Monthly Archives: August 2011

It’s a Boy! It’s a Girl! It’s an Environmentalist!

sanvideoBy Trey Cody

I remember being in grade school, and my school was having an Earth Day celebration.  This was my first encounter with being educated about protecting our environment, and it inspired me to do what I could to make a difference.

I did small acts then, like encouraging my family to recycle and reduce their water use. In high school, I pushed to implement a recycling program. In college, I became a Penn State Eco-Rep, and I teach students how they can live a more sustainable lifestyle.  Currently, I am a student intern in EPA Mid-Atlantic’s Water Protection Division.  All of these acts and the ones in between would not have been possible if I was not motivated when being educated on environmental protection from an early age.  EPA agrees that environmental education is vital in helping to conserve and protect our environment and takes time to recognize schools that make outstanding efforts to groom the next generation of environmentalists.

School may be out for summer, but students and schools in the Schuylkill River watershed haven’t taken a vacation from protecting their watershed.  Some of these schools recognize the importance of teaching the younger generations about environmental topics such as water conservation and pollution sources. And they are not only teaching but also modeling good practices in management of their own facilities.

For their part in protecting drinking water sources through educational programs, class projects, and land management practices, several schools, colleges, and universities were recognized at the 2011 Schuylkill Action Network Drinking Water Scholastic Awards. This event was hosted at Upper Perkiomen School District Education Center in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. In attendance was EPA Region 3 Deputy Regional Administrator Bill Early who spoke about the importance of environmental education. Some environmental acts that were recognized included: installing rain gardens, planting and repairing buffers, and testing water. Some students also created educational videos to educate the watershed community on why it’s important to keep our water clean.

Click on the picture above to watch a video overview of the 2011 Schuylkill Action Network Drinking Water Scholastic Awards. Click on the link to learn more about the Schuylkill Action Network and how they are promoting education and outreach.  Have kids at home?  How are you educating them about environmental protection? Leave a comment and let us know!

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 – Apps for the Environment: The New Way of Communicating Science and Information

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

Want to know the weather tomorrow, the next movie showing, or the latest Hollywood gossip? There’s an app for that! In the age of smart phones, answers are literally at your fingertips on your iPhone or Android device. There’s no need to scour the internet for solutions when you can simply download an app that will gather the relevant information for you in a user-friendly application on your phone.

Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I constantly hear of the developments and data that Agency researchers and scientists have produced. These scientists work diligently year around on protecting the environment and human health as outlined in Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Seven Priorities. What better way is there for communicating the resources and discoveries of EPA researchers than in an easy-to-use app on your mobile device?

challengebanner_MThe EPA Apps for the Environment Challenge invites software developers to use EPA data to develop apps so the public can understand or protect the environment in their daily lives. Want to know the air quality where you live or which cars have the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions? There could be an app for that!

EPA has a lot of data that is publicly available. This data includes information from the Toxic Release Inventory which tells you facilities that dispose of or release toxic chemicals, real time air quality monitoring, green vehicle guide that gives environmental performance guides for vehicles, a Superfund website, and chemical toxicity information from the ToxCast database. Because these datasets are overwhelming for those with less technical and scientific knowledge like me, EPA held a series of webinars where data owners explained the information.

If you’re like me and don’t know the first thing about developing an app, you can still participate by submitting ideas for apps. These ideas are useful in providing developers and researchers a window of insight into the needs and wants of the public.

For more information and rules, visit the Apps for the Environment website. The deadline for submissions is September 16. In the meantime, you can find out the latest information on Twitter, just search #greenapps.

About the Author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Cleaner Clothes Don’t Have to Equate to a Dirtier Environment

(EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Pooja Shah

Thanks to the dry cleaning industry, cleaning our clothes is a simple two-step process: drop off and pick up. But the science behind the machines, a mystery to nearly all consumers, is much more complex. The most widely used cleaning agent, called perchloroethylene, is a colorless liquid that evaporates quickly. Also known as perc, this reusable liquid is volatile, stable, and nonflammable; all these benefits result in perc being used by about 90% of all cleaners.

