Monthly Archives: July 2013

Writing Down IRIS

By Kacee Deener IRIS

As a scientist now working in science communications, I’m constantly surprised by the writing process.  You put something down on paper, revise it a few times, and then make tweaks here and there until you’re satisfied.  Then you look at it again later, and you make a few more changes.

Turns out lots of things in life are like that—including science programs.  In May 2009, EPA announced a new Integrated Risk Information System – or IRIS – assessment development process.

IRIS is an important program because it provides information on the health effects caused by exposure to chemicals in the environment.  People use IRIS, along with other science information, to inform decisions that protect public health across the U.S.

The new 2009 process was good for the IRIS Program.  But – as I’ve learned with writing – a few tweaks can make something even better.  Since 2009, we’ve learned a lot.  We’ve also received recommendations from the National Research Council (NRC) about improving IRIS assessments and about planning and scoping and stakeholder engagement in risk assessment.  So we’re making some common sense changes that will help us produce more high quality assessments in a timely and transparent manner.

In a nutshell, here’s what we are doing

  • Before beginning an assessment, we will meet with EPA’s regulatory programs – the folks who make decisions that help protect public health – to make sure we understand the big picture of why they need an assessment.
  • We will then hold a public meeting to discuss the plan for the assessment (so we better understand who needs it and why) and gather input about some technical aspects of developing the assessment (for example, are we concerned about people being exposed by breathing the chemical, ingesting it, or both?).
  • Next we will release a literature search for the chemical, evidence tables that summarize the critical scientific studies, and exposure-response figures that graphically depict the responses at different levels of exposure for each study in the evidence table. These materials highlight our thought process for determining which studies are most important for the assessment, help make sure we didn’t miss any important research, and help identify any potential scientific controversies early on.
  • We’re also using “stopping rules” so IRIS assessments are not delayed by ongoing research or scientific debate after certain points of the process have passed.
  • Finally, we’ve strengthened our practices for peer review and conflict of interest.

And this isn’t a complete list – you can read about all of the enhancements on our website.

These changes to IRIS are practical, common-sense improvements that emphasize scientific rigor and transparency.  They will also be good for our stakeholders, so like a well written story, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Like a committed science writer, we’ll always be revising whenever improvements are needed, but take a minute to check out the latest edition.  I think you’ll like the improvements.

About the Author: Kacee Deener is the Communications Director in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, home of the IRIS Program.  She joined EPA 12 years ago and has a Masters degree in Public Health.

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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Protecting the Planet for Our Children

USEPA photo by Eric Vance

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of speaking at Harvard Law School about the future of EPA – our challenges, and our incredible opportunities. The highlight of my day, however, wasn’t the fact that I got to speak about issues that I care very deeply about. About how working to fight climate change can serve as an economic driver, helping create new jobs, new industries and new innovation. It wasn’t even that I got to stand in front of many of the environmental heroes who have paved the way before me. The highlight for me came when one my children – my daughter, Maggie – got behind the podium and introduced me before my first speech as the new EPA Administrator, in front of my younger daughter, Julie, who was all smiles in the front row.

I think about all of my children – Maggie, Julie and Dan – when I go to work every morning. Because after all, the work we do is about the generations that will come after us, and the planet that we will leave behind. As I mentioned yesterday, I have a lot of hope for the next generation. And it’s my goal to make sure that we get out of the way and let them do what we know they will do – which is to ensure that we have a sustainable economy and a protected environment.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Suburban Chickens: Sustainability at Work in My Home

by Mindy Lemoine, Region 3

As a child, I hung out at my grandparents’ farm outside of Ville Platte, LA, where they had chickens, pigs, cows, guinea fowl, a garden, a smokehouse, fruit trees, etc. Now, my house sits on about 1/64th of an acre just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. And just as my grandparents did, every morning I put on my barn coat and walk about 30 steps to feed my two chickens.

Chicken

The chickens, Marshmallow and Speedy, live in a coop tucked discreetly behind my garage. Since the spring, my hens have provided me with one or two eggs daily: sage green from Marshmallow and speckled brown from Speedy.

How did a former country kid, who grew up to be a scientist living in the suburbs, start keeping chickens? As a child, I loved to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. While living outside of Philadelphia, one day my nephew offered me his hens because he was moving and had no place to keep them. I jumped at the opportunity to return to my farm roots and put more of my sustainability views into practice. I was fortunate: thanks to an enlightened elected official who was a fellow chicken lover, my township allowed residents to keep chickens.

The space behind my garage had a nice 6×18-foot fenced-in area that was perfect for keeping my girls safe.

Aside from the fresh eggs, one of the delights of owning suburban chickens is that neighbors and their children stop by to visit my hens.

