Monthly Archives: February 2012

Rediscovering Paradise Lost in your Backyard . . .

By Maryann Helferty

Question: Where are EPA volunteers acting as explorers to rediscover the Paradise Lost in the backyards and woodlands of the Mid-Atlantic? Answer: The 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show,   where EPA staff have constructed an educational showcase of environmental gardening techniques since 1993. This year’s exhibit is titled “Palekaiko Nalowale,” roughly translated from Hawaiian into “Paradise Lost.”

Thousands of gardening guests venture into the lost world of plants indigenous to this region. I spoke with one team member who shares his knowledge of botany and vegetable gardening by working on the exhibit. Todd Lutte, a wetlands biologist, often encounters native plants in swampy bogs or steep cliffs. He has a deep appreciation for interconnections between native plants and the web of life. For example, local insects evolved in tandem with native plants so they depend on each other for survival. So when gardeners plant native species such as the highbush blueberry, they also invite bumblebees as pollinators. These delicious berries nourish humans, birds and mammals and the leaves feed a host of butterfly and moth larvae.

Each exhibit visit is a teachable moment. Visitors peer into the pinky bell flowers of a sheep laurel,  or dwarf azalea and are touched by their spring beauty. Factsheets suggest how to select native plants at nurseries. Curious greenthumbs learn to pick plants adapted to local climate and soil, while controlling pests more easily and using less water and fertilizer.

Agency volunteers share experience with using integrated pest control on roses and tomatoes. So, Todd recommends knowing insects to remove aphids and beetles by hand and leave the beneficial insects to help your garden. Video loops help visitors learn about low-impact techniques like companion planting or using bait and traps to control pests. We’re delighted this year to share our thousands of teachable moments with the EPA pesticide program.

It takes a cadre of volunteers to create the magic of a blooming lesson on “green” gardening. Some care for herbaceous plants in personal greenhouses; others force mountain laurels and honeysuckle to flower in winter. Volunteer carpenters create the sturdy flooring and beautiful fencing. With the help of many, EPA spends only one-eighth of the budget of comparable educational exhibitors. Thanks to two decades of team effort, creativity and green thumbs, there have been many awards earned throughout the years. Ah, spring!

About the author: Maryann Helferty is an Environmental Scientist with the Office of Environmental Innovation for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. In her work on drinking water protection and sustainability, she blends science and education tools to promote the Environment, Social Equity and a Sustainable Economy.

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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eCycling: the Future is NOW!

By Elizabeth Myer

A few years back, Greening the Apple blogger Sophia Kelley and I worked with the EPA on a series of Electronics Recycling (eCycling) initiatives. eCycling, for those not familiar with the term, is the process of reclaiming electronics from the waste stream, either as whole units ready to be re-used by another consumer, or as parts for materials recovery. I won’t speak for Sophia, but I first became a personal advocate for promoting proper eCycling practices in 2009 when EPA partnered with the band O.A.R. for their Green Dream recycling tour. In October of that year, EPA and the College Music Journal (CMJ) got together during the epic annual CMJ Music Marathon. CMJ went “green” and we helped by setting up shop in their exhibition room with a box for recycling used and unwanted cell phones, cameras, chargers and other electronics. We even went on to record a podcast on the subject!

E-waste on the banks of the Hackensack River (EPA photo)

So why, after all this time, is eCycling still an issue that I feel the need to explore? Perhaps because so many people are still clueless about how serious and widespread this issue is. The desire shared by many Americans to constantly upgrade to the latest cell phone/iProduct/tablet has contributed to a scary reality: electronic waste (e-waste) is growing 2-3 times faster than any other waste stream! Why should that concern you? For one, electronic devices are often composed of materials (lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury) that could pose risks to the environment and human health if not disposed of properly. Another great reason to donate your used electronics (so long as they still work) is for the benefit of others who may not be able to afford them otherwise.                   

