Monthly Archives: March 2012

Southern Hospitality Can Host Great Partnerships for Water

By Nancy Stoner

I recently visited Three Mile Creek in Mobile, Alabama to see projects involving EPA’s Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. Like all of our NEPs, Mobile Bay focuses on partnership with state and local officials, utilities, universities, environmental groups, and many others. This was apparent when our boat trip up Three Mile Creek was overbooked with local partners eager to participate.

Three Mile Creek used to be the drinking water source for many Mobile residents, but is now severely polluted from a wastewater treatment plant and stormwater. The result is muddy water and lots of trash. But restoration prospects are bright. First, the land along the waterway is undeveloped and much is owned by the city or by a church, and is managed in its natural condition as a floodplain. The sewage treatment plant is moving its discharge to a larger waterway, eliminating the largest single source of pollution. And the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is keeping the City of Mobile moving forward to reduce stormwater that carries trash from streets, parking lots, and other public areas into the waterway.

The talk on the trip was about making improvements and getting more people out to enjoy this potentially lovely amenity for residents, including those in underserved neighborhoods who are close enough to walk to the creek to fish or boat – and maybe eventually to swim.

Our second stop was at Joe’s Branch, the site of an innovative stormwater management project, paid for in part by EPA Section 319 funds, which will address one of the most severe cases of streambank erosion many of us had ever seen. The design incorporates a state-of-the-art approach – a series of step pools to slow down the flows, let the pollutants settle out and infiltrate water into the ground. It will be the first of its kind in Alabama and engineers evaluated prototypes from across the country to devise this design.

This project is another example of the economic benefits of environmental protection. Nearby retirement homes previously had beautiful views.  But now there is a 40 foot-wide chasm that fell dozens of huge trees and washed tons of sediment to Mobile Bay.  As a result, many apartments went unoccupied – in 2011 the retirement community had 100 months of unoccupied homes, costing over $300,000 in revenue.

Whether in urban Mobile or in the rural area across the Bay, partnership is making improvements possible.

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

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

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

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Reading Labels Can Save Lives!

By Lina Younes

Several years ago we got a puppy for my youngest daughter. While there was great anticipation for the puppy’s arrival, there was one thing that we didn’t expect: a flea infestation. Upon the puppy’s arrival, we all started itching. The fleas quickly made themselves at home in the dog’s bedding and in our living room sofa, everywhere! I had thought of using a fogger,  but didn’t think that would address the problem of the fleas on the dog and throughout house. So, I went to the nearest pet shop to get the strongest flea control product available to get rid of those unwanted critters! I bought several dog shampoos and the biggest jug on the shelf. The front label had “kills fleas” written on it so I immediately snatched it and proceed to pay for all the products that were going to make my home flea free.

First thing we did was give the dog a nice bath with the flea control shampoo. Then I wanted to apply liquid flea product that came in that big jug. Before I even opened it, I read the label first. How would I administer it? Did I have to dilute it? Spray it? Apply it directly to the floors, carpets, upholstery? I wasn’t thinking of safety then, my main focus was to get rid of the pests! Well, it’s a good thing that I stopped to read the back label for instructions. The product was to be used in barns where there are horses, not in homes where there are small children and small pets!

I cringe at the thought of what would have happened if I had started pouring that thing left and right as I really felt like doing. Talk about a pesticide poisoning in the making if that product had been applied incorrectly. Bottom line, I just endured the flea problem a bit longer. The following morning I returned the product to the store and bought what I needed to get rid of the problem and protect my family.

So, during National Poison Prevention Week, please handle pesticide products and household chemicals properly. Keep them out of children’s reach and remember to read the label for key information on how to use properly and First Aid instructions. Have you had similar experiences? We would love to hear from you.

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.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhQW9D5IsTk&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

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

Por Lina Younes

Hace varios años, conseguimos una perrita para nuestra niña menor. Mientras esperábamos la llegada de la nueva mascota con gran anticipación, había una cosa que no habíamos anticipado: una infestación de pulgas. Tan pronto llegó la perrita, las pulgas empezaron a picarnos con todo su gusto. Ellas inmediatamente se aclimataron e invadieron todo. Pensé en usar un nebulizador, pero no pensaba que podría resolver el problema de las pulgas en la perra y por toda la casa. Entonces, fui a la tienda especializada en productos para macotas para encontrar los productos más potentes para eliminar estas criaturas indeseables. Compré varios champús para perros y el envase más grande que tenían en los anaqueles. Vi que la etiqueta del frente decía “mata pulgas” e inmediatamente lo agarré y fui a pagar para librar mi casa de las pulgas.

