Monthly Archives: January 2011

Science Wednesday: Want more? Get Science Matters!

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

By Aaron Ferster

Last year, we shared 64 separate blog posts on “Science Wednesday.”

Topics ranged from green chemistry and sustainability (11 posts), to biodiversity’s links to human health (3 posts), clean air science (20 posts, including several about Air Science 40 activities marking four decades of scientific achievements supporting the Clean Air Act), the U.S.A. Science & Engineering Festival (5 posts), and a host of other subjects too numerous to fit into a single blog post.

A special thanks to all our readers and commenters, who joined the science “Greenversation” to the tune of some 378 comments.
The award for the Science Wednesday blogger who generated the most comments goes to EPA scientist Jeff Morris, the National Program Director for Nanotechnology in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Jeff’s February 10 post, Sheep, Goats, and Nanoparticles, not only provided a unique insight into nanotechnology research, but did so in a way that clearly sparked interest.

2011 promises to be another great year of sharing our science. Already in the works are regular Science Wednesday posts on green chemistry to help celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, and updates from the National Research Council’s efforts to help the Agency incorporate sustainability into all our programs. Stay tuned!

By now you’ve noticed that we shared more “Science Wednesday” posts than there were Wednesdays in 2010. We had to turn a few regular Tuesdays and Thursdays into Science Wednesday to share late-breaking or topical science news. And we still have much more to say! That’s why I’d like to invite everyone to sign up for our newsletter, Science Matters.

The January-February issue includes stories on near-roadway air pollution research, a project by EPA researchers exploring the impact of rain barrels and rain gardens on stormwater runoff, efforts to develop high-tech methods to monitor insect-resistant corn crops—and more.

To have the newsletter delivered right to your inbox, click on the link below and add your e-mail address to the box on the web site:

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Thanks again for joining the Greenversations.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor or 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.

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.

New Year’s Resolution

By Wendy Dew

Do you recycle? I used to. I live in a very rural area where we have no true recycling centers. My husband and I used to pile the recycling up in the garage and then once a month drive one hour to a recycling collection spot. The bins were almost always full when we got there. We would have a truck full of recycling with nowhere to go! So we gave up and stopped recycling about a year ago. Every time I throw something in the trash I know can be recycled, I feel horrible.

So, my New Year’s Resolution this year is to figure out what new opportunities there might be for me to start recycling again – likely on a smaller scale!

Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. Collecting used bottles, cans, and newspapers and taking them to the curb or to a collection facility is just the first in a series of steps that generates a host of financial, environmental, and social returns. Some of these benefits accrue locally as well as globally.

Benefits of Recycling

  • Recycling protects and expands U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness.
  • Recycling reduces the need for landfilling and incineration.
  • Recycling prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials.
  • Recycling saves energy.
  • Recycling decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.
  • Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.
  • Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations.

For many communities recycling is as easy as putting out the trash. For others, like my community, it is a challenge. I believe recycling will become easier for all communities in the not too distant future. But until then, I will continue to find ways to recycle what I can. I encourage folks of all ages to do the same!

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 14 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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.

My Attempt To Be Greener For The Holidays

xmas.1By Larry Teller

Although changes in public taste have made it somewhat less courageous in recent years, it’s still tough to minimize wasteful gift-giving during the holidays. And as an EPA public affairs veteran, I’ve even had a hand in promoting best green practices—whether for the holidays or back-to-school —but haven’t always done as well as I’d like by what we’ve sensibly preached.

I resolved a few weeks ago to try to be greener this year for one, very noticeable, aspect of gift-giving: wrapping. I was especially interested to see how family and friends would react to, for instance, a book placed simply in a bookstore bag, a box of cookies adorned with nothing but a snippet of ribbon, or a bottle of wine in recycled 2009-vintage wrapping.

I anxiously readied myself for smirks, remarks and looks, hoping that the sweet thought behind each gift wouldn’t be negated by people thinking I was either not thoughtful or cheap. This being an EPA-sponsored blog, here’s the peer-reviewed data: for 20 gifts, 1 smirk, 3 good-natured comments—one truly complimentary—and 16 (but it’s hard to know for sure, right?) apparent nothings.

