Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bring Back The Water Fountain

By Nancy Stoner

Last summer I was walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was a hot, steamy summer day and I was thirsty, so I looked for a water fountain. After several blocks of searching, I realized that while there is a bar on every corner, there are no drinking fountains in sight. The lack of public water fountains is not unique to New Orleans – water fountains have been disappearing from public spaces throughout the country over the last few decades. And with the loss of drinking fountains also comes a loss of public knowledge about the importance of investing in drinking water systems, which provide dependable, affordable and clean water.

Reinvigorating public water fountains provides a variety of benefits. They provide a service to residents and tourists who need a drink of clean water. They provide an alternative to sodas and other high-sugar drinks for children, both in schools and around town. When old, broken-down drinking fountains are restored it preserves historic relics of our cities.

Water fountains can also save money. The U.S. provides some of the highest quality tap water in the world at a very low cost to consumers. Municipalities work hard to provide this service, spending billions of dollars to provide clean tap water, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On average, the cost to treat, filter and deliver tap water is 0.2 cents per gallon – roughly 750-2,700 times less expensive than bottled water. In spite of this cost difference, Americans drink around 30 gallons of bottled water per person per year. And with one estimate that 1,500 bottles of water are consumed in the U.S. every second, this is a huge amount going into the recycling and waste stream. Since cities bear the cost of collecting, transporting, recycling and land-filling plastic bottles, reducing this stream could save city resources.

Many cities are taking action. Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are encouraging residents to drink tap water, in part by reinvigorating public water fountains. EPA is also working with mayors across the country through the U.S. Conference of Mayors to promote the value of public water fountains.

Growing up, many of us remember getting thirsty and finding the nearest drinking fountain. It’s time to reinvigorate and celebrate our public water system and the clean, safe drinking water we have. It’s time to bring back the water fountain.

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

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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School Daze: PCBs in New York City Schools

By Caroline Newton 

Working in the Enforcement Division of EPA’s New York City office has made me think of environmental issues and public health risks differently than before.  I find it both fascinating and alarming how the environment directly and indirectly impacts the people in the surrounding community. 

One topic that I have paid increasing attention to (and the media has as well) is PCBs in schools. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made organic chemicals that were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications until their manufacture was banned in 1979. They were commonly mixed into caulk, a material used to seal windows and doors. Although the caulk that we purchase today does not contain PCBs, caulk in buildings such as schools that were built before 1979 may still have caulk that contains PCBs.  Over time, caulk can deteriorate and the PCBs become airborne, and people can inhale them. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. 

An intact ballast from a typical pre-1979 fluorescent light fixture.

A source of PCBs in schools that was less widely known until recently is lighting fixtures. Certain older lighting fixtures contain ballasts that have PCBs in them.  When these ballasts age, they can crack or even spark and catch fire, causing PCBs to enter the air that students breathe. 

Over 700 of NYC’s public schools were found to have older, PCB-containing lighting fixtures. Inspections performed by EPA about a year ago in approximately seven NYC school buildings showed that many of these ballasts had cracked and were leaking PCBs.  As a result, NYC is taking on an energy improvement program that will incorporate the removal of all PCB-containing lights from its schools. The New York City School Construction Authority posts this type of information on its website

Schools throughout the country may have similar problems. In November 2011, EPA Region 2 sent letters to Superintendents in NY and NJ informing them of this problem and encouraging them to take an inventory of the lights in their schools to determine their age and potential for having PCB-containing ballasts. 

If your child or someone you know attends a school that was built before 1979, you may want to speak to the Superintendent or someone at the school about this topic and ask questions. If it was built prior to 1979, have the lighting fixtures been replaced since? Does the school have a protocol for dealing with possible PCB-containing ballasts? You may want to share with them EPA’s guidance on Proper Maintenance, Removal, and Disposal of PCB-Containing Fluorescent Light Ballasts

About the Author: Caroline began her EPA career as a summer intern in Public Affairs while studying meteorology at Cornell University. After graduation, she joined EPA’s Environmental Careers Program, during which she went on several rotations. She was water enforcement inspector, helped plan events for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and spent two months in EPA headquarters’ Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.  When she finished the Environmental Careers Program she became the Regional 2 Enforcement Coordinator. She currently lives on Long Island and enjoys spending time with her new dog, Penny.

