Monthly Archives: May 2011

Asthma Disparities: Working Towards a Solution

Asthma remains a critical public health challenge – nearly 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma, including 7 million children. But what is perhaps even more alarming is how asthma disproportionately affects minority and disadvantaged children. Among children with asthma, black and Hispanic children are twice as likely to be hospitalized and black children over 4 times more likely to die from asthma than white children. In addition, minority children are less likely than white children to have been prescribed asthma medications.

The causes of asthma disparities are not yet fully understood, but are likely a result of a variety of factors including genetics, environmental exposures, access to programs and policies that influence the control of asthma, and socioeconomic factors, such as housing quality and family and community social supports.

EPA is on the front lines of the fight against asthma disparities and I’m excited about the work we’re doing. For example, we’re supporting community-based asthma programs in Puerto Rico that specifically target improving school environments for children in districts throughout the territory.

EPA is also working with other agencies to develop a Federal Action Plan to Reduce Asthma Disparities. This includes identifying immediate actions that we can take in order to better leverage our collective assets across agencies to reduce asthma disparities.

EPA’s Communities in Action National Asthma Forum brings national, state and community level asthma experts and professionals together from across the country to share their experiences, knowledge and best practices about providing successful asthma programming in the community. This event offers an opportunity like no other to openly discuss barriers and challenges impacting underserved populations, as well as to get advice from others in the field who have found success. This year’s National Asthma Forum is taking place in Washington, DC, June 9-10. It’s really a can’t-miss opportunity. Also, AsthmaCommunityNetwork.org is another great place to exchange ideas and knowledge about health disparities with asthma professionals.

There is still much to understand about how to prevent asthma and tailor interventions to serve disproportionately impacted populations, but every day we get a little closer to finding the solutions.

About the Author: Alisa Smith is a biologist with the Indoor Environments Division’s Asthma Education and Outreach Program EPA’s Office Air and Radiation.

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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Bike to Work Day—Who’s In?

By Aaron Ferster

I’ve been working—and commuting—in Washington, DC since 1996 when I moved to the area from the Bronx for a job writing interpretive signs at the National Zoo.

My wife and I lived just behind the back entrance to the park. It was a five-minute ride to work, but 15-minutes home because of the big hill standing between my office and our apartment. If the traffic light at the bottom of our street was green, I could make it in without a single pedal stroke.

At that time, the notion of partaking in official “Bike to Work Day” festivities seemed almost comical. “It would take me longer to get to the event than it would to actually ride to work,” I bragged. Then a colleague told me about the t-shirts and free coffee.

I’ve been hooked ever since.

Apparently I’m not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey (ACS), the number of Americans who use a bicycle as their primary means of getting to work is up 14 percent since 2007, 36 percent from 2005, and 43 percent since 2000.

That’s all great news for EPA, an organization with a mission to protect human health and the environment. More bike commuting means less air pollution, cleaner skies, and healthier people.

Now that both my place of employment (EPA) and home (the suburbs) are farther apart, coasting to work is no longer an option. But I still fit riding into my commute as often as possible, and Bike to Work Day—which happens on May 20 this year—remains one of my favorite events of the year.

If you’ve been thinking of giving bike commuting a try, Bike to Work Day is a great opportunity. There are always plenty of other riders to draft behind or chat with, and there’s even free coffee and snacks at the end of the ride. Here in DC, local cycling organizations have set up “commuter convoys” from all directions to make it easy to find the best route.

Will you be riding to work on May 20? Why or why not? Use the comments section below to share your thoughts about your own plans and experiences.

About the author: Aaron Ferster is a science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor of Science Wednesday. Follow his progress as he rides in next Friday morning via EPA’s twitter account: @EPAgov.

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:Kahi Kahakui

By Kahi Kahakui– Ocean Advocate

As a part Native Hawaiian woman, my culture is based upon the concept of resource management. My ancestors called it Kuleana – the responsibility of taking care of resources not only for the present, but for the next seven generations. They had strict rules about the kinds of fish you could catch, and when, to ensure that there would be enough for generations to come. The penalty for violators was death.

