Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Leak Hunter

By: Danny Orlando

It’s funny how some leaks concern us and we will fix the problem right away.  Suppose you walk up to your car and a tire seems really low or you check your hot water heater and see water leaking.  These are the type of obvious leaks we repair everyday.  But, what about the heated or air-conditioned air in your home?  These leaks are elusive and require a ‘hunter’ mentality.  And so where do you start?

My house is a 1985 cedar ranch with a finished basement.  I purchased the house in 1991 and I quickly saw the energy bills increasing.  At the time, I was only concerned that everything worked and I didn’t know as much as I do now.    An event that stands out in my mind and one that made me realize I had more than a minor problem occurred one cold winter morning.  The temperature approached zero degrees (unusual for Atlanta) and the windows in my kitchen had a considerable amount of ice forming on the inside of the aluminum window frames.  Even if you don’t know much about energy efficiency, this should get your attention because ice inside your house is not a good thing unless it’s in the freezer.  There were other signs of inefficiencies, too.  Back bedrooms were hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  I would dust one day and have to dust again the next day.  A visit to the garage was a pleasant experience because it was often more comfortable than some of the living areas.  And, there was insulation that was turning black.  Time to get busy and start the hunt!

A great way to begin is to have an energy audit performed on your home.  Select a company that specializes in testing your home and finding the big problems.  They will use specialized tools that will reveal what you can’t see.  This type of audit will really open your eyes and will be worth every penny.  It will provide you with the treasure map that you need to move forward.   Since 1991, I have had four of these done and the air leaks in my house are now few.

Be warned!  Leak hunting is addictive.  You will need some cans of foam sealant (there are two types – water-based and expanding), duct sealant (mastic), and some electrical outlet gaskets.  Some places to look for leaks are under sinks, tubs and toilets, the dryer exhaust area, the fireplace damper, wiring holes, electrical sockets, air-conditioning ductwork, and holes on the outside of the house.  If you replace flooring, you also have an opportunity to foam or caulk under the baseboards.

Since I started my hunt, I have reduced my electricity usage by nearly 37 percent, or $600 dollars per year.  I’m still hunting and I do find unsealed holes/penetrations that I missed. For a leak geek this is an exciting moment.  Leak hunting will improve the air quality in your home, reduce dust and allergens, and you will probably see fewer bugs in your house.  Let the hunt begin!

Danny Orlando joined EPA’s Atlanta office in 1991 and oversees the ENERGY STAR program in the Southeastern states.  His family’s quest for lower energy bills has inspired him to become an avid leak hunter. For more information on home improvement with ENERGY STAR, click here.

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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1 Millionth Recycled Refrigerator

By Gene Rodrigues

Last week was a huge milestone for Southern California Edison — we recycled our 1 millionth refrigerator. A million refrigerators is enough to fill a football stadium.

Partners from EPA’s ENERGY STAR and Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) programs and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) helped us celebrate at the Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA) facility in Compton, Calif. Jared Blumenfeld, the administrator of EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, joined us to watch the ceremonial appliance crushing.

We are proud to have been one of the founding partners of EPA’s RAD program. In fact, I was at the launch event in October 2006. Since then, we’ve continued to be a leader in ensuring that old, inefficient fridges are taken off the grid and properly recycled. That includes recovering harmful substances found in the refrigerant and insulating foam.

As a RAD partner, we’ve avoided emissions of more than 170,000 pounds of substances that harm the ozone layer, and about 3.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of removing 760,000 cars from the road.

In celebrating this milestone, SCE must also give credit to the California Public Utilities Commission and the NRDC, two organizations that provide incredible support for policies that encourage energy efficiency. And of course, without ARCA, and our other recycling partners, a million refrigerators could be disposed improperly, creating extensive damage to the environment.

ARCA began operations in California in 1993 as part of the Rebuild Los Angeles initiative following the civil unrest that occurred at that time. Since then, SCE’s recycling program provided nearly 75 percent of this facility’s business, with 63 full-time employees dedicated to the SCE work – with a 25 percent increase in staff during the busy summer months. For many of these employees, it’s the first time they worked for a company that offered healthcare, educational and vacation benefits.

