Monthly Archives: August 2012

Recognizing Hazardous Materials Workers on Labor Day

By Nicholas Alexander

As Labor Day approaches, I’d like to honor the men and women who do the dangerous and difficult labor required to protect the health of our communities and natural environment from hazardous waste and toxins. When millions of gallons of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico, these individuals were there to clean it up. When lead paint chips were discovered in an elementary school in my neighborhood, these folks stepped in to make it safe again for children. While most people avoid industrially contaminated “brownfield” areas, hazardous materials (hazmat) workers don safety gear and seek out the sources of danger. These situations require not only extraordinary courage, but also significant training on chemical reactions and the ability to work quickly and safely under duress. Hazmat workers and emergency responders are unsung heroes of the environmental protection and environmental justice movements.

“RichmondBUILD trainees suit up in full protective gear for the first time.”

Working conditions in the hazmat sector are taxing, to put it mildly. The physical exertion required for most jobs is similar to a construction zone, which includes routinely lifting 75-pounds or more. This work must be accomplished while wearing personal protective equipment that is heavy and restricts breathing and movement. A typical hazmat suit is an impermeable garment that covers the whole body and is combined with a breathing apparatus to filter unsafe airborne particles or provide clean air from a tank. In comparison, your Monday morning blues don’t seem so tough.

So why do people decide to do this work? When I talk with graduates of the RichmondBUILD Careers Academy, a hazmat job-training program funded by the EPA, these jobs provide economic opportunity to those who need them most. Folks who have been hit especially hard by the economic recession and have been unemployed for months or those who face discrimination in more traditional job markets can earn living wages and climb career ladders in the hazmat industry.

I’d like to celebrate hazmat workers from RichmondBUILD and around the country for both the critical services they provide to our nation and their economic success earned through hard work. Labor Day is a time to recognize the contributions of those workers who often go unseen and unheard, so let’s all be grateful for the men and women who put their lives at risk to protect us from past, present and future environmental hazards.

About the author: Nicholas Alexander manages the EPA-funded hazmat training at RichmondBUILD Careers Academy in Richmond, California. He is also an advocate for workers’ rights, communities of color and the poor.

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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Sara and a Social Service Oversight

By Marcia Anderson

A bed bug story comes to my desk from Sara:

“I have been taking care of young people from a social services program for over 11yrs and don’t plan to stop, however, now I have bed bugs in my home that came from one of the residents that I have taken into my home.  The program knew that the young man had a history of transporting bed bugs from home to home but never informed me of this information.  I found out only after my house had become infested.  The young man would go on a home visit every other week to his house and then return to my home.

Bed bug eggs

After the young man came back from one of his home visits he broke down and told me that every time he went on a home visit he would wake up and find bed bugs on him.  The young man was told not to tell anyone. In January, when we picked him up from the home visit we had him put his suitcase in a garbage bag.  Sure enough when we arrived home the suitcase had crawling bed bugs.  Since then, I got a very bad infection from bed bug bites that turned into blisters and sores that were very hard to heal.

I had a pest control come out to my home to confirm that I had bed bugs and I was told to throw out most of my furniture and belongings worth thousands of dollars. It’s going to cost at least $1400 to treat my home.  I had asked the social services program to work with me and a least pay for the treatment because they knew about this young man history and didn’t share it with me before I took him in to live with me. The program only offered me $500.00 for everything

Who can I hold responsible for the cost of treatments and the anguish that I have gone through? What else can I do to protect my family from a reoccurrence?”

Dear Sara,

First, you are doing a great thing for children that really need the help, so keep up the good work. Second, you should not have lost any furniture. It is not hard – just time consuming to control bed bugs. If you were told to discard items from your apartment, you need to discard that pest control company. Only the most infested pieces may need to be discarded, anything else can be heat or steam treated. Next, use encasements on the mattresses and box springs and interceptors under bed and couch legs. Clothes, curtains, and linens can be treated in a clothes dryer set on high to kill both bed bugs and eggs. 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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Going Green As You’re Going Back to School

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Summertime is coming to an end, and kids are heading back to school. And even though they’ll be spending less time outdoors, we should still be thinking about how to protect the environment and safeguard our children’s health. Fortunately, small actions can turn into big results for protecting the environment, and can even save extra money for the school year.