The actual cleaning of clothes is a five-step process: tagging and inspection; pre-treatment; dry cleaning; post-spotting; and finishing. But, it is the third step that is most important and incorporates the use of perc. A monstrous cleaning machine pumps perc, instead of water, through the clothes like a regular washing machine.

For all its ease and ability to clean clothes, perc adversely affects our health and environment. It is possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, and eye irritation. Repeated exposure to high levels can also cause liver damage and respiratory failure. 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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Blue and Gold Make Green: A High School Recycling Success Story

By Tess Clinkingbeard

I was always interested in the environment, but I never imagined that this curiosity would result in my being a student intern at the EPA!

It all started when my high school’s Green Team won the President’s Environmental Youth Award and two representatives, from the EPA office in Seattle, came to our school to present our award.

Out of all the PEYA contestants last year in Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, Tahoma’s Green Team was selected to have done the best job of improving our community’s environment.

From September 2009 to December 2010, Tahoma High School began five specialized recycling programs, for everything from Styrofoam to batteries—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Led by Green Team President, Cort Hammond, Tahoma’s Green Team was able to do two adopt-a-road events, initiate food waste recycling at our school and become a Level One Green School. We were able to save the school district $24,000 through lunchroom recycling.

Tahoma’s Green Team Motto, “Blue and Gold Make Green!” after the school’s colors, is a perfect summation of the transformation that has occurred. As you approach the school, there are five solar panels on the front, which generate some of the energy we use every day. There are recycling bins in every classroom, posters about how to sort waste in the lunchroom and every light switch has a reminder sticker about turning off the lights when leaving the room. The student store and coffee stand have compostable cups. Green Team is working on extending that to utensils and reusable dishes.

All of our hard work paid off in the form of a National PEYA Award. When we received our award, we were also notified about summer internships, and, after an interview and a lot of paperwork, I was working at the EPA! I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work so closely with those on the frontlines of the battle for environmental justice. The EPA’s summer internship program is an amazing opportunity to gain real life experience.

About the author: Tess Clinkingbeard is a Senior at Tahoma High School, and is now a Co-President, along with Cassandra Houghton, of the Green Team. She is currently interning at the EPA’s office in Seattle and aspires to go into environmental studies and Spanish.

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

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Bike Commuting Provides an Alternative to the Morning Grind

By Walter Mugdan

For nine years I’ve been using a folding bicycle for part of my daily commute. I live in northeast Queens, five blocks from the Long Island Railroad. I ride from home to the LIRR, fold up the bike, put it in a carrying bag and board the train. At Penn Station I carry it backpack-style up to street level. I unfold it, hop on and ride about four blocks to the Hudson River Park bike path, where I can cruise downtown away from car traffic. At the other end I have a few more blocks on the city streets to get to my office.

The bike commute has been a wonderful change after 27 years of riding the subway. I didn’t have the discipline to go to the gym regularly, but the 20 minutes I ride most mornings and evenings are enough to keep me in good shape. I’m not tempted to skip a day; the bike commute is so much prettier and more relaxing than the subway that I feel disappointed when weather prevents me from riding. 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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Ultraviolet Radiation: Bring Out The Suntan Lotion, But What About Your Eyes?

By James Young

I thought that I could see reasonably well when I went to renew my driver’s license in December, 2007, at age 74. When I took the vision test I could barely see the objects in the vision box. I had to have my eyes examined. I made an appointment, but before my appointment date I drove to a conference in Philadelphia, PA. When we arrived in Center City we were on the lookout for our hotel. My wife could read the marquee two blocks away and I could not make out the name. I had to have two surgeries; a macular hole in my retina was repaired first, followed by cataract surgery two years later. Maryland licenses are now good for five years. Supposed I had gotten my license a year earlier, blindness would not have been seen lurking down the road.

Most of us are aware of the harm that Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can do to the skin, but may not realize that it also harms the eyes. Approximately 20.5 million Americans age, 40 and older, have cataracts, the leading cause of blindness worldwide. What is a cataract? It is a condition in which there is gradual clouding of the eyes’ natural crystalline lens. This lens assists with focusing onto the retina, which communicates images to the brain. Cataract extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed in the US, accounting for more than two million procedures each year.

