Monthly Archives: March 2010

What does Open Government Mean to You?

At the start of his administration, President Obama announced his commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. Although we still have work to do at EPA to further these principles, I believe that we have made great strides in embracing the spirit of Open Government. On February 5th, we launched our Open Government Web page where we share our progress in meeting our Open Government goals.

As EPA’s lead for developing a formal plan for the Agency to more fully implement Open Government, I’d like to know your thoughts on what our Open Government Plan should embrace. What does Open Government mean to you? Is it having more data available to conduct your own analyses? Is it knowing more about the research and regulatory efforts we have underway at EPA? Is being able to more directly participate and collaborate with us in our environmental mission. Are there fundamental or philosophical changes that you believe we need to make in order to truly achieve open government?

Although I have been in federal service for many years, I joined EPA just over a year ago. While I had a good sense about the general mission of the Agency, I was unaware of some of the truly amazing work that goes on in the EPA that supports Open Government. For example, in the last year I learned that EPA has a wealth of environmental data to support actions on many levels– our national programs, our communities, and our personal health. I wonder how many people know about our vast data holdings that range from extensive watershed data, to the compliance history of the facilities we regulate, to air quality and ultraviolet (UV) radiation indices that help you decide when it is unhealthy to be outside.

I am a big fan of our MyEnvironment application which is accessible from our home page. I use MyEnvironment to get information about the areas where my family and I live and play.

Looking ten years into the future, how do you hope that Open Government will have transformed the way that we serve the public and protect human health and the environment? I’m looking forward to learning about the creative and innovative thoughts people have that will help EPA work better with you and better protect the environment and public health.

About the author: Lisa Schlosser is the Director of EPA’s Office of Information Collection.

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, That Is the Question

While I was on my way home, my daughter Mariam franticly called me because she had seen a small mouse running in our family room. I told her that I would stop by the supermarket to buy mouse traps. She insisted that we catch the mouse live and dispose of it. She didn’t want to kill it or use any poisons that might hurt our three house cats. In fact, the scene was quite comical because in our time of need, the three cats were no where to be found!

I wasn’t worried about having a rodent infestation in the house because we observe integrated pest management practices. Furthermore, I hope that the cats’ presence should serve as a natural deterrent. I suppose that the small field mouse, which seemed to be as frantic as my daughter, must have entered the warm house while I brought the garbage can and recycling bin inside. Yes, I had left the kitchen door open in the process, me bad.

When I got home with two sets of mouse traps (including a live-catch one) my daughter kept insisting that she didn’t want to kill the mouse. Surprisingly, while the mouse was scurrying around the family room trying to escape, it jumped into a box full of toys. My husband quickly took the box, dumped it out on the deck, and the small mouse leaped to freedom.

So what are the do’s and don’ts to get rid of mice and other pests in the home? Simple tips include removing sources of food, water and shelter. If you have to use pesticides, read the label first and keep children and pets away while these pesticides are being applied. In the home, traps and baits pose less risks to children and pets. Nonetheless, place them in areas where your children or pets cannot reach. In fact, the use of rat poison in the home leads to accidental poisonings of children on a yearly basis. The Agency has announced stricter policy guidelines to prevent rodenticide poisonings.

I must confess that while the mouse trapping scenario was hilarious this weekend, rodents and other pests in the home are not a laughing matter. They present many health risks and need to be handled properly. With preventive measures, you can keep everyone at home safe and the pests far away.

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, he ahí el dilema

Mientras iba a casa, mi hija Mariam me llamó frenética porque había visto un ratoncito corriendo en la sala familiar. Yo le dije que pararía en el supermercado para comprar varias ratoneras. Ella insistió que quería que capturara el ratón sin matarlo y dispusiera del mismo. Ella no quería matarlo y tampoco quería que usáramos venenos para no poner en peligro las tres gatas que tenemos en la casa. De hecho, la escena era realmente cómica ya que cuando más las necesitábamos, ¡las gatas habían desaparecido del panorama!

No me preocupaba la posibilidad de tener una infestación de ratas en la casa porque observamos prácticas para el manejo integrado de plagas. Además, yo estaba esperanzada de que la presencia de las gatas ayudaría servir como un ente disuasivo natural. Supongo que el ratoncito de campo, que parecía igualmente asustado que mi hija, había entrado a la casa buscando calor cuando yo estaba en el proceso de entrar el recipiente de basura, como decimos en Puerto Rico, el zafacón, y el recipiente de reciclaje. Sí, confieso que por descuido dejé la puerta de la cocina abierta en el proceso.