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 Red and Now Green for Heart Month

By Wayne Cascio

Since 2004, when the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign began, the arrival of February has always renewed my commitment as a cardiologist to educate my patients and the public about the steps they can take to prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Go Red has produced measurable gains in the public’s knowledge about heart disease among women and men. Yet, did you know that over 800,000 still die in the U.S. each year from heart disease?

Most of us now know that we can reduce our risk from heart disease by eating a healthy diet, remaining physically active, not smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and taking aspirin when appropriate. Yet there is another risk factor that many may not have considered: air pollution. That brings in the Green Heart for February.

Exposure to air particle pollution affects heart and blood vessel health adversely and causes deaths. The good news is that falling air pollution levels over the past 30 years correlate with increased longevity. Still, exposure to air pollutants, particularly among those most vulnerable, continues to contribute to at least 40,000 deaths from heart disease in the U.S. each year. So, 5% or more of heart disease deaths are possibly related to air pollution exposure.

Now, as a researcher at EPA, I am involved in a different way to address heart disease than during my practice to treat patients. EPA researchers are studying the impacts of air pollution on our health with a focus on those with heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. These studies have and are advancing our understanding of the health risks of air pollutants and who is most vulnerable to them.

Research and public education are important in the fight against heart disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and their partners launched a national initiative called Million Hearts™ to decrease heart attacks and strokes by 1 million over the next five years. To support and complement this effort, EPA initiated the Green Heart campaign to increase awareness among public and health professionals and individuals that air pollution is a risk for those with heart disease.

By adopting a heart healthy lifestyle, managing high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, stopping smoking and using aspirin when appropriate, and checking daily air quality, a significant public health benefit can be achieved.

A very valuable tool for helping to monitor your daily risk to air pollution is EPA’s Air Quality Index. You can also learn more about environmental risk factors and steps to decrease exposure and risk in educational materials prepared by EPA.
I hope that you will share this red and green valentine message with a friend or loved one and help to save a life from heart attack.

About the author: Wayne Cascio, MD is the Director of the Environmental Public Health Division of NHEERL, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio is a cardiologist and environmental health scientist studying the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

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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Going Green with the Girl Scouts

By Brittney Gordon

I am lucky enough to have great memories from childhood, and some of the most memorable moments come from my days as a Girl Scout. Every week my mom would dress me up in my brownie uniform and take me to our troop meeting to have fun with some of my best friends. From selling cookies to telling stories around the camp fire, Girl Scouts allowed me to have the kind of wholesome American fun that all young girls should get to experience.

With these memories still fresh in my mind I became a Girl Scout leader a few years ago, and had the chance to experience the fun of scouting from the other side. Needless to say, I am a strong believer in the Girl Scouts and I am always excited to read about the latest ways that they are reaching young women. Imagine my surprise when I found out that EPA’s ENERGY STAR program is partnering with the Girl Scouts this year, and helping to make protecting the climate as common to scouting as selling those delicious cookies.

GS-Forever-GreenIn celebration of their 100th anniversary, the Girl Scouts are kicking off Girl Scouts Forever Green in 2012. This global action effort is focused on waste reduction, energy conservation and rain gardens. This March the Girl Scouts will begin engaging their friends and families in making small changes to lower their carbon footprint. The girls will be replacing incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs throughout their communities. On March 31st they will participate in the worldwide Earth Hour movement by turning off their lights for one hour.

EPA’s ENERGY STAR program is excited to work as the environmental education partner for the Girl Scouts during this anniversary year. Girl Scouts from across the country will be able to take a customized version of the ENERGY STAR Pledge on their own website, learning how to save energy and protect the environment with EPA’s help. For EPA this is a great way to spread the word about energy efficiency with the future leaders of America.

If you have a Girl Scout at home, make sure that she takes the ENERGY STAR Pledge on the Girl Scout’s website. If you have yet to take the ENERGY STAR Pledge, take it here.

About the author: Brittney Gordon is a member of the communication’s team at EPA’s ENERGY STAR program.

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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Job Creation and Superfund Cleanups – A Good Fit

By Melissa Friedland

In all the years I worked for EPA in the Superfund program I never thought about local hiring as a part of a Superfund cleanup. Now, as one of two Program Managers for the Superfund Job Training Initiative (SuperJTI), I think about it all the time. This program works hand in hand with Superfund cleanups by providing free training to people living in communities affected by site contamination.

EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, David Kluesner (far right) leads a jobs training course in Newark, NJ.