Lo primero que hice fue darle a la perrita un buen baño con el champú anti-pulgas. Entonces, quería aplicar el líquido que había comprado en el envase grande. Antes de abrirlo, leí la etiqueta primero. ¿Cómo lo tenía que aplicar? ¿Había que diluirlo? ¿Rociarlo? ¿Aplicarlo directamente a los pisos, alfombras o muebles tapizados? En esos momentos yo no estaba pensando en la seguridad. ¡Mi enfoque mayor era en cómo me iba a librar de las plagas! Bueno, me alegro de haberme detenido a leer las instrucciones en la etiqueta en la parte de atrás de la botella. El producto era para ser utilizado en graneros donde hay caballos y no en hogares donde hay niños pequeños y mascotas.

Me horrorizo nada más de pensar lo que hubiese podido ocurrir si me hubiese puesto a echar ese líquido por todas partes como realmente quería hacer cuando lo compré. Se hubiese producido un envenenamiento accidental de haber aplicado el producto incorrectamente. En fin de cuentas, aguantamos el problema de las pulgas por unas horas más. A la mañana siguiente, regresé a la tienda, devolví el producto, y compré lo que necesitaba para librarme de las pulgas y proteger a mi familia.

Por lo tanto, durante la Semana Nacional de Prevención de Envenenamientos maneje los productos plaguicidas y sustancias químicas domésticas adecuadamente. Manténgalos fuera de alcance de los niños y recuérdese de leer la etiqueta para información clave sobre cómo usarlos apropiadamente y las instrucciones de primeros auxilios. ¿Ha tenido experiencias similares? Compártalas 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.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0u7gerCEjk&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

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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Earth-Friendly Weekend Activities: March 24-25:

Even with rain in the forecast, there is no excuse to stay put this weekend. Check out our list of things to do and add your own if we missed something fun.

Aah-choo! Between flu season and allergy season, investigate the immune system at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Learn about the super team working inside your body to keep you healthy, and use the power of a blacklight to teach some super hand washing skills. Sunday, March 25, 1:30 p.m., ages 4 and up.

Exploring the Water: Is our unusual weather part of a natural pattern, or are we experiencing a global change? Understanding our climate helps us prepare our city for a more sustainable future. The NYC Parks Department’s Urban Park Rangers will introduce you to these important scientific concepts that will help you prepare for the future. Sunday, March 25, 1:00 p.m. at the Salt Marsh Nature Center (in Marine Park).

Free Multicultural Art Workshop: The Jewish Community Center of Staten Island is hosting an ongoing FREE Multicultural Art Program for seniors. The class will focus on various cultures from across the globe. Beginners are welcome and encouraged to participate. Seating is limited. Please call (718) 475-5281 to register (advanced registration is required). Sunday, March 25, from 12:45-1:45 p.m.

Green Roof Boot Camp: This introductory training course on green roof infrastructure design presents many of the tools and techniques needed to meet your green roof project objectives on schedule, to specification, and within budget. Workshops offered on Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. –5:00 p.m.

WAXworks: WAXworks is a non-curated, performance showcase designed to help artists advance their creative process by viewing their work through written criticism from the objective eyes of a live audience. This performance will feature work by CoreDance Contemporary, Lara Wilson Dance Project, Tim Chester Dance, Aurora Black, Inc., Kathy Diehl, Craver Dance, and Corinne Teklitz. Tickets are a donation of 10. Sunday, March 25, 7:00 p.m. at 118 N 11th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Electronic Waste Recycling Day in Midwood/Gravesend: The Lower East Side Ecology Center is holding an electronic waste (e-waste) recycling event at the Sephardic Community Center in Midwood/Gravesend this spring to responsibly recycle all of your unwanted or broken gadgets. A list of acceptable materials can be found here. Spread the word to your friends and neighbors. Sunday, March 25, 10:00 a.m. –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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Virtual Water, Real Impacts: World Water Day 2012

By Christina Catanese

In this digital age, it seems everything is becoming virtual.  There are virtual pets, virtual reality, virtual keyboards, and virtual books.  From your computer, you can shop virtually, and take virtual tours.

