Monthly Archives: January 2012

Happy Lead Free Kids

Look both ways before crossing the sidewalk.  Don’t take candy from strangers. Don’t stick your finger in the light socket!

There’s a long list of things my parents told me to be afraid of when I was a kid, lead-based paint was never one of them. Maybe that’s why I was able to grow up without worrying about what was coating the swing set I played on and what kind of paint was on the walls in my room was because of the federal regulations and efforts made since the late 1970s to prevent children and adults from being affected by lead-based paint poisoning. It makes me sad to know that there are still so many children who are exposed to lead-based paint dangers in and near our homes. More than 1 million children are affected by lead poisoning today, and this is especially troublesome, in my opinion, because lead poisoning from lead based paint is 100 percent preventable.

We might not be able to make things better overnight and, as students and young adults, the scope of power to affect policy change may seem limited. Together though, we can help prevent lead-based paint poisoning. You’re probably asking how.  You do not have to donate money or start a march for the cause. Use social media and other technology to spread the word. It’s at our fingertips.  Just help by simply spreading the knowledge to your friends and family that lead in paint is still a problem in the US and that lead-based paint exposure can be prevented. Send an E-card on lead-safe practices or print out a poster and hang it in your room or at school. You can also find great prevention information and a neat web tool to help parents identify common danger zones for lead in older homes built before 1978. Check it out. Read about the facts and act on them.

http://www.epa.gov/lead/

Esther Kwon was an intern for the Lead, Heavy Metals & Inorganics Branch in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be graduating in the spring of 2012 from Smith College.

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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China Strives for Clean Waters with EPA

By Sasha Koo-Oshima

All over the world, developing countries are faced with the challenge of trying to grow their economies despite finite water resources. The U.S. government, including EPA, is helping countries address some of their most pressing clean water needs while trying to develop international markets for U.S. businesses that specialize in environmental technology. Last December, I traveled to China as part of a U.S. delegation to help China develop a long-term plan to maximize the country’s water resources in the face of a growing population and the potential impacts of climate change.

Our delegation included representatives from 20 U.S. companies, which consulted with Chinese government officials on a host of issues like water and energy efficiency, wastewater treatment and water reuse technologies. The impressive turnout by these companies shows a genuine interest in the growing Chinese marketplace. I’m enthusiastic that the Chinese government, which has set aside about $5.5 billion over the next eight years to develop a series of ground water-related strategies, has shown such strong interest in a growing sector of the U.S. economy.

The U.S. is already a world leader in producing advanced water technologies. According to the Department of Commerce, the U.S. environmental technology industry in 2008 generated approximately $300 billion in revenues, $43.8 billion in exports, and supported almost 1.7 million jobs. The U.S. share of foreign environmental technology markets has continued to grow and given the U.S. environmental technology industry a positive trade surplus for the past decade, and our work with the Chinese government is helping further the National Export Initiative, an effort by the federal government to expand overseas markets for U.S. businesses.

Above all, the most productive part of our meetings with the Chinese government centered around the exchange of ideas. Human capacity and knowhow, as much as any device or piece of machinery, is what’s needed to achieve any goal. I’m particularly excited about a partnership that’s developing between communities near Liangzi Lake in China and Minnesota Lake here in the U.S., where the two “sister lakes” are identifying strategies to help one another address common issues.

Business is all about relationships, and the relationship EPA is developing with China is not only helping China address some of its most pressing environmental problems, it’s enabling U.S. companies to take advantage of the growing global demand for environmental technology. And it’s all in the name of providing clean water to communities and businesses.

About the author: Sasha Koo-Oshima is the Senior International Water Policy Advisor for the EPA’s Office of Water, and has worked on China’s water quality and water resources development for nearly a decade. Sasha formerly served as the principal officer on water quality for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agency and in the Scientific Secretariat of the Organization for Economic Cooperation 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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Local Artist Warns about the Dangers of Radon

Even though today is officially the last day of National Radon Action Month, unhealthy levels of radon in households across the U.S. is an especially serious issue during cold winter months, when windows and doors are kept closed. EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck caught up with NYC resident and LaGuardia high school student Laura Dabalsa, the first place winner in the EPA and Kansas State University’s national Radon Poster Contest. In this candid video segment, the Regional Administrator explains that high levels of radon can be fixed simply and inexpensively so long as we all do our part to assist in promoting public awareness. Tune in to the clip below for a great shot of Laura’s poster, a fitting example of how art can be used educate the public on the dangers of radon.

