Monthly Archives: January 2012

Science Wednesday: What Does National Security Have To Do With The Environment?

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

By Alan Hecht and Joseph Fiksel

Some people might be surprised to hear that there’s a National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) conference this week here in Washington, DC focused on national security and the environment.

There is, and it brings together a distinguished group of international political leaders, scientists, and academic, including our own EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and the famous Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime Minister of Norway who led the preparation of the 1987 UN Report, Our Common Future, famous for its classic definition of sustainable development.

As sustainability scientists ourselves, we’re happy to see the link between national security and environmental sustainability gaining more attention.
Today national security means more than defending against military attacks. It is about dealing with the pressures of population growth, energy and material demand, and competition for access to land, water, minerals, and other vital natural resources. These global pressures are driving not only climate change but also degradation of water, soil, forests, and wetlands, which in turn may compromise energy, food, and resource security.

EPA was first prompted to engage in environmental security in 1995 by then Administrator William C. Reilly, who asked the Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to look beyond the horizon and anticipate environmental problems that may emerge in the 21st century. In response, the SAB reported: “global environmental quality is a matter of strategic national interest that must be recognized publicly and formally.”

Today, EPA is again investigating how sustainable development can alleviate the fundamental threats of resource depletion and economic instability. In November 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to make recommendations about sustainability and the EPA.

The resulting NAS report and recommendations were delivered to EPA in September 2011 and is now the subject of extensive internal and external discussions.

As EPA scientists, it’s nice to see our collective work help advance the understanding that national security entails keeping our critical resources—including water, soil, energy, and minerals—that support global economic and social well-being, safe and secure. Our work is protecting human health and the environment, and is also helping to keep our country safe.

About the Authors:
Dr. Alan Hecht is a leader in sustainability research and a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.
Dr. Joseph Fiksel is a sustainability expert from The Ohio State University who is currently on a special appointment at EPA helping to incorporate systems thinking into the Agency’s research programs.

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 App Advises When to Let it Mellow

By Elizabeth Myer

At EPA, we’re not tired of talking about Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and apparently, most New Yorkers aren’t over the subject, either. And why should we be? Our waterfronts are home to an abundance of parks, fancy restaurants, and nightlife. As a matter of fact, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, real estate prices have actually risen in the Gowanus neighborhood ever since the Canal was deemed hazardous enough to be added to the National Priorities List (NPL). Despite the fact that severe contamination of New York waterways doesn’t necessarily seem to be a deterrent, we are certainly psyched to learn about the Parson’s Graduate student, Leif Percifield, and his ambitious startup called DontFlushMe. DontFlushMe aims to teach New Yorkers that we all play a vital role in reducing wastewater production before and during an overflow event.

Drainage in the Gowanus Canal (via Jessica Dailey)

According to Percifield, CSOs account for the nearly 27 billion gallons of raw sewage that are dumped into New York’s harbors each year. As a means of reducing wastewater, Percifield designed a prototype proximity sensor in hopes that it will eventually be used to measure water levels in sewer systems across New York. The proximity sensor operates in conjunction with a cell phone to transmit data to a database that contains various modes of contact information for DontFlushMe participants. When water levels appear higher than average, participants are alerted via text message, Twitter, or by checking a call-in number, should they wish to opt out of providing contact info. If interested, New York residents can register to receive these alerts on the DontFlushMe blog. In summary, when sewer systems are overloaded, it seems appropriate to apply the old adage: If it’s yellow, let it mellow…well, we all know the rest.

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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Know your Surroundings

studentBeing a kid is wonderful. You see the world in a different perspective from grown-ups. You also feel a different way about things like the environment. Many people in the US take what they have for granted like clean air and clean water. My sister and I found out that 21,000 people in the US die due to radon every year; and we were shocked.  About 500 people die in Colorado each year from radon and not enough is being done about it.

Our family spends a lot of time in our basement which increases the amount of radon we inhale. I have asthma and this makes me passionate about promoting clean air. We started a Radon Awareness Project to spread the word about Radon. In the past year, we have helped a lot of people learn about radon, its harmful effects and what can be done to test for it and reduce radon levels.

