Monthly Archives: April 2012

Fuel to the Future

University of California Riverside students have developed clean, renewable grid-independent energy for 1.6 billion people currently without the convenience of electricity as part of EPA’s P3 – People, Prosperity, and the Planet—Program, a competition for designing solutions for a sustainable future.

Through P3, they are getting quality hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life and may lead to real world applications.   The UCR students have created a model that produces efficient, affordable, and sustainable energy.  The bonus…..it releases zero emissions!

Want to learn about how their project works?  Go to EPA’s YouTube Channel at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDtHCKCqoS8&feature=relmfu

Interested in the P3 program in your future?  Go to http://www.epa.gov/p3/

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.

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Many Hands Make Light (and Energy-Efficient) Work

By: Brittney Gordon

If there is one thing that I have learned in my time with the ENERGY STAR program, it is that it takes the collective effort of many people to achieve real gains in the fight against climate change. ENERGY STAR is a great program, but without the power of partnership and the help of millions of American families and businesses, our program couldn’t succeed. Saving our environment from harmful greenhouse gas pollution is a big job and on days like today I am proud to spread the word about ENERGY STAR’s biggest advocates.

Today EPA is celebrating the hard work of the top ENERGY STAR pledge drivers from our 2011 Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR campaign. The overall top pledge drivers are:

  • Georgia Power Company
  • Girl Scouts of the USA
  • Samsung Electronics
  • Ameren Illinois
  • Nissan North America

So, what does it mean to become an ENERGY STAR top pledge driver? It means that these supporters incorporated the ENERGY STAR Pledge into their public outreach during the 2011 campaign year, and signed up thousands of people to make a public commitment to protecting our climate by saving energy. Together with those pledge takers, these partners helped to prevent to 600 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions!

These partners make our job here at EPA a lot easier and we thank them for all of their support. Are you interested in becoming a pledge driver and helping others to learn simple ways to save energy and protect the climate? Sign up here. If you have yet to take the pledge, make today the day to get started! Just click here and we will take you step by step into a more energy efficient future for you and your family.

For a list of all top pledge drivers, please go to ENERGY STAR’s website.

About the author: Brittney Gordon is a communications team member for 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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Discovering Local Hidden Treasures

By Lina Younes

Recently I took several days off to stay home with my youngest daughter who was off for spring break. Let’s call it a staycation. Although I definitely had quite a long “to do list” of chores at home, I still wanted to make it fun for her so that she would feel that she had done something special during her time off from school.

So, what were we going to do? The movies? Check. The mall? Check. A trip to a museum? Check.  Staying home and watching TV? That definitely was not on my list of special memorable experiences for our staycation. As I was looking for activities in our local area, I remembered the sign on the road that I had seen and ignored many times before. The National Wildlife Visitor Center. Interesting. So, one afternoon I took my youngest to the visitors center at the Patuxent Research Refuge just five miles away from our house and found a hidden treasure in our neck of the woods.

It turns out the facility is the largest science and environmental education center in the Department of the Interior located on the Patuxent Research Refuge. During our visit, we explored interactive exhibits focusing on global environmental issues, migratory bird routes, wildlife habitat and endangered species. We also ventured on some of the hiking trails along the way. Since we were not equipped with a good set of binoculars, we didn’t see much wildlife, but we saw some geese leisurely walking by.

We definitely look forward to visiting the center again. The fact that it is so close to our home makes it even an ideal place to spend some time on a nice afternoon. Do you have any hidden treasures in your local community? Would you like to share them 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 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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Climate Change Fellow | From NYC to Bogota

By Irene Boland Nielson 

Have you ever wondered what your job would be like in another country?

