Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bike to Work Day 2011

By Aaron Ferster

Did you bike to work today? Last Friday, I wrote about my plans for taking part in Bike to Work Day festivities. “Who’s in?” I asked. From the number of comments, it seemed a safe bet there was going to be a robust turnout.

That proved to be the case here in Washington, DC, where we had near-perfect cycling weather: clearing skies, temperatures in the low 50s, and no wind.

My own ride was absolutely delightful. I rolled out the driveway around 6:30 a.m. wondering what kind of cycling “traffic” I might encounter on my 18-mile ride. One great thing about bicycling is that, unlike when you drive a car, you can actually go faster when you draft behind a line of fellow commuters. (Well, if you can keep up, that is.)

I didn’t have much opportunity to draft in the early parts of my ride. I counted a half dozen other bikes on the road, all heading in the opposite direction. There were almost as many deer (four), soft brown bodies outlined by shafts of orange sunlight and columns of swirling mist, the last remnants of last night’s storms. For no particular reason I rang my bell as I passed, but they didn’t bother to look up.

At around the 12-mile mark, another cyclist whizzed past me so fast I think I saw their rear wheel before I heard a voice: “On your left.” “They could be the poster child for Fly Your Bike to Work,” I mused.

After about an hour or so of pedaling I had reached my “pit stop” in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC. Here was my opportunity to join one of the many “commuter convoys” that ride together. This is also where I’ve been meeting a friend and fellow bike commuter since 1996. This morning we calculated that between us we’ve only missed this ride together two out of 15 years.

I counted 17 riders in Mount Pleasant, and we continued to grow as we merged with other convoys over the last four miles to the big gathering. A chorus of dinging bells greeted us as we glided into Freedom Plaza—another successful Bike to Work Day.

Tell us about your own commute in the comments section below.

About the Author: Lead science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Aaron Ferster is a frequent Greenversations contributor.

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 Face Only A Newt Could Love?

By Jeanethe Falvey

Rather doubtful I’ve concluded. Honestly, look at them!

Excited “oh my goodness’s!” and in some cases squeals, were exchanged offices, halls and states apart. I haven’t been the only one to gasp over the tiny newt toes and the little orange (feet? my paleontology know how escapes me…).

Hugging newts has been just one of the many surprises we’ve seen since the State of the Environment call for photos began. If you think they aren’t hugging, well, to each their own opinion.

The first photo we chose to feature tells the other side of the story, that our environment needs help. A striking photo of an osprey in flight holds a black plastic bag securely in his or her talons. Speaks for itself doesn’t it? It’s our hope that these images will captivate and inspire all of us. If you’re reading this, you’ll probably agree that the environment isn’t isolated from any of our actions. It surrounds every one of us and the state of it is a responsibility shared by all.

We set up the Flickr group on April 1st and have enjoyed every entry. This is the really fun part. Not only do we get to see your best and favorite photos of the environment as you see it, but every photo is a window into the world of what you think is important, beautiful, troubling, in need of protection and deserving of widespread attention. It’s incredible to see what you see and we’ve only just begun this year long project.

As much as I loved the newts, the osprey, the breaching humpback, or the stunning artistic quality of the windmill against the Cincinnati skyline, my favorite photo so far is none of the above.

A little girl sits on a dock, with her sandals off and a notebook, backpack and water bottle handy for an afternoon of coloring. Swap out the cityscape in the distance and the swamp for evergreen trees in the deep woods of Maine and a few years ago that was me. After a double take and the conclusion that my parents did not learn Photoshop overnight, I just sat back and smiled. This, is what this project is all about.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment Project Lead U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs in Boston, Massachusetts

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Cleaning up Agent Orange — a Vietnam War Legacy

By Vance S. Fong

I was born in Hanoi, and grew up there in the 1960s. During the Vietnam War, my father drove ore trucks on a hazardous route around bomb craters, sometimes while bombs were falling on the city. He was not killed by bombs, however. He died of hepatitis years later, from having drunk polluted drinking water. My father fought liver cancer bravely as he waited for my daughter to be born, but his liver gave up. Each time I visit his grave, I am more committed for make the environment safer, here in the U.S. as well as in Vietnam.

