Monthly Archives: September 2012

Young Children and Secondary Tobacco Smoke

By Marcia Anderson

One-half to two-thirds of all American children under five years of age are exposed to cigarette smoke in the home. A recent national survey indicated that 43 percent of children two months to 11 years of age live in homes with at least one smoker.  Adults have a choice, whether they wish to smoke or not, infants and young children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) do not have that choice, and it can, and does affect the quality of their lives.

Infants and young children whose parents smoke are among the most seriously affected by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that children whose parents smoke had between a 20 and 40 percent greater risk of hospitalization for severe bronchitis and pneumonia during their first year of life.  Children exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to have reduced lung function and symptoms of respiratory irritation such as coughing, excess phlegm and wheezing. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States. What this means is that even though the ill effects of active and passive smoking are staggering, they can be reduced and even eliminated.

Secondary smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke is a known cause of lung cancer in humans and a Group A carcinogen. The cigarettes contain some 4,000 substances, of which more than 40 are known to cause cancer in humans or animals. Other chemicals present in tobacco smoke such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide are strong irritants that can cause a variety of serious cardiac and pulmonary diseases. What’s more, there are no safe threshold levels of exposure to the toxicants in tobacco smoke that have been found.

Toxic Ingestion of Cigarette Butts.

Another source of exposure to tobacco by babies and toddlers is the ingestion of cigarettes or cigarette butts. Most cases of nicotine poisoning in children result from ingestion of cigarettes. Each year, poison control centers in the United States receive thousands of reports of children ingesting tobacco products. Researchers at the Rhode Island Department of Health recently analyzed reported ingestions of cigarettes among children under the age of six in their state. The mean age of the child involved was 12 months, and 77 percent of the children were between the ages of six and 12 months. Ninety-eight percent of the exposures occurred in the child’s home.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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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September is Hunger Awareness Month

By Sarah Dominguez

As a kid, I considered “food waste” to be the uneaten broccoli I left on my plate. Today, as a University of Southern California Masters Fellow with the EPA, my definition has changed dramatically. Why? I’ve since learned that wasted food includes much, much more than vegetables avoided by picky eaters. In fact, a significant portion- over 20 percent- of all the waste that is dumped into our landfills each year is… wasted food. Even more compelling is how food waste contributes to climate change by producing methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And here’s the worst part- while 1 in 6 American’s struggle to find their next meal, a significant portion of what goes into the landfills is wholesome, edible food.

Armed with this knowledge, I and a team of others here at EPA are dedicated to feeding people, not landfills through the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s (SMM) Food Recovery Challenge. As we focus on the Challenge for Hunger Awareness Month, we recognize that the efforts to divert food from landfills is part of the solution to the hunger epidemic. If nearly 14% of our nation’s population does not have reliable access to food, it’s almost too simple – instead of throwing away wholesome, edible food, why not donate it to someone in need?

A large amount of food going to landfills from commercial kitchens or grocers is still wholesome and edible. For example, a store may throw away a three-pound bag of oranges even if just one starts to go bad. If instead the grocer removes the one bad orange and donates the rest, they can provide a fresh healthy alternative to the typical non-perishable items in food banks. For example, in 2011 Oregon-based grocer, New Seasons Markets, donated 1,040 tons of food to local food rescue organizations. That’s a lot of meals and a lot of avoided waste that results in cost savings and support to local communities. Many other organizations see the value in feeding those in need by donating. They are working with EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge to improve sustainable food waste management practices through donation and other approaches such as improved purchasing, and composting.

Why should nutritious food end up in the dumpster when there are 50 million people in the U.S. that don’t know where their next meal is coming from? While there are challenges to food donation such as refrigerated trucks for perishables, there are also misconceptions that can be overcome through education. For example, some potential food donors may worry about liability, but the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act has protected food donors since 1996 (as long as the donor follows proper handling laws and donates in good faith). Thankfully more and more organizations are signing up for the SMM Food Recovery Challenge, showing how we can address environmental and equity challenges simultaneously by finding ways to feed people instead of landfills. As an individual, you can help by donating food too. Learn how.

Let’s keep this Food Recovery Challenge conversation going, not just in September for Hunger Awareness Month, but all year long.

