Monthly Archives: January 2011

EPA@40: Tell Us Your Story

by Richard Freitas

I’ve worked as a staff scientist at the EPA Region 9 San Francisco office since 1990, and much of my work involves the investigation of groundwater and surface water contamination. The work is often stressful as it regularly involves enforcement of the Superfund hazardous waste laws. Over the years I’ve worked on polluted sites throughout the southwest, helping communities protect their drinking water and clean water supplies from dangerous pollutants and other health threats. Most recently I worked on the Iron Mountain Mine, where our office was overseeing the dredging of contaminated sediments from Spring Creek which flows into the Keswick Reservoir and is the source of drinking water for the City of Redding, a city of around 80,000 people. The dredging of Spring Creek removed contaminated sediments before they could flush into the Reservoir and possibly affect the local drinking water supply.

Though I’ve put in time on a number of projects like Iron Mountain Mine during my 20 years with EPA, one of my best memories is of a project in which I was not involved. One day, on my drive back from a nearby San Francisco Bay wildlife refuge, I saw a sign on the City of Hayward, California wastewater treatment plant which read “Funded by a grant from USEPA.” Hayward is a small, largely lower-income city along the coast of the San Francisco Bay. I grew up in the city and went to college there. When I was a kid, I used to see toilet paper and other debris floating along the bayshore. Thanks to the wastewater plant, raw sewage is no longer discharged to this sensitive wildlife habitat. This may not mean a lot to anyone else, but having grown up Hayward, it meant a great deal to me to see the Agency I’ve worked so hard for all these years do something good for the city.

About the author: Rich Freitas is an Environmental Scientist with the Quality Assurance Office of the Environmental Protection Agency Office in San Francisco. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the California State University, East Bay with graduate studies in the Dept.of Geological Sciences at the University of Toledo, Ohio.

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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Small Steps Can Go a Long Way

By Lina Younes

For many years, I’ve tried to encourage my family to save energy and save water. There are simple steps we all can take at home, in the workplace, or in our communities that can go a long way towards protecting our health and the environment.

For example, what’s one of the easiest ways to save energy at home? Turn off the lights when you leave the room! How many times do we leave the lights on in one room for hours unnecessarily? Perhaps more often than we think! Another way to save energy in lighting overall is to change incandescent light bulbs in your home to one of the newer compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). The traditional incandescent light was invented by Thomas Edison 125 years ago and produces 90% more heat than the energy-efficient CFLs. The newer CFLs use ¼ of the energy used by incandescent lights and also last up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. Furthermore, every CFL can prevent more than 400 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from going to the environment over the lifetime of the CFL. So, by changing one light bulb to a CFL can help you save money and energy.

Another area where a little effort can go a long way is water conservation in the home. More than 50 percent of water consumption in the home takes place in the bathroom. How can we save water without investing in any special equipment? Don’t leave the water running while you are brushing your teeth or shaving! Take short showers instead of taking tub baths.

Environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility. Have other environmental tips to share with us? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pequeños pasos pueden recorrer un largo trecho

Por Lina Younes

Por muchos años, he tratado de alentar a mi familia a ahorrar energía y agua. He aquí algunos pasos sencillos que todos podemos tomar en el hogar, en el trabajo o en nuestras comunidades que tendrán repercusiones positivas en nuestro esfuerzo por proteger nuestra salud y el medio ambiente.

Por ejemplo, ¿cuál es una de las maneras más fáciles de ahorrar energía en el hogar? ¡Simplemente apague la luz cuando deje el cuarto! ¿Cuántas veces dejamos las luces encendidas en una habitación por horas innecesariamente? Aseguro que ocurre con mayor frecuencia que quisiéramos. Otra manera de ahorrar energía en el alumbrado del hogar se puede lograr cambiando las bombillas incandescentes por las nuevas bombillas compactas fluorescentes (CFLs, por sus siglas en inglés). La bombilla tradicional fue inventada por Tomás Edison hace 125 de años atrás y produce 90 por ciento más de calor que las bombillas eficientes CFL. Las bombillas compactas fluorescentes son más eficientes al usar ¼ de la energía que las bombillas tradicionales y también duran diez veces más tiempo que las incandescentes. Además, cada CFL puede prevenir más de 400 libras de emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero al medio ambiente durante la vida del CFL. Por ende, al cambiar una bombilla fluorescente a una incandescente le ayuda a ahorrar dinero y energía.
Otra área donde con un pequeño esfuerzo se puede hacer mucho por el medio ambiente es mediante la conservación de agua.

Más del 50 por ciento del consumo de agua en el hogar ocurre en los baños. ¿Cómo puede ahorrar agua sin tener que invertir en ningún equipo especial? ¡Simplemente no deje el agua correr mientras se cepilla los dientes o se afeite! El tomar duchas cortas en vez de baños de tina también es otra manera de ahorrar.