A colleague recently reminded me of an episode of 30 Rock which mocked the reality that New Yorkers often have drawers and closets stuffed with old, unwanted electronics. The segment indicates that many people know that e-waste is bad, but they have no clue where or how to dispose of their old chargers, laptops, cell phones, etc.  EPA has an eCycling locator, complete with links to external sites (like Earth 911) with great resources for finding eCycling centers near your home.

A final tip: don’t forget to erase all personal and confidential data on the old equipment before sending it for recycling or reuse. Happy eCycling!

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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“Mom, Will You Drive Me to the Mall?”

Are you sick of having to ask your parents to drive you everywhere? Sick of sitting in traffic on the way to school, in the carpool dropoff line, and to every weekend activity? My kids were.

For 10 years, we lived in the outskirts of Silver Spring, Maryland, outside Washington, DC. We were far from everything, except a park and a pool. We spent at least 10 hours a week in the car, driving back and forth between school, fencing class, and running meets. I also drove to work downtown, which should have taken 20 minutes, but regularly took up to an hour in traffic.

My boys are both runners, but they couldn’t run very far from home without hitting a major road. If they wanted to visit friends or go to the mall, they had to rely on me to take them. (Since I’m not always punctual, that drove them nuts.) I couldn’t stand it, and five years ago, I decided to look for a house downtown that was closer to work, fencing, and school.

For years, downtown Silver Spring was ridden with empty storefronts and empty streets. Then the city turned to smart growth. Smart growth strategies can help a community develop so that it’s walkable, and convenient to stores and public transit. People walk more, so they get more exercise. They drive less, so there’s less traffic and air pollution. They shop downtown, which helps the local economy.

In 2003, a large corporation put its headquarters near the Silver Spring subway station. The city built an outside pedestrian mall, with stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and a green community center, which has a skating rink in winter.  Three supermarkets are within walking distance and there’s a farmer’s market every weekend. Now people come downtown all the time.

We moved to a neighborhood right across the street from my office and my boys immediately loved it. They took the school bus to school and the city bus back after practice. They often hopped on the subway to visit friends or go to the mall.

Five years later, my younger son often runs the six miles home from his high school on a nearby bike trail. My older son is at the University of Maryland studying environmental policy; he can take the subway home on holidays. And I walk 5 minutes to the subway to get to my new job at EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities, which manages EPA’s work on smart growth.

Organizations across the country are working to help communities revive or grow using smart growth principles. If you’re interested in a career in this field, consider environmental policy, planning or architecture. Learn more about smart growth at www.epa.gov/smartgrowth.

Susan Conbere is a Communications Specialist with EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities in 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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The Water Sector Workforce Needs Skills of American Workers

By Nancy Stoner

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama presented a blueprint for an economy built to last – one built on the skills of American workers. The President laid out new ideas for how we’ll make sure our students and workers get the education and training they need so we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow.

EPA is working with water sector organizations to do just that.

A well-trained water sector workforce is essential to protecting public health and the environment through effective drinking water and wastewater utility operations. However, our water industry has a critical need to develop skilled professionals. Over one-third of current water operators can retire within seven years, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for water and wastewater operators will grow by 20% between 2008 and 2018, faster than the national average for all other occupations.

Earlier this month, I attended a roundtable in Alexandria, VA hosted by the Water Environment Federation, which brought together utility managers and leaders to discuss developing the next generation of the workforce.

I heard about innovative ways that organizations are making a difference. In Virginia, Loudoun Water worked with a public school to place special needs students in internship positions at the utility. The program helps students gain work experience and better prepares their path from high school to career. In Wisconsin, the Department of Workforce Development created a three-year wastewater treatment plant operator apprenticeship program, providing a mix of on-the-job learning and classroom instruction.

At the roundtable, I was able to highlight EPA’s efforts to address water sector workforce needs. We’re working closely with utility groups to promote water sector careers to new target audiences and to identify training programs. We’re collaborating with our federal partners to recruit and train new water professionals. EPA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor, as well as states and utility groups, are coordinating to recruit and train veterans. And we’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote water sector careers in rural communities.

