Monthly Archives: June 2012

Youth Sustainability Challenge Winners

On May 2nd, 2012 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson blogged about the Youth Sustainability Challenge. This project challenged American youth to submit a video that shared what they are doing to encourage sustainability in their communities and to make an America built to last.

Today I am excited to share the winning videos:

Best Overall Video: A Generation of Energy: Georgetown Energy

Best Contribution to Sustainability Concepts: Everyday Actions, Enduring Results

Most Innovative Approach: Operation Gulliver International

Best Communication of Sustainability: Carmel Green Teen Micro-Grant Program

Popular Choice Award: GROWTH.

You can watch all videos submitted at the Youth Sustainability Challenge website: http://youthsustainability.challenge.gov/. What are you doing to make your community – and the world – more sustainable?

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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A Peanut Fueled World

A few days ago, I stumbled across the EPA’s YouTube Channel, and learned about peanuts. Yea, I know. What could the peanut surprise us with now?

Well, two college students have found a way of producing peanut shell briquettes to replace wood as a cooking fuel in rural Gambia in Africa. Gambia is facing significant deforestation, so wood is scarce.  However, peanut shells may be the answer.

Want to know how?  Watch their video demonstration at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqHqdrW6U_U&feature=plcp&context=C49bba42VDvjVQa1PpcFPdEiR2Xqqsvb0l5CWjfB8rYVRgIVpF3qM%3D

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5.  She recently received a dual graduate degree from DePaul University.

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

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Un viaje de toda la vida desde las aldeas de Guatemala

Por Ana Corado

Quiero contrales la historia de como resulté saliendo del Centro Sava en Belgrado, Serbia, una noche brumosa de viernes, después de una larga semana de discusiones relacionadas con la gestión de químicos a nivel internacional.

Mi historia empieza hace muchos años, como niña en Guatemala, donde nací y crecí.  Mis padres trabajaban con organizaciones comunitarias e internacionales dedicadas a la educación rural en un país que tiene más de 20 grupos étnicos indígenas.  Desde que recuerdo, mis vacaciones escolares consistían en vivir en aldeas remotas donde otros niños usaban ropas no tradicionales y hablaban lenguajes indígenas.  Aun ahora recuerdo el aire de las montañas, los nacimientos de agua, los bosques de pino y las noches estrelladas.  Las aldeas no tenían electricidad y la mayoría no tenían agua potable.  Nuestros días consistían en tareas básicas: recoger agua, lavar ropa a mano, ayudar a juntar el fuego, cocinar, o caminar por sembrados de maíz discutiendo prácticas agrícolas.  A pesar de los escasos recursos materiales, los campesinos en esas comunidades nos recibieron cordialmente en sus vidas. 

Estas experiencias de la niñez me enseñaron una lección importante en la apreciación de otras culturas.  Esta lección la aplicaría al venir a los Estados Unidos a seguir estudios avanzados en ingeniería ambiental y luego al hacerme ciudadana.  Empecé mi carrera profesional en Los Angeles trabajando en asuntos relacionados a la protección del agua, y luego pasé a trabajar para la oficina regional de la EPA en San Francio, y después a la sede de la EPA en Washington, donde inicié my trabajo en la Oficina de Asuntos Internacionales y de Tribus.
Mi interés en asuntos técnicos me llevó a la Oficina de Prevención de la Contaminacion y Tóxicos de la EPA [http://www.epa.gov/oppt/index.htm] donde yo trabajo en asuntos de gestión de sustancias químicas a nivel internacional.  Diariamente, proveo la base técnica para los esfuerzos de EEUU con nuestros colegas a nivel internacional.  Asisto a reuniones internacionales donde los países discuten cómo van a trabajar juntos para asegurarse de que las sustancias químicas son usadas y producidas en formas que minimicen los posibles efectos negativos a la salud humana y al medio ambiente.   De nuevo, mis experiencias de la niñez con diferentes culturas me ayudaron a entender mejor la necesidad de trabajar diplomáticamente con colegas alrededor del mundo.  Este trabajo me llevó a esa noche fría en Belgrado, donde a pesar de sentirme cansada después de la larga semana de discusiones, tuve la satisfacción de que 150 delegados a la reunion concordaron en continuar los esfuerzos para reducir el uso de plomo en pinturas a nivel global y a promover el uso de alternativas para químicos perfluorinados.

Dr. Ana Corado es una ingeniera ambiental en la Oficina de Prevención de la Contaminación y Tóxicos y miembro del equipo de trabajo internacional.  Ella ha trabajado en asuntos ambientales por más de 20 años en los EEUU donde reside con su esposo e hija.  Ella continua dando apoyo a iniciativas educativas en Guatemala.

