Monthly Archives: June 2011

Celebrating Oceans Month

By Kasia Broussalian

A great majority of us usually pass the day without so much as a single thought of our oceans. There are exceptions, of course. There are those that indeed live by its movements—the fishermen, storm chasers and scientists that all breathe in unison with the waves. However, each of us, no matter how far removed, creates a tenuous link to the seas. Water travels from our oceans to our atmosphere, from the atmosphere to the land and rivers, and from the rivers back out to the ocean. Our upkeep and care of these bodies of water remains key to our daily lives now, and most certainly in the future.

Since the Canadian government’s proposal at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, June 8 has come to pass as World Oceans Day, and President Obama has proclaimed June 2011 as National Oceans Month. To enhance public awareness and participation in legislation concerning our oceans, as well as the protection of coastal communities in the face of climate change, the National Oceans Council will host 12 public listening sessions across the country in hopes of implementing an ocean policy aimed at addressing critical issues facing our oceans. Additionally, the National Oceans Council seeks public feedback and comments during this month for strategic action plans and ways to measure progress in tackling critical issues facing oceans, coastal cities and the Great Lakes. To provide comments and gain further information, please visit this site.

In the photo above, a boy dives from the pier into the waters below at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.  Please share any of your experiences with the oceans; whether they be a favorite beach, a particular issue, or even a fond memory that heightened your appreciation.

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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Happy Birthday, WaterSense!

By Stephanie Thornton & Virginia D. Lee

It’s hard to believe, but it was five years ago—June 12, 2006—that we stood with our colleagues along the San Antonio River Walk in the sweltering Texas heat to watch the EPA Administrator announce the creation of WaterSense. With water shortages becoming increasingly common nationwide, the program was initiated with one simple goal in mind: to help Americans save water.

That day’s announcement was the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of very dedicated people, both inside EPA and from outside organizations. Yet, it was only the beginning. Five years later, consumers can now walk into their local home improvement or hardware store and find the WaterSense label on a wide array of toilets, faucets, and showerheads.  Certified WaterSense irrigation partners can be found nationwide to install, maintain, and audit household sprinkler systems. The first new homes to earn the WaterSense label are welcoming families in states across the country, including California, Texas, and Virginia. WaterSense has also moved beyond the home, with the label soon to be appearing on or already on several commercial and institutional products.  And, most recently, our neighbors to the north have formally partnered with the WaterSense program—so we’re helping Americans and Canadians save water!

We love our jobs because we get to see the results of our work every time we walk into a home improvement store or when we read about activities carried out by our program partners. With the help of the public and our 2,300 partners, WaterSense is looking forward to many more years of saving water for future generations, and we are excited to see what’s in store next. Visit the WaterSense website to get more information on what you can do to save water around your home and to take the I’m for Water pledge.

About the authors: Stephanie Thornton has been with EPA since 2002, and joined WaterSense in 2006, just prior to the program’s official inception.

Virginia D. Lee has worked for EPA for 10 years and joined the WaterSense team in 2005.

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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Healthy Waters…there could be an app for that!

By Christina Catanese
Find out how to submit your App for the Environment!Are you a mobile apps developer? Do you know one? Well now is your chance to show us what you can do with EPA data on a mobile device!

EPA’s Apps for the Environment Challenge is a contest that puts your tech-savvy to the test.  EPA challenges you to find new ways to combine and deliver environmental data in a mobile app.  You can use EPA data by itself, or combine it with other environmental and health data to make a useful resource for individuals or communities.  Besides addressing one of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s Seven Priorities, the only limit to what you can create is your own imagination!  You have until September 16, 2011 to submit your application, and you can get all the details here.

Not a coder but think you might have the next big idea for an environmental app?  There’s a place for your input.  Visit EPA’s Data and Developer Forum to submit your idea for an app, as well as submit comments or questions about EPA’s existing apps, data resources, and data sets.  The brainstorming has already started, so check out the ideas for apps that others have had to get inspired!

We’d like to challenge you one step further and encourage you to come up with an app that uses water data about the Mid Atlantic region.  That’s right, we’re talking about a Healthy Waters App! There are lots of places to find data about the waters of our region.  EPA and state websites have loads of interesting data that includes water quality monitoring and assessment, Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), permitted facilities, non-point source projects, drinking water sources and facilities, beach sampling, and clean water grants….just to name a few!  You might also find interesting water data from other federal agencies, like the USGS, Forest Service, National Park Service, or CDC.  What other sources of water data can you think of?

