Monthly Archives: August 2010

Stamp Collecting!

By Wendy Dew

The absolute best part of my job is getting out and talking to the public about EPA and what we do. This past weekend I attended the Pine Valley Ranch River Festival in Pine, Colorado. Over 400 folks showed up to tour the various booths and exhibits set up along the river. Everyone was given a “passport” that had a map and a stamp box for each educational exhibit visited. I was amazed how excited both the adults and the kids were about getting all the stamps from the booths. Some folks had their own “passport” books they asked me to stamp. In each book, there were stamps from events like these, visits to parks, visitor centers, etc. It really made me think about how much of the world these folks have seen and what a great way to capture the memories.

Here in Region 8 we have participated in 75 such events this year so far. Last year, we reached out to almost 800,000 citizens at events. We have a Regional Ambassadors Program in Region 8 that allows EPA volunteers the opportunity to pick and choose different events to attend. In my opinion, this is some of the most important work we do at EPA. Getting out and talking to our citizens is the best way for us to connect with people, answer their questions and discuss local issues. I encourage all EPA employees to partake of events like these. And for those of you who are out there with your stamp books, I am envious of all the amazing sites you are seeing and all that you are learning!

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 in Greenversations 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.

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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Expanding the Conversation about the Chesapeake

By Scott Fraser

ELN members kayaking

Would you kayak, bike and run over 100 miles in the sweltering August heat? OK, how about if it were for a good cause? Well we’ve got a few takers for such an adventure here at EPA.

An EPA employee  group called the Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) is setting out on an Expedition from DC to the Chesapeake Bay to help raise awareness about one of our nation’s environmental treasures. This group of athletes and volunteers has been preparing for months not only for the physical endurance needed, but also to plan for listening sessions with the public along the way.

Now I like a good challenge and have raced in several Olympic distance triathlons over the years, so I was looking forward to joining the athletes. However, when ELN began planning the Expedition months ago I was already signed up to compete in the Timberman ½ Ironman the weekend before the Expedition. As it turns out, I had to withdraw from that competition due to a sore back. Let’s just say it’s important to use proper form when shoveling through feet of snow – thanks Snowpocalypse 1 and 2!

Back to the Expedition: it runs from August 26th through the 29th and the ELN Expedition Team will make their way through some of the Chesapeake Bay watershed – which covers over 64,000 square miles – to generate conversation about the environmental issues facing the Bay. The team will meet with citizens along the way to hear their ideas for protecting this vital resource. En route, athletes will describe their trek and what they’ve learned from the listening sessions through blog posts, Facebook entries, Flickr photo galleries, and Twitter. Check back to follow the Team and contribute to the conversation.

I think it’s so cool how this Expedition effort coincides with the work I’m now focused on in my new position with the Office of Public Engagement. So although I’m bummed I can’t endure the August heat exercising with the athletes, I’m excited to accompany this group and interact with the public on the lessons we’ll learn along the way (every successful expedition needs its sherpa).

About the author: Scott Fraser is currently working in the Office of Public Engagement in EPA’s Office of the Administrator. He has been with the Agency for five years and is fired up to expand the conversation on environmentalism! Stay tuned next year when he hits the triathlon circuit again and describes the joy of training outdoors.

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 Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

The last few weeks have been busy for us at EPA. We hosted outreach events, launched tools, and are developing a strategy for how we can enhance our programs to better protect communities overburdened by pollution. It’s all part of our effort to expand the conversation on environmentalism and work for environmental justice. We’re reaching out for your help in shaping these efforts and want to work together to build healthy and prosperous communities.

We launched two important tools. The first, EPA’s EJ in Rulemaking Guidance is a tool that asks EPA staff to think about environmental justice at each step of our rulemaking process. The guide is part of EPA’s efforts to include environmental justice in every decision we make. You can also comment on this interim guidance. The second, EJView is a mapping tool that allows you to pick an area and choose the environmental, demographic, and health data you want to show on the map. It’s a way for you to get information about human and environmental health in your neighborhood, community, or region.

We’re working on Plan EJ 2014, which is a four-year plan that includes actions we’ll take to weave environmental justice into the fabric of EPA. We’ll work with stakeholders as we develop initiatives to empower communities to improve their local environment and encourage partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations. We encourage you to read our plan and submit any suggestions you may have.