La protección ambiental es responsabilidad de otros. ¿Tiene otros consejos ambientales que quisiera compartir con nosotros? Nos encantaría escuchar su opinión.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como directora asociada interina para educación ambiental. 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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Do you have the “RTK”?

Click here to visit the RTK site

By Trey Cody

Yes, you may be up to date with most new chat and instant message shorthand or acronyms used today, like “LOL” (laugh out loud), “BRB” (be right back), and “GTG” (got to go).  But no matter how much of an expert you may think you are, I’ll bet that you haven’t heard of the newest acronym on the block, “RTK!” What “RTK” stands for is, the “right to know.”  Have you ever walked or driven by an industrial factory or plant and wondered if what you see or don’t see being emitted and disposed is threatening to your community?  Do you feel as if you have the “RTK?”  The answer is yes, you do have the right, and with EPA’s newest mobile app “MyRTK,” you now have it right in your hands.

This mobile app can be found on the EPA mobile page under apps.  What “MyRTK” does is allow you to search a specific location for potentially toxic facilities surrounding it.  Say you are in an area near the Chesapeake Bay; with this app you can type in “Chesapeake Bay” or “Chesapeake Bay, MD.”  Once selected, a map will appear with all facilities in the vicinity represented by a pin.  When you select a facility, you’ll be provided with information on the chemicals they handle, what is in their releases, the potential health effects of those chemicals, and a history of the facility’s compliance with releasing the chemicals.

Want the right to know?  There’s an app for that!  So download it now.  Also click here to check out other mobile apps offered by EPA mobile.  Think this app is a good idea, or maybe you have an idea for another app to help people know more about potential water pollutants around them, then let us know.

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: A Cluster for Clean Water Innovations

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

By Aaron Ferster

When people think fashion, they think Milan and New York. The San Francisco Bay area has been dubbed “Silicon Valley,” the geographic heart of the high-tech computer industry. And although I’ve never been there myself, I still conjure up images of fine wine and cuisine whenever someone mentions a trip to Paris.

Sometimes, a critical mass of experts, producers, and innovators come together to the benefit of an entire industry. It’s the classic win-win situation where everyone involved, from the producers of a product to the consumers benefit from a spirit of collaboration and healthy competition.

Someday soon, Southwestern Ohio, Southeastern Indiana and Northern Kentucky will be known as the Milan, Paris, and “Silicon Valley” of clean water technology.

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson joined the administrator of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, University of Cincinnati President Gregory H. Williams, and local officials at the Agency’s environmental research center in Cincinnati to announce the launch of the Water Technology Innovation Cluster (WTIC).

The WTIC will spur the research and develop of new environmental technologies for improving water quality in local communities. Through a series of collaborations, investments in small businesses, and research grants, EPA and partners will support the development of green infrastructure projects, advancements in water monitoring technologies and sensor devices, and new ways to remove multi-contaminants from drinking water.

WTIC directly supports EPA’s new Drinking Water Strategy to foster development of new drinking water treatment technologies by developing, testing and commercializing innovative processes and technologies that are sustainable, and water and energy efficient. The new products will be cost effective for utilities and consumers.

In the process, WTIC will attract the best and the brightest scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and small business owners to drive innovation, create jobs, and foster investments in a sustainable future. The economy, the environment, and the country stand to benefit. It’s a win-win-win.

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of Science Wednesday and a frequent contributor.

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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Oh To Be A Kid Again!

By Ameshia Cross

Growing up young, black, and impoverished on Chicago’s Southside was no picnic. Blurs of hopelessness and despair surrounded me. I enrolled in after- school youth programs to help me get away from the painful images I saw daily. As a child, I wanted to work for NASA. After serving on a green committee in high school, I decided to pursue environmental policy education. But to my surprise, the programs in my community didn’t offer programs about environmental policy.

I had to find other avenues to pursue my interest but today’s kids can take find environmental programs in our community. I currently intern for EPA and had an opportunity to take a trip “back in time” and visit a youth center. The Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) has everything I wished for as a kid and more. It meets the needs of the inner city kids by providing a safe haven in the midst of a socioeconomic storm. At the same time, GCYC allows students to explore green careers, education, and hands-on activities.

The GCYC’s Green Teens Program is a summer apprenticeship program for students to explore green jobs and receive hands-on experience in this growing field. The job skills training provided by the Green Teens Program makes it possible for students to develop college level skills while still in high school. I wish they had a program like this when I was in high school.

Youth participants are also free to explore the Environmental Education Garden housed on the GCYC’s premises. The garden is designed to mirror a green campus featuring an open chef series where chefs from across the city can come and create dishes using the ingredients grown by the students. The garden also creates a rain forest atmosphere that enables students to understand how a rain forest works without having to travel.

