Monthly Archives: June 2011

Inside Insight: Cultural Clues from a New Yorker 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? More

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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Bristol Bay, Alaska

By Nancy Stoner

As I flew over Alaska, I was struck by the vast beauty of this pristine and unspoiled land. From my perch in the helicopter, looking over the complex waterscape of lakes, wetlands, winding rivers and streams, I encountered a unique ecosystem that led to an equally unique way of life among the people who inhabit this vast and wild land. This was my trip to Bristol Bay, Alaska, a place far removed from the rush of life in Washington, D.C.

The raw nature of this place inspired me. I traveled by boat over water that was remarkably clear and clean, and stretched endlessly before us – as far as the eye could see. On land, I saw tundra brimming with blooming wildflowers and snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Bristol Bay is home to sockeye salmon, rainbow trout, moose, caribou and countless other aquatic and land life. At least 20 of the Bay’s Native American communities rely on its natural resources for subsistence living and traditional use, and the Bay holds the most productive sockeye salmon fishery in the world worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Through my visits in several native communities, I saw and heard the stories of people and their way of life in Bristol Bay. On Bristol Bay, I saw offshore canneries and fishing boats lined up to harvest the sockeye salmon spawning run. On the rivers that flow into the Bay, I saw riverfront homes and heard from people that caught and ate from what the river held. I saw huge king salmon that had just begun to swim upstream through these communities. I met many subsistence fishers, who divide their catch among elders and others who cannot catch fish, and prepare a winter’s supply of food for their families.

This incredible trip to Alaska and observation of the daily lives of people who fully depend on clean water for food and life left an indelible impression and a deepened respect for the people and their way of life, as well as the pristine beauty of Alaska’s waterways.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. The trip included meetings with the public as EPA conducts scientific assessments of the watershed and considers the effects of large-scale development (www.epa.gov/Region10/bristolbay/).

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.

Green smArts and Crafts: Build Your Own Rain Barrel!

treyrainbarrelBy Trey Cody

Looking for a “rainy day” project?  Get your tools ready – we’re making a rain barrel.  Not to worry.  It involves little cost and little labor and the benefits are huge.

A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater directly from your roof via your gutter.  It’s also a great green craft that protects the environment and saves you money!

A rain barrel can save most homeowners on average 1,300 gallons of water during the summer months because you can store and use the water from the rain barrel instead of water from the tap to water your garden or lawn or wash your car.  So sav­ing water with a rain barrel not only helps to protect the environment, it saves you money and energy because of decreased use of treated tap water.

Some other benefits of having a rain barrel are that water from storm drains is diverted into the barrel instead of adding to runoff to streams.  Also, your garden can stay healthy with water that is free of chlorine, lime or calcium.  So whether you want to show off your creative side and build your very own rain barrel or want to buy a ready-made one, a rain barrel is the right step towards your newer, healthier and greener garden!

To create your own rain barrel all you need are these basic materials:

  • 55 gallon polyethylene plastic barrel
  • 2 inch male threaded by 2 inch pipe adapter
  • Tube silicone sealer/cement
  • Outdoor faucet valve
  • 1/2 inch threaded bushing
  • 1/2 inch female threaded socket
  • Teflon tape
  • Screen fabric
  • Cinder blocks
  • Optional – paint to match your house color

And these basic tools:

  • Jig Saw
  • Power Drill with 3/4 inch Spade Bit
  • Scissors
  • Pipe Wrench and Pliers
  • Screw Driver
  • Hack Saw

This green craft is simple to construct.   Just click here to get the simple assembly instructions to make your rain barrel.

Making a rain barrel at my house was easier than I imagined and I had fun while doing it. So much fun that I actually constructed three! What I find most enjoyable is watching how quickly it fills up on a rainy day. Also, once it’s filled, using it and knowing that I created this rain barrel myself gives me great pleasure. I would recommend it to all who are looking for a fun and easy project that will help protect our environment and save them money.

There are other EPA employees in our Philadelphia office that have also been showing their handy sides and installing rain barrels at their homes and in their communities.  They all talk about how great their barrels work and how they either want to get or already have gotten a second barrel to store more water.

One of my co-workers cut up an old hose to use as a device to convey the water from the barrel to her garden.  She told me, “When I want to water the garden, I open the valve & let gravity do the rest.”  Other colleagues are such expert rain barrel craftsmen that they have set up rain barrel programs in their communities.  Fred told us that his Township Environmental Advisory Committee assembles homemade rain barrels using local volunteers and sells them to residents at $35 a piece (also check out Fred’s blog about rain barrels from last summer).

Want to take your garden to an even higher level, with an even greater environmental impact?  Having a rain barrel that drains right into a rain garden is the best combination for managing stormwater on your property.  Check out our blog on rain gardens to see how you can join the Rain Gardens for the Bays Campaign to green our neighborhoods and protect our streams and bays by creating thousands of rain gardens in local watersheds!

