Monthly Archives: April 2010

El Día del Planeta Tierra a los 40—Reflexionando y recordando a Gaylord Nelson

Me uní al equipo de trabajo del fallecido Senador Gaylord Nelson (fundador del Día del Planeta Tierra) justo cuando me gradué de la universidad, poco después de la celebración del segundo Día del Planeta Tierra en 1971. Me inculcó una pasión por el medio ambiente que aún vive en mí al día de hoy.

El proyecto comenzó cuando Nelson llamó a dos de sus ayudantes principales a su oficina en septiembre de 1969. Acababa de regresar de Santa Bárbara después de un horrendo derrame de petróleo cerca de la costa de California. Estaba enfurecido por la devastación ambiental y la inercia política en Washington. Había leído un periódico local donde hablaban de las actividades de concienciación en el campus de Berkley en contra de la guerra de Vietnam y se le ocurrió una idea. Le dijo a sus ayudantes, “Vean lo que pueden hacer para tener actividades de concienciación ambiental en los recintos universitarios alrededor de país coincidiendo el mismo día para la próxima primavera”.

El 22 de abril de 1970, unos 20 millones de estadounidenses participaron en el primer Día del Planeta Tierra (un récord para cualquier evento de cualquier tipo para aquella época). El senador Nelson se sintió satisfecho y con mucha razón. Había hecho de la protección ambiental su carrera y parecía que entonces Estados Unidos, el entonces principal contaminante del mundo, estaba listo para dirigir una revolución medioambiental. Bueno, no exactamente.

El primer proyecto que me asignó el senador fue llamar a los jefes de las principales 100 compañías Fortune (Top Fortune100) y alentarle a que reciclaran. Me tomó algún tiempo realizar la asignación ya que no había Internet en aquella época, pero completé la labor. Dos cosas se destacan de mi experiencia. Primero, pude comunicarme con 98 de ellos (directamente o contestaron mi llamada). Segundo, todos me colgaron el teléfono o se rieron a carcajadas y luego colgaron el teléfono. (En la actualidad, ni una de esas compañías, todavía en existencia, me dirían que no reciclan de alguna manera u otra).

Uno de sus principales ayudantes, John Heritage, escribió para el periódico Capital Times de Madison, Wisconsin recientemente. “Desafortunadamente, la salud ecológica de nuestra nación y de gran parte del mundo se ha deteriorado en las últimas cuatro décadas. Ahora nos enfrentamos…al calentamiento del clima mundial, la degradación de los océanos, la devastación de los bosques tropicales y la pérdida de los hábitats y las especies”.

Para honrar a Gaylord Nelson y su profundo entendimiento de las limitaciones ecológicas, es imperativo que trabajemos juntos por encontrar maneras para implementar un sistema que sea más favorable ambientalmente para la vida en la Tierra.

Sobre la autor:  John Larmett ha trabajado en la Oficina de Asuntos Públicos desde el 2008. Trabajó para el Senador Nelson del 1971 al 1980.

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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Cooling Down Heat Islands in Your Neighborhood Cuts Energy Costs

This coming weekend, my fellow students and I will be on the National Mall in Washington, DC to exhibit our award-winning P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) project—developing white, reflective roof coatings.

Our research aims to develop new materials for building surfaces that have low solar gain—surfaces that do not absorb much of the sun’s energy. The ultimate goal is to understand how to develop common building materials that exhibit low solar gain characteristics.

The roof coatings we’ve been developing are designed to reflect visible and infrared radiation, cutting down on heat gain, which in turn would cut energy costs and mitigate the “heat island effect” that makes urban areas significantly hotter than nearby rural areas.

Heat islands pose an increasing risk to the environment and contribute to higher energy costs in urban centers, especially during peak demand times.

It is especially important that city planners and municipalities understand how the balance between built surfaces and vegetation can achieve a lower heat “footprint.” Then, they can use zoning laws, which have the power to affect building practices across the country, to prevent the heat island effect. I’d like to see zoning laws updated to account for energy and environmental factors—such as heat islands—rather than for form and appearance. My team’s research could help inform such innovative zoning laws.

Our work with roof coatings and the Drexel Smart House aims to provide information and potential strategies for mitigating heat islands through alternative roofing systems such as cool roofs and green roofs,  (which have the added benefit of reducing storm water runoff, too).

About the author: Eric Eisele is a graduate student studying Materials Science and Engineering at Drexel University, and is a member of a P3 Phase II research team developing cool roof coatings. Eric and his team will be at the National Sustainable Design Expo and P3 Award Competition in Washington, DC on April 24-25.

