Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Unjust Burden of Asthma

By Suril Mehta

Painful wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath. I’ve seen friends and family alike suffer through asthma, which now plagues more than 24 million Americans. You’d think that such a common chronic disease would affect all ages and races equally. The unfortunate truth is that asthma most heavily burdens minority children from under served areas.

I witnessed this inequality while working with asthmatic children in East Harlem in New York City last year. East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem, is home to one of the highest childhood asthma rates and asthma-related hospitalizations in the country. What’s even more shocking is that a child living in East Harlem has almost three times the risk of asthma than a child living only ten blocks away.

As a recently-graduated environmental health epidemiologist, I wanted to figure out why children from this vibrant and culturally-diverse neighborhood are so heavily burdened by asthma.

I evaluated an effective city program which provides East Harlem asthmatic children services to better control their asthma. Most of the enrolled children belonged to poor Hispanic and African-American families. Prior to enrollment, many children had little access to healthcare services and no plan of action during an asthma attack.

Why is a neighborhood like East Harlem a high risk area for asthmatics?

Though we don’t exactly know what causes asthma, we do know what triggers asthma attacks. East Harlem is home to poor housing conditions. I had the privilege of visiting one of the enrolled child’s housing buildings, and the hallways of this low-income project smelled of mildew and cigarettes. Indoor environmental triggers such as mold, roaches, rats, pet dander, and smoke can all trigger asthmatic attacks. Additionally, these city-dwelling children were exposed to outdoor triggers such as air pollution and dust from construction work.

Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, location, or poverty level deserves proper access to healthcare and healthy living conditions. What can we do to help reduce these differences in asthma rates in the US?

Even though asthma cannot be cured, children can control their asthma by avoiding triggers, using proper medications, and creating an asthma action plan.

It’s time to act on reducing disparities in asthma.

About the author: Suril Mehta works at the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection on efforts to reduce environmental exposures of childhood asthma.

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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Celebrating EPA’s 40th Anniversary—Pick5 And Join The Festivities!

By Hanady Kader / Jeanethe Falvey

Tis the season for holidays and celebrations, and this year EPA has a particularly big reason to celebrate—we’re turning 40!

Maybe approaching the hill isn’t as thrilling for some, but we’re feeling festive. Every day we see the important work the agency has been doing for four decades: enforcing environmental laws, cleaning up hazardous waste, and assisting in the funding of environmental projects in communities, yet some serious work remains.

EPA is responsible for helping to protect a quality of life today, and for future generations. Yet, a single agency cannot take care of everything for everyone. We all drink water, breathe air and consume resources; we all use and depend on the environment. There’s no question that environmental protection needs action from the top down, but our efforts will go much further with equal action from the ground up. It’s all about you, your friends, your families and your neighbors and the ideas shared—here in the United States and across the globe—that can make an immediate positive impact.

EPA and the State Department’s Pick 5 for the Environment program is building a community where anyone can participate and pledge to do the simple and proven things that protect our air, water, and precious resources.

Leading up to EPA’s 40th anniversary on December 2, we are featuring a weekly video that shows how simple it is to do the right thing—so simple that kids are teaching their parents!

We hope you’ll check them out and submit your own It’s My Environment video, but if you do just one thing, join Pick 5 to see what others are doing across the world and share your ideas to make this truly a global community effort.

Is water conservation your calling? Feel passionate about recycling? You might just find your ideas and efforts put to action in another part of the country or world. Rest assured there are others like you making a difference. Happy Birthday EPA, and we wish you a Happier Holidays by enjoying and doing the simpler things in life that protect our livelihoods and loved ones.

About the authors: Hanady Kader and Jeanethe Falvey work together on the Pick 5 program from opposite ends of the U.S. Based in Seattle and Boston, both are committed to building environmental action from coast to coast and beyond.

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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A Healthy Environment for Ideas

By Rachel Bassler

When I was little, every student in my class was given a sapling to plant for Earth Day. I planted mine in my back yard, and it took root. It’s been 15 years now, and it’s healthy, strong, and growing.

A big idea starts the same way: you plant the seed, nurture it, and give it room to grow. I recently got a look at some ideas that could become giants during the Innovations WorkGroup (IWG) meeting in Seattle.

The IWG meets to select innovative projects in land management that will receive funding through EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. To date, more than 85 projects have been funded, which have dealt with innovative approaches to home deconstruction, energy production through methane capture, and brownfields reuse.

I got a good look at some of the ideas at the meeting. One of the most interesting looked at the problem of Alaskan open dump contamination in the face of climate change-induced permafrost reductions. With no permafrost, hundreds of dumps are directly contaminating vital drinking water sources. This project will create new, green jobs for villagers to monitor contaminants.