About the author: Sarah is a University of Southern California Masters Fellow in EPA’s San Francisco Office. She works on the Sustainable Materials Management Program’s Food Recovery Challenge. In her Urban Planning program at USC, she studies sustainable land use and environmental justice focusing on the built 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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Lassoing a Whirlwind: Managing Flow on the Missouri River

By Larry Shepard 

 

When Casey and Jeff asked me to write a blog entry, I was staring at my screen saver which was a picture of a lake sturgeon isolated by the dramatic draw down of the river below Gavins Point dam near Yankton, South Dakota. Along with its more famous cousins, the pallid and shovelnose sturgeons, the lake sturgeon is a prehistoric fish struggling to survive in the altered environment of today’s Missouri River. How this interesting “Jurassic Park” specimen ended up in a pool of water in the Missouri River for folks to gawk at makes for an interesting story. 

Photo courtesy South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

It’s been an awfully dry summer this year but during the Summer of 2011, the Missouri River basin was saturated from a Spring rain, particularly the upper basin in North Dakota and Montana. Combined with a high snow pack and late season snows in the mountain ranges feeding Great Plains streams, atypical Spring rains produced record amounts of runoff into the six reservoirs managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

In an effort to protect the infrastructure of the 1950s and 1960s era constructed dams holding back all this excess precipitation and to prevent dam over-topping and possible catastrophic failure, the Corps released water downstream into the lower basin. Normal releases from Gavins Point (the southernmost dam) in mid- Summer are typically about 32,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but in July 2011, Gavins passed about 160,000 cfs. That amount of water had never been released through the dam and its impact on the dam structures was unknown. 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3185/5833927841_3f68030c93.jpg 

The resulting high water levels innudated the floodplain, displacing residents and damaging crops and property. Levees built to restrict the river to a narrow channel could not hold back the larger volumes of river water, particularly those levees constructed close to the river bank creating ‘pinch points’ for river flow. Repeated failure of several levees, particularly at ‘pinch points’, during multiple high water events has caused the Corps to begin consideration of levee ‘set-backs’ to address an unsustainable levee design which would also open up the floodplain to accommodate more river flow and improve aquatic habitat.  

Photo by Larry Geiger

Fast forward to early 2012, and the volume of releases from dams raised concerns about possible damage to structures, and the Corps determined that close inspection at particular locations to verify condition and assess any damage was necessary. This was the case at Gavins Point near Yankton, South Dakota where the Corps actually closed the spillway in order to allow inspectors to assess damage. That is, no river water flowing through the dam, resulting in an extreme photographic contrast from the Summer of 2011. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

When the dam was closed in May 2012, the reach of the river extending down almost to Sioux City was transformed, exposing natural and man-made features not seen since the dam was finished in 1955. River organisms were stranded, including many mussels, not commonly found in the lower river. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

River scientists know how the lower river’s substrate is dominated by ‘dunes’ of sand which roll and jump along the bottom which was unique to see firsthand. These ‘waves of sand’ create a very dynamic environment for aquatic organisms living in the sediment and coasting above it. It also presents challenges for human engineering to adapt river structures to a moving bottom. 

Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

If you are ever in the vicinity of any of the six big Army Corps dams on the Missouri River, call the Corps office at the dam and see if there’s an available tour of the facility. They are each unique in their design and how they are placed in the ‘natural environment.’ My personal favorite is Fort Peck dam near Glasgow, Montana, the uppermost dam operated by the Corps. It was constructed in the 1930s during the Great Depression and its powerhouse has an ‘art deco’ design. 

Larry Shepard is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 7’s NEPA program reviewing environmental impact statements and environmental assessments primarily focusing on river-related federal projects. Shepard hails from the shores of Beal Slough in Lincoln, Nebraska, which flows to Salt Creek, then to the Platte River, then to the Missouri River and finally to the Mississippi River.

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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Networking to Improve Emergency Response

By Rich Weisman

As I watched the progression of Hurricane Isaac several weeks ago, I thought back to 2003 when Hurricane Isabel impacted my water system in Virginia and caused local schools to close. Water and wastewater utilities are vulnerable to threats such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and other natural and man-made disasters. Water systems are not often impacted during emergencies that may affect other aspects of a community, but when a disaster does impact a utility, they work diligently to restore services as quickly as possible. (My colleague Laura Flynn imagined a day without water as part of our blog series for Preparedness Month). Mutual assistance programs like the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, a network of utilities helping utilities, provide access to specialized resources needed to restore water services.