In our efforts to expand the conversation on environmentalism, we hosted three outreach events. The Youth Workshop on Environmental Justice focused on facilitating intergenerational engagement. Youth from the Washington, DC area brought their unique world view and energy to a day of learning about environmental justice and environmental job opportunities and developing the skills necessary to provide effective public comment. We also hosted a meeting, open to the public, of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). The NEJAC’s mission is to provide EPA ideas and recommendations on how to most effectively meet the needs of communities working for environmental justice. And, finally, we hosted the first Community Outreach Conference Call, which will be held quarterly and is open to the public. The first call focused on our recent environmental justice achievements and provided an update on progress made since our spring environmental justice and science Symposium.

It has been a busy few weeks, but we are just getting started! Check out what we are doing and share your ideas at: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice

About the Author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Isle’s Well that Ends Well

Presque Isle Bay Area of ConcernAn AOR is good. An AOC, not so much.

Presque Isle Bay, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, was once declared by Pennsylvania to be an AOC – an Area of Concern, indicating contamination.

But through major improvements to the local wastewater treatment system, a change in Bay-front use from industrial to commercial and recreational uses, and some good hard work by local environmental groups, Presque Isle Bay is now an AOR – an Area of Recovery. (click on picture for more info)

But the Bay is still not AOK.

There are lingering concerns about contaminated sediment and fish tumors. We’re following the work of researchers to monitor these issues, and we’ll report back to you.

If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative, contact us.

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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Do-It-Yourselfers Have To Be Careful, Too!

By Lina Younes

In these times, everyone is looking for ways to save money. Whether it’s saving energy, cutting coupons or reusing certain items, we all want to limit our expenses. So, for those who are handy with tools, the do-it-yourself-way might be the most economical option for making repairs at home. While many home improvement stores provide useful kits and information to update the look around the house, one word of caution: make sure that the simple steps you take in your home will not adversely affect your health or your family’s. Let me explain.

For example, if you live in a home that was built before 1978, it is likely that at some point your house had lead-based paint. Why should you be concerned about this? Well, lead paint poisoning affects over a million children in the United States today and it can lead to learning disabilities, hearing loss, and other serious health effects. If you are going to renovate, repair or paint your home, make sure that you use lead-safe practices to contain the work area, minimize dust, and clean up thoroughly after the paint or renovation job is over. Your best bet might be to hire a lead-safe certified contractor.

On another issue, some common home problems like drafty rooms, poorly maintained air-conditioning or heating equipment can all contribute to high energy bills. Simple repairs around the home like sealing air leaks, cleaning air ducts, and properly maintaining cooling equipment and appliances will go a long way to improve your health and save money. Here you will find additional tips to improve energy efficiency and better protect the environment.

During the summer, we see an increase in creepy crawlers inside and around the home. For some, the initial reaction is to grab the closest pesticide and spray it all over regardless of the annoying pest at hand. For others, they prefer to call professional exterminators to do the job. Regardless, the best advice is to prevent pests from invading your household in the first place. If pesticides are still necessary, follow the instructions correctly and safely.

Now, for doing-yourself auto repairs, I guess I’ll leave that for another blog. Your comments are always welcomed. Talk to you next week.

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 in Greenversations 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.

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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Tome las debidas precauciones en el hogar

Por Lina Younes

En la actualidad, todo el mundo está buscando maneras para ahorrar dinero. Sea ahorrando energía, recortando cupones de descuentos o reutilizando ciertos productos, todos queremos limitar nuestros gastos. Para aquellas personas que son habilidosas con las herramientas, quizás la manera más económica de hacer reparaciones en su hogar consiste de hacerlas por sí mismos. Mientras muchos tiendas que se especializan en productos para el hogar tienen kits e información útil para hacer mejoras en su casa, una voz de cautela: asegúrese de que los pasos sencillos que usted toma en su hogar no afecten adversamente su salud o la de su familia. Me explico.

Por ejemplo, si vive en una casa que fue construida antes de 1978, es probable que ésta fuera pintada en algún momento con pintura a base de plomo. ¿Por qué le debe preocupar esto? Bueno, el envenenamiento por la pintura a base de plomo afecta a millones de niños en los Estados Unidos actualmente y puede conducir a problemas de aprendizaje, pérdida de audición, y tener otros serios problemas de salud. Si usted va a renovar, reparar o pintar su casa, asegúrese de usar prácticas laborales seguras para el manejo de pintura a base de plomo como el contener el área de trabajo, minimizar el polvo, y limpiar cabalmente después de haber realizado la labor de pintura o renovación. No obstante, la manera más segura para hacer dichas renovaciones sería contratando un contratista certificado en el manejo seguro de pintura a base de plomo.

