Monthly Archives: February 2012

Community Service…Pick a Project!

Many students need to complete a community service project as part of a class in school.  The new student’s website has a whole webpage dedicated to community service projects and ideas.

Be sure to check it out,  and let us know what your community service project is!

http://www.epa.gov/students/communityservice.html

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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Sunny Slopes – Ski Safely!

By Julie Kunrath

Pausing at the top of the ski slope, you look down to take in the magnificent view—a scattering of white-dusted trees, rocky peaks glowing on the horizon, powdery snow begging for fresh tracks…

…and high levels of ultraviolet radiation reflecting back at you.

Where’s your sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun isn’t just a summer concern. Sunburns happen year-round, and sun protection is especially important for winter sports, since UV radiation reflects off snow. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in the shade. In addition, UV radiation increases with altitude because there is less chance for the atmosphere to absorb the sun’s rays. Skiing at 8,000 feet certainly offers epic views, but it also exposes you to the invisible danger of UV radiation.

As an avid skier, my father put my siblings and me on skis at an early age. Following many of my childhood skiing adventures, I remember the infamous “goggle tan”—a distinct white mask surrounded by red skin. Back then, I was just embarrassed to have a “raccoon face.” Today I understand this was a sign of overexposure to UV radiation. This was a sunburn, an indication of damaged skin and a risk factor for future skin cancer.

As the most common cancer in the U.S., skin cancer is no light matter. Every hour, one American dies from skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable with simple sun safety strategies, like sunscreen. As a tough man of the mountains, my dad never wore sunscreen when he skied, so neither did I. I didn’t wise up until a few years ago when my older brother handed me a sunscreen bottle while gearing up for a ski day. Sometimes older brothers know best.

My advice for all snow worshippers: keep a small bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of your winter jacket. Make sure it’s broad spectrum with SPF 30 or higher. pic of UV Widget Slather it on your exposed skin before you hit the slopes and every two hours thereafter. Lift rides or hot chocolate breaks in the lodge are good times to reapply. Your eyes are just as sensitive to sun damage as your skin; protect them with sunglasses or ski goggles that have 99–100% UVA/UVB protection. You can also check the UV Index for a forecast of the day’s UV intensity. Who wants a raccoon face anyway?

About the author: Julie Kunrath is an ASPH Fellow hosted by the SunWise program in the Office of Air and Radiation in 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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Are Air Fresheners Helpful Or Harmful?

By Lina Younes

My youngest daughter loves to buy air fresheners for the house. She prefers those with strong fruity scents. Personally, I’m not very fond of these chemical fresheners. I’ve always felt that they don’t really “freshen” the air. While they might have a nice smell momentarily, they are really only masking other odors that might be present in your indoor environment. After seeing how an office colleague reacted to an air freshener several offices away, I decided to look further into these household products.

The fact is that most of us spend a lot of our time indoors whether at home, at work, or in school. On average, people spend about 90% of their time indoors. In these confined spaces, there are several sources of air pollution that may cause health problems, allergies, or serious illnesses. These problems can be compounded if there is poor ventilation or you are an asthmatic or suffer from other upper respiratory conditions. In fact, paints and some of these air fresheners have volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and petroleum distillates which can be very irritating to eyes, skin and throat. Even unscented air fresheners can produce an allergic reaction in certain individuals. So, make sure if you use air fresheners in your home or office, please read the label first to use properly and safely.  Also, keep them out of reach of children and pets.

So, what can you do to improve the air quality in your home, school or office? Understanding some of these common pollutants found inside buildings is the first step to protecting yourself and your family. Furthermore, look for more natural options or non-toxic approaches like baking soda. Hope these tips have been helpful. Your thoughts are always welcomed.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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¿Acaso los ambientadores y desodorantes caseros pueden ser beneficiosos o dañinos?

Por Lina Younes

A mi hija menor le encanta comprar ambientadores para el hogar. Para ella, mientras más fuertes y aromáticos con olores a frutas, más le gustan. Personalmente, a mí no me gustan estos ambientadores y desodorantes químicos. No me parece que realmente desodoricen el aire. Mientras algunos pueden despedir una fragancia agradable por unos momentos, realmente sólo están ocultando olores que siguen presentes en los entornos interiores. Después de ver la reacción alérgica producida en una colega en mi trabajo cuando había uno de esos ambientadores a varias oficinas de distancia, opté por aprender más acerca de estos productos.