Cuando llegué a casa con dos tipos de ratoneras, incluyendo una que permite que uno capture el ratón sin matarlo, mi hija continuaba insistiendo que no matara el animal. Para sorpresa nuestra, el ratoncito que corría por todas partes intentando escapar, se metió en una caja de juguetes. Mi esposo rápidamente cogió la caja y la echó bocabajo afuera en el deck y el ratoncito saltó hacia su libertad.

Entonces, ¿cuáles son las medidas que se deben tomar para eliminar los ratones y otras plagas en el hogar? Por ejemplo, algunos consejos incluyen el remover las fuentes de alimentos, agua o albergue para estas plagas. Si tiene que usar plaguicidas, siga las instrucciones de la etiqueta y manténgalos fuera del alcance de los niños y mascotas cuando los aplique. En el hogar, las trampas y cepos presentan menos riesgos para los niños. No obstante, coloque las trampas y cebos en áreas fuera del alcance de los niños. De hecho, el usar veneno de ratas en el hogar conduce a envenenamientos accidentales en niños anualmente. La Agencia ha anunciado una política más estricta para evitar los envenenamientos por rodenticidas.

Tengo que confesar que mientras la escena de la captura del ratón este fin de semana fue bastante cómica, la presencia de ratas u otras plagas en el hogar no es materia para reírse. Estas presentan riesgos a la salud y tienen que ser manejadas adecuadamente. Con medidas preventivas, usted puede mantener su familia sana y dejar alejadas las plagas de su hogar.

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: The Role for Science in International Development

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

What’s that, you say? International development is best left to experts in policy and economics? Well, think again because I believe that engineers and scientists have an important role to play.

While it’s easy for most of us to take our roads, electricity, schools, police forces, and food supplies for granted, there are still billions of people around the globe for whom these are not yet a reality.

Think about how much people’s lives—their health, education, safety, and well-being—would improve if they had the same level of infrastructure many of us probably take for granted. Transportation is faster and safer with paved roads; electricity improves education and healthcare, which, in turn, improves quality of life and people’s productivity, feeding tax revenues to the government to use in further improving infrastructure.

It’s positive feedback, spiraling upwards if we could only get it started!

This is what motivates me and the rest of my team. Over the past six years, we have been working to improve energy infrastructure in developing countries by building a better option for distributed energy generation: one that is renewable (uses solar energy), affordable, and can be made entirely with local materials, skills—and people.

image of solar panelsThe technology, which we call a Solar ORC, uses a solar thermal co-generation technique to simultaneously provide electricity and hot water in volumes required by typical rural institutions such as schools and clinics, allowing them to improve services, stretch their budgets, and avoid environmental degradation due to burning of fossil fuels. At the same time, local fabrication and dissemination of the technology provides good jobs and spurs the local economy.

In conjunction with our partners in southern Africa, we have already installed and tested several prototype systems, optimized for construction in Lesotho. Our most recent achievement is the initiation of our first full-scale system installation at a rural health clinic in Lesotho in 2009.

This type of work is challenging but also immensely rewarding. With each installation I am directly involved in improving the quality of infrastructure—and quality of life—for local people.

So to all of the young scientists and engineers out there wondering how you can make an impact on the world—think outside of the box and consider whether international development might have some challenges in store for you.

About the Author: Amy Mueller is a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-founder of STG International, a non-profit organization combining science and engineering with international development. STG’s work developing a novel solar energy technology is supported in part by an EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award research grant.

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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Step Into Spring – – The 2010 Philadelphia International Flower Show

This year has gone on record as the snowiest winter in Philadelphia. With the aftermath of back to back snowstorms (huge piles of snow and icy spots) still very much a part of daily life, the prospect of early Spring seems like a fantasy. Yet, even though it’s still February, Spring will come early – as it does every year – in the form of the Philadelphia International Flower Show.

The Philadelphia Flower Show is an annual rite of Spring that brings together garden exhibitors from all over the world, transferring the huge floor of the Pennsylvania Convention Center into a magical Spring display. It is a sight to behold, taking us from winter to spring as we step into a wonderland of gardens, plants, and floral designs. Billed as the world’s largest indoor flower exhibit and the oldest (1829) in the nation, the Flower Show annually attracts more than 250,000 visitors from all over the world. With its international appeal and audience, it’s very fitting that the theme of 2010 show is “Passport to the World.”

