Monthly Archives: November 2010

Un relato de dos playas

Por Lina Younes

Las imágenes de mis vacaciones veraniegas viven todavía en mis recuerdos, pero no por las razones en que muchos piensan. Durante la primera etapa de mis vacaciones, mi familia y yo tuvimos la oportunidad de ir a un complejo turístico que daba al mar con diáfanas aguas y blancas playas. El ambiente era de un paraíso terrenal. Era el lugar perfecto para escapar del mundanal ruido. Hubiese querido capturar ese momento para la eternidad.

Durante la segunda parte de las vacaciones dedicamos el tiempo a actividades familiares. Solíamos ir a una repostería que daba a una carretera costanera a comer helados o deliciosos postres. Nos dimos cuenta que la repostería conectaba a un restaurant al aire libre. Una noche, decidimos tener una cena familiar justo al atardecer para disfrutar de la brisa del mar. ¡Vaya la sorpresa que nos llevamos! Desde la carretera se podían observar las serenas aguas color turquesa. Cuando nos sentamos a cenar frente a la playa lo que teníamos a la vista parecía un vertedero municipal! Montañas de botellas plásticas y basura desparramadas por toda la playa. Había enormes manchas negras en la arena donde la gente había quemado la basura. El ir y venir del oleaje llevaba los escombros al mar y traía basura una y otra vez. Lo más triste era ver que la gente que cenaba allí hacía caso omiso del asunto. ¡Simplemente no les importaba! Como yo estaba en un país extranjero fuera del alcance de la EPA, ¿a quién iba a reportar el incidente?

Mientras la aplicación y acatamiento del derecho ambiental son claves, todos tenemos que poner de nuestra parte para minimizar los desechos y reciclar.  Por lo tanto, cuando vaya a la playa o una actividad al aire libre, favor de disponer de los desechos adecuadamente para hacer de este Planeta Tierra un lugar mejor para todos nosotros.

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 Man’s Waste is Another Man’s Biosolid!

click here for info on the National Biosolids Partnership If I told you a virtually limitless fertilizer was available from a recycled material would you be surprised?  Well, it is no myth! 

Thirty years ago, thousands of American cities dumped their raw sewage directly into our nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays (gross!). Today, because of improved wastewater treatment (as well as strict Federal and state standards), the treated leftovers from wastewater treatment (or biosolids) can be safely recycled. 

Sewage sludge is created through the treatment of domestic wastewater by sewage treatment facilities. The treatment of sewage sludge is a very long and thorough process to make sure that hazardous contaminants are removed.  Sometimes this process starts long before wastewater even gets to a wastewater treatment plant, with pretreatment at some industrial facilities. Once the wastewater reaches the plant, the sewage goes through physical, chemical and biological processes which clean the wastewater and remove the solids.  The treatment processes sanitize wastewater solids to control pathogens (disease causing organisms, such as certain bacteria, viruses and parasites) and other organisms capable of transporting disease.

This stabilization treatment includes such processes as digestion, lime stabilization, pasteurization and composting, which change the chemical and physical characteristics of the wastewater solids to a biosolids product that may safely be applied to the land.  Safe biosolids can even be made from residential septage (a nice term for human or household waste from septic tanks or cesspools) when treated and processed correctly.  It turns out that the end product of wastewater treatment is an extremely nutrient-rich resource – what a transformation!

Once it is ensured that the resulting biosolids meet specific quality criteria, they can be safely recycled and used as fertilizer to sustainably improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.  Biosolids can reduce a farmer’s costs and replenish the organic matter that has been depleted over time.  Plus, the organic matter improves soil structure by increasing the soil’s ability to absorb and store moisture.  Some biosolids are applied to the land as a liquid, while others have water removed from them and are a consistency similar to wet soil. Still other biosolids are in the form of compost material and pellets.

Every state in the United States uses biosolids in some fashion.  Farmers and gardeners have been using biosolids for years.  Biosolids have been applied to reclaimed mining sites to promote quicker vegetation growth.  But, despite their benefits, only 50% of the biosolids produced are used and they are only used on one percent of America’s agricultural land.  Unused biosolids end up in landfills where this valuable fertilizer goes to waste. Check out who your state contact for biosolids is and  find more information on biosolids.

The National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) advances environmentally sound biosolids management practices. The program is operated by the Water Environment Foundation (WEF), in collaboration with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and local and regional biosolids management organizations across the U.S. and Canada with support from the EPA. The NBP serves as the information clearinghouse on effective biosolids practices and offers an Environmental Management System (or EMS) based certification program that requires participating organizations to go beyond regulatory requirements. 

Do you have any innovative ways to recycle waste?  Perhaps you have a compost pile?  Share your ideas!

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: Avoiding Lyme Disease: there’s an app for that!

