Monthly Archives: August 2011

Science Wednesday: Emerging Science

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

By Dimetrius Simon

Recently I attended “Emerging Science for Environment Health Decisions” conference as a student contractor to the EPA.  I had just started and this was a new opportunity for me to hear first-hand from scientific experts about the advances that are emerging for new tools and improved approaches in environmental health decisions. For me, it was an introduction to the world of science.

Coming from a job at the Washington Post, this science conference once again opened my eyes to the intricate and fascinating study of environmental science that I can recollect from my college days. Not only did I find it intense and exciting at the same time, I also felt a keen sense of comfort as I sat amongst a room full of scientists taking notes on presentations some of which I may have had little experience on, but great interest in learning more about.

As I listened to Lesa Aylward – principal at Summit Toxicology – talk about Biomonitoring and how this exposure tool is useful when particular chemicals are widespread and frequent in a selected population; then I heard EPA’s Dr. Thomas Knudsen’s talk about predictive models with liver tumors and rat fertility. It occurred to me that a mobile App would be a great tool to demonstrate some of these concepts.

As EPA evolves in the mobile world and attracts a bigger audience, I think that there’s no better way to allow EPA scientists to display cool graphs that depict their latest scientific findings than on an App. We live in a fast and mobile society and easy access to relevant and quick new information is a must. Having a mobile App to enable scientists, professionals and students to share their cool findings, photo galleries, data and graphs, would be very intriguing.

In fact, I think , after listening to this conference, and seeing the passion of these scientists, that it’s a wonderful feeling to see how working on the smallest things and using them to create something much bigger could potentially save a life, a community or even bring us a step closer to a cure or prevention. I feel like my awareness of this “science” in my everyday life will improve the decisions I make as I try to attend as many more EPA conferences to learn as much as possible about the world of environmental science.

About the Author: Dimetrius Simon is a student contractor working with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

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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My Journey to Mid-town Earth for Water (Part 2 of 2)

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City’s  Water Tunnel No. 3 has yet to supply one drop of drinking water to the population, nevertheless it is already a world renowned marvel of engineering and water infrastructure savvy. The project is MASSIVE. The water tunnel has already been featured documentaries, magazine spreads and even had a starring role in a Bruce Willis feature film. Guess which one?

As I descended into the darkness to take a tour of the cacophonous capital construction project, I marveled at the foresight it took on the part of elected officials to say YES to a gargantuan investment with little short-term gain, but with a payoff that will yield safe, clean drinking water for generations of thirsty New York residents and visitors.  Through six mayors and $6 billion the public works project inexorably presses on.

Clickety, Clank, Clickety, Clank, went the tiny hoist that took us down to the work area hundreds of feet below. In the darkness, I made a quick mental inventory of my life insurance policy. Sweating under a hard hat, my first impression was how damp and muddy things were. Maybe as a Lord of the Rings fan I was expecting Persian rugs and tea? We met tunnel workers or sand hogs as they are proudly known, avoided getting run over by work trains and learned about metamorphic rock. One caveat is that down under one cannot escape the endless supply of tunnel humor. When is a boring adventure not boring? Did you hear the one about schist rock?  My spelunking sojourn was exciting, educational and eerie. The City has its own slideshow here. 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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Going Back to School…Go Green!

By Wendy Dew

Start off the new school year with a pledge to go green at school. There are many things you can do to go green:

  • Before starting a new school year, sort through the school supplies on-hand. Many things, like notebooks or pens and pencils, can be reused or recycled. You can share your used books and other school supplies with friends, relatives, or younger schoolchildren.
  • If you are purchasing new school supplies, look for items made out of recycled materials. Did you know you can get pencils made out of recycled jeans or money!
  • For school proms, dances, or other events, decorations and other supplies can be borrowed or rented. If you buy these supplies, try adopting a theme that can be used from year-to-year, so that you can reuse them.
  • Many schools reuse text books to save money and reduce waste. Covering your textbooks with cut-up grocery or shopping bags helps reduce waste and keeps your books in good condition.
  • If you buy lunch, take and use only what you need: one napkin, one ketchup packet, one salt packet, one pepper packet, one set of flatware. Remember to recycle your cans and bottles, and separate your waste if your school has separation bins!
  • Help your school start or improve an existing recycling/composting program. Several earlier blogs on this site have examples of schools that successfully went green!
  • Create school hall monitors that patrol for lights out in rooms not being used…you could even give your teachers report cards on how energy efficient they are!