Because of my work at EPA, I know the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills. My hens know something about that, too, because they get excited about the old rice, carrot peelings, food scraps, toast crusts, etc., that I feed to them.

The food scraps that the chickens don’t eat, and other things like coffee grounds and egg shells, are a great addition to my compost pile. The hens help out with the compost as well: their droppings provide a rich source of nutrients that will eventually help nourish my garden. Compost reduces the amount of fertilizer, weed killer and water that my garden needs – a model of sustainability!

The hens are part of the family, and the next generation has arrived. I have four adorable fuzzy baby chicks peeping under a heat lamp in my basement! But as a mom, the best thing about owning chickens is pictures of my son and his friends with chickens sitting on their heads!

About the author: Mindy Lemoine is a Life Scientist and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. A native of Opelousas, Louisiana, Mindy grew up rambling in the woods and fields with her siblings and developed an abiding curiosity about what might be living in that ditch. She holds an MS in Geography from Louisiana State University.

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

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The Climate Impacts of Your TV: Beyond the Plug

Verena Radulovic, EPA

Verena Radulovic, EPA

By: Verena Radulovic

The great thing about buying an ENERGY STAR certified television is that you can get the latest in high-resolution technology (with all of the great new functionalities), and yet still feel good about the fact that you are contributing fewer greenhouse gas emissions to our environment by using less energy.  In fact, televisions that earn the ENERGY STAR have cut their energy use in half in just the last few years. When you think about all of the TVs sold each year, this clearly means a lot in the fight against climate change.

What you may not realize is that there is a hidden climate change challenge lurking behind the slim-profile, LCD panel technology typical of the most popular televisions on the market today (not to mention computer monitors, tablets, e-readers and smart phones).  It has to do with how they are made.  To etch and clean the glass in these panels, manufacturers use fluorinated gases that are highly effective, but also potent and persistent greenhouse gases.  For example, SF6 (which is used in the etching process) has a global warming potential nearly 23,000 times that of carbon dioxide, meaning SF6 will cause 23,000 times as much warming as an equal amount of carbon dioxide. If these gases are not captured and destroyed during the manufacturing process, they escape into the environment, contributing to climate change.

The good  news is that these gases can be captured and destroyed as part of the manufacturing process.  The process can also be refined so that fewer gases are used in the first place.  Many LCD suppliers have taken significant steps to reduce their emissions of fluorinated gasses. Yet, as worldwide demand for panels continues to increase, emissions are projected to rise unless all suppliers are comprehensively making reductions. If you’d like to learn more, please visit the EPA website.

About the Author: Verena Radulovic develops and manages various product specifications for the ENERGY STAR program, including televisions, displays and audio/video products.

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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Summer Isn’t the Only Thing Heating Up!

By Natalie Liller

EPA Climate Change Program

EPA Climate Change Program

My friends couldn’t believe that, instead of sleeping till noon, I was spending my first week of summer vacation rising early to attend a Climate Change Program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Research Triangle Park, NC.  My interest in climate change had grown since my AP Environmental Science class, and I applied, yearning to find out what I could do to help combat the impacts of rising global temperatures. The EPA Climate Change Program was the way to go!

The first morning of the weeklong program arrived, and I jumped into my car – with a cup of highly caffeinated coffee in hand of course – and embarked into unknown territory.  As I approached the EPA, I could only gaze up and all around in awe of its grandeur.  Such a large building, but what and who did it hold? I couldn’t wait to get started and meet people just as interested in the cause and curious about what careers climate change could offer.

The Program’s 31 students had the privilege of meeting with and hearing from scientists, researchers, analysts, and more — from EPA, NC State University, Duke, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the Alliance for Climate Education.  Students came from high schools all over central NC: Panther Creek, Northern, Enloe, Riverside (go Pirates!), and many more.

We learned about greenhouse gas emissions, global impacts of climate change, environmental policy, and ways to reduce the impacts of climate change. It was engaging and thorough. I couldn’t help but be inspired by the enthusiasm of my peers – asking questions, providing input and opinions, and being curious about a speaker’s work and career path.

The program was full of hands-on activities. One included building particle sensors to monitor atmospheric carbon and another focused on pretending we were researchers in frigid Greenland. Each activity offered us a chance to use our hands, work collaboratively, and have fun. Even more so, we were offered a taste of what climate change careers.  It is encouraging to know that opportunity is out there—that I can take my knowledge and love for the environment anywhere I chose. I can combat global climate change from a cubicle, focusing on computer models, or I can engage in field research halfway across the world.

The program opened doors, connected me to a network of people I would not have met otherwise, and made me realize I can make a difference in my home, my school,  my community, and worldwide. Now, let’s go fight climate change and save the world!

