Monthly Archives: February 2011

Science Wednesday: Witnessing History

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

By Lyndee Collins

What is it about C-SPAN that lulls some people to sleep? It’s as if the sound of debate compares to crashing waves on a shore or trickling water. As I prepared to attend my very first congressional hearing, I couldn’t help but question if I had had enough coffee that morning.

As a new EPA intern, I attended the Oversight Hearing on Public Health and Drinking Water Issues so I could gain a better understanding of environmental policy. The hearing I attended was about the chemical perchlorate, a naturally occurring and man-made chemical deemed unhealthy by EPA scientific research. Traces of the chemical have been found in public water systems all around the country, sparking concern and the hearing I attended.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at the hearing.The hearing started, cameras began to roll, and I-expecting a fight with my eyelids-was wide awake and engaged. I guess I can officially call myself a nerd now, but I actually enjoyed the hearing.

Listening to senators speak their opinions and witnessing all of the fuss around the room was much more engaging than I had predicted. Every question, opinion, and answer sparked a new topic of concern. Voices were raised, facial expressions varied, and conversations around the room echoed. I soon realized there was much more involved in a hearing than what could be captured through a lens.

I was particularly excited to see EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testify. She announced that EPA would indeed move forward with the development of a regulation to protect drinking water from perchlorate.

As she entered the room my eyes followed her until she took her chair. I couldn’t help but feel a little star struck when she entered. This was my first time to put a face to a name I had heard so frequently in the office. She took her seat and delivered a remarkable speech about her concerns for America’s drinking water, especially protecting it from contamination from harmful chemicals such as perchlorate.

“Our decisions are based on extensive review of the best available science and the health needs of the American people,” Jackson announced.

The hearing allowed me to gain true insight of how EPA science is used to protect human health.  EPA will continue to evaluate the science on perchlorate health effects and its occurrence in public water systems.

About the Author: Lyndee Collins is an intern from Indiana University currently working with the science communication team in 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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Texas Teens Kick Plastic Bags to the Curb!

By Wendy Dew

Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store and counted how many folks are using reusable grocery bags instead of paper or plastic? I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of people using reusable bags over the past few years. Can you imagine a day when no one asks you paper or plastic? Some teens in Texas can!

The ECoppell Club has dedicated itself to helping the environment by offering free cloth bags to residents of Coppell, TX. The club began in September 2009 with the goal of eliminating plastic bags from the Coppell area. They started with Coppell with the hope of eventually replacing plastic bags in United States and even the world!

Doing their own leg work, ECoppell collected statistics of cloth bags vs. plastic bags.  They found that great majority of people in Coppell continue to use plastic bags while less than 10% use cloth bags.  The students compiled their statistics by standing outside three major food retailers making notes of people with cloth bags and people with plastic bags as they left the retailer.

ECoppell intends to reduce plastic bag usage by 8% initially.  To help achieve this goal, the members are distributing 5000 free cloth bags to the community. The club members went door-to-door and gave presentations at various activities to raise money to purchase the cloth bags.

ECoppell members have garnered support from the local community and businesses.  We can all help support teens who are making a difference. I have been using canvas grocery bags for years now, they are a lot easier to carry and never break. We can all make a difference by kicking plastic bags to the curb!

Find out more about reducing, reusing and recycling

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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 Heating Experience during the Snowstorm

By Denise Owens

After last year’s snowstorms, I decided to purchase a heater for my home in case the power goes out again. The fireplace helped, but it just wasn’t warm enough. I needed more.

After visiting several stores, I realized that there were a variety of heaters to choose from. I saw several energy efficient heaters, but they all required electricity; therefore I decided to purchase a fuel heater.

That required me to also purchase fuel, so I was thinking to myself, do I really want to do all of this? But then I realized that my electricity seems to go out for every weather condition.

Once I purchased the heater, I decided to try it before the next snowstorm actually arrived. The heater felt great and it kept my house extremely warm. But when I turned it off, I then noticed there was some smoke. As soon as I noticed the smoke I began to think to myself, what are the side effects from this heater?