Another project involved the City of Charleston, South Carolina which is currently faced with the challenge of revitalizing a blighted downtown area without demolishing underutilized or abandoned buildings. The project will test the viability of creating a vertical farm from an abandoned parking lot (which pioneers an approach to building a green roof by capturing rain water to use as feed for a nearby farm) and an energy management system. The project also promotes green building technologies and will reduce landfill waste.

In the end, 11 projects were selected for funding. These projects won’t revolutionize environmental protection all by themselves, but by demonstrating success on a small scale, they have the potential to start something big. It will be exciting to see what these ideas grow into, and I’m glad I was there when the seed was planted.

About the author: Rachel Bassler is a Management and Program Assistant in the STEP program, in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. She has been with EPA over a year and is working toward her Master’s at George Washington University in Washington, DC .

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 field isn’t the only thing green at the Nationals’ Stadium

Nationals Park as seen from the Anacostia River. Low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets were projected to save 3.6 million gallons of water each year.The San Francisco Giants were crowned the World Series Champions earlier this week, but if Planet Earth was crowning a champion, it would probably be the Washington Nationals.
The Washington Nationals are in their third season in their new home at National Park in D.C.  Nationals Park is America’s first green certified professional sports stadium.  Perhaps the stadium’s biggest fan is the Anacostia River.  The river borders the stadium and architects took special measures to reduce the impact that the stadium has on the river.  A 6,300 sq. ft. green roof was built over the concession area that will help reduce storm water runoff.  To prevent trash and debris generated at the stadium from reaching the river, screens were constructed in storm drains around the stadium to catch these materials.  Huge sand filters built beneath the stadium filter storm water before it is pumped to the public treatment facility.  The stadium also employs low flow faucets and dual flush toilets which save millions of gallons a year. 

The Nationals are hitting a homerun for the Anacostia River. What are you doing for your local river or watershed? Use the EPA website “Surf your Watershed” to find your local watershed and citizen-based groups that are making efforts to keep your water clean.

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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You Dump It, You Drink It!

By Lina Younes

In an earlier blog on car maintenance tips,  I mentioned the need to keep your car well tuned and to change the oil regularly in order to improve fuel efficiency. One of the commenters quickly pointed out that newer car models don’t require changing the oil as often as in the past. The guidelines used to be “change your oil every 3,000 miles or every three months, whichever comes first.” With new engine technologies and better lubricants, most auto manufacturers are revising their recommendations for oil changes intervals. For some cars, the intervals can be up to every 7500 miles. Ultimately, this has positive environmental benefits and monetary savings as well. So the best advice is to check your owner’s manual for the best oil change interval for your vehicle.

Some of you might prefer to change the oil yourself. I like my car, but I would never attempt to take car maintenance into my own hands. Since I don’t have those skills, I leave that to the experts. Just a word of caution, don’t dump the oil down the drain! That contaminates our water! Used oil that ends up in our waterways also threatens aquatic lives. Tossing it in the trash, contaminates landfills. Recycle used oil!

EPA developed a bilingual outreach campaign aimed at increasing environmental awareness among automotive mechanics and consumers. The campaign encourages do-it-yourselfers to take their used motor oil to recycling centers for recycling and/or reuse. There might be an auto shop near you that provides that service, check it out. As always, looking forward to your comments.

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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Si lo tira, se lo toma

Por Lina Younes

En un blog anterior sobre consejos para el mantenimiento de autos,  mencioné la necesidad de mantener su auto bien afinado y hacer el cambio de aceite con regularidad para mejorar la eficiencia de combustible. Una de las personas que envió comentarios rápidamente señaló que los modelos de autos más modernos no requieren que se cambie el aceite del motor con tanta frecuencia como en el pasado. Con anterioridad, la norma era “cambiar el aceite cada 3,000 millas o cada tres meses, la que ocurra primero.” Con las nuevas tecnologías en motores y mejores lubricantes, la mayoría de los fabricantes de autos han revisado sus recomendaciones sobre los intervalos en que se deben realizar los cambios de motor. Para algunos, el intervalo puede ser de hasta 7500 millas entre cambio de aceite. En fin de cuentas, esto tiene repercusiones positivas para el medio ambiente y representa ahorros económicos también. El mejor consejo consiste en consultar el manual de su auto para ver cuál es el mejor plazo para cambios de aceite.

