Monthly Archives: March 2010

A Place I Knew Nothing About

We took off with hiking packs, a tent and fins, carrying even fewer plans and expectations; to a place I hardly knew about. The more we discovered that very little was written about our destination, it drew even more appeal. I just couldn’t wait.
Over 30 hours after leaving Boston, my adventure companion and I landed in the Republic of Palau. ‘New Time Zone’ is a misrepresentation. Zombie-like, I was nearly convinced we had flown beyond planet Earth. One long layover in Houston, and we continued across the Pacific, stopping in Honolulu, Guam, and the island nation of Yap. Once our passports were stamped, we were graciously picked up by Larry from the Tree D Hotel around 11:30 p.m. We had arranged two nights, planning to ‘wing’ the rest. The Tree D was perfect for hatching-out our adventure: affordable, air-conditioned, in one-blister-walking distance to town, and closer yet to a gas station that sold homemade donuts. This was more exciting than being able to buy bottled water! I realize I should probably get my priorities straight. Turns out, EPA tested the water in Koror, Palau a few years back and it’s fine! Region 9, we need to talk.

Outside the airport, as we piled our packs into his vehicle Larry exclaimed,

“Wow, it’s busy tonight!”

We groggily looked at each other, and then at the ‘crowd’ of passengers from the half-filled, lone, Boeing 737, exiting the desolate airport, grinning wildly.

It was a dark ride, but I already began to take in the mystique of Palau, watching the broad tropical leaves in the headlights, and catching the warm breeze in the backseat. I already felt the eerie shadows stubbornly lingering from WWII, contrasting with the sincerity and helpfulness of the people that live there and the communal simplicity of their lifestyle. It seemed no one is out to prove anything to anyone, or gain at another’s expense. I’ve never seen such contentment in so many faces, and it became clear that we didn’t just enter a new country; we came into a place where an individual, for good or for bad, isn’t easily forgotten.

Palau Part I

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey lives in Boston, working since 2007 for EPA’s New England Office as a Public Affairs Specialist, and a Superfund Community Involvement Coordinator. Currently Jeanethe is on detail to EPA’s Office of Web Communications in Washington D.C. working on web and social media outreach.

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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In the Trenches: Moderation for OpenGov

I’m a 20 year EPA staffer and Computer Specialist doing much more than computers these days. One of my tasks is to help moderate comments that come in to the EPA’s Open Government discussion forum.

I’ve quickly come to realize that moderating comments in the public arena, especially in these sometimes politically-charged times, requires a curious mixture of patience, firmness and humor.

  • Patience: Like our favorite teachers and professors from education, sometimes we have to let folks submit their opinions about issues that are important to them, even when they are off the topic of discussion. It’s very important to guide them toward translating that energy into ‘do-able’ suggestions so that we can include them in our Open Government Plan, if possible. Early on, we decided to allow some latitude to ensure transparency and participation in the process.
  • Firmness: When we encountered wrong information, not just opinion, we tried to provide correct information, and this was mostly well received. The forum has published Terms of Participation, and the only times we’ve moved ideas to the “off topic” area, or removed comments from the forum, was most likely because of this. We recorded all of these actions to preserve all input.
  • Humor: Occasionally I come across a comment that is “strongly worded” against government (or some other group or issue), and I am reminded about what my mother always told me: That arguing with anyone — usually about politics, sports or religion — when it was obvious that there would never be movement to the middle, was useless. “Don’t engage,” she said. “Keep it light and polite.” That seemed to be a very prudent credo. Anyone with a background in customer service, or who has spent time answering a help desk phone also knows this.

We are now into the last few days of the project, and the response has been very good. I encourage you all to visit the OpenEPA page to find out what the EPA is doing to promote transparency, participation and collaboration. Also, visit our discussion forum site to suggest ideas for our Open Government Plan. To date, there have been 150 ideas, 317 comments, 3,080 votes, and 707 users. Please join us in the discussion, vote for one of the 150 ideas or share your own.