Do you have a rain barrel at your house?  What other green projects have you done or can you think of?  Share your ideas in the comments section!

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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Battling through the Summer Heat

Woodbridge Residence Hall, on the corner of Riverside Drive and 115th St., is in the final stretch of an EPA competition to reduce energy use.

By John Martin

When I was a grad student at Columbia University, I spent a lot of time holed up in the Loeb Library reading and writing papers, but I also spent a lot of something else—money. That degree was expensive!  Ten years later, it’s a small consolation to know that some active members of the Columbia community are working to save the school some cash, while helping the environment in the process. More

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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EPA Science Wednesday: EPA Study Shows Health Hazards Associated with Peat Wildfire Smoke

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

By Sarah Blau

A few weeks ago my eyes wouldn’t stop itching. That intense, burning itch you know you shouldn’t scratch, but eventually you do. My irritated eyes were telling me that something was wrong, that some foreign species was polluting the air I breathe and my body did not like it.

The source of this relentless itch I discovered from the news on the drive home—wildfires! Wildfire smoke, to be more exact, wafting some 200 miles from the North Carolina coast where peat fires have been smoldering since early May.

As it turns out, I had only one minor symptom of something that can actually cause serious health problems.

In fact, I recently learned that a team of scientists led by EPA investigated the cardiovascular health effects of a similar eastern NC peat fire in 2008. A paper describing the results of this study was published Monday by Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers collected emergency room (ER) records from counties directly affected by the 2008 fire’s smoke plume and compared those records to ER records from smoke-free neighboring counties. Research statistics show that the smoke affected counties had an increase in ER visits by 65% for asthma, 59% for pneumonia and bronchitis, and 37% for symptoms of heart failure.

Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Peat fires differ from western canopy wildfires in both the way they burn and the chemical composition of their smoke. This is the first known study to show that exposure to a peat fire can cause both respiratory and cardiovascular effects, and the first study to conclusively show associations between a wildfire and emergency department visits for heart failure symptoms.

Wildfires are inevitable, but we are not completely helpless to suffer their mal-effects. EPA’s AIRNow website is an excellent source for information on both the air quality in your region, and how to protect yourself from the hazard of wildfire smoke.

Whether it’s severe cardiovascular illness or minor allergy-type symptoms, research by EPA and others has shown that wildfire smoke can have harmful health effects. Keep yourself informed of your local air quality and when conditions are poor, take appropriate actions. Maybe if I had taken a shorter morning walk outside with my dog, I wouldn’t have had itchy eyes all day!

About the author:  Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s Science Communication Team.

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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Welcoming the Summer Solstice in Times Square

Finding tranquility at the Solstice in Times Square: Mind Over Madness Yoga event on June 21, 2011. Over 8,000 people participated in three classes throughout the day.

By Elizabeth Myer

Last Tuesday, June 21, fellow blogger Sophia Kelley and I ventured to Midtown Manhattan to welcome the summer solstice in an alternative way; that is, by practicing yoga with 3,000 others smack in the middle of Times Square. As NYC lovers and exercise enthusiasts, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fuse the two. After all, how often is it that you are given a chance to search for serenity while lying on your back in the center of one of the busiest intersections in the world? More

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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Being Bold

By Pooja Shah

Summer interns sometimes get to do amazing things, and a recent task I was assigned is an example. A recent Monday morning found me, anxious and excited, at Riverbank State Park, in New York City, onboard to help the crew of the EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel Bold. My assignment was to take visitors on tours through OSV Bold during several days when it was open to the public.

OSV Bold is EPA’s coastal and ocean observation ship. The mission of OSV Bold is to collect samples to help analyze the effects of man’s activities on ocean and coastal waters. Formerly owned by the U.S. Navy, the OSV Bold was used as an intelligence gathering vessel during the Cold War. Now, the ship has been completely converted to support the crew and scientific equipment needed for her mission.

Arguably even better than its history and technology, the OSV Bold contains, in my opinion, the best crew out there. I haven’t been on many ships before and certainly never any ocean survey vessels, so maybe I’m not speaking from much experience. Still, when you’ve got a crew that is caring, friendly, and committed to their work, you’ve got a team that’s one-of-a-kind. A team that’s Bold.

But that’s not even my favorite part. The best part of my day was being able to show other people everything the OSV Bold had to offer. From explaining her fascinating history to children and seeing their expressions to watching as the crew demonstrated her sample collecting equipment and the computer images they generate, OSV Bold took on a new meaning for me as I proudly became a part of her family for two days.

Perhaps the Bold was given her name because of her incredible and dangerous past. Or perhaps because her crew performs tasks everyday that help make our water better and better – no small feat. In the end, being aboard the OSV Bold, means being bold yourself.