But virtual water?  How does that work?  We can’t consume water that we can’t see… or can we?

Virtual water is a concept that refers to the water needed to make a product.  We know we should drink 8 glasses of water a day to be hydrated, but it’s easy to overlook the gallons and gallons of water required to produce the food we eat and the things we buy.  This water is virtual in that the end-consumer of a product is not directly using water, but there was water that went into producing the item.  So by consuming these items, we use water indirectly, hence virtually. You might be surprised at how much the hidden water that we consume adds up.

Let’s take the cheeseburger I had for lunch yesterday, for example.  Estimates are that a 1/3 pound burger requires 660 gallons of water to be produced, most of which is for the beef.  One pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons, a pound of cheese requires 700 gallons, and two slices of bread require 22 gallons.  Why does meat require so much more water?  Well, it factors in what’s needed during the entire life of a cow: water for the animal to drink, to grow feed and hay, and to keep stables and farmyards clean.  Guess I should have gone with the salad after all: lettuce only takes about 13 gallons per pound to produce.

Once I started looking for this hidden water, the amount of water I found that I eat got higher quickly, and I started to see connections.  How much water did it take to grow the coffee I drank this morning, and to produce the milk and sugar I put in it?  The banana I put in my cereal?  The cereal itself?  The candy bar I had for a mid-afternoon boost?

Beyond diet, what about the paper all over my desk (1,321 gallons to make 500 sheets)?  The jeans I’m wearing (2,900 gallons for one pair)?  How about the water it takes to produce the fuel that brought all these things to Philadelphia for me to use and consume?  And the energy to power all my appliances at home?  The hidden water we use really adds up, and when you do the math, it starts to seem much more real than virtual.

The estimates of virtual water in this post come from National Geographic and the Water Footprint Network.  Check out this Water Footprint Calculator to see how much water you’re using, virtual or otherwise!  Are you surprised by these numbers?  Do they make you want to change your consumption habits?  WaterSense labeled appliances are one way to reduce your water footprint; what others can you think of?

 

March 22 is World Water Day, a commemorative day by the United Nations to raise awareness about water issues.  This year’s WWD focuses on water and food security and production all over the world.

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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Smart Growth in My Community: Silver Spring, Maryland

By Susan Conbere

When I was interviewed for the position of Communications Specialist for the Office of Sustainable Communities last September, a director asked me to edit a description of the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. I opened the booklet and – hah! – there was my town! I was delighted to see that Silver Spring, Maryland had won the 2008 award for overall excellence in smart growth.

For 10 years, my family lived in the outskirts of Silver Spring. We were far from everything except a park and a pool. If my kids wanted to go anywhere outside the neighborhood, I had to drive them. We spent at least 10 hours a week in the car, driving back and forth to school, fencing practice, and running meets. I also drove to work downtown, which should have taken 20 minutes, but regularly took up to an hour in traffic. My husband commuted to Virginia, which was much worse.

In 2006, we decided to look for a house downtown that was closer to work and school.

For years, downtown Silver Spring was plagued with empty storefronts and streets. Several attempts to revitalize the city had failed. Then the city turned to smart growth, an approach that helps communities grow so they are walkable, safe, and convenient to stores and public transit. Residents walk more, so they get more exercise. They drive less, so there’s less traffic and air pollution. Businesses are attracted to such communities, which creates jobs. People shop downtown, which brings in revenue.

In 2003, a large corporation put its headquarters near the Silver Spring metro. The city built an outside pedestrian mall with stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and a green community center. I can walk to all this, plus a library, a post office, three grocery stores, and a farmer’s market. Today, Silver Spring is an exciting place to be.

My family loves it. My younger son takes the city bus home after practice or runs home on the Sligo Creek bike trail. My older son attends the University of Maryland, so he can take the metro home whenever he likes. My husband loves the convenience to downtown. And I walk 5 minutes to the metro to get to my office, which manages EPA’s smart growth program.

