Monthly Archives: August 2010

Flushed with Success

If your wastewater treatment plant is following the rules of what it can discharge into your local river, chances are there’s a good operator behind the controls.

And that’s important, because the river receiving the discharge could be the same one that’s supplying the water that’s treated and sent to your faucet.

I’ve found in visiting these plants and providing training, that a qualified operator can make a world of difference in the performance of a facility. In fact, I’d say that of the small treatment plants that are violating their permits, three quarters could be brought into compliance with better-trained operators.

It’s one thing to be certified to run a wastewater treatment plant. It’s another to actually run it efficiently. Operators need to know a good mix of biology, chemistry, math, computers, electricity and mechanics to do the job well. And a college degree is generally not required.

In my wastewater training program for interns at EPA, I’ve done road trips to various plants to give the new hires an appreciation for the role of operators. After these visits, the interns really got a good sense of what it means to run a well managed facility that stays in compliance with federal and state laws.

Are you familiar with how your local wastewater treatment plant operates? Here’s some general information available on EPA’s web site. http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/watewastewater.html

About the author: Jim Kern works for the Water Protection Division in EPA Region 3. He recently won the region’s Instructor of the Year award for designing and delivering a program to educate regional employees on wastewater treatment.

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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Uninvited Guests

By Lina Younes

Many a night I’ve put my children to bed while saying the rhyme “Night-night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” But it wasn’t until recently that I actually saw these little pests when I accompanied a Spanish language TV crew to a residence in Baltimore MD which had a bed bug infestation. The crew was going to interview the owner of the house who had been waging a war against these bugs for over a year. My role was to give tips in Spanish on how to resolve the problem in a manner that would not be harmful to the environment nor human health.

In preparing for the interview, I learned of this growing problem and the difficulties in addressing it properly. These pests cause itchy bites to people and pets alike. While extremely annoying, they are not known for transmitting or spreading disease. EPA recommends using a comprehensive approach to address bed bug infestations Integrated pest management combined with the use of pesticides is a must! However, beware of misleading marketing ploys making false claims which will not solve the problem. If you are to use pesticides, read the label first to make sure the product is identified for use on bed bugs. If these pests are not listed on the label, the product might not effectively treat the infestation. Make sure you apply the appropriate pesticide correctly and that you remove children AND pets from the areas where the pesticides are being applied.

Another thing that I learned is that these pests like to travel! They latch on to suitcases, hence the growing problem plaguing dorms and even the fanciest hotels. You can check the mattress for signs of bed bugs. See some additional tips.

I know when I read about these pests, I start itching all over. I hope that I have at least piqued your curiosity to learn more about the problem. There are cyber tools available on the Internet which will provide information on bed bug reports before booking a hotel room or renting an apartment—a useful tool to avoid bringing these uninvited guests home.

As always, we would like to hear about your experiences dealing with these unwanted critters.

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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Los huéspedes que visitan sin invitación

Por Lina Younes

En muchas ocasiones he dicho a mis hijas a la hora de acostarse la rima en inglés– “Night-night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite” que básicamente significa—que duermas bien, pero no dejes que las chinches te piquen. (Bueno, en inglés suena bien al menos.) Sin embargo, no fue hasta hace poco que vi estas plagas cuando acompañé unos periodistas hispanos para filmar un reportaje sobre ese tema en una residencia en Baltimore, MD que tenía un problema de chiches. Los periodistas iban a entrevistar a la dueña de la casa que llevaba casi un año luchando contra estos insectos. Mi función consistía de brindar consejos en español sobre cómo resolver el problema en una manera que no fuera dañina para el medio ambiente ni la salud humana.

Al prepararme para la entrevista, aprendí cuán grave era el creciente problema y las dificultades en paliarlo. Estas plagas ocasionan picaduras muy molestosas en las personas y las mascotas. EPA recomienda un enfoque global para abordar las infestaciones de chinches. ¡El manejo integrado de plagas combinado con el uso de pesticidas es esencial! Sin embargo, preste atención a las campañas de publicidad engañosas que hacen falsas alegaciones que no resolverán el problema. Si va usar plaguicidas, lea la etiqueta primero para asegurarse que el producto indique que se puede utilizar eficazmente para tratar una infestación de chinches. Asegúrese de aplicar el plaguicida de manera correcta y de que no haya niños NI mascotas en las áreas donde los plaguicidas serán aplicados.

