Monthly Archives: March 2012

Spring Cleaning? What About Air Ducts?

By Kelly Hunt

It’s spring. How can I tell? Mailings about air duct cleaning. It makes sense that they come now, while us home dwellers prep for the warmer months by cleaning and doing home repairs. But do I need to get the air ducts in my home cleaned? Can this affect the air I breathe indoors? Does that impact my health?

Lucky for me, I work with experts who happily helped me navigate this question. Don’t you fret, though — all of their words of wisdom are on EPA’s Web page on air ducts for you to view anytime, so you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.

Things I learned:

  • First, be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk: control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.
  • Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether dust levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • Indoor pollutants that enter from outdoors or come from indoor activities — like cooking, cleaning or smoking — may cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.
  • You need to inspect your air ducts to determine whether or not they need to be cleaned.

You should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • There’s substantial, visible mold growth inside the ducts or on parts of your HVAC system. (If there’s mold, there’s likely a moisture problem. A professional should find the cause of the water problem and fix it.) If you consult a professional, make sure they SHOW you the mold before moving forward.
  • The ducts are infested with rodents or insects. Not okay.
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris that are actually released into the home from vents.

If you find any of those problems, identify the underlying cause before cleaning, retrofitting or replacing your ducts. If you don’t, the problem will likely happen again.

There’s little evidence that cleaning your air ducts will improve health or, alone, will increase efficiency. To learn about HVAC maintenance and efficiency, see our Heating and Cooling Efficiently page.

Decision, decisions. If I decide to get my air ducts cleaned, I’ll make sure to follow the advice of EPA experts. I’ll also carefully check the service provider’s track record before doing anything. And I’ll remember to SEE, with my own eyes, mold growth or other problems before making a final decision.

About the author: Kelly Hunt, is a communications specialist with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her career in public affairs began in 2001 and she now focuses on emergency response, outreach and engagement for radiation and indoor air issues.

.

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.

¿Limpieza de primavera? ¿Cuán importantes son los conductos de aire?

Es primavera. ¿Cómo lo sé? Por la correspondencia que he recibido sobre la limpieza de conductos de aire. Tiene sentido que los envíen ahora mientras nosotros los residentes nos preparamos para los meses más cálidos limpiando y haciendo reparaciones en el hogar. ¿Pero es necesario limpiar los conductos de aire en mi casa? ¿Puede esto afectar el aire que respiro en mi hogar? ¿Afectará esto a mi salud?

Por suerte, yo trabajo con expertos que afortunadamente me ayudaron a navegar esta interrogante. No se preocupe, ya que – todas sus palabras sabias están en la página Web de la EPA acerca de los conductos de aire para que usted pueda verlas en cualquier momento, y así pueda tomar la mejor decisión para usted.

Cosas que aprendí:

  • Primero, familiarícese con los consejos generales acerca de la calidad del aire interior para reducir riesgos: controle fuentes de contaminación dentro del hogar, cambie los filtros regularmente y ajuste la humedad.
  • Nunca se ha demostrado que limpiando los conductos de aire pueda prevenir efectivamente los problemas de salud. Los estudios científicos son inconcluyentes acerca de si los niveles de polvo en los hogares aumentan debido a que los conductos de aire estén sucios.
  • Los contaminantes en los interiores que entran desde el exterior o son provocados por actividades en el interior-como cocinar, limpiar o fumar – pueden causar una exposición mayor a los contaminantes que la que pudieran causar los conductos de aire sucios.
  • Usted tiene que inspeccionar los conductos de aire para determinar si tienen que ser limpiados o no.

Usted debería considerar la limpieza de conductos de aire si:

  • Hay un crecimiento sustancial visible de moho en el interior de los conductos de aire o en parte de su sistema de calefacción y aire acondicionado (HVAC, por sus siglas en inglés). (Si hay moho, hay probablemente un problema de humedad. Un profesional debe encontrar la causa del problema del agua y arreglarlo.) Si usted consulta a un profesional, asegúrese de que le muestran dónde está el moho antes de seguir adelante.
  • Los conductos están infestados con roedores o insectos. No está bien.
  • Los conductos están obstruidos con cantidades excesivas de polvo y escombros que son liberados en la casa por medio de los respiraderos.

