Monthly Archives: February 2010

Snowed Under in our Green House

Jeffrey Levy stands in knee-deep snowHi everyone. If you’re looking for the question of the week, it’ll be back next Monday. Our offices are closed Monday and Tuesday because of record-breaking snow, so our team wasn’t able to post it. And we’re expecting another several inches Tuesday night into Wednesday.

I’m sitting here in my dining room trying to get at least a little work done, though.  Looking around my house, I remember all the green building decisions we made when we renovated last year.  Right from the beginning, we did our best to reduce, reuse, and recycle (thanks for your good comments on that post!). Some of these choices might save us money over time, but our main motivation was that green building and home location is just the way it should be done:

  • zero-VOC paint and low-VOC caulks and adhesives
  • a high-efficiency Energy Star furnace (and air conditioning, for when summer returns), plus an Energy Star dishwasher to replace the original that died a month after moving in.  We kept the other appliances, and will replace them with Energy Star units as they stop working.
  • Energy Star double-paned windows and doors
  • light-colored roof shingles to reflect the hot summer sun
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs (other than on my youngest child’s night table because she keeps breaking them)
  • bamboo floors where the old floors couldn’t be saved, and refinished hardwood and parquet that could (like the appliances, why throw out stuff that works?)
  • kitchen countertops made of recycled glass and bamboo
  • Watersense water-efficient sinks, toilets, and showerheads
  • blown foam insulation that’s keeping us nice and toasty.

We also put the old kitchen cabinets in our laundry room and basement, and donated a lot of extra materials and fixtures to a local organization that sells them again.

The house’s location is also pretty green, since I can easily walk or bike to the subway.  Our kids ride the bus and walk to school, and we’re a 10-minute walk to the library and a small commercial district with several restaurants, a drug store, and our favorite: a local ice cream shop.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to find a home near public transit, and not every building option is available or affordable.  For example, while wood and other materials were greener, they were too expensive compared with vinyl windows.  But we did as much as we could.

We’re happy with our choices, but we enjoy discussing them, too.  What’s your favorite green feature of your home?

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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What Life is Like Working in a Green Building?

image of greenery with cityscape in the backgroundWhile this photo may appear to be that of a lush meadow in the foreground of a big city, it is actually a vegetated rooftop on a 9-story building in downtown Denver. When EPA Region 8’s office moved to a new “green” office building in Lower Downtown Denver, I did not know what to expect. I had never worked in a green building before. I really did not think it would be that different from a regular building. Was I wrong… Not only was the building very beautiful, it was the most comfortable building I have ever been in. From the lighting to the indoor air quality, I knew we were in a top quality and healthy working environment.

Our building is environmentally friendly and provides daily opportunities for us to practice stewardship. Some features of our building that help us decrease our impact include:

  • Extensive use of daylight to reduce need for artificial light
  • A vegetated green roof to control storm water and decrease urban heat island effect
  • Waterless urinals and low-flow plumbing fixtures to decrease water use
  • High recycled content materials throughout the building
  • Proximity to public transit

However, it is not enough to simply build a green building; a big part of the equation is how the building is operated and the behavior of the occupants. Region 8’s Environmental Management System helps us improve our performance by quantifying and managing the impacts of our operations (e.g., electricity and water use, waste generation and transportation) and taking actions to reduce those impacts.

The green design, construction, operation and maintenance of 1595 Wynkoop, combined with close attention to our collective actions, help EPA in our efforts to practice what we preach.

Working in a green building is the only way to work in my mind. I have more energy throughout the day which I attribute to the environmentally healthy aspects of our building. I have the pleasure of knowing my work day has also been less of an impact to the environment. You can find out more, hear an audio tour and see lots of pictures of our green building at: http://www.epa.gov/region8/building/index.html

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 11 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

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 In Doubt, Throw Out Safely—Part 3

For the last three weeks, I’ve been having a greenversation with my colleagues in the blogosphere on the disposal of cadmium/lead-laced toy jewelry. I was glad to see the exchange that has developed over time. The comments have compelled me to write a third blog on this issue. I’m very happy to report that since we started this conversation on the toxic toy jewelry and metal trinkets, CPSC has actually recalled some items due to their cadmium and lead content. Those are great news! Just helping to get the word out to parents so they will keep these toxic items away from their children.

However, this greenversation points to the need to further address the proper disposal of other household items that may have hazardous content—batteries, electronics, even cell phones, to name a few. The title of my blogs, “When in doubt, throw it out,” was not meant as a blanket statement for all solid waste management. There are guidelines for the proper disposal and recycling of items with hazardous waste. So, I recommend that you visit the following Web pages to obtain additional information on the important issues you mentioned so we can all work to protect the environment where we live, work, learn and play.

Here are some useful Websites for the disposal and recycling of the following products:
batteries; mercury-containing light bulb recycling; electronics; cell phones; used oil; and general household hazardous waste.

Thank you for your input. Keep it coming.

