Monthly Archives: June 2011

Spying on the Lunar Landscape

By Jim Haklar

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

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

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

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’s Office of Sustainable Communities – Helping to Create Places that People Love to Live, Work and Play

By Elizabeth Skane

As a child, I scrambled across forested stream banks on my way to and from my elementary school. The star attraction was but a teensy rivulet that my 7-year-old self could hop over in a single bound, but to me it was a gift, a special place where I could waste hours examining river rocks, searching for turtles, snakes, and insects, and hiding in dead tree trunks. It was on these formative daily trips that I first developed a love for the outdoors. The excitement I always felt when I stepped off the paved path and into that realm of discovery translated into a more formal study of the natural environment in my undergraduate and graduate pursuits.

So you can imagine how lucky I feel, finally a grown-up (at least chronologically), to be working at a place whose mission is to protect the American peoples’ health and environment – in the Office of Water to boot (great name, right?)! Since my arrival at EPA two years ago I’ve helped coordinate and review new rules and regulations coming out of the Office of Water. It’s proven to be an amazing opportunity: I’ve participated in high-level policy meetings and learned the nuts and bolts of how, once Congress passes a law, it gets delegated to our Agency and made into regulations. Amazing stuff for a lifelong environmental science and policy nerd!

For the last six months I’ve been on detail to the Office of Sustainable Communities, home to the EPA’s delegation to the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities. OSC projects frequently require collaboration with experts from other program offices within EPA, including Air, Water, and Waste. I believe this is one of its greatest strengths – OSC is by nature a multi-disciplinary office that seeks to assist communities with transit and walkability, green infrastructure and storm water, redevelopment and brownfields, and many other areas… all without a rule or regulation in sight! OSC’s work complements and enhances that of the more regulation-focused programs. It allows staff to be innovative, flexible, creative, and nimble in response to needs at the community, state, and federal level. I take back with me to the Office of Water new knowledge of EPA’s scope and reach, as well as a profound respect for my colleagues who work to further the livability and sustainability of our nation’s communities.

About the author: Elizabeth Skane is a Baltimore native who likes to ride her bike, swim, and run all over the Mid-Atlantic. Her favorite place on earth is the marshy coastal plain of the Delmarva Peninsula.

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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Excavating the Past – 20 Years since the Discovery that Changed 290 Broadway

Park Ranger Doug gives visitors a tour of the African Burial Ground.

By Elizabeth Myer

Situated in a bustling neighborhood just north of City Hall, EPA’s New York City headquarters is more than just an Energy Star certified building with sweeping views from the 30th floor’s “Round Room.” In fact, the ground on which the building was erected teems with history that long precedes the structure.

While digging in preparation for construction of this federal office space in 1991, workers stumbled upon skeletal remains from what was later revealed to be a 17th and 18th century burial ground, in what was then “New Amsterdam,” for over 400 free and enslaved Africans. New Amsterdam became what we now call Manhattan and an urban metropolis sprung up over the unmarked cemetery, only to be rediscovered 20 years ago at the start of this project.

Today, the 6.6 acre site is a National Monument located on the corners of Duane and Elk Streets. The space features a unique memorial complete with commemorative artwork. Tours are available to the public on weekdays from 9 am – 5 pm and they will not disappoint. The National Park Service  Rangers have a wealth of knowledge about the history of the burial ground as well as the distinct artwork onsite. Perhaps the most central piece, entitled The New Ring Shout, was built directly into the marble floor of the lobby in the tradition of world ceremonial ground markings. The most symbolic part of the work lies in the layering of multicultural references that flow harmoniously together. For me, that aspect of The New Ring Shout serves as a daily reminder that our ultimate purpose here at EPA is to foster a greater understanding and awareness of the work we do and how it relates to a diverse range of people and the environment.

For more information on the African Burial Ground, click here.

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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Photographer in Focus – Michael Manheim

Last week, I had the luck of place and time to meet one of the foremost photographers chosen to contribute to Documerica. When photography began in 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency was barely two years into working to better protect public health and the environment. Now, decades later, the inspiration behind this monumental project is once again gaining the attention it deserves.

Each photographer gave us reasons for disbelief and awe, but also for hope. In some places we can see the impact that their raising awareness had. How did you react to these images? In every sense, ‘reaction’ is a response to some influence or event. Perhaps again, State of the Environment can inspire individual awareness and environmental action the world over.

I met Michael Manheim last week at a gallery talk of his at the Griffin Museum in Belmont, Massachusetts. Among the exhibit of his early work, there quietly hangs one of the more eye-catching moments he caught from East Boston in 1973. Documerica was one of many photography endeavors he took on. Back then he says, “You did whatever it took to keep yourself going.” Today, his work reflects the freedom he has to focus deeper (take a look, you’ll see).  After a lifelong career in photography, any of his images could have been on display. There, when I saw “Landing at Logan,” the pride he felt from being a part of Documerica was self-evident.