If you’re curious about what refrigerator recycling looks like, here’s a short film featuring some major crushing action.

And finally, thank you to our customers and to utility customers across the nation who understand that the cleanest, cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you never use.

About the author: Gene Rodrigues, SCE Director, Customer Energy Efficiency and Solar

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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Asthma Awareness Month: Part II

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City is home to 8,391,881 people, if you go by the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Lately, I’ve blogged about asthma because May is Asthma Awareness Month and this chronic respiratory condition is especially tough when you live in a mega metropolis like New York City.

Living, working and playing in the Big Apple is wonderful, but our combination of people, pollution, cars, trucks and 24/7 activity makes for some poor air quality.

Pollutants in the outdoor air, including particulates (soot) and ozone (smog) are major asthma triggers. When ozone levels increase, most commonly in the summer months, they can affect people’s health, especially children with asthma. Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or medication. Asthma triggers include pets, pesticides, cockroaches, dust mites, mold and secondhand smoke. Ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, which are common triggers of asthma attacks and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Asthma hospitalization rates in NYC have been gradually declining since their peak in the mid-1990s. Yet, in some areas of the City, asthma rates can be found in the double digits.  It is insightful to look at asthma hospitalization rates because it is the most common cause of hospitalization for children 14 years and younger. In NYC, the asthma hospitalization rate per 1,000 (ages 0 to 14 years) is 9.2 in Bronx, 4.1 in Brooklyn, 4.0 in Manhattan, 3.9 in Queens, 2.0 in Staten Island and 5.0 for New York City. Hunts Point – Mott Haven in the Bronx has a rate of 11.5 and East Harlem in Manhattan has a rate of 11.2  Asthma is a leading cause of missed school among children and many New Yorkers suffer from poor control of their asthma.

In my next blog, I share how people who suffer from asthma can learn to control their symptoms and still maintain active lifestyles.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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Lunchroom Battles!

The 7th grade doesn’t know it yet, but we 6th graders are going to win the Going Green competition at school, which also means…….PIZZA PARTY!!  Ok, so the pizza party would be awesome to win and so would rubbing it in to the 7th and 8th graders, but that’s not the point.  We’ve really learned something!

A few weeks ago, you heard from Brandon about how his class is using the 3 R’s to use less paper and make less waste.  Their classroom does look neater, but so does our lunchroom now. Thanks to us!

The 6th grade decided a bigger impact can be made where we eat, in the lunchroom.  Our class pledged to create a waste-free lunchroom.  It took some research, but we created a plan that included using less and reducing waste in the lunchroom. Instead of buying milk or soda cans for lunch, we’re using water bottles with juice or soda from home. If we bring lunch from home, it’s in a reusable container so paper and plastic baggies aren’t used.  There’s also a supply of reusable utensils that everyone has access to instead of using and throwing away plastic forks and knives. We have also taken old plastic barrels and made them recycling containers –one for the aluminum trays that contained our lunch, one for milk cartons, and one for waste.  We even talked our teacher into helping us build a compost bin for any food waste left over from lunch that can be used as compost.  Each week a few students are selected to clean any dirty aluminum trays and put any food waste in the compost bin.  It’s a dirty job, but there’s extra credit for the hard work.  In the last 3 weeks, our lunchroom ladies have reported only having to use 2 trash bags for waste instead of the usual 6 for all three classes.  The aluminum trays and any soda cans have totaled $86.72 in recycling cash too!

When I stop to think about it, it’s not about the competition anymore.  It’s about making our school better.  Our teacher calls it sustainable. I call it GREEN.

How did we come up with the idea? We did some research on the EPA’s website at: http://www.epa.gov/osw/education/toolkit-res.htm

Josh is a middle school student in inner city Chicago. He has played the violin since he was 4 and hopes to someday be part of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.

