Monthly Archives: July 2013

So Pumped

To kick off my first full week as Administrator, I wanted to thank the many incredible people that have paved the path to my being here – particularly my predecessor Administrator Lisa Jackson and my Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. I look forward to working more closely with the entire agency as we address challenges and seize opportunities that arise. Please watch my welcome video to EPA’s staff:

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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Trying to go “plastic free”

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

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 Robin Johnson

Like most people, I use a lot of plastic. Virtually all of my food comes wrapped in it; it houses my toiletries; and some even sneaks in as cups, straws and bags despite my efforts to choose alternatives. Let’s not even mention the plastic in my appliances and gadgets.

Hearing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge flotilla of garbage floating in the ocean – and albatross chicks dying from ingesting plastic reminded me that the environment pays the ultimate price for our love of disposable plastic.

When I heard about a campaign to use less single-use plastic, I was intrigued. Could I eliminate it from my life for a month? Only one way to find out!

So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Most plastic can be avoided by carrying a water bottle and reusable shopping bag. My bag can be packed into its own pocket, so it doesn’t take up room in my purse. Morning coffee is more challenging. I have to make my coffee at home, or stop in the office to pick up my travel mug.

At home, I’ve come a long way, but it hasn’t been easy. I switched to milk sold in reusable bottles. I bring “empties” to the store and get the $2 deposit back, but I have to recycle the plastic lid. From the milk, I make yogurt, which is pretty easy. Finally, I’ve started making my own almond milk and protein bars.

I may be green, but I still love pizza, Thai, falafel, and other foods. Getting takeout without disposable plastic usually means getting it in my own container. I purchased a reusable plastic clamshell container that I take to my favorite restaurants. Most restaurants are happy to fill my container, and some even give me extra food or a discount. After all, I’m saving them money.

Personal care products may be the biggest hurdle. Few shampoos and sunscreens are available without plastic packaging, and those that exist are online. I’m going to use what I already have, while looking for better options.

I’m keeping a “dilemma bag” filled with plastic garbage I couldn’t avoid. At the end of the month, I’ll continue to look for alternatives.

Could you go without single- use plastics for even a week? What would be the biggest stumbling block for you?

More info on plastic marine debris from EPA

About the author: Robin Johnson writes wastewater discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.  She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two cats.  She spends her time vegetable gardening, swimming, and knitting.

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

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A Green Light for Learning

By Dustin Renwick

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Movies depict bad breath as a green haze, but anyone’s breath can change a new prototype air sensor, developed by EPA researchers, from blue to green to red.

Karoline Johnson, an EPA student services contractor, worked with Gayle Hagler, an EPA environmental engineer, to design an interactive air sensor that provides an opportunity to share science and technology with the public.

Here’s how it works: When a person breathes into the box, the sensor measures the amount of infrared light absorbed by CO2. This measurement is converted into an electric signal that a computer board translates into light. The top of the sensor changes colors based on the presence of increasing amounts of CO2 we expel each time we breathe.

The sensor provides a visual starting point for broader science discussions by transforming abstract subjects into an interactive, physical display.

“We realized there are a lot of different applications for what you can teach the public,” Johnson said. She said the sensor deals directly with air quality and climate science, but it can also serve as a  tool for talking about topics such as human health, computer programming and optics.

Low-cost, portable sensors have the potential to change air quality monitoring by allowing anyone to measure air quality with calibrated devices that require little training and provide real-time data. Current sophisticated air monitors produce accurate results but scientists can’t easily move these large monitors and the costs are prohibitively high for the average person.

Plenty of challenges remain for the next-generation air sensors, including proper calibration, where the data will go, how the data can be used.

But the promise remains. A network of cheaper sensors could give students, community leaders, scientists and university researchers a more complete picture of air quality.

Johnson is currently working on a sensor curriculum and kits that teachers and students can build in their classrooms.

 

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

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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Thanks Rich

By Jeffery Robichaud

If you are like me, you often get so busy you sometimes overlook thanking folks at work. I’m not talking about the day-to-day thanks but the big heartfelt, “no particular thing” thanks.   These thank-yous seem to generally occur at retirement and going away parties, so I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to thank someone before he leaves (even if it is only a couple weeks before).

Rich Hood serves as EPA Region 7’s Associate Administrator for Media and Intergovernmental Relations, and has worked with EPA for nine years, the last six in Kansas City.  His journalism career spans more than 30 years with over 15 years in government public affairs, and he will be leaving us at the end of the month to join the ranks of the newly retired.