The Minnesota Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network was activated in June when Duluth and surrounding areas experienced significant flooding that washed out roads and interrupted 911 service. Through the network, seven communities asked for and received assistance in the form of water pumps and support personnel. Several years ago, the Colorado Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network helped respond to a Salmonella contamination incident in the city of Alamosa. Water utilities from around the state provided crews and equipment to help plan a response to the outbreak, and then flush, disinfect and sample 49 miles of the Alamosa water distribution system.

For larger emergencies, federal agencies often provide assistance when local and state resources are exhausted. EPA’s water emergency response program has developed tools, resources and training opportunities to prepare water utilities to respond to and recover from disasters, and to help utilities practice navigating this process.

One resource that helps utilities plan for and practice their responses to emergencies is a tabletop exercise tool that EPA developed. The tool contains 15 scenarios that address an “all-hazards” approach to emergency preparedness and response as well as introduces users to the potential impacts of climate change on the water utility sector. Each scenario has a customizable situation manual, discussion questions and PowerPoint presentation. Utilities can modify these materials, allowing them to conduct a tabletop exercise to meet their needs.

And, since finding the resources needed to recover from disasters is critical, we provide information about where to find federal funding that supports disaster recovery. In all these efforts, EPA works closely with our partners and stakeholders in local communities, states and other federal agencies.

About the author: Rich Weisman has worked at EPA since 2006 and currently serves as Team Leader for the Water Emergency Response Team in the Water Security Division of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. He can be reached at weisman.richard@epa.gov.

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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Cómo manejar el asma al regreso a clases

Por Carmen Torrent

Comencé a ver el lema “back-to-school” en los centros comerciales y en los anuncios de televisión a mediados de julio de este año. No sé por qué pero yo no recuerdo las clases comenzando tan temprano  cuando yo era estudiante. Para los distritos escolares de todo el país, la preparación para el nuevo año escolar comienza en julio. De hecho, a menudo inicia tan pronto como al terminar el año escolar previo: miembros del personal de mantenimiento aseguran que los sistemas de la escuela estén funcionando apropiadamente y renovaciones se ponen en marcha. El verano es también un buen momento para que los distritos escolares revisen o creen un plan de manejo del asma.
El asma  es un problema de salud grave para millones de niños de edad escolar – se estima que uno de cada 10 padece de asma, con tasas aún más altas entre los niños hispanos. El asma es también una de las principales causas de ausentismo, ya que es responsable de 10,5 millones de días escolares perdidos cada año. Estudios también muestran que los puntajes de pruebas de los estudiantes en matemáticas y lectura son más bajos en las clases con mala calidad del aire interior (CAI). Sin embargo, con una adecuada planificación y gestión, estos temas pueden ser fácilmente superados.

Un plan de manejo del asma es una parte esencial del plan general de gestión de calidad del aire interior de cualquier distrito escolar, ya que:
• Provee programas de educación y conocimiento sobre el asma para los estudiantes y el personal escolar.
• Coordina los esfuerzos de la escuela, la familia y la comunidad para mejor controlar los síntomas de asma y reducir el ausentismo escolar de los estudiantes con asma.
• ¡Ayuda a mantener a los niños saludables y listos para aprender!

Una parte importante de un plan de manejo del asma es la capacidad de proporcionar materiales educativos que responden a las necesidades de los miembros de la comunidad de su escuela. Esto puede significar proveer información en español o adaptar informes ajustándolos  a las necesidades de su comunidad.

La EPA tiene varios recursos escritos en español que enfermeras escolares y otros pueden usar para hablar y educar a los estudiantes, padres de familia o el personal sobre el manejo del asma, incluyendo Dusty La Carpa Dorada del Asma y Sus Provocadores de Asma  y Ayude a su niño a controlar el asma

Revise estos recursos y la página en español Herramientas de Calidad del Aire Interior para las Escuelas  para mayor información sobre el desarrollo de su propio plan de manejo del asma.

¡Buena suerte!