Think of what you are passionate about and how you can help that cause. Being a kid does not mean you cannot make an impact. You could start in your backyard with being more green and recycling or tackle global warming.  Go take action!

Learn more at:  http://www.epa.gov/radon/justforkids.html and http://www.radonawarenessproject.com

Eric in Colorado is 12 years old and in the 6th grade.

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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To Drive Or Not To Drive. How Will I Get To My Family?

By Amy Miller

During the holidays we drive. I personally drive to see my mother at Thanksgiving and my in-laws at Christmas. I drive to find presents for my loved ones and I tend to be on the road for movies, sibling visits and snow fun during school breaks.

Most of the time I don’t even consider the options. Like staying home, for instance. Or taking a bus or a train as a family. My loved ones await. And the convenience of door to door service is too much to give up.

But what if I were to add up the cost. In dollars, yes, but not JUST in dollars. As the new lingo goes, it would be interesting to know the embedded costs as well.

To visit my mother is 270 miles, times two. That’s 44 gallons of gas and one quart of oil. That’s $5 in tolls and, in my case, $100 in parking fees (yup, those old NYC roots popping up again.) So, let’s call it $260.

And then the environmental costs. Taking my car just that once will create the amount of carbon that 10 tree seedlings can sequester in ten years. Or a tenth of an acre of pine forest in a year.

And besides the air pollution, there is the traffic congestion to which I contribute and the use of a car that will need to be repaired and replaced a little bit sooner with each journey it makes.

The bus might have cost $250 round trip; the train $400. The environmental costs? I’d like to say nothing, since these vehicles were going anyway, but of course the more of us who travel by public transportation, the more trains and buses will be on the road. Still, with the costs divided, we will call it negligible.

So what is the numerical value of protecting the environment? What is the worth of relaxing instead of fighting traffic? How many angels fit on a pin? These numbers are elusive, but real. We are already paying to fix pollution problems we created. And we are already suffering health costs born of our ailing environment. Someday, we will be able to see those numbers in black and white, and perhaps then we can make driving decisions more responsive to reality. In the meantime, I realize I am running up the bill.

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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Radon – Why Do We Ignore It?

By Shelly Rosenblum

Psychology is fascinating, especially when you consider how we use it on ourselves – or against ourselves to be more precise. When do we use it against ourselves? When we put things off that are good for us, like cutting back on junk food, or skipping the gym, or when we hear someone tell us to test for radon and we don’t.

While it’s difficult to perceive how something we can’t see or smell can hurt us, is there something else stopping us from taking action? After all, the Surgeon General and public health organizations like the ALA and EPA tell us that radon is a leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. We usually take messages from these folks to heart, so why ignore radon?

Dr. Peter M. Sandman is an expert on risk communication. He helps people understand why we fear some things that carry little risk and overlook things which carry a huge risk – like radon. He describes this behavior with a formula: Risk = hazard + outrage. Outrage? What’s that? Suppose a company spills a toxic substance in your neighborhood, creating a health hazard. We’d be angry. Then suppose they’re not forthcoming about the quantity spilled and danger level. We’d be even more angry or OUTRAGED!

The more outraged we were, the greater the perceived risk. Even if the hazard was small, but the outrage large, we’d still perceive a large risk. Now apply this to radon: since it’s natural, there’s no one to be angry with – no outrage. With no one to blame, we somehow convince ourselves that the risk is smaller. This lack of outrage allows us to fool ourselves into not taking action. But consider this: if you found that your children’s school had not tested for radon, or if they had tested, found elevated levels and not told anyone, you’d be outraged – suddenly you would perceive the risk as huge – you would demand action. Consider further, one day your children may have reason to be outraged – at YOU – for not having tested the home they grew-up in!

Test, Fix, Save a Life. Testing is simple and inexpensive. The cost of fixing a home with elevated levels is comparable to other minor home repairs. It’s cheap insurance – against lung cancer and against having your children outraged at you! Learn more about how to test and fix your home.

About the author: Shelly Rosenblum works on the Radiation & Indoor Environments Teams at EPA’s Region 6 Office in San Francisco, CA.

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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El Radón – ¿Por qué lo ignoramos?