Otra cosa que aprendí es que a estas plagas les encanta viajar! Se agarran de las maletas y muebles tapizados. Por dicha razón, en Estados Unidos están apareciendo estas chinches en las camas de dormitorios universitarios y hasta en los hoteles más lujosos. Si mira detenidamente el colchón podrá ver si hay señales de chinches. He aquí algunos consejos adicionales.

Sé que cuando leo un artículo sobre estas chinches de cama, me empieza a picar por todas partes. Espero al menos haberle picado la curiosidad para que aprenda más acerca del tema. Hay herramientas cibernéticas disponibles que le brindaran más información sobre los lugares donde se han registrado infestaciones de chinches antes de hacer reservaciones de hotel o alquilar un apartamento—una herramienta útil para evitar llevar estos huéspedes a su casa sin invitación.

Como siempre, quisiéramos escuchar acerca de sus experiencias con estos insectos indeseables.

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: Innovations in Food Preservation using my Mother’s Nut Jar

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

By Daniel Liss

On Earth Day, I had the privilege of exhibiting my project—an energy efficient approach to food preservation—at EPA’s 6th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo. I was able to preserve food with a practically negligible impact on the environment.

Using my mother’s nut jar and other household equipment, I invented a device for preserving food that employs a promising, inexpensive new technique that could serve as an alternative to modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), the corporate industry standard. MAP involves displacing the air inside a container with either a single gas or mixture of gases to create an atmosphere that slows the deterioration of food.

Rather than displacing air, my device achieves the same objective with a simple chemical reaction. I apply an electrical charge to carbon fiber positioned inside a container, causing the fiber to burn. The surrounding oxygen reacts with the burning carbon to form carbon dioxide within the container.

In short, the existing air inside the container is transformed into a low-oxygen, high-carbon dioxide, atmosphere—hostile to the kinds of bacteria that are most harmful to food.

Although I was only 15 and my prototype was made from a nut jar, I had the opportunity to test my device at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which graciously provided laboratory space and funding after learning about my idea during a summer internship.

Based on my test results, I was able to confirm that my device significantly inhibits bacterial growth and also slows the enzymatic degradation of meat. Even more exciting is that it works with just a few pieces of relatively inexpensive equipment, and unlike vacuum packaging, does not crush food, or suck out volatile ingredients such as fats and oils.

My method essentially replicates the benefits of MAP, without the need for sophisticated equipment or large amounts of pressurized gasses on hand. Most importantly, a package atmosphere only needs to be changed once, reducing the need for additives.

About the Author:  Daniel Liss is a rising junior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Since EPA’s Expo, he won a gold medal at the International Environmental Project Olympiad (INEPO), in Istanbul, Turkey. Previously, he had won a bronze medal at the International Sustainable World [Environment, Energy, Engineering] Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP) in Houston, Texas.

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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Making a Difference One Person at a Time

By Terry Ippolito

How many times do I see a problem, any problem, and pretend it doesn’t have anything to do with me? Sometimes I find myself saying, “Sure that big old ___________ out there is a huge eyesore, but I can’t do anything about it?” Even though I work for EPA, I can convince myself that a stream filled with trash or littered streets is something I can’t change.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I may not have created the problem, but I can help create a solution to the problem. Many times in life we clean up after other people’s messes. When my efforts are joined with others’ the change can be dramatic. A great way to see and affect real change is to participate or volunteer for a community service project. Getting involved isn’t that difficult to do either. There are always organizations and people in need. Think of your community, its needs and where you already know people go for help. Some ideas include nature centers, local park districts or agencies, schools, hospitals, community centers and senior centers. You could also start out with a simple search on the internet; search your town’s name and community service. You might be surprised how many people, places and things out there really need your help.

Another way to search out that perfect organization from a national level is just a click away. The United We Serve and the Corporation for National and Community Service

Sometimes community service attracts people who are interested in specific topics. As an example, today lots of people are concerned about what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico and wish they could do something about it. If this is the case and you want to get involved, try United We Serve’s special site, Gulf Spill: How You Can Help. The Gulf oil spill is also the focus of Bloggers Unite for the Planet and the National Wildlife Federation’s site on helping wildlife impacted by the oil spill.

Where do you volunteer? How did you find that volunteer connection? We’d love to know.