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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Swim, Bike, Run (Even with Asthma)

By Scott Fraser

I am not a triathlete; those people are animals! But each year I “compete” in one or two Olympic distance triathlons. A friend recently asked me the same question I continually ask myself during the race, “Why do you want to do this?” Good question.

Well, for me, it’s a fitness goal to work towards and a great way to enjoy the outdoors while training. Quite often it’s tough to fit into a busy schedule, but just 30 minutes of exercise each day can really help. I like to swim in the mornings, fair weather commute to work on my bike and run through Rock Creek Park, a wonderful resource close to where I live. I’ve been signing up for triathlons for several years now and just completed my 10th overall (first for 2012) on Siesta Key, Florida – voted the #1 Beach in America in 2011. But while training this year, I learned something new: I have asthma.

How uncanny that I should learn about this condition in May, which is Asthma Awareness Month. My new, super-awesome doctor explained to me that I have exercise induced asthma. “Uh, you mean coughing after working out isn’t normal?” Whoa, I’ve experienced that my whole life! She further explained it’s one of several types of asthma and prescribed an albuterol inhaler to use before exercise. It’s important to know that you can still remain active despite having asthma. By talking to my doctor I was able to create an asthma action plan that has helped reduce the all too familiar coughing after strenuous workouts. And it’s good to know that professional athletes like NFL legend (and former Notre Dame dormmate – go Dawgs!) Jerome Bettis are able to manage their asthma symptoms while competing at the highest level of physical activity. We are not alone, as almost 13 million Americans reported having an asthma attack in the past year.

So as we transition to Great Outdoors Month in June, think about ways where you can get outside and safely enjoy your favorite activities. How will you be enjoying our environment? I’ll be checking for air quality and the UV Index with helpful apps to plan my outdoor training for my next triathlon. Hmmm… I really liked swimming along Siesta Key Beach, so I’ll see which triathlon has a similar open water swim for later in the summer. I’ll also be sure to slop on some sunscreen and check the beach advisory site before the swim, bike, run fun.

About the author: Scott is the Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and works with stakeholders such as outdoor sporting groups. He enjoys getting outdoors whenever he can!

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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Asthma Awareness Month: Part I

By Elias Rodriguez

Growing up in New York City along with countless other children, I faced many of the environmental impacts of life in the gritty inner city. Poor air quality, few green spaces and litter were some of the downsides to life in the “City that Never Sleeps”. In grade school, it seemed like I always had one classmate or another who carried an asthma pump. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s important for parents and children to learn more about the disease and its triggers, so we can prevent asthma attacks and better protect our health and our children’s well being.

Pollution from vehicles, industrial and commercial facilities combine and cook in the hot stagnant air and form smog. Smoggy days are particularly hard on people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, as well as for children and the elderly.  Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases, and make people more susceptible to respiratory infections

The EPA is encouraging Americans to take action against asthma by learning more about the disease and how it affects their families and communities. Nearly 26 million Americans, including more than 7 million children, are affected by this chronic respiratory disease, with low income and minority populations at the highest rates. The annual economic costs of asthma, including direct medical costs from hospital stays and indirect costs such as lost school and work days, amount to approximately $56 billion.

In enforcing the Clean Air Act, EPA has helped prevent millions of asthma attacks across the country and continues to work alongside federal, state and local partners to address this nationwide problem. In 2010 alone, pollution prevention standards under the Clean Air Act lead to reductions in fine particle matter and ozone pollution that prevented more than 1.7 million incidences of asthma attacks. Recent standards, such as the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, will further reduce air pollution and help prevent asthma attacks.

In my next blog, I’ll highlight some statistics that illustrate the City’s challenges when it comes to addressing asthma.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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1 Millionth Refrigerator Recycled

Gene Rodrigues, Southern California Edison

Gene Rodrigues, Southern California Edison

By: Gene Rodrigues, Southern California Edison

Yesterday was a huge milestone for Southern California Edison (SCE) — we recycled our 1 millionth refrigerator. A million refrigerators is enough to fill a football stadium.