For two weeks, I worked as a Climate Change Fellow in Bogota, Colombia part of a program funded by the Partnership of the Americas. My desk in the office of the Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies in downtown Bogota overlooked a busy street with crowded bus lanes not unlike rush hour on Broadway. If I squinted, the street could easily be mistaken for the old Bowery. My assignment was to develop strategies to address the already observed and predicted changes in climate for the Bogota regional integrated plan.  The plan will encompass not only the city, but also the surrounding Cudinmarca region’s vital food production, agricultural products and watershed. We discussed protecting the pristine watershed for the drinking water of a city of eight million people. No, I’m not talking about the Catskills reservoir, but rather the Chingaza páramo, an Andean tundra that sponges rainfall to slake the thirst of Bogoteños.  We discussed the city’s “lungs” (no, not Central Park, but the National Park) as a respite from the city’s dirty air and traffic. Our office windows in Bogota were operable and let in clouds of particulates from the diesel buses lurching below.  Most days, I crammed into the Transmillenio, a modern transit system already under expansion to meet growing crowds. The multitudes of private diesel commuter buses provided a vital option for Bogoteños who face limited driving days based on their license plate number.

Colombia is directly impacted by the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Driven by unusually high water surface temperatures in the Pacific, the El Niño phenomenom and it’s opposing condition of unusually cool water surface temperatures,La Niña, have alternately yielded periods of drought and extreme rainfall. According to the World Bank, Colombia is one of the Latin American countries most impacted by climate. I learned about the 72% loss of Santa Isabel glacier (yes, Colombia has six glaciers) and the thousands who have lost their homes in devastating landslides, caused by weeks of intense rainfall on sloping neighborhoods.  More

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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Descubra tesoros escondidos en su comunidad

Por Lina Younes

Recientemente me tomé unos días libres para quedarme en casa con mi hija menor que estaba de vacaciones. Aunque yo tenía una larga lista de quehaceres en la casa, quería asegurarme de que mi hija hiciera algo divertido durante sus días libres.

¿Entonces, qué haríamos? ¿Ir al cine? Ya lo habíamos hecho. ¿Ir de compras? Hecho. ¿Visitar un museo?  Hecho. ¿Nos quedaríamos en casa viendo televisión? Definitivamente eso no estaba en mi lista de eventos especiales inmemorables para nuestro tiempo libre. Mientras buscaba algunas actividades locales en nuestra comunidad, me acordé de un rótulo en la carretera cercana que había visto e ignorado muchas veces con anterioridad. El Centro Nacional  de Visitantes de Vida Silvestre. Interesante. Entonces, una tarde, llevé a mi pequeña al Refugio de Investigaciones del Patuxent que estaba a tan sólo cinco millas de nuestra casa donde encontramos un pequeño tesoro escondido en nuestro rincón. 

Resulta que la instalación es el centro de ciencias y educación ambiental  más grande en el Departamento del Interior localizado en el Refugio de Investigaciones del Patuxent. Durante nuestra visita, exploramos exposiciones interactivas enfocadas en asuntos ambientales globales, las rutas de aves migratorias, hábitats silvestres y especies en peligro de extinción. También nos aventuramos por los caminos alrededor del centro de visitantes. Como no teníamos un buen par de binoculares, no pudimos ver mucha vida silvestre, no obstante vimos unos gansos que deambulaban por allí.

Definitivamente visitaremos el centro nuevamente. El hecho de que el centro se encuentre tan cerca nuestra casa lo convierte en el lugar ideal para pasar una bella tarde de ocio. ¿Acaso tiene alguno de esos tesoros escondidos en su comunidad? ¿Quiere compartir la información con nosotros?

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como portavoz hispana de la Agencia, así como enlace de asuntos multilingües de EPA. Además, ha laborado como la escritora y editora de los blogs en español de EPA durante los pasados cuatro años. Antes de unirse a la Agencia, dirigió la oficina en Washington, DC de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales a lo largo de su carrera profesional en la Capital Federal.

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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Environmental Ideas, Six Words at a Time

By Jessica Orquina

It’s been three weeks since we launched Six Words for the Planet with SMITH Magazine and I’ve been delighted how many people shared their stories. I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughtful and creative six-word essays you’ve shared. Here are two of my favorites so far:

Perform a random act of sustainability.
George Sosa

Sweetest tweets still come from birds.
Melesha Owen

Earth Day may have gone by, but our collaboration with SMITH Magazine continues. I encourage each one of you to take a few moments, write Six Words for the Planet, and share your story.

