Monthly Archives: August 2011

Upcoming Weekend Activities

Will the rain stay away this weekend? It better! There are too many reasons to get outside. Here’s a sampling.

Annual Community Family Day – Grab the kids or bring a friend and enjoy a free day of entertainment, food, music and more at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens! Saturday, August 20, 10 a.m. – 7p.m.

Astoria Park Shore Fest – Educational activities, live music, fitness programs and food-tastings with various neighborhood restaurants will make the final Astoria Park Shore Fest of the summer one not to miss. Sunday, August 21.

Bryant Park Moves with Limon Dance – Free dance classes led by former and current members of the internationally renowned modern dance company, Limon Dance. Saturday, August 20, 11 a.m. -12 p.m.

Freshwater Fishing in Clove Lakes Park – Master at the art of fishing with the help of experienced Urban Park Rangers. Open to families and children ages 8 years and older. Sunday, August 21, at 11 a.m.

Macy’s Fishing Clinics in Prospect Park – Children 15 and under will learn about the recreational sport of fishing, fishing safety, and fish-friendly techniques, while casting their lines on a spectacular summer day in the Park! Saturday, August 20, at 1 & 3 p.m.

NYC Summer Streets – Have you been out to Summer Streets this year? Don’t miss your final opportunity to experience the cornucopia of outdoor fun all along Park Ave. Saturday, August 20, 7 a.m. -1 p.m.

Parks’ Outdoor Summer Movies: E.T. – Enjoy a movie night on the lawn at J Hood Wright Park. Bring some chairs or blankets to sit back and relax while you watch a movie in the great outdoors. Saturday, August 20, at 8:15 p.m.

Feel free to add your own!

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: Watching the Government Process

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

By Claire Payne

I find our government fascinating because at first glance, it seems a giant organization that makes the rules for all of us. However, upon closer inspection, one can see the intricate web of Federal agencies mixing with our elected politicians, advocacy groups, scientists and other professionals, press, and an untold number of general and wonkish enthusiasts engaging on every issue.

As a summer intern for EPA, I’ve experienced the pleasure and challenge of navigating these multiple layers. I’ve learned that with every step along the way new questions and obstacles arise that must be analyzed and answered before eventually arriving at a satisfactory conclusion.

I recently attended a congressional hearing where EPA Assistant Administrator Dr. Paul Anastas was called to testify regarding EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Mingling with the EPA senior staff as well as with the dozens of people who were visiting Congress that day as either tourists or professionals was indescribably uplifting. This was our country at its best and here I am, a 21-year-old from the west coast, experiencing the finest of democracy’s ideals, first-hand.

I took my seat towards the back of the hearing room and waited with anticipation. Before me I could see the committee chair and members seated across three rows of seats that spanned the room. At once I noticed on the wall behind them an engraving with the quote,

“For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be” –Tennyson.

This quote resonated deeply with me throughout the hearing because it seemed extremely appropriate and fitting as IRIS program was discussed in such detail. Through IRIS, Agency researchers conduct chemical hazard assessments that provide scientific data to support EPA’s program offices as they make decisions on how to protect public health and the environment, now and for future generations.

It was a special privilege to observe these high caliber professionals engaging in this manner. I think that there’s no better way to learn about our future than to be thrust into the heat of such an important government process and experiencing it firsthand. I recommend to all you readers – if you haven’t yet attended a hearing, it is a must see event!

About the author: Claire Payne is a summer intern with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

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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I Came, I Raced, I Showered

By Elizabeth Myer

Rewind to Saturday, August 6 at 10 p.m. Instead of getting a few solid hours of rest like I had planned, I lay awake completely preoccupied. I’d been training intensely for the Nautica New York City Triathlon for months, meaning I was probably in the best shape of my life. Physically, I was ready to race at 6 a.m. the following morning. Mentally, I was not so sure.

I grew up training with a USA swimming club team and was accustomed not only to the concepts of individual competition and setting ambitious personal goals, but also to swimming in open water races. In what seemed like short fashion, however, my focus turned from swimming to my studies at NYU, and eventually to my career at EPA. While each of those things shaped me in a unique way, never before had my personal and professional lives intersected so sharply until July 20, 2011, when a fire at the North River Sewage Water pollution Control Plant in Harlem released hundreds of millions of pounds of untreated sewage into the Hudson River.

The author stands alongside the Hudson River just before the start of the race with her father Greg, also a triathlete.

