Monthly Archives: July 2012

Sachin’s Campaign For The Environment

student

Four years ago, I started an effort to spread awareness about the dangers of electronic waste. It was a shame that people had to pay in order to recycle. Our’s was a grassroots effort, just middle school kids going door to door giving out brochures and bugging our neighbors. We offered to collect old computers to recycle for free and, if possible, fix minor issues and donate to nearby charities.

Over the past four years, the campaign grew. There were a number of memorable firsts:  the very first donation to a rural family in Ohio, the first thank you letter addressed to us, and the first newspaper article written about me. One of the most memorable moments was when I received a call from Junior Scholastic asking to interview me about my project. Junior Scholastic, a national children’s magazine, was interested in my project? I was overcome with pride and joy. All the hard work I had put in was finally paying off in the best ways. A few short weeks later, I got to see my face on the pages of the magazine, in between full page spreads of President Obama and Prince Charles.

But by far, the biggest reward, and the one I am most proud of, is the knowledge that I have made a difference in my own community. The newspaper articles helped get my name and purpose out to a large number of people, and my message resonated with many of them. I’ve received so many calls from people in my own neighborhood that wanted to donate their old electronics and many that took the effort to drive all the way to my house to drop them off. Computers that would have taken up space at a landfill can now be put to good use in homes and organizations.

It really is possible. With the right motivation and support it is possible to make a change. This is the most important lesson that this experience has taught me, and I will strive to take it along with me to other endeavors too.

Sachin Rudraraju from Powell, Ohio was 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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Black Flies on Mountaintops

By Amy Miller

I might as well move to Alaska where you have to walk around with a net over your head all summer. The little black flies were so bad at the top of Blueberry Mountain in the White Mountain National Forest of Maine (that’s right! The Whites Mountains cross into Maine) that I couldn’t even sit at the summit long enough to eat my brownie.

No gloating at the top for us. Down we rushed from the 1,780-foot peak in the Caribou Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area. And although I didn’t notice it during the three-mile loop, come to find out the bugs were not just buzzing in and out of my mouth and eyes, but had taken enough tiny chunks to leave more bumps and welts than I could scratch with two hands.

Why was I surprised? Do I normally stay inside in May and June? According to Maine Humorist Tim Sample, Black Flies are the unofficial Maine State bird. And the Maine Outdoors website said black flies are most common in wooded, wet areas with lots of standing water. And they especially like hot calm days with little wind. AHA!

So what is a hiker to do? Wear long sleeves or pants, is one idea. At least it’s a good idea if you like to hike around in summer in long sleeves and pants. But then you are probably already doing that to protect against ticks. Not me. I like my shortie shorts and tank top.

A little research and I learned black flies are about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch long. While mosquitoes breed in still water, black flies breed in running water. Like with mosquitoes, bites come only from the adult females.

Repellents can help: anything from a popular moisturizer to 90 percent DEET to little hunks of garlic cloves, depending on who you ask.

Since the bugs tend to leave you alone when you are hiking, I cringe to think what I would look and feel like if I had stopped for more than 30 seconds at the summit. But let me tell you, the hike was well worth it. We came to a pool at the bottom of a waterfall that would have been worth the $500 airfare to Costa Rica. But next time I head up to the White Mountains of Maine (really, they exist), I will remember zip-on legs and a neck bandana.

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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Energy Efficient Improvements to the Metropolitan Transit Authority

By Larry Siegel

I’ve long been interested in keeping abreast of news pertaining to developments in the area of energy efficiency, wind power, solar power and other forms of renewable energy. Towards that end I subscribe to various newsletters put out by organizations such as the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the Rocky Mountain Institute (which recently published a fascinating peer reviewed book “Reinventing Fire: Bold Solutions for the New Energy Era” that maps out a plan for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy by 2050 without needing fossil fuels or nuclear power plants) and Greenjobs.com which reports on developments in the areas of solar, wind, alternative fuel sources such as biofuels, hydrogen and fuel cells.

