Monthly Archives: March 2012

Make your mark for Earth Day

Jeanethe Falvey

Earth Day is April 22, so help make history with Environment in a Day!

Where will your Earth Day defining moment be? In Iowa? American Samoa or Rhode Island? Idaho? Wherever it is, we want to see it! Tell your friends, your family, shout it out through Facebook. This is your chance to share what Earth Day 2012 looks like where you are. One photo from each U.S. state and territory will be featured on a map and image of the moment.

map

Starting the day before and for the following week, EPA’s State of the Environment Flickr project will be taking only one submission from each Flickr member that participates. That means, give it your best shot! To be featured your photo has to be taken on 4.22.12. We’ll be checking the date, so no being sneaky. Besides, where’s the fun in that? You’ll already be out enjoying the glorious day where you and your fellow humans celebrate and take steps to better protect our environment. Take just a moment to share in a picture what the day means to you.

I should also mention a little secret. To be featured, you’ll have a limb up if your photo is cool and creative and that happens by simply having fun!

Will someone on the Maine coast capture the first U.S. sunrise of the day? Who could get the final sunset? Will you be leaping for joy, cleaning up litter by the masses, or hugging (gently) that newly planted tree?

Celebrating outside the U.S.? Fear not! It’s a happy globe day for all Earthlings of course and we haven’t forgotten about you. We invite you to still take part in the project. State of the Environment started out and always will be about the global picture of our single, shared, collective environment. Submit your view of the day too as we’ll continue to feature photos throughout the year and there just might be some kudos in store for you.

Now go on, be sure to spread the word. The last thing we would all want is an empty zone on the map.

EPA’s State of the Environment Group on Flickr

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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Lessons From My Garden

Blueberry bushBy Nancy Grundahl

The recent Philadelphia Flower Show inspired me. I bought 3 kinds of asparagus roots and seed packets for those sweet, round yellow watermelons that are hard to find, corn and green beans. Already in my garden are blueberry bushes and a sour cherry tree. I have found that growing my own food is fun, relaxing and educational. Here are some of the lessons my garden has taught me.

Conditions need to be right or your seeds won’t grow and your plants won’t thrive. If a plant needs to be in the sun, plant it in a sunny area. If a plant needs moist soil, keep it moist or it and you will not be happy.

Create a healthy garden environment and wildlife will come. Birds love berries, even when they are not ripe. Bunnies love small tender plants. Deer? If they are in your area they will probably find you, as will slugs and beetles and on and on. It means your garden is healthy and inviting.

Nothing tastes like fruit and vegetables you grow yourself. They are typically way better than what you can find in stores. Ah, there’s nothing like eating a warm tomato that you just picked! Plus, you can plant unusual varieties, like heirlooms, to experience tastes you didn’t know exist. Biodiversity is a very good and yummy thing.

Using water you’ve captured (like in a rain barrel) is a better way to water your plants, particularly if your tap water is chlorinated. You might even just run a hose from a downspout into your garden. And, capturing stormwater can help reduce flooding from run-off. And, you’ll save money!

Mosquitoes love to breed in standing water, so don’t have any. Turn buckets upside down. Getting attacked by mosquitoes while you are gardening is very annoying and they can spread disease.

Weeds almost always grow better and faster than planted plants. That’s why they’re called weeds.Composter

Native plants grow better than non-natives. That is unless you are unlucky enough to have a non-native plant that’s invasive, like kudzu. Natives can be hard to find, but search them out — they are worth it.

Don’t trash your yard waste; turn it into compost instead. Recycle! Reuse! Your plants will grow better with compost.

Yes, I’m ready to get going outside in this earlier-than-normal spring in the Northeast.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently works in Program Support for the Water Protection Division. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.


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 Big is Your Footprint?

Our teacher, Ms. Tilson , asked us how big our footprint was today. We started to take our shoes off and measure our feet, but she stopped us and asked if we knew the size of our Carbon Footprint.  The class looked around confused because we didn’t know that we had another footprint.

We leave footprints when we walk on the sand at the beach or when get our feet wet and track mud into the house. Our carbon footprint is a little different. We can’t see it, but it’s there and it impacts the earth by leaving a mark just like the ones in the sand and mud.

When we use fossil fuels like heating oil or coal to keep our homes warm in the winter and our cars running, that’s creating a carbon footprint.  These actions emit carbon dioxide, also called CO2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and makes up our carbon footprint.  The more CO2 that is created, the more carbon dioxide is released and the bigger our carbon footprint gets.  A big carbon footprint is not good for the earth. 

