Monthly Archives: July 2013

Strong Farms, Clean Waters. Can Do

By Kelly Shenk

The back of my car sports two bumper stickers. One says “Save the Bay,” the other “No Farms No Food.”  When mentioning this to people, I often encounter a certain skepticism.  While I think most folks want to believe these objectives are compatible, they aren’t convinced it’s possible to have both profitable agriculture and clean waters at the same time.

A recent tour I took with the Schuylkill Action Network, or SAN, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, highlighted the SAN’s decade of work helping to keep farmers farming and the creeks that flow into Schuylkill River running clean.

Berks County farm

Berks County farm

We met two local dairy farmers who proudly showed us the extensive improvements they’ve made on their farms thanks to technical and financial assistance from the SAN and its partners like Berks Conservancy, the Berks County Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the water suppliers.

The farmers put in manure storage tanks, erected fencing, created vegetative buffers, and used no-till cropping.  They raved about how these practices help them run their farms more efficiently and economically.

For example, with a manure storage tank, they don’t have to haul the manure onto the fields daily, and they can make sure they only apply the fertilizer when the crops need it.  The fencing prevents trampled stream banks and cow manure in the creek.  No-till farming means they don’t have the labor and fuel costs associated with tilling a field. During the tour, the SAN representatives emphasized to farmers that implementing these practices helps them stay competitive for the long-haul.

The SAN firmly believes thriving agriculture provides an important part of a thriving watershed, and is achieving success by involving all stakeholders in the process. Through best management practices, farms are achieving profitable, competitive agricultural operations, and clean water.

Thanks in large part to the SAN’s efforts, Berks County residents have clean water to drink and clean streams to fish, great local food to eat, a thriving agricultural economy, and even a good local beer that relies on Schuylkill River water for brewing.

I think I’ll stop talking about my bumper stickers and start pointing out the great work groups like the SAN are doing to show people what’s possible.

About the Author: Kelly Shenk is EPA Region III’s Agricultural Advisor

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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Meet my friend, Gina McCarthy

You’ve probably heard by now, but I wanted to again congratulate my friend and new boss Gina McCarthy on her confirmation as EPA Administrator. Gina is passionate about the EPA, about our staff, and of course about protecting the health of American families and the environment. Please take a minute to watch this video about EPA’s new administrator, Gina McCarthy:

“I think it’s a culmination of a career of 35 years where I felt that public service was the most honorable profession there is. I’m a child of the ‘60s, I had to give back to this world – and I cannot think of a more special place to be than as the head of EPA. It is the one agency that stands between environmental hazards and public health hazards and protects the American public each and every day.” – Gina McCarthy

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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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For A Safe And Healthy Home

By Lina Younes

Are you handy around the house? Are you skilled at using tools and fixing things? Would you consider yourself a do-it-yourselfer? Well, certain home repairs and remodeling activities can harm your health and that of your family if not done properly.

Here are some tips to make those needed repairs while protecting your home environment:

Lead– Do you live in a home built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems. If you are going to paint your home, you should work safely. Use protective clothing and the right equipment to prevent old lead-based paint chips or lead dust from contaminating the air during the renovation process.

Mold – Do you have leaky faucets or water damage inside your home? Moisture or water accumulation may lead to a problem with mold. In turn, mold spores indoors can cause allergic reactions and other health problems. It’s important to fix any plumbing or water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.

Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation is one of the main culprits of poor indoor air quality. Clean your air filters regularly to ensure good air quality and improve the energy efficiency of your air conditioning and heating system. Not only does that improve your health and the efficiency of your system, but in the long run it saves you money, too.

Pesticides – When it comes to pest control, prevention is key. However, if in spite of your best efforts towards integrated pest management, those unwanted creatures infest your home, what should you do? Use pesticides properly and start by reading the label first.

As you can see, with some simple steps, you can make sure that your home is a healthy place for you and your family. Here is some additional information to help you save energy, save money and make your home greener and healthier.

