Monthly Archives: April 2010

More Is Not Always Better

How many times have you seen a cockroach in your home and attempted to spray an entire can of bug killer to get rid of all cockroaches once and for all? How many times of you seen a little field mouse venture into your home and resorted to using tons of rat poison to eliminate any possible infestation from here to the end of time? How many times have you used excessive amounts of cleaners in an attempt to make things cleaner and brighter? Well, the reality is that more is not always better. In fact, excessive use of pesticides or household cleaners can be counterproductive and even put your entire family at risk.

One basic principle for using pesticides and household cleaners safely is to read the label first!  By reading the product label, you will get the necessary information to use the product properly and minimize exposure to these chemicals. Furthermore, the label provides first aid information in the event of an accidental poisoning.

While I have made the point of reading the label when using pesticide products, I wasn’t aware of the need to follow the label’s instructions with the same care when using other common soaps and household products. In fact, I recently watched a program that illustrated how excessive amounts of laundry detergent actually produced the opposite effect by leaving cloths dingy from too much soap. Excessive soap could also produce soap scum in some washing machines which, unfortunately, serves as a breeding ground for bacteria. The consumer show also stressed the need to read the instructions manual for the household appliance to maximize use and efficiency. Similar guidelines also apply when using other appliances such as dishwashers.

Therefore, emptying an entire container of pesticides will not keep the pests at bay. Good integrated pest management practices will.

So, why not start 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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El usar más no es siempre mejor

¿Cuántas veces ha visto una cucaracha en su hogar y ha vaciado un pote entero de insecticida para eliminar todas las cucarachas para siempre? ¿Cuántas veces ha visto un ratoncito invadir su hogar y ha recurrido a toneladas de veneno de ratas para evitar que cualquier ratón pise su hogar por los siglos de los siglos? ¿Cuántas veces ha usado cantidades excesivas de limpiadores para asegurar que las cosas queden más limpias y brillantes? Bueno, la realidad que el usar más no es siempre mejor. De hecho, el uso de excesivo de pesticidas y limpiadores caseros puede ser contraproducente y hasta poner a su familia en riesgo.

Un principio básico sobre el uso de pesticidas y limpiadores caseros de manera segurar consiste en leer la etiqueta primero! Al leer la etiqueta, encontrará la información necesaria para usar el producto de manera adecuada y minimizar la exposición a estas sustancias químicas. Asimismo, la etiqueta brinda información de primeros auxilios en caso de un envenenamiento accidental.

Mientras me he asegurado de leer la etiqueta cuando uso productos pesticidas, no estaba consciente de la necesidad de seguir las instrucciones de la etiqueta con el mismo cuidado cuando utilizo otros productos caseros comunes. De hecho, en un programa de televisión reciente ilustraron cómo cantidades excesivas de detergente para lavar ropa, en efecto, tiene el efecto opuesto al dejar la ropa luciendo apagada. Incluso, el jabón excesivo en la lavarropas puede acumularse y generar moho (hongos) en la máquina. El programa también recalcó la necesidad de leer el manual de uso para enseres eléctricos caseros para así maximizar su uso y eficiencia. Consejos similares también se aplican a otros enseres como lavaplatos, por ejemplo.

Por lo tanto, el vaciar un pote entero de pesticidas no eliminará las plagas. La manera eficaz de lograr este objetivo consiste en adoptar prácticas integradas para el manejo de plagas. [http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/ipm-sp.html] ¿Por qué no comenzar 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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U.S. EPA’s National Video Competition – “Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice” – finalists announced!

The U.S. EPA asked for your ideas about how to reduce, reuse, and recycle materials and you answered back with your passion, creativity, and many ideas on how to make a difference! U.S. EPA’s national video competition, “Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice,” received over 250 submissions and selecting the finalists proved tough. Please visit our website to check out the 27 finalist videos.

As a reviewer, I was inspired by the creativity and passion that the videos showed. Videos were submitted from every corner of the country from every age group. People showed us how they make a difference with their actions, why it is important and how others can join the wave of people making every day choices to protect the environment.

In mid-April 2010, first, second and third prizes will be awarded along with two student winners and all will receive cash prizes. In 30 to 60 second videos, contestants focus on raising awareness of the connection between the environment and the “stuff” people use, consume, recycle, and throw away.

About the author: Melissa Winters joined EPA’s Seattle office in 2007 where she works to reduce the climate impact of materials and their consumption.

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: With Diabetes, Higher Air Pollution Risks

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

New studies by EPA grantees at Harvard suggest that exposure to air pollution makes the cardiovascular risks associated with diabetes even worse.

It’s well known that diabetes can cause an array of health problems and impose taxing lifestyle changes on those who suffer from it. But of all burdens associated with diabetes, heart disease may be the gravest.

Surfing some stats on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website ,  I discovered that among diabetics, at least 65% of all deaths are attributable to heart disease—compared to just 27% in the population as a whole. What’s more, the American diabetes population is increasing at a very rapid pace (check out the maps I adapted from Maps of Trends in Diabetes.