Creating jobs in the water sector has a ripple effect – the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that every job created in water infrastructure creates over three additional jobs to support that position. Working together, we can realize the President’s vision for a strong workforce, today and tomorrow

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

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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Everybody is Talking About: the LowLine | NYC’s Newest Green Space

A digital mockup of the proposed LowLine park, complete with natural sunlight

By Elizabeth Myer

One of the best perks of blogging for Greening the Apple is being among the first to uncover urban escapes via our readers or through other EPA contributors. In the past, we’ve blogged about the High Line, one of my all time favorite green spaces in NYC, but it recently occurred to me that we have yet to mention the LowLine. While the High Line resides on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, the proposed Low Line aims to “greenify” underground space on the Lower East Side (LES). The masterminds behind the project are Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, an executive at the social innovation network PopTech and an architect, respectively.

The space for the project is comparable in size to Gramercy Park and sits directly underneath the LES foot entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. Like the High Line it was initially built to serve as a train station, though it has been abandoned for over six decades. You might wonder, “How on earth does this duo plan to lure New Yorkers underground during the warm and sunny months?” James Ramsey, a former NASA satellite engineer, answered this concern with a technology that he developed specifically for this project which will use fiber optic cables to fill the subterranean space with natural light that will also be filtered of harmful ultraviolet and infrared light.

Just last week, fundraising opened through Kickstarter in an effort by James Ramsey and Dan Barasch to raise a whopping $100,000 in order to create mock-ups of their technology that will bring natural light into the space. The coolest part? The creators want to actively engage the local community in the decision-making from the start. To open up the dialogue, they will be presenting their plans for the project at high schools and community meetings on the LES over the next year.

Renovated green space with community input? Count me in!

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: Lessons from Wildfires and Air Pollution

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

By Martha Sue Carraway

I grew up in the eastern part of North Carolina, near the coastal area and the Great Dismal Swamp. This is home to wide open spaces, long views, and clean air. During a visit Down East this past weekend, I was sitting indoors watching an icy rain fall. But just the day before, spring was everywhere, with new buds and green sprouts widely present. Spring does come a bit earlier down here than in my adopted home in the Triangle. It’s a good place to start my piece on the Green Hearts Campaign.

I began working at the EPA Human Studies Facility in 2007, and was happy to have a job that would allow me to use my background in medicine (I am a lung doctor) and science to study how air pollution harms people by affecting the cardiovascular system. Near the end of my first year, in June 2008, a very large wildfire broke out in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. This was the first of a number of significant fires in eastern North Carolina over the past years, and they seem to be increasing. Smoke from this low burning, smoldering fire cast a haze over the clean skies of eastern North Carolina.

PamlicoSoundsunriseImagine my excitement when scientists at the Clinical Research Branch came together with investigators across EPA to study the health impacts this fire was having on the residents who lived nearby. Because I was away for a few days for my parents 50th wedding anniversary during the planning, I narrowly missed the chance to have an air pollution monitor sited in my home town of Windsor! I enjoyed participating in this project and gathering data about the frequency of emergency department visits during the time of the fire. We found that in areas heavily affected by the wildfire smoke, people were more likely to go to hospital Emergency Departments to seek treatment for symptoms of heart failure and respiratory problems. We hope that some of the lessons learned from this fire will help keep people safer during future fire events. It is rewarding to know that the work we do at EPA impacts people near my home. I am happy that my parents and friends have learned about the air quality index that can help inform them when the air is not healthy anywhere in the USA.

About the author: Martha Sue Carraway is a Pulmonologist and works as a Medical Officer and Principal Investigator at the U.S .EPA Clinical Research Branch, Environmental and Public Health Division, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Find out more about our study of the Pocosin Refuge wildfire

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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Black History Month: Administrator Lisa P. Jackson: Black Women in History and Culture

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Every February, our nation marks Black History Month. In 2012 we have spent the month honoring the work of African American women who shaped our country and earned their place in American history.

