Monthly Archives: May 2012

Recycling at MorningSide

Colton picture

Hi my name is Colton, I’m 10 years old and I go to MorningSide Elementary. I got interested in recycling at home. We have been recycling as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade Ms. DeFranza talked to us about starting a recycling program. I’ve been doing it ever since. I also try to think of new ways to reuse things. At MorningSide we recycle paper, plastic and ink cartridges. I would like to talk to our principal about starting to recycle cans next.

My parents are really proud that I got involved in recycling at school. We all can help save the planet! I think when I grow up I’d like to be in animal research or engineering and design.

I have even gotten some of my friends involved in recycling at school! My little brother has started working with me and we recycle things at home.  What do you recycle at your school?

Colton is a 4th grade student at Morningside Elementary.  He enjoys reading, hanging out with his friends, and watching a good hockey game!

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Disfrute las actividades al aire libre de manera sana y segura

Por Lina Younes

Mientras muchas familias en los Estados Unidos y Puerto Rico se están preparando para el inicio extraoficial de las actividades veraniegas, hay algunas cosas que debe tener en cuenta para divertirse de manera sana y saludable.

En primer lugar, independientemente si va a la playa, va a un campamento, practicará deportes, disfrutará de la jardinería o simplemente va a caminar al aire libre, recuérdese de protegerse del sol y de esos poderosos rayos ultravioletas. Aún en los días nublados, los poderosos rayos UV le pueden hacer daño. Entonces, ¿qué debe hacer antes de disfrutar del aire libre este fin de semana o todo el año? Primeramente, consulte su índice de rayos ultravioletas.  En segundo lugar, aplíquese crema de protección solar con un factor de protección solar (FPS) de al menos 15. Recuérdese de reaplicar la crema cada dos horas o con mayor frecuencia si ha estado en el agua. También use un sombrero de ala ancha, ropa protectora y gafas de sol .

Si padece de alergias o es asmático, es una buena idea de consultar el índice de calidad de aire en su comunidad. Si hay una presencia elevada de contaminantes de aire en su área a una hora en particular o usted pertenece a uno de los llamados grupos sensitivos, trate de limitar sus actividades al aire libre hasta que el índice de calidad de aire mejore.

¿Piensa ira a la playa? Consulte nuestra nueva herramienta interactiva para monitorear la calidad del agua de las playas llamada BEACON 2.0. Encontrará información actualizada de las playas locales a través de los Estados Unidos continentales así como de Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico y territories estadounidenses y las tribus.

Además, hay otro factor que debe considerar al iniciar sus actividades al aire libre. ¿Cómo puede prevenir las picaduras de mosquito? Bueno, aplíquese repelentes de insectos a su piel expuesta y a la ropa como está indicado en la etiqueta del producto. No se aplique el repelente cerca de los ojos o boca. No deje que los niños se apliquen el producto. Usted debe aplicárselo.

Y después de disfrutar del sol y las actividades al aire libre, acuérdese de reducir los desechos  y siempre que sea posible, recicle.

¿Tiene grandes planes para este fin de semana del Día de la Recordación por los Soldados Caídos? ¿Ha pensado en actividades beneficiosas para el medio ambiente? Nos encantaría escuchar de usted. Saludos.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Asthma and New Fuels

By Marsha D. W. Ward, PhD

Lung anatomyAs an EPA scientist, I am excited about a new area of research that will lead to a cleaner environment and a healthier population.

 It has been estimated that up to 10% of people have fungal (mold) allergies.   Additionally, it is estimated that up to 90% of asthmatics are allergic and have an allergy trigger for asthmatic episodes.  Asthma prevalence has increased over the last several decades for reasons that are thought to have an environmental component.   In my laboratory we have been investigating the role of molds (fungi) in respiratory allergic disease for a number of years. 

As a nation, we are trying to protect our resources and environment by developing domestic renewable energy sources. However, new technologies may have unintended environmental or human health effects.  One area of energy technology development is based on biofuels—energy sources derived from biological material (biomass) such as perennial grasses, forestry and agricultural wastes.  In our studies, the biomass is derived from perennial crop grasses such as Miscanthus, switchgrass, and sorghum.

My EPA colleagues and I are investigating the impacts of cultivated and feral (escaped from cultivation) biofuel crops on ecosystems.  The goal is to develop more sustainable agronomic and processing methods for biofuel sources such as perennial and annual grasses grown in different geographical locations under various growing conditions.  In collaboration with EPA ecologists, my laboratory will be investigating the allergic potential of these materials which will include pollen, leaves, panicles (flowering branches), and bacteria or fungi (molds/yeasts) residing on the grass leaves that serve as the source of biomass to produce biofuels.   