Do you have any do-it-yourself tips that you would like to share with us? We would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Nothing like the Smell of Safer Chemistry

Reposted from the EPA Connect

By Jim Jones

When buying cleaning products, you probably first look for a product that will get a particular job done, then compare prices. You might even smell the product, or look for a fragrance-free product. While you may choose a scent based on personal preference, if you care about product safety, it‘s worth taking a closer look at the specific chemicals that add scent to cleaning products.

In September 2012, EPA created a Safer Chemical Ingredients List to assist companies interested in making safer products and to increase public access to important chemical information. And announced today,  EPA has added 119 chemicals that add fragrance to the list of over 600 approved chemical ingredients.

The list is also useful to companies seeking EPA’s Design for the Environment Safer Product Label by providing them with a list of chemical ingredients that already meet EPA’s rigorous, scientific standard for protecting human health and the environment. Chemicals on the Safer Chemical Ingredients List can be used in Design for the Environment-labeled products. Design for the Environment is a voluntary program that involves industry, environmental groups, and academia working in partnership to help protect people and the planet by identifying safer chemicals and allowing safer chemical-based products to carry the Design for the Environment label.

Right now, more than 2,500 products carry the Design for the Environment Safer Product Label, including a range of all-purpose cleaners, laundry and dishwasher detergents, window cleaners, car care, and many other products. When you see the Safer Product Label on a product, it means the Design for the Environment scientific review team has screened each ingredient for potential human health and environmental effects and determined that the product contains only the safest chemical ingredients available.

Using Design for the Environment-labeled products is an important thing you can do to help reduce your family’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Look for the label on products when you shop. You can be sure that these products are safer and work as well as they smell.

To view the Safer Chemical Ingredients List, visit

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 26 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

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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Nothing like the Smell of Safer Chemistry

When buying cleaning products, you probably first look for a product that will get a particular job done, then compare prices. You might even smell the product, or look for a fragrance-free product. While you may choose a scent based on personal preference, if you care about product safety, it‘s worth taking a closer look at the specific chemicals that add scent to cleaning products.

40 NEW Holding Spray Bottle

In September 2012, EPA created a Safer Chemical Ingredients List to assist companies interested in making safer products and to increase public access to important chemical information.  And announced today, EPA has added 119 chemicals that add fragrance to the list of over 600 approved chemical ingredients.

The list is also useful to companies seeking EPA’s Design for the Environment Safer Product Label by providing them with a list of chemical ingredients that already meet EPA’s rigorous, scientific standard for protecting human health and the environment.  Chemicals on the Safer Chemical Ingredients List can be used in Design for the Environment-labeled products.  Design for the Environment is a voluntary program that involves industry, environmental groups, and academia working in partnership to help protect people and the planet by identifying safer chemicals and allowing safer chemical-based products to carry the Design for the Environment label.

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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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Around the Water Cooler: Measure Runoff with EPA’s Stormwater Calculator


By Lahne Mattas-Curry

It’s been raining for what seems like weeks straight this summer. Each day as I leave the office, it’s not unusual for the skies to open up and let loose a torrential downpour. I have watched many people struggle to find their umbrellas in their bags or skip over the water pooling around street corners while running to the metro. While Washington, D.C., is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, when it rains, you just can’t escape the water flowing rapidly across the pavement and other impervious surfaces that make up our nation’s capital. Interested in water research, I wondered, “How much water actually runs off into the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers during each rainfall?”

Now, thanks to EPA scientist Lew Rossman, we can measure runoff amounts for specific locations. After answering some questions about a particular site, such as percent of impervious surfaces and soil composition, Rossman’s National Stormwater Calculator can estimate the amount of runoff and inform decisions about how to reduce runoff. The Calculator is a tool that can help developers, urban planners, landscapers, and other professionals determine what green infrastructure elements could best reduce the runoff.

Adding green infrastructure (we’ve talked a lot about green infrastructure here and here) is both environmentally and economically beneficial. From trees and plants to green roofs, rain barrels, and cisterns, these changes can help decrease the amount of pollutants threatening our waterways. With heavy rains increasing and continued development, runoff has become one of the fastest growing sources of water pollution around the country.

The Calculator is just phase I of the Stormwater Calculator and Climate Assessment Tool package announced in the President’s Climate Action Plan in June. An update to the Calculator will be released at the end of this year that links to several future climate scenarios.