Algunos de ustedes prefieren cambiar el aceite por sí mismos. Me gusta mi auto, pero nunca me atrevería a tratar de hacer reparaciones de mecánica yo misma. Como no tengo esas destrezas, se lo dejo a los expertos. Ahora, una voz de cautela. ¡No echen el aceite usado de motor por el alcantarillado! Eso contaminaría el agua. Desde el alcantarillado, el aceite llegaría a las vías acuáticas contaminando así la vida silvestre acuática también. Tampoco lo eche en los vertederos. ¡Recicle el aceite usado!

La Agencia de Protección Ambiental desarrolló una campaña bilingüe de alcance público diseñada para aumentar la concientización entre mecánicos automotrices y consumidores sobre el tema. La campaña alienta a las personas que hacen sus propias reparaciones (do-it-yourselfers) a llevar su aceite usado a talleres de mecánica y centros de acopio para reciclaje y/o reutilización como lubricante. Podría haber un taller cercano que brinde ese servicio. Me encantaría recibir sus comentarios.

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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Science Wednesday: Air Science 40 Seminar

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

By Maggie Sauerhage

The average person takes 15 breaths a minute. That adds up to 21,600 breaths a day and around 7,884,400 breaths a year. Just thinking about that leaves me breathless.

Recently, I attended a seminar on Capitol Hill titled “Air Quality in a Changing Climate: What the Future Holds for the Air We Breathe,” co-sponsored by EPA and the American Geophysical Union.

At the core of the seminar were presentations by EPA’s Dr. Darrell Winner, and Dr Jonathan Samet, a professor and chair of the Department of Preventative Medicine and Director of the USC Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California. Usually presentations on the effects of climate change leave me feeling lost and uncertain of the future of our planet.

This was different.

After Dr. Winner explained the climate change penalty on ozone—the relationship between ozone and temperature—he said that research shows that when emissions reductions are enforced, overall air quality improves.

He also mentioned the harmful effects of black carbon emissions. To help combat this problem, the EPA has joined the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to improve air quality and human health around the globe. He finished his lecture by saying that there are great opportunities to slow climate change while improving global public health.

Dr. Samet offered insights on the effects of air pollution and climate change on human health. He shared one particularly interesting slide: two world maps, side-by-side. One showed countries sized according to their contributions to air pollution and climate change. Large contributors, such as the United States, were enlarged. Small contributors, like many in Africa, were shrunken. Next to that map was one illustrating those countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change caused by air pollution.

The countries did not match up at all: the countries that contributed the least to the global pollution problem were identified as some of the most vulnerable!

Both men offered their own suggestions on actions that could both improve the quality of the air we breathe and possibly limit the impacts of climate change. I think that following these suggestions and improving air quality would help us all breathe a little easier.

To view the presentations from the seminar, please click here.

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is a student at Indiana University majoring in Spanish. She is spending the fall working 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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El miércoles de ciencia: El seminario de la ciencia del aire 40

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

Autora Maggie Sauerhage

Como promedio, las personas normalmente respiran 15 veces por minuto. Esto equivaldría unas 21,600 respiraciones por día y unas 7,884,400 respiraciones por año. Simplemente de pensarlo me quedo sin aliento.

Recientemente, asistí un seminario en Capitol Hill sobre “La calidad del aire en una clima cambiante: Lo que deparará el futuro para el aire que respiramos”, patrocinado por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. y la Unión de Geofísica Estadounidense.
El enfoque principal del seminario consistió de las presentaciones de Dr. Darrell Winner de EPA, y Dr. Jonathan Samet, profesor y presidente del Departamento de Medicina Preventiva y director del Instituto de Salud Global de USC. Usualmente las presentaciones sobre los efectos del cambio climático me hacen sentir perpleja e insegura sobre el futuro de nuestro planeta.

Esto fue diferente.

Después que el doctor Winner explicó las consecuencias del cambio climático sobre el ozono- la relación entre ozono y la temperatura, él dijo que la investigación muestra que cuando se cumplen las normas sobre las reducciones de emisiones, la calidad del aire general también mejora.

También, él mencionó los malos efectos de las emisiones del carbón negro. Para combatir este problema, la EPA está uniendo fuerzas con la Alianza Mundial para Estufas Limpias para mejorar la calidad del aire y salud humana en todas partes del planeta. Completó su presentación diciendo que hay gran oportunidades para aminorar la velocidad de cambio climático mientras se mejora la salud pública a nivel mundial.