After learning about the spill, my first reaction was to consult the news, which I admit, did little to calm my nerves. Swimming in untreated sewage can cause skin rashes? Ear infections? Ingesting the water may result in KIDNEY FAILURE, you say? Then came the announcement from New York City: Four popular city beaches were temporarily closed due to plumes of pollution. Additionally, the city issued health advisories for portions of the Hudson River, and people were cautioned against participating in water-related activities, such as kayaking, canoeing and swimming. 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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Students Fight Fire With Fire, And Stop An Invasion!

By Thomas Mendez

As an avid SCUBA diver in the Great Lakes region, I’ve seen firsthand how an invasive species can cause havoc in an ecosystem. Invasive Zebra and Quagga mussels now blanket the bottom of our Great Lakes. Because of their widespread proliferation without natural predators, it would seem that no solution is in sight. So, when I heard about Westborough High School’s effort to control their local invasive species with another predator species, I was intrigued.

Westborough is a community west of Boston that has a problem with the invasive purple loosestrife plant. This plant is quickly changing the balance of natural wetlands in the area by outcompeting native species. These aggressive plants originated in Europe and Asia. Here in the United States, there are no native predator species that can control purple loosestrife populations. The result is an invasive plant that spreads quickly, causes significant damage to wetlands, reduces native plant coverage and discourages diversity in the local ecosystem.

This is where the students of Westborough High School are making a difference. The environmental studies students, together with the Westborough Community Land Trust, are raising beetles. These aren’t just any beetles, but a specific species, Galerucella, that prey on the purple loosestrife. At first I was leery of this method of species control because the Galerucella beetle itself is not a native species. However, my trust in this method was renewed as I researched the efforts of these motivated students.

The Galerucella beetles the students are raising feed on purple loosestrife almost exclusively. Also, these beetles prefer purple loosestrife and will only reproduce on this plant even when other native species are available. It would seem that these two species’ fates are intertwined. As the beetles feed on the purple loosestrife, the population of purple loosestrife declines, the beetles are forced to move on to another area the purple loosestrife inhabits or naturally die off. Both the USDA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection have approved this method of bio-control and have been using it for some time now.

These students are learning valuable environmental lessons while helping to control their local invasive species. This winning combination, classroom education and real world experience that produces a cleaner and healthier environment, provides a lesson students will not forget.

About the author: Thomas Mendez is a Student Temporary Employment Program intern in the Air and Radiation Division in EPA’s Chicago office. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering and is currently finishing up his Master of Science in Environmental Engineering.

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 post.

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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Plastics – Still the Future?

(EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Adam Medoff

No, I don’t need a bag. Despite what cashiers think about my physique and general athletic capabilities, I swear I can carry my bagel and coffee the five blocks from the deli to my office. I don’t mean to put myself on the environmental pedestal (which happens to be located in an old growth Redwood tree and run by Rachel Carson and Julia “Butterfly” Hill…fyi). Plenty of non-eco-heroes decline plastic bags at checkouts every day. But should they even have the choice? In my hometown, San Francisco, we banned plastic bags back in 2007 and I cannot remember anyone complaining about our grave loss or reminiscing about the good ol’ days when plastic bags lined our landfills and beaches.

It’s fine, you say. Plastic bags are recyclable! Plus, even if they’re thrown out, they just go to a landfill. No big deal (though to be honest, if you are reading this blog and got the environmental pedestal joke, you probably don’t think it’s fine and at least think it’s a big-ish deal. But just play along for argument’s sake). Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case. Environmental issues constantly provide the most extraordinary examples of “ignorance is bliss,” and plastic bags are no exception. 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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Gardening With Water Use In Mind

By Amber Lefstead

This year, for the first time in my life, I purchased a gardening spade and seeds for my garden. I love a beautiful garden, but the task of creating and maintaining one has always been daunting. But from the moment I began, I fell in love with it. There is something so satisfying about gardening—feeling the dirt crumble between your fingers as you loosen the earth, planting a seed and watching it grow into a beautiful flower.

That’s not to say it isn’t hard work. It is. But, seeing your yard transform into something beautiful and beneficial for the environment makes it so rewarding. Before I started my garden, it was barren with a Magnolia tree stump in the middle. Now, it is full of flowers, ground covers, and mulch. The flowers feed the neighborhood bees, butterflies, and birds, while the ground covers and mulch blanket the soil, keeping it moist and cool.