After the power was restored I decided to do the research I should have done prior to purchasing the fuel heater. I then realized that it is not the best thing to use, but what do you do for a heat source when your power goes out for days?

Check out DOE Energy Savers and EPA’s Burnwise Program information.

About the author: Denise Owens has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency for over 25 years.

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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Multimedia Portal Gets a New Face

By Danny Hart

I’m constantly amazed at the wide range of newly emerging technologies and techniques to deliver rich media. I’m equally a fan of usability so it’s interesting to me when I see really well done new media (or rich media or multimedia, whatever the term du jour is) that happens to be usable as well.

So, recently when I was challenged to find a better way to present our multimedia to the public I looked to how we currently delivered content in other areas of the site as the basis. I felt we could give folks great content without reinventing the wheel and still make it visually interesting.

Like other agencies, EPA has been shifting our rich and social media publishing to sites that specialize in usable interfaces and specialized infrastructure. We found we didn’t need to build whole new photo hosting sites or video platforms, they already existed and our users were already there. These sites had already worked out ways to deliver fast content that is easily searched and deliver it full screen with well-known interfaces. Leveraging our existing relationships with other sites seemed like a slam dunk. Take a look and let us know your thoughts.

About the Author: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications.

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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Everything Starts with a Question

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated by how children learn. In their early years, they are practically like sponges absorbing everything, constantly incorporating information and experiences from their environment. Their innate curiosity moves them to explore the world around them. They don’t have preconceived notions that impede learning. Nothing is too difficult. Technological advances are not a challenge to them. Observe how they figure out their toys and play with electronic gadgets. Adults need manuals. They just figure things out. Here I’m speaking from my experience with cell phones. I confess, sometimes I’m technologically challenged, to put it mildly. I approach some mobile technology with trepidation, while my children, even my 9 year old, use cell phones and mobile apps like they were second nature. I’m sure they’ll have a good laugh when they read this blog entry.

As children grow, they get to the stage of asking frequent questions. “But, why, Mommy?” While the frequent questions might test the patience of parents, they can serve as golden opportunities for us to teach children about the environment and love for science.

When you come to think of it, whether we are talking about environmental protection, the sciences, engineering,or inventions in general, everything starts with a simple question. What causes problem x, y, or z? How can I solve the problem? How do things work? How can I make things better?

I’m puzzled how children seem to “outgrow” that innate curiosity. Let’s foster that sense of wonder and love of learning. It will benefit us all and generations to come. Imagine: what would have happened if Sir Isaac Newton was not curious about apples falling down? Would he have been intrigued by the laws of physics? If he didn’t ask questions, would he have become a famous mathematician and scientist? Perhaps, but as I mentioned, it all starts with a question….

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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Todo comienza con una pregunta

Por Lina Younes

Siempre me ha fascinado cómo los niños aprenden. En sus primeros años, son prácticamente como esponjas absorbiendo todo, constantemente incorporando información y experiencias de sus entornos. Su curiosidad innata los motiva a explorar el mundo a su alrededor. No tienen ideas preconcebidas que les impiden aprender. No hay nada demasiado difícil. No temen a los avances tecnológicos. Observe cómo logran hacer que sus juguetes funcionen y juegan con artefactos electrónicos. Los adultos necesitan manuales. Los niños simplemente descubren cómo funcionan las cosas. En este caso, uso mi experiencia con los teléfonos celulares como ejemplo. Confieso que muchas veces tengo problemas con algunos efectos electrónicos y la tecnología móvil me produce cierto recelo. Sin embargo, mis hijas, especialmente la menor de nueve años usa los celulares y las aplicaciones móviles con una naturalidad que me asombra. Estoy segura que ellas se van a reír cuando lean esta entrada.

A medida que los niños crecen, llegan a una etapa donde hacen preguntas frecuentemente. “¿pero, Mami, y por qué?” Aunque las preguntas frecuentes pueden poner a prueba aún los padres más pacientes, estas sirven como oportunidades singulares para enseñarle a los niños acerca del medio ambiente y el amor por las ciencias.

