Monthly Archives: April 2011

Spring Sneezing Leads to Spring Cleaning

By Lisa Lauer

That fabulous time of year is here again: spring. I love it, but really, who doesn’t? My typical morning commute changes from being surrounded by headlights and taillights in the darkness, to seeing the sun rising and the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. During the commute back home, the warm weather beckons me to roll down the car windows. Of course, I do so against better judgment. I know that the dreaded P-word will come blowing in, forcing me to inhale it… and everyone with seasonal allergies, do it with me now: deep breath in, big sneeze out.

I refuse to let the pollen control my life. I’m armed with my neti pot, my daily-used prescription nasal spray, and my choice supply of over-the-counter sinus decongestants and pain relievers. So as usual this time of year, I’m forced to visit the closet where I keep over-the-counter and prescription drugs. I dread it as I know what I will find: lots of expired medications. The reasons why people keep unused medications around are various. But for me, I find it difficult to toss out unused medications because I have spent money on them. It just seems so wasteful. Besides, there’s the whole issue surrounding their disposal. For me, flushing or pouring medications down the drain is out of the question, and while the Office of National Drug Control Policy does offer guidelines for disposing of medications into the garbage, I’ve just never gotten around to it.

However, this spring I vow to cleanse my house of expired medications. I’m scouring the usual locations where medications may be stashed,including the bin with pet supplies in the laundry room, because my pets have expired medications, too. I’m also going to take advantage of National Drug Take-Back Day which the Drug Enforcement Administration is holding on Saturday, April 30th, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The DEA website shows numerous locations in my zip code that will be collecting unwanted medications. Is there one near you? If not, your state may already have an on-going pharmaceutical collection program.

About the author: Lisa Lauer works in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery and has been with the Agency for 9 years. Now that she has spring-cleaned her medicine cabinets, she can focus her spring cleaning efforts on the windows (using just vinegar and water, of course).

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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Drinking Water Quality Reports for Consumers

By Cynthia Dougherty

Do you know where your tap water comes from and what’s in it? When I grew up, in the era before smart phones and computers, power was with the people who held information. Today, information is available to us all so we can make personal decisions. Like many Americans, I look at ingredient and nutrition information in the grocery store – is this organic? Does it have unnatural chemicals like MSG? Does it have trans fats? I’ve spent much of my career at EPA working towards clean and safe water, and I’m pleased that I can now also know what’s in the water I drink every day.

Now’s a good time to start thinking about what’s in your water – sometime before July 1, you should be getting a report with your water bill that tells you where your water comes from, as well as how it’s treated, what contaminants, if any, have been detected, and how that compares to the levels that have been determined to be safe. Because of the Consumer Confidence Rule (CCR), water systems are required to provide their customers with an annual accounting of their tap water. However, most of the population receives this information as a bill insert, and many just discard it without looking at this important public health information.

Recently, consumer awareness has been piqued by news stories and TV shows covering possible risks to drinking water. Our office has received many inquiries from people asking for information about the safety of their drinking water, and I’m glad to see it. After one high profile show, the website where EPA links to local drinking water information got more than 100,000 hits in one week. Understanding where your water comes from is key to protecting it. People who are informed about their water are people who volunteer to clean up water sources, who speak up about decisions that affect water management, and who support the work water utilities need to do to treat water and maintain infrastructure.

When I tell people where I work, the first thing they always ask is if I drink the water. And after my time working with the dedicated EPA employees who set drinking water standards and work to see that they are effectively implemented, I can always answer with confidence that yes, I do.

About the author: Cynthia Dougherty is the Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water at EPA

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

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

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Spying on the Lunar Landscape

By Jim Haklar

Here’s an image of the moon’s crater, Tycho, that I took in March of this year (Tycho is the bright crater in the center of the picture). Tycho is about 50 miles in diameter and it is very young – only around 108 million years old! There are other craters on the moon that are almost 4 billion years old, so Tycho is a mere baby compared to those senior citizens of the lunar landscape. Tycho was formed as a result of another celestial body hitting the moon at that spot, and with binoculars you can see “rays” of bright material that has been thrown far away from the impact site.

Tycho has a role in the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, since it is the location where modern humans find an alien machine (or “monolith”) buried in the crater.