Pursuing my interest in these areas I contacted the Metropolitan Transit Authority headquarters in New York to see what, if any, energy efficient improvements they are pursuing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn there is quite a lot going on – more than I can cover in one blog post. Here are some items worth noting:

  • Heating, cooling and ventilation upgrades to the equipment in Grand Central Station will save $3 million a year and reduce Metro-North Railroad’s annual carbon emissions by 10,000 tons.
  • Replacing incandescent bulbs with advanced technology light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will reduce electricity consumption by at least 1.04 megawatts per year, saving at least $500,000 annually.
  • Replacing vapor necklace lights on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge with high efficiency LEDs will reduce electricity costs by 73%. 832 lights at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel were replaced with high-efficiency lighting, saving 500,000 kilowatts a year or $55,000 annually.
  • The Long Island Railroad is completing a train car wash facility in Babylon that will filter, recondition and reuse more than 70% of its wash water. In addition, solar power energy panels for the facility will save an estimated $6,700 a year on utility costs.

About the Author: Larry Siegel has worked as a writer of corporate policies and procedures and as a technical writer. He currently works as a Pesticide Community Outreach Specialist for the Pesticide and Toxic Substances Branch in Edison, NJ

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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Rare Human Species Sighted in the NYC Metro Area!

By Paula Zevin

Stop the presses! This is major news and must be reported on the spot!

It seems that the workshops held at EPA Region 2’s New York City Headquarters and at the Edison Environmental Center in New Jersey on June 19 and 20, 2012 respectively, have lead to sightings of an elusive human species: homo sapiens civis naturalis.

Homo sapiens civis naturalis

In laymen’s language this would be the Citizen Scientist. Yes, we knew that they were out there, performing such valuable work as mapping local waterways, monitoring for indoor air quality, assessing bacteria in the Hudson River or the water quality of Pompeston Creek in southern New Jersey, and educating at-risk communities about pollutants in their midst and how to improve conditions. Moreover, they seem to have found their ways into cities and suburbs in equal measure.

The Citizen Science workshops, the very first ones to be sponsored by EPA Region 2 and held under the aegis of our Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, and of the Director of the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment, Deb Szaro, were an unequivocal success. The agenda featured similar tracks for both the City and Edison sessions: on what to consider when starting a volunteer monitoring group, success stories for groups monitoring the air, water and habitat in New York and New Jersey, information on funding, academic/state government partnerships with non-profit organizations, data use by States and data interpretation, an intro to Quality Assurance, tools of the future and instrument and web tools demos. Conference feedback has been very positive and we have learned a few valuable lessons for the future of these workshops. More information will become available in the near future on a new web site specifically dedicated to Citizen Science, on Region 2’s social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, this blog), and through a Wiki. If anyone is interested in finding out more about this topic, please contact Pat Sheridan (sheridan.patricia@epa.gov).

How, do you ask, did we manage to lure h.sapiens civis naturalis out into the open and into our workshops? Well, studies have shown that this elusive species is very attracted to a food group collectively known as MAGIC BARS.

Amazing, isn’t it? This delicious food group boasts a large number of recipes with variations on the same, delectable ingredients: shredded coconut, chocolate chips, roasted or toasted chopped nuts, sweet condensed milk and a buttery crust to hold everything together. It appears that Deb’s recipe is irresistible to most, if not all h.sapiens civis naturalis and the siren song of those lovely morsels brought out the best in them. I’m pretty sure that there are a few secret specimens within the ranks of EPA, State and Local Governments, as well as in academia, because there were a couple of near-fights over who got corners or the last pieces.