You can access the National Stormwater Calculator here: http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/wswrd/wq/models/swc/

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program and is a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor. Besides playing in puddles after a rain, she spends a lot of time adding plants to her rain garden to reduce the runoff, and quite frankly, add beauty and value, to her own property.

 

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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Switzerland – The Land of Alps, Watches, Chocolate and …. Extreme Recycling

By Paula Zevin

Garbage Ball Geneva

Garbage Ball Geneva

Everyone knows how serious we are about recycling and its benefits at EPA. The past decade has shown that we can change our mindset and adapt to change: throwing things away without a second thought is a thing of the past. If you need a reminder, check out the EPA community website, which contains so much valuable information on helping to protect our environment and our recycling resource page.

We also have heard or even seen how much more serious Europe in general is about the 3-R mantra. “Reduce, reuse and recycle” is not just a buzz phrase; it is a way of life in the Old World, which in many cases is way ahead of the United States. Switzerland was one of these revelations. The occasion to visit this beautiful country came about almost as an afterthought to attending my 40th high school reunion in Heidelberg, Germany in June of this year. Reunions can be fun, but also stressful, so a little R&R in the beautiful cities of Zurich and Geneva seemed just what the doctor ordered. And it was! Past and present blend seamlessly, the scenery is truly breathtaking, the friendly locals made us feel welcome and it didn’t hurt to be able to sample delicious chocolate, raclette and Movenpick ice cream!

As an EPAer, I never quite leave the environmentalist behind. The sight of so many distinctive bags all over Zurich piqued my curiosity. So I asked at our hotel. The answer, “Oh, they are our special waste/recycling bags” led to some investigating and some illuminating answers. They’re called “Züri-Säcke” or “Zuri-Bags” and according to the city’s website, about 30,000 are picked up daily. What Zurichers don’t recycle at the ubiquitous drop-off points for plastic, glass, etc, must go into these special bags. The catch is that they are quite expensive. The bigger the bag, the more you pay. If you’re not already so inclined, the incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle becomes purely economic. In addition to familiar advice, such as dropping off your electronics, textiles and other household items at recycling centers, such as we have in my home county of Somerset, NJ, you are encouraged to take all your outdated or broken electrical appliances back to the store where you bought them – they are obligated to accept them at no charge to you! The advice is given in a gentle, yet firm way. Check out the English website for how to deal with modern life’s trappings.

Recycling Advertisement

Recycling Advertisement

Geneva does things in a similar manner, noting with pride that “Genevans recycled 45% of their waste in 2011 up from 37% in 2003 (recycling in the city of Geneva is lower, at only 36.2% in 2011).” For more information on this and on Geneva’s recycling programs visit the English language website.

Geneva took the visual impact of being environmentally responsible to a different level. They are displaying a ball of garbage weighing 35 tons at Place du Plainpalais in Geneva. This was after officials started a campaign to encourage citizens to dispose of their garbage responsibly. The 35-tons of garbage represent the amount of waste that is collected from public trash cans over a period of three days.

We are doing so much already in New York City and in the surrounding areas to reduce, reuse and recycle. These glimpses into another culture remind us that the work is never done and that it is upon us to do it.

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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Technology Innovation and Water Reuse

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Nancy Stoner

Water reuse is one of the areas where innovative technology can solve challenges and create opportunities, and was identified in the Water Technology Innovation Blueprint that I released in March.

Water quantity issues are increasingly part of conversations as I talk with people across the country. Drought conditions are becoming more frequent and we need to consider that when planning for water needs.  We can learn from communities like Austin, Texas, which are not only conserving more water, but are developing distribution networks to reuse more of the water treated at wastewater facilities.

In July I visited Austin, where an unlikely landmark shows the city’s commitment to water reuse. The 170-foot tall 51st Street Reclaimed Water Tower holds 2 million gallons of reclaimed water and is helping the city through drought. This innovative technology allows the city to reuse treated wastewater that is normally discharged into the Colorado River. In fact, 5,300 homes are able to access 1.17 billion gallons per year of reclaimed water, saving the city water and money.