There are plenty of opportunities for overexposure of UV rays to the eyes in most outdoor activities. Without the wrap-around sunglasses and a hat/cap the UV rays could reach your eyes. Consider golf, tennis, boating, fishing, skiing, baseball, driving with your sunroof open or convertible top down. Without adequate protection, you increase your chances of developing cataracts.

I was fortunate to catch my cataract in time and pass this information on to my children and grandchildren so that they can start early–protecting their eyes from the harmful rays of the summer sun.

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.

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Congratulations to our First Photo Contest Winner!

Congratulations, Nevin Cohen; you’ve been selected as our winner for this month’s “A Greener Apple” photo contest! Your photo will go into our collection for this year’s Ecology: A Look at New York City. Ecology is a documentary photo project and year-long contest with monthly winners that seeks to increase awareness and environmental stewardship throughout the New York metro area. In December 2011, submissions will be compiled and linked on the EPA Region 2 website for everyone to peruse and appreciate the environment around us. Next summer we plan to host an honorary photo exhibit of the monthly winners in the lobby of our building at 290 Broadway.

A short blurb from the photographer about the photo:

In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot green roof organic vegetable farm atop a warehouse building. With gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline, the farmers at Eagle Street supply a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, an onsite market, and they bicycle fresh produce to area restaurants. In addition, the farm hosts educational and volunteer programs. In this photo, taken at the start of the growing season, volunteers tend to the “fields” planting and weeding. The photo (shot with a Lumix LX-3) was meant to illustrate the varied ways urban agriculture can be woven into the fabric of even the densest cities. Green roofs reduce stormwater runoff, conserve building energy, and create habitat for insects and birds, while providing a source of fresh vegetables to the community.

Our contest continues next month, and September’s theme is, “Urban Waters.” Submit your photos starting September 1st 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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Meeting Tribes in Montana!

By Leah Tai

I was energized as I woke up at 4:30 am, grabbing my bag and a handful of almonds before heading to catch my flight to Billings, Montana. After three months of assisting and learning about my branch’s grant program to provide infrastructure to Native American Tribes, I was finally going to meet tribal recipients of this funding!

After college I traveled in Asia and South America before joining the Peace Corps in West Africa, and I always found that my favorite experiences involved chatting with locals about their community (or simply attempting to learn “Hello” in a new dialect). The personal connections and cultural understanding that comes from hearing the stories and seeing the favorite places of a new acquaintance­­ is irreplaceable. In Montana, I would have the opportunity to meet members of various tribal nations, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, among others, at an EPA training to improve operation and management of tribal water and wastewater infrastructure.

On the first day I immediately took a liking to one of the few training participants, Tina, as she abruptly interjected with opinions and comments gained from 13 years of experience managing the water system in a town of 250 people on the Fort Peck Reservation. Throughout the next three days, Tina never failed to make her voice heard. She and other participants slowly began interacting with one another, realizing they had lots of knowledge and experience to share. One tribal operator was surprised and excited to hear that a neighboring reservation had their own equipment to lift out well pumps in order to do maintenance and started discussing future contact and mutual support. Others discussed their communities’ resistance to increased water and wastewater rates, realizing that they face similar challenges in educating their neighbors and elders about the true cost of clean water. Two members of the Crow Water and Wastewater Authority were happy to give us a tour of their federally funded wastewater lagoon; lagoons were a popular topic during the training because many tribes in the region use them but not all knew about the regular maintenance steps they require.

It was inspiring to talk, learn and work with tribal members on improving their water and wastewater systems. I fell in love with Big Sky Montana but was happy to get back to DC on Monday and continue working to help these underserved communities.

About the author: Leah Tai began her ORISE Fellowship in May of 2011 working with the Sustainable Communities Branch in the Office of Wastewater Management. After extensive travel abroad and work with the U.S. Peace Corps, Leah is excited to work with SCB programs supporting underserved communities around the U.S.A.