[flv width=”480″ height=”351″]http://www.epa.gov/region02/mediacenter/video/2012_national_radon_poster_conest_winner_hires.flv[/flv]

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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Working Together to Reduce Radon Exposure

By Philip Jalbert

I am very excited and proud to be part of a small team of EPA employees that is taking on an issue that is important to me both professionally and personally. The project is unprecedented in that it addresses a serious health risk: radioactive radon gas. Radon causes lung cancer and kills more than 21,000 Americans every year. An aunt of mine died of lung cancer at 56 – neither she nor anyone in her family ever smoked.

Last summer, the Federal government announced a Federal Radon Action Plan for protecting families from this unseen hazard. It culminated six months of intense and collaborative effort among several major Departments and Agencies. We need more collaboration like this, something not seen often enough in the Federal government.

More than 20 years ago radon debuted as a public health issue when a nuclear power plant worker set off radiation alarms going to work – he had a very high radon level in his home! The plan is the first to take a coordinated long-term approach to reducing the health risk from radon across federal agencies. The plan will focus on the millions of homes and schools the Feds control or influence. We are hoping that our actions will motivate the private sector, state and local governments to take more action.

As a nation we’ve made progress, yet today eight million American households are exposed to more than 4 picocuries of radon per liter of air – EPA’s recommended action level. Last year about 124,000 Americans took action to reduce the radon level in their homes. America’s home builders included radon reducing features in nearly 17% of all new homes. r

We hope this unprecedented plan will make the radon risk more visible, spur action and help save lives; especially those of low-income Americans without the resources to reduce their risk. You can learn more about the plan on our Federal Radon Action Plan website.

I’ve been with EPA since 1983 and first encountered radon while serving the U.S. Navy nuclear submarine program four decades ago. My work on radon since 1989 has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Test your home, the life you save may be your own.

About the author: Philip Jalbert presently works in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division in Washington, DC.

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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Plan Federal de Acción contra el Radón

Por Philip Jalbert

Hay un interesante proyecto en el cual un pequeño equipo y yo estamos personalmente involucrados. Este proyecto sin precedentes aborda el asunto de un serio riesgo de salud. Se trata del gas radioactivo radón. El radón causa cáncer pulmonar y mata a más de 21,0000 estadounidenses cada año. Tenía una tía que murió de cáncer a los 56 años y ni ella ni nadie de la familia habían fumado nunca.

El verano pasado, el gobierno federal anunció un plan federal de acción contra el radón para proteger a las personas y a las familias. Este fue el producto de seis meses de intenso trabajo y colaboración entre varios departamentos y agencias importantes. Necesitamos más colaboración de este tipo, algo que no se ve a menudo en el gobierno federal.

Hace más de 20 años que el radón se destacó como un problema de salud pública, cuando un trabajador de una planta de energía nuclear activó las alarmas de radiación cuando iba a trabajar, ya que tenía un nivel de radón muy alto en su casa. El plan es el primero en tener tratar de reducir los riesgos para la salud debido al radón mediante un enfoque coordinado a largo plazo a través de las agencias federales. El enfoque del plan se concentrará en los millones de hogares y escuelas que están bajo la autoridad e influencia de las agencias federales. Esperamos que nuestras acciones motiven a los sectores privados y a los gobiernos estatales y locales para que adopten más medidas.

Como nación, hemos progresado, pero aún hay ocho millones de hogares estadounidenses y un número desconocido de niños en nuestras escuelas que están expuestos a más de 4 picocuries de radón por litro de aire – el nivel de acción recomendado por la EPA. El año pasado alrededor de 124,000 estadounidenses tomaron medidas para reducir el nivel de radón en sus hogares. Los constructores en los Estados Unidos están incluyendo componentes para reducir el radón en casi un 17% de todas las casas nuevas.

Esperamos que este plan sin precedentes haga que el riesgo del radón sea más visible, que estimule a tomar acción y ayude a salvar vidas, especialmente los de bajos ingresos que no tienen los recursos para reducir su riesgo. Usted puede aprender más sobre el plan en.

He estado con la EPA desde el año 1983, y encontré por primera vez el radón, mientras estaba al servicio de la Marina de los EE. UU. en el programa de submarinos nucleares hace cuatro décadas atrás. Mi trabajo sobre el radón, desde 1989 ha sido una de las cosas más satisfactorias que he hecho. Haga la prueba en su casa, la vida que salve puede ser la suya.