To find out more about what you can do to go green while going back to school check out our healthy school resources.

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

My Journey to Mid-town Earth for Water (Part I)

By Elias Rodriguez

I am not a Hobbit, but I have travelled deep into the Earth in search of adventure, mystery and a look at how New York City is working to keep the population’s drinking water secure, safe and clean.

The two reservoir systems that supply the City drinking water are the Catskill/Delaware watershed west of the Hudson River and the Croton watershed east of the Hudson. Getting all that water, about 1.4 billion gallons a day, give or take a swiggle, to nine million thirsty people is a fluid feat.  In the Big Apple, a big part of the drinking water story is 800 feet underground, far beneath the pitter patter of pedestrians. The vital public works project, sight unseen, is City Water Tunnel No. 3.

At the invitation of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, I had the opportunity to tour water tunnel No. 3, the largest capital construction project in New York City’s history. Water tunnel No. 3 will supplement the water supply currently provided by water tunnels No. 1 and No. 2.  Way back in 1954, the City envisioned the need to construct a third water tunnel for City residents. Thanks to years of intelligent infrastructure investments, actual construction of the water tunnel began in 1970. When completed in 2020, the 60 mile long tunnel will supply the City with drinking water from the Upstate watershed. For my fellow Public Administration aficionados, please note that City officials are spending money, OMG!, for something that will not produce revenue for 50 years. 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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Are You A STAR For Energy Efficiency?

By Brittney Gordon

These days just about everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame. And in 2011, you don’t have to be a movie star to get there. With over 2 billion views per day on YouTube, it is obvious that regular, everyday people are picking up their home video cameras and sharing their world with the online universe—and people are watching. As a former TV reporter, one would think that I would be all about posting personal videos on YouTube. But I must admit, taking random videos of myself and sharing them with the world has never been my thing. I guess I don’t think I have anything that interesting to share with millions of strangers. But this summer EPA is hosting a challenge that promises to give us all a taste of stardom—with a positive purpose. It’s called the Be an ENERGY STAR Video Challenge.

Are you one of millions of Americans who make choices every day to use less energy? Using less energy means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which helps protect our climate. This challenge is EPA’s way of thanking you and showing off the great things that you do. The hope is that by showcasing what you are doing, YOU can inspire others to change the world too.

So, what will your video feature? Are you changing out all of the lights at your home, school, church or business? Did you switch to washing clothes in cold water? We are looking for stories across the board, so pick up a camera and show us what you are doing!

This challenge is for people of all ages, so get the whole family involved. You can also feature what you are doing at your place of worship, your job or in your community. Just keep your video under 2 minutes long and upload it using the Share Your Story option. If you need a little inspiration, first click through the videos in the carousel. You will find examples from ENERGY STAR and great entries from regular people just like you.

All approved videos will be featured on Energy Star’s Change the World, and ENERGY STAR’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages. Starting September 17, 2011 we will have the online world vote for their favorite videos on Facebook and (drum roll please) those people will become the STARs of an EPA produced video released in October! We will release this video nationwide and we want it to go viral online! If you want to become one of the STARs of that video, you just need to send in an informative and unique video about your energy efficient feats. The deadline for submission is September 16, 2011.

About the author: Brittney Gordon has been a member of the communications team for the ENERGY STAR Labeling Branch since September 2010. The former television reporter manages ENERGY STAR’s social media pages.

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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Choose a Fountain Over a Hydrant for Casual Summer Cooldowns

By Kasia Broussalian

Summer heat waves in the city can be unbearable, and for those of us living with limited or no air conditioning, downright dangerous. While open fire hydrants offer a popular and nostalgic way of cooling off during these wretched afternoons, a city fountain offers the same relief without the dire possible consequences.

Opening a fire hydrant – which is illegal – wastes about 1,000 gallons of water per minute. That’s nearly as much as one household uses per year. Open fire hydrants put the city at risk for dangerously low water pressure; a critical strain on the fire department if water is needed to quell a fire. Not only that, but low water pressure also affects local hospitals and businesses as well. 

The strain on water resources aside, an illegally opened hydrant poses significant safety threats. The force of the water rushing out is enough to throw a child to the ground, with possible severe injuries. The force of such a stream also causes visual imparity for oncoming traffic, putting children and people splashing in the hydrant’s spray at risk. 