For example, try to cut down on waste. More than 30 percent of what we throw away comes from cardboard and plastic packaging. Look for pens, pencils, and other supplies that are packaged with recyclable materials. That goes for spiral notebooks and notebook paper, too. For every 42 notebooks made from 100 percent recycled paper, an entire tree is saved.

Buying school supplies every year can get expensive. A good way to save money is to conserve energy use around the house. Energy Star products – from lightbulbs and laptops to televisions and air conditioners – are more energy efficient, which means you’ll pay less in utility bills every month. In 2011, the use of Energy Star products helped Americans save $23 billion on their utility bills, and prevented more than 210 million metric tons of green house gas emissions.

There are also ways to make sure our schools are environmentally friendly. In addition to choosing products made from recyclable materials and using energy efficient appliances, check to make sure the products used to clean your child’s classrooms carry the “Design for the Environment” label. This label means those products are safer for students and better for the environment.

Every child deserves a clean and healthy place to learn – and all parents should be able to trust that their children’s health is not at risk when they send them off to school. The EPA is working hard to reduce health threats in the air we breathe and the water we drink, and we want to make sure schools and parents have what they need to minimize pollution in and around classrooms and give all of our kids healthy places to learn.

Last but not least, these actions help teach children the importance of a clean, healthy environment. Making “green” a part of everyday learning – both inside and outside the classroom – is an easy way to engage our kids in the efforts to safeguard the planet they will inherit, and protect their future.

<em>About the author: Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.</em>

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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College – An Opportunity To Live Green!

By Lily Rau

During this back to school season I have been reflecting on my college experience and the different places I called home. I lived in the dorms my first year and then moved to apartments off campus for my last three years. Reflecting on these homes reminded me of the fear and excitement of moving into your first place. For some of us, this is the first time we must think about paying bills, buying furniture, or cooking for ourselves. In addition to some tough choices, having your own place provides you with opportunities to make environmentally friendly decisions!

The largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities come from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity production and transportation. Whether you live in a dorm or an apartment, here are a few simple ways a recently independent college student can help reduce these emissions and protect the climate:

  1. Buy ENERGY STAR products: You may be deciding which mini-fridge or light bulbs to purchase for your dorm or apartment. Look for ENERGY STAR products that meet energy efficiency requirements and can save you money while protecting the environment.
  2. Turn off the lights: Our parents yelled at us for a reason. Leaving the lights on raises the energy bill. Whether you’re paying the bills in an apartment, or not paying the bills in a dorm, leaving the lights on uses more electricity and contributes to climate change.
  3. Unplug electronics: Did you know that appliances and electricity-powered devices use electricity even when they are turned off? When you leave for Christmas or Spring break, make sure to unplug all TVs, computers, DVD players, chargers, radios, cable boxes, and mini-fridges.
  4. Get familiar with public transportation: Many colleges don’t allow students to bring their cars to school their first year. If you can’t bring your car to school, embrace it! Get familiar with the public transportation in your area. Maybe you’ll discover you don’t need a car your second year. This is good for the environment and fuel savings, which is great for a student on a budget!
  5. Get involved: Become an OnCampus ecoAmbassador and work with your school and fellow students to make your campus more environmentally friendly!

For more ideas check out EPA’s back to school tips. Join the discussion with your own back to school tip. Tell us how you’re greening your dorm or apartment!

About the author: Lily Rau is an intern in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. She is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Political Science and is passionate about protecting the 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.

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Medicina preventiva: Lávese las manos

Por Lina Younes

Con el comienzo del año escolar, los padres con niños pequeños están reanudando la rutina de la jornada escolar. Nos hemos asegurado que nuestros hijos tengan todos los útiles y artículos escolares para tener un año exitoso. Mientras queremos que nuestros hijos se destaquen académicamente, debemos aconsejarles para que también tengan un año escolar saludable. Hay un consejo básico y practico. ¿Cuál es? Sencillamente debemos enseñarles a lavarse las manos bien y con frecuencia.

