Monthly Archives: June 2012

Ozone Exposure and Your Heart

By Jing Zhang

Illustration of heart and lungsI couldn’t imagine living in a world where buildings are filled with thick cigarette smoke, but smokeless buildings haven’t always been the norm. Many things today, such as washing hands to avoid spreading germs, were previously not the norm and are the result of scientific findings uncovered years ago.

EPA researchers and scientists are constantly conducting studies to make important advances in improving human health and the environment. One such EPA study was recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation. (Read the press release.)

According to the study, breathing in ozone can be harmful to both your lungs and your heart.

For years, air pollutants, including ozone, have been known to harm the lungs. The EPA ozone study shows that breathing in ozone can cause inflammation of the vascular system, a change in heart rate variability, and a reduction in the ability of blood clots to dissolve, which are risk factors for heart disease.  The study also confirmed the ability of ozone to impact lung inflammation and function.

It amazes me how a seemingly simple molecule composed of three tiny oxygen atoms can impact lung and heart health! Where does this tiny yet harmful air pollutant come from?

As it turns out, ozone is in two areas of the earth’s atmosphere. Ozone exists naturally in the upper regions of the atmosphere, where it protects the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Ozone found at the ground level is created from the mixture of nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and sunlight. The NOx and VOC emissions come from sources including industrial facilities, electric utilities, and vehicle exhausts.

Because sunlight is a key factor in creating ground-level ozone, sunny days can create unhealthy levels of ozone in urban areas. Some people, including children, older adults, and those with preexisting heart or lung conditions, are at greatest risk from exposure to ozone.

In order to protect your health, use EPA’s Air Quality Index, which forecasts air quality on a daily basis, and minimize time spent outside on high ozone days.

The recently-released EPA study paves the way for further research on the health effects of exposure to ozone. With more discoveries, the impacts of ozone on health may become as widely known as the impacts of cigarette smoke on health. In the meantime, EPA scientists are continuously conducting cutting-edge research to protect your heart from outdoor air pollution and environmental effects.

To learn more about EPA air research, vistit: www.epa.gov/airscience

About the author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications Team in EPA’s the 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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PEYA Summit Blog

studentsWe were thrilled to receive an invitation to the White House Summit on Environmental Education on April 16, 2012 to receive the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). This award was created to recognize the outstanding work of young people in their environmental community. We were the winners in Region 8 which consists of CO, ND, SD, WY, MT, and UT.

We came from Colorado and our project was spreading the word in our state about radon and how it can cause lung cancer. It is easy to test for radon in your home with a simple test kit. We spoke to city councils, at community events, and at our State Capitol on the dangers of Radon. We presented at the National Radon Conference and International Radon Symposium in Florida.

The Summit experience was enlightening. It was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White. We were excited to hear speeches by the Honorable Lisa Jackson, the  Administrator of the EPA, and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. We had a roundtable discussion where we shared our projects with the winners from other regions.  We came home inspired by their ideas.

We encourage other kids in the US to pursue environmental projects to make us safer, to conserve resources, and to make our world a healthier place to live in. Many environmental issues affect our health and that’s important to us as kids. Getting involved in your community is one of the best things you can contribute.

Eric and Christina Bear from Golden, Colorado were a 2011 President’s Environmental Youth Award winner.

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

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The “Greening” of Superfund: Purchasing Wind Energy to Support Superfund Remediation

By James E. Woolford

Like many Americans, my family adopted a “greener” lifestyle – for both environmental and economic reasons. My daughter, learning a great deal of environmental issues in school, picked up a new career as part of the recycling and energy police– rescuing items that “can be recycled Dad!”

So now you might be thinking “that’s very nice, but what does this have to do with Superfund and the cleanup of contaminated properties?” Like many Americans, the Superfund Program, the nation’s primary program for cleaning up the most contaminated sites, is also undergoing a “greening” of daily life. Purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) to support cleanup activities is one effort.

A REC is the environmental benefit (e.g., reduced pollution or greenhouse gases) associated with generating one MWh (megawatt-hour) of electricity from a renewable energy source.

Recognizing that “green” efforts could be adopted in the remediation field, an effort began four years ago, with the federal, state, tribal, local, and the private sector, to “green” our cleanup practices. While the Superfund Program is, inherently, a “green” program (cleaning up contaminated land for productive use), we rely heavily on construction and remediation techniques. to achieve our goals. Cleanup technologies like pumping contaminated ground water to treatment facilities can be energy intensive – 200 fund-financed sites are currently at this stage of cleanup .