Learn more

About the author: Susan Conbere is the Communications Specialist for EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities in Washington, DC.

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

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Science Wednesday: Why Research Matters at Breakfast Time

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

By Tarlie Townsend

I cover breakfast cereal halfway with unsweetened almond milk, then add an ice cube and fill the bowl the rest of the way with cold water.

My flat mates think it’s pretty odd. What doesn’t strike them as odd, though, is that I consume water from the tap. Why would it? These days we can be confident that, when we turn on the tap, clear, potable water will flow out.

But maybe that shouldn’t be such a given. It’s not like we create pure water by combining two hydrogens and an oxygen in some giant combustion chamber. No, the water I put on my cereal has made it through the earth’s complex recycling system, and may have spent time on land, in the ocean, and in the air—so it’s actually pretty impressive that it comes out so clean.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Years ago, rivers and streams—common sources of drinking water—were also dumping grounds for human and industrial waste. Sure, people knew polluted water was unsafe to consume, but the details weren’t well understood. Before water could be clean enough to pour on my cereal, and before environmental laws (such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act) could be created to keep it that way, scientists had to tackle several important questions:

  1. What about polluted water makes it unsafe? What are its biological, chemical, and physical properties?
  2. How do we detect and measure a given pollutant?
  3. How much can be in the water without creating health concerns?
  4. How do we remove pollutants to actually get the water clean?

These were big questions, and answering them required several decades and the development of innovative technologies and analytical methods. I’m certainly grateful: without EPA research, I might have to eat my cereal with unsweetened almond milk!

Of course, continued research is necessary to keep up with our changing society. EPA researchers play a big role in this, working to update water infrastructure for the growing population, to protect our drinking water from terrorist threats, combat nutrient pollution and, ultimately, ensure the availability of safe and sustainable water resources for future generations.

About the Author: Tarlie Townsend is a communications intern in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She’s also a senior at Indiana University, and would point out that, while almond milk is great in cereal, cow’s milk is really the superior coffee ingredient.

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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How Not to Recycle in NYC | The Wrong Bin

By Abbey States

I first heard about The Wrong Bin, a short documentary about recycling in New York City, through a rather serendipitous set of circumstances.  Filmmaker Krishnan Vasudevan was a guest on one of my favorite food podcasts, The Sporkful, which then led me to the film’s website and a wealth of information about the unexpectedly fascinating world of NYC recycling.  Cut to a few months later, and we were fortunate to host a viewing of the film at EPA and ask Krishnan some burning questions about his years of research into the city’s waste streams.

Through interviews with NYC Department of Sanitation and NRDC officials as well as solid waste professionals and area landlords, The Wrong Bin uncovers some of the many reasons why New York lags behind other US cities when it comes to waste management despite its pioneering role on other sustainability issues like land use and smart growth.  New York City’s recycling program is actually the largest and most ambitious in the country, so why do New Yorkers recycle less than half of everything that we could?

Upgrades to the city’s infrastructure are already underway (including textile recycling and a new local processing facility to help recycling become a cheaper option), but significant change can start with individual behavior.  Recycling is a legal mandate in New York City, yet the onus and the fines fall on overburdened building superintendents for most multi-family dwellings.  The Wrong Bin shows how simple changes to what we’re tossing can positively impact both the environment and economy in the city.

The first step is to know your local regs.  Within NYC, you should separate tied cardboard/paper from clear-bagged bottles and cans or use the colored bins where you can find them.  However, I live in New Jersey, where we have a single-stream system that prohibits bags of any kind.  Think that is confusing?  San Francisco has a mandatory three bin system!  Make it simpler for yourself and your neighbors by posting a sign as a reminder in the waste area of your building.

Another easy change is to keep it clean.  Caked-on food, grease, and significant moisture can make materials unrecyclable, so be sure to dump your bottles out before tossing them in the bin.  Broken glass is also dangerous for handlers and difficult to sort out from other materials during processing.

Check out The Wrong Bin’s website and EPA’s Wastewise program for more information on how you can make a sustainable difference in your community.