Por El señor Shelly Ropsenblum

La psicología es fascinante, sobre todo, cuando la aplicamos a nosotros mismos; o en contra de nosotros mismos para ser más precisos. ¿Cuándo la usamos en nuestra contra? Cuando alguien nos dice que hagamos la prueba de radón y nos decimos a nosotros mismos que esto no es tan importante.

Aunque es difícil percibir cómo algo que no se puede ver ni oler puede hacernos daño, acaso ¿hay algo más que nos impida actuar? Después de todo, el Cirujano General y las organizaciones de salud pública como la Asociación Americana del Pulmón (ALA, por sus siglas en inglés) y la Agencia de Protección Ambiental  (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) nos dicen que el radón es la causa principal de cáncer pulmonar, secundada solamente por el consumo de tabaco. Por lo general tomamos los mensajes de estas organizaciones en serio, entonces, ¿por qué ignoramos este peligro en nuestros hogares?

El doctor Peter M. Sandman es un experto en comunicación de riesgos. El ayuda a las personas a entender por qué le tenemos miedo a algunas cosas que conllevan poco riesgo y por qué pasamos por alto las que conllevan un gran riesgo – como el radón. Él describe este comportamiento con una fórmula: Riesgo = peligro + indignación. ¿Qué significa indignación en este caso? Supongamos que una empresa derrama una substancia toxica en el vecindario, creando un peligro para su salud. Nos enojaríamos. Suponga que no son sinceros sobre la cantidad derramada y el nivel de peligro. ¡¿Estaríamos más enojados o INDIGNADOS?!

Riesgo = peligro + indignación. Mientras más indignados estemos mayor será el riesgo percibido. Incluso aunque el peligro haya sido mínimo, pero la indignación era intensa percibiríamos un riesgo alto. Entonces aplique esto al radón ya que es un fenómeno natural, nadie debe estar enojado con él, ni tampoco indignado. Al no tener a nadie que culpar, nos convencernos a nosotros que el riesgo es mínimo. Es la falta de indignación la que nos hace que nos engañarnos a nosotros mismos y nos impide tomar acción. Considere lo siguiente: Si usted se entera que en la escuela de sus niños no han hecho la prueba de radón, o que encontraron niveles elevados, pero no se lo han dicho a nadie, estaría usted enojado, de repente percibiría el riesgo como inmenso, y usted demandaría acción. Examine más a fondo, un día sus niños podrían tener razones para estar enojados con USTED, por usted no haber hecho la prueba de radón en la casa donde ellos crecieron.

Haga la prueba, haga los arreglos necesarios, Salve una vida. Hacer la prueba de radón es simple y de bajo costo. Los arreglos a un hogar con niveles elevados de radón son comparables a otras reparaciones menores del hogar. Esto es un seguro barato en contra del cáncer pulmonar y en contra de tener a sus hijos indignados con usted. Conozca más sobre cómo hacer la prueba de radón en su hogar.

Acerca del autor: El señor Shelly Ropsenblum trabaja con el equipo de Radiación y el Medio Ambiente Interior en la región 9 ubicada en San Francisco, CA.

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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Think Twice Before Dry Cleaning That Sweater Vest

By John Martin

If you’re like me, you take your recycling seriously. That includes collecting the multitude of wire hangers you get from the dry cleaners and putting them out at the curb with the rest of your recyclables. What you may not know, however, is that even if you’re properly handling this excess packaging, your dry cleaning habits might still be harming the environment.

Small amounts of PCE are retained in recently cleaned clothing.

Most of the City’s commercial dry cleaners use perchloroethylene (PCE or perc). Perc removes stains and dirt without causing clothing to shrink or otherwise get damaged. Unfortunately, perc is a toxic chemical, and a probable human carcinogen. Exposure to enough of it can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, and has also been associated with neurological effects.

In recent years, an increasing number of garment cleaning businesses have switched from the traditional “dry” cleaning, to healthier, greener alternatives. These include the use of pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) to clean clothing, or to a system called “wet cleaning.”

Wet cleaning involves using computer-controlled washers and dryers, specialized detergents and various types of pressing and re-shaping equipment. Most importantly, wet cleaning requires well-trained and skilled hand-finishing staff to make sure the clothing being washed retains its shape. Despite the specialized nature of wet cleaning, more and more businesses throughout the five boroughs are providing this service, helping to keep perc out of our neighborhoods. A recent Google search found wet cleaners throughout the city, in all five boroughs.

