Monthly Archives: April 2012

Looking For Ideas On How To Celebrate Earth Day?

By Shanshan Lin

Looking for ways to demonstrate your commitment to protecting the environment this Earth Day? There are plenty of ways you can help save energy, reduce the pollution in our air, and protect our climate for decades to come. Here are some of my favorite tips that my EPA colleagues recommend for making a difference at home, school, or work.

  • Change a Light! The average home has approximately 30 light fixtures. By replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save $70 each year. If every American home did this, we would save $8 billion each year in energy costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from about 10 million cars!
  • Reduce your carbon footprint! Leaving your car at home twice a week can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds per year. Save up errands and shopping trips so you need to drive fewer times. If you commute to work, ask if you can work from home at least some days, and you’ll reduce air pollution and traffic congestion – and save money.
  • It’s electric! You can check how much of your electricity comes from clean, renewable sources, such as wind or solar. Green power produces less carbon emissions, reduces air pollution, and helps protect against future costs or scarcity of fossil fuels. If green power is a consumer option, check price differences from suppliers before you buy.
  • Breathe easy! On unhealthy air pollution “action alert” days, wait to mow your lawn until it’s cooler in the evening or early the next morning. You help reduce air pollution for everyone near you if you run gas-powered equipment, like lawn mowers, when it’s cooler. You also protect your health by avoiding ground-level ozone during the warmest part of the day. Check your air quality now.

You can find more suggestions at Environmental Tips, but don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. If you have a unique way to celebrate Earth Day, share your tip with us!

About the author: Shanshan Lin is an intern for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation communications team. She is also a graduate student at George Washington 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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Spring Cleaning | Your Medicine Cabinet

By Kristin Giacalone

Spring has arrived, and with it, the ever dreaded spring cleaning.  While you are washing your windows and cleaning your curtains, take a look inside your medicine cabinet.  If you are anything like me, it is overflowing with unfinished, expired prescriptions and cold remedies.  Now is a great time to clean out that medicine cabinet, but don’t throw those medicines away and definitely do not flush them!

Did you know that 80% of America’s waters that were tested during a recent US Geological Survey study were found to be contaminated with low levels of pharmaceuticals like cholesterol medication, hormones and antidepressants?    These medications enter our water supply through several different pathways, including human and animal excretion of unmetabolized drugs, waste water treatment plants that are not designed to remove these chemicals at such low concentrations, and through septic systems and poorly designed landfills.   So when we flush our expired medications, as we have always been told to, we are introducing our medications straight into our drinking water supply and waters that serve as habitat to countless aquatic species.  While research has clearly shown that constant low level exposure to these medications is having unwanted health effects on aquatic species, it is not yet known what the effects might be on humans.

So how exactly do you get rid of those half empty bottles of antibiotics you stopped taking when you were feeling better or that prescription you didn’t finish because your doctor prescribed you something else instead?  Bring them to your local drop-off location during the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28.  The DEA has set up drop-off locations around the country to collect unused and unwanted prescriptions as well as over the counter medications.  The items collected will be properly disposed of through incineration.

Here in Region 2, we are sponsoring collection days on Wednesday, April 25 for our New York City and Edison, NJ employees and on Thursday, April 26 for our Puerto Rico employees.   DEA agents will collect the medications dropped off by EPA and other federal employees for proper disposal.  I look forward to emptying my medicine cabinet!  What about you?

Check out the DEA website to find a collection site near you.

About the Author: Kristin is a Project Manager in the Superfund Program and oversees the clean up of three Superfund sites in New Jersey.  She is also a participant in EPA Region 2’s Leadership Development Program, and as a member of Team Symbiotics, is working with DEA to increase awareness of the water quality issues posed by the improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

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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One Small Step For Man…..

By Tom Murray

Sometimes, all it takes is that first bold step. Set aside your apprehension and answer that knock at the door from your local technical assistance provider who says that there is a new game in town that will turn your business around. What’s to lose?

So thought the president of a small family-owned foundry in Milwaukee who answered that call and is now glad he did. I recently had the opportunity to tour his facility and to hear his story. He runs a small company, and, like many small companies in Wisconsin, it was just making ends meet. Then he heard about the Milwaukee E3 framework from his local Manufacturing Extension Partnership program. At first apprehensive, he took a closer look and saw that this program was different.