Si encuentra cualquiera de estos problemas, identifique la causa fundamental antes de hacer la limpieza, la renovación o la sustitución de los conductos de aire. Si no lo hace, es probable que el problema vuelva a suceder.

Hay poca evidencia que indique que el limpiar los conductos de aire mejoren su salud o mejoren la eficiencia. Para aprender acerca del mantenimiento y eficiencia de los sistemas centrales de aire acondicionado y calefacción, visite nuestra página sobre calentar y enfriar de manera eficiente.

Decisión, decisiones. Si decido limpiar los conductos de aire, me aseguraré de seguir el consejo de los expertos de la EPA. También voy a verificar cuidadosamente el historial de servicios del proveedor antes de hacer algo. Y no me voy a olvidar de ver, con mis propios ojos, el crecimiento de moho u otros problemas antes de tomar una decisión final.

La autora, Kelly Hunt, es una especialista en comunicaciones con la Oficina de Aire y Radiación de la EPA. Su carrera como relacionista pública se inicio en el año 2001 y actualmente su nuevo enfoque es en respuestas a emergencias ambientales y en el alcance e integración comunitaria en asuntos de radiación y de aire de interiores.

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.

Greening the Sidewalks of New York City

By Sabina Pendse

One of the best aspects of living in New York City is being able to walk around and explore the city by foot.  However, my trips are often interrupted by scaffolding which obstructs the sidewalk, block my views, and drip what I can only hope is water onto my head.  The continuous development and construction across the city leaves many buildings surrounded by scaffolding, creating sidewalk “sheds” and confining pedestrians in dark, dreary tunnels which often sub as toilets.  New York City has over 6000 of these sidewalk sheds, which if lined up end-to-end would be over 189 miles long and could reach from NYC to Baltimore! Though the sheds are meant to protect pedestrians from construction sites and building facades, they are often seen as merely a nuisance. But what if we could do something more with all of these sheds?

Image Credit: Softwalks (www.citysoftwalks.com)

Earlier this month, I was privileged to attend a collaborative design workshop hosted by the New York Horticultural Society, which aimed to answer this very question.  The workshop focused on re-imagining the sidewalk sheds to benefit the community and the surrounding environment.   The premise was based on Softwalks, a research endeavor from Transdisciplinary Design students from Parsons, the New School for Design, “to prototype a modular horticulture system designed to reduce greenhouse gases, particulate emissions and storm water runoff – green goals established by the City of New York.” In other words, the design students are looking at ways to make the semi-permanent structures more environmentally friendly; they are trying to green gray infrastructure.

I always found the scaffolding around the city to just be annoying and I never really considered how the sheds could have multiple functions until the workshop.  I was surprised when the Parsons students proposed that the sheds could even be assets to a community, rather than simply eyesores.  What a great idea! The grad students facilitated a design charrette where we explored many options for the sheds ranging from rain barrels to art murals.  While the Softwalks project is focusing on using plants, we all shared our own visions for how the sheds could be transformed.

When you are out and about in New York do you notice the scaffolding? Next time you are walking around, think about how you would re-create the sidewalk sheds in your neighborhood into something both environmentally-friendly and useful for your community.

About the Author: Sabina Pendse is a Presidential Management Fellow in Region 2’s Office of Policy and Management, where she serves as the Region’s Sustainable Schools Coordinator. She also collaborates with other federal agencies, state and local governments, municipalities, and non-profits to provide assistance to improve environmental quality in communities through smart growth and green building.

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.

National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program Focuses on Making a Difference in Communities

By Melinda Downing

As the Department of Energy’s Environmental Justice Program Manager, I am committed to making environmental justice a reality. That means ensuring that all stakeholders are informed about the issues affecting their communities and have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in environmental decision-making.