About the author: Terry Ippolito has worked at EPA for 21 years. She currently serves as the Environmental Education Coordinator and is a former science educator. When she was 10 years old, she organized the kids on her block to do a clean up thus setting the stage for an interest in community and the environment. She lives in New York City and is still picking up litter on her way to the train in the morning.

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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Having the Environmental Conversation: I Didn’t Think It Started Here

By Blaine Collison

Seventeenth Street in Washington, DC, where it crosses the National Mall, is one of the prettiest streets in America. Stand in the middle of 17th and turn one full revolution and you’ll see the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the White House and stands of trees all in between. On a summer evening – like tonight – the area is full of tourists and locals, all out enjoying the Nation’s Capital.

I was commuting home on my bike – my colleagues and I appreciate EPA’s bike facilities every single day that we use them – and I followed a car down 17th Street, across the National Mall. The passenger stuck his hand out of the window and I could see a nearly-finished cigarette. I got a bad feeling about what was going to happen: Sure enough, the passenger dropped his butt onto the street right between the Monument and World War II Memorial.

I’ve seen this plenty of times before, but lately I’ve grown tired of resigned acceptance. I caught up to the car at the next light and had a conversation that went like this:

Hi. You dropped your cigarette on the street.

What? No.

Yes, you did.

No.

You dropped it right there on 17th Street at the light. By the World War II Memorial.

So what?

Well…why? That’s not where it goes.

What?!?

That’s not where it goes. No one wants your trash on our streets. Why’d you put it there? Why not just put it in the trash?

That’s where I [colorful adverb] put it!

Yeah, but why? It’s just going to go into the [Potomac] river.

‘Cause that’s where I [repeated colorful adverb] put it!

But no one wants your trash on the street.

Well, clean up the [adjective form of the previously-used colorful adverb] street!

It would be easier to do that if you wouldn’t drop cigarette butts on it.

The light changed and the exchange ended. No one had called each other a name or made a threat, but it also didn’t seem like anyone had made any progress.

One of EPA Administrator Jackson’s key strategic priorities is “Expanding the Conversation”; bringing into the environmental protection process people and stakeholders that have not traditionally been part of it. I’m pretty sure that I had a conversation tonight with one of those folks. Not dropping trash on the street is more basic even than Environmentalism 101. And this was the National Mall. It’s sacred American public space. That we need to have a conversation at this level…

I’m still frustrated and amazed by this. But tomorrow, I’m going to try a little harder. And I’m going to reach out a little further.

No more butts on the National Mall, please. It’s simply not acceptable. Demand better of ourselves and each other. Now and every single day that follows.

About the author: Blaine Collison is the Director of the Green Power Partnership, EPA’s national voluntary green electricity program. The GPP includes more than 1,200 organizations that actively engaged in expanding the conversation and creating more U.S. renewable energy.

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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The Illick's Mill Does D.C.

On Wednesday, May 19th, students of the Illick’s Mill Project (IMP) dropped their garden shovels, grant proposals, and finishing paint and embarked to Washington, D.C. After a debacle where the group was split into three different trains at three different times, the class made its way (in segments!) to the hotel. The students broke off into smaller groups to see the city, their stomachs full of pizza and their legs ready to walk. My group and I walked from the hotel and down about a million blocks to the Lincoln Memorial. Abe was on his platform, sitting just as deliberately as always, and I felt a pacific energy omitted from everyone at the monument of union (no pun intended!). My friends and I turned to see two separate groups of our class heading towards of us. The power of the monument was in full force and we all were united under its amity.

I, as well as several other students of the Illick’s Mill, left Washington D.C. with a piece of the city. Judging from the bright eyes
and exhilarated faces after speaking in front of Lisa Jackson and our congressional representative, many IMP members began to consider governmental professions.

The entire project enjoyed a swanky neighborhood, Adams Morgan, for a Mediterranean night out on Thursday night. The group broke into smaller sections to once again indulge in the city where many made first time trips to the Jefferson Memorial and other local attractions.

The next morning, through the blistering heat students maintained their smiles as they walked to the big white building hidden beneath the trees. The students giggled to themselves when they saw a volleyball on the front yard; it was our own private look into the lives of the first family, and seemed like a intimate encounter. What I remember most about the president walking up the hill was the presidential swagger unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When we met, the president was devoid of pretentiousness, as he showed that he was honored to meet us, a group of 60 dripping, lovesick kids.