I’ve known over the years that there are a lot of job training programs out there, but SuperJTI uses a totally different model. We actually don’t start any of our projects unless we’ve got a commitment up front from cleanup companies who are willing to take a very serious look at hiring graduates of our program and tell us before we start how many jobs they will have available for people in the community. Once we know that jobs are available, we look for someone we call a community partner, typically a local organization, to help out with recruiting people to participate in and oversee the program on the ground. After a rigorous selection process, participants receive training to prepare them for work at the cleanup. After graduating, they interview with the company doing the actual cleanup and, hopefully, they are placed into jobs. Our community partner stays in touch with the graduates after the program to make sure they are doing a good job.

In fact, over the next few weeks we are training local residents to work in  Newark, New Jersey on an initial portion of the Passaic River cleanup. This is the first time EPA is running a SuperJTI in Region 2. Our community partner, Ironbound Community Corporation has done an excellent job with recruitment and outreach. The Remedial Project Manager for EPA, Elizabeth Butler, and Community Involvement Coordinator, Dave Kluesner, have championed the project every step of the way. Graduation is scheduled for March 1 and we’re on schedule to have the graduates working by April. I’ve seen other SuperJTI projects and it’s always exciting because people come in looking to change their life, and take a step in the right direction. After completing the program many go on to careers in the field.

Personally, I think this is an important part of what EPA does – helping people to join the workforce. In just a few weeks of training, participants acquire a skill set that makes them desirable to cleanup employers. Graduates have said that this program changed their life, and it has been gratifying for me to see their transformations and be a part of SuperJTI.

About the Author: Melissa Friedland is the National Program Manager for SuperJTI representing EPA Regions 1-5. She has worked for EPA for more than three decades and she is based 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 Three R’s

Every so often I wake up with the “The Three R’s” by Jack Johnson stuck in my head. Given where I work it’s an appropriate mantra to be bopping around to. I guess that part of my brain that runs on kids tunes doesn’t need coffee.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle…”

There are worse tunes to have on repeat in your brain, way worse! I’m grateful the catchy number exists on the less than glamorous subject of waste disposal. Perhaps it’s the warm-up to my workday. Fitting.

The concept of the three R’s has been around for a long time and the three arrows are a recognizable icon, but there’s a new kid in town and they need to make some room.

How about accomplishing all three, while making something really cool? Two weeks ago I posed a challenge to encourage readers to submit photos and accounts of an upcycled product they created. As promised, it’s time to show off your goods! Congratulations to Dennis Mijares who submitted this photo on January 31, 2012 on Flickr of purses made from plastic bags.

nescafe

Upcycling is like a landfill diet, why toss what we can use? Who knew that waste could look so good? I hope these photos inspire you to give it a try, do share photos of what you create! Professionally constructed to kids crafts alike are welcome. I must admit, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t see any cardboard mantelpieces…

Talk to a friend about it and ask them if they’ve heard of the concept. Be sure to share that it’s good for us by cutting down on waste, helps spread environmental awareness and action and can even support local artisans and communities.

It’s a great idea for a community or school fundraiser, start an upcycling project and let us know how it goes!

If you haven’t Picked the 5 actions you can do for our environment where you live, get on it! Join the 4,000 likes on Facebook and the 8,222 others around the world who have made the official pledge. Share your story and inspire others to do the same!

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 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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How Does Healthy Sound to You?

By Maryann Helferty

When one visits a place, often one hears a language unique to that location. On a warm day last May, I listened to a team of interpreters in a Philadelphia park. We were not learning a spoken language but rather the language of healthy streams, diverse forest and plant communities, even the complex signals of birds.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, many families live in cities and suburbs. Land use patterns distance people from the natural world, making it too easy for youth to adopt sedentary lives, missing out on unstructured outdoor play. Among the many benefits of being outdoors is physical exercise. According to the White House “Let’s Move” Initiative, doctors, teachers, and other professionals agree that outdoor activity is one of the easiest and most fun ways to get–and stay– fit.

Federal agencies in the mid-Atlantic region are promoting new ways to connect youth with healthier lifestyles and with the environment. Environmental education can serve two purposes: training the next generation of environmental stewards and creating active learning opportunities. For example, the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program trains people with a passion for the natural world. They participate in an intensive training program and use their knowledge to give back to the community through volunteer service. Click on the link below to JUMP into the stream with them!