While we’d like to take all the credit, we can’t. The thanks goes first to our customers, who led the nation in saving energy through our programs and services. With the help of our partners at EPA’s ENERGY STAR and Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) programs, SCE has been able to deliver our customers the education and resources they need to make a difference in our environment by recycling their old refrigerators. More than 60 million refrigerators in this country are more than 10 years old and cost consumers $4.4 billion a year in energy costs. By properly recycling their old refrigerator and replacing it with a new refrigerator that has earned the ENERGY STAR, our customers can save between $200 and $1,100, and prevent 4,000 to 26,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the product’s lifetime.

Our Appliance Recycling Program has saved customers 7.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity since 1994.

How do you wrap your mind around 7.9 billion kilowatt-hours? It’s the equivalent of:

  • Avoiding the emissions equal to nearly 1.1 million cars for a year
  • Planting 140 million trees
  • Saving enough energy to power 13.5 million California homes for a month, or 1.1 million California homes for a year.
  • Enough energy to save customers $1 billion dollars on their electricity bills.

In celebrating this milestone, SCE must also give credit to the California Public Utilities Commission and the Natural Resources Defense Council, both forward-thinking agencies that provide incredible support for policies that encourage energy efficiency. And of course, without the Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA), and our other recycling partners, a million refrigerators could be disposed improperly, creating extensive damage to the environment.

ARCA began operations in California in 1993 as part of the Rebuild Los Angeles initiative following the civil unrest that occurred at that time. Since then, SCE’s recycling program provided nearly 75 percent of this facility’s business, with 63 full-time employees dedicated to the SCE work – with a 25 percent increase in staff during the busy summer months. For many of these employees, it’s the first time they’ve worked for a company that offered healthcare, educational and vacation benefits.

And finally, thank you to our customers and to utility customers across the nation who understand that the cleanest, cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you never use.

Gene Rodrigues is the Director of  Energy Efficiency and Solar programs at Southern California Edison. He has been with the company for over 22 years.  For more information on SCE’s refrigerator recycling program, click here.

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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Going Green and Making Friends: Bike to Work 2012

By Christina Motilall

“HAPPY BIKE TO WORK DAY!”

This could be heard all over Friday, May 18th near EPA headquarters as grinning faces greeted each other with well-Bike to Word Day festivitieswishes and high-fives for DC’s 56th annual Bike to Work Day. Bicycle commuters buzzed around getting free food, coffee, and knick-knacks as local community leaders spoke about the importance of biking to work as a habit. Yet this green event brings about a major question: Is biking to work a viable option in today’s car-dominated cities?

Personally, I think the answer is YES. My first exposure to Bike to Work Day (and Bike to Work Month) was in Bloomington, Indiana where I interned at the county Planning Department. The city and county are adamant about making cycling a popular mode of transportation and the push for alternative transportation is big. In helping to create promotional materials for the event, I stumbled upon page after page of local governments marketing their own Bike to Work Day. The more I learned about the event the more I realized employers and individuals everywhere from small-town southern Indiana to large cities like Oakland are jumping on the bike-wagon and growing the trend of biking to work to decrease pollution and congestion while promoting greener living and better health. Saving a couple extra bucks on gas is an added perk.

Being new to the DC area, I got a real taste for how much Bike to Work Day has grown in DC after talking to a few avid cyclists from the area. Ellen Jones, Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID), was pleased with the turnout. “This day has gone from one event in one place with 400 riders to 60 pit stops with over 12,000 riders.” She also stated that BID believes in “promoting bicycling because if it is easier to get downtown, businesses benefit.” Some cyclists came from right down the street while others biked across the river to make the day a huge success.

The large crowd induced smiles as cyclists detailed how Bike to Work day creates a bond between cyclists in the greater DC area. Jacqueline Keller, a ‘Bike Ambassador’ for the Washington Area Bicycling Association shared that Bike to Work Day “makes you feel like there is a DC cycling community.”

So next year strap on that helmet, trade in your four wheels for two, and join in National Bike to Work Day to go green, make friends, and feel good.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.