 Sobre la autora: Carmen Torrent es especialista de relaciones públicas en la Oficina de Aire Interior de 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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Let's Talk!

By Jessica Orquina

I’m the Social Media Lead for EPA. It’s my responsibility to lead EPA’s efforts to share information and communicate using social media. I work with my colleagues to make it possible for you to learn about our work on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, YouTube, and our blogs.

On Facebook and Twitter we share information that you can use to protect your environment. Like or follow us and receive tips you can use every day or to learn about the environment. On Foursquare we post tips at locations across the country and around the world. Check in at Olympic National Park in Port Angeles, WA or Rockport Harbor in Rockport, MA and see Documerica photos taken at those locations 40 years ago. EPA employees share their experiences and ideas with you on our blogs. Read about environmental tips, how EPA uses science to protect the environment, environmental justice, and many other EPA programs. We even have a Spanish blog! Check out our YouTube and Flickr stream to see photos and video of the work we have been doing.

We hope you find the information we share and the conversations that result interesting and useful. And we’re always trying to improve what we do

This is where you come in… What can we do better? Where do you want to connect with EPA online? What type of information would you like us to be sharing with you via social media?

Share your ideas and help us make this conversation more valuable. Tell us what you think in the comments below!

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.

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¡El entrenamiento de seguridad es esencial!

Por Lina Younes

Esta semana celebramos la Semana Nacional de Seguridad y Salud Agrícola. La Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) y sus socios trabajan juntos para crear conciencia entre los trabajadores agrícolas y sus familias sobre la importancia de permanecer seguros en comunidades rurales alrededor de las granjas, cultivos e invernaderos.  La Agencia colabora con agencias y asociaciones federales, estatales y sin fines de lucro en la implementación del Estándar de Protección para el Trabajador Agrícola a fin de reducir los riesgos de envenenamiento por pesticidas y lesiones entre los trabajadores agrícolas, las personas que manejan plaguicidas y sus familiares también. Socios como la Asociación de Programas de Oportunidades para Trabajadores Agrícolas  y la Red de Clínicas para Migrantes se enfocan en ofrecer entrenamiento para el manejo adecuado de plaguicidas y las preocupaciones de salud de los trabajadores agrícolas y sus familias.  Materiales de capacitación y alcance público han sido desarrollados en inglés, español y otros idiomas para asegurar que los trabajadores agrícolas reciban la información adecuada independientemente de su vernáculo.

De hecho, una de las herramientas creativas de alcance público que fue desarrollada con el auspicio de EPA consiste es una obra teatral educativa para trabajadores agrícolas y sus familias titulada “El moscas y los pesticidas.” La Oficina Regional 6 de EPA en Dallas, Texas dirigió el esfuerzo. La obra para crear conciencia sobre el manejo adecuado de pesticidas se ha presentado en varios eventos comunitarios en Texas, Nuevo México y el estado de Washington.

He aquí algunos consejos para proteger a los individuos que trabajan en los campos agrícolas e invernaderos, así como a sus familias de la exposición a plaguicidas:

• Mantenga las ventanas de las casas cerca de los campos agrícolas cerradas cuando estén rociando los plaguicidas.
• No coma frutos ni legumbres directamente del campo de cultivo.
• Siempre lave las frutas y vegetales con agua limpia antes de comérselos.
• Mantenga los niños alejados de los plaguicidas y almacene estos pesticidas fuera del alcance de los niños.
• Para los trabajadores agrícolas, los plaguicidas pueden adherirse a su ropa o cuerpo. Lave su ropa de trabajo separada a la ropa de su familia.
• Después de trabajar en la granja, lávese todo el cuerpo con jabón y agua. Lávese la cabeza y pelo con champú y entonces vístase con ropa limpia.
• Deje los zapatos o botas del trabajo fuera de la casa para que los residuos de plaguicidas no entren a su hogar.
• No use plaguicidas agrícolas en su casa.
• Si los plaguicidas entran en contacto con su piel, lávese inmediatamente.
• Si se siente mareado o enfermo cuando está trabajando en un invernadero o lugar encerrado, salga inmediatamente a un espacio abierto y respire aire fresco.

