Monthly Archives: December 2011

Asthma Awareness Project in Puerto Rico

By Carmen Torrent

Recently, I had a respiratory problem and had to use an inhaler to breathe better. It’s very difficult to describe the sensation of helplessness that I felt because I never experienced something like that before. I was very lucky because I was with two of my colleagues who knew what to do due to their training. That experience has increased my passion to continue my outreach efforts at EPA educating the Latino community about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and asthma management.

I am the EPA project officer working with a Turabo University in Puerto Rico project led by Dr. Teresa Lipsett. This project, Indoor Air Quality Champions in Puerto Rico, is funded by EPA. Dr. Lipsett and her team of students, teachers, and volunteers are known for their enthusiasm for increasing the knowledge about indoor air quality (IAQ) and asthma management in public schools in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world; about 30% of Puerto Rican children have asthma.

Among the main objectives of this project are: increase the number of public schools with effective indoor air quality management practices and plans based on the EPA IAQ Tools for Schools program; create an asthma friendly environment; transforming school teachers into IAQ champions thru IAQ education and support; and build local capacity to create and sustain and IAQ programs in participating schools.

The University of Turabo team translated the IAQ Tools for Schools guidance and adapted it to the Puerto Rican culture to be used at participating schools. As part of this project, team members conduct IAQ trainings, host educational panel and conferences, created ecological clubs (EKOLOG), maintain a Facebook page, and have recorded plays available on You Tube.

During the first year of this project Dr. Lipsett and her team were able to educate more than 6,000 students, teachers and parents. By the end of the four year agreement UT expects to reach more than 38,000 students, teachers and parents.

The passion and devotion of the University of Turabo team are amazing. Their dedication overflows in abundance and even excites the children. Watch this video of students singing about improving their school’s indoor air quality to the tune of Puerto Rican style Christmas carols.  I’m proud to be part of this effort.

You can find more information about this project online at Asthma Community Network.

About the author: Carmen Torrent a public affairs specialist in EPA’s Office of Indoor Air.

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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Proyecto de concientización sobre el asma en Puerto Rico

Por Carmen Torrent

Recientemente tuve un problema respiratorio y por primera vez tuve que utilizar un inhalador. La sensación de impotencia es algo difícil de describir. Por suerte dos colegas sabían qué hacer y me ayudaron. Después de estabilizarme, recuerdo como una de ellas me decía: “ahora sí que podrás identificarte con las personas que padecen de asma”. Definitivamente, esta experiencia ha aumentado mi deseo por seguir mis esfuerzos de alcance comunitario en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) educando a la comunidad latina sobre la calidad del aire interior y el manejo del asma.
Actualmente estoy trabajando con un grupo de la Universidad del Turabo (UT) en Puerto Rico dirigido por la Dra. Teresa Lipsett. Este proyecto Campeones en la Calidad del Aire Interior en Puerto Rico está auspiciado por EPA. Su propósito es aumentar el conocimiento sobre la calidad del aire interior y el manejo del asma en las escuelas. Puerto Rico tiene el índice de asma más alto en el mundo y alrededor del 30% de los niños son asmáticos.

Entre los objetivos de este proyecto está: aumentar el número de escuelas públicas con programas que implementen prácticas efectivas en el manejo de la calidad del aire interior basado en el programa de la EPA ( IAQ TfS, por sus siglas en inglés); crear un medio ambiente saludable para los asmáticos; convertir a los maestros en campeones de la calidad del aire interior a través de adiestramiento; y crear capacidad local para poder mantener un equipo de calidad ambiental en los interiores de cada escuela participante.

Para conseguir estos objetivos, el equipo de la UT tradujo la guía de las herramientas para tomar acción sobre la calidad del aire interior en las escuelas (IAQ TfS, por sus siglas en inglés) y la adaptaron a la cultura Puertorriqueña. Por medio de este programa los estudiantes, maestros y padres participantes tendrán conocimiento sobre la calidad del aire interior y el manejo del asma. Más importante aún estarán capacitados para tomar cualquier acción necesaria. Como parte de este proyecto sus integrantes ofrecen adiestramientos, mantienen al día una página de Facebook y también han grabado obras teatrales las cuales pueden ver en You Tube.