After planting my garden, the real trick has been maintaining it. With this hot, dry summer in Washington D.C. , that has been no easy task. As temperatures rise during the peak water season, it’s a good time for everyone to consider their outdoor water use. Peak water season is usually late July and early August and is the time when residential water use is highest.

Water use was a big concern in creating my landscape. I work for the EPA WaterSense program and, among other things, I create educational materials for consumers on water-efficient landscaping, so I kept water in mind at every step:

  • I purchased low water use plants and seeds that would need minimal supplemental water
  • I amended sandy soil patches with compost to help hold moisture at the root zone
  • I loosened plants’ roots from their potting soil before planting to encourage deep root growth
  • I covered exposed soil with mulch to hold in moisture and minimize evaporation

I also make sure to water at night or in the early morning to minimize evaporation. And I water deeply and infrequently to encourage the plants’ roots to spread into the surrounding soil so they are resourceful and drought tolerant. In the next year or so after their roots establish, they should need minimal supplemental water beyond normal rainfall. I’ll let you know how that goes!

About the author: Amber Lefstead joined EPA in 2009 as the Outdoor Coordinator for the WaterSense program. Her recent low water use garden installation was inspired by her work at the Agency.

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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The Race is on – Tap Versus Bottled

The City provides public water fountains in order to promote tap water over bottled water. (EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Kasia Broussalian

If bottled water companies have their way, drinking fountains may go the way of the pay phone. This is a startling realization, as more and more public drinking fountains in office buildings, parks, and airports stand unused. The environmental impacts from a primary consumption of bottled water are astronomical, and, truth be told, the water in there is not all it’s cracked up to be. Is bottled water any better than the stuff that comes straight from your tap here in New York City? Not usually. Though labels claim that their water comes from fresh mountain springs, 25-40 percent actually comes directly from municipal water sources—in other words….it’s the same thing coming out of your tap. And you already pay for it. In addition, the Federal Drug Administration monitors bottled water quality, while EPA monitors the municipal source. Not to brag, but in many cases, our codes are stricter.

So far, it’s tap 1, bottled 1. Pretty evenly matched. But what about the sustainability aspect? Many people claim that plastic water bottles are recyclable, and therefore, not a strain on the environment. Silly people, even if everyone did recycle their bottles (they don’t, not even close) it’s not just the bottle itself that takes a toll. It’s the manufacturing, the trucking, the shelving and the marketing. At the end of each day, the U.S. has accumulated 70 million empty water bottles, 86 percent of which are not recycled.  To meet this demand for plastic, enough oil to keep 100,000 cars on the road for a year must be used. Now, think for just a minute—is all that worth it when you can pour the same, if not better, water right from your taps into a reusable glass?

Tap: 10, bottled: 1.

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 to Decisions from the OSV Bold

By Jeanethe Falvey

This week, scientists from EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, University of New England, and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve completed a water sampling effort along the southern coast of New England. Why?

Many asked when we were in Ipswich Bay off Essex, Massachusetts. We were thrilled that boaters took interest to the big blue ship; cautiously, but curiously approaching when we stopped to send down equipment. During boat to boat conversations from the back deck, they said they had never seen anything like the Bold before. It was a great opportunity to explain firsthand what we were doing, and why we have this research ship. When I said we were sampling water quality along the coastline they asked, “Is it ok for swimming?”

sampler

"OSV Bold uses a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) to measure water samples at different depths."

I explained for swimming yes. We were looking for something less obvious, sampling the bottom, middle, and surface depths further offshore compared to estuaries, or bays, more geographically enclosed areas where rivers and streams meet the sea. In this confluence of environments where fresh water sources and land meet the ocean, are there specific indications showing that our land-based activities are having too much of a negative impact in the coastal environment? Too much would mean that the natural environment can’t cope with the influx of pollutants and runoff from land. Examples of this can be algal blooms, or “fish kills.” More obvious to many would be closed beach days due to bacterial pollution in the water, that’s always from our sewage and runoff too.

This is why for the third year, we sampled for nutrients, specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen, and also for chlorophyll (plant matter in the ocean). Nutrients (commonly found in fertilizers, as an example) help plants grow. Excess amounts can cause algal overgrowth and deteriorate natural conditions, sometimes to the point where fish and other sea life cannot survive.