I’ve always been interested in the night sky, and I can remember receiving my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. While my interest in astronomy increased in high school, I only started getting seriously into astrophotography – a hobby that combines astronomy and photography – about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve taken pictures of the sun, moon, planets and “deep sky” objects, all of which I would like to share with you. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

About the author: Jim is an environmental engineer in EPA’s Edison Environmental Center, currently working in the PCB program. Since 1985 he has worked in a number of different programs including water permits and compliance, Superfund, and public affairs.

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 Semester with the EPA

It was a snowy January day as I commuted on the metro towards the Federal Triangle station to report for my first day of my internship with the EPA. I soon realized that wearing a suit to work (even if it is your first day) in the creative work environment that is The Office of Web Communications was a bit of an oddity, especially when snow was falling. The team was quick to engage me in the ongoing work they do daily to make sure the web presence of the agency is always at its best. This work included, among other items, a much needed update of the EPA History Site, working to analyze trends in our social media outlets, and most recently working to assure the laboratory data from radiation testing on the EPA Japan Nuclear Emergency Site was available and promptly updated.

The history site renovations proved a fun and creative task, exploring ways to breathe life into a site which had been sitting idle for quite some time. Analyzing our social media outlets offered new lenses with which to view the use of social media in a business setting. While the task of filtering data for the Japan Nuclear Emergency gave me a glimpse of the great work the EPA does in times of emergencies to provide the public with all of the information in the best and most effective means possible. Not to mention that all this was happening with a looming threat of a government shutdown in which I witnessed the amount of time and effort that goes into preparations for a shutdown, which is a headache for everyone working in, or with the government.

Furthermore, through my internship with the EPA I was given the opportunity to attend a Committee on Agriculture hearing, at which Administrator Jackson testified, along with the ability to volunteer at the EPA Earth Day Event on the mall. The hearing was excellent because it allowed for me to personally experience the connection the agency shares with congress, while gaining a more in-depth knowledge of the agency itself. The EPA Earth Day Event, on the other hand, found me helping out our multimedia team creating and appearing in short “What I Want” videos. Volunteering at the EPA Earth Day Event gave me a chance to see the passion EPA employees have for the work that they do for the agency.

This past semester has proven time and time again to offer me many great possibilities to work on engaging projects with a fantastic group of people in a great agency. I would highly recommend an EPA internship, and specifically one with the great folks in the Office of Web Communications!

About the author: Ross Frei joined the EPA in January 2011. He is currently a Junior at Luther College where he is double majoring in Management and Economics with a minor in Environmental Studies. His passion for protecting the environment inspired him to spend the second semester of his junior year living in Washington D.C. interning at the EPA, while participating in the Lutheran College Washington Semester.

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.

Toast to Tap Water

Toast to Tap Water

Thirsty?  Why not reach for a glass of tap water?  It’s the planet’s original source of refreshment and hydration, and it’s a vital component of our daily lives.  Americans drink more than one billion glasses of tap water per day!  In fact, children in the first six months of life consume seven times as much water per pound as the average American adult.

 A safe water supply is critical to protecting health.  In the United States, community water supplies are tested every day.  EPA has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants.  Collectively, water utilities in this country treat nearly 34 billion gallons of water daily!

 Try to imagine your daily routine without tap water.  How would you shower without it?  Could you wash your fruit and vegetables?  Clean your clothes?  Scrub your dishes?  Tap water touches every aspect of our lives, from the products we use to the food we eat.  Even firefighting would be impacted without tap water.  Firefighters depend on a reliable water system with high pressure and volume.  In most communities, water flowing to fire hydrants is conveyed by the same system of water mains, pumps and storage tanks as the water flowing to your home.

 Many communities are implementing protection efforts to prevent contamination of their drinking water supplies.  These communities have found that the less polluted water is before it reaches the treatment plant, the less extensive and expensive the efforts needed to safeguard the public’s health.  You can help to protect your public water supply, too.  Limit your use of fertilizers and pesticides, clean up after your pets and don’t throw trash in storm drains.  For more ideas, visit our webpage for actions you can take today.

 So raise your glass, toast the extraordinary effort that goes into ensuring a safe public water supply, and celebrate National Drinking Water Week from May 1st to May 7th, 2011.

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: Square Pegs, Round Holes, and Chemical Safety for Sustainability

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

By Jeff Morris, PhD

All our lives we have been cautioned against trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The metaphor itself is constructed to make such an effort seem foolish and just a bit unsavory: forcing the hard edges of a square into the smooth curves of a circle evokes a certain violence and violation of geometric propriety. And the message behind the saying is clear: don’t try to join things that clearly don’t belong together.