De hecho, muchos de nosotros pasamos gran parte de nuestro tiempo al interior, sea en el hogar, la oficina, o la escuela. Como promedio, la gente pasa alrededor del 90% de su tiempo en espacios interiores. En estos espacios cerrados, hay muchas fuentes contaminantes de aire que pueden producir problemas de salud, alergias o enfermedades serias. Estos problemas se intensifican si hay poca ventilación o si la persona es asmática  o padece de otras condiciones respiratorias. De hecho, las pinturas y algunos de estos ambientadores tienen compuestos orgánicos volátiles  (COVs o VOCs, por sus siglas en inglés) como el formaldehido y destilados de petróleo que pueden ser muy irritantes para los ojos, piel y garganta. Aún los ambientadores o desodorantes que no tienen aroma pueden producir reacciones alérgicas en ciertos individuos. Por lo tanto, si usa estos ambientadores/desodorantes en su casa u oficina, asegúrese de leer la etiqueta primero para usarlos de manera adecuada y segura.  Además, debe mantener estos productos fuera del alcance de niños y mascotas.

¿Entonces, qué puede hacer para mejorar la calidad del aire [http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/careforyourair.html ] en su hogar, escuela o trabajo? El entender cuáles son algunos de los contaminantes más comunes encontrados en edificios es el primer paso para protegerse y a su familia. Además, podría considerar otras opciones naturales que no sean tóxicas como el bicarbonato de sodio. Espero que estos consejos hayan sido de su utilidad. Como siempre, sus ideas son bienvenidas.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y se desempeña la persona encargada de alcance público y comunicaciones multilingües en la Oficina de Asuntos Externos y Educación Ambiental de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. Antes de integrarse a la labor de la EPA, trabajó como periodista dirigiendo la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

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: February 18th and 19th

There are lots of things to celebrate right now (Black History Month, Mardi Gras, mild winter weather) so get out there and try something new this weekend. As always, the City has a diverse range of eco-friendly activities to offer for families and children alike.

Anansi the African Spider Man: Listen to cherished African tales of the mischievous Anansi the Spider and discover the beauty of the African culture at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Create your own Anansi spider to take home. Saturday, February 18, 2:00 –3:30 p.m., ages 5 and under. 

Celebrate Mardi Gras in Bryant Park: This Mardi Gras, the coolest party north of New Orleans will be at Le Carrousel in Bryant Park. This bash promises masks, music, and more for kids of all ages. There’ll be a parade of all the dressed up revelers (remember: purple, gold, and green are the traditional Mardi Gras colors), beads galore, warm apple cider, and chocolate coins. Everyone’s invited and, of course, it’s all free. Magician R.J. Lewis, an old hand at Le Carrousel, will host and perform magic tricks, and music will be supplied by Dr. Zsa’s Powdered Zydeco Band. Saturday, February 18, 1:00 –2:00 p.m.

Compost & Healthy Soils Workshop: Are you passionate about composting but want more from your bin? This Q&A session provides the practical tips, advice, and encouragement you need to take composting to the next level, whether you are just starting out or have been digging in for years. Saturday, February 18, 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

Festival of the Vegetables: A whimsical series of brief, witty poems, piano pieces, and dances that reveal the secret life of vegetables—stories of bravery, bounciness, and a Veggie Wedding!—each introduced by a couple of silly, yet eloquent produce clerks. Saturday, February 18 and Sunday, February 19, 6:30 pm- 7:30 pm

Genealogy Workshop with Wilhelmina Kelly: This presentation by renowned genealogist Wilhelmina Kelly will explore the basics of genealogy, with tips on how to research Revolutionary War ancestors. Attendees should bring any family information they have already located. Space is limited so sign up as early as possible in order to reserve a spot. Saturday, February 18, 2:00 p.m. 

Peace Ride: Take a leisurely peaceful bike ride with Time’s Up, NYC’s Direct Action Environmental Organization, to some of downtown Manhattan’s peace sites. You will visit: Point Thank You, Robert Wagner Park, The Labyrinth for Contemplation, Fritz Koenig’s The Sphere, Vietnam Vet Memorial and the site of the Mother AME Zion Church (first church in NYC built and led by African Americans). Sunday, February 19. Meet at Gandhi Statue, SW corner of Union Square (across from Staples), 11:00 a.m.

The Urban Divers Nautical Exposition: Celebrate Black History Month with these spectacular nautical exhibitions, which feature an impressive collection of artifacts, accessories, historic naval armament and costumes. An enriching, entertaining, and interactive cultural experience is promised to all in attendance. Sunday, February 19, 1:00 –4:00 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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Your Comments Sought on Drinking Water Quality Report

By Christina Catanese

WaterSupply_029

Each year by July 1st, you should receive a short report (called a consumer confidence report or drinking water quality report) in the mail from your public water supplier that tells you two main things: where your water comes from and what’s in it.  It’s an annual water quality report that a community water system is required to provide to its customers each year.  The report lists the regulated contaminants found in your drinking water, as well as health effects information related to any violations of the drinking water standards.