If we see trends from something specific like nutrients, then we hope to better inform decisions made on land: encouraging SmartGrowth and sustainable development, better sewage treatment, or generally raising awareness about more environmentally conscious day to day activities.

The Bold isn’t just an ocean going research vessel, it’s one of our best tools to study our natural world and use that science to inform how we protect our environment.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, based 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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Keeping Cool in Extreme Heat

By Alex Gorsky

I am lucky enough to be able to know my grandparents. My maternal grandmother lives in Florida while my dad’s parents live in the same town that I do. I get to see them all fairly often when I am not in school and they always want to know what I have been up to and what I plan on doing with my life. I tell them I am not quite sure but that I am interested in the environmental field. When I told them that I was going to be working for the Environmental Protection Agency they were happy for me. Even better, I was going to be working on the Aging Initiative, and would give them information about staying healthy in today’s environmentally conscious world.

One day I called up my grandmother in Florida and we began to talk about our summers, how hot it was, and her preparing for the hurricane season. As we’re talking about it, it struck me odd as to how much preparation there is before hurricane season, but practically no one pays attention to or adequate preparation is given for extreme heat events. An extreme heat event is when the temperature reaches at least 10˚ F above the region’s average high temperature. For example in Tampa, Florida it would be over 100˚ F and in Chicago it would be anything over 91˚ F Extreme heat events kills more people than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. All around the country this summer people have been experiencing extreme heat events. Fortunately, my grandparents have air conditioning, which is the best thing to use to prevent hospitalization due to exposure to excessive heat.

Unfortunately there are many people who live without air conditioning in areas with excessive heat. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent heat stroke and other illnesses caused by extreme heat events. You can visit an air-conditioned building in your neighborhood like a senior center, movie theater, or library. You could also take a cool shower. Drinking lots of fluids, not only when you are thirsty, is another easy way to prevent heat stroke.

Hopefully you will pass this information on to your grandparents too.

About the author: Alex Gorsky is an intern in the Office of Public Engagement. He is a senior at Beloit College majoring in Environmental Studies.

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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Deeper into the OSV Bold

"The OSV Bold off Ogunquit, Maine"

"The OSV Bold off Ogunquit, Maine"

By Jeanethe Falvey

There is so much more to this ship than meets the eye. On this research trip, I became enamored with a layer of this ship’s character that’s often overlooked.

Crew members frequently wear shirts defining “Bold” across the back. Talk to those who have been with this ship and it fits. It came to EPA as the USNS Bold (U.S. Naval Ship) and became the OSV Bold (Ocean Survey Vessel) in its second life. Though it has a better paint job and newer scientific equipment, it’s the same, strong, ship it always was. Considered safer and more versatile than its sister ships, because of the grit, sweat and dedication put into it day after day.

"Scientists deploy the rosette water sampler and CTD"

"Scientists deploy the rosette water sampler and CTD"

Some spend 11 months out of the year onboard, the Bold is home. Get them going and they’ll talk passionately about the biodegradable hydraulic oil they use to not harm marine life, saving and recycling the smallest bits and pieces. This ship opened their eyes to environmental protection they say. They love how it’s publicly accessible; admitting that being a small part of it makes them feel proud.

There’s “Chief,” who will quietly slip by, but is loaded with stories and more engine room time than most of us can fathom as chief engineer. He helped recover the Bold from Pearl Harbor’s “boneyard,” days before it became EPA’s vessel in 2004. You can see Warner’s dedication, looking quite at home in a blue mechanics suit and knee pads crawling within and maintaining the ships underbelly as it churns away better than most well oiled machines.

Descending into the engine room, I didn’t just walk down more stairs than I expected, I walked decades back into time.
Ear plugs muffled the noise, warm air blew. I thought I was in a different time entirely. Levers and knobs in the control room looked new but were built during or shortly after WWII. Engines looked just painted, the diesel tanks are coated from the inside out and redone as often as needed.

"OSV Bold, Chief Engineer, Gary Jenkins"

"OSV Bold, Chief Engineer, Gary Jenkins"

Walking into the heart of the Bold, I can appreciate how a ship acquires personality and how a crew grows so fond. “A ship dies from the inside out,” Chief says, “but an old truck maintained can still carry wood down the road.” I won’t jinx anything by saying more than this: the engineers say she’s got a lot of time left. Still going strong from a military to a civilian environmental job, here’s to hoping many steady years to come in her mission to better protect our environment; a great deal due to them.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, based in Boston, Mass.

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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