Monthly Archives: July 2010

Packing for the Beach

As with any trip, a day at the beach should involve some planning and preparation. While a bathing suit is a given, there are some things that we should or should not take to the beach. What should appear on the checklist of the do’s and don’ts you may ask? Well, the number one thing NOT to take to the beach is…plastics, especially plastic bags. While plastics are commonly used in many aspects of our lives, they have become a major component of marine debris. From water and soda bottles, to cups, utensils, containers, packaging, these plastics have adverse effects on our beaches and marine life. Plastic bags are often swallowed by marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds with tragic consequences.

So what should you do when packing for the beach? Well, take reusable bags, bottles, and containers. While at the beach, make sure you dispose of trash properly.

On the must-haves at the beach? First and foremost, make sure you are SunWise and not sun-foolish. Make sure you take some sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15—even on cloudy days. Also, wear sunglasses and protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat, for example. And in this day and age of modern mobile technology, EPA has a new mobile application that you can use on smartphones which allows you to check the UV index on the go! Just some simple tips to protect yourself, your family, and our environment.

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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Science Wednesday: BP Oil Spill Data Tools – Part II

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

For the past eight weeks I’ve had the privilege of being involved in a small slice of EPA’s coordinated response to the tragedy of the BP oil spill. Spending time in the Public Information Officers (PIO) room of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) here in Washington DC, has only furthered my resolve that this is an Agency where people truly live the mission of protecting public health and the environment. Part of that dedication is a commitment to sharing the information and environmental data we have on the EPA’s BP spill website.

Since oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, EPA has collected thousands of samples for chemicals related to oil and dispersants in the air, water and sediment. Jeffrey Levy’s blog post last week mentioned how the principles of open government and transparency govern our actions here as we post the EPA’s  air, water, and sediment sampling and air monitoring data as quickly as possible.

On the website, we’ve focused on providing data as well as presenting EPA’s interpretation of it. Up until now, one way we’ve been providing the data is in chunks in .CSV files (a generic file that any spreadsheet program can read) or in a PDF spreadsheet – that’s pretty good but we can do better. So we’re pretty excited to be offering a few new tools that offer increased flexibility and options for people to access the data. Last week, Jeffrey mentioned Socrata and Google Earth, and today we’re announcing a new tool that gives you the ability to download data based upon criteria you select. You can download data based upon the date range you wish, whether you want to see air monitoring data or data from sampling efforts (from which you can select: air, sediment, surface water, waste or oil sample results from mousse, oily debris, tar, and weathered oil) and for all the states in which we’re gathering data (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana or Mississippi) or just one of these states.

Download-tool

This is the first version and we’ll be adding features to the data download tool, such as searching by chemical, chemical category or searching by county in the coming weeks. We will be phasing out posting of the spreadsheets, but we believe that putting you in the driver’s seat for how to sort and organize the data is a better way to share this data. We welcome your ideas for future versions and encourage you to visit the sampling and monitoring data download tool, try it out and share your feedback on ways we can improve the sampling and monitoring data download tool. We’ll work to incorporate as many of the suggestions as we can – so we’re hoping to see an active and constructive discussion in the comment section below so we can improve this tool together.

About the author: When not serving in the Emergency Operations Center, Melissa Anley-Mills is the news director for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She joined the Agency in 1998 as a National Urban Fellow.

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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One Amazing Accomplishment from One Teenager

A colleague of mine suggested I read about a runner-up President’s Environmental Youth Award applicant named Jordyn. I started reading Jordyn’s application and thought to myself, “wow, she was a runner-up?”, she should be named the young environmentalist of the year!

After reading that 80% of waterways tested in 30 states had trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and hearing about “pharm parties,” where teens bring pills from home, mix them in a bowl, and blindly take a couple, Jordyn decided to take action! Jordyn, a freshman at the time, decided to create WI P2D2 (Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal) to educate her town about prescription-drug abuse and environmentally safe pill disposal.

JordynJordyn used some amazingly inventive communication tools to deliver her message including; a “Phil the Pill” costume, and a clear glass of water in which she placed pills and asked her audience if they would now like to take a drink. None of them did!

She secured a community drop-box for unwanted pills, used Facebook, YouTube, and T-shirts to get the word out, and persuaded local pharmacists and police officers to help.

Jordyn is the first teen to have written and been awarded state and local grants to secure funds for a drug collection event. At her first event, Jordyn collected an astonishing 440 pounds of drugs! Her accomplishments have been featured in numerous media outlets in both America and Canada.

Jordyn’s program is a perfect example of a multi-disiplinary solution to a multi-faceted local problem. If even a small percentage of the upcoming generations are as successful at improving their environment as Jordyn, I believe the environment will be in great hands. It strikes me that if a teenager can accomplish so much, as adult environmentalists we should follow her example, and never accept anything but complete success. Maybe we can convince her to work for EPA one day!