About the Author: Abbey States has been a Physical Scientist with the Superfund Program Support Branch since 2010 and is a member of the federal interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.  She studied chemistry at Tufts University and has a graduate degree from the University of Auckland.  Prior to joining EPA, Abbey worked as a field sampler on Superfund sites, laboratory analyst, and chimney stack tester.

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 Butt Stops Here

I had no idea where our eighth grade study of water science would lead me this past fall: picking up cigarette butts out of street gutters, creating anti-litter advertising, and talking to the Raleigh City Council about how cigarettes are the biggest–and most hidden–form of litter in our city and state.

We learned about water properties through class discussions, guest speakers, and amazing field trips like canoeing our local Neuse River and stream testing nearby tributaries. Our quarterly project consisted of participating in the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation’s Environmental Challenge.  In teams of 8, we formed action plan projects to solve water issues.

We talked to experts, including representatives from NC Big Sweep and Keep NC Beautiful. We learned that cigarette butts are the number one form of litter in our community.  Our environmental goal: We want cigarette smokers to dispose of their cigarette butts properly, which will result in cleaner waterways and streets.

To meet our goal, we created a grassroots campaign that would positively affect the community and get its support in the process. Our campaign reached an estimated 35,000 people on a budget of under $1000. We received free City of Raleigh advertising space, assistance from its public affairs staff, and design assistance from a local sign shop. The shop helped us create placards for every city bus and a grant from Keep NC Beautiful helped pay for them.  We also produced, filmed, and edited three free PSA commercials with the Raleigh Television Network.  We talked to City Council about adding cigarette ash receptacles on more streets in downtown Raleigh. According to Keep America Beautiful, for every ash receptacle added, the littering rate decreases by nine percent, so we know this will have a lasting impact on the community. We specifically want to add ash receptacles to bus stops, city parks, and other meeting areas around the city.

I never paid much attention to cigarette litter before the project.  I didn’t always notice it.  My shock of realization came after conducting the first survey near Raleigh’s main bus station. We found over 2500 littered cigarette butts in one day!  Cleaning them up made me realize that even small types of litter really affect the way I view a community. One project realization is the willingness of residents to make changes in communities. Our campaign was a success because of people who cared about our city.

Annie is an eighth grader at Exploris Middle School. She enjoys reading and playing the alto saxophone in the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble.

Exploris Middle School, is a charter school in downtown Raleigh, NC that uses integrated project-based learning and service-learning to carry out its mission to help students learn to build a “connected, just, and sustainable world.”

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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Celebrating Energy Star: 20 Years of Partnership, Promise, and Progress

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

This entry previously posted on Huffington Post

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a bold vision. With the increasing use of electronics in American households and business — including the introduction of personal computers that would soon be in every home and office across the country — the agency saw a need to conserve energy and reduce air pollution to create a healthier climate for all Americans. They saw an opportunity to harness market forces that would encourage both consumers and companies to invest in cleaner, more innovative, more energy-efficient products in sectors across the economy. The result was the Energy Star program.

In the two decades that have passed since it began, Energy Star has become a household name. Its familiar blue label appears on televisions, dishwashers, computers and more — upwards of five billion products sold in the last two decades. We’ve also certified more than 1.3 million Energy Star houses and tens of thousands of buildings across the country. American families and businesses have saved a combined total of nearly $230 billion dollars on their utility bills with help from Energy Star, and prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The program’s partnership with leading companies from every sector of the economy is proof positive that we can strengthen our economy at the same time we protect our environment. Consumers know that Energy Star means savings on the power bill, and they drive the change — voting with their dollars to support companies that make products that meet and exceed Energy Star standards. After 20 years, our vast network of partners gives Americans a wide-array of innovative choices for saving energy and cutting costs every day.

Energy Star is one of our great success stories, and it will play a vital role in our future. The challenges we face in growing our economy, the threats to our health from air pollution, and the need for action to protect our planet from climate change all demand serious energy and environmental solutions. In a comprehensive energy strategy, improving efficiency is at the top of the list.

Twenty years in, we still have a bold vision, one in which the Energy Star program helps millions of people — in the U.S. and around the world — save money, protect their health and the environment, and strengthen an economy that’s built to last.

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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