Monthly Archives: April 2011

Becoming a Sustainability Ambassador in Rural Panama

By Sheng Wu

A week before I was to go with a small team of students to electrify the homes of some of the families living in Chagres National Park, I was excited and nervous at the same time. Installing the solar panels and wiring wasn’t the scary part—I knew we could pull that off. I felt a bigger challenge would be to see if we could use the installation of the solar panel systems as a spark for building an appreciation for sustainability.

The trip was part of our 2007 award-winning EPA P3 project “Solar Photovoltaic System Design for a Remote Community in Panama.”
On the trip, we had the ambitious goal to install solar panel systems for five families in the village of Santa Librada, and then to teach them how to get the most out of their new systems—all in about a day and a half.

Thankfully, David and Maribel—friends from a village where our student group had previously installed systems—accompanied us to help. Besides their skilled hands, our two friends brought their knowledge and experience using the systems. This expertise, which they eagerly shared with the local community, proved to be as valuable as their help installing the panels.

With all the support the people of Santa Librada showed us, the five installations were finished in no time. When their kids were home from school, we taught families how the solar panel systems collect energy from the sun and store it in a battery. And at each house, we were happy to see David and Maribel talking to the families about the importance of sustainable behaviors such as conserving electricity and properly disposing of fluorescent light bulbs.

At the end of the day, everyone was satisfied with what had been accomplished. Community members gained hands-on experience helping install solar panel systems for their own homes. Our team learned how a culture of sustainability can be important in rural Panama. Children and adults alike explored what it means to “live sustainably.”

I’m confident that we successfully shared the importance of watching electricity use and going easy on the batteries so our partner families can financially sustain their solar panel systems.

About the Author: Sheng Wu is a chemical engineering major at Northwestern University (NU). He traveled with NU’s Engineers for a Sustainable World over spring break to work on a solar house electrification project in rural Panama.

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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Hook, Line and Sinker!

Click here to visit the EPA Fish Advisory Main Page!

The hooks and lines have been in the water for a couple weeks now and spring fishing is in full swing. The Mid-Atlantic Region has some of the greatest fishing in America and if you haven’t been out to try your luck with a rod and reel, then you are missing out. Fishing is an excellent way to relax, experience nature and even catch yourself a meal!

Each state has a great website on fishing. You can visit them below to learn more about the species of fish, get fishing reports, learn about different fishing seasons and how to obtain a fishing license.

Pennsylvania has over 86,000 miles of streams and rivers! Visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for more information on where to catch the whopper near you!

Did you know you can fish for over 40 species of freshwater and saltwater fish as well as 5 different shellfish in Maryland? Visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources web site for even more useful information!

In 1975 there were over 11,000 resident Delaware state fishing licenses sold. In, 2008 the number grew to over 45,000. Fishing is alive and well in the “First State.” Visit the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife for more information.

Just last year the new state record Yellow Perch was caught in West Virginia. This proves that monster fish are still roaming West Virginia water bodies. Visit West Virginia DNR Wildlife Resources for more information.

More than 800,000 fishermen make Virginia a destination for fishing every year. That generates over $1.3 billion in revenue for the state! Visit the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for more information.

DC hosts free fishing days. Visit the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation for more information. Also visit the District Department of the Environment for more fishing information.

Keeping your catch and cooking it is a favorite for many fishermen. Many of the species you can catch in the Mid-Atlantic Region are tasty to eat and, because they are packed with low-calorie protein, they are very healthy for you as well.

One aspect you need to be aware of when eating wild or locally caught fish is the chance of contaminants being present in the fish. Pollutants like mercury or PCBs can build up in the fish’s tissue. These pollutants lie in the sediment of a water body and are passed to fish up through the food chain. At certain levels these contaminants can be harmful to humans who consume the fish.

So what do you need to know about eating locally caught or wild fish? The first thing is that many water bodies have already-in-place Fish Consumption Advisories. These are guides that notify people of how much of a certain species of fish they can safely eat, normally over a month’s or a year’s time. You can visit the EPA Fish Advisory main page to learn more.

Each state publishes its own information on Fish Advisories. Visit the states you are interested in below to learn more!

Pennsylvania Fish Consumption Guide

Maryland Fish Consumption Guide

Delaware Fish Consumption Guide

West Virginia Fish Consumption Guide

Virginia Fish Consumption Guide

DC Fish Consumption Guide

Have any favorite recipes for fish? Know of any great fishing holes? Share your thoughts on our comments page!

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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Until We Meet Again

By Lina Younes

I’m glad to have been contributing to Greenversations since it was launched back in April, 2008. For the past three years, I’ve been part of the effort to produce bilingual blog posts every Thursday. I’ve covered a wide variety of environmental health issues during that time. My goal has been to increase environmental awareness to English and Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S. and worldwide. Essentially, I have wanted to convey one central message: the steps we take in our daily lives, whether at home, at school, in the office, or our community, have a direct impact on our health and the environment as a whole.