As an African American woman, this has been a time for me to reflect on the women who ensured that my generation would have every possible opportunity. I grew up in the years after segregation ended. I was able to get good education and had access to the rights of every American. Rather than fearing that I would be denied entrance to college because of prejudice or unequal treatment under the law, my parents fully expected me to go on to higher education and use that opportunity to chart the course of my own life.

Without the work of African American women through the years, my life and the lives of millions of Americans would not be what they are today. That is why we take this time to share that history with others, and recognize that the stories of black women in American history – fighting against slavery, struggling for equality and voting rights, refusing to be silent in the face of violence and oppression – are stories that matter to every American.

Those stories begin as far back as the earliest days of our country, when a Massachusetts slave named Phillis Wheatley learned to read and write and became our country’s earliest black poet. They include Harriet Tubman and the women of the Underground Railroad, who put their lives at risk to bring their fellow Americans to freedom.

They are the stories of brave women like Ida Wells who, in the wake of the Civil War, used her writing to expose the brutality and intimidation of lynch mobs. They are actresses like Dorothy Dandridge and authors like Zora Neale Hurston, who broke through barriers to reach new audiences and give African American women new venues for expression.

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Montgomery Bus Boycotts started with the actions of an African American woman: Rosa Parks, refusing to move to the back of the bus. Throughout the movement, women like Septima Clark, Coretta Scott King, Ella Baker, Myrlie Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and others marched and spoke and worked to make our nation a more equal place, where men and women of every race had the same fair shot. One of those women, Dr. Dorothy Height, started her Civil Rights work at 25 years old, and marched beside Dr. King in Washington. I met her not long ago, when she was 96 years old and still taking action to ensure equality and opportunity for every American.

Alongside these names from the history books are the mothers, sisters and daughters whose stories we may not have heard, but who played a critical role nonetheless. I think of my mother, her mother and my aunts, and the times they lived through. I know how important their perseverance has been in nurturing me and the women of my generation, and passing down the values and culture that give us strength.

As the old saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is required,” and for today’s generations the contributions of African American women through the years is both an inspiration and a responsibility. From them, we know that nothing will inspire future leaders like the example we set. It is important today that we nurture the talents of young women and empower them to confront the challenges ahead.

That is what celebrating Black History Month has always been about: remembering our past so that we can strengthen our future. The work of African American women through the years shows us how to fulfill the promise of this great nation, and move us all toward a more perfect union. Now it is our turn.

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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Be Kind to Ticks, They Could Save Your Life

By Steve DiMattei

Ticks, the mere mention of the word will cause hair to stand up on the back of your neck. These tiny little disease-carrying arachnids crawl on you and bury themselves in your skin. You can try to crush them, even light them on fire, but they are nearly impossible to kill. Most people would just as soon rid the planet of these critters, but I hold them in higher esteem. You see, one of them saved my life.

Back in June of 2011, after several days of rain, grass in neighborhood yards was well above ankle high. We were finding ticks galore in our house. My wife had been treated for Lyme disease two years earlier so our family was trained to be on the lookout for the freeloading blood suckers.

One night in bed, I removed a deformed-looking scab from my leg and immediately reached for a magnifying glass. Those of you over 45 understand the concept of having a magnifying glass at the ready. To my horror I saw the disgusting head of the tick and those tiny legs. The next day I headed to my doctor to be tested for Lyme. The doctor took one look at the tick I brought, prescribed an antibiotic and told me to come back in three weeks.

He also had me take a couple of deep breaths as he listened to my heart. It was then that he asked what was going on with my heart murmur. ”Nothing,” I replied, “a minor heart defect I had all my life.” He told me to make an appointment with my cardiologist immediately.

Within three weeks I went from “Do I have Lyme disease?” to “You have an aortic aneurysm, and need open heart surgery. Now.”

An aortic aneurysm is a bulging in the aorta, and if it is not corrected the aorta will eventually tear or burst. About 15,000 people die from this every year typically because the person is asymptomatic until the aorta tears or bursts. After successful surgery in August, I’m back to work with a better appreciation for life even if the scars on my chest make me look like a Frankenstein wannabe.

