Ha podido minimizar las envolturas y desechos durante el almuerzo? Tengo que destacar que no podemos promover marcas ni productos comerciales, pero los consejos son definitivamente bienvenidos porque nunca es demasiado tarde para hacer una nueva resolución verde cualquier día del año.

Para más sugerencias sobre cómo reducir desechos y reciclar, visite nuestros consejos para el consumidor. Estoy segura que encontrará algo “verde” para hacer hoy mismo.

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 – Huge Datasets Pose Challenges but Hold Promise

During a recent visit to Harvard, I sat down with Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician and former director of the Johns Hopkins Particulate Matter Research Center.

Dominici confessed that she has spent much of her time at Harvard thus far figuring out how to transfer, store and manage all of the data that has accumulated over years of research.

How hard could it be to move data, I wondered?

Her projects at Hopkins included a national study showing hospital admissions and mortality associated with exposure to air pollution particles.

“We’re using all data on particulate matter and particulate matter composition for every single monitoring station in the United States from the first date it has been available up until 2007.”

This includes years’ worth of ambient air data from every zip code in the country.

To get information on human health effects, Dominici uses Medicare data, including “every hospitalization for every person older than 65,” amounting to over 48 million subjects.

In all, the data (which continue to grow) add up to seven terabytes, Dominici said.

How much is a terabyte? It would take 1,000, 1-gigabyte flash drives to hold a terabyte. Now, imagine 7,000 of those flash drives—and you can wrap your mind around how much data Dominici has on her hands.

As a way to cope with the mass of information, Dominici explained that it helps to pick and choose what data to work with at any give time. She compared the process to using a storage closet—where you can put away winter clothes during the summer months and take them out again when it gets cold.

“The good news… is that you don’t need to manage it dynamically, all at once,” she said.

Despite the challenges of handling and analyzing such a vast amount of information, Dominici thinks the efforts will be fruitful.

“I have high confidence in the national study because I can see real improvements in getting sharper results as more data becomes available,” she said.

One study using the data, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), showed that causes of death and hospitalization related to air pollution differed in different parts of the country. “Cardiovascular risks tended to be higher in counties located in the Eastern region of the United States,” the study reported.

As analysis continues, other questions about air pollution risks will be answered. For now though, Dominici is neck deep in data, and it seems she likes it that way.

“As a statistician, I really like to do this because I can have an impact,” she said.

“Going from seven terabytes of data to estimates that have an impact on policy… it’s very, very satisfying.”

About the Author: A student contractor with EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Becky Fried is a regular “Science Wednesday” contributor.

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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Gardening Within the Walls of Your Home

A couple of years ago I gave my Dad grow lights for Father’s Day. He had mentioned to me that he wanted a garden, but living in a gated community there was not the appropriate amount of space on his property to do so. He started to create an indoor garden comprised of herbs and vegetables. It has been two years now and the small garden that started in the corner of his kitchen has now overtaken the entire kitchen and living room. I love to go over to my Dad’s to eat his homemade cooking made from vegetables and fruits straight from his indoor garden.

As more people are becoming concerned about the use of pesticides on the fruits and vegetables we buy at the grocery store, organic produce has been increasing in selection. However, organic produce is usually more expensive and the energy it takes to ship the produce increases carbon emissions. In-home gardening can be a way to divert away from pesticides while being fiscally and environmentally responsible. Although the grow lights, seeds, dirt, and pots will be relatively pricey at first, the results of your garden will pay off in just a matter of a few years.

Starting an indoor garden can prove to be an excellent solution to those living in the city who do not have the adequate amount of space outside to make a garden. However, if you do have a large yard and enough space for a garden outside, having an indoor garden can be beneficial to those who would like to enjoy fresh, organic fruits, vegetables and herbs year-round. No matter the size of your house you can still enjoy the pleasures of a garden as plants can be placed almost anywhere in a house while adding to the aesthetically pleasing aspect of the newly acquired greenery.

