Monthly Archives: July 2012

Blood, Sweat and Dirty Fingernails

Most middle school students don’t usually spend their time growing their own food.  Green Cove Spring Middle School’s 7th and 8th graders are challenging that perception: they started the BSDF Garden, otherwise known as the Blood, Sweat, and Dirty Fingernails Garden.

The inspiration to grow an edible school garden started with the kids’ desire to learn firsthand about where food comes from and to literally enjoy the fruits – and veggies – of their labor.  At Green Cove Spring middle school, gardening has become a way to encourage students to work together, form a community, and learn.

The 7th and 8th graders began collecting a variety of vegetable seedlings and decided to reuse clean paint buckets as the planters.   By getting involved in gardening at school and creating garden classrooms, they were provided with real experiences on how food grows, where it comes from and how important gardens are for the environment.  For many of the students, it was an experience they will never forget because it introduced them to gardening and cultivating food. It may have been messy but they are already noticing results.   In fact, they have a tomato plant that has grown quickly and is producing several tomatoes already.  Some of the students have really taken an interest in planting and caring for the garden that they are taking some of the stronger plants home to care for after school lets out.

Despite not knowing how to start, these students have been pretty successful.  Can’t wait to find out what the students at Green Cove Spring Middle School come up with next!

Yvonne Gonzalez recently finished an internship  with the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She recently moved to Washington, DC to work at EPA permanently.  She received her 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.

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.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Routine

By Alexis Glears

This summer, I’m working at EPA. Because this is an agency whose mission is to protect the environment, I decided to try to create long-term, environmentally conscious habits. Every day for a work week, I chose one simple task to work into my daily routine.

On day one, my friends and I went shopping. Instead of using bags from the store, we brought our own. This wasn’t as hard to do as I thought. The only difficult part was remembering to bring bags. To solve this problem, I’ve left some in my car trunk for impromptu shopping trips.

As a college student, I spend a majority of my time on the computer writing papers and surfing the web. On day 2, I explored different ways to save energy while on the computer. I learned that turning your computer off when you step away for more than 2 hours and using the power-down or sleep modes, can significantly reduce energy use. (Note: Screen savers are not energy savers!)

This summer is proving to be a scorcher, so day 3 was all about water. Instead of paying $2 for a plastic bottle of water every day, I brought a reusable water bottle. Bringing my own bottle was so convenient because I could refill the bottle many times a day. Also, I’m very frugal and hate paying for something that should be free.

About 77% of Americans drive alone to work each morning. I usually drive to the local train station and take the subway to work each morning. Instead of driving by myself on day 4, I commuted with my mom. Commuting with other people can save fuel and money for everyone. Plus, it’s always more fun when you have some else come along for the ride.

Advocacy is important when promoting a cause. I love social networking. It’s the quickest way to share information with my generation. On day 5, I used this method to spread awareness of environmental issues. By far, this was the easiest habit to include because I’m constantly on social media.

All of these habits were easy for me; I plan to keep most of them and will try to add more in my quest to being more environmentally conscious.

What are your green habits?

About the author: Alexis Glears is a summer intern in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. She is studying public relations at Hampton University and will be graduating in December 2012.

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.

What’s Your Name?

I must be having dreams about K-Tel’s Superhits of the 70’s since my last couple of post titles have been been Kansas and BTO songs, and now this one is from Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Most people know that regional geography plays an important role in determining whether one calls their carbonated corn syrup beverage of choice a soda, pop, sodapop or Coke (even when its a Pepsi). These same regional distinctions exist across the U.S. when it comes to naming waterbodies. Creek and River are ubiquitous but check out where brooks, runs, washes, and branches are found.

Mapping Terms for Streams (Derek Watkins)

Mapping Terms for Streams (Derek Watkins)

If you want to find out the name of the arroyo/kill/swamp/slough by you there are lots of ways, but EPA has a pretty easy online application that can help. It is called My Waters Mapper.  This application has alot of functionality, and it really makes it easy to find a waterbody’s name.  You can enter an address and then zoom to the area you are interested in.  Next simply click on the “Other EPA Water Data” tab towards the bottom right of the screen and check the box for “Rivers and Streams” and waters will magically appear as blue squiggles on the map.  Click on your particular blue squiggle of interest and a box will pop up with the waterbody’s name.  There are an awful lot of NAs…but before you consider naming that creek after Uncle Bill you will have to check with the fine folks at the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. I live not too far from an “Old Maids Creek”.  What colorfully named creeks do you reside near?