Like the other photographers, Michael was tasked to submit subject matter of his choice for the project. It was about “connection;” he was excited with “the idea of reaching the public and raising individual awareness.” Ultimately, the struggle and anxiety felt by a close-knit community beside Logan Airport drew him in. Relatives from those who lived in the area are still in touch, and his living room photographs leave no doubt that he made the connection he was hoping for.  Today most of those houses are gone, replaced by concrete and airport service lots.  He wonders what could have been, if he could have raised awareness sooner.

One glimpse into the many stories told through Documerica. State of the Environment is your chance. Show us what you see.  What new stories will be told?

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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MetroCards Reborn

Stephen Shaheen creates a bench using MetroCards

Artist Stephen Shaheen attaches a sheet of MetroCards to the steel frame of the seating structure he designed. Shaheen used approximately 5,000 discarded MetroCards in the completed bench.

By Sophia Kelley

At EPA, we spend a lot of time thinking about big environmental issues like climate change, clean water, air toxics, etc., but sometimes the little things can be vexing too. (Twist ties, for example. Anyone have creative ideas for what to do with them?) What about the ubiquitous Metropolitan Transit Authority’s MetroCard? Visitors and residents of New York City both recognize the importance of the thin piece of blue and yellow plastic; its magnetic strip has the power to open every turnstile in the city. What happens to MetroCards when they’re used up? What does the afterlife for the typical (and not-so-typical) New York City MetroCard look like? 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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Science Wednesday: Green Chemistry Turns 20

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

By Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D.

Green Chemistry was introduced into the world 20 years ago by EPA—a blueprint for designing safer chemical products and processes. Today, not only has this powerful concept transformed the field of chemistry, but has also given us the tools to build a sustainable future.

EPA’s scientific leadership has guided the way.

The world’s first green chemistry research solicitation—Alternative Synthetic Pathways for Pollution Prevention—was released by EPA in 1991 and it was just the beginning. Scores of articles, books like Benign by Design, the first-ever research symposium on green chemistry, and numerous partnerships and collaborations emerged from the collection of excellent research in EPA’s fledgling Green Chemistry Program.

The growing body of work suggested that hazard and toxicity do not have to be elements of our products and processes. Instead, they are unintended “design flaws” that can largely be avoided with thoughtful molecular design—a revolutionary concept.

The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, started here at EPA in 1995, recognize innovative green chemistry solutions for pollution prevention. At its heart, the program is about demonstrating environmental and economic synergies, belying the myth that a healthy environment and a strong economy are incompatible. On average, winning technologies have eliminated nearly 200 million pounds of hazardous chemicals and solvents, saved 21 billion gallons of water and eliminated 57 million pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide releases every year.

What began at EPA as a small, singular effort—the only research program of its kind—has grown into a collective endeavor of the worldwide scientific community. There are now green chemistry research networks in more than 30 countries on every settled continent, and at least four international scientific journals devoted to the topic. I am astounded by the brilliance, creativity, and leadership that has cultivated the field and allowed it to flourish.

Twenty years later, I am honored to be back at the Agency that brought green chemistry to life. I am humbled by the field’s progress and incredible scientific advances over the course of two decades and only more deeply humbled by the breakthroughs waiting over the horizon and the scientific discoveries yet to be made as EPA continues to pursue and support innovative work in the field of green chemistry.

About the Author: Widely known as “The Father of Green Chemistry,” Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D. is currently the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the Science Advisor to the Agency.

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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EPA’s “Coastal Crusader” Keeps Beach Season Cleaner

By Helen Grebe

As a college student without a car studying general biology in the late 1980’s, I needed a job in my major.  As luck would have it, the EPA Edison, NJ office was within walking distance to my home and was offering a summer internship for the Helicopter Monitoring Program.  Working with the Edison field and laboratory staff inspired me to dedicate my career to the environmental cause.

The “Coastal Crusader” surveys the waters of the New York/New Jersey Harbor, looking for “slicks” of floating debris that could wash up on area beaches.

EPA’s helicopter, fondly called the “Coastal Crusader,” has been flying over the New York/New Jersey Harbor Complex since 1989 and along the Long Island and New Jersey coastlines for many years before that. Currently, the program helps support NY and NJ shellfish programs and focuses on searching for floatable debris in the waterways.

Floatable debris can originate from street litter, combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges, storm water discharges, decaying shoreline structures, pleasure boaters, and littering beach goers.  Floatable debris can consist of a wide assortment of plastic, wood, paper, glass and rubber.  Such things as plastic bags, plastic drinking bottles, mylar balloons, styrofoam cups, tires, straws and decaying piers are typically observed.  This debris suspended in the water column may eventually be deposited on shorelines and local beaches causing harm to the marine environment and closures to local beaches.