Durante este primer año del proyecto la Dra. Lipsett y su equipo han educado a más de 6,000 estudiantes, maestros y padres en Puerto Rico

La dedicación de este grupo es admirable. Vean este video donde los niños están cantando sobre cómo mejorar la calidad del aire interior en las escuelas con la melodía de los tradicionales aguinaldos al estilo puertorriqueño . Estoy muy orgullosa de ser parte de este gran proyecto que es muy beneficioso para la comunidad puertorriqueña.

Para más información sobre este proyecto visite

Sobre la autora: Carmen Torrent es especialista de relaciones públicas en la Oficina de Aire Interior de EPA.

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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New Year, New Student Challenge

By Alysa Suero

As 2010 winners in the Elementary School category, the students of Worcester Elementary were all smiles after the award ceremony!

The new year is soon here.  What opportunities await us as we turn the calendar?  If you’re a student leading a school group or participating in a class project to study and protect the Schuylkill River, the new year brings an opportunity to show off your project to a regional audience.

Nominations are now open for the 8th annual Schuylkill Action Network Drinking Water Scholastic Awards, and qualifying for consideration is easy!  All you have to do is lead or participate in a classroom lesson or outdoor project that improves the water quality of the Schuylkill River, a source of drinking water for approximately 1.5 million people.  Previous winning projects include building a campus rain garden, planting trees near a creek, and creating and filming short public service announcements about keeping our rivers clean.

Students in kindergarten through college are eligible for a prize, but only if you enter by March 2, 2012 in one of four age categories (elementary, middle, high school and college).  Teachers, students, parents and community members can nominate a class, an individual college student or a campus club!

The Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) is a collaboration of more than one hundred organizations and individuals, including EPA Region 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.  The goal of the SAN is to improve the water resources of the Schuylkill River watershed.

To learn more about the annual awards, including nomination criteria, or to nominate your class or student leader online, visit: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=v6qlnbcab&oeidk=a07e5425qmq59cca5d3

Remember, the deadline for nominations is March 2, 2012.

In the meantime, share your comments below about what you do to keep the Schuylkill River clean.

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

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Upcoming Weekend Activities

Assuming you’ve already completed all of your holiday shopping (a big assumption—we know), there are plenty of green activities both indoor and out this coming weekend to keep you busy! 

A Road Once Traveled Tour – Holding Central Park’s northern highlands was key in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 because armies could see their enemies approach as they sailed down the East River.  History buffs will love this tour of the Harlem Meer and its strategic environs. Saturday, December 17, 12:30 p.m. 

An Enchanted Evening: Winter Solstice Night Sky – Light candles as the sun sets early. Walk the old Putnam Trail while hearing about the history and folklore of the solar system. Saturday, December 17, 5:00 p.m. 

Christmas Bird Count – Spend the pre-holiday weekend out in nature, all while doing your part to support the bird population. The Christmas Bird Count is a nationwide bird census that helps conservation researchers track the long-term health of bird populations. Saturday, December 17, 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. and in Central Park on Sunday, December 18, 8 a.m.

The Value of Water: Sustaining a Green Planet – ‘The Value of Water’ is an art exhibition about the element on which all life depends. The exhibition is part of a larger conversation at the Cathedral about the global water crisis, and seeks to highlight the need for clean water as a requirement for civilization. Saturday, December 17, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. 

Nature Exploration Light Hike – Let an Urban Park Ranger introduce you to the hidden gems of Staten Island’s High Rock Park, including places often off limits to the general public. Because this is a light hike, you’ll have plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery of the park! Sunday, December 18, 11:00 a.m.

Wilderness Survival – Hopefully, you’ll never get lost in the woods. However, it wouldn’t hurt to learn some survival techniques just in case. Saturday, December 17, 1:00 p.m.

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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New Teacher Awards

Do you have a favorite environmental science teacher? What about a teacher that takes you outdoors, or better yet, brings the outdoors in to your classroom? Maybe your older brother or sister knows a teacher too. Tell them about the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Help them win by writing a letter of support telling EPA everything you are learning about the environment because of your teacher. If your teacher wins, they can get a plaque and $2,000! The deadline is Jan 31st, so don’t delay.

http://www.epa.gov/enviroed/teacheraward/index.html

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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Coral Condition Survey Continues

By Charles LoBue

Second installment by our NYC scientist reporting from EPA’s ocean survey vessel, the BOLD.