To balance this energy use, the Superfund Remedial program purchased 100,000 RECs from wind facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota to be used at sites across America. The RECs are Green-e certified and estimated to cover the electricity needs of projects not already being powered by renewable energy sources for 2012. We estimate our RECs will remove greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to emissions produced by approximately 18,000 cars annually or the emissions generated from about 11,000 average American homes each year.

For additional information on Superfund, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/renewableenergy. For additional information on ways to incorporate green remediation practices into your cleanup, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/greenremediation/.

About the author: James E. Woolford is the Director for the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and is responsible for long-term cleanup of sites under the Superfund program and also promotes new technology and approaches to managing sites.

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

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

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Pigeon Mites Will Feed On Sleeping Humans

By Marcia Anderson

Last week I received a call from Mike who lives with his 80+ year old mom in a high rise building in lower Manhattan. She had bite marks on her legs and chest and his first thought was of bed bugs, but finding no evidence or actual bed bugs, he called for advice on what else could be biting them.

They live on the 30th floor of the building and have pigeons roosting on their terrace. Some nights have been unusually warm this spring, so they tend to leave their windows open for a cool breeze. As pigeon fledglings leave their nest each spring, the starving mites find their way into buildings and attack the first warm-blooded host they find.

If you have pigeons nesting on your building or home beware, for as night falls pigeon mites may temporarily leave their nest, enter your bedroom and gorge themselves on your blood.

A pigeon mite up close

The female pigeon mite lays small batches of eggs in the fibers of a pigeon’s nest. The eggs will hatch within one or two days and then the first nymphal stage (with eight legs) goes in search of its first blood meal. Pigeon mites are very small (about 1/32” long), and can be seen with the naked eye.

Pigeon mites are quiescent during the day and emerge to feed at night. The first-stage nymph usually only feeds once before moulting, but the second-stage nymph may well feed several times before its next moult. There are usually only two nymphal stages before the adult and the entire life cycle may be completed within a week with reasonably high temperatures such as what we have had this spring. The adult pigeon mites may live up to a year and may survive for several months without a blood meal.

The incidence of these pigeon mites in domestic premises as a result of their migration from pigeon nests, is quite common. This problem is even more common in urban areas and this is usually due to the occurrence of pigeons nesting outside on window ledges and terraces. 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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For the Love of Maps

By Nancy Grundahl, EPA Region 3

Every time I see a map I get a warm, fuzzy feeling. It brings back memories of my childhood. When I was young, my mother thumb-tacked a map of the United States to the wall next to my bed. I often stood on my bed in my jammies staring at it. I wondered what “outside” looked like in faraway states like Arizona and Mississippi and Oregon. Were their trees and flowers the same as in my yard? Was their dirt the same as mine?

Little did my mother know that the map would help prepare me for a career in environmental science. Knowing how to read a map is important in many of the jobs we do at EPA. Maps give us information about the slope of the land, the location of streams and lakes, land use and municipal boundaries. Maps are typically included in permit applications, environmental impact statements, and grant proposals. Here’s an example.

My favorite maps are the U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. They cover the entire U.S. in great detail. On-the-ground surveys, aerial photographs and satellite data have improved the maps over the years. These maps, now called U.S. Topo maps, are available on the web. While it is always fun to put a paper map on the floor and get down on my hands and knees to look at it, today’s on-line versions allow users to turn data layers on and off, to zoom in and out, and to print the maps, all free of charge while sitting comfortably in a chair.

If you’ve never looked at a topographic map, give it a go. You’ll be able to figure out where that stream that runs near your home starts and where it ends. You’ll be able to see about how many feet you are above sea level. You’ll also be able to figure out your latitude (your north or south location in relation to the equator) and your longitude (your location east or west of Greenwich, England). Philadelphia, Pa., where my office is located, is at about 39° N and 75° W.

Maps can open up a whole new way of learning about your environment! It did for me.

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 also writes for the “Healthy Waters for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region” blog.

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

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Warbler Heaven

By Kevin Kubik

Springtime is an amazing time for birdwatching and if you’re lucky enough to live near a favorite location of migrating birds then it’s that much better.  Sandy Hook, NJ which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area is one of those spots visited by so many species of migrating birds.  Recently, while birding there, we happened upon Professor Thomas Brown of the College of Staten Island, who was busy netting and banding birds in the back woods at the park.  Professor Brown has permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that allow him to net, band and release the birds.  He was nice enough to spend time to explain the entire operation, which was both educational and really cool.

A banded Magnolia Warbler (Photo courtesy Jan Green)

He showed us the nets which reminded me of huge volleyball nets – only they extended right to the ground.  These nets were placed even deeper into the wooded area.  Professor Brown and his students would remove the netted birds, transfer them to collapsible net cages and bring them back to a table where they would systematically catalog and band each bird.  Data recorded included species, age, weight, body fat and length.  The birds were then released.