To help achieve this goal, we sponsor the 2012 National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program (NEJC), which will take place in Washington DC, April 11-13, 2012. This year’s conference will focus specifically on youth outreach and how we can enhance communities through capacity building and technical assistance.

One speaker I am very excited about is Nancy Sutley, who has provided leadership across the federal government on environmental justice in her role as Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Ms. Sutley will be the morning keynote speaker for the conference on Friday, April 13th. And, while, you may know her as the Congresswoman of the United States Virgin Islands, the Honorable Dr. Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) has been a big champion for the environment and a cheerleader for eliminating health disparities for years. She will be leading a panel discussion on Thursday April 12th.

For those of you who are most interested in sharing best practices or garnering a few, we also have selected Lisa Garcia, Senior Advisor to the Administrator at the EPA, and Daria Neal, Deputy Chief of the Federal Compliance Section for the U. S. Department of Justice, to lead interactive sessions over the three-day conference. Native Alaskan Jacqueline Shirley from the Zender Group and Vernice Miller-Travis of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities will also share their best environmental justice practices for community capacity building and collaboration. And, we have added an online environmental justice training module, which will not only provide useful information, but also allow participants to receive continuing education credit.

Registration is almost at capacity. With only a month to go, you should register today! For more information about conference and the list of speakers, visit

About the author: Melinda Downing joined Department of Energy’s Washington, DC headquarters office in 1978 and currently oversees the Department’s Environmental Justice Program. Working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, a partnership was established with various communities around the country to provide them with training, resources and education to address their environmental concerns and issues and to give them a voice at the table to be a part of the decision-making process. The Department of Energy along with the Environmental Protection Agency is a member of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice which consists of 17 Federal agencies committed to the principals of Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898.

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.

National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program Focuses on Making a Difference in Communities

By Melinda Downing

As the Department of Energy’s Environmental Justice Program Manager, I am committed to making environmental justice a reality. That means ensuring that all stakeholders are informed about the issues affecting their communities and have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in environmental decision-making.

To help achieve this goal, we sponsor the 2012 National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program (NEJC), which will take place in Washington DC, April 11-13, 2012. This year’s conference will focus specifically on youth outreach and how we can enhance communities through capacity building and technical assistance.

One speaker I am very excited about is Nancy Sutley, who has provided leadership across the federal government on environmental justice in her role as Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Ms. Sutley will be the morning keynote speaker for the conference on Friday, April 13th. And, while, you may know her as the Congresswoman of the United States Virgin Islands, the Honorable Dr. Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) has been a big champion for the environment and a cheerleader for eliminating health disparities for years. She will be leading a panel discussion on Thursday April 12th.

For those of you who are most interested in sharing best practices or garnering a few, we also have selected Lisa Garcia, Senior Advisor to the Administrator at the EPA, and Daria Neal, Deputy Chief of the Federal Compliance Section for the U. S. Department of Justice, to lead interactive sessions over the three-day conference. Native Alaskan Jacqueline Shirley from the Zender Group and Vernice Miller-Travis of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities will also share their best environmental justice practices for community capacity building and collaboration. And, we have added an online environmental justice training module, which will not only provide useful information, but also allow participants to receive continuing education credit.

Registration is almost at capacity. With only a month to go, you should register today! For more information about conference and the list of speakers, visit

About the author: Melinda Downing joined Department of Energy’s Washington, DC headquarters office in 1978 and currently oversees the Department’s Environmental Justice Program. Working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, a partnership was established with various communities around the country to provide them with training, resources and education to address their environmental concerns and issues and to give them a voice at the table to be a part of the decision-making process. The Department of Energy along with the Environmental Protection Agency is a member of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice which consists of 17 Federal agencies committed to the principals of Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898.

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.