Our studies will provide insight into the potential of various biomass sources to induce allergic and/or asthma-like responses.  The data produced in these studies will help to ensure human health safety, particularly for workers who are directly exposed during cultivation or processing of the crops. It will also be useful to predict effects of incidental outdoor and indoor airborne exposures to the pollen, leaf biomass and associated microbes by the general public.  The research will also look at the environmental impacts of biofuel crops being grown in different regions of the country.  

If a potential risk is found, our research will help to provide the scientific information needed to minimize risks to workers and to the environment.  This information could lead to the mitigation of both allergy and asthma induction.

About the author: Marsha Ward is a research biologist in the area of immunotoxicology who lives and works in North Carolina.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Environmental Justice: From Strategic Planning to Action

By Gary S. Guzy

What does it take to integrate environmental justice principles into our programs and services?

The answers poured in enthusiastically from senior officials across the Federal Government at a recent special Deputy Secretary-level meeting of the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group. I hosted this meeting along with U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe to mark the completion of an historic strategic planning effort.

Building on the Obama Administration’s commitment to strong environmental and health protections for all Americans, Federal agencies and offices have been revisiting and re-invigorating their approach to environmental justice. We set out our roadmap for concerted Federal Government action last year in an interagency Memorandum of Understanding, in which agencies committed to publishing environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports on their implementation of those strategies. When the deputies gathered at our meeting, the final strategies had just been released. To ensure their relevance and rigorous implementation, the strategies reflect public input, and they focus on engraining environmental justice principles in core Government practices and programs.

We agreed it was time to transition from strategic planning to action. As a Working Group, we decided that  to succeed, we must prioritize our actions and leverage existing resources as much as possible, including through developing and expanding public-private partnerships and sharing best practices across agencies. I jotted down the following examples to give you a sense of what this means in practice:

  • Deputy Secretary David Hayes described the Department of the Interior’s work with private companies to help provide renewable energy to remote Native Alaskan communities.
  • Assistant Secretary Howard Koh from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the health impact assessment tools that the Department is developing will enable Federal decision-makers across the Government to identify and consider public health impacts, including those that disproportionately apply to low-income and minority communities.
  • The Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are developing staff and stakeholder training on environmental justice principles which may be applicable to other Federal offices as well.

As someone who worked in the Federal Government when we first began considering environmental justice principles two decades ago, I am heartened by where we are headed today. With newfound direction and momentum, we are answering the call for systematic and durable applications of environmental justice principles to our programs and services, so we can see meaningful results.

About the author: Gary S. Guzy is Deputy Director of the Council on Environmental Quality.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Enjoying Outdoor Activities Safely

By Lina Younes

As many families across the United States and Puerto Rico are getting ready for the unofficial kickoff of summer activities, there are some things to keep in mind to stay safe and healthy.

First of all, whether you are going to the beach, going camping, engaging in sports, gardening, or simply walking outside, remember to protect yourself from the sun and its powerful ultraviolet rays! Even on cloudy days, those powerful UV rays can harm you. So, what should you do before enjoying the outdoors this weekend or any day of the year? First check your UV ray index.  Two, put on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Remember to reapply it every two hours and even more frequently if you have been in the water. Also, you should wear a hat, protective clothing, and sunglasses.

If you are prone to allergies or you have asthma, it is a good idea to check the air quality index in your community. If there is a higher level of air pollutants in your area at a certain time or you belong to one of the sensitive groups, try to limit your outdoor activities until the AQI improves

Are you planning a trip to the beach? Check out our new interactive tool to monitor the water quality at beaches called BEACON 2.0. You will find updated information on local beaches for the lower 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, the US territories and tribes.

While you’re engaging in outdoor activities, there is another thing to keep in mind. What do you do to prevent insect bites? Well, apply insect repellents to your exposed skin and clothing as indicated on the product label. Don’t apply this product to eyes or mouth. Don’t let children handle the repellents either. You should apply it for them.

And after having fun under the sun, remember to reduce waste and whenever possible recycle.

So do you have any big plans for this Memorial Day weekend? Planning any green activities? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Have a “Green” Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend is here, and with that, a slew of fun, healthy and green things to do across all five boroughs!

1st Annual Community Garden Domino Tournament – This free domino tournament is open to players of all ages, rating, and strengths. Games will be held two Saturdays a month from May 26 through August 25 in the El Flamboyan Community Garden in The Bronx. Saturday May 26th, 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Food Truck Rally – Head to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to sample treats from New York’s best food trucks. If you feel like burning off your lunch afterwards, take a walk around the adjacent Prospect Park. Sunday, May 27th, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Free Memorial Day Concert – The Bronx Arts Ensemble will be performing in Van Cortlandt Park this Sunday with works from great American Composers of various periods. Sunday, May 27, 2:00 p.m.