Sin buenos hábitos de higiene, los microbios se transmiten fácilmente por el contacto mano a mano o de la mano a una superficie. Los niños que estén acatarrados o que no se lavan las manos después de soplarse la nariz, toser o estornudar pueden transmitir fácilmente los microbios a sus compañeros al tocarlos, poner sus manos sobre el pupitre o usar otros útiles escolares comunes. Mientras todos debemos inculcarle a los niños los valores de compartir, los gérmenes definitivamente son algo que no queremos que compartan.

 ¿Cuáles son algunas de las palabras con luz que quisiéramos impartir a nuestros niños?

  •  Lávense las manos antes de comer.
  • Lávense las manos después de soplarse la nariz, estornudar o toser.
  • Lávense las manos después de ir al baño.
  • Lávense las manos después de jugar o acariciar a su mascota.
  • Lávense las manos después de jugar en el patio y al regreso a casa.

También debemos acordarles a los niños que el lavarse las manos no significa simplemente mojarlas. Tienen que abrir el grifo. Mojar las manos bien. Dejar el agua correr, aplicar el jabón y restregarse las manos y dedos enjabonados bajo el agua por unos 20 segundos. En vez de contar, sugiérales tararear la canción de “Feliz cumpleaños” dos veces mientras se laven las manos. Entonces, se deben enjuagar las manos bien y secaras con una toalla limpia o al aire. Estos consejos aplican a los niños de todas las edades.  Todos podemos prevenir la propagación de enfermedades si nos lavamos bien las manos.  

Que tengan un año escolar saludable.

 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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Field Days: Learning what Air Quality Scientists REALLY Do

By Erika Sasser

EPA scientists demonstrate air pollution research equipment with students.

EPA scientists demonstrate air pollution research equipment.

So we’ve all seen those crazy moon suits that people wear when they’re trying to clean up an oil spill or work on a contaminated waste site, but how many of us have actually gotten to wear one?  Thirty lucky seventh-grade girls from the GEMS (Girls Empowered by Math & Science) program organized by Winston-Salem State University got a chance to do just that at a special STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach event on July 19, 2012.

A group of EPA staff (all women, and mostly scientists, except for a few interested hangers-on like me!) manned five different stations to introduce the girls to the world of air pollution measurement fieldwork.  Our hope was to free them from “talking about” science and let them actually get their hands on the instruments and equipment we use to measure the pollution around us.

Each station gave the girls an opportunity to experience a different aspect of “life in the field.”  They were able to pick ideal case-study sites for air pollution measurements, explore a field tool bag, and figure out what size solar panel they would need to run monitoring equipment in the field.  They demonstrated their expertise with a wire stripper to connect wires between a battery and an LED light.  We’re proud to report that all the teams got their bulbs to light up!

Fulfilling the role of “an assistant volunteer with no prerequisites but enthusiasm,” I helped with the air quality monitoring equipment station.  Here we used a fan and a particle generator to simulate air pollution from an event like a forest fire.  The girls had fun changing the anemometer’s wind speed and direction readings by blowing on the sensors, testing the particle counters, and turning on the salt-water particle generator.  Fortunately there was an expert on hand to answer all their questions!

And since the day wouldn’t have been complete without shopping (always popular with teenagers), the field safety station was set up to allow them to try on and “purchase” safety gear for different environments (like respirators and protective suits) within a set budget.  Hopefully they learned a lot about protective field gear, and we got some cute pictures out of the deal!

The girls also went on a building tour of EPA’s award-winning, LEED certified facility.  But according to them, the best part of the day was getting to eat lunch in EPA’s beautiful lakeside café!

About the Author: Erika Sasser is a Senior Policy Advisor in the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.  She works on air quality and climate change issues.

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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Office Geography and our Move

By Jeffery Robichaud

Most people hate moving, but I don’t mind. I’ve done it so many times throughout my life that my natural urge towards anxiety and trepidation that usually accompanies such an event dulled long ago. In a little over a month EPA Region 7 is moving its Regional Office from 901 North 5th St in Kansas City, KS to 11201 Renner Boulevard in Lenexa, KS. Our laboratory will still be located at 300 Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, KS, but most staff will have a new place to hang their hat. There are all sorts of geospatial analysis that I could look at regarding our move such as comparisons of amenities, travel times, weather patterns, but I think the more interesting geospatial aspect of the move is going to be what I’ll refer to as office-geography…the geography inside our new building.