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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Your Sustainable Summer is Here: NYC Weekend Activities

According to the calendar and according to local thermometers, summer has arrived. With so much going on around town, there are plenty of reasons to brave the heat this weekend!

Comedy Central Live Presents: Hannibal Buress – Enjoy a free show in Red Hook Park by one of the hottest comedians on the scene at this joint production of Comedy Central and SummerStage. Sunday, June 24th, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

High Line Kids: Arty Hours – The High Line holds inspiration for creative minds of all ages. During Arty Hours, families can experiment with painting, drawing, and building materials to create their own masterpieces to take home. Saturday, June 23rd, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Riverdale Riverfest – Food, music, art and entertainment; the Riverdale Riverfest has it all. Did we mention the majestic views of the Hudson? Sunday, June 24th, 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Sunshine Community Garden Membership Drive and BBQ – If you’ve been thinking about joining a community garden in Williamsburg, here is your chance! At the Sunshine Community Garden you can plant and grow your own fruits and veggies while becoming a force for change in the community. Sunday, June 24th, 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Tropfest New York – The world’s largest short film festival is coming to the heart of NYC. Free tickets are still available, so don’t delay! Saturday, June 23rd, 3:00 p.m.

Yoga on the Beach – This weekly event is back for 2012. Grab your yoga mat and make your way out to Rockaway Beach for the perfect start to your weekend. Saturday, June 23rd, 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 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.

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A Lifelong Journey from the Towns of Guatemala

By Ana Corado

I would like to tell you the story that leads to my leaving the Sava Center in Belgrade, Serbia, on a late foggy Friday evening, after a long week of discussions on international chemicals management.

My story begins many years ago, as a child in Guatemala, where I was born and raised. My parents worked with grassroots and international organizations devoted to rural education in a country that has over 20 different ethnic indigenous groups. As early as I can remember, my school vacation consisted of living in remote villages where other children wore non-western clothing and spoke indigenous languages. To this day I recall the mountain air, clean water springs, pine forests and starry nights. The villages lacked electricity and most didn’t have running water. Our days were filled with basic chores: collecting water, washing clothes by hand, helping set the fire, cooking, or walking through corn fields discussing agricultural practices. Despite their scant material comforts, peasants in the communities welcomed us into their lives.

These childhood experiences taught me an invaluable lesson in appreciating other cultures. These lessons would again be applied when I came to the United States to pursue advanced studies in environmental engineering and became a U.S. citizen. I started my professional career in Los Angeles working on water resources issues, later moved to work for EPA’s regional office in San Francisco, and then to EPA headquarters in Washington, where I was introduced to the Office of International and Tribal Affairs.

My interest in technical issues led me to the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at
EPA where I work on international chemicals management issues. On a day-to-day basis, I provide technical support to U.S. efforts with international partners. I attend international meetings where countries discuss how to work together to ensure that chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize potential adverse effects on human health and the environment. Again, my childhood experience with different cultures helps me to better understand the need for diplomatic engagement with partners around the world. This work took me to that cold night in Belgrade, where despite feeling tired after a long-week of discussions, I had the satisfaction that 150 delegates at the meeting agreed to continue efforts to reduce the use of lead in paint globally and promote the use of alternatives to perfluorinated chemicals.

About the Author: Dr. Ana Corado is an Environmental Engineer with the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics and member of the international team. She has worked on environmental issues for 20 years in the U.S. where she resides with her husband and daughter. She still continues to support educational initiatives in Guatemala.

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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Saving Water and Energy – the Trickle Down Effect on Your Wallet

By Matt Colip and Walter Higgins

Just like homeowners, wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities have to control their energy usage because their budgets are so tight.  While you and I can install attic insulation or turn off lights when they aren’t in use to lower bills, plans for reducing energy use can be a little more complicated at water and wastewater treatment facilities. Still, there are many strategies available to reduce energy usage at water treatment facilities.  Oh, and you can help too.

One way a treatment facility can trim down its energy use is to start from the source and reduce the overall community demand for drinking water and waste water to be treated.  Less water used in communities means a lower cost to you on your water and sewer bill.  By promoting the use of water efficient WaterSense products and water conservation practices by the citizens within their service area, water utilities can reduce energy use significantly. Just think about how much less water facilities would have to treat and the energy that could be conserved if all of us used even a little less!

Have you ever driven by a waste water plant and noticed a large flame coming off one of the stacks?  That’s gas that is produced in the operations of the plant and is typically burned off.  Instead of flaring, it can be beneficially used to run turbines that can generate heat and electricity for the plant (otherwise known as Combined Heat and Power).  Also, some facilities are beginning to install solar photovoltaic panels on the plant grounds to offset the total electricity used by the plant.