Because of the heart-health risks to people with diabetes, EPA scientists suspected that air pollution, which also affects the cardiovascular system, may be particularly harmful to individuals with diabetes.

A new study has shown that, indeed, individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to be hospitalized for heart problems than those without diabetes.  New EPA grantee studies show that respiratory and stroke deaths related air pollution are also twice as likely in people with diabetes.

So, why does this matter?

This new information is critical to the diabetes community and health professionals because it suggests that people with diabetes may need to pay extra attention to where they live and the air they breathe.

diabetes_1The implication that people with diabetes could be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than the general population is a potentially crucial piece of information for air policymakers.

Under the Clean Air Act , the U.S. EPA is required to set air pollution standards to protect human health. Since there is a wide spectrum of vulnerability to the effects of air pollution, the EPA must design air standards to protect even the most susceptible populations.

As this preliminary research continues, policymakers will have a much better understanding of susceptibility in the growing population of Americans with diabetes.

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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OnAir: Research Underdogs Fill Atmospheric Blind Spot

AAAR_underdogs1Andy Grieshop and Ben Murphy call themselves underdogs.

“A few years ago when we presented our research… people would just stare at us blankly,” Andy recalled.

But now, several years and publications later, the skeptical tone has changed. During a presentation at the 2010 AAAR conference in San Diego, audience members seemed encouraged by what they saw.

Andy and Ben are two members of a group of Carnegie Mellon scientists who have spent years trying to fill a big blind spot in atmospheric modeling.

Historically, most models of atmospheric air pollution significantly underestimated the amount of a specific kind of particle, called secondary organic aerosol (SOA).

“What we actually observe in the atmosphere is a factor of 3 – 100 times more than the SOA traditional models predict,” Grieshop explained.

This means that the information used by scientists and policymakers to make important pollution control decisions is not representing everything that people breathe.

According to Grieshop and Murphy, the traditional models overlook some key reactions and processes that take place as particles age and transform in the atmosphere. Most people do not breathe particles emitted directly from a tail pipe, they explained. People breathe in particles that have spent time in the air, moving and reacting with other chemicals.

“When particles dilute, evaporate and then condense back to particles, a lot about them changes,” Murphy said.

Some of these changes could be important to human health.

“Health researchers need accurate models to understand what people are actually exposed to,” Murphy said.

If SOA, as some preliminary studies suggest, is more toxic to people, the new models could be critical for protection of public health.

The new model incorporates atmospheric processes that contribute to SOA formation and does a much better job of predicting what people breathe.

“It’s pretty close to right-on,” Grieshop said, “in terms of matching what we observe in the atmosphere.”

Though more research needs to be done to “drill deeper” into atmospheric processes that may change particles, both scientists agree that this finding could have a big impact.

Their research is already being incorporated into state and local air quality models that are used to manage and control pollution.

“You never really expect that your specific research in atmospheric chemistry may be important for national policy so early on in your career,” Grieshop said excitedly.

“This has been a really great opportunity for us to make a difference.”

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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Healthy Living at Summer Camp

From the time that I was very young my family and I have been attending a summer camp in southern Michigan. Camp has always been a big part of my life, so when I became a counselor for the camp three years ago, I made it a goal of mine to give my campers the same, positive, experience my counselors gave to me. However, I knew there was one aspect of being a counselor that I wanted to improve on from the counselors of the past.

As a camper I always got sick as summer camp is a place for kids to play around in dirt, the lake, and be in close quarters with one another. I realized that there were little things that not only I, but other counselors and kids could do to prevent sickness. Campers and counselors were required to wash and sanitize their hands before every meal, shower at scheduled times, change out of wet clothing and swimsuits when not in the water, and clean the cabins daily. I knew these practices were helping the campers’ health as I noticed both my campers and I were getting sick less often.

Two summers ago a large storm swept through the camp, causing many of the cabins to flood. Limited space required the counselors and campers to stay in the water-ridden cabins. I realized quickly that this was not good for our health. My fellow counselors and I asked to be moved out of the cabin, explaining that we thought our kids were getting sick because of the forming mold. We were moved to different cabins that had some room and immediately saw our campers becoming healthier.

After the flood, action was taken immediately to solve the flooding problem. Erosion, due to campers walking off paths, and general rainfall was a main cause of the floods. Construction was done to help move run-off water away from the cabins.

Although children are usually at summer camp for a relatively small amount of time, it is important that they stay healthy while having fun! Summer camp provides a fun “getaway” from daily living, but also provides a chance for kids to learn a variety of life values, including independence. It is not only up to the counselors, but the campers to achieve healthy practices. While the counselors must teach, the campers must perform.

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: How has your life improved because of steps you and others have taken to protect the environment?