Our Current and New Locations for our Regional Office and our Regional Laboratory

Most of you are probably saying to yourself, Jeff come on…there is this whole occupation called architecture. Yeah I know but stay with me. If geographers study the spatial and the temporal distribution of “stuff” and the interaction of humans and their environment, doesn’t that mean this same spatial study can be accomplished on a really small scale, say in an office setting.

Jeff this is Mike Brady. Don't you remember my profession?

Architects lay out the plans (physical geography) of the building, but only upon moving in will we know how humans (my coworkers) interact with their environment (the new digs). Which hallways are going to be the highways that receive the most traffic, which will be the lonely gravel roads? How close will I be to the store (aka supply room)? Which common areas will become the gathering places? Likewise which will be the oasis for quiet contemplation? Will the busy periods in the lunch room subtly change as staff work hours shift based on their new proximity to the office? Will I get along with my new neighbors? (I’m thinking I better say yes since my shop is located next to the Regional Administrator)

 Sure a lot of this is tongue in cheek, but it makes our point that most things can always be viewed through a geospatial lens.  Viewing challenges, whether they be environmental or in this case organizational, through such alens can help us make better informed decisions. 

Our move to our Lenexa office spotlights a new challenge for me (I will be positive and assume our drought lets up).   Taking into account the geography of the parking lot, my location in the building, the employee entrances, and the traffic and employee patterns, when will I have to arrive at work to ensure that I won’t need an umbrella to walk (not run) from my car to the front door?  Whether one consiously or subconsiously jumps through these mental hoops, this is geospatial analysis.  I’m sure I will have some profound observations to share come October, but until then I better get busy finding some tubes to store maps for our move.

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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Shopping Green for Back to School

By Stephanie Nicholson

While many kids dread the idea of summer coming to an end, I was always excited for one reason: back to school shopping!  And, of course, I was excited to see all my friends again. I begged my mom to take me to the store at least a month ahead of time to ensure I could pick from a large selection of binders, pens, backpacks, lunch bags, and new clothes. The second I got home, I hauled my new finds into the house, packed my backpack, and staged my own fashion show.

When back to school shopping this year, it is important to keep in mind how our choices affect the environment. I suggest buying durable and/or recyclable goods. Choose a backpack that is well-made and will last for many years. I still have the one I used for all 4 years of high school, and in the one instance the zipper broke, it had a lifetime warranty and the company replaced it free of charge. Not to mention the popular outdoor outfitter has been dedicated to environmental stewardship since its foundation. Instead of packing the traditional “brown bag lunch”, choose from the extensive selection of lunch bags that you can use again and again. Buy recyclable paper, and if possible use last year’s binders and folders. If you need new ones, buy cardboard or canvas instead of the usual plastic.

As a teenage girl, I always looked forward to buying a new wardrobe for back to school. For as long as I can remember, I have never thrown out my old clothes; I collect what I do not want and donate them to charity.  Another option if you usually purchase the popular brands is to take them to stores who will give you cash or a store credit in exchange for your gently worn clothes.  My friends and I also quickly realized we always loved each other’s clothes, so we organized clothing swaps. It’s quite simple: collect all the things in your closet you’re tired of, have a get together with some great food, and swap clothes. You get to go home with some cool new pieces without spending a dime. Back to school can be hectic, but with a few simple changes it can be easier on the environment.

How will you “go green” during back to school shopping?

Stephanie Nicholson is an intern with the EPA Office of Environmental Education in Washington, DC. She is a senior at Towson University near Baltimore, MD and will graduate 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.

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Public Health Solutions to Advance Environmental Justice

By Ryan Fitzpatrick

Before attending law school I lived in Mid City New Orleans, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.  The neighborhood kids would frequently come over after school to hang out, talk, or get some help on their homework.  Being involved in their lives, I was struck by how often they would fall ill, forced to stay home from school and fall behind on their studies, often with respiratory problems.  Parents would take their children to the ER, but only for emergencies.  Living in a neighborhood that saw 6-8 foot high flood waters during Katrina (and the subsequent mold problems that followed in its wake), while adjacent to a major interstate, certainly didn’t help these kids in their quest to stay healthy.