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.

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.

Decisions, Decisions—and a new tool to help us make them

By Tarlie Townsend

I once heard someone say that we make about 35,000 decisions each day. Whoa! Equally amazing is that each of those decisions is based on relevant information that we either gather or already have. For example:

  • Without knowing what season it is, how could you decide what outfit to wear?
  • How could you choose a fuel nozzle without knowing whether your car takes diesel or gasoline?
  • How would you decide what groceries to buy without knowing what your family likes and what you already have at home?

 Fortunately, most of that information is so easy to come by you don’t even need to think about it (except what food is already in your pantry—I’m always messing that one up!).

Kids jumping into the lake from a dock.But there are some decisions that we don’t have much information about. Take the following scenarios:

  • “I want to take my family swimming at the nearby lake/bay/ocean. Should I be concerned about harmful algal blooms this season?”
  • “As a coastal resource manager, I want to know the real-time condition of our coastal waters, and how different practices could affect it. If something makes the area less amenable to swimming, snorkeling, or fishing, our community’s economy could lose valuable income from tourism!”
  •  “I’m considering a summer snorkel trip—where should I go for the best visibility, so that I can really see the beautiful coral and fish?”

What all of these decisions depend on is knowledge of real-time water quality conditions—and yet that’s information we don’t have much of. Getting it requires a field team and lots of equipment, and ultimately you can only get a small slice of the information you want.

That is, until now. EPA scientist Dr. Blake Schaeffer is developing a strategy of water quality monitoring that depends on satellite remote sensing. This method allows researchers to measure over larger areas and on a daily basis, providing more comprehensive information than ever before.

Of course, satellite data tends to be complex and unwieldy. That’s why Blake’s team is also working to simplify the information and to make it readily accessible. They have even designed a smartphone app that would provide people with information they need to make decisions like those above, and to give feedback to researchers about current conditions! The app is under the last stages of review, and the team hopes to release it in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned!

 About the Author: Tarlie Townsend recently completed an internship with EPA’s science communications team in EPA’s 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.

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.

Urban Sustainability:Role of Small Manufacturers

By Natalie Hummel

Recently, I attended an urban manufacturing tour in Philadelphia with a dedicated group from Philadelphia’s Department of Labor, Commerce and Water, University of Penn, Drexel University, Peoples Emergency Center and the Pratt Center (NY). It was an exciting opportunity to step outside my busy cubicle and experience a world where products are designed and crafted locally —which provided real meaning to the logo “Made in the U.S.A.”

Our initial stop was a small family owned textile company that produced ergonomically enhanced military gear to protect the lives of our military members. Military apparel carrying grenades and high end equipment were redesigned to improve effectiveness. Our group heard how “lean manufacturing” improved operational efficiencies to eliminate or reduce waste while reducing costs.

The open conversation between management and employees enhanced productivity and team incentives and provided employees with an opportunity to enhance skills and knowledge. More importantly, the President of the company, a graduate of the University of Penn’s Wharton School of Business recognized the importance of keeping jobs in Philadelphia.

Along with many creative solutions, we highlighted E3: Economy, Energy, and the Environment, a collaborative framework by local, state, and federal partners to address manufacturing sustainability and profitability. E3 companies that have participated received technical expertise to improve processes, energy use, environmental stewardship, worker safety and competitiveness. Technical assistance through E3 can help companies make more money, retain and hire new workers, and protect public health and the environment, all at the same time.

As a result of the work that this company had done, lives will be saved, product life will be extended and operational costs will be reduced.

This is only one company and many other small and medium sized urban manufacturers are making an enormous impact promoting regional sustainability, livability, and economic competitiveness. Through collaborative programs such as E3, economic, energy and environmental improvements will benefit many.