I was fortunate to be an “ocean baby.” I began swimming before I could crawl, and was riding on surfboards at age three. Because I loved the ocean so much, at age nine I was given the Hawaiian name, Kahiwaokawailani – Chosen One of the Heavenly Waters, a name which actually shaped my destiny.
At 15, I joined a competitive women’s outrigger canoe paddling group. During practices and races, I saw dead sea turtles with plastic bags stuck in their mouths and around their necks, and Hawaiian monk seals and dolphins trapped in abandoned nets. I wanted to do something, but what? A friend joked that I should do extreme long distance paddling from one island to another. She laughed and told me it would get people to listen. I took it seriously, and began with a 78-mile solo outrigger canoe journey from Maui to Oahu, to build public awareness of the need to take care of our ocean.

It worked! As a result, I ended up paddling the entire chain of Hawaiian Islands, sending a clear message: Take care of our ocean. I founded a non-profit, Kai Makana, which means Gifts from the Sea. We organized cleanups of beaches fouled with plastic debris, and a year-long youth mentorship program emphasizing ocean awareness, responsibility, and action. My biggest project with Kai Makana has been restoration of Mokauea, a small island off Honolulu Airport — one of Hawaii’s last fishing villages. We’ve brought thousands of volunteers there to remove invasive species, plant native plants, restore a native fish pond, and remove the never-ending stream of debris.

As an EPA Special Agent, I’ve seen that one 55-gallon drum of toxic waste can hurt a whole community of people who depend solely on the ocean to live and eat. We live in paradise, and we must remember that it is our Kuleana to take care of it!

About the author: Kahi Kahakui is a special agent for the Criminal Investigations Division of EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Kahi is part Native Hawaiian and part 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.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFQemJ9xbhM[/youtube]

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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Jet by the Light of the Moon

A plane taking off from Newark Airport.

By Jim Haklar

I have to start off by saying that this is a real, not composite, image. The plane actually flew in front of the moon. It was taken almost three years ago on a sticky summer night at the Edison Environmental Center, EPA’s laboratory facilities in Edison, New Jersey. I didn’t intend to catch a plane flying in front of the moon, but as I was focusing my telescope one plane flew by and I missed the shot. Since the Environmental Center is near the flight path of Newark Liberty Airport, one of the busiest airports in the United States, all I had to do was wait a few minutes for another plane to go by. The only problem I had was fighting off the mosquitoes!

I’ve always been interested in the night sky and I received my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. My interest in astronomy increased in high school, but 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. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

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.

Jet by the Light of the Moon

A plane taking off from Newark Airport.

By Jim Haklar

I have to start off by saying that this is a real, not composite, image. The plane actually flew in front of the moon. It was taken almost three years ago on a sticky summer night at the Edison Environmental Center, EPA’s laboratory facilities in Edison, New Jersey. I didn’t intend to catch a plane flying in front of the moon, but as I was focusing my telescope one plane flew by and I missed the shot. Since the Environmental Center is near the flight path of Newark Liberty Airport, one of the busiest airports in the United States, all I had to do was wait a few minutes for another plane to go by. The only problem I had was fighting off the mosquitoes!

I’ve always been interested in the night sky and I received my first (toy) telescope when I was about six years old. My interest in astronomy increased in high school, but 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. The hobby has come a very long way since I started looking through a telescope many years ago!

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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Inside Insight in St. Croix

By Natalie Loney

One can never underestimate the power of a strong voice.  It can be clear like a bell with the right timbre and resonance, or booming and vibrant like a bass drum.  Either way, the power of my own voice was tested on a recent trip to St. Croix, USVI.