Podrá encontrar más información acerca de la seguridad y capacitación de los trabajadores agrícolas en nuestra página Web. Y para todos los trabajadores agrícolas, gracias por su gran labor y todo lo que hacen por nosotros.

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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Around the Water Cooler: Riparian Buffers

Vegetation benefits more than just creating fun ways to catch fish!

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

I can remember my little brother hanging on tree branches over the top of the stream that ran through our property growing up. He would reach in to catch fish with his bare hands. He was quite successful, amazingly. This was pretty much a daily occurrence much to my mother’s chagrin.

We were always playing in or around that stream. Back then we didn’t know that  much of the fun  was thanks to a riparian buffer—the bank of the stream sprinkled with native trees, shrubs, and grasses that “buffer” the stream from all kinds of pollutants that flow across the land.

These trees and plants provided more than just fun for us and the other kids in the neighborhood, they also stabilized the stream bank from soil erosion and created a healthy habitat for wildlife—like the fish my brother constantly harassed.

Today, EPA researchers, recognizing the scientific value of nature, have been studying riparian buffers. They find that the wider the buffer, the more likely it will substantially reduce the polluted runoff—including excess nitrogen and phosphorus, sediment and pesticides—from reaching a stream. Even in cities, urban greenways and other narrow bands of vegetation can make some improvements in water quality and quantity. The “buffer” also can reduce floodwaters, helping to maintain stable streambanks and protecting downstream properties. More trees, shrubs and plants create a more beautiful aesthetic and certainly don’t hurt property values.

So, before you decide to clear the way for a view of a stream or river, or expand your lawn for that fresh golf course look, consider the fact that these plants and trees protect your property and are cost-effective “flood insurance” for your home. A buffer with native trees and vegetation can even cut your heating costs in winter by cutting the wind before it chills your home. Plus, think about the birds, fish, frogs, and butterflies that will love to call your property home too.

Some of my fondest memories come from playing along the stream and I am glad my parents chose to keep our house in the natural habitat, protecting our water.

About the Author: A regular “It All Starts with Science” blogger, Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team.

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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Environmental Haikus

natureA concrete jungle
This is my environment
Hopeful for clean, green

Smoke stacks in the air
Polluted unhealthy body
Asthmatic I am

Blue red sky at dawn
Warm summer breeze cool dew
Eyes open –  waste, smog

Tall trees to open sky
Fresh air and the river roars
Camp, a vague memory

Recycle everyone
Trash takes long to decompose
Inspire generation

Ms. Anderson’s 7th grade summer class participates in combining poetry with science and nature.  They’ve enjoyed opening up their eyes to environmental concerns in their southwest Chicago community in Blue Island.

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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Environmental Justice from a Physicians Perspective

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llawFopHjQA[/youtube]

By Representative Donna Christensen

Before coming to Congress, I started my career as a family physician in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).  While justifiably referred to as ‘America’s Paradise,’ a closer look reveals the story of how people and the environment are inextricably linked—and also how industry has impacted the health of both. Comprised of four small islands, the USVI has been impacted by a disproportionate amount of pollution from an oil refinery, two power utilities, and two substantial landfills, which until recently, were poorly managed.

While working in St. Croix, I was able to have a first-hand look at how our community members were affected by various sources of pollution, because they were my patients.  Many had concerns about the incidence of cancer and upper respiratory diseases in communities and their loved ones. It was from these very patients that I learned more about the challenges faced by fenceline communities.  More importantly, I understood my role as a civic leader and how I could use what I learned about the burden of pollution to more effectively advocate on behalf of my constituents.

The case of the Bovoni community on St. Thomas serves as yet another interesting opportunity to examine issues regarding people and pollution.  Poor planning prevailed and a landfill was placed within the midst of a well established residential area.  With smarter planning, this could have been avoided all together.  Local leadership especially has a responsibility to be aware of the impact of dumps, oil refineries, power plants and other possibly polluting industries, as well as the cumulative impacts they can have on communities’ health.  Everyone has a right to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink —and everyone has a role to play in protecting the health of our people and the environment.  The sooner we realize this, the better off we all will be.

About the author: The Honorable Donna M. Christensen is serving her eighth term as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is the first female physician in the history of the U.S. Congress, the first woman to represent an offshore Territory, and the first woman Delegate from the United States Virgin Islands.

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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