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

By Aaron Ferster

Last weekend, I hopped the northbound train out of Washington, DC for New Haven, Connecticut, where I joined 500 or so other science writers to talk shop at the National Association of Science Writers annual conference. The conference was held jointly with the Forty-eighth Annual New Horizons in Science program, organized by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and hosted by Yale University and the Yale School of Medicine.

The two events are held consecutively, so that a couple of days of workshops and lectures on the craft of science writing are immediately followed by presentations by scientists eager to share their work with a receptive audience of science writers.

As you could imagine, a number of the presentations covered topics familiar to someone like me who’s “day job” is writing about EPA science and research. There were presentations on what scientists are finding in the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon (BP) oil spill, case studies of the global climate change research, and even a presentation on green chemistry by former EPA environmental engineer Dr. Julie Zimmerman.

I even came across an example of EPA-related research completely unexpectedly. A feature story in the Fall, 2010 issue of the publication Yale Public Health highlights how Yale researchers helped to develop a Lyme disease “app” for iPhones and other popular Apple devices.

The app provides a map of infected tick density at a given location, providing a kind of user-friendly early warning system about Lyme disease risks. The program includes images of ticks people can use to identify different species—hopefully before picking them off their skin with a pair of tweezers.

Although EPA did not directly fund the development of the app, it has supported research integrating earth observation technologies, such as remote sensing, with field studies to model and map Lyme disease risk.

The development of the “app” is just the kind of research-based decision-making and information tool that EPA scientist Montira Pongsiri and her partners have been working to advance (and in Dr. Pongsiri’s case, blogging about) through EPA’s Biodiversity and Human Health Research Program.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is an EPA science writer and the editor of “Science Wednesday.”

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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Grow a Green School

By Megan Gavin

GreenRecently I attended the first Green Schools National Conference held in Minneapolis. One of the many cool things about the conference was the variety of people who came together with the common goal of how to make schools ‘greener’ and more sustainable. When you think about it, there are a lot of environmental issues surrounding schools – you have lighting, food, garbage, ventilation, schools with and without access to nearby nature and teachers who need to teach standards but want to integrate sustainability concepts into the curriculum – just to name a few. Sounds a bit overwhelming! Where do you even get started?

As part of the conference, the Will Steger Foundation sponsored a youth summit for 100 high school kids from across the country. While the adults were trying to choose between sessions about green jobs, using renewable energy, energy & water conservation, waste reduction, recycling, green purchasing and cleaning, creating a school-wide green culture, school garden programs, school lunch programs and more, students were learning about how to be leaders themselves.

The highlight came at the end of conference for me, when students who attended the youth summit reported out about what they learned. One of the student presenters was a Region 10 President’s Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA) winner form last year. Students spoke about learning tips and tools to get grants to fund their projects, how to be advocates and get media attention for their issues and more. I learned that active, interested high school students have a voice and they will not stop until they are heard. Adults and students alike had come together to support the concept of green schools!

In addition to learning from students, I learned from other organizations too. For example, I learned the U.S. Green Building Council has a center for green schools which helps to engage educators in creating sustainable learning environments for their students and apply solid research to inform leadership about the benefits of healthy, high-performing schools. I learned about other cool resources such as ‘Green my Parents’ which is a movement and a book that teaches kids that through fun, simple activities, keeping score and grading their parents, young people reduce energy consumption, water usage and waste at home to save over $100 for their family and take charge of creating a more sustainable future today.

All in all, I was reminded that green schools aren’t only about the building but the people inside the building. The opportunities to get involved in this movement are endless. My goal is to find kids doing ‘green’ projects in my area and help them get the recognition they deserve through EPA’s President’s Environmental Youth Award program.

About the author: Megan Gavin currently works as the environmental education coordinator in the Chicago office of EPA.

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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America Recycles Day

By Felicia Chou

There is this beaten up, raggedy Garbage Gremlin costume we wear to events or school talks every year to encourage people of all ages to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The crusty, mold-green fur reeks of decades’ worth of sweat and tears from the EPA employees that have braved sweltering heat and freezing cold to don the costume for the sake of environmental outreach. Thankfully, the internet was invented so we wouldn’t have to rely on a communications prop that I personally wouldn’t touch without a ten-foot-pole and a hazmat suit. Our new-and-improved What You Can Do site offers great consumer tips and resources on Going Green, and doesn’t smell like last summer’s old sneakers. And what better time to explore what you can do to help our environment than today, America Recycles Day?

Regardless of whether you’re at home, at school, at work, or on the go, there are all kinds of things you can do to make every day America Recycles Day. With hand-picked tips organized by season and subject, helpful resources from buying green to greenscaping, and a section dedicated to things around the house you might not expect to recycle, we’re working to make it easier for everyone to do their part to make a difference.