I know. I know. It’s easy to get picked up by our parents after school but doing so contributes to the carbon footprint. Instead, we should walk or bike to and from school or our friend’s homes. At the grocery store, check out where the fruits and vegetables come from. If they’re from another country, think about the amount of energy and gas it took just to reach the store.  That’s another big carbon footprint.

The best way to make your carbon footprint smaller is to use less electricity and less fossil fuels. Be sure to turn off your computer, television and lights when you’re not using them. Keep temperatures lower in your house during the winter even if you need to wear a sweater to stay warmer. Walk and bike whenever you can instead of using the car or bus. It’s great exercise too. I found out local farmers markets are a great way to get fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying from them reduces carbon footprints because it doesn’t take a lot of energy or gas to get them to us. Even though I still haven’t figured out how to get my favorite fruit, avocados, locally I’m going to try shrinking my carbon footprint.  

Lorenzo is a middle school student in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.  He’s into spectrology, the TV show Ghost Hunters and watching the NHL.

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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Reading Labels Can Save Lives, Part 2

By Lina Younes

Last week, I conducted several interviews for National Poison Prevention Week. I was often asked about the causes of poisonings. According to statistics compiled by the American Poison Control Centers, many of these poisons belong to products commonly found in our homes. Regardless of the specific “poison” involved, there is a common thread in the large majority of poisonings. Most of them can be prevented by reading the label first.

As I mentioned last week, having stopped to read the label prevented a poisoning in my home. Yet, there have been other poisonings prevented in my home by reading the label. For example, I remember when my older children were in elementary school, we received a notice of a lice infestation. Several days later, I realized that those “dandruff flakes” in their hair were actually lice. Of course, I rushed to the nearest drugstore to stock up on anti-lice products. I bought shampoos, special combs, and a pesticide for the bedding. When I got home, I quickly proceeded to wash their hair with the lice shampoo. I was tempted to leave the shampoo in their hair for a long time to make sure there were no further remnants of lice, but that sixth sense told me to read the instructions. The label said to rinse it out after 10 minutes!

What would have happened if I had left the chemicals in their hair for too long? Well, the chemicals would have been absorbed through their scalp and could have poisoned my children. It would have been as simple as that.

How many times do we actually apply multiple cleaning products at the same time so they will “clean better?” How many times do we empty a whole can of insecticide when we see one lowly cockroach in the house? How many times do we combine over-the-counter medications to supposedly get rid of a cold faster?

If you read the label, you will clearly see that you need to apply pesticides, cleaning products, beauty products, and even medications properly to protect yourself and your family. The label clearly provides instructions on the application, dosage, and duration. Reading might take some extra time, but it can save a life. Have you had similar experiences that you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for 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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El leer la etiqueta puede salvarle la vida (Parte 2)

Por Lina Younes

La semana pasada realicé varias entrevistas para la Semana Nacional de Prevención de Envenenamientos en las cuales me preguntaron con frecuencia acerca de las causas de los envenenamientos. Según las estadísticas recopiladas por los Centros de Control de Venenos en EE.UU., la mayoría de estos venenos se encuentran en productos que tenemos comúnmente en nuestros hogares. Independientemente del “veneno” en particular, hay un hecho que vincula la mayoría de estos envenenamientos. La mayoría pueden ser prevenidos si leemos la etiqueta primero.

Como mencioné la semana pasada, el detenerme a leer la etiqueta evitó un envenenamiento en mi hogar. Además hemos podido evitar otros envenenamientos en mi hogar debido a que leí la etiqueta. Por ejemplo, me acuerdo cuando mis hijas mayores estaban en escuela elemental, recibimos una notificación de que había una infestación de piojos en la escuela. Varios días más tarde me di cuenta que lo que yo creía que era caspa en realidad eran piojos. Claro que corrí a la farmacia más cercana para comprar productos anti-piojos. Compré champús, peinillas especiales y un pesticida para aplicar en la cama. Cuando llegué a casa, les lavé la cabeza con el champú anti-piojos. Estaba tentada a dejar el champú por mucho tiempo en su pelo para eliminar toda evidencia de los piojos, pero un sexto sentido me hizo leer la etiqueta. Según la etiqueta, ¡había que enjuagarles el pelo a los diez minutos!

¿Qué hubiese sucedido si dejaba esas sustancias químicas por demasiado tiempo en su pelo? Bueno, hubiesen sido absorbidas por el cuero cabelludo y se hubiesen podido envenenar. Tan sencillo como eso.