Movies in the Park – Bring a chair or blanket and come out to a free showing of “Hugo” at Queen’s Frederick B. Judge Playground. Friday, May 25th, 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Veggie Pride Parade – Vegetarians and vegans have their own parade! If you fall into one of these categories (or if you’re just veg’n-curious), this is a can’t-miss event! Sunday, May 27, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Weekend Warriors – Enlist yourself in the war against weeds and help spruce up the grounds of Staten Island’s Greenbelt Nature center with other nature-loving city dwellers. Saturday, May 26, 10:00 a.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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Higher Education: Messaging with Green Roofs

By Nancy Grundahl

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of May will focus on Clean Water, Jobs, and the Economy.

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green roofs have much to offer.

  • They hold rainfall that would otherwise run over impervious surfaces carrying pollutants to our streams.
  • They act as magnificent insulators, significantly lowering the HVAC needs of a building.
  • They provide habitat for birds and insects such as butterflies and bees.
  • And, some may provide a park-like escape for people working in the building.

So, it’s no surprise that green roofs are gaining in popularity. And, it figures that someone would start designing green roofs to be like works of art or to convey a company’s message. I don’t mean by using signs or statues, but by using plants and soils with different colors and textures.

It makes sense.  There’s an audience out there – or, rather, up there.  People in nearby taller buildings, pilots and their passengers.  There were 448,129 aircraft takeoffs and landings at Philadelphia International Airport in 2011. Multiply that by the number of people with window seats and you get a tremendous number of potential onlookers.

So, we’re calling on all “higher-ups.”  Have you seen green roofs that you’d like to tell us about?

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

We Can Relax, Science is in Good Hands

By Bill Hagel

Judging science projects.This was my first science fair, either as a judge or a participant. My love of science didn’t germinate until late in my freshman year at college.  I started as a poli-sci major and…THUNK. Oh sorry, I still fall asleep just thinking about Dr. Manoogian’s lectures on the Law of the Sea Conference.

So I was a late bloomer – but here I was at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) as a judge with the awesome responsibility of helping select the winner of EPA’s Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award.

“Smile and keep walking or it’ll break your heart,” fellow EPA judge Melissa cautions me one last time in what has to be a fake English accent because it’s too perfect.  “Don’t worry, I raised two boys, I know how to handle teenagers” I retorted.

We gather around a young girl from Kentucky.  She snaps to attention with a big smile and starts to explain why she thinks she has found a more efficient way to generate electricity from river bottom mud.  She dives into the research, explains the technology, defends the science and happily answers any questions.  It’s one thing to read an abstract and look at a poster created by a 16 year old, but it’s a revelation to have them explain in detail the scientific method, research objectives and null hypothesis right before your eyes.

As we move to the next presenter I look up into the faces of these brilliant kids lining both sides of the aisle.  I want to see and hear each and every project, but there is no time. Each eager young mind I pass, my heart breaks as Melissa promised.  But there is a job to do.

We listen to a young man from Arizona discuss his innovation for a Sterling Engine using imbricated compression.  We are impressed by a young lady from New Orleans who is trying to re-design solar panels by replacing the p-n junction with a single semiconductor.  We hear from kid from Texas who cooked up some iron nanoparticles made from household materials to enhance a conventional sand filter that adsorbs arsenic in contaminated drinking water.  He wanted to make sure those in poorer countries exposed to naturally-occurring arsenic contaminated groundwater could make the filter at home.

The more I listened the more I became encouraged.  If these amazing young people at ISEF are the next generation of scientist and researchers, we are in good hands.  Now we just have to find a way to get them to work for EPA.

About the Author: Bill Hagel is EPA Region 3’s Superfund and Technology Liaison in the Agency’s Regional Science Program.  He has a well-balanced 16 years at EPA and 16 years in environmental consulting. His varied experience makes him appreciate the mission and people of EPA all the more.

Editor’s note: Click here to read the press release announcing EPA’s winner.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Melanoma es el cáncer más común en adultos jóvenes de 20 a 30 años de edad