For more information about Six Words for the Planet please read my previous blog post: Six Words for the Planet: What are Yours?

For inspiration to write your own Six Words for the Planet, watch the slideshow below!

Do you have Six Words for the Planet to share? Go to www.smithmag.net/planet and submit your six-word essay today!

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes 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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Celebrating Science and Engineering

By Aaron Ferster

I knew my mistake as soon as the kid’s cheeks puffed out and streams of water started arching out of the corners of his mouth like a fountain.

“Blow; don’t suck in” were my clear instructions. But just as I jump to the right every time an approaching cyclist calls out “bicycle right!” as I walk along a bike trail, sometimes the mind executes the opposite of a command. 

The unfortunate mishap occurred while engaging visitors in the “Lung Capacity Challenge” at EPA’s exhibit booth at the last USA Science & Engineering Festival. It shows lung capacity by having people blow into a tube. As their breath bubbles into a holding chamber placed upside-down in a small tub of water, it displaces an equal volume of water—causing the chamber to rise and showing how much air has come out of the participant’s lungs.

Patrick tries the Lung Capacity Challenge.

The Lung Capacity Challenge

Illustrating how researchers measure lung capacity is a great gateway into sharing how EPA scientists use such tools to compare lung function and take other, albeit more sophisticated, actions to better understand the connections between human health and clean air.

The only problem is that if someone sucks on the tube instead of blows, they create a siphon, getting a mouth full of water instead of lung capacity data. (Luckily, we’ve discovered the secret to avoiding this mess: never utter the word “suck” in your instructions; bike commuters, please take note.)

It’s all part of the fun at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, a celebration that brings hundreds of organizations together to share their research and technology.

This year’s Festival is this weekend, and I’m happy to say EPA will once again be part of the action.

In addition to our world-famous Lung Capacity Challenge, our scientists and other volunteers will be featuring demonstrations such as:

  • Fun with Chemical Reactions (aka “baggie science”) where visitors can see what happens and learn important scientific concepts as they mix up a batch of chemicals in their own baggie.
  • Making the Invisible Visible where visitors learn how scientists use instruments to “see” what’s in the air we breathe.
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Safe Fish, New Fish  invites visitors to go fishing and learn about the science of fish consumption advisories, habitat degradation, environmental sampling in wetlands, and other important aquatic and clean water issues.

For visitor and travel information, go to: www.usasciencefestival.org/#. Be sure to come by booth #1745. And remember: blow!

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the senior science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Safe Disposal of Medicine

By Meghan Hessenauer

I never really gave much thought about medicine until now. Now I need medicine. Now I am a mother and my kids take medicine. Now I study how medicine is disposed of as part of my job as an environmental scientist. And now, I know just how serious a problem unintentional poisoning can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 142,000 children were seen in emergency rooms in 2004 and 2005 because of medication poisonings, and more than 80 percent of those poisonings were because an unsupervised child found and consumed medications.

I used to keep my medicine in the bathroom under the sink or in the medicine cabinet. I now know that is not a good idea. Besides being subject to steam and heat, the medicine can be reached by my kids if I store it in the bathroom cabinet. Being the little explorers that they are, my kids see cabinets as perfect treasure boxes – all of this little stuff to play with and potentially ingest.

Additionally, pharmaceutical compounds have been detected at low concentrations in our nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and drinking water, leading to concerns that these compounds may affect aquatic life. For these reasons, EPA initiated a study of unused pharmaceutical disposal practices at health care facilities with the goals of understanding one way in which pharmaceuticals enter our waterways and also understanding what factors contribute to pharmaceuticals entering through water. While EPA understands that there are many factors influencing the handling and disposal of pharmaceuticals by the health care industry, the focus of EPA’s study is on disposal into water. EPA decided to study medical facilities because the Agency believes that these facilities dispose of a large quantity of unused pharmaceuticals.

If you have not already done so, take a thorough look at your medicine cabinet. Find a new location to store your medicine that is not in the bathroom and is up high and out of reach of kids. Properly dispose of the medicine that you no longer use. Don’t dump it in the toilet or down the drain – if possible, take it to a prescription drug take-back event this weekend. Chances are there’s a drop-off location in your neighborhood. To find a drug take-back drop-off point, visit the Drug Enforcement Administration’s web page.