As for my new found fondness for ticks, anytime I’m in a quiet room, and every night as I put my head on my pillow, I get a gentle reminder from the mechanical valve in my heart; tick, tick, tick, tick…

About the author: Steve DiMattei works in the Quality Assurance Unit at EPA New England’s Lab, and is an avid golfer.

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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A New PATH to Local, Green Jobs

Job candidate Evonna being interviewed by WNYC reporter on the first day of candidate training. (EPA photo)

By David Kluesner

After about 15 minutes on a PATH train from the city to Newark, you can’t help but notice remnants of New York and North Jersey’s industrial past. Abandoned factories and scarred tracts of land amid the marshlands and mounds of earth resembling old landfills. After crossing the Hackensack River, off to the left, you see the old Diamond Alkali Superfund site in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood.  Perched along the Passaic River, the site is a mere patch of gravel covered property with potted Christmas trees. It’s innocent looking enough, but it’s considered to be one of the worst dioxin sites in the country. After passing the site, on the approach to Newark Penn Station, you can’t help but notice the New York Red Bulls new “futbol” stadium. It’s the new, emerging in the shadows of the old. On February 13 this PATH took me to the offices of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark to visit the 15 candidates that are going through the Passaic River Superfund Jobs training program, a national EPA jobs training initiative that is new to our Region.  Fifteen candidates were selected from more than 500 applicants.  Twelve of them who graduate on March 1 will get jobs working on the cleanup of river sediment contaminated by the site decades ago.

Job candidates were tested on physical fitness on tryouts day. (EPA photo)

These 15 bright, eager unemployed or under employed residents had to endure multiple tests, orientation sessions and a day of tryouts to be selected.  Some have pasts filled with challenges and bad choices.  All of them need a job and most really need a second chance. One 58-year- old candidate told the class that when he got the call that he was selected to go through the training he sat down on his sofa and cried,  “Who would hire me, a 58- year- old, unemployed man with a past. There are guys here far younger than me?” Later that day, on Day One of training, a 22- year- old Newark resident told his classmates “You know what I like about this class? I get to be around older people. Not the 20-somethings I always hang with. You older guys have so much wisdom that we younger guys could benefit from.”  One of the 50-somethings replied, “Do you know when the last time someone told me that I had value?  A long, long time ago.” Bringing these local jobs to Newark residents is not only giving them a second chance, its bringing together the new with the old.

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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Empowering the Public through Greater Information

By Gina McCarthy

EPA recently marked a major milestone in our work to empower the public through greater transparency and information. Last month we released the first set of greenhouse gas (GHG) data from large facilities and suppliers across the country collected by our GHG Reporting program.

To make it easy to view the 2010 GHG data collected from more than 6,700 U.S. facilities and suppliers, EPA launched an online data publication tool. The interactive tool allows users to view and sort the data in a variety of ways, including by location, facility, or industrial sector. I encourage you to explore the tool and share your findings with friends using your favorite social media tools.

Judging by the response to the tool’s launch on Facebook, Twitter, and online, folks are already finding the tool helpful— the site has received over 1,000 Facebook “likes” and attracted more than 100,000 web visitors since its launch.

Our idea behind this tool is simple: it’s about increasing public participation in environmental protection. EPA knows that better information leads to a better informed public resulting in better environmental protection.

Communities can use this data to identify nearby sources of GHG pollution. Businesses can use this data to find cost- and fuel-saving opportunities. States and local government can use this data to inform policymaking. The financial sector can use this data to make more-informed investment decisions.

People are already analyzing and presenting the data in meaningful ways, including from state and local perspectives. Media outlets like The Chicago Tribune and Salt Lake Tribune have used the data to inform readers about GHG emissions from facilities in their community.

We will welcome your thoughts on how to improve the tool and look forward to the second year of data which will allow all of us to start tracking emissions trends.

About the author: Gina McCarthy is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

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.