If considering starting your own indoor garden it is important to remember that it takes time to maintain a garden. You must remember to re-pot, water, and rotate your plants appropriately. Is it really taking time out of your day though? If you don’t have an indoor garden you must still go to the store, and pick out the produce that you want. It sounds a lot easier to simply just water the plants and then pick them when they are ready to eat.

What do you grow in your indoor garden?

About the author: Nikki Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana 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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Help us serve you better by being more open!

Open EPA logoHave you heard about President Obama’s Open Government Directive (PDF) (81K, about PDF)? Under this plan, we’re looking for your help making EPA more transparent and finding ways for us to work with you better. The ultimate goal? Getting the best ideas for how we can meet our mission of protecting health and the environment.

I’m personally excited about this new effort because it ties in so well with many other projects that use new tools to connect with you and get you involved.  One of the first was this blog, launched in April 2008.  Since then, we’ve started Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts, put together online discussion forums, done some live video webcasts, and launched Pick 5 for the Environment.

To get started, check out our new open government Web site, which links to many innovative projects and our social media sites.

It also shows our progress on several milestones.  The next one is to write our open government plan.  It’s due April 7, so until March 19 we’re using a special idea collection system to get your thoughts about:

  • what should be in the plan
  • how we should prioritize what we publish
  • how to improve the quality of our information
  • new ways of doing business and new tools we should be using

You can also vote and comment on other people’s ideas.

I look forward to hearing from you!

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

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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Dependencia excesiva en la electricidad

Inspirada por el blog de mi amigo y colega, “Bajo nieve en una casa verde”, decidí enfocar este blog en el evento que ha dominado las noticias alrededor del área metropolitana de Washington esta semana, las masivas tormentas de nieve. Debido a las inclemencias del tiempo, el área ha estado virtualmente paralizada por días. Muchos sistemas escolares, negocios, y agencias gubernamentales permanecen cerrados.

Mientras permanecimos en casa por la nieve, me di cuenta cuánto dependemos de la electricidad para la diversión en el hogar. Muchos tomamos por sentado el hecho de que no podemos utilizar los televisores, las computadoras, el Internet, los juegos electrónicos, las baterías recargables, la tecnología inalámbrica sin electricidad. Como familia, redescubrimos varias formas de diversión tradicional como los juegos de mesa para pasar el tiempo. Mi pequeña decidió leer varios libros por su propia iniciativa. Una buena lección de la tormenta de nieve del 2010.

Entretanto, les quisiera dar algunos consejos para futuras tormentas de nieve y hielo. Traten de adquirir los suministros necesarios con antelación para no tener que exponerse innecesariamente a las inclemencias del tiempo. Utilicen generadores y otros enseres a base de combustión de manera adecuada. Permanezcan seguros.

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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Too Dependent on Electricity

Inspired by my friend and colleague’s blog post, Snowed Under in our Green House, I decided to focus this blog on the main event of the larger Washington metropolitan area this week—the massive snowstorms and blizzards. Due to the inclement weather, the area was virtually paralyzed for days. Many schools systems, businesses, and government agencies remain closed.

While we were snowed in at home, the power went off intermittently. One day we were without power for a span of 15 hours! During that long stretch without electricity, we had no heat and, of course, no functioning appliances. Our only lifeline to the outside world was a battery-operated radio. I must note that thanks to the green repairs we made to our home last year, the temperature in the house stayed relatively stable even without heat during that blackout. While it did cool down after 12 hours without power, it was nothing that an extra layer of clothing couldn’t handle.

While we were snowed in, I realized how dependent we have become on electricity for home entertainment. We take for granted the fact that we cannot use our television sets, computers, the Internet, electronic toys, rechargeable batteries, wireless technology without electricity. As a family we rediscovered some traditional forms of entertainment like board games to pass the time. My youngest even read several books on her own initiative. Not a bad lesson during the blizzard of 2010.