I was in St. Croix in support of EPA’s emergency response to an air release from the HOVENSA refinery.  Part of my responsibilities included going door to door in impacted areas to talk to residents about our sampling results.   So, with the support of local Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) reps, our team set out to reach out to residents.  I was comfortable with this task, I’ve done community outreach countless times before.   Walk up to the door, ring the bell, wait for someone to answer, then,  start your mini-presentation, simple, right? Wrong! First of all, you can’t just walk up to someone’s door.  Most of the residents’ homes were set back from the road behind a fenced or sometimes walled lot.  My DPNR colleague pointed out that opening someone’s gate and entering their property without permission would be seen as improper.  I definitely didn’t want to introduce myself to a resident by insulting them.  What to do?

The answer was really quite simple.  My DPNR partner simply stood outside the fence, gate or wall, and yelled out, “INSIDE!”   It worked like a charm.  Residents looked out and waved us in or sometimes came over to the gate and spoke to us over the fence.  By the fourth or fifth home, I was calling out “INSIDE!” like a pro, I even adopted the sing-song inflection of a Crucian accent.  The simple act of following  local protocol went a long way,  I started out on the right note and residents were receptive to our message.  My voice made it through the whole day without incident.  That’s because mine is of the bass drum variety not the resonant bell.

About the author: Natalie Loney is a community involvement coordinator in New York City. She has been in Public Affairs since 1995.

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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Do some RECON with BEACON!

Click here to visit the EPA Beach Advisory and Closing website!The days are longer, the weather is warmer and Memorial Day is right around the corner. Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff for beach season for millions of Americans. Whether you are going to your family’s traditional beach or making a first time visit to a more exotic locale, it is important to understand and learn about the beach you are visiting.

The EPA has a program called BEACH. The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Program focuses on improving public health and environmental protection for beach goers and providing the public with information about the quality of their beach water.

You can visit the BEACH program by clicking here.

The EPA also has a tool called BEACON (Beach Advisory and Closing On-Line Notification). Users can use BEACON to find beaches and learn more information about the beach. You can find beach closing notices, water quality data and even a map showing where the beach is. There are also state contacts listed with names of people that have more information. Click on the state below to begin researching the beach you frequent to cool off!

Delaware

Maryland

Virginia

Pennsylvania

How can you protect the beach while you are feeling the soft sand between your toes? Here are some eco-friendly reminders and ways to stay healthy at the beach!

  • Use walkovers instead of walking across the sensitive dunes; this will help reduce erosion.
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle the things you take to the beach – don’t leave them there
  • Throw away your trash and pet waste — use public trash containers at the beach or take it home with you.
  • Use public restrooms.
  • Pick up trash.
  • Cut the rings off plastic six-pack holders so that animals (like fish, turtles or seals) can’t get tangled in them — leave no solid plastic loops.
  • Join local beach, river or stream clean ups.
  • Dispose of boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities instead of dumping it into the water.
  • Don’t disturb wildlife and plants – you’re visiting their home.
  • While you are at the beach, wash or sanitize your hands before eating.

What beaches do you enjoy visiting? What concerns you most about the beaches you visit? Share your thoughts and ideas below 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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Clean Energy from Landfills

By John Martin

When Mayor Bloomberg released the latest version of PlaNYC last month, the idea that got most of my attention was his proposal to turn the city’s landfills into electricity-producing solar plants. Although full implementation is still years away, this initiative could be a win-win for all New Yorkers.

We live in a crowded town. With an additional 1 million people expected to move here over the coming decades, every last inch will have to be put to productive use. While our 3,000 acres of shuttered landfills aren’t suitable for residential development, there are other ways to make good use of this land — fields of photovoltaic cells being one of them.

Under the city’s proposal, 250 of these acres would be leased to a private operator, who would install and run the plants. Although pricey at first, such an arrangement would be attractive to potential developers, since it would likely take just 10 years to recoup construction costs. If all goes as planned, the project could be enough to power as many as 50,000 homes.