I’ve truly enjoyed writing about the debate over the Puerto Rican tree frog in Hawaii. In fact, I have learned a lot during the process from over 120 comments received from residents from both sets of Islands.

Environmental issues such as the proper use of pesticides, waste reduction,  recycling, saving energy, environmental education activities have been very popular. I’ve also used my blog posts to give further insight to EPA’s regulatory process.

However, what I have enjoyed the most during this time has been the opportunity to share my experiences with my youngest daughter. She has truly been an inspiration for many of my blog entries. While I’ve tried to educate her about the importance of the environment, I have learned a lot from her as well. Many times she seems to have wisdom beyond her years.  Either I’m doing something right or she gets it. I couldn’t be happier.

So, while I am glad to have been given the opportunity to participate in this environmental exchange, I will have to go on hiatus for a while. My current responsibilities in the Office of Environmental Education help me to continue working in favor of environmental literacy, but limit the time I have available to write weekly blogposts. At this point, I will not be able to fulfill a weekly commitment to Greenversations. Nonetheless, I hope to resume the conversation or at least contribute from time to time. As always, I would like 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 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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Hasta la próxima

Por Lina Younes

Me alegro de haber contribuido al blog Greenversations (Conversaciones ambientales) desde que se lanzó en abril del 2008. Durante los pasados tres años, he sido parte del esfuerzo de producir entradas bilingües todos los jueves. He escrito sobre una amplia variedad de asuntos de salud ambiental durante este tiempo. Mi meta ha sido concientizar al público de habla inglesa e hispanoparlante en Estados Unidos y a nivel mundial. Esencialmente he querido comunicar un mensaje central: los pasos que tomamos en nuestras vidas diarias, sea en el hogar, la escuela, el trabajo o en nuestra comunidad, tienen un impacto directo en nuestra salud y el medio ambiente en general.

He disfrutado escribiendo sobre el debate del coquí puertorriqueño en Hawaí.  De hecho, he aprendido muchísimo sobre el tema durante el proceso gracias a los ciento veinte tantos comentarios recibidos de los residentes de los dos conjuntos de islas.

Asuntos ambientales sobre el uso apropiado de pesticidas, la reducción de desechos,  el reciclaje, el ahorro de energía,  actividades de educación ambiental han sido muy populares. También he utilizado las entradas al blog para brindar información sobre el proceso reglamentario de EPA.

Sin embargo, lo que más he disfrutado durante este tiempo ha sido la oportunidad de poder compartir mis experiencias con mi hija menor. Ella realmente ha sido una inspiración para la mayoría de las entradas al blog. Mientras he tratado de educarla acerca de la importancia del medio ambiente, ella también me ha enseñado mucho. Muchas veces creo que tiene una sabiduría precoz.  O estoy haciendo algo bien o ella ha captado la lección. Eso me hace sumamente feliz.

Por lo tanto, mientras estoy contenta de haber tenido la oportunidad de participar en este intercambio ambiental, voy a tener que tomar un receso por un tiempo. Mis nuevas responsabilidades en la Oficina de Educación Ambiental me ayudan a continuar trabajando a favor de la concienciación ambiental, sin embargo, esas mismas responsabilidades me limitan el tiempo que tengo disponible para escribir semanalmente para el blog. En estos momentos, no podría cumplir cabalmente con un compromiso de una entrada al blog semanalmente. No obstante, espero poder reanudar la conversación o al menos contribuir ocasionalmente. Como siempre, quisiera leer sus comentarios. Hasta la próxima.

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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It's (almost) Earth Day!

By Deb Berlin

Around the country, for the next two weeks, there are festivals, celebrations, environmental cleanups, lectures, meditations, pilgrimages, tree plantings, cell phone recycling events, and an unbelievable array of ways to honor and appreciate the earth that sustains us. We’ve collected a few here and encourage you to celebrate the earth and the environment in your own way.

Here at EPA, every day is literally Earth Day, and at this time of year we have the opportunity to showcase some of the helpful, world-class and unexpected things that we do to protect you at home, at school, at work, and in your community. EPA Earth Day on the National Mall takes place this weekend, April 16-17. It features dozens of exhibits, activities, and short films in a large tent, rain or shine (hint: wear boots). Here’s a preview of my favorites: the mock environmental crime scene with our investigators collecting forensic evidence — the lung capacity challenge that plots a graph (I’m at the bottom, yikes…) — the roving “Slim Bin” recycling character — and the eyebrow raising database that shows how close your house is to a Superfund site!