¿Cuántas veces no aplicamos varios productos de limpieza a la vez porque creemos que “quedará más limpio? ¿Cuántas veces no hemos vaciado un envase de plaguicidas cuando solo vemos una pequeña cucaracha en la casa? ¿Cuántas veces no hemos combinado varios medicamentos bajo la creencia errada de que curaremos un catarro más rápidamente?

Si lee la etiqueta, verá claramente lo que tiene que hacer para aplicar plaguicidas, productos de limpieza, productos de aseo personal y hasta medicamentos para así protegerse a usted y a su familia. La etiqueta claramente ofrece instrucciones acerca de la aplicación, dosis, y duración. El leer tomará unos minutos de su tiempo, pero podría salvarle la vida. ¿Tiene experiencias semejantes que quisiera compartir con nosotros?

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como directora asociada interina para educación ambiental. Como periodista, dirigió 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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Make Your Weekend Plans Sustainable | NYC

There’s a ton of green stuff to do this weekend in the City. Expand your nature knowledge and help create a healthier planet along the way!

28th Annual GreenThumb GrowTogether – Join 1,000 community gardeners and greening professionals from all over New York City for a day of learning, sharing, networking and greening inspiration! This year’s conference features favorite workshops from past years, as well as exciting new ones. Saturday, March 31, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Archery – Wielding a bow and arrow has never been cooler. If you’re a child 8 years or older, come out to the Alley Pond Park in Queens this Sunday to learn the safe and proper way to hit the target. Sunday, April 1, 1:00 p.m.

Community Tree Planting in Rainy Park – Join the Natural Area Volunteers and MillionTreesNYC training program to volunteer in Rainy Park this Saturday. Meet new people and help make The Bronx even greener! Saturday, March 31, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Earth Hour – From 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time this Saturday, households and businesses across the globe will be turning off their non-essential lights to help raise awareness of climate change. Earth Hour was conceived by WWF and The Sydney Morning Herald in 2007, when 2.2 million people participated. A growing number of cities around the world now take part each year. Help spread the word and help New York City show its support for stopping climate change! Saturday, March 31, 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Lower East Side Ecology Center Recycling Event – Recycle your unwanted or broken gadgets the responsible way. Event will be held rain or shine. Saturday March 31, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Tavern and its Green Tour – Discover the sheepfold that became a world famous restaurant, a parade ground that became the Sheep Meadow and much more. Sunday, April 1, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 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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On the Road to Wastewater Energy Savings

By Matt Colip

Kent County Wastewater Treatment Plant has implemented some innovative energy efficiency measures, like solar panels, instrument optimization, and sludge drying greenhouses.

Kent County Wastewater Treatment Plant has implemented some innovative energy efficiency measures, like solar panels, instrument optimization, and sludge drying greenhouses.

It’s a fact that a modern, four-cylinder hybrid engine gets much better gas mileage then a larger, earlier generation, eight-cylinder engine.  Both get us where we need to go, but at different levels of energy use and fuel costs.

A similar concept can be applied to our local wastewater and drinking water facilities.  Operators of these facilities  are becoming more aware of just how much energy they use and more informed about ways to reduce energy usage. There are many methods of wastewater treatment, but just like cars, these processes vary in energy use and cost.

One easy way for water treatment operators to learn about the latest strategies in making their facility energy efficienct is by referring to EPA’s guidance document Ensuring a Sustainable Future: An Energy Management Guidebook for Wastewater and Water Utilities.  It’s designed to guide treatment plant operators through the process of maximizing their facility’s energy efficiency, while also reducing their costs.  The guidebook utilizes a four-step approach: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

They can also attend the May 8 Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg that we blogged about recently. This event (held by EPA in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) is for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately carbon footprint, and will highlight several areas related to energy efficiency.

As a homeowner, you can help your drinking water and wastewater plants save operating costs by becoming more water efficient yourself. One way to do this is by utilizing WaterSense products in your household.

For more information on energy efficiency, please visit our website. For information about the Energy Roundtable event, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. He is also interested in technologies that promote efficient living, strives to practice what he preaches, and is moving to a house on a pervious pavement street in Philadelphia. Matt’s love of bicycling took him on a solo cross country tour (riding from San Francisco to the New Jersey shore) as well as around Puerto Rico and across Ohio with colleagues and friends.

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:Innovation for Clean Water

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

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Recently, I sat down with Sally Gutierrez, EPA’s Chief of the Environmental Innovation Technology Cluster Development and Support Program, located in Cincinnati, OH. She oversees the Water Technology Innovation Cluster, a public-private partnership covering Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana.