About the author: Natalie Hummel holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has been with the EPA for over 9 years.   Natalie joined the Agency as a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) , and completed rotational assignments at the Chesapeake Bay Program and the National Park Service working on urban stormwater and coastal estuary environmental issues.  She has extensive experience in budgeting, performance measurement, policy, and planning.   Currently, Natalie is in the Pollution Prevention Division managing E3 efforts in NY, PA, WV, VA, and MT.

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.

CEPD Moves to a new Green Space

By Brenda Reyes

If moving a family to a new house (and all the packing it takes) is quite the experience, imagine moving from where you have worked for the past decade along with almost 60 co-workers! About three months ago, our Caribbean Environmental Protection Division moved to a new location in City View Plaza, in my hometown of Guaynabo.  The best part for me and some coworkers is being five minutes from home (without any traffic), the hardest part was getting used to a larger office space.  Gone are the days when it took me about eight steps to reach the Deputy Director’s office. Our new office space is 21,000 square meters and boasts green features to lower environmental impact.

The bathrooms have high-efficiency faucets and low flush toilets to help reduce the amount of water consumed by almost 40% compared to standard faucets and toilets and to reduce the burden on drinking water and wastewater systems.  All wood used in the office space is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood or wood that has been reused to reduce materials consumption.  Infrared and motion sensors have been installed in the conference rooms, office spaces, open spaces and even in the modular desk task lights. These sensors ensure that lights are on only when the room is occupied, reducing energy consumption.  Furthermore, large high-efficiency tinted windows allow for natural light to provide illumination in the perimeter around the office and in the reception area-where a native Blue Mahoe desk presides over the area.   In my case those large windows provide me with a view from the San Juan Bay, El Morro Fort and the Cataño area.  The view is truly breathtaking!

All carpets used in the office are made of about 30% recycled material and are 100% recyclable. They also do not contain toxic chemicals found in conventional carpets.  Low VOC paint was used in the new space. Also, a high efficiency HVAC system not only saves on energy, but also has a special filter that will remove almost all particulate matter from the space.   All computer equipment in the office was purchased using the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool and all appliances in the lunch room are Energy Star. We also have bike racks for those who wish to pedal their way in and out of the office and we are on the bus route.  While we have not heard from the U.S. Green Building Council yet, EPA applied for the LEED certification for this new office space.

Three months have gone by and with each passing day I come to see this new space as a true example of sustainability in action.

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.

Check In to Check Out our Tips on Foursquare

By Jessica Orquina

Do you check in everywhere you go? Are you the mayor of your favorite coffee shop, café, or park? Then you’ll want to check this out. I’m excited to announce that EPA has joined Foursquare! Here is the link to our page:

http://foursquare.com/epagov

On Foursquare, we’re leaving tips about the environment across the country and around the world. Check in at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) here in Washington, DC and learn about the history of our agency. Travel to Mount Hood National Forest and get our tip about how you can participate in the State of the Environment Photo Project.

So far, we’ve left tips at about 100 locations. We’ll continue to add tips and share environmental information with you at places on throughout the country. Let us know which tips you find useful!

We’re also going to create lists of places you may want to visit. To start, we created a list of locations where Documerica photographs were taken. Documerica was a project EPA embarked on from 1972 to 1977 to document environmental conditions and concerns in the United States. Soon, we’ll be adding lists of estuaries, urban waters projects, and more.

Where would you like us to leave tips? Share your ideas in the comments below. And like us on Foursquare today!

Like us on foursquare


About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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.

Behind the Scenes

By Jeanethe Falvey

Nature and what we build in it has a way of redefining our notion of worst-case scenario. What more can we do, but forge ahead hoping it doesn’t happen to us?

‘Deepwater Horizon,’ ‘Katrina’, ‘Yellowstone River’… The list goes on. We live on a dynamic planet and while we have masterfully become creatures of comfort, we still live in an environment. The same environment that provides rain, earthquakes, oil, also brings sunshine.

When something devastating happens to our known space and our livelihoods it’s hard to comprehend much beyond each unfolding moment.

When it does, suddenly many things so often in the background of our lives are at the forefront needing to fix everything, yesterday.