Though the GCYC is filled with fun and exciting environmental education activities the emphasis according to Marji Hess, the garden manager, is sustainability. “Developing our youth and using the environments that they find themselves in to promote community sustainability is the ultimate goal.”

The GCYC Green Teens’ and Environmental Education Garden brought a smile to my face. Oh to be 13 again and be a part of this program!

About the author:  Ameshia Cross joined the EPA in December as a STEP intern in the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She has worked for numerous community organizations, holds seats on youth education boards, and is active in politics. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis on environmental policy and legislation.

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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My Long Relationship with One Serious Health Risk – Radon

By Lou Witt

January is National Radon Action Month — a key time to focus on a year-round effort — and I’ve seen a lot of them. For more than 18 years, I have worked to improve indoor air quality; much of that time focused on radon risk reduction. Unfortunately, for more years than I’d like to mention, I’ve probably been exposed to elevated levels of radon and didn’t even know it.

Growing up, I spent innumerable hours in our basement play/party room — often with family and friends — ignorant, but blissful. How much radon was I exposed to? I don’t know; No one knew to test. It was probably higher than I’d like to think about as our home was in an area with high radon potential.

Fortunately, when I bought my own home, I knew to test regardless of location. I may even vaguely remember that it was quickly mentioned during the sale. When I tested the lowest floor of my home, my result was 18 picocuries per liter of air of radon –—pretty far above EPA’s action level of 4 pCi/l. Since I spent very little time in the cellar — it’s really not a livable space — I measured on the first floor. It was right below 4 pCi/l. A lower number would have been better, but at least I’m under EPA’s action level.

Radon is one health risk we can all avoid and it’s simple. Test your home and fix the problem. Mitigating a radon problem costs about the same as other household repairs and this change can save your life.

Get information on radon and find information for your state radon office.

About the author:  Lou Witt, program analyst for the Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division.

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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Green Family Fun

By Lina Younes

During the winter months, I find it especially challenging to identify educational activities for my youngest that will keep her away from the TV and other electronic gadgets. With the cold weather, some outdoor activities might be limited. So, what is a parent to do? Well, here are several suggestions to get the kids engaged and teach them about the love of nature and the environment.

My number one suggestion: teach your children to enjoy reading! Expose the children to good books at the earliest age possible. Reading bedtime stories or sitting together as a family reading aloud creates enduring memories. Even children who read well still enjoy being read to by their parents.

Number two: get a library card for your child and take them to the library often. Many public libraries have special activities for young kids during weekends. Having them explore the library and research issues of interest to them opens a whole world of possibilities.

Number three: invite children over for a play date and conduct some science experiments. You can find many basic science books in the library that teach you to do some simple experiments with some common household ingredients. The children will have a blast and learn some hands-on-science.

Number four: bake a cake from scratch! Teaching your children to cook or bake is very similar to conducting a science experiment. You need to measure all your ingredients, use the proper utensils, follow instructions, manage time wisely, and at the end you’ll have a tasty result. Even if the outcome is not fit for Julia Child’s kitchen, it’s great family fun. The lessons last a lifetime.

Number five: take your child to a local museum. In the Washington metropolitan area we are lucky to have many museums that offer special family events on weekends. You can go online for the latest information or check your local newspaper for information on weekend activities.

Number six: volunteer for the environment. Many community-based, faith-based, service organizations have events for the whole family to help with a local stream cleanup, a recycling campaign or some local activities that will instill the love of nature in our kids, the earlier the better.

So, while many of us are still mulling over our New Year resolutions, why not think of doing more activities with our kids? Would love to hear your suggestions, as always.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. 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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Actividades familiares sostenibles

Por Lina Younes

Durante los meses de invierno, se me hace difícil encontrar actividades educativas para mi hija menor que la separen del televisor u otros aparatos electrónicos y cibernéticos. Con las temperaturas frías, las actividades al aire libre se limitan. Entonces, como padres, ¿qué podemos hacer? He aquí algunas sugerencias para enseñar a los niños el amor a la naturaleza y al medio ambiente.

Mi primera sugerencia: enseñe a sus hijos el amor a la lectura! Exponga a los hijos a buenos libros a temprana edad. El leerle cuentos antes de dormir o sentarse juntos en familia leyendo en voz alta crea recuerdos inolvidables. Aún los niños que ya pueden leer bien por su cuenta disfrutan cuando sus padres leen en voz alta.

Número dos: obtenga una tarjeta de biblioteca para su niño y llévelo a la biblioteca frecuentemente. Muchas bibliotecas públicas tienen actividades para niños pequeños durante los fines de semana. Mientras ellos exploran la biblioteca e investigan asuntos de su interés se les abre todo un mundo de posibilidades.