On May 8th, EPA, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, hosted an Energy Roundtable Conference in Harrisburg for wastewater treatment operators interested in reducing their facilities’ energy costs and ultimately their carbon footprint.  This conference highlighted several areas related to energy efficiency along with innovative solutions to wastewater treatment.

Interested in hearing more about what happened at the conference? The presentations can be found on our website. For additional information, please contact Walter Higgins at Higgins.walter@epa.gov, or by phone at 215-814-5476.

About the Authors: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally a Texan, turned Pennsylvanian, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with a BA in Special Studies – Public Health and is currently working on an MS in Environmental Protection Management at Saint Joseph’s University. Walter Higgins is in Region 3′s Water Protection Division where he manages grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects.  He is also involved in working with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency and has been with EPA since 2010.  Prior to EPA he was a soil scientist with the Montgomery County Health Department, in Pa.

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 Power of the Strip

Power Strip

By: Brittney Gordon

Ever since I got married people continually ask me, “How’s married life?” Lucky for me, the answer is always a quick and easy “great!” But, there are some things that I am still getting used to—and my husband’s use of energy is one of them.

In the short time that I have been with the EPA, I have become a bit of an energy-saving fanatic. I can’t help it—I spend my days educating people about this very topic, and something would be very wrong with me if the messages did not seep into my own brain. But my husband does not work for ENERGY STAR, and is not as educated on the issue of climate change. Therefore I have found myself becoming a bit of a nag. Every time he leaves on a light or the computer I am right behind him, flipping the switch with a stern reminder about wasting energy.

His “man room” is my biggest pet peeve. In it he has a TV, a cable box, a personal computer, a laptop, a printer, two lamps, and more than one gaming system. What irks me the most is that many of these items are plugged into a power strip—a power strip that is NEVER shut off. Every time I see the telltale indicator lights on these products glowing in the dark, it reminds me that they are still using power.

What my husband did not get was that using a power strip as a central turn off is a great way to save energy. Even when turned off, electronics often use a small amount of electricity. U.S. households spent about $100 per year to power devices while not in use, roughly 8 percent of household electricity costs. Using a power strip for your electronic equipment allows you to completely disconnect the power supply from the power source, eliminating standby power consumption. This is an easy way to protect the climate by saving energy.

I totally understand that there are some electronic devices that you may not want to unplug on a regular basis. For example, cable set top boxes and wireless routers may take a few minutes to reset, which is frustrating for some people. But almost any other non-networked device can be plugged into a power strip that is turned off when not in use. AV equipment and DVD players are a couple of examples. Now as more and more devices are brought into the “networked” world this may become harder to do, but power strip manufacturers are working on solutions. For your other electronic devices, like your computers and monitors, setting them to automatically switch to sleep mode is your next best option. You can find quick and easy instructions for activating the power management features for these items on ENERGY STAR’s website.

This weekend I plan to reconfigure my husband’s use of power strips in order to be able to shut down all of his non-networked devices while they’re not in use. As long as I do not shake things up too much, I think he will concede. Wish me luck.

Brittney Gordon is a communications team member for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. She has been happily married for 7 months.

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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Green Chemistry Class at Rio+20

By Bicky Corman

On Saturday, June 16, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on Green Chemistry hosted by the United National Global Compact (UNGC) and United National Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

In his introduction, UNIDO’s Heinz Luenenberger warned us it was likely to be wonky, but it was actually quite energetic. The speakers included: Dr. Professor Rodrigo Souza, of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a green chemistry academic expert; Neil Hawkins from Dow; Peter White from Procter & Gamble; and Jorge Soto of Braskem. There was a palpable enthusiasm from all sectors on the huge transformations possible from understanding and applying green chemistry, which is a game-changer.

Green Chemistry, pioneered 20 years ago by Paul Anastas and John Warner, is based on the premise that toxicity and hazard are not necessary results of manufacture, use or disposal of chemicals; rather, those features are “design flaws” that can be resolved with thoughtful design and understanding of the habits of particular molecules. The application of green chemistry spurs innovation, as manufacturers rush to create these green alternatives. Doing so will save them money in production, use and disposal, and it will help them produce compounds that are safer for their workers and for the ultimate users. Green Chemistry is only gives manufacturers a competitive advantage; it’s also an important ingredient if we wish to promote economic growth and environmental protection.

When it was my turn to present, I had the honor of speaking about the contributions EPA has made in the field of Green Chemistry. EPA has been advancing green chemistry through research, collaboration and recognition for many years.

EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Award, which is given to honorees in industry, academia and NGOs, has stimulated innovative design of chemical products in both big and small companies. Dr. Hawkins commented that the receiving these awards has been quite meaningful to Dow, and we’ve seen what the winning technologies have accomplished: Since the program began, participating companies and academic institutions have together eliminated 544 million kilograms of hazardous chemicals and solvents each year, and are eliminating each year about 158 million kilograms of carbon dioxide releases to air.

Throughout the discussion the audience members were very engaged, and commented that the various presentations made them optimistic. I have to agree; this was certainly the most enjoyable chemistry class I have ever attended!

About the author: Bicky Corman is the Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy at 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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Midsummer in Sweden: In Harmony with Nature

By Kathy Sykes

Sun over the forested coastline“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.  Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.” 

–Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

June 21 is the longest day of the year and the start of summer. On the summer solstice, Earth is at its maximum axial tilt to the sun 23° 26′.  And nature is in full bloom.

When this first day of summer arrives, I think of the time I spent in Sweden, where “Midsommar” is the most celebrated holiday and the sun never sets. I spent my first midsummer in Sweden when I was 16 with my grandfather Lars. He told me and other young girls to pick a bouquet of flowers and place them under our pillows in hopes of dreaming of our future spouses. Midsommar is special to me because it is spent outdoors, in the woods, with the land and nature.

We picked daises—and also pot marigolds for their yellow flowers. We listened to folk music and danced around the maypole, which is traditionally decorated with green plants while women wear wreaths of flowers in their hair. It is a time to also enjoy the seasons’ first strawberries, fresh herring, new potatoes—and some schnapps.

This year, I will be returning to my ancestral homeland and to the town where Lars was born to celebrate “Midsommar” with my many relatives. There is a strong connection to nature in Sweden. An ecological awareness runs deep in the Swedish gene pool. Swedes love the simple pleasures from the forest and sea, wild strawberries, chanterelles, herring and crayfish.  And they recognize we can enjoy nature’s bounties only if we take steps to preserve and protect the environment.

My ancestors from Sweden and my parents instilled in me a love of nature. Others have left their mark on us all, like Aldo Leopold.

Leopold, a wildlife biologist and conservationist is best known for his book “A Sand County Almanac.”  Considered by many to be the “father of wildlife ecology,” his writing taught me to “think like a mountain” and about the delicate balance of nature. He wrote: “The land ethic is the individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”    

I will remember those words this Midsommar.

About the Author: Kathy Sykes is a Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability in the Office or Research and Development at the U.S. EPA.  She grew up in Madison, Wi and has been working at the U.S. EPA since 1998.

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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The Art of Underwater Choreography for EPA Scientific Diving

by Sean Sheldrake, EPA Region 10 Dive Team and Alan Humphrey, EPA-Environmental Response Team (ERT)

On the mind of the divers, as well as myself, an EPA divemaster, is always safety first and foremost. To be safe and deliver good science in a zero visibility underwater environment, choreography is key. While the divers don’t “dance” underwater very often, they do a dance of sorts with their equipment. Anchorage, current, wind, and other factors impact how the diver will deploy off the back of the vessel. Any misstep in the diver’s descent could cause lines to be crossed or severed, ruining data quality—and worse yet, could become a danger to the diver. EPA divers practice escape from entanglement problems on a regular basis, but underwater choreography ensures these situations are few and far between. Before I let any of my divers hit the water, they all must show me how each hand and fin will be placed as they deploy. We rehearse steps including exhausting air out of their bulky drysuit in preparation for descent, checking their remaining air gauges for their primary and emergency gas supply, and which hand each sampling instrument will be placed in. If lines are crossed during this “dry” drill, we terminate the exercise and start over. If the diver cannot show me how they can complete their task on the vessel, how can they complete it underwater with added distractions? Once the diver shows me how this can be done successfully on land, their 100 pounds plus of specialized diving equipment for contaminated water is donned. I’ll ask them one more time if they are feeling ok and ready to dive as we run through a predive checklist, much like ones pilots use before a flight. Any hesitation and they’ll be asked to step down without penalty from the day’s dives. Once all systems are go for the diver I will check for large vessels in the area and coordinate with the US Coast Guard as needed. We simply will not start a dive near a shipping lane with any possibility of vessels inbound. I tell the diver to “splash” and immediately we go back to the verbal cues we have rehearsed—“Sampler in the left hand, your communications cable in your right…let me know when you feel the bottom on your fin tips—that’s it, keep taking line downcurrent…you’re on target.”

Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at www.facebook.com/EPADivers

About the authors: Sean Sheldrake and Alan Humphrey both serve on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements. In addition, they both work to share contaminated water diving expertise with first responders and others.

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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