We’d love to hear from you in our own comments section… how would your Healthy Waters App use Mid Atlantic data?  I’m no computer scientist, but if I could make a Healthy Waters App, I think I would make one where I could type in my address (or let my cell phone GPS determine my location) and have it tell me where my drinking water comes from, any consumer confidence reports the facility has issued, what watershed I’m currently in, any impairments nearby waterbodies have, all shown on a map of course.  Or maybe I would want it to tell me where the nearest EPA-funded water project is.  Or maybe I would want to have mobile beach advisory alerts, so I knew when and where it was safe to go for a swim.  Or maybe…

Well that’s enough from me!  Tell us about the Healthy Waters app that you would make, and get cracking on your code to submit your app to the challenge!

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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Profiling the Sea Floor from EPA’s Largest Ocean Survey Vessel, the BOLD

By John Senn

I’m writing this post aboard EPA’s ocean survey vessel, the BOLD, which is currently several miles off the New Jersey coast in the Atlantic Ocean where EPA scientists are studying a part of the sea that was once the site of ocean dumping. The BOLD, a 225-foot-long former Navy spy ship that was converted into a state-of-the-art research station after the Cold War, travels around the country and serves as an important resource in EPA’s ocean protection efforts, everywhere from Maine to Puerto Rico to Alaska.

Visitors line up for a tour of the BOLD at Riverbank Park

For two days, EPA scientists will use a sophisticated camera called a sediment profile imager to take pictures of the exact place where the sea floor and water meet at more than three dozen locations. Later this month, they will return to certain locations to collect samples of mud and worms as part of an ongoing study to make sure contaminated sediment that was dumped in this area from dredging in the New York/New Jersey Harbor prior to 1997 is no longer affecting the ecosystem. Since 1997, millions of cubic yards of cleaner dredged material had been placed on top of the contaminated sediment to improve ecological conditions.

The BOLD not only boasts scientific tools like the sediment profile imager, but is also furnished with places for EPA scientists and the ship’s crew to sleep and eat, as the BOLD is designed to be out at sea for up to several weeks at a time. The quarters can feel a bit cramped, but we definitely get three square meals a day.

After today’s work, the BOLD will return to New York City to dock for a few days to examine the photos taken with the sediment profile imager and identify the best spots for collecting mud and worms. We’re also going to have the ship open to the public for free tours tomorrow and Saturday at Riverbank State Park in Manhattan from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Our scientists will be on hand to show you the equipment used this week and tell you about all of EPA’s work to study and protect the ocean. And if you have a group of 10 or more people, you can reserve a time for a tour—just send me an e-mail at senn.john@epa.gov. See you on deck!

Below is a video from the ship as the sediment profile imager camera is deployed. You may need to install QuickTime in order to view the clip.

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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From Bike Path to Career Path – Passing Through EPA's Office of Sustainable Communities

By Jennifer Woods

Growing up in the small university and bike- friendly town of Davis, California, I had the joy of biking or walking to school, sports practice and work almost every day — from my first day of kindergarten until I graduated from high school. To be honest, my mom and dad didn’t give me an option. Despite my attempts at begging for a ride some mornings, my mom always told me that we lived in a safe town with plenty of parks, trails, sidewalks and schools close by, so there was no reason to drive. Over time, my complaints ceased and I became accustomed to riding my bike everywhere. Then, when I went off to college, eager to use my bike, I was surprised to find that my new home for the next four years wasn’t exactly bike-friendly… I had to use the car much more than I would have liked.

During my second year of college, I took a planning class and learned about this thing called “Smart Growth.” It all made so much sense to me….and I’ve been hooked ever since. At school I took as many sustainable planning classes as possible, and interned during the summers at an organization in California that works to promote sustainable communities.

As I finish up my time in school, I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to intern here at EPA in the Office of Sustainable Communities. It has been an amazingly fun, interesting and rewarding experience being surrounded by knowledgeable people, all working hard to help create more sustainable communities across the country. My work experience at EPA helped me realize that this is the career for me. I want others to have the same opportunity to grow up in a community that encourages people to bike and walk to school safely, just like I did.

For now, I’m eager to head back to Davis, park my car and put my bike to use every day. I’ll also thank my mom and dad for instilling in me the habits that put me on the path to appreciating the livable and sustainable aspects of my community.

About the author: Jennifer Woods just completed her internship in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She’ll soon be graduating from college with honors with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in Urban Studies and Planning.

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 Administrator visits Brooklyn to Give Commencement Speech

Lisa Jackson walks towards the stage in preparation for her speech during the NYC College of Technology commencement ceremony at MCU Park at Coney Island on Friday, June 3, 2011.

By Kasia Broussalian

It took a while for anyone to notice me. When photographing, I like it that way. Real moments unfold in front of you, instead of staged, camera-wary ones.

“Hey! Who are you?”

Spotted. I turn towards the voice and my eyes meet at mid-navel height. Craning my head up to see his face, I fumble for the correct words. Technically, the e-mail had said to wait at the front entrance, where I would be escorted to a viewing area. While “sneaking in” was a bit off base (I had asked my way around, after all), “escorted” was even more so.