Nonetheless, I would like to leave you with some advice for future snow and ice storms. Try to have the necessary supplies well in advance so you don’t have to venture out unnecessarily during inclement weather. Use generators and other combustion appliances wisely. Stay safe.

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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Sheep, Goats, and Nanoparticles

I was a child when introduced to the phrase, “separating the sheep from the goats.” Although the saying has biblical roots, I typically heard it in reference to distinguishing between good and bad, or between high and low value. Recently, I’ve been thinking about it with respect to nanotechnology.

Earlier this year I participated in a public event, and we were asked: “Are nanomaterials safe?” This reasonable question comes up often, sometimes in the negative form, “Are nanomaterials dangerous?” I have begun prefacing my response by asking that we reframe the question.

This is where sheep and goats come in.

Nanoparticles taken as a large group actually seem to be a mixed collection of at least these two ruminants. We could also add cattle, bison, and the odd yak. Many particles are likely to be sheep—beneficial, benign, and obedient to our calls to form an orderly herd. Others are cattle, mostly docile except for the occasional bull who rages when provoked. The bison are the naturally produced nanoparticles, untamed but in harmony with nature. The yaks are particles like dendrimers: hairy and a bit exotic, but valuable to those who know how to use them.

Then there are the goats: particles whose particular characteristics may spell trouble for people or wildlife if not kept under control. Goats can be tamed and very useful. (I’m a big fan of goat cheese.) Yet goats, being goats, are prone to mischief. When I was a kid, I had a Nubian goat as a pet and he was a prankster, sneaking up behind me and gently butting my backside.

The reframed question, then, is not whether nanomaterials in general are safe or dangerous but rather, how we identify the goats and either keep their bad behavior in check or ban them from the barnyard altogether.

To do that, we need to learn what makes a particular nanoparticle troublesome—a goat. Do particles that look like fibers become a problem if they are long, and therefore perhaps more difficult to remove from the lung if inhaled? Are very small particles more likely than larger ones to go places we don’t want them to go (such as into cells) or will they clump together and not get very far?

These are the kinds of questions EPA’s Nanotechnology Research Program is working to address.

Not all of us grew up on farms, but we all know the importance of separating the sheep from the goats.

About the author: Jeff Morris is National Program Director for Nanotechnology in 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.

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Contradictions of City Life

I have recently moved to Washington, D.C., a relatively larger and more urban setting than that of my little lake house back in the Midwest. I have never lived in such a metropolitan city before and I have become greatly overwhelmed at times by the large amounts of buildings and people and the small occurrences of green space. Although the city I am from is not fitted with gorgeous scenery or a picturesque background, I still miss the simplicity of life out on the lake.

It seems to be a contradiction to me: working for the EPA while surrounded by pavement, buildings, and almost all other signs of increasing urbanization. I like to think of myself as an environmentally conscious person, but the constant sound of cars, images of buildings, and working indoors make me think that I am a walking (or sitting) contradiction. However, I now realize that although I live in a city where being close to the natural environment is not something that can be achieved by simply walking outside; I can still make a positive, environmental difference.

Getting away from the city and moving into a rural community may seem like the logical way to reduce your carbon footprint and avoid contributing to global warming, but this is not the case. Cities allow for mass public transit such that less carbon emissions can be released per person. The close proximities of buildings to each other also encourage people to walk or ride bikes rather than driving. Living in a city also tolerates high-rise buildings that use less energy. Less energy is being used to heat and power a large building as opposed to a large number of small buildings or houses.

The actions that we can take everyday to be environmentally conscious can still be done no matter where we live. We can still recycle, turn off the lights and water when not being used, buy organic and locally grown food, take public transportation, reduce or eliminate meat from our diets, and advocate by saying something to those who are not always thinking about what is best for the environment. We may miss nature in its raw form, undisturbed by development, but this does not mean that we are unable to be environmentally aware people.

About the author: Nikki Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana 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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