“Several federal and local resources will stitch together a technical assistance package and then deliver it directly to my door? You gotta be kidding me.” And, yet, he decided to give it a test run. The experience really opened his eyes to several growth opportunities and he jumped on them. When we sat down to talk about his efforts, I was surprised to see that he had laid out architectural drawings on the table showing how he intends to re-design his entire plant operation. Talk about taking full advantage of the E3 experience. “I use a lot of sand,” he says. And the new design will include a sand recycling process that will save a tidy sum of money over time as well as move me closer to a landfill free operation, he told me. The best news is that the return on investment on this new operation is less than two-years and the heat released from the operation will be channeled back to heat the facility. I can’t wait to check back with him in a year or two. As a parting note, he said he was looking to expand his operation in the city of Milwaukee.

About the author: Tom Murray joined EPA way back in 1971 and has never lost the passion for pollution prevention and helping manufacturers become more sustainable.

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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Jardinería ecológica produce ricos frutos

Por Lina Younes
Desde niña, siempre hemos tenido muchas plantas con flores al interior y al exterior del hogar.  Mi familia siempre ha tenido buena mano para sembrar, pero yo no he sido tan afortunada pese a mi interés en las flores. Al tener mi propia casa con jardín, me he ocupado por sembrar arbustos y árboles alrededor de la casa para crear un ambiente ameno todo el año.

En honor al Día del Planeta Tierra, decidí que había llegado el momento de comenzar a preparar el jardín y el huerto para la siembra de nuevos arbustos, flores y legumbres.  Francamente, el jardín estaba hecho un desastre.  Había malas hierbas por doquier. Me concentré en la parte al frente de la casa y no me quedó más remedio que remover la maleza de la manera tradicional: arrancando y deshierbando. ¡Cuánto había que deshierbar! Obviamente, necesitaré varios fines de semana para finalizar la labor, pero por el momento ya se comienza a ver el progreso.

Incluyo algunos consejos de jardinería ecológica que le servirán esta primavera cuando empiece a sembrar y luego cosechar lo sembrado en el verano.

• Si vive en los Estados Unidos, recomendamos que visite el mapa del Departamento de Agricultura de EE.UU. que le indica las zonas de siembra y las plantas que debe cultivar en su área conforme a las condiciones del clima y del terreno.
• Siembre plantas nativas conforme al área donde vive. Estas plantas requerirán menos agua y serán más resistentes a enfermedades y plagas, por ende requerirán menos productos químicos para su desarrollo.
• Use abono orgánico y compostaje para enriquecer la tierra.

Para más información sobre los pasos que debe seguir conforme a las estaciones, puede ver nuestro cartel sobre prácticas de jardinería ecológica.  El mensaje central es dejar que la naturaleza haga su trabajo.

¿Normalmente emplea estas prácticas en el cuidado de su jardín y césped? Comparta su experiencia 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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Becoming Part of the Solution

By Brittney Gordon

Earth Day 2012 has come and gone and many of us marked the day by making private commitments to become better stewards of the environment. These lofty goals are a lot like New Year’s resolutions–and sadly they are usually completed with the same dismal success rate. This Earth Day I have a challenge for you. Put your energy savings were your mouth is and make a public commitment with ENERGY STAR.

EPA’s ENERGY STAR program just kicked off its 2012 campaign and we are making it easier than ever for you to make changes both big and small to protect the climate. If you are looking for a way to become part of the solution, we have everything you need to stay in check all year long.

Step One: Take the ENERGY STAR Pledge! The pledge is a great way to commit to making simple energy changes in your home and community. Over 2.8 million other Americans have already signed on, so you will be in great company. The pledge even links to special offers by ENERGY STAR partners that will help you accomplish your goals.

Step Two: Check out the Map! The ENERGY STARs Across America map is brand new for 2012 and includes energy efficiency education events all over the country. Find one in your area and get the support you need to fulfill your goals.

Step Three: Share Your Story! We know that many of you are already saving energy and striving to fight climate change. Well grab the video camera (or a still camera) and show the world how you are doing your part! We will put your story on the map for everyone to see.

Step Four: Join Team ENERGY STAR! Sign your kids up and let them see how easy it is to save energy at home. EPA is providing fun tips and tools to help spread the energy saving message to team members and their families. Kids can share their stories too, and they may earn cool rewards!

Ready to get started? Just go to ENERGY STAR’s website and get ready to make a difference! While you are at it, check out our brand new video that shows you exactly how to get started.

About the author: Brittney Gordon is a member of the ENERGY STAR communications team. She has worked for EPA since Fall 2010 and manages ENERGY STAR’s social media channels. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and 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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Making ‘Sump’ Thing Happen on Earth Day

By Rob Alvey

This year Earth Day falls on Sunday, April 22 and I’m going to make “sump” thing happen. No, I didn’t misspell it. In fact, local storm water basins are referred to as “sump.” And, at the Tanners Pond Environmental Center in Garden City, NY, this year, the 1st Annual Earth Day Run will help raise funds for a solar powered irrigation well.