Editors Note: Come see this and other innovative designs for a sustainable future at the 6th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall, April 24 -25.
For more information and directions

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: From Iceland’s Ash, Potential Particle Insights

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

The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland has focused international attention on tiny particles called aerosols that have been the subject of scientific scrutiny at EPA for decades.

Much of this week’s media frenzy has focused on airport chaos related to the eruption, but the potential health impacts to those breathing the volcanic aerosols also deserve consideration.

Though the particles from Iceland’s plume vary considerably in makeup from the particles EPA typically investigates (from vehicles, factories, and dust), the eruption may contribute to our general understanding of airborne particles and their potential health impacts.

According to Daniel Costa, EPA’s national program director for air research, volcanic ash is not nearly as toxic to the lungs as particles from typical urban sources, like traffic. However, he explained, they “may result in coughing and sneezing,” and may be especially irritating to “asthmatics and people with cardiopulmonary disease.”

Costa and other EPA scientists and grantees have previously studied the health effects of particles from Mount St. Helen’s, a volcano in Washington State that erupted violently in 1980.

According to accounts of the eruption from the National Forest Service, “a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, turning day into night as dark, gray ash fell over eastern Washington and beyond.”

While “pound for pound, volcanic ash is much, much less toxic than typical air pollution particles,” Costa said, “…when combined with dust, sulfur dioxide and other gaseous emissions from volcanic emissions may be pretty potent acting through different pathways with the same result.”

After the Mount St. Helen’s eruption, scientists spent years studying, observing and analyzing data from the event. Air pollution experts at EPA believe more could potentially be learned from future studies of Iceland’s far-reaching plume.

volcano_1-usgsBryan Bloomer, atmospheric scientist at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, said that “for meteorologists, atmospheric scientists, and climate scientists, it will be interesting to watch.”

“There is a lot to be learned about wind currents from the movement of the plume, the application of remote sensing and satellite imagery to aerosol modeling, and also observations we can make about the effects of the eruption on temperature.”

Shockwaves from the eruption are mostly being felt abroad, but resulting awareness of airborne particles as a health threat should resonate right here at home, where particle pollution of a different sort remains a major environmental policy priority. 

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research and a regular contributor to Science Wednesday.

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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OnAir: EPA & Auto Industry Partnership Fills Need for Trusted Science

The Health Effects Institute (HEI) is one of the most respected research organizations in air pollution science.

The Institute was founded in 1980 through an unprecedented partnership between the EPA and the automotive industry. With equal funding from agency and industry (by market share), HEI is in a unique position to provide “high-quality, impartial, and relevant science,” on air pollution health effects, according to their website.

blog_HEI_20100406“HEI began because there was a need for independent science that could be trusted by everyone,” said Dan Greenbaum, HEI’s president.

“What we find is that with industry, EPA, and environmentalists at the table, they are really asking the same scientific questions…even though they may not always want the same answers.”

To maintain objectivity, HEI’s review committees are staffed by participants who are not involved in any advocacy for industry or the environment. The Institute also avoids making regulatory recommendations.
“We don’t make policy here,” Greenbaum said. “We deliver relevant science to the doorsteps of decision-makers so they can do their jobs.”

Greenbaum is known for communicating well across business, environmental, and political realms. He has applied this savvy at the helm of HEI and steered the Institute toward the highest standards of scientific integrity.

“The scientific review process can be a little intense,” Greenbaum admitted, “but it’s so important to have research that is above and beyond reproach.”

Because of the integrity of HEI’s research, their data is often used in important decision-making processes.
In 1997, for example, the EPA reviewed national standards for PM and ozone. To ensure the review incorporated the best-possible information, HEI was asked to reanalyze large datasets from two major air pollution studies.

“They trusted us to treat the data well,” Greenbaum said, “and after tearing it apart and putting it back together again, we confirmed the results and found higher effects of air pollution in people with lower socioeconomic status.”

HEI continues to push the research envelope. Through a new committee, HEI is identifying needed research on the potential health consequences of new fuels and engine technologies.

“We are forecasting a range of new technologies and looking to see whether they could have unintended consequences for public health,” Greenbaum said.

“This is a great example of research to fill gaps in understanding. The key thing we do is listen to what information people need and then do the research to get it.”

For more information, visit: http://www.healtheffects.org/

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer 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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Living without Meat

I used to eat meat throughout my childhood, but never really enjoyed the taste. Only after a graphic showing of a pig slaughter I witnessed in elementary school did I stop eating pig, and once I was in high-school I became of full-on vegetarian. My main reasoning for this was more that I disliked the taste of meat, but the ethics against killing animals was a reasoning as well.