So when you’re wondering about where to recycle your old electronics, what to do with all the leftover food from your holiday party, or how to set up a recycling program in your community, you won’t have to chase down the Garbage Gremlin to find out. And on behalf of all the dedicated public servants who have had to wear the suit, we thank you.

About the Author: Felicia Chou is a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She has avoided wearing costumes of any kind ever since her mother made her dress up as an oversized lady bug for Halloween in 7th grade.

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 Louisiana Recovery School District: Healing and Thriving

modBy Tiffany Delcour

Indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools is my top priority – and here in the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) we’ve had our work cut out for us since Hurricane Katrina to ensure that our schools are as safe and healthy as they can be. But believe it or not, the issue of IAQ didn’t begin with Katrina. Now, don’t get me wrong, Katrina damaged 80% of our school facilities and caused $1.8 billion in damages. Five years later, we are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina on our school district and in many places we have vast, modular campuses instead of permanent school buildings. But really the issue of IAQ started with deferred maintenance costs before the storm.

Deferred maintenance costs are an issue that many, many school districts can relate to, especially older districts with aging buildings. Over time, deferred maintenance can lead to high levels of carbon dioxide, moisture, humidity, HVAC issues and more – universal concerns for school districts, not just those located in hurricane recovery areas. They are issues that RSD is now tackling in all of its schools – including the ones that weren’t damaged by Katrina.

After Katrina, RSD created a district-wide, master rebuilding plan that encompasses all aspects of the rebuilding process — including the issue of IAQ. It also includes a component for preventative maintenance and long-term planning. EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program has been integral to the RSD recovery process.

Last year RSD was featured at the IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium as a Featured School District. There we shared our story and challenges and received mentorship on how to effectively utilize the IAQ Tools for Schools program. And after we got home, we got to work. The program provided an already-established structure and framework, complete with guidelines and best practices, from which we created an RSD-specific IAQ strategy. We established an air quality team at each school, implemented recommended guidelines, prioritized remediation issues and employed focused preventative maintenance strategies. And we’re happy to report that this year RSD will be attending the Symposium again to share these successes.

We would encourage anyone who is concerned about the health of students, staff, and school buildings in their communities to attend the Symposium – January 13-15, 2011, in Washington, DC. You’ll leave inspired, informed and ready to take on the world.

About the author: Tiffany Delcour joined the Louisiana Recovery School District a little over a year ago as the IAQ coordinator. She has worked directly with EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program as a featured school at the IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium and currently serves as a mentor to other school stakeholders.

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.

Science Wednesday: US EPA at Inaugural U.S. Science & Engineering Festival – Safe Chemicals

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

By Maureen Gwinn

As someone who enjoys doing scientific outreach, the U.S. Science & Engineering Festival was like a dream come true! Kids interested in science, or parents who want their kids to be interested in science, flocking to the National Mall to learn more about science was an amazing opportunity to engage kids in something I love.

There were science-based performances, games and activities, all geared to showing the fascinating and fun side of science.  This festival was in response to the steadily decreasing leadership role of the U.S. in science, which the organizers hoped to change by stimulating an interest in science for kids at a young age.

For our part, the EPA brought some interactive modules to showcase the role of science in our work at the Agency.

Assessing the safety of chemicals is a big part of what we do at EPA, and we engaged kids to help us determine what caused the reactions when mixing simple, everyday chemicals (baking soda, rock salt, water).

Kids were amazed to see that mixing these simple chemicals together (along with a pH indicator) led to a change in temperature, created a gas and changed colors.  We set out to teach kids about the importance of understanding chemicals and how they interact with each other and the environment, and from their responses also showed them their potential to be future scientists.

About the Author: Maureen is a toxicologist with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, where she works in human health risk assessment to understand the toxicity of environmental chemicals. Maureen is also the K-12 Task Force lead for the Society of Toxicology, and often volunteers in education outreach.

Note: Give it a try! You can download instructions to try the “Baggie Science” demonstration

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.

Regional Geographic: Mapping Our Waters for Environmental Protection

By Christina Catanese

Recovery Act Funded water projects in PennsylvaniaAt the EPA, we use geography all the time.  We have maps hanging all over the walls of our offices, showing the locations of wastewater facilities, delineations of watersheds, and impaired streams, just to name a few.  Very rarely does a day go by when I don’t use a map of some kind to do my job.  Because EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment requires a good spatial understanding how human populations interact with their environment, mapping and geography are integral to our work.

So, how does the EPA use geography?  Here are just a few highlights:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (or “stimulus” bill) provided additional funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which are administered by EPA to the Mid-Atlantic States.  These funds are then allocated to local projects like updating aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  Visit the infrastructure  website and click your state on the map on the bottom right side of the page to see maps of Recovery Act-funded projects.  Project locations are flagged on the map with balloons or pins according to the type of project (Clean Water, Drinking Water, projects with a green component) occurring at each location.  This map also includes a short description of each project and the funds allocated to it.  Maybe there is a project going on near you that you didn’t even know about!   You can also visit the EPA Recovery site to see maps with summaries of funding and job creation associated with Recovery Act projects.