EPA’s Office of International Affairs invited me to return to Vietnam 12 years ago. After my EPA work was finished, I sought to learn more about the conditions that caused my father’s death. In Hanoi I met with scientists of the Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to study the problem of unsanitary drinking water.

Meanwhile, my attention was drawn to the lingering impacts of Agent Orange, an herbicide which contained extremely toxic dioxins and furans. Between 1961 and 1971, more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed on Vietnam’s forests and crops. Four decades later, dioxin remains at dangerous levels around former U.S. airbases that once housed planes carrying herbicides. In some instances local foods have been contaminated.

In 2001, EPA’s Office of Research and Development invited me to participate in a bi-national partnership to cooperate on research and monitoring technologies to find and clean up Agent Orange/dioxin hot spots throughout Vietnam.

I was assigned to collaborate with the Vietnamese government to build capacity for lab analysis of dioxins and related chemicals. The five-year, $2 million project gave Vietnam technologies to assess soil contamination at Agent Orange hot spots at the Da Nang airport. The effort included training, U.S. government donation of equipment, including a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, and assistance with data collection and analysis.

In May 2009, the project reached a major milestone. My EPA colleague Harry Allen, Sr. and I collaborated with Vietnam’s Academy of Science and Technology, and Ministry of Defense, on a bioremediation pilot test at the Da Nang airbase. The goal was to demonstrate a permanent, cost-effective treatment method to protect public health from herbicide hot spots.

EPA’s objective was to demonstrate the best methods for sharply reducing the levels of Agent Orange and dioxins in the soil. This information is being used to develop a full-scale cleanup strategy for dioxin hot spots. The project will also have economic benefits. The Da Nang cleanup is necessary for Vietnam to expand the former airbase into an international airport. The expansion will bring jobs, international visitors, and prosperity to the formerly contaminated area.

About the author: Vance Fong is the regional environmental indicator program manager for EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Vance is a first generation Vietnamese American.

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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Watts up? Bring ‘em down

To learn more, click here to register for a  June 16, 2011 webinar that starts 2:00pm http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=business.bus_internet_presentations.  Click on “View live web conference schedule…”   In the search tool, type “wastewater.”

EPA is offering your town a way to save money on energy costs.

Energy use at wastewater treatment plants (WWTP’s) and drinking water treatment plants (DWTP’s) contribute significantly to municipalities’ total electric bill.  These critical utilities operate large motors that run pumps and blowers used for treating and conveying water and wastewater 24/7.  These facilities offer opportunities for cost-effective operational changes and investments in energy-efficient technologies.

The first step to energy and cost savings is to benchmark current energy usage.  A free and easy way is for towns to use EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager.  This online tool allows managers of WWTP’s and DWTP’s to track energy usage, energy costs and associated carbon emissions and to compare energy usage with comparable plants.

The tool is also helpful in identifying efficiency opportunities within a facility. 

Towns will have an opportunity to learn more during a June 16 webinar.

Encourage your town to participate.  It’s free and it could lead to big savings.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Meaningful Work in the Pool of Diverse Ideas

By Andrew Chu

Hi there! Thanks for reading my blog. I’d like to share with you how much it means to me personally and as a federal employee to work at EPA.

EPA offers many opportunities to work with a diversity of interests and ideas. In the Permits Office of the Pacific Southwest Air Division, I work with businesses to process their applications to build new projects that create jobs and strengthen our economy. I also help them find clean technology to minimize or even avoid adding pollution to the air that we all share. I know that navigating the regulations is difficult, but when I work with the businesses to understand them, they find it easier to comply.

It’s important to connect with different communities to understand where they have been disproportionately shouldering environmental burdens. In the interest of fairness and equality, no community should be unjustly singled out to take more pollution than the next one due to differences in language or income. I was born and raised in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, and I understood the difficulties people faced with language barriers and not knowing where to turn with their environmental concerns. Today, it’s my role to make sure that each community is heard and that polluters clean up their act and follow the law. It’s about fairness and doing the right thing.