I soon learned that there was another great motive to becoming vegetarian; the negative environmental effects of meat production . There are a variety of different environmental impacts that occur due to the production of meat:

  • Air pollution due to dust and liquid manures.
  • Fossil fuels, water, and land over-use
  • Rainforest erosion and destruction for pasture land
  • Water contamination due to animal waste
  • Grain and corn grown for animal feed instead of addressing world hunger

The two natural resources that are perhaps most tapped by meat manufacturing are land and water. According to the British group, VegFarm, a 10-acre piece of land can feed 60 people when used for the production of soybeans, 24 people when used for wheat, 10 people when used for corn, and only a mere 2 people when used for cattle. Similarly, the amount of water used is severely disproportional when comparing wheat to meat. In a book written by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, one pound of wheat uses approximately 60 pounds of water while one pound of meat requires about 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water.

Another issue that the EPA is specifically interested in is the pollution that feedlots and animal wastes are causing in waterways . The runoff from feedlots and animals feces-covered fields is causing some of our waters, such as areas in the Chesapeake Bay, to become unhealthy.

Regulations can be made to help prevent the effects of meat production, but the easiest way to lessen the environmental impacts is to become a vegetarian or vegan. The vegetarian/vegan alternative can be easily accomplished in today’s markets and restaurants. Meat substitutes including tofu, seitan, and soy-based products are more easily accessible in grocery stores and especially in the rising organic food markets. Also, many restaurants are now providing vegetarian options to better suit those who do not eat meat. Making the change can be difficult, but persistence in becoming a vegetarian can lead to a more eco-friendly lifestyle

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: As stated on the “About” page, “The opinions and comments expressed in Greenversations are those of the authors alone and do not reflect an Agency policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy 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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Question of the Week: Where is your favorite place on earth or someplace you dream of visiting during your lifetime?

With Earth Day approaching, now is a good time to reflect on the wonders and pleasures Mother Earth provides us: majestic mountain ranges, beaches and ocean cliffs, and city parks providing a green break in urban life.  There truly is “something for everyone” or should we say “somewhere for everyone”.  Tell us about your favorite place on earth, or someplace you’d like to experience during your lifetime and why.

Where is your favorite place on earth or someplace you dream of visiting during your lifetime?

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: ¿Cuál es su lugar favorito en la tierra o algún lugar del cual ha soñado para visitar durante su vida?

Como el Día del Planeta Tierra se avecina, ahora es un buen momento para reflexionar sobre las maravillas y placeres que la Madre Tierra nos brinda: majestuosas cordilleras de montañas, playas, precipicios a la orilla del mar, y parques en la ciudad que brindan un refugio verde en la vida urbana. Realmente hay “algo para todo el mundo” o se podría decir “un lugar para todo el mundo”. Díganos cuál es su lugar favorito en la tierra o algún lugar que quisiera experimentar durante su vida y por qué.

¿Cuál es su lugar favorito en la tierra o algún lugar del cual ha soñado para visitar durante su vida?

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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Palau’s Sharks – Plight to Protection

Most trek to Palau to behold beneath its sea. Become a certified diver? Check. My EPA dive team colleagues warned it would be hard to top, until I’m diving off Massachusetts this summer I can’t say, but I’ve likely been completely spoiled.

I started caring about animals far earlier than usual. Natural instincts were supplemented by growing up outside catching pollywogs, and when indoors, watching a 1980s, taped, National Geographic special on whales and sharks, incessantly… (Where scientists test which wetsuit colors attract Jaws the most, I think it was a tie, and divers caress sleeping Tiger sharks?!) While Palau didn’t have whales, it is the first country to create a shark sanctuary throughout its marine territory; and thank goodness.

We probably saw 50 sharks on the trip, I lost count. White tip, black tip, grey reef! I never felt threatened as they gently swam by. Diving Blue Corner, seeing these beautiful creatures, catching a glimpse into their behavior, just feet away took my breath away. I wanted to dive deeper and watch them for hours.

I heard of shark finning, seen atrocious images, but it really hit me there. How unnecessary to destroy these fascinating animals? Palau’s shark population and diversity had been devastated by foreign vessels, but heroic efforts in the community over the past decade helped the government enact some of the toughest shark protection legislation in the world.