The kids that have visited EPA and our events have demonstrated a sensitivity, intuition and knowledge about air, water and land that continues to astound me. One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had about the perils of climate change was with my ten-year-old nephew. So this year on the National Mall we’ve added cultural activities to further engage kids:

  • Saturday is “Earth Tales” story time with the Library of Congress, featuring storytellers EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Marcus McNeill of the San Diego Chargers, Madieu Williams of the Minnesota Vikings, and Olympic Track Star Michael Walton.
  • On Sunday, “Bash the Trash” helps kids construct and play musical instruments from water bottles & Earth’s Natural Force kid rappers perform. All weekend long kids and adults can draw and mail “Eco Art” postcards thanks to Post Office and their on-site mailman.

Whatever you do, wherever you are, take a moment to appreciate the life-sustaining environment that is normally in the background of your daily existence, making it possible. Earth Day is for everyone, Earth Day is for you.

About the author: Deb Berlin works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education on strategic communications, and runs Earth Day for EPA.

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

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Science Wednesday: Need Effective Virus Removal? Try Rust.

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

By Ian Bradley

What if, in addition to earning a degree from a top-ranked engineering program, you could actually change the lives of several million people? With the help of the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet Award (P3), students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are doing just that.

For several years, the Mayan community of Socorro, Guatemala was afflicted with acute and chronic gastrointestinal diseases stemming from poor drinking water quality, soil-transmitted helminthes (worm) infections, and malnutrition. These illnesses resulted in missed school, emotional and economic hardship, and in some cases, death.

In an attempt to alleviate this crisis, the people of Socorro assembled a council and, with the help of Wuqu’ Kawoq, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, contacted the University of Illinois Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UIUC) requesting assistance. As a result of a three-year partnership, relief has come in the form of a simple, effective, and ever-evolving water treatment system: the biosand filter (BSF).

BSFs have been chosen by hundreds of humanitarian groups as the best method for improving water quality in developing countries and, as of 2009, it is estimated that over 300,000 BSFs have been implemented in over 70 countries. Surveys reveal its wide acceptance by users due to the improved appearance, smell, and taste of the treated water. However, research has identified a critical shortcoming: BSFs are not highly effective in removing viruses.

Current research performed at the University of Illinois has shown that the incorporation of iron shavings, a product available commercially across the world, can remove more than 99.999% of viruses in water. The iron rusts, forming positively charged oxides to which negatively charged viruses attach. Because of the water chemistry, the iron doesn’t re-enter the water and the user never tastes the iron in the filtered water. The only end result is cleaner, safer drinking water.

In 2009, students from the University of Illinois completed a P3-supported project to install 120 traditional BSFs in Socorro. Over the next two years, the research is being expanded with the help of partners such as the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) to bring iron-amended filters to those in need.

For little cost and effort, currently implemented BSFs could be amended with locally available iron sources, providing a substantially improved barrier against waterborne viruses and, hopefully, bringing relief to millions of people in the process.

See winning projects at the National Sustainable Design Expo, April 16 and 17, 2011 on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

About the author: Ian Bradley is an environmental engineering graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has been working with EWB-UIUC and The Guatemala Water Project for the last three 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.

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.

P3: Working for a Sustainable Future

This post in the Science Wednesday series is coming to you early as we prepare for Earth Day activities. Stay tuned to Greenversations for more!

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

For the last seven years, EPA has challenged teams of students to compete for the People, Prosperity and Planet (P3) Award, which includes funding to develop sustainable projects.

Many past P3 award winning projects have grown, sparking full-fledged companies with employees making an impact on our economy as well as our global environment.  For example, a 2008 team from the University of California at Davis developed a process that produces biodegradable plastics from sewage.  Team members launched the company Micromidas a year after winning, have leveraged $3.6 million in venture capital, and currently employ 22 people.

A 2005 winning team from Oberlin College developed a data mining display software system that shows real-time energy and water usage in dormitories and other large buildings.  The team started The Lucid Design Group, which now has 12 employees and has sold their pioneering Building Dashboard Software to hundreds of commercial, civic, institutional, and residential buildings throughout the United States.

And last year, Harvard University along with MIT, Qinghai Normal University, and Tsinghua University won a P3 award for developing a lightweight solar energy device that provides agricultural and nomadic communities in the Himalayas a low-cost, portable means of cooking, heating, and generating electricity. The project spurred the founding the non-profit One Earth Design.

One Earth Design has also been recognized by the Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, St. Andrews Prize for the Environment, the MIT $100k Competition, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Lemelson Foundation, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship and the Yunus Innovation Challenge.

Sustainable innovations like these are the environmental and economic future not just for our nation, but the world. They are creating real time solutions to some of our more pressing global issues.

This year, 55 teams of more than 400 students will showcase projects that provide solutions to environmental challenges including clean drinking water, green building, renewable energy sources, sustainable agriculture practices and the manufacture of environmentally-friendly materials and green chemicals. Their solutions, just like those of the last seven years, have broad and worldwide impact—affecting countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Several projects focus specifically on Haiti.