El doctor Samet ofreció ideas sobre los efectos de la contaminación del aire y cambio climático en la salud humana. Compartió una diapositiva interesante en particular: dos mapas del mundo, uno lado del otro. Un mapa mostraba los países con sus proporciones geográficas delineadas conforme a sus contribuciones a la contaminación del aire y del cambio climático. Los principales contribuyentes, como los Estados Unidos, aparecían con unas dimensiones mayores. Los contribuidores pequeños, como muchos países de África, aparecían encogidos en dimensiones menores. Al lado de ese mapa había un mapa ilustrando aquellos países que eran más vulnerables a los efectos de cambio climático causado por la contaminación del aire.

¡Los países no coinciden: los países que contribuyeron en menor escala al problema de la contaminación global fueron identificado como los más vulnerables!

Los dos hombres ofrecieron sus propias sugerencias sobre las acciones que puedan mejorar la calidad del aire que respiramos y posiblemente limitar los impactos ambientales del cambio climático. Pienso que siguiendo esas sugerencias y mejorando la calidad del aire nos ayudarían a respirar con mayor facilidad.

Para ver las presentaciones del seminario, favor hacer clic aquí.

Sobre la autora: Maggie Sauerhage cursa estudios en la Universidad de Indiana donde se especializa en español. En la actualidad, ella está pasando el semestre trabajando en la Oficina de Investigación y Desarrollo de EPA.

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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Attention On line Young Environmentalists

By Wendy Dew

Climate change is a problem that is affecting people and the environment. In the U.S., our energy-related activities account for over 85 percent of our human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. If greenhouse gases continue to increase, climate models predict that the average temperature at the Earth’s surface could increase from 3.2 to 7.2ºF above 1990 levels by the end of this century.

While adults tend to debate everything to the extreme, younger generations are taking the lead. Chloe Maxmin, now 18, formed the Climate Action Club at her high school to help residents of her rural town fight global warming. In two years, Chloe and club members established a “No Idling” policy on campus, installed smart strips and vending misers in school computer labs and on vending machines, and recycled 4,000 batteries and 20 pounds of cartridges in her hometown. The club recently won a $5,000 community impact award, which they are using to purchase solar panels for the school.

Most notably, Chloe’s club launched Maine’s largest student-led reusable bag campaign, which has kept 700,000 bags out of local landfills. The group raised $4,300 from fourteen businesses, purchased 1,900 reusable bags featuring sponsors’ names and logos, and then sold out of the bags soon after they began selling them. The project is ongoing and self-sustaining, with each year’s profits used to fund the next year’s batch of bags. The state’s largest supermarket chain recently came onboard to sell the bags. Additionally, Maine has launched a state-wide reusable bag campaign, using the Climate Action Club’s project as a model.

Chloe also started and maintains an online network of young environmentalists called First Here, Then Everywhere, which has spread to eight countries. Her mission: “ My personal mission it to make global warming the defining mission of my generation. My generation enters adulthood at a crucial point in the history of humanity. We are the first to see the devastating effects of climate change. The responsibility to mitigate global warming, change human behavior, and save our world will fall to us. “

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 14 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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Thank you 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, you have enhanced my autumn experiences on the back of an Appaloosa

By Cindy Walke

This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and as an avid horsewoman, the anniversary highlights why autumn is still my favorite time of year.  I’m able to get out on the trails with my horse and enjoy all of the sights and smells that the fall season brings.  It’s not uncommon for us to encounter wild turkey, quail, deer, and various little critters scampering in the woods as my horse and I make our way through the wooded trails of the Liberty Watershed in Sykesville, Maryland.  It is truly an amazing sight to see!

When I’m out on the trails, I realize how fragile our ecosystems are.  The freshwater streams and trees provide the habitat that wildlife need in order to thrive.  My life has truly been enriched by these outdoor experiences and I cannot imagine how different they would be without the actions taken under the Clean Air Act.

Title IV of the Clean Air Act, also known as the Acid Rain Program, regulates SO2 and NOx emissions from power plants.  It’s these emissions that cause acid rain, which affects our ecosystems by making our lakes and streams acidic, harming fish populations, and slowing forest growth.  These emissions also contribute to health problems like premature mortality, cardiovascular issues and respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis.  The Acid Rain Program has reduced SO2 and NOx emissions and as a result, we can see improvements in our environment.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments also addressed toxic air pollutants and urban pollution, established tighter pollution standards for cars and trucks, helped eliminate ozone depleting substances and much more.

In the coming weeks, my colleagues and I will be sharing our personal stories about the outdoor activities we enjoy and how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have helped improve our environment, making our favorite activities possible.  Please follow our discussion series on Greenversations, and contribute your own stories about how the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments have improved your enjoyment of your favorite outdoor activities.

About the author: Cindy Walke is the website manager for the Clean Air Markets Division.  One of her favorite fall activities is horseback riding along the beautiful trails of Central Maryland.

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.