About the Author: Natalie Liller is a rising senior at Riverside High School in Durham, hoping to pursue a career in politics with a concentration in environmental policy. She was excited to participate in EPA’s 2013 Climate Change Summer Program. Learn more about the Climate Change Program.

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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Spotted: a Big Belly….

By Mike McGowan

Big Belly Compactor

Big Belly Compactor

No, it wasn’t that long beaked bird with the big appetite…nor was it that fellow on the train, but rather an innovative trash bin system. It’s a Big Belly Solar Waste Compactor system on the corner of West Broadway and Barclay, just up the block from the World Trade Center Path Station. It showed up with little or no fanfare and it doesn’t carry much in the way of information. So, we did a little digging.

It turns out that Mayor Bloomberg announced the arrival of 30 Big Belly units with three bins – one each for cans and bottles, garbage and paper – this past March. At the launch, the Mayor promised that there would be more than 1,000 units in place in all five boroughs by year’s end. The first 30 Big Bellys were scattered around Times Square, replacing 53 standard trash cans.

Trash Overflow

Trash Overflow

Tested in other American and European cities, the system promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through a combination of compacting trash (each bin can hold five times the amount of trash than the standard bin), reducing pick-ups and increasing recycling. The quantity of material in each bin can also be remotely monitored.

Rumor has it, there are some Big Bellys in Union Square. If they’ve made it to your New York neighborhood, let us know and we can help spread the word. For more information on the organization behind Big Belly go to www.bigbelly.com.

About the Author: Mike is Chief of the R2 Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Branch in Public Affairs. He is a nine-year veteran of EPA and travels thru the World Trade Center station as part of daily his commute.

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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Another Saturday Night

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Phil Colarusso

Saturday night is usually the big social night on the weekly calendars of most humans. Who knew that sea worms kept the same schedule?

Fellow EPA diver Dan Arsenault and I braved the north Atlantic just after sunset on a recent Saturday evening. Night diving requires a little more planning than the same dive executed during the day. Each diver carries a waterproof dive light, generally with a fresh set of batteries for each dive. In addition, we attach a glow stick to the dive flag and place a second one on the beach where we leave our shoes, car keys and towels. The glow stick on the dive flag helps divers who get separated to find each other and the one on the beach helps us find our car keys.

Some animals are easier to find at night, such as squid, which are more abundant at night and are attracted to dive lights. Lobsters also tend to be much more active at night, emerging from their burrows to roam their respective neighborhoods looking for food. Fish, such as Atlantic cod, generally found in deeper water during the day, venture into shallower waters at night.

At night, there is also always the sense that something unusual is just around the corner. This recent night dive was a perfect example. Dan had found a beautiful fish called a longhorn sculpin, which I was filming. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed what appeared to be a rocket rising with white smoke trailing behind it. After a closer look, I realized the “rocket” was really a 12 inch long sea worm and the smoke was clouds of sperm. We had caught the worm in the act of spawning, which only happens a few nights a year in and around the full moon.

Unfortunately for the sea worm, his frantic flight also drew the attention of a large fish known as a cunner. As the sea worm released its gametes in a writhing dance, the cunner tried to figure out how to take a bite. Finally, it inhaled the entire worm in two gulps and swam off with the white cloud of worm gametes streaming out of its gills. This type of interaction generally occurs only at night and Dan and I were incredibly fortunate to witness it. You can see a 30 second clip here:

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver.  He’s living the dream with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

Protecting oceans and coasts in New England

Connect with EPA Divers on Facebook

 

 

 

 

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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Three Years Later: EPA Continues to Clean Up Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Three years ago today, EPA responded to one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.  When we arrived on scene, oil from a ruptured pipeline was pouring into the Kalamazoo River – a Great Lakes tributary.

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Site of the 2010 Enbridge oil pipeline spill

At the time of the spill, it was raining hard and oil was carried quickly downstream in the fast-moving river – flowing over dams and flooding riverbanks.

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Breathing Life into a Dead Space

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By Aissia Richardson

For over 31 years, the mission of African American United Fund (AAUF) has been to actively engage Pennsylvania’s African American community to collectively address social, environmental and economic injustices by pooling resources to enhance the quality of life of those most affected by these problems. I created the AAUF African Marketplace Health and Wellness program in 2007 to highlight health disparities in the African American community after my father suffered a stroke and subsequently was diagnosed with heart disease.

After my father had his stroke, he was afraid to leave home. He stopped working, stopped teaching, and stopped exercising. All activities he had previously enjoyed. As a work therapy project, I asked him to help coordinate this new program to educate our family and our community about preventable disease and to connect African American men to traditional health care providers. Sadly, my father lost his battle with heart disease in 2008 and died the day before our first healthy food cooking demonstration took place. As a tribute to him, I vowed to provide access to health care for the poor and in minority communities, to present information about how to maintain health and recognize warning signs of preventable diseases and to work with young men by talking with them early about maintaining their health.