About the author: Barry Everett is one of EPA’s OpenEPA Moderators, who is currently on temporary assignment from the EPA’s Dallas office to the Agency’s Washington, D.C. Headquarters office. This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

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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To Catch Or To Kill (Part 2)

Following up on last week’s blog post, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments sent in favor of the “catch and release” school when it comes to eliminating rodents. Since my last blog, I’m pleased to report that we have not had any other unwanted visitors of the rodent family. It’s obvious that the pesky creature found its way into the house when I left the garage and kitchen doors open.

That leads me to today’s issue—how to control pests without poisons. Among the do’s and don’ts of pest control, create physical barriers that will prevent these pests from entering the homes. It’s obvious that they do not need an invitation to come into your home nor will they always choose to come in through the front door. To create these physical barriers, it’s important to close off entryways and hiding places for these pests. You should caulk cracks and crevices around cabinets and baseboards. Use wire mesh to fill holes around where pipes go through the wall, ceiling or floor. Although they might seem like very small spaces, openings along pipes serve as excellent pathways for these unwanted creatures.

Since National Poison Prevention Week is fast approaching, I wanted to share additional information on preventing poisonings in your home.  These accidental poisonings can be prevented if we store household pesticide products away from the reach of children and pets. By using pesticides properly, we can keep our family and pets safe.

And for those of you who were asking about my cats last week, here’s an update. After the raucous created from capturing the small mouse in the toy box and dumping everything on the deck, the three cats made their appearance flexing there muscles. Where were they when we needed them the most? It really was a comical scene.

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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Capturar o matar (Parte 2)

A raíz del blog de la semana pasada, tengo que confesar que me sorprendió el número de comentarios en favor de la postura de “capturar y liberar” estos animales cuando se trata de eliminar los roedores. Desde mi último blog, me complace anunciar que no hemos tenido mas visitas no deseadas de la familia de roedores. Obviamente la criatura imprudente entró a nuestro hogar cuando deje las puertas del garaje y la cocina abiertas.

Eso me lleva al tema de hoy—cómo podemos controlar las plagas sin usar venenos. Entre las medidas que se deben tomar para controlar las plagas, se deben crear barreras físicas que eviten que estas plagas entren en los hogares. Es obvio que ellas no necesitan una invitación formal para entrar en nuestras casas ni siquiera tienen que optar por entrar por la puerta principal. Al crear estas barreras físicas, es importante cerrar los puntos de entrada o lugares que pueden servir como escondites para estas plagas. Por ejemplo, puede usar cepillos especiales debajo de las puertas. Use masilla para llenar las grietas y ranuras alrededor de gabinetes. Use una malla metálica para llenar los agujeros alrededor de la tubería que atraviesa la pared, el techo o el piso. A pesar de que parecen espacios muy pequeños, esos huecos alrededor de la tubería sirven como excelentes vías para esas criaturas indeseables.

Como se acerca la Semana Nacional para la Prevención de Envenenamientos, quiero compartir con ustedes información adicional sobre cómo prevenir los envenenamientos en el hogar. Los envenenamientos accidentales se pueden prevenir si almacenamos los productos pesticidas fuera del alcance de niños y mascotas. Al utilizar los plaguicidas adecuadamente, podemos mantener nuestra familia y mascotas seguras.

Y para aquellos que me preguntaron sobre los gatos la semana pasada, he aquí el siguiente capítulo. Después del alboroto creado al capturar el ratoncito en la caja de juguetes y lanzar todo al patio, las tres gatas hicieron su aparición como si fueran estrellas de la película. ¿Dónde estaban cuando más las necesitábamos? Realmente fue una escena muy cómica.

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: Sustainability Is Our True North

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

A week ago at the Keck Center of the National Academies,  I heard Paul Anastas, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development, speak about sustainability. He said, “sustainability is our true north.”