For example, when I accompanied our regional administrator to meet with community members in Richmond, Calif., I gained a better understanding of their concerns and where they wanted technical staff like me to pay closer attention. I also saw how some businesses have been making efforts toward the goal of a clean environment. These experiences confirm my belief that I’ve found meaningful work, and make me proud to work for EPA.

As an EPA employee, I work with colleagues from different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. By participating in a range of activities here, from honoring Black History Month in February to Native American Heritage Month in November to LGBT Pride in June, I feel a stronger connection with my co-workers. Having learned more about their cultural values and heritages, I can communicate with more openness and on deeper levels. For all of these reasons, my EPA is a truly remarkable place to work.

About the author: Andrew Chu is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region Air Division Permits Office. Andrew is a second generation Chinese American.

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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Science Wednesday: Mentoring with DC EnvironMentors

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

By Mike Messner

One thing I love about EPA is the passion my colleagues bring to the job.  We believe we make a difference to public health and environment.  We assess the costs and benefits of our rules and regulations, but none of us can assess the value of what we do on any particular hour or day.  Believe it or not, this is what was going through my head as I waited at Metro Center one Wednesday evening.

I was waiting impatiently for my EnvironMentors student, Yishaac, to arrive.  Yishaac and I were paired as part of the EnvironMentors program.  Since 1992, this program has connected thousands of minority high school students with DC-area scientists.   Mentors guide the students as they develop environmental science projects.  The program ends each spring, with students presenting their projects to elementary school classes and displaying their projects at the local EnvironMentors science fair.

Yishaac was late.  I felt bad about his “wasting” my time, but then started to think about the value of that time.  I figured that the value of my time with Yishaac depends on the kind of difference I make in his life.  In terms of probability, I believe there is:

  • a tiny probability of making no difference (value = 0),
  • a small probability of making a small difference (value about equal to my time invested), and
  • a fair probability of making a huge difference (great value).

EnvironMentors reports that 98 percent of participating students graduate from high school and 95 percent go on to college!  By comparison, average rates for the District of Columbia are only 43 percent and 12 percent, respectively.  Given that my time with Yishaac could easily have this kind of impact, I figure one hour of waiting could be more valuable than what I earn in one hour at EPA—perhaps lots more.

So, I settled down and let go of my impatience.  Yishaac arrived one hour late, but I wasn’t angry or upset.  He apologized and explained how he spent the entire hour getting to the station.  The important thing is that he made it and I hung in there.  Later that evening, we called Dr. Dan Costa, EPA’s National Program Director for clean air research to discuss air pollutants and lung function (Yishaac’s research area).

About the author:  Dr. Messner is a mathematical statistician with EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.  An EPA employee since 1998, he models microbial and chemical contaminants in drinking water and assesses the benefits of EPA’s drinking water regulations.

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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Partnering with Chile to Engage Communities. Muy Bueno!

By David Kluesner

Exhausting. Exciting. Rewarding. and “Moving!”

I’ve used those words many times in responding to “How’d the trip to Chile go?” Our EPA Region 2 team, myself, Melissa Dimas and Wanda Ayala, definitely had moments of “why did we agree to do this?” as we developed a State Department-funded two-day public participation training course coordinated with the Chilean government as part of fulfilling U.S. environmental obligations under the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement. Months of preparation, a 12 hour flight and airport nightmares, left us nothing short of exhausted upon arrival in Santiago in late March.

Santiago’s vibrancy, its southern California climate and friendliness relieved the stresses of launching a new course in a country 5,000 miles away. Muchas gracias to our new friends Rachel Martinez with the U.S. Embassy, and Juan Pablo and Felipe, with the Chilean Ministry of the Environment. Their enthusiasm and support were key to pulling off a successful course designed to help Chile expand public participation in projects impacting the environment. Chile’s military and political past has, perhaps, left them with a tendency to strictly apply their public participation laws and uncertainty among the students in our class over how, when and where to go beyond the mandates. Exciting to think that we could be a part of expanding the conversation, giving a voice to those who need to be heard the most.