Cuando lo pensamos seriamente, independientemente si estamos hablando de la protección ambiental, las ciencias, la ingeniería, o los inventos en general, todo comienza con una simple pregunta. ¿Qué ocasiona el problema x? ¿Cómo puedo solucionar el problema? ¿Cómo funcionan las cosas? ¿Cómo puedo hacer para que funcionen mejor?

Me intriga el hecho de que muchos niños parecen pasar de esa preciada edad de la curiosidad innata. Ayudémosle a fomentar ese sentido de asombro y amor por la enseñanza. Nos beneficiaría a todos incluso las generaciones venideras. Imagínense qué hubiese pasado si Isaac Newton no hubiese tenido la curiosidad acerca de las manzanas que caían del árbol. ¿De no ser así, estaría intrigado por las leyes de física? ¿Si no se hubiese planteado esas preguntas, se hubiese convertido en un famoso matemático y científico? Quizás, pero como mencioné al principio, todo comienza con una pregunta….

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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A funny thing happened on the way to the Delaware River Basin Forum

Learn more about the Delaware River Basin ForumWhen you go to your faucet and get yourself a glass of water do you know where your water comes from? It most likely comes from a local water body. It is important for citizens to understand where they get their water so they can take an active role in protecting it. For residents within the Delaware River Basin, there is an excellent and interactive way to learn more about the source of your water.

The Source Water Collaborative is sponsoring a Delaware River Basin Forum on March 10, 2011. The Forum will be a one-day, basin-wide event on issues affecting water resource sustainability for the more than 15 million people who rely on surface and ground water from the basin. The format of the event will reflect a theme of regional-local connection. At the central session in Philadelphia panelists will set the stage by framing current and forecasted influences on water resources basin-wide, such as water demand, land use changes and climate change. They will interact with satellite forums in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania where stakeholders gather to discuss local issues and needs. Click here to view the locations. Anyone can attend the forum at any location. It’s free and everyone is encouraged to be active participants. Click here to register to participate in a certain location.

Moreover, to promote the concept of “meeting green”, the events at all 8 locations will also be webcast live. If you can’t attend a local meeting, consider tuning in on March 10th via the links that will be posted on the Forum website (www.delawarebasindrinkingwater.org).

Source water protection means protection of drinking water supplies. Drinking water can come from ground or surface water, and a collaborative effort is needed to ensure that our sources of drinking water remain clean for future generations. Taking positive steps to prevent pollutants from ever reaching these sources can be more efficient and less costly than treating drinking water later. States within the Delaware River Basin each have unique authorities and approaches to source water protection. Visit the Source Water Collaborative to learn more about protecting drinking water. You can search for allies of drinking water in your area here.

We hope that you can go to one of the 8 locations to participate in the forum on March 10th. If you can’t, make sure to check out the forum online and be sure to visit www.delawarebasindrinkingwater.org  to get updates. If you are attending the forum, share what site you will be attending and what topics you would like to see discussed on a comment below! Hope to see you there!

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: Green Biz

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

On February 3, EPA Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas, participated in the State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco, California. The forum brought together the world’s foremost innovators, thought-leaders, and executives to discuss sustainability challenges and opportunities. Joel Makower, Chairman of the GreenBiz Group, interviewed Anastas on stage in front of hundreds of business leaders from companies such as Adobe, Disney, Clorox, Microsoft, and more. Their discussion focused on sustainability, innovation, environmental protection, and economic growth.

In discussing EPA’s scientific and research goals with Makower, Anastas quoted Albert Einstein, “problems can’t be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” He went on to explain that the complexity and subtlety of today’s environmental challenges coupled with our ever-evolving level of scientific awareness is a call for a new kind of thinking. It’s about “asking ourselves different questions through a different lens,” he said.

That lens, according to Anastas, is sustainability.

As reflected in many of the exciting activities taking place here at EPA, Anastas explained how sustainability and innovation are the keys to achieving the Agency’s mission in a way that meets the needs of the current generation while preserving the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

So, how do businesses, industry, and other sectors fit into this sustainable future? Sustainability is about achieving synergies, he said. It’s about protecting human health and the environment in a way that enhances economic growth and societal benefits. And, he continued, collaboration and partnerships across all sectors will be vital to achieving these synergies. Anastas invited members of audience to learn more about EPA’s efforts and explore opportunities for discussion and collaboration toward mutually-beneficial goals.