Spring into Energy Savings

By Brittney Gordon

These past two weeks has brought unusually high temperatures to the D.C. area and I am taking full advantage of the sunny weather. I am always excited about the coming of spring and this early start motivates me to shake up my normal routine and start to do some of the things that I have been putting off. For me that includes some energy saving moves that will save my family money and help protect our environment from climate change.

If you are feeling inspired to do the same, here are a few easy tips:

  • Change to More Efficient Light Bulbs: I still have a couple of incandescent bulbs hanging around the house and it is high time that I change them to Energy Star qualified models. Energy Star qualified lighting not only uses less energy, but also produces approximately 75 percent less heat than incandescent lighting, so your cooling bills will be reduced, too.
  • Find the Best Thermostat Settings: If you have a programmable thermostat, program it to work around your family’s spring schedule—set it a few degrees higher when no one is home, so your cooling system isn’t cooling an empty house.
  • Use Ceiling Fans: Run your ceiling fan to create a cool breeze. If you raise your thermostat by only two degrees and use your ceiling fan, you can lower cooling costs by up to 14 percent. Remember that ceiling fans cool you, not the room, so when you leave the room make sure to turn off the fan.
  • Maximize Shade: Pull the curtains and shades closed before you leave your home to keep the sun’s rays from overheating the interior of your home. If you can, move container trees and plants in front of sun-exposed windows to serve as shade.
  • Check Air Conditioner Filters: Check your cooling system’s air filter every month. If the filter looks dirty, change it. A good rule is to change the filter at least every three months. A dirty filter will slow air flow and make the system work harder to keep you cool—wasting energy. Also, remember to have your system serviced annually to ensure it’s running at optimum efficiency for money and energy savings.

For more information on how you can save energy this spring, check out Energy Star’s website for lots of great tips.

About the author: Brittney Gordon works on the communications team for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. She began working for EPA in 2010 after a career in broadcast journalism.

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.

Bring Back the Water Fountain

A Water-on-the-Go fountain on Wall Street (EPA photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Alyssa Arcaya

EPA is partnering with mayors in cities across the US to bring back the water fountain!   In cooperation with the United States Conference of Mayors, EPA has committed to work with mayors and cities to invest in public water fountains and promote the benefits of drinking tap water.

New York City is known for having some of the best tasting tap water in the country.  It’s so good that one private company actually bottles and sells it – clearly labeled as New York City tap water.  New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates that tap water costs the public just $0.01 per gallon, making it about 1000 times cheaper than bottled water.  Still, Americans consume about 50 billion bottles of water per year.  Bottled water isn’t just expensive, it’s resource intensive too.  The Pacific Institute estimates that 17 million gallons of oil are required to produce the bottled water that Americans drink in a single year.   But bottled water is convenient, which is one reason we buy so much of it.  Invigorating our system of public drinking fountains is one way to make tap water more accessible for New Yorkers and the tourists that visit the city.

DEP has begun to expand the network of drinking fountains in New York City through its Water-on-the-Go program.  When summer comes, they place portable fountains in parks, plazas and greenmarkets across the five boroughs.   DEP portable water fountains have also made appearances at Fashion Week, Staten Island Yankees’ games and other special events.  Some of the fountains even have special spigots that can be used to fill a dog’s bowl.  DEP has developed a smartphone app that can help you locate their water fountains when they’re back this summer.

Through our taxes, we all pay to support our public drinking water systems.  By expanding the system of public drinking fountains, we can provide access to clean, safe tap water and reduce our reliance on bottled water and other, less healthy options.  EPA is looking for more mayors and cities to sign up to support public water fountains in their communities.  For more information, check out the EPA page.

About the Author: Alyssa Arcaya serves as EPA Region 2’s water coordinator.  She came to EPA through the Presidential Management Fellows program, through which she also worked for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs and the Water Team at the U.S. Department of State.  She graduated from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with a Masters in Environmental Management.

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.

My Brother – Quietly Taking On Green Living

By Amy Miller

I want you to meet Bobby. But you have to call him Bob. A public school teacher, a father, a resident of suburban Boston – and my brother – Bobby has slowly and quietly added more and more activities to his green-living repertoire.