However, fitting square pegs into round holes is just what we are doing in EPA’s Office of Research and Development: we are encouraging new collaborations between scientific disciplines to formulate innovative science questions to address chemical safety. We think this is a very good thing, but it does raise questions.

What, for instance, does cultural anthropology have to do with molecular design? Perhaps nothing; or perhaps quite a bit. A cultural anthropologist would be interested in how a society’s institutions shape the tools it creates and how it uses those tools. A chemist or engineer designs a chemical or material object with some intention in mind. (Design implies intent: nobody creates something for no reason). Once designed, how will society use the new chemical or material? Importantly for EPA, will it be used in a way that minimizes impact on, or perhaps even improves, the environment and human well-being? Neither the chemist nor the anthropologist alone can answer these questions. But perhaps the two of them, together with environmental scientists, can. Maybe a fit can be found for a square peg within a round hole.

Finding flex in the square peg/round hole metaphor doesn’t mean forcing fits that don’t make sense. In EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program, sometimes we will need to just let chemists do their chemistry within their own disciplinary space. However, all the while we can be mindful that sometimes square edges can be rounded off and the walls of circles stretched, and bringing together very different scientific disciplines can lead to the shaping of innovative research questions that take science in new and rewarding directions. Since old ways of working within disciplinary boundaries have not always given us science and technology that has advanced environmental sustainability, perhaps it’s time to not take as given old sayings and metaphors, and see if we can’t fit a few square pegs into round holes.

About the author: Jeff Morris, PhD is the National Program Director for Nanotechnology 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.

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.

The Ever-Elusive, Energy-Efficient New York City Taxi

By John Martin

Although I prefer riding the train to get around town, sometimes taking a cab isn’t a bad option. If I’m with a group of people, or I’m running late, taking a taxi sometimes just makes sense. As a New Yorker, I understand the value of having cabs filling our streets, but I also recognize the damage they’re doing to our air. With car companies finally producing fuel-efficient cars in large numbers, I decided to look into what, if anything, is being done to clean up the New York City taxi fleet.

Back in February, the Supreme Court refused to allow a city plan that would require cab owners to replace old gas-guzzling cabs with more fuel-efficient models. The 2007 law would have mandated all taxis operating in New York run at an average of 30 mpg, and would have required all 13,000 of the city’s cabs to be replaced with hybrids by 2012.

Not to be deterred, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Nadler soon thereafter introduced the “Green Taxis Act,” a federal law that would allow cities to mandate use of more fuel-efficient taxis. So far, the mayors of Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have all come out in favor of this act, but it’s not likely this support will be enough to get it through Congress.

Now it’s not clear when, if ever, New York will get cleaner taxis. Our most popular cab model—the gas-guzzling, 12 mpg Crown Victoria—is now in its final year of production. That’s the good news. The not-so-great news is that the city will soon unveil a universal taxi to replace the 16 models currently on the road beginning in 2014. Although the three models under consideration have their advantages (including the ability to transport wheelchair-bound passengers), fuel economy isn’t one of them. The Ford Transit Connect gets only 21 mpg in city driving. The two others don’t figure to be much better.

With the average New York taxi currently getting 22 mpg (even after you factor in all those Crown Vics), and no viable plans to make our fleet more efficient on the horizon, it looks like city taxis will be burning lots of gas for the foreseeable future. Looks like the subway will continue to be my preferred mode of transportation for a long, long time.

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.

The Ever-Elusive, Energy-Efficient New York City Taxi

By John Martin

Although I prefer riding the train to get around town, sometimes taking a cab isn’t a bad option. If I’m with a group of people, or I’m running late, taking a taxi sometimes just makes sense. As a New Yorker, I understand the value of having cabs filling our streets, but I also recognize the damage they’re doing to our air. With car companies finally producing fuel-efficient cars in large numbers, I decided to look into what, if anything, is being done to clean up the New York City taxi fleet.

Back in February, the Supreme Court refused to allow a city plan that would require cab owners to replace old gas-guzzling cabs with more fuel-efficient models. The 2007 law would have mandated all taxis operating in New York run at an average of 30 mpg, and would have required all 13,000 of the city’s cabs to be replaced with hybrids by 2012.

Not to be deterred, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Nadler soon thereafter introduced the “Green Taxis Act,” a federal law that would allow cities to mandate use of more fuel-efficient taxis. So far, the mayors of Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have all come out in favor of this act, but it’s not likely this support will be enough to get it through Congress.