I remember our first storm basin cleanup on Earth Day in 1995.  I was a recent appointee to Garden City’s Village Environmental Advisory group and faced with the task of creating a “green map” for the community. One of our first assignments was to clean up a storm water basin that had become an eyesore – filled to the brim with trash and tree debris. We elicited the aid of local volunteers and the Audubon Society and transformed nine acres of land and marsh into a local green space, demonstrating environmental stewardship through education and community service.

Besides cleaning up the storm basin and adjacent land, we also raised money for fence repair and landscaping. We overcame lots of natural challenges and some not so natural – like vandalism. Every time one of our birdhouses was knocked over or torn down, we put two in its place. Eventually we wore down the interlopers!

Today more than 10,000 volunteers have been active in this effort. The Tanners Pond Environmental Center has evolved from a bird sanctuary into a community nature preserve including a new Nature Camp program, the Alvey Arboretum, a $55,000 wet meadow funded through the Nassau County Environmental Bond, seating areas, gardens featuring more than 10,000 flowering bulbs and a children’s memorial garden. It is also a favorite destination for the Girl and Boy Scouts.

Looking ahead to our first annual Earth Day Run, in addition to a 3k race, there is also a 1.5k fun run, a 1k obstacle trot and lots of food, music and educational displays. I hope you can join us in the coming years!

About the Author: Rob Alvey is a geologist with ERRD and has been the “hydro” for dozens of Superfund sites involving groundwater contamination. He was co-chair of the EPA’s Ground Water Forum and served a detail as Special Assistant to RA Judith Enck. He is also a Geology Professor at York (CUNY) College and has three grown daughters- all involved with environmental and ecological causes.  In his ‘spare’ time, he writes articles on “daddyhood” and performs as Mark Twain for charity benefits.

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 Project Brings Improved Power to Rural Bhutan

Editors Note: This week we’ve asked members of P3 teams to share information about the sustainable design projects they’ve been working on to showcase at this year’s National Sustainable Design Expo.

By Meg Harper

Village scale micro-hydroelectric mini-grids provide renewable electricity to thousands of communities in remote locations throughout the world.   While promising, many of these systems are plagued by a common problem: brownouts occur frequently in the mornings and evenings during times of peak demand.  The lowered voltage that characterizes a brownout causes lights to dim, televisions to flicker and electrical appliances, particularly rice cookers, to not work properly.

For more than two years our group of Humboldt State University students and advisors has been working on the design of a “GridShare” device intended to reduce the occurrence of brownouts on these power-limited mini-electric grids.

In 2010, after winning a grant through the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Contest, a few of us traveled to Bhutan to assess the village of Rukubji as a site to perform a pilot installation of our GridShares.

Image of author and residents discussing gridshare. After receiving enthusiastic support from the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC), the Department of Energy of Bhutan and the residents of Rukubji, the team worked to refine the design of our GridShares and arrange the logistics for the installation.

Following two years of design work requiring multiple prototypes and many revisions, the few months before the installation yielded a frenzy of GridShare assembly, testing and shipping.  Sponsorships from local and regional businesses helped to reduce the cost of manufacturing, while many volunteers helped the team finish the assembly and testing of each GridShare to assure its success in the field.

To accompany the GridShare installation, we also created a series of colorful bilingual posters and pamphlets to help the residents of Rukubji learn how to interact with the GridShare and better manage their limited electric system.

All of these preparations paid off! In July of 2011, with the help of electricians from the BPC, a constant pack of helpful children and countless cups of butter tea, we successfully installed 89 GridShares: one in every home in the village.  Residents report being able to consistently cook their rice, and say they are appreciative of the GridShare indicator lights that tell them when adequate power is available.

I, along with all of the students involved in the project, have gained a first-hand education in circuit design, low-cost manufacturing, grant writing, data analysis, development of educational materials and international project coordination.

But beyond all of these benefits, the opportunity to experience the rich Bhutanese culture and develop friendships with engineers, teachers and farmers halfway across the globe, has been invaluable.

About the Author: Guest blogger Meg Harper is a graduate research assistant at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.

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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Developing a Low-Cost Water Filter

Editors Note: This week we’ve asked members of P3 teams to share information about the sustainable design projects they’ve been working on to showcase at this year’s National Sustainable Design Expo.

In August of 2009, our P3team traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota Tribe and some 28,000 people. The purpose of our trip was to sample water to see if it still reflected conditions reflected in U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) report from the 1990s that found much of the reservation’s groundwater was contaminated with arsenic and uranium.  Levels of the two contaminants at that time were found to exceed EPA’s maximum containment limits (MCLs).

What we found was in line with the USGS report: 35% of the private wells we tested contained arsenic above the MCL; 6% contained elevated uranium levels. That’s where our P3 project comes in. We are developing a low cost filter that can remove both arsenic and uranium from water.