If you’ve looked at these reports in the past, have you ever felt like there was information that wasn’t in them that you wished there was?  Or you wished you could read the report online instead of in print?  How could these reports be more valuable to you?

EPA will be holding an online public meeting on Thursday, February 23, 2012, to get your thoughts on these reports.  EPA periodically reviews its existing regulations, and is right now seeking public input on the consumer confidence report rule.

Topics on the agenda include:

  • electronic delivery of the reports,
  • resource implications for implementing report delivery certification,
  • use of reports to meet public notification requirements,
  • how contaminant levels are reported in the consumer confidence reports,
  • and more!

YOU are invited to participate in this information exchange on the consumer confidence report rule and make your voice heard!

To participate in this listening session, you can register here.   Can’t participate in the live meeting?  You can also join the web dialogue discussions community.  You can share and post comments on the dialogue in this online forum from February 23, 2012, to March 9, 2012.

For more information, please email CCRRetrospectiveReview@epa.gov.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Trayless Tuesdays in NYC Schools Inspired by a 7 Year Old

cartoon image

Three years ago, I took my children to the Climate Change exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The kids raced in and out of rooms and three quarters of the way through, my seven-year-old suddenly stopped mesmerized, contemplating a diorama of a polar bear standing on a pile of trash. She turned to me and said,  “I’m not eating school lunch anymore so I can save the polar bears.” In that pile of trash was a polystyrene foam lunch tray.

I always asked my kids, “What did you eat today?” But I had never asked, “What did you eat ON today?” I was totally unaware of the 850,000 polystyrene trays used per day in NYC public schools.

My kids did the math. That adds ups to153 million trays per year and almost 3 billion trays over the past 20 years. I did the research. These trays, composed of polystyrene, known commonly as Styrofoam, are used for only 20 to 30 minutes and then thrown away, exported to out-of-state landfills.

Several NYC parent groups switched out polystyrene trays in their schools by self-funding the extra cost of alternative products, a prohibitive option for most schools. With the help of other parents and the inspiration of NYC’s 1.1 million public school children, we founded the grassroots organization, Styrofoam out of Schools.

We scrapped our initial plan, to create a media blitz about the environmental concerns, when we learned that 75% of school meals served per day are either free or reduced. The possibility of adding to the already existing stigma around school food participation prompted us to find a different strategy.

We became determined to find a solution for a 20% tray reduction by working with the Department of Education, rather than fighting them. The idea of Trayless Tuesdays developed out of this partnership. It’s simple: by not using polystyrene trays one day per week, we could quickly reach a 20% reduction goal.
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To hear more from Debby Lee and her partners in NYC and to learn how to implement Trayless Tuesdays in your school please tune in to the EPA Region 2 webinar Reducing Waste in Schools: Trayless Tuesdays,” on March 1 at 1:30pm. Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at:https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/649234322.

Debby Lee Cohen is a public school mom, artist, educator, and co-founder and director of SOSNYC/Cafeteria Culture.

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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Trade, Baby, Trade

By Lucy Casella

It was a struggle to get our relatives in Pennsylvania to recycle their PC and monitor.

“We’ve got plenty of landfill space in state, and besides, we would have to drive to Staples and pay $10 to recycle them,” they argued.

My husband and I both work for environmental agencies, but they were unmoved by our “responsible recycling” arguments. They even refused our $10 “bribe.”

No surprise then that we found ourselves transporting electronics 350 miles back home from the Keystone State!

After this flush of green virtue, practical considerations intruded: our community didn’t have electronics recycling, we lived 30 miles from the closest Staples and we commute via train.

Fortunately, we found Costco’s elegantly simple mail-in electronics trade-in program. All I had to do was type model information into Costco’s recycling website. If the units had market value, I could ship them free – AND receive a Costco cash card. Since these units had no value, I downloaded a prepaid shipping label and deposited the electronics at a UPS pick-up location four miles away.

At the time of this PC intervention, challenges to recycling included consumer confusion, minimal recycling networks, and few manufacturer take-back programs. The proliferation of cell phones since then has me wondering how many are recycled today.

According to EPA, only about 10 percent of cell phones are recycled. If Americans recycled the roughly 130 million cell phones disposed of annually, the energy saved would power more than 24,000 homes.

Also, many organizations look for cell phones for soldiers and victims of domestic abuse, among others. Many will send you a free mailing label.

As to manufacturer take-back programs, we’ve come a long way, baby: http://epa.gov/osw/partnerships/plugin/partners.htm

In a non-scientific experiment, last week I tested the state of the trade-in market for my Samsung cell phone and Canon camera.