The EPA helicopter crew, mostly made up of summer interns, coordinates cleanup of floatable debris six days a week by reporting debris to the Army Corps of Engineer’s skimmer vessels.  These vessels are specially modified to pick up debris before it escapes the harbor.

Other programs such as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Shores program also help remove debris from the area.  In fact, to date, approximately 408 million pounds of debris have been removed from the New York Bight area.

As extensive as these programs are, we can all do our part to protect local beaches and the marine environment by leaving no trash behind. How do you help keep your local beach clean?

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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Can EPA Compete with a Roller Coaster?

By Wendy Dew

Well we did! I recently attended an outreach event at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. The event was meant to reach out to kids, teachers and parents about outdoor and environmental education opportunities. Our booth was a huge hit. We had our climate change quiz and recycled pencils as prizes for those who got most the questions right and for those who only got a few right! We also had educational outreach materials and coloring books for the kids.

Folks who came by the table had fun testing their knowledge and learning more about climate change and environmental education. I learned that we have a long way to go for kids and adults to understand the basics of climate change science. It is so important for EPA to reach out to folks in many different venues to help get the message out.

We will be back next year to reach out to more thrill seeking adventurers! I may try to get a spot not so close to the roller coaster next time, however.
To learn more visit EPA’s new Climate for Students website

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.

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Summer Solstice and Being Sunwise

By Kathy Sykes

I love summer, especially the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and during our summers, my brother, sister and I spent the days at Vilas Park. Located on Lake Wingra, Vilas Park had a zoo, acres of green fields and baseball fields as well as a beach. Our days were spent in the sun, swimming, building sand castles, playing ball or just hanging out with friends. We would only leave our park because we had to be home in time for dinner.

My red-headed brother Sven, whom many said resembled Danny Partridge, had freckles, fair skin and burned easily. My sister Julie and I were brunettes and tanned with ease. We often spent as much time applying suntan lotion early in the day as we did Solarcaine before bedtime. On more than one occasion Sven got badly sunburned. Once burned, he was required to stay out of the sun (yeah, right) and because mom knew that was an impossible request, she applied a precautionary white layer of zinc oxide to protect his nose, face, neck and ears. We should have heeded mother’s plea to stay in the shade during the peak sunlight hours from 10:00am to 2pm. But we often did otherwise.

The good news is that it’s never too late to be sunwise. While you are probably aware of preventative steps to avoid the harmful effects of UV radiation on the skin, you may not be aware of its harmful effects on our eyes—leading to cataracts and macular degeneration. For more prevention tips

Summer is also the time to take care for preventing exposure to extreme heat. Did you know that more people die each year from extreme temperatures than from all other extreme weather events including hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined? Fortunately we all can prevent extreme heat exposure. Air conditioning is one of the best defenses against excessive heat. If you lack air-conditioning in your home, there likely places in your community that have air conditioning. These “cooling centers” may include libraries, shopping malls, senior and centers. Ask your health care provider if the medications you take could increase your susceptibility to heat-related illness. Visit at-risk individuals at least twice a day such as those who live alone or are confined to a bed. For more tips on reducing your exposure to extreme heat

About the author: Kathy Sykes began working for the U.S. EPA in 1998. Since 2002, she has served as the Senior Advisor for the Aging Initiative.

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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Announcing Greening the Apple, EPA’s New York City Blog

AppleBy Sophia Kelley

For the past several months (which at times have seemed like the longest months ever) a few of us in New York have been working furiously on a revolutionary idea – a blog! OK, so maybe it’s not so revolutionary, but we are thrilled to be able to announce the newest member of EPA’s blog family, Greening the Apple. As a writer with a background in journalism, I’m looking forward to participating in the less formal and more direct type of communication that blogging allows.

Our goal for this new endeavor is to increase communication, participation and engagement with everyone interested in environmental and public health issues around NYC. I’m hoping that this new forum will allow us to enter into dynamic conversations with the public, representatives of nonprofit organizations, and state and local government employees. The posts will cover topics related to urban environmental issues such as strategies for sustainable city living, healthy outdoor activities and urban escapes.

It is an often overlooked fact that behind the rules, regulations, and bureaucracy, government agencies are made up of people – real people. Greening the Apple serves to highlight the variety of interests and personalities that are represented by our diverse staff in the New York area. The blog is also a forum for new voices and perspectives to speak out regarding environmental and public health issues in and around the New York metro area. We aim to become a valuable resource for New Yorkers, commuters, tourists and anyone else interested in urban environmental issues that face cities like New York. We value your feedback and encourage you to comment, subscribe to our feed and become a vital part of our community.
Check out Greening the Apple and join the conversation!

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.

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