While there are existing filters that can do the work, they are far from ideal in places like Pine Ridge. For one thing, current filters—primarily based on reverse osmosis (RO) technology—are very expensive. In addition, they require constant maintenance and upkeep.

Our solution looks to provide a cost effective alternative that requires minimal maintenance, can be maintained by local residents, and can spark prosperity in the community. To accomplish this, we’ve developed a filter that uses bone char as its main ingredient.

Cattle bone that is used to make the char is readily available as a waste product on the reservation, and our tests show that our filter effectively removes the contaminants. After performing a life cycle analysis, we predict that after 10 years of use, the bone char filter will outperform a standard RO filter in eight out of nine environmental categories.

The only downside so far is that our current prototype is very large. So, we are now working to reduce the size, which will cut the cost of the filter as well.

While we are working on improving our filter, efforts are underway to inform the Pine Ridge community about the issue of water contamination, and to develop an educational program in partnership with the Oglala Lakota College (OLC) to further understanding of the need for clean drinking water on the reservation.

About the Author: Brett Llewellyn, a student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is working to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. He wishes to continue applying his coursework towards the efforts of making water clean and accessible to everyone.

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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Be Part of the Conversation this Earth Day

This weekend, people across the US and around the world will celebrate the 42nd annual Earth Day. After four decades, the event that started with 20 million Americans has blossomed into a day of service and celebration for nearly a billion people in every part of the planet. Every year I’m reminded that at the heart of Earth Day there is a simple goal: Help every person see the connections between our lives and the health of our environment.

The first Earth Day was organized as a series of teach-ins to start a discussion about the pollution in our communities, and those small beginnings sparked major changes: the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which turns 40 this year.

Bringing people together around these issues continues to be essential, and we have been working to expand the conversation on environmentalism to new places. We want mothers and fathers to know how important clean air is to their health and the health of their children. We want African Americans and Latinos to join the conversation about environmental challenges in their communities, so we can address disparities in asthma, cancer and other illnesses, and work for environmental justice. We want you – wherever you live – to start your own conversation about protecting health and the environment.

Fortunately, this Earth Day we have more ways to connect, discuss and act than ever before.

EPA’s Earth Day page offers a range of ways for you to bring your voice to this conversation, and be a part of the work to protect our planet.

We’re counting on you to tell your friends and family, your local officials, and your entire world about protecting our health and preserving our planet. I hope you’ll lend your voice to these important issues, Earth Day and every day.

About the author: Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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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Trabajemos por la conservación del Planeta los 365 días del año

Por Lina Younes

Aquí en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) nos gusta decir que celebramos el Día del Planeta Tierra todos los días.  En efecto, el planeta donde vivimos requiere nuestra atención continuamente.  Nuestras acciones tienen un impacto directo tanto en el bienestar de la Tierra donde vivimos como en el nuestro también.

Este fin de semana celebramos oficialmente el Día del Planeta Tierra. Este evento comenzó cuando el fallecido Senador Gaylord Nelson convocó una manifestación para concienciar al público sobre las amenazas ambientales que aquejaban el país en aquella época. Sobre 20 millones de personas respondieron a ese llamado. El evento inicial que se efectuó el 22 de abril de 1970 condujo a la creación de esta Agencia. Aunque se han logrado grandes avances para mejorar la calidad del aire y del agua del Planeta, todavía tenemos muchos retos en Estados Unidos y el mundo entero.

En la EPA siempre buscamos nueva formas de comunicarnos con el público sea mediante proyectos de fotografía, ensayos, o enviando consejos ambientales.  Este año, hemos desarrollado varias iniciativas cibernéticas y de multimedios que quisiéramos compartir.

Por ejemplo, vean nuestro video en YouTube titulado Día del Planeta Tierra 2012: Mire debajo la superficie.

También hay muchas otras oportunidades para participar en los eventos de esta jornada:

• Use nuestro mapa para encontrar eventos del Día del Planeta Tierra cerca de usted.

• Comparta sus fotos tomadas durante el Día del Planeta Tierra en nuestra recopilación fotográfica del Medio Ambiente en un Día de 24 horas.

• Tome la prueba ambiental Greenquest. Anote su calificación en el muro y tendrá una oportunidad de compartir sus vivencias como un bloguero invitado de EPA.
• Participe en el proyecto de micro-ensayos Seis Palabras para el Planeta

• Encuentre otras maneras de participar en la conversación ambiental en nuestro sitio Web en español dedicado al Día del Planeta Tierra.

Le invitamos a participar en la protección de nuestro medio ambiente durante el Día del Planeta Tierra y todos los Días.

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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