Heidi Ellis (right) and Assistant Press Secretary Alisha Johnson (center) secure EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s cap before the start of the New York City College of Technology commencement ceremony. Lisa Jackson gave the commencement address.

“I’m from the Region 2 Public Affairs office, I’m here to see Lisa Jackson’s commencement speech,” I pronounce, hoping to inject some confidence. “I’m….part of the advance party?” Less certain here, I pick out another line from the e-mail that hadn’t quite been clear. He eyes me for a minute, and cracks a grin.

“You would make a good agent, you know?” At this, I roll my eyes. Amongst other reasons, my barely-over-five-feet-stature says otherwise. He shakes my hand, and introduces himself as Lisa Jackson’s, U.S. EPA Administrator, agent for the day. Meeting a new friend is always great, but meeting the right new friend is even better. It was smooth sailing from there on out. While I kept the illusion of composure in check, inside I was flying.  For a greater portion of an hour, I was standing next to Lisa Jackson, a cabinet-level executive! That has to be a thrill second only to meeting President Obama himself.

It’s my opinion that once you’ve been to one commencement ceremony; you’ve been to them all. However, New York City College of Technology’s ceremony at Coney Island captured a few moments that really sparkled. It could’ve been Student Government President Terel Watson’s poetic rendition of Mims’ “This is Why I’m Hot” rap, or, commencement speaker Lisa Jackson’s rebuttal with, “Terel, that’s why I’m hot.” However, I take my hat off to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who, on introducing Lisa Jackson, pushes the microphone to its limit with resounding confidence, “When you want a job done right, you gotta have a woman do it!”

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: Picking a Winner

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

By Mike Gill

I almost said no when I was asked to be a judge at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). What a mistake that would have been!

I work in EPA’s Region 9 office in San Francisco. I was joined at ISEF by colleagues Ned Black, also from San Francisco, and Melissa Anley-Mills from Washington, DC.

Our goal was to find the project that best promoted environmental restoration, preservation and sustainability to receive the EPA Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award. We had the opportunity to review many worthy projects and hopefully encourage the kids to pursue a lifetime of scientific curiosity and even study environmental science and engineering. And what talent they have!

It was tough knowing that out of all the brilliant kids, we could only pick one winner. 299 out of the total 1500 projects fell under our categories of interest, which included environmental management and environmental sciences. From these, we narrowed it down to 59 posters to review on Day 1 (sans kids) and then 10 “semi-finalists,” who we interviewed on Day 2.

Two things that met the goal of sustainability for us were using “re-purposed” materials (leftovers), and when it was clear that the students considered the complete life cycle of their project. It was important that projects try to avoid any unintended consequences. In addition, the simpler a project was, the more elegant it tended to be—such as a device built using a discarded laundry basket and duct tape to harness wind power in the developing world.

The winner? We selected Param Jaggi from Plano, Texas for his project Algae-Mobile 3: Bioactive Energy and Carbon Dioxide Filtration in the Exhaust of a Car. His work may one day improve air quality by reducing contaminants from automobile exhaust and improve the health of anyone impacted by automobiles. We also selected two impressive runners up: a project from Ireland that used beach strangling lettuce seaweed as heating fuel briquettes, and a project that harnessed wave, wind and solar power to create electricity.

This 2011 Intel ISEF was a great experience and certainly restored any lost faith I had on today’s kids and their ability to excel at science, technology, engineering and math. And I’m proud that EPA is playing a part in recognizing them!

About the Author: Mike Gill works in the EPA Region 9 office as a liaison between the staff working on Superfund hazardous waste cleanups and researchers in our EPA labs nationwide.

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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Historic Green Space

The main entrance of 290 Broadway in downtown Manhattan.

By Elias Rodriguez

Even as a skeptical native of Manhattan it was difficult not to be impressed by the meticulously planned office building at 290 Broadway where EPA’s New York offices are based. The 30-story granite-colored structure is sandwiched  in the Big Apple’s downtown area a mere stone’s throw from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall and directly across from 26 Federal Plaza, its older, hulking sibling, which houses a similar beehive of alphabet soup agencies. Although the floors EPA occupies are managed by the U.S. General Services Administration and not EPA, we won’t quibble among feds. After all, we have the same uncle. Little did I suspect when I reported to work that this building has many stories to tell.