Por otra parte, algunos problemas comunes en el hogar como, las habitaciones donde hay corrientes de aire, el equipo de aire acondicionado o calefacción que no haya sido mantenido adecuadamente, pueden contribuir a facturas elevadas de electricidad. Si hace unas reparaciones sencillas alrededor de su casa como sellar las grietas, limpiar los conductos de aire, y darle el mantenimiento adecuado a estos equipos y enseres, estas acciones pueden contribuir a mejorar su salud y a ahorrarle dinero. He aquí algunos consejos útiles para mejorar la eficiencia energética y ayudar a proteger el medio ambiente.

Durante el verano, vemos un aumento en el número de insectos dentro y alrededor de nuestro hogar. Por naturaleza, nuestra primera reacción al ver uno de estos animales indeseables consiste en agarrar el plaguicida más cercano y echarlo por doquier independientemente del tipo de insecto que sea. Otras personas prefieren llamar a un exterminador profesional para fumigar toda la casa. Independientemente de su método preferido, el mejor consejo es prevenir la invasión de plagas en su hogar. Si los pesticidas todavía son necesarios, siga las instrucciones correctamente.

Ahora, para aquellas personas habilidosas en la mecánica de autos, desarrollaremos ese tema en otro blog. Sus comentarios siempre son bienvenidos. Hablaremos la semana próxima.

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.

Nota del editor: Las opiniones expresadas en Greenversations son del autor del blog. No reflejan la política, respaldo, o acción de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés). EPA no verifica la exactitud ni la ciencia en el contenido del 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: Bringing the Outdoors In

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

By Cathryn Courtin

Thinking about stream research evokes images of scientists wading into streams hunched over, collecting samples and taking measurements. At EPA’s Experimental Stream Facility (ESF), however, small stream research takes on a new form.

The facility houses eight indoor small streams called “mesocosms.”

The technological features of the ESF enable scientists to conduct experiments that mimic natural settings while precisely controlling and studying certain variables.

I recently talked with one of the lead scientists, systems ecologist Christopher Nietch, Ph.D., and learned all about this high-tech facility and its significance. One thing he stressed is that the team works hard to ensure that real field data is studied carefully and used inside the facility.

“We have spent a great deal of time characterizing operational conditions that help define realism and applicability, and we try to provide information about conditions that are found in reality and how ours compare,” said Nietch.

Problems that might arise when experiments are conducted in the field can be overcome using the specialized tools in the facility. Nietch explained, for example, that it can be difficult to determine which chemicals and pesticides are responsible for which changes in the ecosystem and which chemicals are most harmful when conducting studies in the natural environment.

In the facility, doses of contaminants can be adjusted to relevant quantities and studied individually or in specific mixtures while controlling other variables. It then becomes possible to determine what effect each contaminant has, how its impacts change when mixed with other contaminants, and which contaminants are most threatening.

Other factors that researchers have control over that they wouldn’t in nature are the light levels, water source, flow rate, length of the stream, and streambed composition.

It was eye-opening to hear Dr. Nietch say that “small stream ecosystems represent about 90% of the linear drainage footage in any watershed… but rarely do those [watershed] models consider what changes might be taking place within the small scale ecosystems.”

Given the vast percentage of the watershed that these streams make up, they must play a role in watershed health, but this role is not yet well understood. To better this understanding, scientists at the ESF are breaking through the boundaries of traditional methods and using this unique facility to widen research possibilities.

About the Author: Cathryn Courtin is a student at Georgetown University in the Science, Technology, and International Affairs program. She is spending her summer working as a student contractor at EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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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Breaking Old Habits

image of author sitting on a rock

By Amanda Sweda

During the past few years I’ve had some major life events to plan and save money for….first a wedding, then a year later we had a baby….So I try to pinch pennies here and there because it really does add up. Lately I am trying to be better about not only saving money but also reducing the amount of waste I use.

For example, my family makes coffee at home instead of buying it at a coffee shop. This saves us a lot of money. And it cuts down on waste because we reuse our coffee mugs. Making this change was easy. Now, water bottles are another story. At home we drink water from the tap, but we also buy bottled water to use for work and when we are running errands. The water is cold, clean, and ready to go and easy to use. We do recycle the plastic bottle so we are making that effort…but I know I can do more than just recycle…

My inspiration for change…. A kid I heard about but have never met….Ethan Buckelew. Ethan organized his Boy Scout troop and Cub Scout pack to do litter clean-ups in their area. Ethan was inspired after seeing all of the water bottles they collected during the cleanups to do even more to reduce the number of wasted bottles. He asked the troops and pack to help collect water bottles at home and school for recycling (they donate to a charity organization that recycles the bottles and uses the money for projects) but that wasn’t enough for Ethan! He got the troop and pack to start using refillable water bottles on their trips. Ethan even asked his family to make some changes at home. Ethan calculates they were using at least 80 – 100 bottles of water a week so his family switched to using filtered tap water. He calculates that the change alone saves them about $768 a year!