We spent the first eight days of BOLD operations deploying dive teams to 60 locations spread across the entire southern coast of Puerto Rico to collect data on the corals.  Information collected at each station included observations and measurements of the corals, fish, reef structure, and other characteristic biota.  Everyone makes three to four dives a day, and the operation is quite repetitive: dive – eat – dive – eat.  If you’re wet, it’s time to eat; if you’re dry it’s time to dive.

As repetitive as it seems, the reef conditions that we encounter as we go along are diverse, and each dive is interesting.  We’ve seen a broad spectrum of reef conditions from severely impacted to thriving and healthy.  We’ve seen corals being impacted by sedimentation and invasive lionfish; we’ve seen the endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals flourishing.  Of course, these are only subjective observations, and scientific review of the data, especially in relation to land-based sources pollution, is needed to better understand reef condition and possible causes.

For more information about EPA’s coral condition survey, visit: http://www.epa.gov/boldkids/index.html. Post your questions or comments and we’ll do our best to respond.

About the author: Charles LoBue is a biologist for EPA Region 2 Dredging, Sediment, and Oceans Team. He is an EPA-certified Chief Scientist for the Ocean Survey Vessel BOLD and is divemaster in EPA’s Scientific Diving Program, and has been actively involved in EPA ocean survey operations since 1998.

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: Tox21’s 10,000 Compound List

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

By Aaron Ferster

I’m a big fan of those “Top Ten” lists that come out at the end of every year. I like to track how many of my favorite movie critic’s Top Ten List of Films I’ve caught during the year (so far, I’ve seen most of them—and I’ve still got a couple of weeks to go before New Year’s Eve). The synopses included in the lists of Top Ten Best Novels of the year let me feel like I’m in the know about the latest literature, even though I’ve clearly spent more time at the cinema than at the bookstore.

But this year the most impressive “list” I’ve come across came out last week, when EPA and its partners from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the compounds to be tested as part of the collaborative Tox21 research program over the next couple of years

Only the list is slightly more robust than ten—it’s a 10,000 compound library.

The library contains chemicals covering a wide variety of classifications, including chemicals found in industrial processes, consumer products, and food additives, as well as human and veterinary drugs. A large number of reference compounds are also included to give researchers access to different toxicological or disease endpoints, duplicate compounds for evaluating test methods, and a small set of chemical mixtures for a pilot study.

“The Tox21 partnership integrates revolutionary advances in molecular biology, chemistry, and computer science to quickly and cost-effectively screen the thousands of chemicals in use today,” said Paul Anastas, Ph.D., the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

The compounds will be tested with a high-speed, robotic testing system that was unveiled early this year—the subject of a previous blog post here on Science Wednesday.  That means the tests will continue nearly nonstop, 24-7 until all the compounds have been analyzed.

Results of the tests will provide information useful for evaluating if any of the 10,000 chemicals have the potential to disrupt processes in the human body to an extent that would lead to adverse health effects. I’ll be sure to blog about those results once they start rolling in. But in the meantime, I’ll be at the movies.

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the senior science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and the editor of Science Wednesday.

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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Trying To Change A Lightbulb

By Amy Miller

Painstakingly I am switching from incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving CFLs.  One by one as bulbs burn out I twist in newly purchased energy saving bulbs.

I started in the bathroom, under glass sconces where you couldn’t really see the weird shape of the bulbs. Who needs aesthetics for the five minutes you brush your teeth.

Then I made the jump to one, just one, tubular bulb in the bedroom. No one told me these lights take a few minutes to get fully bright. I’d think to myself, “It wasn’t so dark in here last night when I was reading, I’m sure it wasn’t.”

Proud of my diminishing footprint, I spread CFLs to the dining room chandelier, porch lights, kids room, pretty near everywhere but the living room with its vintage chandelier. But then I started pondering the Mercury Question and quickly removed CLFs from places where they might get broken, like tippy end-tables and my 9-year-old’s night-table.

EPA’s website says if every American home replaced just one ENERGY STAR light bulb, each year we’d save enough energy to light 3 million homes and reduce energy bills by $600 million.

A lot of us don’t like CFLs because we are not used to the way they look, or we think the light is harsh and don’t know alternative hues are available. We also think they cost more. We forget that the CFL will last about eight times longer, and use a fourth as much electricity.