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 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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Working for Children's Health and Environmental Justice

I started my career at EPA as one of the first health scientists in the Superfund program in EPA’s Region 2 office in New York. In the regional Superfund program, we often met with communities impacted by Superfund sites. One of the questions that was most often asked was “Are my children safe?”

There are many things in everyday life that are important for protecting children’s environmental health. The air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, and the places where they live, learn and play, all affect the health of children. Over the past two decades research has demonstrated many ways that children are different from adults in how they are affected by their environment. For EPA, this means that all of the actions we take to protect human health must be informed by the fact that children are not just little adults; we need to consider that early life exposures can cause lifelong disease and disability.

Often, the children that are most at risk are those that live in low income communities and communities of color that are overburdened by environmental pollution. These communities face a larger proportion of environmental hazards and, often, do not have the resources or capacity to ensure that community members, especially the most vulnerable members like children, are protected from these hazards (see Lisa Garcia’s post, Becoming an Environmental Justice Advocate). We know that there are disparities in exposures and health outcomes, such as elevated blood lead levels and respiratory diseases, in low-income and minority children. These issues cannot be addressed by one or two offices in the Agency. They must be central in all the work that we do to protect human health.

By creating the cross-cutting strategy, “Working for Environmental Justice and Children’s Health,” we are not just highlighting the fact that children are uniquely vulnerable because of the stage of life that they’re in or that some communities are uniquely vulnerable because of the multiple environmental hazards they experience. We are incorporating these facts, and the data and research that support them, into the everyday business of EPA.

Tell us how you think EPA can best institutionalize working for Environmental Justice and Children’s Health? If we are successful, what do you think that success would look like?

About the author: Peter Grevatt is the Director of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education and the Senior Advisor to the Administrator on children’s environmental health.

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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BP Oil Spill Data Tools

As part of our response to the ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve been analyzing environmental conditions, including air, water, sediment, and oily wastes.  Right from the beginning, we’ve followed our open government approach, which means providing the data as soon as we have it.  We’ve posted data in CSV files, a format that people could download and open in a spreadsheet.  We’ve also provided printable PDF tables and summaries on our BP spill site.

But we knew that people needed other ways to get the data, and we’ve been working on several options.  We launched Google Earth a few weeks ago, and today we launched Socrata.  I discuss each below.  And more is coming.

Socrata

Our Socrata site (third-party site disclaimer) gives you several ways to explore data from the Gulf (basic instructions).  First, you can do some analysis right in your Web browser:

You can also download the data in several formats.  Beyond the CSV and PDF formats we currently provide, you can get JSON, XML and XLS.  And for the first time, you can build your own database tools using an API (application programming interface), meaning you’ll always have access to the latest data without having to download files.

You can also embed the data on your own site or blog because each dataset and each view has its own permanent URL. Just click the “Publishing” tab at the bottom of the screen to get the form, select the dimensions, and copy the code.  For example, I’ve embedded the air sampling data table below:

Powered by Socrata

If you create a free Socrata account, you can save your own analyses and link to or embed those.  Your analyses will always show the most recent data.  Other people can see what you’ve done, too.

We’ll continue to provide the data for download on our own Web site, but Socrata offers several additional opportunities.

Google Earth

Google Earth (third-party site disclaimer) lets you explore a virtual globe.  After a free download (it doesn’t run in a Web browser), you can get additional data files that map information about a wide variety of topics.  We’ve created a file you can download that includes some of our data and related information from other sources:

  • Sampling locations
  • Air monitoring locations and results for total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM).
  • Links to EPA data, aerial photography and other information collected by our ASPECT air sampling plane, plus NASA, NOAA and the European Space Agency.
  • National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) map of boom locations and daily tracking updates of the oil spill

And we’re working to add even more data.

Here’s a screen shot:
Screen shot of Google Earth with EPA oil spill data

We need your help!

I’m excited to share these tools, but we can always improve them.  In the comments section of this post, please give us your suggestions.  Some examples:

  • Filtered views to provide beyond just what we’ve detected
  • Different ways of sorting the data
  • Mashups (ways to combine the data with other information)

And if you create your own views or download the data and produce interesting stuff, let us know!

Update on July 14: we launched another new tool so you can download data.

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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Island Paradise

A small paradise lies 17 miles east of Puerto Rico and 12 miles west of St. Thomas – Culebra island. Culebra (which means Snake Island in Spanish). This gem of an island – seven by four miles – boasts one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States. Culebra, like Vieques Island, was used by the U.S.Navy for military exercises, until 1976. Since then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has performed restoration activities in Culebra under the Formerly Utilized Defense Sites Program. Today, it’s a rural retreat and nature preserve — part of the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge– one of the oldest under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (c. 1909).