He has joined local committees, made changes in his house and heating, scaled back motorized transportation and begun experimenting with different forms of sustainable living. What impresses me about Bobby is that he does not proselytize, he does not flaunt his righteousness and he does not pretend he will give up that which he loves (skiing, traveling and the rare chance to jet ski, for instance).

Bob does what he can. I imagine if we all tried as hard we could save a lot of trees, or glaciers or lungs. It may not be enough to save the planet, but it’s enough to make a difference.

So this is the first in a periodic posting about my brother Bobby and what he is up to.

When I talked to Bob recently he had just graduated from his town’s CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training, a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At 57, he had volunteered to become one of 100 Brookline citizens trained over the years to help when disasters strike.

About 350 towns nationwide have trained citizens to help in emergencies. Like what? Like power outage, snowstorms, chemical spills, nuclear war, you name it.

Bobby decided to do the training after receiving an email from a town rep. His second child left for college this fall and he had more time on his hands.

“It sounded fun so I signed up,” he said.

And indeed it was fun. “I liked learning about things I didn’t know,” he said.

Two local police officers taught students about first aid, fire-training, shelter operations and traffic control, among other things, during 10 weekly classes.
At graduation, Bob was one of two students invited to speak.

Acknowledging he might have been attracted by a certain geek quality to the whole thing, Bob ran to retrieve goodies given to students: a glow-in-the-dark vest, a CERT hat and helmet, duct tape, goggles, a CERT backpack, work gloves, a first aid kit, a flashlight, an emergency blanket, a mask and a wrench.

And truth be told, my brother was not completely out of place. “Now,” he reported, “I want to get into ham radios.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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.

Spring Break Reading List

By Jeffery Robichaud

If you have kids like my wife and me, Spring Break is probably coming up. However, if you are lucky enough to be heading somewhere warm with a hammock, consider tossing these tomes into your tote.

COD – Sorry video gamers, this doesn’t stand for “Call of Duty”, rather Cod as in the book’s subtitle, A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. I was born on the seacoast of New Hampshire and remember visiting the Isles of Shoals, so named because in the 1600s monster schools of cod frequented the islands churning up so much water that the entire area looked like waves were breaking on shallow rocks. How can you pass up a book about history, economics, science, and VIKINGS. Long before Deadliest Catch and Lobster Wars there was Cod Wars. I don’t eat fish, but as an extra bonus there are recipes for Cod-lovers.

Where Underpants Come From – Think Bill Bryson meets Milton Friedman. I always enjoy chuckling while I’m learning something, and this book weaves (poor pun intended) a tale of the global economy from a pair of underpants back through the supply chain to China.

Live from Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today –This might not be the most in-depth history of the space program, but it was written by the only correspondent who has covered every manned space mission and is an extremely quick read. As we approach Earth Day, it is easy to forget that just 50 years ago, when John Glenn circled the Earth, we still had no idea what it looked like. Thanks to NASA our first full picture of earth was one for the ages.

Bartholomew and the Oobleck – No it is not the Lorax. It is not even my favorite, the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. But if you pick up this lesser known Seuss work for your kids, you can also be a science hero and kill a couple more hours of Spring Break by making your own non-newtonian fluid based on the story.

I’m still trying to work through a backlog on my e-reader , but any recommendations that you Care to Share?

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is Deputy Director of EPA’s Environmental Services Division in Kansas City. He is a second-generation scientist with EPA, who began his career in Washington, DC in 1998.

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.

Looking For A Few Good Scientists

video imageHave you ever wondered what you could be when you grow up? How about working for EPA?  Check out one of EPA’s ocean scientists at work: Renee Searfoss.  Learn about her job and how she first became inspired to become an EPA scientist on EPA’s You Tube channel.

Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHj-337Y1f4

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently pursuing a dual graduate degree at DePaul University.

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.