There was an abundance of birds that day, but the species-of-the-day was warblers.  These birds, which were only 3 – 4 inches long were as varied as they were colorful.   One after another, warblers  were removed from the net cages and added to Professor Brown’s file.  We saw Magnolia Warblers, and Common Yellowthroat Warblers and Canadian Warblers and Northern Parula Warblers and American Redstarts.

A warbler gets weighed (Photo courtesy Jan Green)

In glancing at the professor’s log we noticed that many other warblers were caught and released, including Cape May Warblers and a Blackburnian Warbler which apparently was a prized catch.  Also caught and released that morning were a box turtle and a vole.

It’s amazing how quickly the species change during the migration season.  Each week there seems to be a completely different group of birds at the park.  All you need are binoculars and a little patience and an extraordinary world is available to you.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance 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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Consejos de verano: ¡Beba agua!

Por Lina Younes

El verano ha empezado en todo su apogeo.  Temperaturas récord de calor están arropando al país, especialmente los estados del este.  ¿Cuál es una de las cosas más importantes que hacer para sobrevivir el calor extremo? ¡Beber agua para mantenerse hidratado!

Los ancianos, los niños y las mujeres embarazadas son más susceptibles a las temperaturas extremas.  Como parte del proceso de envejecer, los adultos en sus años dorados tienden a perder el sentido de la sed. Por ende, tienen un mayor riesgo de deshidratarse y son más vulnerables a los impactos ambientales. Por otra parte, los niños pueden deshidratarse fácilmente cuando están jugando al aire libre por su falta de juicio y al no reconocer cuáles son las señales de la deshidratación.

¿En los niños, cuáles con algunas de estas señales?

• Actividad física disminuida
• Falta de lágrimas al llorar
• Boca seca
• Irritabilidad y nerviosismo

Si no bebe agua fresca regularmente, la deshidratación podría conducir a un golpe de calor que podría poner su vida en peligro y requiere atención médica inmediata.

¿Cuáles son algunas de las señales de un golpe de calor en niños como adultos?

• Piel caliente, rojiza y seca
• Poco o ningún sudor
• Dificultad al respirar
• Mareos, dolores de cabeza, y/o fatiga
• Producción de menos orina y de color amarillento oscuro
• Confusión, pérdida del conocimiento
• En adultos, alucinaciones y agresión.

Además de mantenerse hidratado, he aquí otros consejos para sobrevivir el calor:
• Busque la sombra
• Si tiene que trabajar al aire libre, hágalo en horas de la mañana antes de que el calor llegue a su máximo
• Vístase con ropa apropiada, o sea ropa holgada, de tejidos livianos y colores claros

Por lo tanto, beba agua fresca con frecuencia. Disfrute del verano y permanezca sano. ¿Tiene algunas recomendaciones sobre cómo sobrevivir el calor?

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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Addressing E-Waste at Rio+20

By Walker Smith

On Tuesday I participated in a webcast from the U.S. Center at Rio+20 about an internet challenge to come up with creative solutions to the global problem of e-Waste. EPA, along with the State Department, OpenIdeo and the Brazilian bank Itau Unibanco, announced an e-Waste Challenge to generate ideas for solutions to a variety of e-waste issues. We’re anticipating that this effort will initially reach 30,000 people, and eventually many, many more as social networks take this up and communities get more creative. Whether the challenge results in brand-new, innovative solutions, or helps apply our knowledge and experience in new and different ways, we’re sure it will help us tackle these issues in both developing and developed countries.

As I stated in the announcement webcast, we are using more and more electronic devices, and don’t have adequate solutions about what to do when them when they wear out. In 2009, over 438 million new consumer electronics were sold in the U.S. alone. The United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP, estimates that between 20 and 50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated each year and too much of this e-waste ends up in developing countries that don’t have the capacity to manage the e-waste safely.

E-waste is a priority issue for EPA. We want to reduce the flows of e-waste and build capacity for the e-waste that does reach developing countries. Our efforts have included helping to create the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship which was issued by the U.S. government last year, a joint effort by a number of federal agencies.

We are working domestically to increase recycling, working with the businesses and community groups. On the global front, we are partnering with international organizations, including the United Nations University Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) and the Basel Workgroup, the Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), a public/private partnership promoting environmentally sound management, developing technical guidance and implementing pilot programs in developing countries. Some of our joint efforts include characterizing the U.S. exports of used electronics in order to help paint a picture of the global flows of these materials; working to assist foreign governments and other stakeholders with capacity building; and working bilaterally with Ethiopia and China to build capacity.