Since joining the Office of Environmental Justice as a summer law clerk in June, I have been working extensively with the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and its Team-EJ work group, to more closely align agency efforts in sustainability and environmental justice.  The Partnership represents the Administration’s recognition of the interconnectivity of housing, transportation, and the environment when it comes to developing sustainable communities. The Partnership through Team EJ has worked with communities to integrate the concept of environmental justice into sustainability programs, and is now integrating public health as well.  This makes sense. People living in communities bearing a disproportionate impact of pollution often face disproportionate health burdens, an injustice that is exacerbated when they also lack adequate access to health services.

The Partnership’s recognition of the importance of reducing health disparities in conjunction with community stakeholders to achieve environmental justice comes at an exciting time in public health. The Affordable Care Act has provided $11 billion to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) from 2010-2015. HRSA is using this money to develop new and expanded federally qualified health centers, and the creation of a comprehensive National Prevention Strategy. Access to healthcare is crucial for achieving environmental justice in low-income and minority communities.

Working together, federal agencies with related missions can bring rapid and lasting change to overburdened and underserved communities across the country, like the Mid City community I was a part of.  The Partnership’s expansion into public health, and its model for interagency collaboration can go a long way toward directing critical health resources into the environmental justice communities that lack them. You can click here to find more about how the partnership is working to expand access to affordable care, and here for more resources to expand your communities’ access to basic healthcares services.

About the Author: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a third year student at The George Washington University law school, and a law clerk at the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.  Prior to entering law school, Ryan served a year as a volunteer construction supervisor with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, through the AmeriCorps National Direct 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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So, You’re Dieting Again?

*Danny Orlando’s home energy use from 1994-2012

By: Danny Orlando:

It’s a familiar routine.  You decide that taking a little weight off is a good idea and today is the day to do it.  The first thing you likely do is head to the bathroom, take off all but what is necessary, and then step on the scale.  That’s just the beginning.  For the weeks ahead, success is based on that number and you will, more often than you would like, step on the scale again and again to keep track of your progress.  If someone you trust asks how you are doing, you will be quick with an accurate assessment as you strive to reach your goal.

Losing weight is a personal goal for many Americans, but I have a different “weight loss” question for you today. How many kilowatt-hours (kWh) did you use in your home last month?  Most people don’t know.  I have asked the question to homeowners and even to commercial building facility managers.  In a room of 60 people, only a few will raise their hands.  Some say they know what they paid, but not what they used.  What you pay fluctuates based on cost, but what you use (kWh) is most important; that is your weight.  Amazingly, we all seem to want to lose some of our energy waste, but we are not willing to step on the scale.

Why don’t you make a promise to yourself today to go on an energy diet?  This won’t be nearly as difficult as a food diet because there are ways to control your energy use by simply paying attention.  One of the more interesting devices that I recently purchased was a wireless transmitter that attaches to the electric meter and sends data from the meter to a wireless device in my house that displays energy consumption information. There are several companies that offer these meters at various price points.  The meter allows me to track minute-by-minute changes in energy consumption, such as when major appliances are turned on and off. Electricity use can be displayed several ways, but the most interesting is the real-time kilowatt (kW) usage and the predicted usage for the month.  As efficient as my home is, the meter caused me to make additional changes that have reduced my energy use even further.  I can see the kW usage move from 1.2 to 4.5 when the air conditioner comes on, and that made me reconsider my thermostat programming.

Before the device was installed, the air conditioner would sometimes come on and I would think, “I really don’t need that right now because I am comfortable”, but I would let it run anyway.  Now I have reprogrammed the thermostat so that if I become uncomfortable, I will get up and manually reduce it one degree; I have rarely taken that step.  Because of this device, I can see my ‘waste gain’ in real-time and I have achieved record low usage this summer even though we just had a terrible heat wave.   Last month my ‘waste’ was 1067 kWh or 25 percent below 2011.  That scale is really working!  For those who want to save energy without the use of gadgets, ENERGY STAR has you covered. Just check out ENERGY STAR’s website for easy to use information and tools like the ENERGY STAR Pledge.

Today is your day to take the challenge and step on the energy scale.  Simply pay attention and you will save money and help the environment.  Good luck on your energy diet!

Danny Orlando joined EPA’s Atlanta office in 1991 and oversees the ENERGY STAR program in the Southeastern states.

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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