Over the last year, the Water Cluster has had significant impact on the way we view water research and water technology commercialization. Gutierrez said, “The region has attracted many emerging small water technology businesses, resulting in several cooperative research agreements and technical assistance from EPA researchers, as well as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to small businesses developing new technologies to keep our water clean.”

Three of those Small Business awards went to regional companies such as UES, Inc located in Dayton, Ohio. According to Gutierrez, they are developing a real-time In-line sensor for wastewater monitoring. This new technology will be able to detect biological agents and toxins in our water supply in real-time. Something that, if successful, would redefine the way we monitor our wastewater and provide utilities, and EPA, a new way to prevent contaminants from reaching our water.

Speaking of contaminants in our water, Faraday Technology, also in Ohio, is developing a new microelectrode array technology that will enable multiple contaminant monitoring in drinking water, wastewater, surface water and ground water according to Gutierrez.

And with our freshwater resources dwindling, Okeanos Technologies, in northern Kentucky, is developing an innovative new way to take the salt out of saltwater. “Their desalination system uses ion concentration polarization elements and modular arrays,” Sally adds. “This technology takes a really innovative approach to desalination that uses less energy and along with the salt, removes multiple contaminants, including trace contaminants, from water which is of great interest to EPA.”

The impact these small businesses could potentially have on our water supply and even our economy as they grow and create jobs is tremendous. These companies, and the other SBIR winners, are great examples of how a public-private partnership works in developing new technologies to keep our water safe.

As we celebrate 40 years of the Clean Water Act, it’s important to note that the challenges we face today are more subtle and more complex than they were 40 years ago. It’s great that the Water Cluster is looking for new technologies, more innovative and sustainable solutions to make sure that our water supplies are safe and clean for future generations.

About the author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a communications specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: To hear Sally Gutierrez talk about the exciting innovations flowing out of the Water Cluster, listen to the latest Science Matters podcast.

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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Bed bugs? | “The Bites are so Itchy, we Scratch until we Bleed!”

By Marcia Anderson

I receive complaints from residents who have, or think they have bed bugs, and are desperately seeking help. These people have exhausted all possible sources of help: landlords, pest control operators, over-the-counter products, and online solutions. Desperate, they contact the EPA, and are referred to a Bed Bug expert in their Region – me. The first thing I do is calm them down and reassure them that there is hope. They can get rid of bed bugs. By sharing this story that crossed my desk, I hope to help others in similar situations.

Sean e-mailed me; “We are convinced we have bed bugs. My wife thinks she found a bed bug. We have read articles on-line, and looked at pictures, and then we sprayed, heated, caulked, washed, dried, and wrapped our mattress and box spring in bed bug cases (encasements). We are getting bitten every night. After thorough inspection we still see nothing. Is it possible they are elsewhere in the house, in our vehicles? Should we spray more? And what brand?”

My follow up call revealed that Sean’s family had moved recently, and the itching continued through the entire move.  Whatever was bothering them had traveled with them. And the problem was becoming unbearable. Had they collected any live bugs?  No. Nor had they seen any of the tell tale signs of bed bugs: shed skins, corpses, blood stains, or droppings on the bed sheets.

Scabies mites burrow into the skin resulting in open sores on hands, wrists, elbows, or anywhere on the body. Scabies is diagnosed through microscopic examination of skin scrapings taken from the affected area.

I told Sean, “From what you describe, and the controls you have put in place, I don’t think you have bed bugs. Let’s try Plan B.”  Was the family being plagued with spiders, carpet beetles, mites?  I suggested he contact the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University.

Sean wrote Cornell, “Marcia Anderson of EPA referred me to you. After describing our situation, Marcia doesn’t think we have bed bugs. We know what they look like, where to find them, and how to get rid of them.  The bites are so itchy, we scratch until we bleed! We have tried numerous anti-itch creams, but none take away the itch!”

Cornell provided some excellent information and recommended a pest control company inspection. Later, a frustrated Sean called me again. ‘Still no bugs but horrid itching.’ I suggested they visit a dermatologist to diagnose the bites.

Sean wrote back; “Marcia, you were right. We thought we had bed bugs, but it turned out to be scabies! We were successfully treated by a dermatologist. My son got them at daycare.”

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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Cool New EPA App…

uvbannerEPA has a cool new app for your smartphone…the UV forecast app.  The Ultraviolet (UV) Index provides a daily forecast of the UV radiation levels from the sun on a 1 – 11+ scale. Ozone layer depletion decreases our atmosphere’s natural protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.  Understanding these risks and taking a few sensible precautions will help you enjoy the sun while lowering your chances of sun-related health problems.

Find your UV forecast today!

http://www.epa.gov/enviro/mobile/

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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