Read more about OSV BOLD

About the Author: Pooja Shah is a Public Affairs Summer Intern for the EPA Region 2. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Economics at the George Washington University.

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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Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During the Summer Month

By James T. Young

We don’t think about carbon monoxide poisoning as a hazard in the summer, but it is. One reason is that the practice of “cooking out” in the summer can paradoxically, become “cooking in.” Imagine this scenario. You are having a lovely Fourth of July afternoon with your children, grandchildren or friends in the backyard of your home. For weeks you’ve been promising everyone a fantastic meal, built around your “Triple Threat Burgers, beef or vegetarian, guaranteed to please.” The soaked wood chips are on the grill. The charcoal briquettes have been heated to a glowing red and the burgers have been placed on the grill, when….suddenly….it pours down rain.

Everyone rushes into the garage. Two guys quickly whisk the grill away from the storm and into the garage. Everyone claps and cheers because the famous burgers have been saved. But no one realizes that a new danger has been created: the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal briquettes in an enclosed space.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. These properties make it difficult for a person to detect when it is present. CO is easily absorbed through the lungs as we inhale. When CO is inhaled it enters the bloodstream and blocks oxygen from being absorbed into the body. CO poisoning can lead to damaged tissue and can result in death. In fact, carbon monoxide is the most common cause of poisoning death in the United States. It is also the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries.

The risk of CO poisoning is of special concern to minorities. According one study, CO poisoning in the United States is more prevalent among blacks and “Hispanic whites,” than among the non-Hispanic white population. Most of the poisoning was due to “indoor burning” of charcoal briquettes. It is important to realize that charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide the entire time that they are hot. Do not use charcoal briquettes if you are going to grill inside an enclosed area.

Read the fact sheet on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

About the author: James T. Young was a chemist at NIH for thirteen years before ending up a program analyst in the Public Health Service his last twelve years of government service. He has enjoyed being a SEE employee 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.

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 Chesapeake’s Shelter from the Storm(water)

cbstormwaterBy Christina Catanese

Our friends at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office have a very informative series of videos called Bay 101 that are great for learning the issues that the Bay faces and how it’s getting cleaned up.   This video about stormwater runoff to the Chesapeake is one of these.  Stormwater is an issue threatening healthy waters all over the Mid Atlantic region.  With growing populations and expanding urban and suburban development, more areas are being paved over with impervious surfaces rather than the forested or grassed areas that were there before.  This means that instead of the water soaking into the ground, it runs over the paved surfaces into storm drains, which take that stormwater right into waterways.  You know those little labels you sometimes see on the sidewalk that say “No dumping, drains to river”?  Well, they aren’t just for decoration…it’s true.

Now, this runoff harms the Bay and other local water ways because the runoff picks up all kinds of stuff as it washes over paved surfaces.  Just think of all the dirt and grime on the street: oil or gas leaks from cars, litter, dirt, grit, fertilizer from lawns, and who knows what else.  Click the pic to watch the video and hear much more about how stormwater harms the Chesapeake and what we can do about it.  Check out the other great videos the Bay Program has while you’re there.  How do you see stormwater affecting the Chesapeake or your local waterways?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Saving Plants for Future Generations

By Nancy Grundahl

The scent is exquisite, the petals are like burgundy velveteen. It’s an heirloom rose that was first grown at my grandmother’s house. My mother had taken a cutting for her house, and from that I took a cutting for mine. When we sold my mother’s house several years ago, I told the woman who bought it about the rose—how it was planted right by the front door so you would enjoy a whiff every time you went in or out. Sure, it didn’t look like much. It was a straggly plant that only bloomed for about 2 weeks in May. But, my goodness, for those 2 weeks – heaven!

Good thing I took a cutting for my house when I did because the next time we drove by, where once there was that special rose bush, along with azaleas and rhododendrons, there was now grass — plain, flat, boring grass. Everything was gone. It was so sad. Maybe the rose bush was transplanted to another area of the yard? I hope, but more likely it was trashed.

Then last year I read an article about a group in my area of Pennsylvania that searches for old varieties of roses to preserve them for future generations. They often look in cemeteries where decades ago someone may have planted their mom’s favorite variety. With the help of the Morris Arboretum Philadelphia, I tracked them down. They tentatively identified my rose as ‘Monsieur Boncenne’ 1864 bourbon. I am now rooting some cuttings to give to them.

The members of the Philadelphia Rose Society do a wonderful job, preserving for the future what we had in the past. Through the efforts of this and similar groups like Seed Savers, and through individuals like William Woys Weaver in nearby Devon, Pa. (who writes cookbooks and give dinners using old varieties of fruits and vegetables) they raise awareness and save plants that would otherwise be lost forever.

I think my grandmother would be happy to know that her rose lives on.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

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.