Sobre el autor: Philip Jalbert actualmente trabaja en la División Medioambiental de los Interiores de la EPA en Washington, DC

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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Greening EPA's Seattle Office

A green roof has been installed on our downtown Seattle office building

A green roof has been installed on our downtown Seattle office building

By Bruce Duncan

The Region 10 Science Steering Council recently hosted our first “Science Café” to discuss how our Seattle office building is working toward LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as we undergo a major remodel. LEED is a third party certification program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council that focuses on the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

I moderated the meeting and want to share some of the discussion. The first presentation focused on the building’s infrastructure (its green roof, pipes, and pumps) and participation in a private/public group committed to significantly reducing energy consumption by 2030.

Next, was a detailed look at the upcoming remodel of EPA space in the building and how we might get to a LEED “Platinum” rating. Presenters showed how the remodel is a unique opportunity to capture environmental benefits, energy efficiencies and cost savings. EPA is pursuing projects in:

  • sustainable site selection
  • water efficiencies
  • energy and atmosphere
  • materials and resources
  • indoor environmental quality
  • innovation and design process
  • regional priorities that further sustainability.

Each project generates points toward the LEED rating.

Our last discussion centered on what we can do in our individual spaces to be sustainable by recycling and reducing our use of resources.

Interesting information to me from the Q&A sessions included:

  • What is the cost to building management to register for LEED certification?

Approximately $10,000.

  • How is the return on investment working out for the building upgrade to LEED?

The payback horizon is reasonable for those components that do have a quantifiable return on investment. As we move forward, we would be comfortable with a 5 year payback horizon.

  • What are we doing to improve our office space that does not count toward LEED rating?

One example is the computer server room, which will be located to take advantage of cool outside air near windows.

What I liked most about our Science Cafe was seeing the linkage from my own office space and habits, to EPA’s space, to our building overall and how it sits within a self-led management community committed to sustainability.

Read more about EPA’s efforts to “green” our facilities.

About the author: Bruce Duncan is an Ecologist supporting risk assessments our Region 10 Office of Environmental Assessment. He is a member of the Region 10 Science Steering Council and has a long-standing interest in sustainability. Bruce also “walks the talk,” having installed solar panels on his Pacific Northwest home.

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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‘Borough Equity’ or the Lack Thereof

By Sophia Kelley

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Bloomberg announced a laudable goal of doubling the amount of residential waste diverted from landfills by 2017. The plan is expected to save money and decrease greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste transport. Another important, and often under-reported, aspect of the mayor’s approach to solid waste management is the shift toward ‘borough equity,’ where each borough would directly manage its own waste. 

Since the infamous Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island was ordered closed, the city sends the majority of its waste to private transfer stations concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. According to The New York Times, more than half of the transfer stations are in two areas – north Brooklyn (Greenpoint and Williamsburg) and the South Bronx.

BriYYZ, courtesy of Flickr/City Limits

As a resident of Greenpoint, it seems particularly unjust that my neighborhood not only has to be a transfer station for waste, but also contend with the toxic Newtown Creek, one of the nation’s largest oil spills, as well as the odors of a nearby water treatment plant. Since the constant truck traffic burdens neighborhoods with emissions and the odors sometimes associated with waste transfer are not pleasant, it’s understandable why Upper East Side residents have been opposing a new transfer station in their neighborhood. By why should Manhatttan be spared while the outer boroughs bear the brunt?

These issues of environmental justice as they relate to our specific communities aren’t easy. Fortunately, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) and Pratt Institute’s Graduate Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development are co-hosting a public lecture series on environmental justice in New York including one event specifically dedicated to solid waste management.

The Public Lecture Series is free and open to the public, and will begin this Friday, February 3rd at Pratt Manhattan Campus, 144 West 14th Street (between 7th and 6th Avenues), Room 213 from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. The Lecture Series will focus on some of the key policy priorities and players involved in city environmental justice issues. Space is limited – please RSVP at prattpspd@gmail.com. The lectures in February are:

Fri. Feb. 3rd: An Evening with NYC-EJA members – a panel with representatives from UPROSE, Youth Ministries for Peace & Justice, Morningside Heights-West Harlem Sanitation Coalition, The Point CDC, Nos Quedamos and El Puente.