Fortunately, all is well that ends well. Civility prevailed and with the assurance of future events, featuring interesting topics and Deb’s Magic Bars, the two days concluded peacefully. If you’d like to conduct your own anthropological or scientific studies, let us know, we will share the super-secret recipe with you. Hush, just don’t tell anyone else…

About the author: Paula Zevin is currently an Environmental Engineer in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment at the Edison Environmental Center. Her work is centered on the technical and programmatic aspects of ambient water monitoring. She is also the volunteer water monitoring coordinator for EPA Region 2. Paula has been with EPA since 1991, and has worked in the chemical, pharmaceutical, textile and cosmetic industries prior to joining EPA.

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 Kansas City Compromise

By Jeffery Robichaud

Have you seen this show on the History Channel? Who knew the intersection of geography and history could be so cool…well I kind of did.

When I was in 8th Grade I was an entrant in a history competition at Green River Community College in Washington State. I saw an awesome display on the slogan, “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” which put my project to shame (to this day I’m still embarrassed and won’t tell you what it is). I was unaware of how this rallying cry as part of James Polk’s presidential campaign almost led to war and helped set our northern border with Canada. I believe the three kids who were responsible won top honors, while all I won was a day away from school.

Dots and lines on maps are often actually a reflection of events that took place in our history, which got me thinking. Why are EPA Regions located where they are? Why isn’t Region 7 located in Omaha, NE instead of Kansas City. The answer as you might guess is part history but also part efficiency.

We were left out of the original concept in March of 1969, which only created 8 Regions. Kansas City and Seattle were added a couple of months later to make it an even 10. In fact, Richard Nixon’s decision in 1969 just made plain sense for us here in the plains. Region 7, is comprised of about 8 percent of the land mass of the U.S. and consists of 8 percent of our 50 States (Iowa, Kansas , Missouri, and Nebraska). When you look at a map of our 4 States, Kansas City is the largest City near the centroid of the area covered by Region 7, and is the only major city in between the four state capitols in Lincoln, Jefferson City, Des Moines, and Topeka so I guess you could call it the Kansas City Compromise. I’ll leave it to Region 2, to explain why they are responsible for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

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.

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A New Shower Head

By Gina Snyder

It started with me trying to take the shower head off my shower and clear off some of the mineral build-up. I broke it. So, I went to the local hardware store and looked at the options. Who knew you could spend hundreds of dollars for just a shower head?

I looked on the lower shelf and saw what I was looking for – a reasonably priced, low-flow shower head. This one had the new label – “Water Sense”. WaterSense, I knew, is a partnership program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency meant “to help consumers make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance.”

“Hah,” I thought, “I can put this one on, save water, and do an experiment at the same time.”

I have a daughter away at college. So, I put the Water Sense shower fixture on and waited to see what would happen when she came home for spring break. But, it turned out that if I was hoping for a shriek from the shower, I was going to have a long time to wait.

I finally asked her if she’d noticed the new shower head. “Yeah,” she said…

“Well?”

“Well what?”

And so, I had to own up. “Did you notice it was a super duper water saving shower head?”

While she had noticed the different, streamlined look, she didn’t sense any difference in the amount of water. “Imagine that,” I thought, “even a teenager is happy with this new Water Sense fixture.”

According to WaterSense, showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use, or about 30 gallons per household per day. That’s nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water used in the United States annually just for showering.

While I had one of those restricting washers on my old shower head, the water sense fixture saves even more. A home without a water saving fixture could save more than 2,300 gallons per year by installing WaterSense showerheads.

And it’s not just water savings, those teenager showers are long and hot, so I’m going to save on water heating costs, too. I could save 300 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power a television for about a year.

WaterSense has other fixtures too. Look for the WaterSense label on showerheads along with faucets, faucet accessories, and toilets to help you identify models that save water and perform well.

About the author: Gina Snyder works at EPA’s New England regional office in Boston.

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 Triple Bottom Line

By Amy Miller

Jargon is my nemesis. I rail against it for a living.

But today I will break my own rule because today I want to write about the Triple Bottom Line. I love this concept developed in environmental and overlapping business circles. Basically it says what your mom always told you: it’s not just about the money. And did she also tell you there are no easy answers. It’s about that too.