The competition will culminate with final judging during EPA’s 7th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall April 16-17, 2011 as part of EPA’s Earth Day events. The projects are open to the public and can be viewed on Saturday and Sunday.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a science outreach specialist and science communicator 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.

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.

Building and Buying it Green

By John Martin

When it comes to buying furniture, I insist on finding a deal. In college, do-it-yourself shelving from Target was the answer to my growing CD and book collections. When it came time to furnish my apartment after graduation, Ikea got most of my money.

A few weeks ago, phase three of my bargain-furniture-purchasing life began when I came across Build It Green! NYC.
Build It Green! is a unique nonprofit that fills a useful niche. When contractors, building owners and anyone else is looking to move slightly used furniture or construction materials, Build It Green swoops in and takes it off their hands, free of charge. Instead of idling uselessly in some landfill forever, the furniture is put on display in the Build It Green! warehouse in Astoria, where the public can peruse its aisles. Although everything is assigned a price upon arrival, customers are encouraged to haggle if the cost is out of their price range.

Last Saturday, I came looking for a storage unit for my dad’s basement. Like most dads with basements, mine has too much stuff lying around, so I was hoping to help get him more organized. Although I didn’t find the perfect fit (the one piece that came close to what I was looking for had just been sold), the trip was worth it, if only for the educational experience.

Many of the thousands of items for sale were in need of a good cleaning, but just about everything was well-built and in good condition— there were enough ovens, cabinets, countertops, bathroom fixtures, chairs and tables to furnish a small upstate New York town. If you come in with time to browse, there’s a good chance you’ll find something useful, typically at a surprising price. Better yet, all Build It Green! NYC profits support environmental education, so you can be satisfied that your money is being put to good use.

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.

Building and Buying it Green

By John Martin

When it comes to buying furniture, I insist on finding a deal. In college, do-it-yourself shelving from Target was the answer to my growing CD and book collections. When it came time to furnish my apartment after graduation, Ikea got most of my money.

A few weeks ago, phase three of my bargain-furniture-purchasing life began when I came across Build It Green! NYC.
Build It Green! is a unique nonprofit that fills a useful niche. When contractors, building owners and anyone else is looking to move slightly used furniture or construction materials, Build It Green swoops in and takes it off their hands, free of charge. Instead of idling uselessly in some landfill forever, the furniture is put on display in the Build It Green! warehouse in Astoria, where the public can peruse its aisles. Although everything is assigned a price upon arrival, customers are encouraged to haggle if the cost is out of their price range.

Last Saturday, I came looking for a storage unit for my dad’s basement. Like most dads with basements, mine has too much stuff lying around, so I was hoping to help get him more organized. Although I didn’t find the perfect fit (the one piece that came close to what I was looking for had just been sold), the trip was worth it, if only for the educational experience.

Many of the thousands of items for sale were in need of a good cleaning, but just about everything was well-built and in good condition— there were enough ovens, cabinets, countertops, bathroom fixtures, chairs and tables to furnish a small upstate New York town. If you come in with time to browse, there’s a good chance you’ll find something useful, typically at a surprising price. Better yet, all Build It Green! NYC profits support environmental education, so you can be satisfied that your money is being put to good use.

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.

Free Environmental Conference at Columbia University

Few things get me as excited as attending a new class, workshop or conference. (I am one of those people who didn’t want school to end and thrives on the thrill of intellectual discussions, in other words, I’m kind of a nerd.) So, I was happy to help with the event planning for an upcoming environmental conference, The Path to a Sustainable Future: Public Health and the Environment, that will be held April 15, 2011. EPA and The Earth Institute, Columbia University are hosting a day of talks and discussions on current issues impacting public health and the environment in honor of EPA’s 40th anniversary. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and one of the first people to connect toxic release data with human cancer rates, will kick off the day with a plenary speech on public health. Several of the panel discussions will cover topics of specific concern to New York City residents including green infrastructure, smart growth and the emerging green economy. Other panels will address the issue of climate change and community response to sea level rise; energy efficiency and renewable resources; waste reduction, recycling and composting; PCBs in schools; urban pesticides; and reducing air toxics. The event will culminate with a discussion on hydraulic fracturing, a topic that has been heating up in New York state recently. Presentations will be followed by time for Q&A – come get answers to your burning environmental questions. The conference is open to everyone and will be attended by students, environmental activists, business and local government leaders, nonprofit organizations and the interested public. The dialogue should be lively and engaging. If you live in the New York metropolitan area, I encourage you to sign up.  I will be working the event and won’t be able to hear all the presentations, so I’ll need to live vicariously through those of you who can participate!

About the author: Sophia Kelley is a public affairs specialist in New York City. She has been working and writing for EPA since 2009.

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.