About the author: Meghan Hessenauer is an environmental scientist in EPA’s Office of Water. She is writing guidelines for the health care industry on how to manage their unused pharmaceuticals.

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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Trash Talk

By Matt Bogoshian

I did an initial post back on March 6th called Getting a Personal Tune-Up. Well I’m half way through the Trash on Your Back Challenge and wow, I’m learning so much about my own daily habits by carrying with me the trash I generate. The trash on my back has served as a present reminder that I need to start making lifestyle changes to generate less trash and prevent pollution.

Before the challenge began the organizers had a telephone conference with the university scientists and researchers who are spearheading the analysis of each participant’s trash as it compares to the norm for Americans in several categories. More on that in the future, but here’s what’s going on now….

Day one began on Earth Day, last Sunday. My wife and I were hosting family and friends in our apartment and I started the day off with an egg breakfast. Dutifully, I cleaned the egg shells and put them in my trash bag thinking, no problem, egg shells are light… I’m off to a good start.

I then took a quick read of the newspaper on-line and we made our way down to the Mall for the Washington, DC Earth Day events. Sadly it was cold and raining, but the concert went ahead as planned. My band and I played a few tunes before the head liner Cheap Trick which was great. Here is a picture of me sporting my trash on stage.

Throughout the day my food and drink intake led to me having to carry around numerous cups and other paper products. It didn’t take long for me to see that these kind of “on the go” containers are a good waste reduction target. All day I kept thinking that if I had brought my reusable thermos I could have enjoyed my coffee and soda without having to carry around those plastic cups.

The next morning I didn’t want to wake my house guests so I skipped making my usual homemade lunch….ouch. I had to buy a cafeteria lunch and got another disposable container to carry around.

Small items really add up. Just washing my hands in the restroom at work has made me more aware of the number of paper towels I use. As such, I started keeping the towel for later use. I now see better how air dryers can make a true difference. I’m realizing the list goes on and on and small everyday choices do have real environmental consequences.
Stay tuned…..

About the author: Matt Bogoshian is Senior Policy Counsel for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Matt is also an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

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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P3 Winners Announced

By Aaron Ferster

This past weekend, as our string of bright, warm spring days gave way to the cold, driving rain of a classic Nor’easter roaring through the mid-Atlantic, some 300 students representing 45 design teams gathered under big white tents on the National Mall.

The students braved the elements to participate in the National Sustainable Design Expo and to showcase their projects aimed at protecting human health and advancing sustainability.

As we wrote about last week, the student teams were there to take part in EPA’s P3 student competition. Each showcased their design to a panel of judges made up of national experts, who then passed along evaluations to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Early Monday evening, the teams gathered in a big conference room in the warm confines of the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington DC to learn who would take home the coveted P3 awards.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson greets a P3 team.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson greets a P3 team.

15 university and college teams from across the country were named winners.

Selected projects include a foldable, solar-powered water purification system designed to fit within a backpack; a pilot scale system to convert trap grease from restaurants from a waste product into a fuel; and a “biohybrid” solar panel that taps a protein from spinach in place of rare metals to produce electricity.

For a complete list of the winning teams and their projects, check out the press release: EPA Awards More Than $1 Million to College Teams for Innovative Environmental Solutions.

In addition to the honor of winning the P3 award, each team also receives a grant of up to $90,000 to further develop their projects in order to bring their sustainable designs to the marketplace.

And now, with that exciting event wrapped up, we’re getting ready to share even more of our science this weekend at the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

EPA researchers and others will be on hand to answer questions and conduct demonstrations about how EPA uses science and engineering to protect human health and the planet. (Keep an eye on this blog for more about what we’ll be sharing).

So if you’ll be in Washington, DC this weekend, be sure to come by booth #1745 to say hello. The Festival is free and open to the public. It is even going to be indoors, so you don’t have to worry about the weather!

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the editor of It All Starts with Science, and a frequent contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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