The e-waste problem, however, is a growing one as people around the world rely more on more on electronic devices. The e-waste challenge is designed to harness the imagination and creativity of the virtual community to come up with more solutions to reduce and manage e-waste.

We hope that you will join e-waste challenge and help contribute to solving the problem of e-waste. Visit the website and add your inspiration. Keep checking back to comment and build on others’ ideas. You can also share the challenge on Facebook and join the discussion using #OI_eWaste on Twitter to help build the buzz. If today’s event is any indication, we’ll have more than enough enthusiasm and input to bring exciting new ideas to this critical global sustainability challenge.

About the Author: Walker Smith, is the Director of the Office of Global Affairs and Policy in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs.

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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Nuestras Raíces: How we Turned Environmental Justice into Action

By Giovanna Di Chiro

Nuestras Raíces Clean Air Event, 2011

When I first started working with Nuestras Raíces, I was inspired by the passion and commitment of Holyoke, Massachusetts’ young Puerto Rican residents toward improving their community and respecting Madre Tierra (Mother Earth).  I thought EPA’s Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) program would be a great resource for harnessing this passion, and we were fortunate to be awarded a CARE grant to support these goals.  For our grant project, Nuestras Raíces has focused on engaging young people to create awareness among our neighbors about the risk factors in the community related to indoor and outdoor air quality, water quality and mercury contamination from eating fish from the Connecticut River.

In addition to our focus on environmental health education and organizing, Nuestras Raíces is committed to promoting sustainable economic development to address the high rates of poverty and unemployment in our community. Our youth environmental leaders became more and more excited about the environmental issues we were focusing on in the CARE project. They asked us how they could turn their efforts to expand environmental awareness into jobs and careers that would help make a difference in the community.  To support their great idea, Nuestras Raíces applied for the Department of Labor’s Pathways Out of Poverty funding to start RootsUp, a green jobs training program. To date, RootsUp has completed three cohorts with 22 graduates placed in local energy and green building and manufacturing companies.

Soon it became clear, however, that simply churning out green jobs trainees was not enough; we also wanted to help create good career pathways for our young graduates. Nuestras Raíces’ growing expertise through CARE and other community environmental and health collaboratives allowed us to launch and become the majority owner of Energía, a “triple bottom line” green energy services company, committed to hiring and mentoring local young people.

Now in its second year of operation, Energía has hired and trained three work crews, purchased and retrofitted two grease-powered trucks, and to date has completed over 700 residential and commercial energy efficiency projects, reducing homes’ and businesses’ energy output and saving them money from lower utility bills.

Mark Tajima and Yamil Brito

One of the graduates of our RootUp green jobs program, Yamil Brito, who was promoted to crew leader, has described his burgeoning career at Energía as, “good for his future, good for the earth, and good for the community.” As it grows and thrives, Energía will provide a source of sustainable income generation for Nuestras Raíces, while creating jobs and making our community more sustainable.

About the author: Dr. Giovanna Di Chiro is Director of Environmental Programs at Nuestras Raíces, Inc. in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and Research Associate at the Five Colleges Research Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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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Summer Tips: Drink Water!

By Lina Younes

Summer has started in earnest. Record high temperatures are blanketing the country, especially the eastern states. What is one of the most important things to do to survive this extreme heat? Drink water to stay hydrated!

The elderly, children and pregnant women are most susceptible to extreme temperatures. As part of the aging process, adults in their golden years tend to lose their sense of thirst. Thus, they are at a greater risk of dehydration and they are more vulnerable to environmental impacts. On the other hand, children can easily become dehydrate by outdoor activities because they lack the better judgement to recognize some of the signs of dehydration.

In children, what are some of these signs?

  • Decreased physical activity
  • Lack of tears when crying
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability and fussiness

If you don’t drink cool water regularly, dehydration can lead to heat stroke which can be life-threatening and requires immediate, medical attention.

What are some of the signs of heat stroke both in kids as in adults?

  • Skin is flushed, red and dry
  • Little or no sweating
  • Deep breathing
  • Dizziness, headache, and/or fatigue
  • Less urine is produced, of a dark yellowish color
  • Confusion, loss of consciousness
  • In adults, hallucinations and aggression

In addition to staying hydrated, here are some other tips to survive the summer heat:

  • Stay in the shade
  • If you have to work outside, try to do so in the early hours before the heat hits its peak
  • Dress appropriately with loose, light-weight clothing and light colors

So, remember to drink that cool water often. Enjoy the summer and stay safe. Do you have any recommendations on how to survive the heat?

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.

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