What’s a better alternative? Many parks throughout the city host some kind of fountain that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a sensible replacement for a hydrant—minus the water waste and threat of injury. Some of the most accessible fountains are at Washington Square Park, Columbus Circle, and outside the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but many more exist! In this photo, a young girl runs and jumps through a timed fountain in Battery Park, just avoiding the spray.

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.

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.

Preparing for Hurricane Irene

As Hurricane Irene approaches land, please prepare carefully. Even if you’re not in the affected area, this week’s events are a good reminder to brush up on disaster preparedness.

Here are some links to help you out.

Preparing
Ready.gov: this is the best place for most people to start. Especially check out their hurricane page (not a bad idea to review their earthquake page, too).

Remember that generator exhaust is TOXIC.  Always put generators outside well away from doors, windows, and vents. Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas. Carbon monoxide (CO) is deadly, can build up quickly, and can linger for hours. Read more.

General info from EPA about reducing risks to health and the environment from a hurricane.

Social media accounts to follow for hurricane information
Facebook

Twitter (hashtag #Irene)

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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Back to School: What’s Your Green Inspiration?

back-to-school-signBy Carly Carroll

This morning on my commute to work, I saw several students in uniforms. It’s August, so that can mean only one thing: it’s time for back to school. Going back to school was always one of my favorite times of the year: I loved shopping for new school supplies and I loved the first day of school: seeing all my old friends, finding out what classes we had together, figuring out who would be my new favorite teacher, and what would be my favorite class. By high school, I had that answer: it was environmental science. The experience I had in high school shaped my career path today: I became an environmental educator because I wanted to share the passion for protecting our environment that had been instilled in me by my high school environmental science teacher. As I see these students going back to school, I wonder which teacher will inspire them. Will it be their environmental science teacher? Or maybe their math, language arts, or history teacher?

Whoever it may be, it’s never too late to teach students about the importance of protecting the environment, even as we go back to school. Think about having a waste-less school year:

  • Re-use school supplies from last year, like pens, pencils, and binders. I know when I was in school, we had to have a binder for every class: use those binders again this year!
  • Use less electricity: turn off the lights when everyone leaves class. My all-time favorite classes were the ones where teachers took us outside to have class. Even in English class, we could write our essays outside (when the weather was nice, of course!)
  • Check out EPA’s Facebook and Twitter throughout September for back to more school tips, resources, and activities.

A lot of these tips can also help save money while helping the environment at the same time. What’s your green inspiration during back to school?

About the author: Carly Carroll is an Environmental Education Specialist with EPA’s Office of Environmental Education in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the office in 2011, she worked as a Student Services Contractor at EPA in Research Triangle Park, assisting with environmental education outreach.

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.

Criminal Enforcement: Protecting Our Nation’s Air, Land, and Water From Environmental Crime

Director-Henry-E.-BarnetBy Henry E. Barnet

When people think of EPA, they often think of Birkenstock-clad activists working to protect remote vistas. The image that doesn’t immediately pop into people’s minds is one of federal agents armed with the same power as the FBI to carry weapons, conduct search warrants, interview witnesses, and make arrests. The reason EPA has a team of federal agents? Environmental crimes aren’t petty.

Take last year’s case against a facility in Port Manatee, Fla. that receives and ships materials, like fertilizer, by railcar, truck and ship. I was in my former position as head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s law enforcement division and we investigated the case jointly with EPA. We found that the company was illegally releasing particulate matter when they were loading and unloading materials. Particulate matter is an air pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act because it can get deep into the lungs, causing serious respiratory problems.

We also found that the company’s local managers and supervisors falsely certified that they were operating their air emissions control equipment in accordance with regulations, when they knew that they were not being operated or maintained properly. For this knowing violation of the law, the company was fined $1 million and put on probation for two years. If the case had been against an individual (versus a company) it could have led to jail time.

Whether we are card carrying environmentalists or people who don’t entirely understand what an environmentalist is, we need to expand the conversation on environmentalism beyond the Birkenstock stereotype. The health of the environment—or lack thereof— impacts each and every one of us. And, when people knowingly violate the law and threaten the health of the environment, it is a crime that carries serious penalties.

I was honored to serve the citizens of the State of Florida and now, it is a great honor to be able to serve the country by working with EPA’s talented, dedicated, and diverse team of criminal agents, computer forensics experts, scientists, and lawyers to protect our nation’s resources, ensure that communities are healthy places to live, and make certain that would-be polluters think twice before breaking the law.

About the author: Henry E. Barnet is the new director of EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training

Help EPA fight pollution – report environmental violations

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.