Of course, if you’re uneasy about handing over your favorite piece of clothing to an unfamiliar cleaner using an alternative cleaning process, consider making fewer trips to the dry cleaners instead. Often times that stained sweater vest or suede shirt can be washed by hand a few times before ever needing professional help. Not only will you save yourself some money, you’ll also help ensure less perc gets out into the environment and into our City.

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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Go Green on Martin Luther King Day

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve.” Those words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have inspired millions of Americans over the years to step up and serve. And they’re the words that come to mind each January, when we honor Dr. King’s legacy on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Each year, people across the country come together for volunteer service, to strengthen their communities and make a difference for the people around them.

On Monday, January 16, the EPA is honoring Dr. King by calling on volunteers to participate in environmental service projects and help make it a Green MLK Day. In recent years, I’ve joined EPA employees and community volunteers for neighborhood cleanups, urban greening efforts and other environmental service projects. This year, we’re hoping you will mark the MLK Day of Service with a service project that protects health and the environment in your community.

One way to get involved is to participate in projects that help reduce waste, or cut water and energy use in your home and community. Take a look at our WaterSense, WasteWise and Energy Star websites for more information, or check our Green Living page for ideas.

Young people can help their communities raise awareness and address environmental issues through our OnCampus ecoAmbassadors program. This program helps students develop valuable leadership and project management skills as they improve the quality of their campuses and surrounding communities.

There are countless ways to be part of a Green MLK Day: Start using biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning products. Learn about composting and give it a shot in your own backyard. Pick up litter at a local park or field. Organize a “green club” in your workplace, school or community.

EPA’s Pick Five website can help you find simple ways to clean up the environment in which you live, work and play.

Finally – be sure to tell us about your Green MLK activities. EPA Staff will be tweeting live from various volunteer activities, and you can follow along through @EPALive and @lisapjackson on Twitter. Share your own service experience by tweeting with a #greenMLK hashtag. If you have any photos from what you’re doing, we invite you to share them on our Flickr page.

I look forward to hearing about how you spent this year’s MLK Day of Service taking on environmental challenges in your community.

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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CommUnity

By Jeanethe Falvey

I live just outside of Boston, but never saw myself as a city mouse. Someday the country will be my happy place again, but for now, I love where I live.

I love supporting small, local shops to buy groceries, coffee, repair clothing; I can easily find recycling and trash bins; environmentally friendly products are available, so I know I’m not harming Boston Harbor at the other end of my apartment’s pipes; I can walk to get just about everything I need and take public transportation to get to work. Best of all, I can breathe a little deeper because others before me were kind enough to build sidewalks that allowed the big trees to get bigger.

Sometimes I like to imagine a map of my day, just like the Family Circus illustrations: little red footsteps of the kids going around the yard, up into the tree house, down the street, in and out of the house. Only I think of mine as green footsteps wherever I’ve been with bright green “poofs!” when I’ve come across someone else doing something for the environment and their little green footsteps trail off in another direction.

Even the smallest efforts for the environment have always felt good and happily I can report there are others like me! In fact, one girl beat me to a plastic bag blowing across the street in downtown Boston a few weeks ago – kept me a whole notch cheerier for the rest of the day (…still actually).

A second ago, someone was a total stranger in a big city; the next, you feel like you’re a part of a community.

I’ve never seen a community service project that wasn’t filled with people smiling; happy to be helping others where they live and making their community a brighter, healthier place to be.

This weekend, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, we hope you’re able to give back and take pride in your community. Find a project where you live. If you join a cleanup event, please share your photos or tweet using #GreenMLK ! I can’t wait to see what you help to accomplish and look forward to featuring your work in a future post.

Watch the world go green with you, tally up the steps you can take to leave your path a little greener.

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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Have You Seen … Kids.gov ???

kidsgov

Kids.gov is the official kids’ portal for the U.S. government. It links to over 2,000 web pages from government agencies, schools, and educational organizations, all geared to the learning level and interest of kids.

Check it out at: http://www.kids.gov/

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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