Funny thing. I was in Haiti recently, one of the poorest countries on earth. And guess what? They use CLF bulbs far and wide, where they have electricity. You know why? They can’t afford to pay extra. When most of the families can’t even afford shoes for their children, the economics play out differently. It’s not about conservation or climate change. It’s about stretching every penny.

At the school I visited, electricity comes from three sources: 1) solar panels; 2) public power that sometimes comes on from 2 to 5 a.m. or not at all and 3) a diesel generator, used for backup..

So the fact that a CFL will uses about a quarter of the electricity of a similarly bright incandescent means not only money savings over the life of the light bulb, but also an extra few hours of reading – or cooking – each night, before the solar-fed batteries are empty.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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‘Tis the Season to be Green

By Elias Rodriguez 

Ho-Ho-Ho! The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is up and New York City is bustling with “busy sidewalks, city sidewalks” filled with holiday cheer! The Big Apple during the holidays is right up there with Philadelphia on July 4th and Mexico on Cinco de Mayo. I mean, if holiday shopping is your thing, NYC is the epicenter of consumerism. It is more blessed to give than to receive, for sure, but since we are on the subject of shopping, let’s pause for a Green idea that will not break your budget. 

Rockefeller Christmas Tree

An enormous amount of consumer household waste ends up in landfills each year. EPA states that the volume of household waste in the United States generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – about 1 million extra tons. Have you noticed how much material it takes to keep that Barbie doll looking poised and cute until it’s time to unwrap the little darling? 

As a parent who works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, my own To Do list is rather lengthy. What toys require batteries and how do I plan to properly dispose of the old batteries? Which baubles have minimal packaging and how do I sort the waste materials that can be recycled. How can I re-use gift wrapping paper and those garish holiday gift bags? If I have any big ticket items to purchase, have I searched for the ENERGY STAR seal of approval to identify energy efficient products? If you celebrate the holidays with a tree, check with your local solid waste department and see what the plan is to place it curbside or bring it to the designated collection area for the mulch machine!

Reducing waste during the holiday season begins with you. Happy Holidays to all!

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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A Prairie Academic Eden

studentSurrounded by 100-year-old brick academic buildings, in the most remote part of the high school, there is an environmental sanctuary. At Highland Park High School in Highland Park, IL, our Green School Initiative (GSI) has turned dried up Kentucky Bluegrass into a thriving restored prairie ecosystem. With the direction and education from Howard Hill, science teacher at my school, my fellow GSIers and I have learned how prairies work and we are striving to make the optimal restored prairie. I have always worked to help the environment and this endeavor has really sparked my interest because of the beauty of prairie. Once prairie is restored the biodiversity of plants and insects increases up to 10X compared to the bluegrass.

The first step to fixing something is to understand it, right? The prairie ecosystem consists of three major parts. The first part is the primary producer, the native prairie grasses. From the lanky Canadian Rye to the crisp, colorful purple coneflower, plants like these immediately thrived. These native plants have roots that go more that 10 ft deep. Previously the Bluegrass’s roots burrowed three to five inches in the ground. The deeper roots help with storm water management for these old buildings. Also, the prairie is now a registered stop for migrating monarchs. With monarch habitat being destroyed daily in the Chicago region, this milkweed has provided an essential resting stop for hundreds of butterflies. Also, I love watching the grasses sway with the wind between classes.

Secondly, the green environment is home to rescued amphibians; primarily they are local turtles that are recovering from a bad home or from being hit by a car. Our ecosystem can house up to 8 turtles and currently houses 4. As the turtles recover, they are reintroduced into forest preserves like Ryerson woods or Prairie Wolf Slough.

Finally, recently introduced herbivores lurk throughout the secluded courtyard. These beasts provide fertilizer for the soil, and eggs for cooking class. Yes, in the prairie live three friendly chickens that the other students and I feed and care for.

The space is education, while aesthetically gorgeous. The small prairie is also a great educational tool for all of us because we can see and understand what we are learning in our environmental classes. Anyone can restore lands to their native topography. Native ecosystems will support more native species and will definitely benefit all communities.

Zacko Brint is a Senior at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, IL. He is the VP of the Student Senate, Varsity Tennis Athlete, and a leader of the Green School Initiative. He is also president of the Engaged Democrats Club. He loves foreign languages and the environment.

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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