Número tres: Invite otros niños a su hogar para hacer experimentos. Pueden encontrar algunos libros elementales de ciencias en la biblioteca que enseñan cómo hacer experimentos sencillos usando algunos ingredientes encontrados comúnmente en el hogar. Los niños se divertirán y aprenderán de manera activa.

Número cuatro: ¡haga un pastel! El enseñarle a los niños a cocinar es muy parecido a realizar un experimento científico. Primero hay que medir todos los ingredientes, utilizar los utensilios adecuados, seguir instrucciones, manejar el tiempo sabiamente y al final tendrá un delicioso resultado. Aunque el pastel no sea idóneo de los grandes maestros de gastronomía, es una buena manera de disfrutar en familia. Las lecciones durarán por vida.

Número cinco: lleve a su niño a un museo. En el área metropolitana de Washington tenemos mucha suerte al tener una gran variedad de museos disponibles que ofrecen actividades familiares durante los fines de semana. Puede visitar los sitios Web para encontrar información actualizada o consultar los periódicos locales para información sobre las actividades del fin de semana.

Número seis: preste servicio voluntario. Muchas organizaciones comunitarias, de fé, de servicio celebran eventos donde toda la familia puede participar durante una actividad de limpieza de un arroyo cercano, una campaña de reciclaje u otras actividades locales que despierten el amor de los niños en la naturaleza y en ayudar a los demás. Mientras más temprano lo haga, mejor.

Pues, mientras muchos de nosotros todavía estamos considerando nuestras resoluciones del año nuevo, ¿por qué no pensamos en actividades con nuestros hijos? Como siempre, me encantaría escuchar su opinión y recibir sus comentarios.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como directora asociada interina para educación ambiental. 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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Plant a Tree, Save a River!

Riparian Buffer in an agricultural areaBy Christina Catanese

Since this is the Healthy Waters Blog, you might be wondering why we’re concerned about forests.  But unlike Vegas, what happens on the land doesn’t stay on the land – it affects streams and rivers, especially if the land is right next to the water.  It turns out that having forests right next to waterways (as opposed to developed or tilled agricultural land) is highly beneficial to water quality, ecosystems, and humans.  These vegetated strips of land are often referred to as “riparian buffers.”

I have always been astounded at the amazing power of trees and plants to provide so many benefits to our environment and communities.  Forested stream banks act like a sponge, filtering out excessive nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants that run off from the land that would be damaging if they entered a stream.  Shrubs and trees are also able to prevent stream bank erosion by anchoring the soils, keeping the banks stable and excess sediment out of the stream.  Buffers can even help mitigate flooding by absorbing and slowing down surface runoff.

Forested streams also provide enhanced habitat for wildlife.  Leaves, twigs, and other natural plant litter that fall into the stream provide food and habitat for organisms in the water, and the corridors of natural vegetation along stream banks allow land-based mammals and birds to thrive.

Riparian forest buffers also aid greatly in maintaining cool stream temperatures.  You know how much better it feels to stand in the shade of a tree on a hot day rather than out in the hot sun?  Well, stream organisms prefer their streams to be shaded as well.  Studies have shown that removing the canopy can cause the stream’s temperature to rise by as much as 15 degrees.  Warmer streams can’t carry as much dissolved oxygen, and some organisms can’t survive in these conditions.

That’s all nice for the fish, but what about people?  Riparian buffers also benefit human communities.  Wouldn’t you rather fish and swim in a healthy, forested, shady stream?  I know I would.  Forested streams stimulate local economies by enhancing fisheries and recreational opportunities.  The presence of riparian buffers can also result in higher property values in communities and add aesthetic value.  The water quality improvements from buffers also enhance the quality of our drinking water, so by preserving forests, we actually protect our water supply.The Delaware River Basin, for example, provides high quality drinking water to nearly 15 million people from New York to Delaware, largely because of the mature forest canopy that has been maintained upstream.  Preserving forests in the headwaters contributes to water quality both upstream and downstream water quality.  Another plus: buffer preservation and restoration are pretty cost-effective strategies for managing nonpoint source pollution.

Seems almost common sense given all the benefits, doesn’t it?  But there can be obstacles to implementation, like funding, competing land-use practices, political will, or lack of awareness of the benefits.  EPA encourages buffers as a best management practice through its Nonpoint Source Program,with tools and resources to incorporate buffer restoration in regional planning.

Reforesting streams in the Chesapeake Bay is also an important strategy for the basin’s nutrient pollution diet.  Learn how the Bay program and the basin states are working to restore 10,000 miles of riparian forest in the Bay’s watershed, and see how the states have incorporated riparian reforestation into their Watershed Implementation Plans. Watch a video by the Chesapeake Bay Program Office to hear more about how forests and the Chesapeake Bay are related, and what makes a forest healthy.

What do you think about forested versus unforested streams?  Have you noticed if streams and rivers in your area have trees or not?  Do you know of any initiatives to create and preserve riparian buffers?

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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