My husband and I don’t use that many bottles but we probably spend anywhere from $100 to $150 a year on water bottles that we don’t really need – and that is not counting the water bottles we buy at a store when we forget to bring our own.….but is it really that hard for me to fill up a reusable water bottle every night and stick it in the fridge so it will be cold in the morning? It can’t be harder then making a trip to the store to buy a case of water that I have to lug up the stairs! So I am challenging my family to use Ethan as a role model and make the same changes. I’ll let you know how we do!

About the author: Amanda Sweda works in EPA’s Office of Environmental Information on web related policies and serves on the Environmental Education Web Workgroup. Amanda is a former Social Studies and Deaf Education teacher and her husband is a 3rd grade teacher so education is an important topic in their home.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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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Risk Assessment, or Not, by Juror 6

By Larry Teller

It’s fascinating if sometimes confounding to see how people perceive health risks and then act on their beliefs, especially when there’s a big disparity in how rationally they deal with, or manage, varying risks. Take, for example, my experience these past few weeks while on jury duty, which I wouldn’t report to you if it weren’t so common.

Juries spend many hours together both in the courtroom and, unfortunately at least as long, in a jury room. With the way we’ve been more aware of contagious infections lately, I wasn’t surprised to see a fellow juror whip out, on day 1 (of 8 days—it was a murder trial) a bottle of spray disinfectant and shpritz the crowded jury room pretty thoroughly. “But why not?” I thought, “It wouldn’t hurt.” — until Juror 6 (real names weren’t used much for the duration) sprayed us for the third time that first day.

My amazement came three days and eight shpritzes later, when the judge was scheduling a recess. To accommodate them, she asked if there were any smokers among us—who would need a longer break to go outside, light up and return. Whose hand went up? Yes, Juror 6, our repeat germophobe. As my dear, generous mother would say, we’ve all got our mishigoss (nuttiness, nonsense).

On a much grander scale, EPA assesses and manages risk in setting standards, writing regulations and cleaning contamination. I’d like to hear from some remediation managers and on-scene coordinators about how they deal with the less rational among us who understand risk about as clearly as Juror 6.

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, many as a reservist, gave him a different look at government service.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Spreading the Word about Water Efficiency from Coast to Coast

Flo-Profile-PicHi, I’m Flo, and I am the spokesgallon for EPA’s WaterSense program! I just got back from kicking off the We’re for Water campaign by traveling across the country to spread the word about water efficiency. Now that I’m home in D.C., I wanted to take a minute to tell you about why I care so much about saving water, and the people I met on my journey.

As many of you probably already know, water supplies in many communities are at risk. Between 1950 and 2005, the U.S. population doubled, while our use of water through public supplies more than tripled. With demand outstripping supply, at least 36 states have projected some degree of water shortage by 2013.

So what can we do? You can start by standing up for water. You can join thousands of your neighbors supporting the We’re for Water campaign and make simple changes at home to save water. Given that each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water every day at home, it’s easy to find a few gallons to spare. We can all start saving water today with three simple steps: check, twist, and replace!

  • First, check toilets to reveal any silent leaks.
  • Second, if you don’t have them already, twist a WaterSense labeled aerator onto each bathroom faucet to save water without noticing a difference in flow.
  • Third, replace your old showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model, which helps you shrink your water footprint while still enjoying a satisfying shower.

It’s really that simple! I spent the past two and a half weeks traveling the country and asking people to take the “I’m for Water” pledge. I met all kinds of great people, from Los Angeles to New York City, all committed to doing their part to protect our water resources. I watched families compete to see who could save more water and even got to hang out with Denver Water’s Running Toilet and Athens, Georgia’s Lily Anne Phibean! I met people at Mount Rushmore, the Gateway Arch, the World’s Largest Toilet, and the Georgia Aquarium – and lots of other sites as well. You should check out www.facebook.com/epawatersense to see some great pictures and video from throughout my trip!

Want to do more? Then visit www.epa.gov/watersense and take the “I’m for Water” pledge and become a fan of WaterSense on Facebook to share why you’re for water and learn more water-saving tips.

About the author: Flo is the water efficiency “spokesgallon” for EPA’s WaterSense program. Her interests include swimming, playing in the rain, and helping people save water.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.