Accessible only through ferry boat from Fajardo or small plane from San Juan and Ceiba, Culebra is a local vacation spot for many Puerto Ricans and international tourists as well. About 1,800 people live in this municipality of turquoise beaches and white sand. The municipality boasts the only ecological public school in Puerto Rico. The building that houses the school takes advantage of the sun and the wind for energy.

The principal harbor, Ensenada Honda, is considered to be one of the most secure hurricane harbors in the Caribbean. In Culebra you can snorkel, dive and swim in miles of unspoiled beaches which are also a critical habitat to green turtles in their nesting season. Sandy shores, wetlands and mangrove forests are home to pelicans and seagulls among other species that I have spotted in my visits to the island.
Culebra is an arid island with no rivers or streams, all of which creates an unique ecosystem. Cactus grow among tropical trees and palms. Most beaches are a short distance from its main town, Dewey. In Culebra there are no luxury hotels, no casinos, no traffic, and no loud noises (except for the occasional small plane). The island gets its water from the “Big Island” (Puerto Rico) via Vieques. Because of the lack of run-off from streams and rivers, Culebra boasts crystal clear waters with sixty feet of visibility on a bad day! Also, the island hosts one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Playa Flamenco, which is part of the Blue Flag program.  However if you are looking for a secluded spot, Playa Zoni, which sits at the bottom of a tall cliff might be your best option. A pristine and tranquil beach, Zoni is also a turtle nesting area as it happens to be my favorite beach in this paradise island.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection 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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Isla Paradisíaca

Un pequeño paraíso yace a 17 millas al este de Puerto Rico y 12 millas al oeste de St. Thomas: la isla de Culebra. Culebra es una gema en el Caribe con una extensión territorial de siete millas por cuatro millas de ancho y posee uno de los refugios de vida silvestre más antiguo de los Estados Unidos. Culebra, al igual que Vieques, fue utilizado por la Marina estadounidense para ejercicios militares hasta 1976. Desde entonces, el Cuerpo de Ingenieros de los Estados Unidos realiza labores de restauración bajo el programa de Lugares de Defensa Utilizados Anteriormente (FUDS, por sus siglas en inglés). Hoy, Culebra es un retiro rural, parte de la Reserva Nacional de Vida Silvestre de Culebra-una de las de mayor antigüedad bajo el Servicio Federal de Pesca y Vida Silvestre (desde 1909)

Accesible solo por barco desde Fajardo o avión pequeño desde San Juan y Ceiba, Culebra es el lugar favorito para vacacionar de muchos puertorriqueños y turistas internacionales. Cerca de 1,800 personas residen en esta isla municipio de arenas blancas y playas turquesas. Culebra posee la única escuela pública ecológica de Puerto Rico. En esta paneles solares se nutren del abundante sol y turbinas eólicas del viento que sopla en la isla casi todo el año.

La bahía principal de Culebra, Ensenada Honda, es considerada una de las más seguras en todo el Caribe, lo cual es muy importante en la temporada de huracanes. Esta pequeña isla paradisíaca ofrece al visitante espacios prístinos en donde nadar y bucear pero que a su vez también son hábitat crítico de tortugas en su temporada de desove. En Culebra también hay manglares y zonas pantanosas desde donde se pueden avistar pelícanos y gaviotas, tal como he podido ver en mis visitas a la isla.

Culebra posee una superficie árida ya que no cuenta con ríos o quebradas, lo cual resulta en un ecosistema único. Los cactus crecen junto a palmas tropicales y árboles frutales. Casi todas las playas están a corta distancia de su ciudad principal, Dewey. En Culebra no hay hoteles de lujo, casinos, tráfico ni ruidos (excepto el ocasional de los aviones). La isla recibe su abasto de agua potable de la “Isla Grande” como los residentes de Culebra llaman a Puerto Rico. La ausencia de escorrentías permiten ver el fondo del mar hasta 60 pies de profundidad en días soleados en playas como Flamenco, la cual es parte del Programa Bandera Azul Hay otros lugares más retirados como Playa Zoni, una playa tranquila y de aguas prístinas ubicada al fondo de un acantilado,que es mi favorita en esta isla paraíso.

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

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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Why Not Have a Fund-Raising Car Wash?

By Nancy Grundahl

stormdrainsWe’ve all seen them and have maybe even helped out. It’s those by-the-side-of-the-road fund-raising car washes, usually with high school or college students having a good time on a weekend afternoon soaping up cars. But, have you ever thought about where the soapy runoff water goes? Sure, it probably runs down to a storm sewer, but what about after that? Did you say, “To a water treatment plant”? If you did, you just might be wrong. In many communities stormwater empties out directly into a stream, river or wetland. That’s right. All that dirty soapy water with residues of gasoline and motor oil may be taking a short trip through some pipes into your local environment, where it could cause damage.