2010 marks forty years since the first Earth Day and EPA’s creation. This week, we want to know how environmental protection has made a difference in your life. Whether it was a change you made at home, or an EPA project in your community, we want to hear your story. Be sure to check out our Earth Day Web site for ideas on how you can celebrate, participate and continue to make a difference!

How has your life improved because of steps you and others have taken 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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¿Cómo ha mejorado su vida como resultado de pasos que usted u otros han tomado para proteger el medio ambiente?

El 2010 marca cuarenta años desde el primer Día del Planeta Tierra y la creación de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés). Esta semana, queremos saber cómo la protección ambiental ha hecho una diferencia en su vida. Sea un cambio en el hogar o un proyecto de EPA en su comunidad, queremos escuchar su historia. Asegúrese de visitar nuestro sitio Web del Día del Planeta Tierra para ideas sobre cómo usted puede celebrar, participar y continuar haciendo una diferencia!

¿Cómo ha mejorado su vida como resultado de pasos que usted u otros han tomado para proteger el medio ambiente?

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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Saying Goodbye to an Old, Clunky, Digital Friend

My first cell phone was a clunky, monstrous thing that looked like a cross between a radio and a remote control. I barely ever used it, and as I upgraded to sleeker, more versatile phones year after year, Ol’ Clunky sat in a box in my closet, gathering dust. When my phone took a plunge into the sink recently, I took out my box of forgotten cell phones for a temporary replacement. To my dismay, the only cell phone that still worked was Ol’ Clunky.

My friends regarded my use of this decade-old device with awed reverence. “You realize that this should be in a museum, right?” They would ask. A better question to ask would be, “Why do you have a box-full of broken cell phones,” and “Why haven’t you bothered to recycle any of them?” I don’t have good answers to these questions, but I do know that for this year’s EPA National Cell Phone Recycling Week, which runs from Monday 4/5- Sunday 4/11, I’ll be dropping my old cell phones off at the nearest cell-phone recycling spot.

EPA and its Plug-In partners, including AT&T, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Samsung Mobile, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and RecyleBank, are holding a series of activities across the country during National Cell Phone Recycling Week. From in-store collection events to mail-in opportunities, people can unload all their unwanted cellular devices and benefit the environment at the same time. By recycling cell phones, we conserve materials, prevent air and water pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that occur during the manufacturing process. When cell phones are recycled, the precious metals, copper, and plastics are used to create new cell phones. Judging by how heavy Ol’ Clunky is, he might very well contain a decent amount of recyclable materials.

On average, only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled annually, with an estimated 58 million cell phones sitting in storage and not being used. While I know I should have recycled my devices eons ago, better late than never, right? I guess I’ll miss Ol’ Clunky, but I know he and I will meet again one day. Only this time, he’ll be part of a snazzier, upgraded phone, and not some forgotten relic in back of my closet.

For information on National Cell Phone Recycling Week:
www.epa.gov/cellphones

For information on where you can donate or recycle your cell phones:
www.epa.gov/ecycling

About the author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery and has been hoarding her old cell phones since 2002.

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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Hell in the Pacific?

‘Old war movie’ gurus may recognize the reference. While more is yet to come on the war relics that still refuse to dissolve into the jungle and out of sight, this highlights another issue that one might not expect to find in paradise.

Hell in the pacificOur third full day in Palau we found ourselves out again with Ron Leidich, biologist and founder of Planet Blue. We wanted an opportunity to continue planning the possible kayaking routes we could take after a week of diving. We were graciously given the time as we explored Blue Devil’s Beach (a.k.a Lee Marvin Beach – named after the 60’s Hollywood heart throb). In addition to getting a chance to snorkel, we helped clean the beach for the arrival of some guests traveling through the World Wildlife Fund for a week long guided expedition with Ron.

I pick up trash anywhere out of habit, beaches, even parking lots. I can’t leave it! Palau’s shoreline was no exception. Despite the remoteness, Palau isn’t immune to the traces of human activity even oceans away. The currents carry debris from any number of sources. We grabbed flip flops, nylon rope, plastic scraps and cans. I had held out hope that we wouldn’t see litter but, pollution knows no bounds. Plastics never disappear; they just breakdown into smaller pieces. While you didn’t have to look as hard as I would’ve hoped to find garbage, it felt encouraging being among Palauans who work hard to leave no trace and pick up the traces of others.

We noticed more recycling bins around Koror than I see in Boston, and the dive operations promoted the same ideas. For a relatively new independent country, Palau appeared to be on the right path with environmental and conservation efforts. A friend of ours told us about a family picnic day where they came across a beach positioned at the receiving end of currents carrying forgotten and poorly disposed of trash, maybe from ships, or other continents. 7 full garbage bags later and there was even more.

That litter blowing down the street always ends up someplace – even if you don’t know where.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvery lives in Boston, working for EPA New England as a Public Affairs Specialist, doing Superfund  Community Involvement. Currently Jeanethe is also working on web 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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