Like if you hang clothes to dry, you save on energy costs. Plus you extend the life of your clothes. But what about the scratchiness of the towels and your children’s comfort? What about the extra 15 minutes to hang each load. Or when you drive a smaller car to save on gasoline, do you put your children in danger? And now that you can no longer offer rides to other people, how often is another car going and adding to pollution. So many shades of gray.

Well, the triple bottom line, as economists and environmentalists call it, addresses and finally acknowledges – in terms bureaucrats and CFOs understand – that we need to take more than just dollars and cents into consideration when we decide if a new power plant, new box store or boiler system – is worth it.

If paper companies 100 years ago factored in the cost of cleaning the river after it ran red, they may have decided on a different manufacturing system. And if homeowners figured in the cost of dirty lungs and respiratory illness, the $20 price tag on the old wood stove a neighbor is selling might seem a lot higher.

The Economist newspaper said the phrase “triple bottom line” was first coined in 1994 by John Elkington, founder of a British consultancy.” He argued that companies should prepare three separate bottom lines: one for financial profit and loss; one measuring how socially responsible an organization has been; and one measuring how environmentally responsible it has been. Elkington said, the magazine wrote, that “Only a company that produces a TBL is taking account of the full cost involved in doing business.”

Of course the Economist acknowledged how hard this record keeping is. The full cost of a nuclear accident like Three Mile Island cannot really be measured in monetary terms. The cost to society of a lost forest is not quantifiable. The cost of child labor cannot be measured. But the term at least acknowledges the need to account for each of these costs

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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 Windy Summer

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a scientist and work on a problem that you don’t have the answer to?  I got to help six students do just that during the summer of 2011.  During the 2nd annual Pioneer Valley High School Summer Science Institute, six of my students built their own wind turbine.  They analyzed different aspects of wind, wind turbines, and how they impact the environment.  One group, Pei-Yang and Elizabeth researched if the sound of the wind turbine had an impact on the local creatures of the ecosystem where we live in Santa Maria, California.  They concluded that the wind turbine did add to the noise in the ecosystem. Although the noise from one turbine was not significant, the students concluded that wind turbines rarely exist alone and that since noise is cumulative, it is certainly possible that a whole field of turbines could cause a statistically significant amount of noise that could disrupt mating rituals or migration patterns.

Another pair of students, Marc and Jason, used the concept of biomimicry twice as they developed the design for the wind turbine.  They copied the tubercles from the humpback whale on the blades of the turbine to see if this would increase the efficiency of the blades.  They also built a tail for the wind turbine that allowed it to self-correct; the shape of the tail was based on one of the most maneuverable fish in the ocean: the thresher shark.  They concluded that each of these modifications did enhance the efficiency of their device.

The final group, Sharmaine and Melissa , tested 8 different motors to see which one produced the most power in standard testing conditions (using a fan).  It turned out that the motor that the kids bought online was the strongest motor! 

I saw my students learn not only about wind turbines, but also about themselves.  They learned how to use a drill and how to cut wood with a saw.  They went into the hardware store many times looking for parts that they needed.  They talked to many adults about their projects, sometimes to explain it, sometimes to ask for advice.  I saw them come together as a group, have disagreements when the project didn’t work, and battle back to devise a solution.  I saw them develop the skills that the need to be successful in the real world and I am very proud that I was able to be involved.

Riccardo Magni has been teaching high school science for 16 years in California.  He is a winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.  In his spare time, the husband and father of three competes in powerlifting meets and coaches youth sports.

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: Cómo conservar agua en el hogar

Por Lina Younes

Mientras muchas veces consideramos a la Tierra como el “planeta de agua” debido a que el 70 por ciento de su superficie está cubierta con agua, menos del uno por ciento de este preciado recurso natural está disponible para el uso humano. Dada a que este verano hemos tenido menos lluvia que de costumbre en Estados Unidos y muchos países alrededor del globo, estamos buscando maneras de ahorrar agua.