What to do? In planning your event investigate what will happen to the wastewater. Walk around. Are there storm drains? If so, is anything stenciled on them, like “Don’t Dump. Flows to Stream” or “No Dumping — Drains to the River”? Some communities have stenciled their drains to let people know where the water goes.

If you can’t find storm drains or if nothing is stenciled on the ones you find, try calling your local government and, if you have one, the sewage authority for your area. Ask them where the water will go and what damage it might cause.

If the risk for polluting is high, you might want to change your plans. But, if you still want to go forward:
• Use an environmentally-friendly biodegradable soap.
• Lighten up on the amount of soap you use — water is a natural solvent.
• Use buckets and dump the dirty water down a sink drain.
• Use a hose with a shut-off nozzle (this will also conserve water)
• Wash cars on a grass, gravel or other permeable surface so the dirty water will soak into the ground instead of running off.

And, check out these resources from Maryland.

Make Your Car Wash Event Eco-Friendly from the Maryland Department of the Environment

Facts About ….Car Washing Fundraisers from Maryland Public Schools

These tips are also appropriate for those of us who wash our own cars.

So, how do you get the dirt off of your car? Are you environmentally aware when taking sponge and hose in hand?

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” 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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Science Wednesday: Growing Green Minds

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

As I walked toward the EPA Booth at the Durham Earth Day Festival, a display to my right caught my eye — something that looked like a roof with a garden growing on top of it. An enthusiastic student from Durham’s Hillside New Tech High School came forward and eagerly began to share the details of their project on “green roof technology.”

I learned that these 9th-11th graders, lead by award-winning teacher Matthew Sears, received an InvenTeam grant funded by the Lemelson-MIT Program.

For their project, the students designed and built a residential green roofing system by creating a lattice structure that can support climbing plants. The light-weight material avoids roof damage while adding an aesthetic, natural look to the home’s roof while reducing heat absorption in the hot N.C. summers.

The InvenTeam met after school during the fall semester to work on their design. They spent the spring building and modifying their prototype and practicing their presentation in preparation for their June trip to MIT to present the project during EurekaFest 2010.

Impressed with the technology and the students’ enthusiasm, my colleagues and I decided to invite the students to our EPA campus to share their innovative spirit, as well as to provide them with the opportunity for a practice panel presentation before their trip to MIT.

In early June, the students gave a seven-minute presentation followed by an in-depth question and answer session about their project. EPA scientists like to ask probing questions! The experience offered a great opportunity for the students to prepare for their trip to MIT and offered our EPA scientists and managers insight into these bright young minds.

Our Director was so excited about the technology that he whisked away three of the students to show them the solar panels on EPA’s roof and to talk about the possibility of demonstrating their green roof technology on our building.

We ended the visit with a tour of our “green” campus, wished the group well, and cheered them on as we virtually followed them on their trip from Durham to Cambridge.

About the Author: Kelly Leovic manages EPA’s Environmental and Community Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park and was delighted to host these Durham students at EPA. She has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987 and has two children in middle school and one in high school.

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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Strong Management Plays an Important Role in Helping EPA to Address Complex Environmental Challenges

As a supervisor here at EPA, I deal with a variety of issues involving the management of human resources, contracts, grants, and facilities nationwide. These experiences give me the opportunity to see the important role that sound administrative practices have in helping to support EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment.

There is no question in my mind that EPA’s ability to achieve a cleaner, safer and healthier environment is dependent upon a top-notch, diverse and committed workforce. We are dedicated to hiring the best people and keeping them here, with supportive management, a high-quality work life program, good office and laboratory facilities, and access to cutting-edge technology. All of this is made possible by EPA’s outstanding stewardship of our financial and physical resources.

EPA’s Draft FY2011-2015 Strategic Plan addresses these priorities as one of our Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies: Strategy 5, Strengthening EPA’s Workforce and Capabilities. Strategy 5 lays the foundation for EPA to be a strong and innovative agency helping us to focus on the value of skilled, knowledgeable, and diverse employees. By following this strategy, we are working to be efficient and responsible in our fiscal stewardship and to provide an information infrastructure that is innovative, reliable and secure. Every day I take pride in our aggressive environmental management goals and systems to reduce the environmental footprint of our own facilities and operations. It is clear to me that we are truly following through with our commitment to be accountable and transparent in all we do. I hope you will share your ideas about how we can strengthen EPA’s workforce and capabilities through our discussion of the Cross-Cutting Fundamental Strategies.

I find EPA to be a personally fulfilling and special place to work because of our great mission. I think most of my colleagues would agree that EPA is a place where you can make a difference through hard work and dedication.

About the author: John Showman works in EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management (OARM). He is the Deputy Director for OARM’s Office of Policy and Resources Management. John was born and raised in Virginia. John keeps busy at home with his three dogs, and is a loyal fan of his alma mater, Virginia Tech.

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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