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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Wildfires and Health

By Ana G. Rappold

 

Lung anatomyThere are many studies demonstrating associations between cardio-respiratory health and air pollution.  However, most have focused on fossil fuels and urban pollution. Less is known about the health effects of wildfires, which in the U.S. account for 35% of fine particulate matter and can produce concentrations of air pollutants orders of magnitude larger then urban pollution. 

That’s where my work comes in.

My colleagues and I recently published the results of research we conducted examining the effects of wildfire exposure on cardio-respiratory health, We used satellite measurements to track the plume of smoke air quality data in an area exposed to a wildfire, and then combined that information with a nearly comprehensive record of emergency room visits.  

We found a consistent increase in relative risk for asthma, COPD, pneumonia, acute bronchitis and heart failure in the counties most affected by the smoke. In comparison, no such changes were observed in neighboring counties unaffected by wildfires.

Wildfires are associated, for many of us, with hot and dry places of the Southwest and heavily wooded remote regions of the Rocky Mountains. They are part of a natural life cycle in most ecosystems and are necessary and healthy parts of the ecosystem. But a changing climate threatens to disrupt historic patterns, and potentially threaten human health.

In North Carolina where we conducted our study, for example, we experienced six major wildfires in just two years, Smoke rising over peat wildfirefar exceeding the historic rate. Extensive ditching and draining of the peat lands combined with a prolonged drought has left the peat lands vulnerable to ignition, which in the case of our study area was lightning strikes.
 
For anyone who lived east of hwy 85 in NC, it would have been hard not to notice the smell of smoke coming from hundreds of kilometers away. These fires produced massive amounts of ground level smoke, affecting the life of local residents and the activities of seasonal tourists. Moreover, the fires cumulatively produced a bill of more then $65 million dollars in direct fire suppression costs.

Our work is helping us better understand the impacts of wildfire. It is important that we understand these impacts so we are better able to educate medical practitioners and the public of possible health risks involved in wildfires, particularly as they are expected to become more frequent in the future. As we learned, this can be critical information for people with asthma or cardio-vascular problems. What we learn will help us work with professionals from other disciplines so that we can better protect human health.

About the Author: Ana G. Rappold is a statistician and an investigator at EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division in Chapel Hill, NC.

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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When Will I Learn?

By Jeanethe Falvey

Years ago, my best friend called me while leaving the movie theater specifically to say, “my mom says you’re exactly like Dory!”

I replied, “I really want to take that as a compliment, but I’m not so sure that I can.”

You see, I had already seen this movie. Images of the permanently optimistic, exuberantly playful, but ever-forgetful blue fish bouncing on the jellyfish in Finding Nemo came to mind and I was pondering at the time how to feel about this conclusion.

As if I had a choice.

Though I haven’t mastered my whale communication skills as much as I yearn to, I have long since accepted that it’s a fairly accurate representation. There are worse cartoon characters to resemble.

This past weekend is a prime example. For the 20-somethingth time (this seems to happen once a year ever since I’ve been in control of it) I managed to completely forget that I was in fact, soaking up rays of sunshine while out enjoying myself soaking up rays of sunshine. I roasted my exposed body parts in the process.

I EVEN went to the dermatologists for the first time in my adulthood to get a checkup two weeks prior. I EVEN remarked that fact to a friend I was sitting with at the time, and we began to compare sun spots.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. Both of us in this case.

So now, a few days later with shoulders that are STILL hot to the touch, I’ve applied my fill of pure, all natural aloe – none of that diluted fake stuff – and I’m once again vowing to never step out of doors without anything less than SPF 30 on. SPF 5,000 where I’m already fried.

As EPA spreads the word about safely enjoying the rays for Don’t Fry Day today (but really every day, HEY just like Earth Day!) I thought I might add my lack of cents to the mix. We all forget. Especially if you live somewhere that’s gray, rainy and you deal with snowfall (usually) at some point during the year. If you’re anything like me you migrate like a sunflower to the brightly lit side of the street and if you could physically hug the rays you would, just because you’re so grateful they exist.

Just do so safely. It’s not worth the burn (again).

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

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

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