Relief, and success worth, I think, building on next year. Please share how you try to balance holiday gift-giving with waste reduction.

May I add that I especially like one of my co-worker’s green gifting: donations for us to a worthy charitable organization.

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

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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Environmental Justice: Protecting Our Schools

By Lara Lasky

All kids, no matter where they live, deserve the opportunity to learn in a safe environment. Poor indoor air quality — IAQ — in schools can lead to lower academic performance and increased absences. Kids are the ones who suffer the most from unhealthy indoor environments since they spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. Unfortunately, not all kids have clean indoor air where they live, learn and play. That’s where environmental justice, better known as EJ, comes in.

The goal of EJ is quite simple: to ensure that everyone in the U.S. enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment. It means reducing environmental risk disparities and educating the community about what these environmental risks are. And for kids, it means making sure that every child has a clean, safe learning environment.

In many places, communities promote EJ through EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program, which helps school districts develop a plan of action for IAQ management. Many low- and no-cost components of EJ are already included in the program, such as strategies for integrated pest management and reducing environmental asthma triggers. You can learn more about EJ and the IAQ Tools for Schools Program at the upcoming IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium, January 13 to15 in Washington, D.C.

Here in Region 5 (which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin and 35 tribes) schools and districts promote EJ in a variety of ways. For example, the Healthy Schools Campaign works with schools and community groups throughout Chicago in an effort to reduce disparities in asthma and obesity in schools. And, believe it or not, promoting EJ in your own community might be easier than you think.

Start small and build on existing programs. Engage kids in efforts to identify and reduce environmental health hazards in school design, maintenance and construction through education, technical assistance and advocacy.  Have science teachers create Green Squad projects — as San Francisco Public Schools did — for students to learn about and assess environmental conditions in their schools. Partner with local hospitals to offer asthma screening for children. Start small and grow. Our kids deserve it.

About the author: Lara Lasky has been with EPA for five years and currently serves as the Region 5 environmental justice program coordinator.

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 Schuylkill River Movie – Starring YOU!

Schuykill Action NetworkAre you a student who lives or attends school in the Schuylkill River watershed?  Do you enjoy activities along the Schuylkill River or one of the streams that flow into it?  Have you ever left a movie theater thinking, “I could make movies”?  If you answered yes to these questions, then the Schuylkill Action Network wants YOU to make a film!

The Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) is a collaboration of more than one hundred organizations and individuals, including EPA Region 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.  The goal of the SAN is to improve the water resources of the Schuylkill River watershed.

To encourage people to return to the river for fun, the SAN is launching a student Schuylkill Stories video contest with the theme “This is My Watershed.”  If you’re a student in elementary, middle, high school or college tell us, in your original video 3-minutes-or-less, what you love about the Schuylkill River watershed.  From fishing to rowing to bird watching, sketching and picnicking, the 2,000 square mile watershed gives everyone plenty of opportunities for fun.  Creativity is encouraged!  Use your own video footage, animation, claymation or music to show the world what you love most about your watershed.

Is amateur filmmaking not really your thing?  Don’t forget about SAN’s other student competition, the annual Drinking Water Scholastic Awards.  The awards recognize schools in the Schuylkill River watershed that promote drinking water protection through educational programs or class projects.  Did you know that the Schuylkill River watershed has 52 drinking water intakes that collectively serve 1.5 million people?  Moreover, many are surprised to learn that schools are one of the largest combined property owners in the entire watershed!  What is your school doing to spread the word about protecting sources of drinking water?

For more information about both contests, including prizes and deadlines, visit the SAN website.

In the meantime, share your comments below about what you love to do in, on or by the Schuylkill River!

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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Wash Your Hands!

By Lina Younes

Winter is commonly referred to as the cold and flu season. Given the cold temperatures, increasingly people will stay indoors where they may be more exposed to others who already have colds. No doubt that indoor air quality is essential for our health. So, what can we do to prevent these colds and the flu? Maintaining a distance from those who are sick may be helpful, but what do you do when a close family member is sick or you come in contact with someone who still doesn’t show signs of a cold? Well, preventing colds may be easier than you think. Point of advice: wash your hands often!

Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of germs including those of the common cold. It’s important to wash hands before, during and after preparing food as well as eating. Also, wash your hand after coughing or sneezing to avoid spreading your own germs. Although hand sanitizers can reduce germs in some situations, good old fashion water and soap still remains the best cleaning method.

As a child, I was always prone to colds. I didn’t completely outgrow them, but I have noticed that in the last year or two they have become less frequent. What have I done differently? Well, after I go to the bathroom and wash my hands, I keep a clean paper towel to open the doors along the way, thus preventing exposure to some hard surfaces like door knobs and elevator buttons which might be contaminated with cold germs. I cannot say scientifically if the combination of increased hand washing plus the paper towel is the main cause, but I’ve definitely seen the benefits by suffering less colds.

Since small children tend to put their hands and objects in their mouth, teaching them to wash their hands well and often will be good preventing medicine. Washing hands often is a good habit that applies to people of all ages. Have a health year!

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.

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.

¡A lavarse las manos!

Por Lina Younes

El invierno comúnmente se denomina como la temporada de los catarros y gripe. Dada las bajas temperaturas, la gente suele pasar más tiempo en entornos interiores donde pueden estar más expuestos a personas que ya tienen catarros. No hay duda que la calidad del aire interior es esencial para nuestra salud. Entonces, ¿cómo podemos prevenir los catarros y la gripe? El mantener distancia de las personas enfermas puede ayudar, pero qué podemos hacer si un familiar cercano está enfermo o si nos topamos con alguien enfermo aunque todavía no da señales te tener un catarro? Bueno, prevenir catarros podría ser más fácil de lo que pensamos. Un buen consejo: ¡lávese las manos frecuentemente!

El lavarse las manos es una de las mejores maneras de evitar la propagación de gérmenes incluyendo aquellos del catarro común. Es importante lavarse las manos antes, durante y después de preparar la comida, así como de comer. También debe lavarse las manos después de toser o estornudar para evitar propagar sus propios gérmenes. Aunque los gel desinfectantes para manos pueden reducir los microbios en algunos casos, la forma tradicional de lavarse las manos con agua y jabón continúa siendo el mejor método de limpieza.

De niña, recuerdo ser muy propensa a los catarros. Aunque no superé totalmente esa condición, he notado que en los pasados años han sido menos frecuentes. ¿Qué he hecho diferentemente? Bueno, después de ir al baño y lavarme las manos, llevo un papel de toalla limpio para abrir las puertas y evitar exposición a algunas superficies duras como picaportes de puertas o los botones del elevador que podrían estar contaminados con los microbios de catarros. Aunque no tengo evidencia científica si esa nueva práctica de lavarme las manos con mayor frecuencia y utilizar el papel toalla es la causa principal, definitivamente he visto los beneficios porque estoy sufriendo menos catarros.

Como los niños pequeños tienden a llevarse las manos y objetos a la boca, el enseñarle a lavarse las manos bien y frecuentemente es una buena medicina preventiva. El lavarse las manos con frecuencia es un buen hábito que aplica a las personas de todas las edades. ¡Que tengan un año saludable!

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: Increasing Our Focus on Green Chemistry in New England

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

By Curt Spalding

New England is abuzz with discussions and planning to position the Northeast as a green chemistry force for the country and the world.

What is Green Chemistry? Simply put, it seeks to design and invent the next generation of everyday materials and products by reducing or eliminating the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry means less waste, better energy efficiency and reduced risks for us and our environment. It’s an ongoing process of applying innovation, creativity and intelligence.

I believe green chemistry will be a powerful economic engine for the U.S. and for New England.

Last summer, along with my colleague Paul Anastas, we began brainstorming how to bring together green chemistry leaders from the Northeast. We sought out John Warner of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry , Amy Cannon of Beyond Benign , and New England leaders in government, academia and business to strategize what a sustainable green chemistry future might look like – and how we could make it happen in New England.