Fri. Feb. 10th: NYC Solid Waste Management Plan – a panel with Gavin Kearney of NY Lawyers for the Public Interest, Eric Goldstein of Natural Resources Defense Council and Brian Mahanna of the Mayor’s Office. 

Fri. Feb 24th: Incineration (Thermal “Waste-to-Energy”) – a panel with Laura Haight of NYPIRG, Nicky Sheets of the NJ Environmental Justice Alliance and David Bragdon of the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning & Sustainability. 

Get involved and spread the word!

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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Replacing Your HVAC System?

By Abigail Daken

Several of my coworkers have asked me for tips when they are thinking of replacing their HVAC (heating, cooling and air conditioning) system. Each situation is different, and it can be challenge to think about the best and least costly ways of saving energy. Still, there are some tips that I find apply in almost every instance:

  1. Find a good contractor. Keep in mind that the lowest bidder or a poor installation job could cost you money over time. Look for recommendations from sources of consumer advice in your area.  EPA’s ENERGY STAR has some good tips for hiring a contractor.
  2. Use EPA’s handy checklist to compare bids from several contractors.
  3. Once you pick a contractor, ask them how you can lower your energy bills. Your contractor should evaluate your home to determine your needs and diagnose any current efficiency or comfort problems. Make sure they check to see if you can get a smaller system than your old one since many existing systems are too large for the homes they are in.
  4. Whatever type of system you get, consider ENERGY STAR equipment—in most climates these systems will save you money in the long run even if it might cost more up front. The type of system that is right for your home will depend on a lot of factors. If you have a tall, skinny space like a townhouse, or rooms that are rarely used, consider zoning. If you have electric resistance heat, a heat pump will almost certainly save you money.
  5. Set up a service contract after your new equipment is installed. A new HVAC system is an expensive investment, like a car, and about a third of your annual energy bills depend on how well it’s working.  Like a car, it needs maintenance to stay efficient.
  6. While you are at it…..A major system replacement is a good time to check that your walls and ceiling are well sealed and insulated, and your ducts aren’t leaking into your attic or garage. Many utilities and state energy offices even have programs to help you do so. The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR website has lots of great tips, too.

About the author: Abigail Daken has worked at the EPA since 2008.  She manages setting requirements for ENERGY STAR heating and cooling products, as well as water heaters and dehumidifiers. In her off time, she enjoys reading and spending time with her family.

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.

Upcycle!

It’s doubtful that clothing, jewelry, furniture, or even building materials comes to mind, right? Perhaps you were picturing bicycling uphill instead?

In fourth grade, my best friend was way ahead of the curve. She took a cracker box, paper towel roll, pieces of an empty cereal box, purple paint, sparkles, and glue to give another friend of ours a moving away gift they’d never forget.

Many would have overlooked and discarded that stuff to disintegrate in a landfill somewhere. Instead, she scooped them up and created a masterful “mantelpiece.”

Nowadays upcycled goods and ideas are everywhere. Granted, most of them are a bit more professionally constructed, but the idea is very much the same.

Our first Pick 5 stories featured upcycling. The lusakaU.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia, shared with us that they were donating their rubbish to local upcyclers who made more useful and artistic goods such as reusable bags and paper.

In another story, a group of widows and single moms in Chikumbuso, Zambia, were crocheting strips of plastic grocery bags into more durable reusable bags and making beads from glass. The sales were supporting a school for their children and the community’s orphans.

LusakaUpcycling is good for us. It cuts down on our waste that ends up in the environment, helps spread awareness and inspiration for environmental action and can support local artisans and communities. Personally, I’d rather give and receive handmade gifts any day, especially if the purchase was supporting a good cause.

Could this work for a school or community fundraiser event near you? Spread the word and get others to join you, or try a family upcycling challenge. Join 8,183 others and make upcycling part of your Pick 5, share your story and inspire others to do the same.

In two weeks, I’ll feature a new upcycling story from you in a blog post and at www.epa.gov/Pick5.

Share your story Flickr, here as a comment, or on Facebook. I can’t wait to see what you create!

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our 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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Why is Coco Orange?

coco book cover

Hmmm… good question!  Coco has a problem. He’s a chameleon, but he can’t change colors, and his asthma is acting up. Read how Coco and his friends at Lizard Lick Elementary solve this mystery as they learn about air quality and how to stay healthy when the air quality is bad.  http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=picture_book.index

Play some cool games and learn about the Air Quality Index at:

http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqikids_home.index

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

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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