I learned:

  • Costco and Samsung would provide prepaid shipping labels for these “no-value” items;
  • Gazelle (a national recycler) would ship electronics items with value for free;
  • Canon would charge $6 to recycle the camera;
  • Best Buy would ship both for free – AND give me a $24 gift card for the camera. Plus, I could drop them off at any Best Buy.

So look in your closets, do your homework, and decide whether to donate or trade-in your electronics. As for me, I’ll keep the phone and camera – and wouldn’t trade my family for the world!

About the author:  Lucy Casella is a somewhat technologically-challenged neo-Luddite and Strategic Planner in Region 1.

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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Science Wednesday: Exercise? Oh yeah

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

By Susan Stone

Do I need to exercise? You bet. We all do, because exercise is so important for health. I especially need to exercise to get my weight into a healthy range. That additional weight, and my mild asthma, puts me at greater risk from air pollution. And eventually, my age will add to that risk.

People with asthma are at greater risk from exposure to ozone. It can cause difficulty breathing and make them more likely to respond to asthma triggers, like pets, that may not normally cause a reaction. Particle pollution can aggravate asthma, too. It also can trigger heart attacks, stroke and irregular heart rhythms, all of which I want to avoid. And the risk of a heart attack or stroke starts to go up at age 45 in men and 55 in women. So I want to minimize my air pollution exposure, for several reasons. But I really need that exercise at the same time.

Figuring out how to get that exercise and reduce exposure to air pollution can be a challenge. So checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) has become part of my daily routine.

Here’s what I do. I love to take walks in my neighborhood. It’s a pretty walk, with hills and a pond. My normal route is a couple of miles in the shape of a figure eight. The middle of the eight is closest to my home. On days when ozone levels are high, I’ve noticed that sometimes I get what feels like a stitch in my side that makes breathing painful. It doesn’t go away even when I get warmed up. So when ozone levels are high, I take it easier. If I get to the midpoint of the figure eight and feel good, I keep going. If the stitch in my side is there, I pack it in and go home or exercise indoors.

Ozone levels typically are lower indoors, but particle levels can be high even inside. So if the AQI indicates that particle pollution levels are in the unhealthy ranges, or if I smell smoke, I’ll go exercise at a gym, or take a walk through the buildings at work. But even though I’m indoors, I take it easier and pay attention to any symptoms.

Exercise? Oh yeah. It’s important for good health, and it’s a great stress-reliever. And with a little planning, you can exercise outdoors, even if you’re considered at greater risk from air pollution. Even if you’re not, check the AQI every day. It’s a healthy habit.

About the author: Susan Stone is an Environmental Health Scientist and likes to walk in her neighborhood every day, weather permitting. She checks the AQI on her computer, but you also can download a free app for iPhones and Android phones. Visit Airnow to find out how.

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 the Music Industry

By Elizabeth Myer

In the wake of the 54th annual Grammy Awards Ceremony last weekend, I’ve been thinking a great deal about all of the potential that remains in the way of greening the music industry. If you’ve ever been to a large concert, surely you’ll agree that there is room for improvement. Many shows are powered by massive amounts of electricity, for one. Another thing I am usually appalled by is the lack of recycling receptacles at many venues, which is a quick fix.

A sample recycling receptacle from O.A.R.'s Green Dream Tour

The rock band O.A.R. recognized this industry flaw in 2008 when they partnered with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) for the Green Dream tour, making a pledge to save the planet by taking all the waste that would typically be thrown out and, with the help of volunteers, ensuring that much of it made its way into recycling receptacles, which were stationed in abundance at each venue along the tour. As a new intern in the public affairs division at the time, I was thrilled when EPA lent their support to O.A.R. by accompanying the band (and interviewing their bassist, Benj) to one of their shows in upstate New York to take stock footage of their recycling (and eCycling) efforts and distribute relevant information to receptive fans. By the end of the tour, I was inspired to learn that O.A.R. and SAIC ultimately diverted more than one ton of materials from landfills.

So who says music and eco-consciousness don’t go together? I recently came across another effort to green the industry when I learned about Pedal Power NYC, which is dedicated to “capturing and repurposing human power” using bicycles. Last summer, they hosted the City’s first human powered concert (and, finding no evidence to the contrary, the first in the US) in Union Square. Pedal Power NYC provided the bicycles, which were configured to hook up to generators, and throughout the show over 200 volunteer cyclists engaged in some serious cardio to keep the power flowing. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed.

Have you heard about other green efforts by musicians? If so, please let us know. There are many simple solutions (uhem – hybrid tour buses) that will make a positive difference to our planet. What better way to ignite the cause than by sharing inspiring stories? Rock on, all of you.

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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