As we’ve blogged about in previous posts, EPA is in the process of setting a strict “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Just one look at a map of the Chesapeake Bay will tell you how large this clean-up effort is; the drainage basin of the bay itself is over 64,000 square miles and encompasses at least part of six different states.  A number of public meetings were held to get public comments on the new nutrient standards that are being set for the Bay; to facilitate attendance at these meetings for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, EPA created a map of meeting locations.  The map has information on dates and times as well as driving directions through Google maps. Click the “Fall 2010 Public Meetings” tab.

“Surf Your Watershed” is a great way to learn about the watershed you live in.  Enter your zip code, and find out what watershed your area is part of and lots of information about it, including how healthy your waters are, maps, citizen groups that are active in the watershed area, and much more.  Surf’s up!

The Enviromapper for Water and Envirofacts have even more information about the waters of the United States.  The clickable and searchable map allows you to zero in on an area of interest and find out about water quality and locations of facilities that discharge into water bodies.

Have you used these environmental mapping resources before?  Can you think of any maps that EPA could provide to help you learn more about your environment and geography? How do you use geography and maps in your life or job?

November 14-20 is National Geography Awareness Week – Freshwater!  Let’s join together in learning about geography to help keep the waters of the Mid-Atlantic region healthy. This blog entry will also be posted as part of National Geographic’s National Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-thon.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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: Sharing our Science

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

By Mario R. Sengco, Ph.D.

It was a great afternoon of scientific engagement and a showcase of knowledge and technologies at the Inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival at the National Mall.

Standing behind the EPA display, I saw young children, middle-schoolers and some high school students flock to EPA’s demonstration of permeable pavements, like a piece of iron filing to a magnet.  In their eyes, I saw the excitement and genuine interest in the things we had to say.  They wanted to touch, hear, smell and see the exhibits.  They want to get dirty and to figure things out.  To be sure, there were many adults there – especially the parents—whose inner child was drawn out by the science about water quality bio-indicators, or testing lung capacity, even by the EPA Panda.

As a scientist making a transition into the policy arena, I was pleased to engage the public and to demonstrate that science plays a crucial role in the work of the EPA.  Too often, the decision making process can be lost to the average person on the street.  Mixed messages about science, uncertainties in data, and debates about certain controversial topics have sometimes made the public uncomfortable.

But at that afternoon’s display, we were able to show that science is relatable, and that the concepts can be readily understood, and the implications to decision/policy-making can be appreciated.

About the Author:  Mario R. Sengco, Ph.D., a marine biologist, is 2009-11 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellow in EPA’s Office of 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.

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Benchmarking? What’s Benchmarking?

ESLogo.2By George Giese

You know, I never gave much thought to it when I was younger. Classrooms to be heated and cooled (if you’re lucky and have A/C); hallways and gymnasiums to light and kitchens and cafeterias to power and maintain. When you think about it, schools use a lot of energy!

There are thousands of schools across the country and each one needs to be powered. Given the environmental and economic challenges facing schools today, sound energy management is a critical component of operations. But where do you start?

As an intern, I’ve had the opportunity to assist schools in benchmarking their buildings in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Benchmarking is a process that allows you to compare the energy usage of your school with other similar buildings across the country. Portfolio Manager accounts for variables such as school size (square footage), local weather, the presence of on-site cooking facilities, and other physical characteristics that influence energy use.

It’s a fairly simple process – you plug in 12 consecutive months of energy data along with some information about the school itself, and the system computes a 1-100 efficiency score. As improvements are made Portfolio Manager tracks your progress over time. Even better, schools that rate 75 or higher are eligible for the ENERGY STAR Label which can be proudly displayed.

Working with schools across six states, I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff. One high school has hallway lights that are programmed to match class schedules. One minute before the bell rings, the lights kick on as students start moving to their next class. One minute before the next period begins, the lights slowly dim to conserve energy. I could have used that friendly reminder…it would have saved me quite a few mad-dashes down the hall.

Think this sounds cool?  Encourage a parent or teacher to learn about: energy star programs for schools

In the meantime there are actions you can take to help your school be more energy efficient.  This winter, ask your teacher to open the window blinds in your classroom.  The heat from the sun’s rays can keep your classroom warm.  Also, turn off lights in classrooms that are not being used.  These simple actions will help your school to be more energy efficient!

About the author: George Giese is an intern for the Air and Radiation Division working on Climate Change. He is currently finishing his Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Colorado at Denver.

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.