Fue casi un año después de su diagnóstico inicial a los 26 años de edad, cerca del Día de Acción de Gracias, cuando nos enteramos que el melanoma de mi hermana menor, Melissa, se había extendido.  A partir de ese momento, la batalla de Melissa contra el melanoma era una situación nebulosa de cirugías, radiación y quimioterapia. Llegué a casa para estar con ella tan a menudo como podía, y me quedé con ella en el hospital cada vez que fue admitida. Dormiría en la silla al lado de su cama pero en varias ocasiones, a mitad de noche, la movía hacia el medio para dormir a su lado, igual que cuando éramos niñas. Estaba tan asombrada por su capacidad de recuperación. Ella iba al hospital para cirugía y estaba al teléfono dos días después conversando con sus clientes desde la cama del hospital. Yo no creo que muchos de sus amigos y compañeros de trabajo siquiera sabían la gravedad de su estado ya que era increíble su recuperación.
Al sentirnos tan lejos, mi esposo y yo decidimos mudarnos a Nueva York para estar más cerca de nuestras familias. Yo estaba embarazada de mi hijo cuando nos mudamos. Melissa acogió mi embarazo y esperaba con ansias la llegada de mi bebé. Ella se quedó conmigo en la sala de partos mientras yo daba a luz, limpiándome la frente, animándome y alentándome a ser fuerte. Al ser siempre mi inspiración, decidimos pedirle que fuera la madrina de mi hijo, y por supuesto, aceptó.
Fue poco después del bautizo de mi hijo en el otoño del 2003 que nos enteramos de que el cáncer de Melissa no sólo se había extendido a su cerebro, sino a sus nódulos linfáticos, su hígado, y su columna vertebral. Sus médicos comenzaron a tratarle con más quimioterapia, pero sabíamos que sólo que era cuestión de tiempo. Tres días antes de la Navidad, Melissa fue ingresada al hospital porque estaba muy débil. En la víspera de la Navidad, entró en coma y murió a los dos días. Mi familia estaba con ella cuando falleció, tomando sus manos y abrazándola. Era un momento de mucha paz, lleno de amor. Me siento bendecida por haber estado con ella.
Yo sé que como pediatra, tengo que hacer la diferencia. No puedo dejar que la muerte de mi hermana sea en vano. Los padres necesitan saber cómo proteger a sus hijos e hijas contra el sol y sus daños. Desde que Melissa murió, he decidido cambiar mi carrera para tratar de ser una fuerte voz en contra el melanoma. Pienso que al contarles a ustedes la historia de mi hermana, y dándoles a entender cuán malo es el melanoma, tal vez puedan prevenirse más muertes. Pienso además que es la mejor forma que puedo honrar la memoria de Melissa. Por favor, conozcan acerca de la protección solar y el Programa SunWise este viernes antes del Día de la Recordación, también conocido como el Día de No Freírse al Sol.
La doctora Maribeth Bambino Chitkara perdió a su hermana por melanoma, a la joven edad de 29 años, y quiere recordarles que adopten prácticas prudentes cuando salgan al sol este viernes el “Día de No Freírse” y  todos los días.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Asthma, Air Pollution, and the Importance of Epithelial Cells

By Jan Dye

Lung anatomyBecause epithelial cells ─ the surface cells of the lung ─ are some of the first cells in the body to encounter air pollutants, they function as an important protective barrier against the numerous noxious or injurious agents found in the inspired air, including microorganisms, pollutants, and allergens.

In my laboratory, we use a relatively simple cell culture approach to investigate how gases and particles from different pollutant sources can induce differing degrees of damage to airway and lung epithelial cells.  Our findings help to link air pollutant exposure to specific adverse effects on these important protective cells of the lung.

  • For example, we have shown that when lung cells are exposed to certain metal mixtures (similar to that found on particles derived from steel mill emissions); cells were more damaged than if they were exposed to just one metal at a time, even at relatively high concentrations.
  • We demonstrated that real-world diesel exhaust particles (which have a layer of organic carbon-rich material and road dust associated metals) are more injurious to airway epithelial cells than simple carbon particles (like that found in cartridge toner). Taken together, results show that both the particle dose and its composition are important in determining its epithelial toxicity.
  • We have also shown that if lung cell cultures undergo physical injury or “wounding” prior to exposure to diesel particles, cultures are not able to “heal” the injured areas as readily or as completely as the unexposed cultures.  It appears that air pollutant exposure may interfere with cell migration. Directed epithelial cell migration is critical for healing of the airways after insult (e.g., viral infection or asthma flare up) and for lung development during periods of rapid lung growth (e.g., early childhood and adolescence).
  • Finally, we have shown that when epithelial cells “grow up” within an inflammatory microenvironment (not unlike that present in the airways of people with asthma), exposure to diesel particles induced significantly greater lung cell damage, resulting in a “leaky” epithelial barrier.  If this were to happen within the airways of an asthmatic individual, inhaled irritants may penetrate deeper into lung tissues, potentially worsening allergen exposure and responses.

These are just a few of the ways in which exposure to air pollutants can negatively impact the health of epithelial cells lining the airways and deep lung spaces.  Epithelial cells also play critical roles in controlling inflammatory and immune responses after lung insult. If damaged by air pollution, these cells are not able to do their job as effectively.

About the author:  Dr. Jan Dye is a health effects researcher in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  She is a Project Lead for the Air, Climate, and Energy program’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards and Multipollutant Project on susceptibility to air pollutants.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.