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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Si tiene dudas, échelo a la basura de manera segura—Tercera parte

Durante las pasadas tres semanas, he sostenido una conversación ambiental con mis colegas en la blogosfera sobre la disposición de la joyería infantil de juguete y baratijas de metal contaminadas con cadmio y plomo. Me alegró el intercambio que se desarrolló con el pasar del tiempo. Los comentarios me han motivado a escribir un tercer blog sobre el tema. Además, me complace poder informar que desde que comenzamos esta conversación sobre la joyería infantil y baratijas tóxicas, la Comisión para la Seguridad de los Productos de Consumo de EE.UU. ha anunciado la retirada del mercado de varios artículos por estar contaminados por cadmio y plomo. ¡Esas son fantásticas nuevas! Por la presente estamos tratando de comunicar esta información a los padres para que alejen estos artículos tóxicos de sus niños.

Sin embargo, durante esta charla ambiental se hizo claro la necesidad de abordar la disposición adecuada de otros artículos caseros que podrían tener contenido peligroso como baterías, equipo electrónicos y hasta los teléfonos celulares, entre otros. El título de mis blogs “Si tiene dudas, échelo a la basura” no representaba una declaración generalizada para atender la necesidad del manejo de desechos sólidos. Existen normas para la disposición adecuada y el reciclaje de artículos con desechos peligrosos. Por eso recomiendo que visiten las siguientes páginas Web para obtener información adicional sobre estos importantes asuntos que ustedes han mencionado para que todos podamos trabajar juntos para proteger el medio ambiente donde vivimos, trabajamos, aprendemos y jugamos.

He aquí algunos sitios Web útiles sobre la disposición y reciclaje de los siguientes productos: baterías; reciclaje de bombillas con mercurio; efectos electrónicos; teléfonos celulares; aceite usado de motor; y desechos caseros peligrosos. Gracias por su insumo. Sigan enviando sus comentarios.

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: Tunneling for Air Pollution Answers

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

Lately, John Godleski has spent a lot of time underground.

When I visited Harvard in December though, he surfaced for a chat with me about his unique research.

Along with colleagues at the Harvard Particulate Matter Research Center, Godleski has set up air pollution monitoring equipment inside a busy tunnel in the Northeast.

Part of the Toxicological Evaluation of Realistic Emission Source Aerosol, his study aims to assess differences between the health effects of exposure to particles directly from car exhaust (primary), and particles from exhaust that have transformed in the atmosphere (secondary).

The underlying hypothesis of the project is that breathing in particles that come directly from a vehicle might induce different health effects than breathing in particles that have spent time in the atmosphere, where they come into contact with sunlight.

To test the hypothesis, Godleski and his colleagues developed a photochemical aging chamber that essentially mimics real-world atmospheric conditions with simulated sunlight.

Exhaust from cars is fed into the chamber first with the artificial sun-lights switched to “off” and to then to “on.” This produces two types of output: exhaust with just primary particles (lights off), and exhaust with both primary and secondary particles (lights on).

Project scientists then conduct lab studies to look for differences in resulting health outcomes.

Preliminary findings suggest that the “lights on” particles, representing particles that have come into contact with sunlight, cause more lung inflammation and more potentially harmful oxidative activity in the body.

Since secondary particles in the air are ubiquitous, understanding their health impacts is extremely important.

“Though some people are involved in what directly comes out of a vehicle or a power plant, everybody is exposed to what happens to those particles once they are in the air,” Godleski explained.

Collection of exhaust particles directly from the tunnel makes this study especially representative of real-world particle exposure.

“If we go to a tunnel,” he continued, “we can get a mixture of vehicle output—we can get cars, we can get trucks, and we can get something very representative of what people ultimately may breathe. It gives us access to a mixed vehicle effluent in a way that nothing else does.”

This research is a critical step toward understanding the health effects of real-world airborne particle exposure. We will continue to report findings as Godleski continues to dig for answers.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.

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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Question of the Week: Do You Think Your Carbon Footprint Is Smaller Than Your Parents' or Grandparents'?

Things are much more energy efficient than they used to be, from our vehicles to our light bulbs, and most of us practice the three R’s of Reducing, Recycling and Reusing.  But now we have so much more…more vehicles, more technology, more everything…   At first thought this may seem like a pretty easy question, but think about it for a minute, and then share your thoughts.

Do you think your carbon footprint is smaller than your parents’ or grandparents’?

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: ¿Acaso piensa que su huella de carbono es menor que la de sus padres o sus abuelos?

Hay cosas son mucho más eficientes del punto de vista energético que en el pasado, cosas como vehículos, bombillas, y ahora muchos practicamos las tres R’s como reducir, reciclar y reutilizar. Sin embargo, ahora tenemos muchos más cosas, más vehículos, más tecnología, mayor cantidad de todo…Para empezar esto parecía una pregunta sencilla, pero piense por un minuto y comparta con nosotros sus ideas.

¿Acaso piensa que su huella de carbono es menor que la de sus padres o sus abuelos?

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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