That started my thinking about both sustainability and true north.

I work with sustainability (and nanotechnology) most of the time and am comfortable with the 1987 Brundtland commission’s statement: “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But what does this have to do with true north? …and is there an “un-true” north?

If you are a sailor or wilderness hiker, you are aware that your compass does not point to “true” north, but rather is influenced by the magnetism surrounding the earth (remember the big iron core from 9th grade geology?). Compasses follow magnets. As the core shifts (planet earth and its core materials are moving, after all), the poles of the earth’s magnet shift, and the compasses follow. We read a magnetic north, not true north, on these compasses.

To get to true north from a compass reading, it depends on where you use it and when you read it. Today in Washington DC, we subtract about 10.5 degrees from the compass reading. This means that if the magnetic compass in DC says I am heading due north, and I want to vacation on Lake Ontario, I might end up staying on Lake Erie instead if I don’t make the proper corrections to my compass. Using the magnetic compass, we have to make these corrections as we travel. If we don’t, the longer we travel, the further off course we get. Of course, in these days of GPS, this scenario is highly unlikely.

For sustainability, we need to set a course for the true north that allows humans to live a healthy life while supporting our ecosystems and our social and economic activities without compromising future generations. We need to correct our compasses as we move toward sustainability and not be thrown off course by a magnetic pull of short term goals that cause shortages and suffering in the long term. …and the sooner we head for true north, the better our course will be.

About the Author: Dr. Barbara Karn is a scientist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research and 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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Discussing the Discussion

My job provides a lot of opportunities to meet with people face-to-face. I’ve met with environmental justice advocates in New Orleans, mayors affected by auto sector closures in the Midwest, and tribal representatives in Montana, just to name a few. It’s all part of Administrator Jackson’s directive to expand the conversation on environmentalism. But no matter how much I travel, no matter how many people I meet, it’s impossible for me to meet in person with everyone who wants to talk to me. That’s why I’m excited that technology is making it possible for anyone in the county to participate in the conversation about the environment.

My office held our second Video Town Hall two weeks ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. The session covered two topics: reducing your carbon footprint through reducing, reusing, and recycling, and EPA’s recent decision to conduct an environmental justice analysis of the definition of the solid waste rule. We had an excellent conversation. We answered a question from a man in California who wanted to see us do more to promote energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs, and one from a Minnesota woman who wanted to build an environmentally-friendly house. A Brooklyn non-profit wanted to know how we balance our focus on environmental justice with preserving industrial jobs and the tax base in urban areas. These are just a few examples, and you can watch the whole session on our Video Town Hall page.

As was the case with our first Video Town Hall, we were able to answer every question we received on the topics we were discussing. That’s gratifying to me. Anyone who had an internet connection or a phone could ask me a question. That didn’t used to be possible, and I’m glad that technology is enabling people outside of Washington to speak directly with their government.

We plan to hold more Video Town Halls in the near future. Check our Video Town Hall page for future sessions.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.
This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

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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CHILDHOOD OBESITY PART I: Healthy Diets

For the past two years I have been volunteering at a local elementary school in my hometown. Only recently did I have a chance to see the cafeteria. Scanning the trays I saw the “typical” cafeteria foods : pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. Rarely did I see fruits and vegetables, but I always saw some sort of sweet on nearly every tray in the cafeteria.

This is part of the reason why there is a childhood obesity epidemic taking over the county. Kids are simply eating the foods that they like best, most of these foods being processed and lacking the essential nutrients that their bodies need.

Unhealthy diets do not only reside in the school, however. With the increasing amounts of microwavable meals and packaged foods, a home-cooked meal is quickly becoming a rarity and a thing of the past. We are trading health for convenience. Popping something into the microwave or oven takes less energy and time than making a home-cooked meal. The nutrients that we could be getting from fruits and vegetable are overshadowed by these extremely processed foods. Theses foods are often high in fat, sugars, and calories and lacking important nutrients that aren’t only harmful to the health of children, but to adults as well. Adults must then serve as an example. If they are eating well then their children will eat well also.