Now it’s not clear when, if ever, New York will get cleaner taxis. Our most popular cab model—the gas-guzzling, 12 mpg Crown Victoria—is now in its final year of production. That’s the good news. The not-so-great news is that the city will soon unveil a universal taxi to replace the 16 models currently on the road beginning in 2014. Although the three models under consideration have their advantages (including the ability to transport wheelchair-bound passengers), fuel economy isn’t one of them. The Ford Transit Connect gets only 21 mpg in city driving. The two others don’t figure to be much better.

With the average New York taxi currently getting 22 mpg (even after you factor in all those Crown Vics), and no viable plans to make our fleet more efficient on the horizon, it looks like city taxis will be burning lots of gas for the foreseeable future. Looks like the subway will continue to be my preferred mode of transportation for a long, long time.

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.

Earth Day is More Than a Clean Up Day

By Yvette Chenaux

I teach environmental education at Oshki Ogimaag, a charter school on the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation where the students are Anishinaabe, also known as Ojibwe, or Chippewa. At school, the students have varied lesson plans, including language lessons in Ojibwe and environmental lessons from the Environmental Department staff.

I believe and know first-hand that young people care about the Earth. The students I work with have a strong connection to the environment. The students and their families collect wild rice in the fall, collect berries in the summer and fish and hunt throughout the year.

Last year students participated in a community clean-up for Earth Day. They split into groups and went all over the community to collect trash. When asked about the clean-up, they agreed that there was too much trash. Thomas said that what he disliked most about the clean-up was that “the Earth was so dirty, and no one cared about it. We had to go two feet underground to get a big bag of trash.” This year, in celebration of Earth Day, they participated in another community clean-up and they made beautiful posters and a banner to put up around town. Their hopes were high that they would find less trash and that more people would join them.

Jayson said that his favorite memory about the clean-up was that he was able to be “outside when it was a nice day out.” Shylan saw a fox while picking up some trash. When asked what Earth Day means to him, Jayden replied that it is “a day to help the Earth, which we should do everyday.” Sarah said that her family regularly turns down the heat when they leave the house, and Shylan said that she plans to ride her bike more. Sam said that she walks often and she picks up trash when she is out walking. Cleaning up the community is not just about picking up trash, but it is also about being outside and learning how to make everyday Earth Day. Miigwech! (Thank you)

About the author: Yvette Chenaux is the Air Quality Specialist for the Grand Portage Band. She monitors haze and particulate matter and performs indoor air assessments.

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.

What Does Earth Day Mean To You?

As a kid, it was easy for me to describe Earth Day.  It was the Earth’s birthday (which was conveniently the day after my own).  Now I’m older and a little wiser (I hope), but I have trouble describing exactly what Earth Day means to me.

In a way, I think Earth Day is the time for those of us who try to balance our daily lives with passion for the environment to stand up and take action.  It is a day to think about our world; how beautiful it is and what we need to do to protect it.  41 years ago, millions of people across the country stood up for the environment during the first Earth Day (an action that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency).  Earth Day is the time to participate in festivals, environmental cleanups, tree plantings, recycling programs and community activities.

This year, the EPA celebrated Earth Day April 16-17 on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Thousands participated in our hands-on activities and thought-provoking exhibits. For example, students from the People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability (P3) exhibited their sustainability projects, which included (among others) an awesome green roof system, self regulating plant watering system & the use of bone char to remove arsenic from water! The Library of Congress Young Reader’s Center  co-hosted Earth Tales, where scientists, athletes and Administrator Jackson shared environmentally themed stories with kids on the mall. At Eco Art, we sent environmental messages around the world on recycled postcards using the new go-green stamp from our friends at the Postal Service.  We even made instruments out of recycled materials and had an earth symphony on the mall with Bash the Trash!

These exhibits celebrated Earth Day by portraying the different ways that we CAN make a difference.  Whether you’re starting a compost pile, switching to CFL light bulbs, pledging to recycle more or simply buying go-green stamps (which are cradle-to-cradle certified), there are countless ways to make a statement this Earth Day.

But Earth Day is so much more than an event or a day on the calendar.  It marks our commitment to protecting our environment the generations to come.

So I ask you again, what does Earth Day mean to you? How did you celebrate? Have you made the commitment to take action every day? I have!

About the author: Joshua P. Guterman is a public affairs graduate student at American University and an intern in the EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education.

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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