One major advantage of this initiative is how clean solar energy is. Increased use of solar power would allow the city to reduce its dependence on its dirtiest plants, improving our air quality. Another advantage of this plan is that it reduces the need for transmission upgrades. The city’s closed landfills are close enough to residential areas that the need for new transmission lines would be minimal.

Finally, solar energy would provide electricity to New Yorkers when we need it most — during the hot, sunny days of summer. Having lived through the 2003 blackout and the July 2006 Queens power outage, a plan to help keep the air conditioners running through the summer is a plan that gets my support.

About the author: John Martin is a native New Yorker with a background in law and politics. He became an EPA press officer in 2010.

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: Modeling Matters—Where could it go, and how do we know?

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

By Tanya Otte

Recently, powerful tornadoes ripped through central North Carolina. My yard, more than five miles from the nearest tornado touch-down, collected remnants of someone else’s losses: wads of insulation, fragments of ceiling tiles, a shard of vinyl siding, a shingle. It was fascinating that this debris could travel so far. Where on the path of the tornado did it come from?

In high school, we are introduced to Isaac Newton and his three laws of physics. Like many of you, I sat through it and acknowledged that this is nice to know, but I really did not appreciate the power of Newton’s laws. It turns out that those three laws are pretty important.
When something is injected into the atmosphere, it has to go somewhere. This includes debris from a tornado, exhaust from your car, “that smell” from the factory, and all other stuff regardless of its size. It may change form from interactions with water, sunlight, and other “things” in the air and/or with temperature changes. So where could it go, and how do we know?

To understand how the atmosphere moves the stuff that is put into it, scientists use “models”—collections of equations built from what we know.

Newton’s laws are three of the basic tenets of what we know for building atmospheric models. We also use other things we know, such as the composition of the atmosphere and how things in it interact with each other and with sunlight. We use measurements of weather and air quality to start our models and to check the quality of our predictions.

Models help scientists understand the complex interactions of atmospheric pollutants with weather and climate. Models are used to support regulations on emissions that protect human health and conserve resources. Thousands of scientists worldwide use models developed by the EPA to understand, predict, and reduce air pollution. Needless to say, models are rather powerful scientific tools.

I still don’t know where the debris in my yard originated, but I could use a model to figure it out.

About the author: Tanya Otte, a research physical scientist, has worked at EPA in atmospheric modeling and analysis since 1998.

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: Zac Appleton

By Zac Appleton, Livability

Like many people at EPA, I’m the sort of person who feels compelled to go the extra mile, to right the wrongs we find. My daily job is to work with grantees, businesses, and the public to cajole them to go a little greener, to find the resources and tools they need, and give them credit for their success when it’s due. Yet beyond the daily grind, it’s the unexpected challenges that become the test of who you are as a public servant.

One day in March 2010, as I dashed out of the office to grab lunch before a conference call, I was shocked when I witnessed a parked vehicle reverse into a pedestrian crossing, missing a family with a small child by millimeters and milliseconds. The driver was equally shocked when I let her know how close they were to tragedy. I went on with my day’s work, but I couldn’t forget about it. There was no reason for the loading zone stripe on the sidewalk there to extend all the way to the pedestrian crossing, creating a deadly hazard.

So, I went back outside with a camera and took photos, using them to lodge a complaint with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)’s Livable Streets website. I described the near-miss, told how a design flaw in the designated loading zone was the root cause, and proposed solutions. To my great surprise, SFMTA responded promptly, and painted a new 9-foot red “No Parking” zone nearest the crosswalk! It might not have been the solution I suggested, but the red stripe got the job done.

For me, this is what “Livability” is about — recognizing that the built environment we’ve inherited has lots of design flaws that need fixing, for people, now. Like a lot of us at EPA, we fix these problems because they need fixing, not because we crave recognition. I hope readers will take time to look around their own parts of the world, see what needs fixing, and talk with their neighbors and government to get it done.

About the author: Zac Appleton is a project officer and E-waste coordinator for the Office of Strategic Planning & Partnerships in EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Zac is part Burmese.

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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