Because of the trip’s balance of rich education and fun, students were able to gain an inside look into the wonderful city that is D.C. The most effective representation of our trip can be quoted from an IMP student, “Overall, the Illick’s Mill Project’s trip to D.C. was
educational, ephemeral, and unforgettable.”

About the author: Niharika Pendurthi is a Illick’s Mill Project Member of the Class of 2011.

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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Building Green in Philadelphia

Video: Building Green in Philadelphia

Check out this 11-minute video highlighting innovative efforts by green builders in the City of Philadelphia who are helping to protect and restore environmental quality and beautify the city.

By installing cisterns, green roofs, porous pavers, solar panels, and Energy Star appliances, the builders are capturing rainwater, reducing stormwater runoff, and saving energy.

In the video, “Building Green: A Success Story in Philadelphia,” Howard Neukrug, director of Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds, explains the importance of green stormwater infrastructure. The city is now offering incentives to builders and developers to use green techniques to help meet clean water and other environmental goals.

One of the main objectives is to slow down, spread out and soak in rainwater before it has a chance to surge into the sewer system and harm local waterways.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts.

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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How Things Have Changed…Green Cleaning Part 3

By Lina Younes

I still have vivid images of cleaning days in my grandmother’s home in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico when I was a child. I remember watching my great aunt using a lot of water and detergents to wash the tile floors, bleach the sheets, and perform other household chores. The entire operation was very labor intensive and used a precious resource: water.

Now, we fast forward to the 21st century and household cleaning, overall, has become much easier and faster. However, the one problem that I see with these “practical” methods is that many of the new tools tend to be disposable. Disposable wipes for use everywhere—countertops, cabinets, and floors—even disposable toilet bowl cleaners. While we recommend as a green cleaning method to use reusable wipes and rags to minimize waste, it’s hard to believe that many consumers don’t succumb to temptation and use the more practical methods even if they generate waste.

So, I decided to look further into the issue of disposable wipes. While they definitely fulfill the practical requirement, are they green? On the plus side, they clean while minimizing the use of water. On the negative side, they just end up in the landfill after use. Well, in this case, technology has once again saved the day! Some companies have developed compostable wipes made largely of material such as bamboo fibers which are biodegradable and compostable, so we can allay the fears of our green conscience. For a full listing, visit our Design for the Environment website.

So what are your thoughts on the issue? Would love to hear from you!

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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Como han cambiado las cosas…limpieza verde (Parte 3)

Por Lina Younes

Todavía tengo imágenes vivas en mis recuerdos de los días de limpieza en la casa de mi abuela en Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico cuando yo era niña. Me acuerdo ver a mi tía-abuela usando mucha agua y detergentes para lavar los pisos de losetas de mármol, blanquear la ropa de cama y efectuar otras actividades caseras. En general, toda la operación requería mucho tiempo, energía y un preciado recurso—agua.

Ahora, damos marcha hacia delante y nos encontramos en el siglo 21. En general, las actividades de limpieza casera se han hecho mucho más sencillas y rápidas. Sin embargo, el problema que tenemos es que estos llamados métodos prácticos dependen de nuevas herramientas que normalmente son desechables. Las hojas desechables para la limpieza se utilizan para todo—para limpiar las mesas, mostradores, gabinetes, y pisos. También hay cepillos desechables para limpiar los inodoros. Mientras recomendamos como un método de limpieza beneficioso para el medio ambiente el utilizar trapos y materiales reutilizables para minimizar los desechos, es difícil creer que muchos consumidores no sucumbirán a la tentación utilizando métodos más prácticos de limpieza, aunque generen desechos.

Por eso decidí averiguar más sobre el tema de las hojas desechables. Mientras definitivamente cumplen el requisito de ser prácticos, ¿acaso son realmente verdes? Entre las ventajas, estas hojas o pedazos de tela limpian con un uso mínimo de agua. Entre las desventajas, terminan en los rellenos sanitarios después de usarlos. En este caso, los avances tecnológicos podrían resolver esta situación. Algunas compañías han elaborado pedazos de tela para limpieza más benficiosos ya que gran parte del material usado proviene de fibras de bambú. Estas fibras son biodegradables y compostables las cuales aplacan la conciencia verde de los ciudadanos. Para una lista completa, visite el sitio Web de Diseño para el Medio Ambiente.

¿Cuál es su sentir sobre este tema? Quisiéramos recibir sus comentarios. Hasta 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.

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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