I also visited the City of Austin’s Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant. Effluent from the wastewater treatment plant irrigates 150 acres of farmland.  Hay and crops are harvested and some of the revenue goes to the city while the dried biosolids are used on-site. The biosolids are turned into nutrient rich compost called Dillo Dirt, which is used to landscape public places or sold to commercial vendors. Hornsby Bend is also capturing the methane gas it produces to generate its heat and electricity.

Austin is doing a great job of finding purchasers for the reused water, not only for irrigation, but also for industrial reuse. For example, BAE Systems uses reclaimed water for two chilling stations that supply the water to an entire facility. While the industrial users are finding some transition costs due to the different quality of reused water, the price differential between the two is so great that they save significant money in the long run. With current drought restrictions in Austin, lawn watering is now limited to one day per week, so areas irrigated by reused water – which has less restrictions – are much greener than others.

Austin is just one example of the water reuse innovations arising across the nation and shows that using innovative technology to address water challenges not only saves money, but in some areas is necessary for survival.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

 

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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EPA Wants Creative Solutions to a Common Problem

By Dustin Renwick

Flushing is the easy part. What happens in our sewer systems after that remains unseen, hidden in the aging network of millions of miles of underground pipes.

Sometimes the pipes overflow due to heavy rain and storms. In fact, the Cincinnati area’s combined sewer systems discharge about 16 billion gallons of raw sewage mixed with storm water in just one year. This gunk pollutes local streams and rivers, as we’ve explained before.

One problem in reducing stormwater overflows is a lack of real-time information. In many areas, sewage overflows require manual monitoring from local utilities. Meanwhile, some wireless sensors do exist, but their cost remains prohibitively high for wide use.

EPA has partnered with Cincinnati Innovates, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District, and the Northern Kentucky Sewer District 1 to launch a new challenge that calls for creative thinkers and fresh ideas.

The challenge will reward designs that create inexpensive, low-maintenance sensors to help monitor sewer overflows. This new generation of sensors would allow companies to improve their operational efficiency and meet sewer overflow requirements set by the Clean Water Act.

EPA will reward $10,000 for at least one submitted  solution. The challenge closes Sept. 2.

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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Living Earth Festival

By Michelle DePass, Tribal ecoAmbassadors Presentation at NMAI-Living Earth Festival

As EPA’s Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs, my work connects me with interesting and innovative people on a daily basis.

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of introducing an amazing group of tribal college professors and students at the Smithsonian’s Living Earth Festival. Every year, dozens of native chefs, artists, writers, and activists showcase their knowledge and work at the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in DC. This year’s festival included a “Top Chef”-inspired native cook off, a goat cheese-making workshop, a drum and dance troupe, a green chili roast, a farmer’s market, and a ladybug release.

The focus of the festival is to celebrate indigenous contributions to environmental sustainability, knowledge, and activism. As we all know, so much of that celebration and sharing is focused on the next generation—the future environmental engineers, activists, and keepers of native culture. Watching my young son take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the festival, I reaffirm that this passing on to the next generation isn’t an option—it’s a must.

I was so impressed with the great work done by the tribal professors who participated in our Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program this past year. David Stone and his students at Tohono O’odham Community College in Arizona took their research and development of a carbon-negative building material to a new level – they began creating larger structures for road barriers, sidewalks, and sculptures on the reservation. Neighboring tribal governments and local businesses are interested in their work and look forward to leveraging their research. This could provide much needed jobs and housing on the Tohono O’odham Reservation.

Climate change, something that disproportionately affects tribes, is being studied through a new course and data collection methods at Diné College in the Four-Corner region near Shiprock, New Mexico. Margaret Mayer and her students are also looking to expand their work and partner with larger universities, sharing equipment and creating a cohesive curriculum.

These ground-up approaches are allowing a small program like the EPA Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program to have a big impact on the people and communities surrounding these projects.

At the close of its second year, the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program has given over 100 tribal college students the opportunity to work with their professors and EPA scientists while solving environmental problems in their communities. Projects have resulted in 3 transferable online courses ready to share with other TCUs, and over a dozen new partnerships.

If you’re interested in applying for the program, I encourage you to visit our website for links and more information.

About the author: Michelle DePass, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs

 

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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