Since 2010, high school students from Philadelphia, Pa. and Camden NJ have joined an apprentice program to prepare for green jobs in museum education. Trainings for Master Naturalists are held in the field where students experience the value of teamwork and the commitment of learning – in all kinds of weather. The program builds ties between generations as members of the Senior Environment Corps also get involved in service learning. In partnership with a number of federal and state agencies, the Master Naturalist program is coordinated by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education.  Note the 2012 application deadline is February 17th for the 2012 Philadelphia County sessions. Help spread the word!

When you think of your special place in the Mid-Atlantic, who taught you what made it special? How do you pass on your sense of place to others?

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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Pick 5 for the Environment

pick 5 banner

Environmental action can mean doing different things in different places, but it begins by taking the simple steps where you live.  You can do your part to protect the environment by choosing five or more actions and sharing your own ideas.  By doing so, you are joining thousands of others who are doing their part.  Together we can make the biggest difference, so make your actions count today!

http://www.epa.gov/pick5/

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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"From Coast to Coast – Skills for American Workers"

By Nancy Stoner

During his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about the need to develop skills for American workers, to ensure our students and workers get the education and training they need so that we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow. This is particularly important right now, because as the President said, this is a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it.

As EPA and its partners work to protect the environment and public health, we are also working to ensure that American workers have the skills to participate in the burgeoning environmental technology industry, which generated approximately $300 billion in revenues, $43.8 billion in exports, and supported almost 1.7 million jobs in 2008. I recently saw two outstanding examples in Atlanta and San Francisco.

First I visited the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, which works in environmental justice communities in the city. I toured the organization’s nature and educational center, where community members are engaged in various activities, such as trash removal from streams, rain barrel and rain garden construction to reduce water pollution and urban aquaculture and gardening. The alliance also provides educational activities for local teens, such as interpretive urban forest nature hikes and summer camp experiences. Partially supported by environmental justice and urban waters grants from EPA, these activities are exposing youths and local residents to new skills and career possibilities in environmental protection and community revitalization.

On the other side of the country in San Francisco, I visited a center that demonstrates green building, renewable energy and water protection. The EcoCenter at Heron’s Park, which was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, treats its wastewater using constructed wetlands and ultraviolet sterilization lamps. It also features a green roof, a plant-based wastewater treatment system, rainwater harvesting, and native landscaping, which conserve water and prevent stormwater runoff. I learned that the center partners with San Francisco City College, which provides technical education and a degree in sustainability. Also in an environmental justice community, the EcoCenter offers students and community members the opportunity to gain skills in environmental technology and explore future careers.

These efforts in Atlanta and San Francisco are precisely the type of approach the President is calling for – they will keep our environment, our economy and our people thriving for many generations to come.

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

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

Staten Island Chuck said New York is in for an early spring, but we’re not sure which groundhog to believe anymore. Fortunately, we have suggestions for things to do that will help you embrace the season – both indoors and out!

Climate Scientist/Artist Mixer: Find your way to the Noguchi Museum in Queens for a lively discussion of how collaboration between artists and scientists can help to make sense of the overwhelming information on climate change. Sunday, February 12, 3 p.m.

Composting Q&A: Join NYC Compost Project for a session about composting with worms. Just in time for Valentine’s Day! Sunday, February 12, 1-3 p.m.

Great Backyard Bird Count: How has winter weather influenced the region’s birds? Help Audubon Naturalists track North American bird populations. Saturday, February 11, noon and Sunday, February 12, noon and 3 p.m.

Ice Festival: Head to the courtyard of Tavern on the Green in Central Park to watch master carvers turn blocks of ice into frigid fine art. Saturday, February 11, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Prospect Park Moonlight Ride: Come explore the 526-acres of Prospect Park via your bike during this monthly event. Meet up with your well-lit bike, Saturday, February 11, 9 p.m.

Seed Starting Workshop: Are your green thumbs itching for spring? Check out this workshop and pick up some pointers for starting your seeds in preparation for gardening season. Saturday, February 11, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Super Fun Superfund Variety Show: Enjoy a sampling of cabaret and circus entertainment in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. Saturday, February 11, 8 p.m.

Valentine’s Day Eco Crafts: The Urban Park Rangers lead this family-friendly eco-craft event full of fun Valentine’s Day projects. Crotona Park Nature Center in the Bronx. Sunday, February 12, 1 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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