In response to Makower’s question about whether working toward sustainability is “hard,” Anastas explained that often, our most important goals are those that are most difficult to measure. Just as our pursuit of matters like justice, health, and freedom are not easily measured with metrics and numbers, our pursuit of sustainability is extremely difficult to quantify.

Paul Anastas will be interviewed again in an upcoming GreenBiz event here in Washington, DC on February 16th. For details and information on how to participate, click here.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, where Paul Ansastas is the Assistant 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.

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Kids Have a Voice!

By Ameshia Cross

Growing up, I developed a love for news on paper, TV, and radio. I’d watch the morning news shows every day before heading off to school. My friends and family thought my love for journalism was a little strange for a teenager. But my interests opened many windows of opportunity, including serving as a communications intern for Al Gore’s Climate Project when was I was an undergraduate in college. Back when I was a teenager, I guess not as many kids were interested in journalism and the environment like I was, but I’m finding that there are plenty of kids today who are excited about these topics!

Here’s a recent example of kids combining journalism and environmental topics. At the Sixth Annual meeting for the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2010, Earth Echo International announced its first STREAM (STudents Reporting Environmental Action through Media) youth citizen journalist bureau. This bureau is located in the Gulf Region area including Louisiana and Alabama.

40 middle and high school students and their teachers from communities in Louisiana and Alabama received hands-on training and coaching from leading journalists and environmental experts, including Philippe Cousteau, Jr. The students were recruited because of their interest in broadcast and print journalism and the global environment. During their training workshop in December, the students wrote, produced, edited and filmed videos on environmental issues ranging from forest preservation to air and water issues. These students took their love of journalism and growing interest in working for a better environment to create products that instruct, inform, and put a youthful face to the growing challenges that face the world’s environment.

For all those kids out there who are wide-eyed and amazed by the exciting world of journalism and want to make the world a better place, don’t feel discouraged like I did when I was a teenager. There are programs out there for you. Youth have a voice and that voice is important. Environmental issues need attention and the drive and determination of young people can provide that.

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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Award Winners – EPA’s Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging

By Kathy Sykes

The invitation read “boomers are re-defining retirement. They want to spend less time in their cars…” As I was walking to this sustainable communities meeting in Atlanta, I was struck hard from behind.  In car vernacular, rear-ended.  I then realized I was on the hood of a car and then on the pavement. Fortunately, I suffered no serious injuries. The irony: I was there for a meeting on walkable communities. Working for the U.S. EPA Aging Initiative, we encourage towns and cities to make sure sidewalks are present; ensure all persons have adequate time to cross the street; and have engineers reduce the risks to Davids (we pedestrians) from Goliaths (cars of any size). Most of us are pedestrians; other times we are drivers. We can all benefit by designing crosswalks that give pedestrians the right of way and remind drivers to share the road.

EPA today announced it is presenting four communities with 2010 Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging awards for excellence in sustainable planning and age-friendly design. There are two award categories: “commitment” and, as the name suggests, the top award is for “achievement.” The Commitment Award is for communities that have conducted planning work to make their communities age-friendly and sustainable. The Achievement Award is presented to communities that have successfully demonstrated excellence in building healthy communities for active aging.

This year’s Building Healthy Communities for Active Aging, (BHCAA) Achievement Awards were bestowed to the City of Charlotte, NC, and the Brazos Valley Council of Governments. The Commitment Awards were awarded to the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhoods and Community Services and the Philadelphia Corporation on Aging.

Is your community preparing for the growing elder population? Are you living in a city, town or region that you think is worthy of an award? What are the unique aspects of the built environment in your community that enable and support great programs for an active life style?

Bio: Kathy Sykes began working for the U.S. EPA in 1998. Since 2002, she has served as the Senior Advisor for the Aging Initiative. She strives to raise awareness among public health and aging professionals about environmental health hazards, smart growth and opportunities for elders to become involved in environmental stewardship.

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.