The confusion that sets in at a disaster response is something that individuals working in all levels of government, from local enforcement officials to many of us within state and federal agencies having been trying to improve together since September 11.

Each time is emotional, each time is different, each time it can’t be fixed fast enough, if ever.

The time to get better is in between. The best we can do is learn, improve and communicate. From the day I started at EPA, communication has been at the forefront of my expectations, a responsibility I do not take lightly.

This week, I was joined by a roomful of my colleagues at EPA as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, to learn from one another as we discussed how communication can be improved during an incident – whether drums have been found in a field, or oil is gushing freely.

From public meetings, on door steps, behind EPA’s social media, I find myself constantly wanting to improve my, and EPA’s connection with the public. What we practice and strive to improve behind the scenes could become a direct part of any of our lives at any time. If it were me, I would desperately want help and expect information that I could easily see and understand.

EPA deals with complex science about our lives on a daily basis that is never easy to explain, especially when emotions are high.

Awareness of our surroundings, connection to our environment, thinking a little ahead is all a part of getting through something together. In the in between, take a moment to not only revel in our incredible environment, but consider how you too could be more prepared.

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.

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.

One Man’s Trash or Treasure?

paperWhat do you do with a ton of used paper?

No, this is not a trick question and the answer isn’t “throw it away.”

Recently, a group of 6th grade students in Hebron, Nebraska taught me a new way to use all that extra paper. They’ve come up with a way to use shredded paper and turn it into pulp.  Using little cups as molds, they shaped the pulp into starter pots. The pots would dry for a week and then they would add a second layer of pulp to make the pot sturdy and strong.

After the pot would dry, the students would add soil and plant flowers to grow.  These students then adopted a “grandparent” at the local elder care community center, where they gave away the potted plants.  The neatest thing was watching the students share their recycling and reuse art project with their new friends.

The students are diverting hundreds of pounds of paper waste with this project.   What are some ways you can reuse paper in the community?

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.

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.

No deje que los mosquitos arruinen su verano

Por Lina Younes

Con el incesante calor y la sequía que han azotado al país, no pensaba que tendríamos un problema con los mosquitos en nuestra área.  Sin embargo, me parece que hay un mayor número de mosquitos y otras plagas este verano a pesar de la falta de lluvia en nuestra región.

De hecho, no es necesario tener una temporada de lluvias torrenciales para que los mosquitos se multipliquen.  Los mosquitos pueden propagarse fácilmente sin tener que tener un lago o estanque cercano. Sólo necesitan agua estancada. Cualquier contenedor o envase serviría ese propósito.  Hasta una grieta en el pavimento o una pequeña tapita llena de agua abandonada en algún lugar por una semana podría servir como un criadero ideal para que numerosas especies de mosquitos se proliferen.  Un mosquito hembra sencillamente tiene que poner los huevos en el agua que permanece inmóvil en una cuneta, una maceta, una lata, un baño de aves o una llanta abandonada.  En un par de días, centenares de mosquitos llegan al mundo para nutrirse de nosotros.

¿Entonces, qué podemos hacer para prevenir la proliferación de mosquitos? Lo más importante es remover cualquier tipo de envases donde puedan vivir y criarse.  Vacíe y cambie el agua de los baños para aves, fuentes, y piscinas de niños cada par de días para destruir posibles criaderos. Limpie los desagües y elimine llantas viejas u otros contenedores alrededor de la casa donde se podría acumular el agua.

Una vez que haya eliminado cualquier posible hábitat para mosquitos, use repelentes de insectos de manera segura para protegerse y a su familia. Hay repelentes con la sustancia química conocida como DEET  que han sido aprobados por EPA para ese fin. Al igual que con otros productos pesticidas, la EPA recomienda que lea la etiqueta primero y siga las instrucciones de la etiqueta. Además si evita actividades al aire libre durante las horas de mayor actividad para los mosquitos, o sea entre el atardecer y el amanecer, podría reducir el potencial para una picadura de mosquito.  Estas medidas preventivas ayudarán a disuadir a estas plagas voladoras y otros insectos de recurrir a usted como su próximo manjar.

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.