Unlike our cousins at EPA’s Washington, D.C.  headquarters, we occupy a relatively new edifice, which was originally designed and constructed in a manner sensitive to the environment and its impact on society. Opened in 1994, the 1.2 million gross square foot locale was dedicated to Theodore (Ted) Weiss (September 17, 1927–September 14, 1992), an eminent New York congressman who represented the area.  What are some of the building’s green features? Wind Power? Check. Energy-efficient lighting? Check. Our building literally speaks to us. “20th floor, bing, going up, 17th floor, bing, going down,” the elevator considerately declares for the visually challenged. Children who come to visit are intrigued by the elevator voice.

To add to its significance, 290 Broadway literally rests on holy ground. During excavation for the site, the remains of over 400 slave and free African Americans were discovered. As a consequence, the lobby and portions of the exterior make up parts of the African Burial Ground National Monument. The human remains were given a permanent resting-place there during a traditional reinternment ceremony October 4, 2003. Visitors and workers alike are mesmerized by the inspiring artwork and exhibits. Frank Bender’s “Unearthed” and Houston Conwill’s interactive “New Ring Shout”are only a few of the masterpieces that speak about America’s pain and passion for freedom. As a Nuyorican with African American, Spanish and Taino bloodlines, I could not be prouder to walk through our lobby every day. The U.S. National Park Service administers tours of the site, which serves as a powerful link between generations of Americans. Coming to work at EPA was already a fulfilling mission, but this skyscraper makes it a privilege abounding with noteworthy dimensions.

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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Life Along The Colorado

By Kasia Broussalian

A sense of adventure runs deep in my blood. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and onto the proverbial “open road.” I set off on that road for a few sweltering months in the summer and fall of 2009. With my last undergraduate class just behind me and a passion for community-based issues, I set out. My goal: to document populations living along, and dependent on, the Colorado River. The idea grew out of an interest I’d developed in water; an interest that began with an environmental policy class I had taken two years earlier. The differences among the people I encountered were staggering; from urban skate park teenagers and leggy accounting majors handing out drink coupons, to onion pickers and a Hoover Dam engineer.

I traveled along the Colorado River, from origin to delta, photographing the livelihoods of the communities thriving on this life-providing resource. My time spent along the shores of the river made me realize that while the Southwest is unlikely to run out of water anytime soon, it will run out of cheap water in the coming decades. How will this affect the communities dependent on its precarious flow? That is the underlying theme of my documentary.

Embedded in each of these communities is a unique sense of self. Though they vary drastically from one another, in another sense they are alike: all are completely reliant upon that one necessary resource, the Colorado River.

But, my main question still remains: once something as necessary and vital as water begins to change and become more expensive, what are these places going to look like? What will we lose in terms of culture and history as populations pick up and move on?

To view my documentary, please visit and click “Multimedia &Video”, “Life Along the Colorado.”

About the author: Kasia Broussalian is a Public Affairs intern for EPA Region 2. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree at New York University, and has been with the agency since 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.

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.

A Summer with Asthma: Face the Challenge and Outsmart the Condition

By Molly Hooven

Summer heat is here, the air quality is diminishing and the asthma triggers are beginning to strike my family and possibly yours as well. Asthma can play a big role in your life but it’s important to remember that it should never slow you down.

I remember, as a young girl, when the ambulance came to my house and my uncle had to be given oxygen because he had a severe asthma attack. My uncle is my role model and he has asthma. What many people may not realize is that many of their role models have asthma too!
Did you know that Redskins player Chris Draft, first daughter Malia Obama and nearly 7 million children across the U.S. have asthma? You can still accomplish great things while managing asthma!

One of my greatest accomplishments is being able to manage my asthma and still play volleyball. On one hot July day I competed in an outdoor match when there was barely enough good air to breathe just standing on the sidelines. My competitive nature led me to overlook the Air Quality Index and soon the surrounding area started to blur.

Panic rose upon my face and tears began to spill as my throat was quickly closing and it felt like trying to breathe through a straw.
While I didn’t avoid the unhealthy air, which is a known asthma trigger, I did have a plan. Quickly I used my inhaler, sat in the shade, and rehydrated. People are going to have asthma attacks; the key is to have a plan!

Part of your plan should be to understand and recognize what your triggers are. Particulates (soot) and ozone (smog) are outdoor asthma triggers I faced in my game but there are also indoor triggers such as dust mites, molds, cockroaches and second hand smoke.

The main asthma trigger at my house is actually part of our family — our yellow lab. Since we can’t get rid of her pet dander, which is another asthma trigger, we take alternative actions such as not allowing her in bedrooms and brushing excess hair outside.

Those with and without an asthma condition need to understand potential triggers during the summer, develop a plan if faced with an attack, and realize that you’re not alone. If James Monk, Jerome Bettis, my uncle and I can succeed with an inhaler by our side—so can you!

About the author: Molly Hooven joined the EPA in November 2010 as a SCEP intern. She recently earned her M.B.A. from Mount St. Mary’s University and has an undergraduate degree in Communications.

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.