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Students preparing fruit salad

In 2009 I began a community garden on a vacant lot where illegal dumping, prostitution and drug dealing were rampant. After seeing a news clip about gardening at the White House, the Urban Garden Initiative was born and it’s now a meeting space for our community. We’ve hosted film screenings, dance performances, plays, musical productions, farmers markets and an annual health fair. The urban garden is a demonstration model to teach our neighbors how to garden, to grow and distribute produce and to conduct farmers markets with items from small, family owned farms.  In addition, the site is used as a job skills training program for adjudicated minors in the Philadelphia Youth Advocate Program and the formerly convicted, in conjunction with X-Offenders for Community Empowerment, as well as other neighborhood re-entry facilities.

In 2010, I started Garden to Plate cooking classes with adjudicated minors which introduced youth to healthy eating options. My personal philosophy is that all men should know how to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s what I’ve taught my son and what I pass on to youth who regularly eat cheeseburger specials rather than fruits and vegetables. Over 70 young men have graduated from the program. It costs $23,000 to house a prisoner in state facilities. I estimate the gardening and cooking class has saved taxpayers approximately $1,610,000 and only costs $10,000 per year to maintain. The participants raise their grades, get off probation and have marketable skills once they graduate!

If you live in the Philadelphia area and want to start a community garden, the first place to go is the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Garden Tenders program. With a little bit of work and effective programming you too can breathe life into a dead space!

About the author: Aissia Richardson, President, African American United Fund, has volunteered with various organizations that address policy issues over the years. Ms. Richardson is a public education and public transit advocate. She serves as the chair of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s 24 member Citizen Advisory Committee and the City of Philadelphia’s appointee to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Public Participation Taskforce. She is a Pennsylvania native and Philadelphia resident who enjoys connecting organizations to each other to create mutually beneficial partnerships. She has traveled extensively across the Delaware Valley learning about rural, urban and suburban living and working with concerned citizens in the region to ensure their voices are heard when public planning is proposed and implemented.

 

 

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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Para un hogar más sano y saludable

Por Lina Younes

¿Es habilidoso en las actividades manuales en su hogar? ¿Es diestro en el manejo de herramientas y reparar cosas?  ¿Le gusta el bricolaje y hacer las reparaciones en su hogar por sí mismo? Entonces, preste atención porque ciertas reparaciones y actividades de remodelación podrían afectar su salud y la de su familia si no se realizan adecuadamente.

He aquí algunos consejos para realizar reparaciones necesarias de manera segura mientras también protege los entornos en su hogar:

Ø  El plomo: ¿Acaso vive en una casa o apartamento construido antes de 1978? Podría tener pintura a base de plomo.  El plomo es un metal tóxico que afecta adversamente el sistema nervioso de las personas y puede ocasionar problemas de comportamiento, aprendizaje y audición.  Si va a pintar su hogar, debe trabajar de manera segura.  Use ropa protectora y el equipo adecuado para prevenir que los pedazos de vieja pintura a base de plomo descascarada o el polvo de plomo puedan contaminar el aire durante el proceso de renovación.

 

Ø  El moho;  ¿Hay fugas en su plomería o agua acumulada en su hogar? La humedad o acumulación de agua pueden conducir a problemas de moho. A su vez, las esporas de moho en entornos interiores pueden ocasionar reacciones  alérgicas y otros problemas de salud. Es importante realizar reparaciones a la plomería y corregir problemas de agua a la mayor brevedad posible. Seque todos los artículos completamente.

 

 

Ø  La calidad del aire interior: La  ventilación deficiente en su hogar es una de las principales causas de una mala calidad del aire en entornos interiores. Limpie sus filtros de aire regularmente  para mejorar la calidad del aire así como el rendimiento energético de su sistema de aire condicionado o calefacción. No tan solo mejorará su salud y la eficiencia de su sistema, sino a la larga, le ahorrará dinero también.

 

Ø  Los plaguicidas: Cuando se trata de controlar los insectos y otras plagas, la prevención es esencial. Sin embargo, si a pesar de sus mejores esfuerzos por seguir las prácticas para el manejo integrado de plagas estas criaturas indeseables invaden su hogar, entonces, cuáles son sus opciones. Use los plaguicidas de de manera adecuada y sobre todo comience leyendo la etiqueta primero.

 

Como ve, con estos pasos sencillos, puede asegurar que su hogar sea un lugar más saludable para su familia. He aquí información adicional para ahorrar energía, ahorrar dinero, y hacer su hogar más verde y saludable.

¿Tiene algunos consejos de bricolaje que quisiera compartir con nosotros? Nos encantaría escuchar su opinión.

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.