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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Dangers of Being a Couch Potato

By Sarah Bae

Back in High School, after a long day of grueling study, I would come home to flop on the couch in front of my computer and spend hours doing nothing. Sometimes my whole family would spend large parts of our vacations and weekends relaxing in front of the TV. Besides the calories accumulated from constant snacking during these times, we never thought there were possible health risks associated with our practice. But, there is one danger that enjoying the comfort of your couch can cause – the danger of indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be especially detrimental to older adults because studies show that they spend up to 90% of their time indoors. Indoor air is made up of a mix of contaminants such as secondhand smoke, fumes from household cleaning products, and more. Indoor contaminants can be dangerously toxic, especially to those already at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces can create smoke that contains fine carbon particles which can trigger chest pain, palpitations, fatigue, and more while household products like the vapors from cleaning products, paint solvents, and pesticides can stress the lungs and heart. If your home was built before 1978, you should also make sure that there are no more traces of lead-based paint, as traces of lead can cause serious health hazards like high blood pressure. Furthermore, victims of pesticide poisonings show symptoms such as arrhythmia, a very slow pulse, or in severe cases even heart attacks. To decrease your chances of exposure to these risks, tell smokers to take it outdoors, and limit the use of wood burning stoves and fireplaces. Also use caution when working around the house by improving your ventilation when indoor painting is taking place – open the windows and take frequent fresh air breaks. Leave the house for a few days after the painting has been completed as well. Also, be careful when using pesticides and always take protective measures such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Change clothes and wash hands after exposure to pesticides and wash the exposed clothes separately.

About the author: Sarah Bae is a summer intern for the EPA’s Office of Public Engagement. She is a rising senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Society and Environment.

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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Invasion of the European Water Chestnut!

waterchestnut1

By Gwen Supplee

I’d like to tell you about alien invaders…no, not Martians from outer space, but plants from the other side of our own planet.  In this case, it’s not an unidentified flying object we’re worried about, but an invasive floating plant.

The European water chestnut (Trapa natans) is an invasive, partially submerged aquatic plant that was introduced to the U.S. in the 1920s from Eastern Europe. It has spread through watersheds within the Chesapeake Bay watershed such as the Potomac River, Sassafras and Bird rivers of Maryland, and the lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  Recently, it has begun to impact smaller, local watersheds closer to EPA’s Philadelphia regional office where I work, such as the Perkiomen Creek Watershed in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Why should you care – aren’t water chestnuts those yummy things that you can find in Chinese food? Not these water chestnuts! The European water chestnut consists of multiple rosettes, with long cord-like stems that can be as long as 16 feet, forming dense floating mats and making the waters  a pain for boating and fishing. As if impeding your recreation out on the open water wasn’t enough, the seedpods typically have four barbed spines that are sharp enough to penetrate shoes as you scamper in the shallow waters of impacted areas. Ouch!

waterchestnut2As far as the native ecosystem is concerned, the floating foliage severely limits the passage of light into the water, reduces oxygen levels in the water, and reduces growth of native aquatic species, all of which are needed to maintain a well-functioning aquatic ecosystem. And these water chestnuts are definitely not good to put in your salad or stir fry.

How prolific is this invasive plant? Each plant produces up to 20 seedpods per rosette and each seedpod can live for up to 12 years. In one year, one plant can produce 300 new plants! European water chestnuts prefer slow-moving and nutrient-rich waters, like man-made or natural ponds, and shallow creeks. The water chestnut begins to flower in late July.  The nuts ripen one month later and seed production continues into the fall.

What can you do to help stop the spread of these invaders? If there is European water chestnut (or other invasive aquatic plants) where you recreate:

Remove the aquatic plant from all parts of your boat, trailer, fishing gear and accessory equipment. Dispose of the removed material in the garbage.

Drain all water from your boat including your bilges, live wells, buckets and other water containers before leaving the water access area.

Wash your boat and gear thoroughly with regular tap water when you get home. Flush water through any part of the boat that contained water from the waterway including motor’s cooling system, live well and any other area that holds water. Dry equipment and boats in a sunny location before using them in a new body of water.

Volunteer with your local watershed organization if there is European water chestnut where you live.

waterchestnut3I recently had the pleasure of joining the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, which is organizing hand-pulling parties all summer long, in order to remove the plant before it begins to flower and go to seed. Not sure whether you have a watershed organization where you live?

You can surf your watershed to find out. The best way to keep invasive plants out of our waters is to be informed about what species are a threat in our region and in the rest of the country.  Do you know of invasive plants in the waters where you live and recreate?

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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