Children are almost completely reliant on their authority figures to provide them with appropriate meals. Therefore, it is important that we go to those authority figures, the school administrators and the parents, to encourage healthy diets for children. There must be a shift in the way that children are eating. No more should their staple foods be that of pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. More fresh and prepared meals must be given to children.

It may take a little more time and effort to make home-cooked meals or pack a child’s lunch, but the small amount of time and effort added to preparing healthy foods should not be overridden by the health benefits. Also, the packing of a school lunch and preparation of a meal can be a learning experience for children as they can learn how to cook and pack their own lunches while learning about what foods are wholesome.

About the author: Nicole 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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Question of the Week: When was the last time you fixed a leak?

An American home can waste, on average, more than 10,000 gallons of water every year due to running toilets, dripping faucets, and other household leaks. Nationwide, more than 1 trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year. That’s why WaterSense is promoting Fix a Leak Week from March 15 to 21, 2010, to remind Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems for leaks.

When was the last time you fixed a leak?

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.ea

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: ¿Cuándo fue la última vez que reparó un goteo?

Un hogar estadounidense puede desperdiciar, como promedio, más de 10,000 galones de agua cada año debido a filtraciones en los inodoros, grifos, y otras fugas caseras. A nivel nacional, más de 1 millón de millones de gallones de agua gotean de las casas estadounidenses cada año. Por dicha razón, WaterSense está promoviendo la Semana de Repare el Goteo del 15 al 21 de marzo del 2010 para recordarle a los estadounidenses a verificar el funcionamiento de la plomería y sistemas de irrigación para repararlos.

¿Cuándo fue la última vez que reparó un goteo?

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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Faces of the Grassroots: Environmental Justice Video Contest

I believe all people have a right to live in a clean and healthy environment. This principle, also called environmental justice, means that along with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” every American has a right to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, work and play.

Unfortunately, many communities across the nation, particularly low-income, minority, and tribal populations, live in unhealthy conditions because they are located near factories, ports, agricultural land, or are exposed to chemicals in the home. The understanding that environmental and public health impacts affect some communities more than others is what started the Environmental Justice movement in the 1990s. And, children in these communities are more vulnerable to environmental conditions than adults.

My interest in environmental justice began growing up in Houghton, a former mining town in the poor, rural, northern most part of Michigan. The mining industry there began in the 1890s and once was home to the largest copper milling operation in North America. But, long after the mining operations and jobs ceased, the heavy metals and chemicals from the mines persisted and some lands were designated as Brownfields and Superfund sites. The lakes and streams my friends and I played in as children could have been polluted with toxins we know are harmful to children, and my story is not unique.

Fortunately, many cleanup activities are underway or have been completed since I left home and my vision of a nation of clean, healthy communities is closer than ever. Communities, where people can live without the threat of environmental factors causing asthma and respiratory diseases, where everyone has the opportunity to work and earn a living wage in a job that supports a green economy, and where children can play and attend schools located in safe, healthy places that encourage learning. Luckily, I work for an EPA that shares that vision. In fact, environmental justice has become one of Administrator Lisa Jackson’s highest priorities.

I just shared my story of the environmental concerns where I grew up and my hope for a better tomorrow, now it’s your turn. Share your environmental justice stories by submitting either a 30 or 60 second public service message or a longer 3 to 5 minute informational video that captures the faces of the grassroots, the environmental justice stories that matter to you, the solutions that have made your community a better place to live, or tell us your vision of a sustainable, healthy future. The Faces of the Grassroots contest is your chance to put to video the realities you have experienced, the very stories that drive us at EPA to work harder. We can’t develop lasting solutions without you. Join the conversation!

For more info, visit: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice

About the Author: Christine Guitar works in EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and focuses on outreach and community involvement.

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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