Thirty students attended, mostly from Chile’s Ministry of the Environment, some from their Forest Service. Environmental impact studies on hydroelectric dams and mines are a big part of their work, with much interest in finding new ways to ensure greater representation and fairer treatment of indigenous populations. Melissa’s experience with public participation in Central America was used to demonstrate ideas about new forms of outreach. Wanda’s rich, New York Puerto Rican personality and candid advice got the students engaged in competitive class exercises. I shared key messages on public participation that have served me well over the past 20 years of involving the public in site cleanups. It was very rewarding to see their interest in possibly using our advice to more effectively engage communities.

One other thing about Chileans. A “measly” 4.2 earthquake during class doesn’t faze them. Advice from our students when the floor started moving during class: “If you see us run, then you run, otherwise, go on to the next slide.”

The local press also ran a story on the workshop.

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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Our Environment: Your View

By Jeanethe Falvey

I could not take my eyes off the jar of brown water and the woman’s face outside her home in Licking County Ohio, the scuttled Volkswagen in Jamaica Bay, New York, or the black smoke as discarded automobile batteries burned away in Texas. I had pored over and studied countless environmental case studies of the 1970s before coming to work at EPA. Perhaps that’s what hit me when Documerica came to my attention: I had read, but had never seen what people went through before there were environmental laws in place to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Imperfect and controversial as any regulations may be, they exist now. Every day they are providing a foundation for a better quality of life for all of us.

Documerica gave us photographs of the environment and primarily the state of American life from 1971-1977. What else the project inspired we may never know, but that decade marked the dawn of a new era. We would never again tolerate poisoned air and water. From 1970 to 1980, the United States Congress passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and Superfund: a small laundry list for a brand new agency. There is no doubt that the awareness both from within our government, but also from the public, supported these monumental steps toward a safer environment. Maybe a few simple photographs helped out. 

As EPA heads through its 41st year of service, what’s your take on the State of the Environment? In this moment in time we’re asking you to capture photographs of your environment: where you live, work or play. From Earth Day 2011 to Earth Day 2012, we’re giving Documerica another go, challenging you to show your view, no matter how big or small.

Up for more? Follow our weekly challenge for a Documerica photo taken near you to get a current “after” photo in the same place.

Submit your photos and stay tuned as we feature weekly photos! Yours could be part of our Earth Day 2012 Exhibit in Washington D.C.

Hope to see you in Flickr-land.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs, Boston, Massachusetts

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 Do Kids Know About Going Green?

By Wendy Dew

Way more than you think! EPA Region 8 recently invited students to participate in the 2011 Earth Day “What Makes a School Green Art Challenge.”

The contest asked students to draw or design “what makes their school green or what could make their school green”. Students could design a green school, draw green school activities or draw what makes their school green already. Example green activities included: recycling, planting trees, changing light bulbs, etc.

The purpose of the contest was to see what school children think will make their school green or greener! The drawings were very educational for EPA, teachers and parents as they showed us what our children think about environmental protection and environmental health and safety in the school environment.

The winning entry was from Linford Elementary School in Wyoming.

See some of the entries

About the author: Wendy Dew 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.

Protecting Our Kids from Asthma

This post is cross-posted from Mom’s Rising.org

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

This month is National Asthma Awareness Month, when we address an illness that affects nearly 25 million Americans and one in every ten children in the United States.

Safeguarding the air we breathe and preventing illnesses like asthma attacks is one of my most important jobs as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But it is important to me for other reasons as well — before I am Administrator, or an environmentalist, I am a mother of two teenage sons whose health, happiness and future are my and my husband’s top concerns. Over the years, my youngest son has struggled with asthma, giving my work for clean air an added urgency.

In some cases, raising a child with asthma means startling awake at night because of the lightest sound of a cough. In other cases, it means family trips with a nebulizer, breathing masks and asthma medication. But in every case, it means taking special care to monitor the environmental conditions that might trigger an attack.

National Asthma Awareness Month is an important opportunity to raise awareness about those triggers and ensure that everyone has the knowledge they need to help control asthma. The EPA has assembled a number of great resources on our website.  I’ve also recorded a short video about Asthma Awareness Month. I hope you’ll watch it, share it, and help us get the word out about asthma awareness.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_bdTQqoY7k[/youtube]

This National Asthma Awareness Month, we need your help to make sure everyone knows what they can do to help prevent and protect against asthma.

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.