Traditional gardens, despite their beauty and appeal, can cause serious harm to the environment, including pesticide and nutrient runoff, and introduction of invasive species. That’s why since 1993, EPA has used this wonderful venue to educate gardeners on techniques that protect the environment and at the same time create beautiful gardens.

Each year, using native plants, and recycled materials, the EPA flower show team of volunteers designs, constructs, and creates an exhibit that vividly demonstrates the beauty and practicality of native plants, sustainable water usage, and beneficial landscaping techniques. In keeping with the Show’s 2010 international focus, our exhibit depicts an “East Meets West” theme, showcasing a Japanese style tea-house, set in a picturesque North American native garden. Our thousands of visitors are sure to be inspired by the splashes of colors and exotic textures of evergreens, azaleas, pitcher plants, phlox and a host of other native species as they adorn a cedar walkway and tea-house. The exhibit appears to be floating above a reflective pools.

As a Communications Coordinator and a Flower Show volunteer, I have coordinated outreach and education for the Flower Show team for more than 10 years. And while our exhibits always carry messages of sustainability, it is amazing to see unique exhibits year after year, conveying environmental messages in a special and beautiful way.

If you’re in the area, stop by and see for yourself the beauty and environmental benefits of green gardening. The 2010 Philadelphia International Flower Show runs from Sunday, February 28th through March 7th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Whether you are an aspiring gardener, an experienced gardener, or you just like to enjoy the sights of Spring, there’ll be plenty to see, learn, and enjoy.

See you at the Flower Show.

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax came to EPA Region’s mid-Atlantic Region in 1987 and has held several positions throughout the Region. She is currently the Communications Coordinator for the Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.

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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Tire Crumbs on our Playgrounds

When I was younger I lived only a few blocks away from a large playground. I used to go there with my family and friends to do the ‘usual’ playground activities: run, swing, race the boys on the monkey bars, and ride down the slides into sand, grass, or my personal favorite, concrete. I was, and still am, a very active person and because of this a have acquired my fair share of bumps, bruises, and scars from my exciting playground sessions. Perhaps this is why we are beginning to see a shift in the way in which playgrounds are being constructed.

More and more we are starting to see playgrounds, and playing fields covered in artificial synthetic turf. While there are some benefits to artificial turf, including low-cost maintenance and less potential for injuries, artificial turf may have potential environmental hazards that could overshadow its advantages. The crumb rubber used in artificial turf may include chemicals such as latex and other rubbers, phthalates, and toxic metals.

The EPA has done studies in attempts to uncover the potential harms of artificial turf. So far, the studies have not revealed any hazards of concern. It is suggested, however, that more studies should be done to better understand the potential environmental hazards of artificial synthetic turf.

The two sides of the argument have very strong points, each bringing issues even beyond the health standpoint and into the financial and environmental positions as well. I believe it is appropriate to view the issue as “unresolved.” More research should be done to learn more and make accurate decisions as the whether artificial turf is here to stay or needs to be taken away.

What are your opinions on artificial synthetic turf? Do you play on artificial turf?

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: What trade offs would you be willing to make in your life to protect the environment?

Choices, choices, choices! We make them everyday. Sometimes we weigh our options and make sacrifices before making our choices. Perhaps you chose to use a reusable water bottle today instead of just grabbing a disposable bottled water. Other times we may decide the trade-off isn’t worth the effort. Tell us about trade offs you are willing to make to help protect the environment. Share your thoughts.

What trade offs would you be willing to make in your life to protect 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.

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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué trueque estaría dispuesto hacer en su vida para proteger al medio ambiente?

¡Selecciones, opciones, elecciones! Las hacemos todos los días. A veces sopesamos nuestras opciones y hacemos sacrificios antes de hacer nuestra selección. Quizás usted puede escoger utilizar botellas reutilizables de agua hoy en lugar de optar por una botella de agua desechable. Muchas veces decidimos que el trueque no vale la pena del esfuerzo. Cuéntenos acerca de que ha decidido cambiar o abandonar para poder ayudar a proteger el medio ambiente. Comparta sus pensamientos.

¿Qué trueque estaría dispuesto hacer en su vida para proteger al 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.

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