Concerned Palauans had Ron Leidich’s help (told you he knows his stuff) along with Noah Idechong, Delegate to Palau’s National Congress and founding member of the Palau Conservation Society. Local efforts were aided by the help of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.” Both Ron and marine biologist Ethan Daniels helped the film crew capture the plight of Palau’s threatened shark population by surprising a foreign vessel with holds full of shark carcasses and fins. While it wasn’t yet illegal, the ship falsely declared the cargo as “tuna and other permitted catch” to Palau Customs officials. This captured for the world to see, caused international outcry and support to protect Palau’s top, living, attraction. Dermot Keane, another friendly face at Sam’s Tours, who we met after diving went on to launch the Palau Shark Sanctuary in November 2001, to continue the fight to end shark finning in Palau and around the world.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, EPA New England, on detail, EPA’s Office 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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Urban Waters

Our Kansas City Regional office sits at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. Each River is named for its respective State (or more accurately for the Kansas and Missouria Native American Tribes), and both join at the intersection of two distinct Kansas Cities (one in each state). Two hundred years ago Lewis and Clark sat at this very spot. Anyone who has read their journals must marvel at the awe and wonders that they experienced travelling upriver from the Mississippi to the headwaters of the Missouri, through the Bitterroot Mountains to the Clearwater, and on to the Mouth of the Columbia. Each day on the river was an experience.

These and other great rivers were responsible for the growth of small trading outposts into towns and eventually into bustling cities. Unfortunately water quality suffered with the growth of our nation. Untreated sewage, dangerous chemicals, and destruction of wetlands all degraded the water we depend on for drinking, fishing, recreation, and life. Things have gotten better, but challenges still lay ahead, especially in those waters that were responsible for our growth.

Picture-142-urban-watersMy staff and I pulling trash out of the Kansas & Missouri Rivers

Administrator Jackson has asked us as an Agency to focus on a number of priorities including protecting America’s Waters. Part of this effort is an initiative to focus on rivers and lakes in our own backyards, to experience them in ways that are meaningful to us. The goal of this initiative is to restore and protect urban water bodies by engaging communities in activities that foster increased connection, understanding and ownership of their waters and surrounding land.

A couple of weeks ago I was conducting an interview at a local high school for my alma mater. I trudged into the library and past a statue that looked vaguely like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. An hour or so later as I walked the prospective Penn Quaker to the door, I let my eyes linger on the statue once again and noticed a small name plate at the base…Samuel Clemens. Like most busy adults I had walked past the statue of Twain without giving it much of a glance, a satirical parallel to my own daily trips across the Missouri River indifferent to the history and wonder that lay beneath the bridge deck. I took it as a sign from the greatest American river man to avoid taking my experiences with urban waters in Kansas City for granted. In the coming months I hope to share them with you.

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started in 1998. He serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

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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Pick5 Goes International!

I’m a little excited, (says something after Palau!) Last Earth Day, EPA created Pick5 for the Environment to encourage environmental action, commitment and advocacy. Now it’s GLOBAL!

Ever wonder what more EPA could do internationally? Some of us here did too. An enthusiastic team at the State Department and EPA joined together to launch our first joint environmental advocacy effort! Now let’s hope for participation to rise, from all over the world.

Also, thanks to all the inspiring environmental efforts out there who have some incredible websites that we couldn’t help but admire when redesigning ours. We hope to inspire together!

So what’s Pick5 International about? Doing your part.

Excuses are easy. Long work hours, no recycling bin or reusable option handy. Greenies like me can whine and bug our friends to change, but you know – those swimming polar bears in Planet Earth did a much better job wrenching your heartstrings, and that’s great! Those images remind us that every action has a consequence, usually someplace else that’s easily forgotten.

The effects of our actions compile where we don’t see them. Plastics finding their way to far off lands, creating NEW land or ending up in landfills: somebody sees it. That ‘stuff’ will be around for generations. The condition of the planet doesn’t restart at the beginning of a child’s life. When has air pollution ever stopped at a border security check point? Last time I looked into it, the air and water this planet started with, is the only batch of it we’ve got.

Pollution knows no bounds. Neither should environmental action. Pick5 International was created with this in mind. We understand not everyone can do the same thing to help the environment. It’s about doing what fits your lifestyle, your home, your country. Leaving this planet better off than how we found it takes little steps from all of us. It’s that simple. It’s fun. It can save money. It can also, by the way, help save those places and species that we adore so much when we see them on TV. So let’s all Pick 5 today and every day, so generations to come might have a chance to still see them for real.

About the author: Jeanethe works for EPA New England in Boston doing Superfund Community Involvement, and social media outreach for EPA’s Office of Web Communications in Washington D.C.

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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