The first step for making green chemistry an economic driver in New England was providing an opportunity for a variety of people involved in the subject to gather. With this goal first goal set, EPA hosted a Green Chemistry Networking Forum on Dec. 16, 2010.

For green chemistry to really take off, we need a lot of well-coordinated aspects of society to engage. Education is essential, not only in universities, but also in early science education. At the Forum, we had both college students presenting their green chemistry work, and high school students participating. We were gratified to have all the New England state departments of environmental protection attend.

Business and industry leaders who are adopting the 12 principles of green chemistry were there. Venture capitalists, who understand that innovative businesses that are guided by the green chemistry principles are a sound investment, were there. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking safer, less-toxic chemicals to advance sustainability in our society were also there.

The conversations that began at the Networking Forum will continue. Six groups that began talking about how to bring green chemistry into the future will continue to meet and create plans that they can implement. It’s a collaboration between government, business, academia and the NGOs that’s going to make New England the Green Chemistry Corridor. This is what the buzz is all about. Green chemistry is a way towards a sustainable future.

About the Author: H. Curtis “Curt” Spalding is the Regional Administrator for EPA New England. Spalding has extensive experience in the environmental protection field as an advocate, policy analyst and administrator.

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.

Kids and the Gulf Coast’s Future

By Terry Ippolito

There are lots of conflicting opinions about oil drilling. Some people are really against and some are in favor of oil drilling. Did you know there are some people who think a moratorium on oil drilling could actually have harmful effects in their communities? Before you wonder how anyone could think that, let me tell you about some kids who feel that way….

A group of action-oriented teenagers from Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes in Louisiana have formed a group, Future Leaders of America’s Gulf (FLAG). They are living with the day to day impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill but they are also listening to and talking with people to exchange ideas about the Gulf Coast’s future. FLAG members are learning about the importance and hazards of deep water oil drilling and how the fishing and oil industries on the Gulf Coast impact so many lives in so many ways. They are sharing what they learn with others through social networking and in-person meetings.

These high school students know, and remind others, that THEY are the future. While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may be off the front pages of most newspapers and not getting top billing on the national television news telecasts, FLAG members know the spill will impact their futures. They aren’t planning on leaving the Gulf Coast area. No way! They are planning to stick around and stand up for their communities. The Gulf Coast culture and traditional industries are a part of their future – they plan to remain in or return as adults even if their education and early career training take them elsewhere.

One student, James Michael, sums it up: “I’m worried about five years from now when I’m in college – 15 years from now when I have a family. The oil industry and the fishing industry are intertwined. They help each other to prosper.” Knowing that their culture is tied up with the environment has made them aware that “everything is connected to everything else.” And they plan to do something about it.

Find out more about what these teenagers are learning and doing on their Facebook page or their website

About the author: Terry Ippolito has worked at EPA for 22 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 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.

How Is Your Service Center Disposing Their Waste?

By Denise Owens

I took my car into my dealership for my routine oil change; the service writer asked if I would like to have my car winterized. Winterized? What’s that I asked? He then explained the procedures that will be taken to perform this maintenance. I decided to start my new year off right by having my car winterized, for the first time ever!

After my service was completed, I received my bill which had a charge for disposing of waste.  I normally don’t pay attention to my bill because I normally pay one set price for an oil change and I just didn’t notice the waste charge. So I asked what did they do with the waste?  He said a waste truck comes in and picks up the used fluids. He also said this crazy agency EPA would give us a huge fine if we didn’t dispose of it properly.  I replied you’re right; if you were to dispose it the old way, then it would cause a lot of harm to the environment.  So after our conversation I said to him, by the way I work for EPA and thanks for watching out for the environment.

Sometimes it costs to help keep the environment safe.  So I suggest asking questions when you get your car serviced, you might learn something. When having your vehicle serviced, have you ever asked your service center if they properly dispose their waste? Share your experience.

About the author: Denise Owens has worked at EPA for over twenty years. She is currently working in the Office of Public Affairs on the Web Team 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.

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.