¿Sabía que la familia promedio en Estados Unidos usa alrededor de 400 galones de agua diarios como parte de su rutina cotidiana? Cerca del 70 por ciento de esa agua se usa dentro del hogar para actividades diarias del aseo personal, en la cocina, el lavado de la ropa, etc. ¿Entonces qué podemos hacer para usar el agua de manera más eficiente?

Bueno, he aquí varios consejos verdes para conservar agua al interior y exterior de la casa:

• Una de las acciones prioritarias para ahorrar agua consiste en reparar fugas y goteos en su hogar. ¿Sabía que el hogar promedio en Estados Unidos desperdicia sobre 10,000 galones de agua cada año en inodoros con fugas, grifos y fontanería con goteos en la casa y el jardín?
• Cierre el grifo mientras se cepilla los dientes o se afeita
• Tome duchas cortas en vez de baños en la tina
• Use la lavaplatos cuando esté llena a cabalidad.
• En lugar de enjuagar los platos primero, simplemente quítele la comida y colóquelos en la lavaplatos
• Otra sugerencia para ahorrar agua y reducir desechos consiste en utilizar sobras o desechos de alimentos para compostaje en lugar de echarlos por el triturador de alimentos.
• Cuando use la lavarropas, asegúrese de tener una tanda completa de ropa y ajuste el nivel del agua conforme al tamaño de la tanda de ropa.
• Busque enseres como lavaplatos, lavarropas, grifos, inodoros eficientes en el uso de agua con la etiqueta WaterSense. Estos son más del 20 por ciento más eficientes en el consumo de agua que otros productos tradicionales en el mercado.
• En el jardín, no riegue las plantas ni el césped excesivamente.
• Riegue las plantas temprano en la mañana antes de las 7am para reducir la evaporación.
• Verifique que la manguera no tenga fugas. Ciérrela cuando no esté en uso.
• Al sembrar plantas y árboles en su jardín, seleccione plantas nativas que sean apropiadas a su región. Éstas no tan solo usan menos agua, sino son más resistentes a las plagas y enfermedades.

Espero que estos consejos sean de su utilidad. ¿Acaso está haciendo algo especial para ahorrar agua este verano?

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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A Breath of Fresh Air After 35 Years

By Susana Almanza

Historically, communities of color, Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native-Americans, have been disproportionately affected by industrial pollution. At the same time, our communities have not benefited equitably from these industries. As we look into our own backyard here in East Austin, we see a power plant, fuel storage tank farms, refineries, lumber companies, and high tech industries which emit their pollutants into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the earth that sustains us.

Susana addressing the Austin City Council

We believe a safe and healthy environment is a fundamental right for all people. That is why we in PODER-Texas worked on land use polices and have been successful in the adoption of a City of Austin Overlay Ordinance to provide public notification and participation of the siting of industries with commercial and industrial zoning in East Austin. Our efforts also led to the relocation of a gas Tank Farm, which had been emitting toxic chemicals in the community for over 35 years that were causing chronic illnesses for neighborhood residents.

From this experience, as well as many others, I have discovered that local, state and federal agencies have the ability to impact environmental justice and that community organizations must work to help government agencies create outcomes that benefit the community. That is the lesson I want to pass on to all people who are working on environmental justice.

Today we are faced with a common issue of survival and a crisis of life for this living planet Mother Earth. Any threat to the environment endangers all of us. As an indigenous person, our traditional culture enables us to view the Earth and her resources as living entities to be honored. I believe we are at a point where we must act to save and restore Mother Earth for all peoples and cultures.

About Susana: Susana is the current director for PODER-Texas. PODER’s mission is redefining environmental issues as social and economic justice issues and collectively setting our own agenda to address these concerns as basic human rights. We seek to empower our communities through education, advocacy and action. Our aim is to increase the participation of communities of color in corporate and government decisions related to toxic pollution, economic development and their impact on our neighborhoods.

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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