I’ve worked with Rich on all manner of activities throughout the years, from public meetings and presentations, to visits from Administrators, and press releases.  I remember one of my first interactions with Rich was working with Casey to pitch the idea of News Where you Live, an approach to providing citizens a simple and easy way to view their news geospatially.  He fully supported moving forward with our idea rather than waiting for the Agency to devise a similar approach. He felt it was important for EPA Region 7 to tell its story of accomplishments to the public we serve in as transparent and accessible manner as we could.

newswhereyou live

Rich was also there for the launch of KCWaterBug and helped us to spread the word throughout the Kansas City metro area.  In fact we have been successful over the years in making sure we place information in the hands of the public to inform them of issues and concerns that are important for them to know, whether air quality on ozone alert days, emergencies, or even plain old good news.

 

Rich was the one who encouraged me to write as one of the two Region 7 bloggers of EPA’s original Greenversations  back in 2008 (we have subsequently switched from wind to solar).  His edits always added clarity and a level of succinctness which my writing generally lacks (I’m a bit of a meanderer as you can tell).  Although my contributions to Greenversations tapered off over the years, he again supported the efforts of Casey and me to launch the Big Blue Thread a little less than a year ago.  It was also gracious that he allowed us to write our blog using a geospatial lens and include both general science posts and highly technical GIS-related posts.

Rich and his deputy, Hattie Thomas, have assembled a fantastic team over the past few years and I look forward to continuing my work with them to “publish” the Big Blue Thread.  I’m sure Rich will be quite happy to pass his red pen to someone else and rid himself of my alliteration and bad puns.  Thank you, Rich! Spend your retirement reading the news instead of making it, and if you need a map, give Casey or me a call.

rich

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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Climate Change is for the Birds

By Michael Rohwer

These are heady days for birders. My friend, an avid bird watcher, tells me that more and more species have been appearing near her home over the years.

These new sightings may be a sign of something bigger—bird species spreading into new territory may be an indicator of a changing climate. In fact, all “canary-in-the-coal-mine” references aside, birds make particularly good indicators of environmental change for several reasons:

  • Each species of bird has adapted to certain habitat types, food sources, and temperature ranges. In addition, the timing of certain events in their life cycles—such as migration and reproduction—is driven by cues from the environment. Changing conditions such as warming temperatures can influence the distribution of both migratory and non-migratory birds.
  • Birds are easy to identify and count, and there is a wealth of scientific knowledge about their distribution and abundance. People (like birders) have kept detailed records of bird observations for more than a century.
  • There are many different species of birds living in a variety of habitats, so if a change in habitats or habits occurs across a range of bird types, it suggests that a common force might be contributing.

The National Audobon Society’s Exit EPA Disclaimer observational data, featured in EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the U.S. Report, shows that the average bird species shifted northward to winter by 35 miles from 1966 to 2005. These trends are closely related to winter temperatures. Of the 305 species studied, 58% have shifted their wintering grounds significantly northward since the 1960s, though some others haven’t moved at all or move for other reasons (e.g., habitat alteration, food availability). This graph shows that shift north over time:

South

North

Some bird species adapt to generally warmer temperatures by changing where they live by migrating further north in the summer but not as far south in the winter. With more than 500 local chapters, the National Audobon Society makes it easy to collect vital data, through its annual Christmas Bird CountExit EPA Disclaimer the new Coastal Bird Survey, and other initiatives. I plan to dedicate some weekend mornings to birding. How about you? Maybe we’ll spot each other participating in the Christmas bird count so our observations can help tell the story of how bird wintering grounds are changing.

About the author: Michael Rohwer is a recent ORISE Fellow supporting the communications team in the Climate Change Division within the Office of Air and Radiation. When he’s not pursuing a career in protecting human health and the environment, you can find him enjoying gardening and sports.

 

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

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¡Beba agua para sobrevivir el calor!

Varios de los enlaces a continuación conducen a sitios fuera de EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Por Lina Younes

Mientras veía el noticiero anoche acerca de las continuas condiciones climatológicas extremas este verano, me sorprendió algo que la reportera dijo. ¿Sabía usted que las olas de calor son la causa más común de muertes relacionadas al clima en los Estados Unidos ¿Sabía que las olas de calor han causado más muertes en este país que otros eventos climatológicos extremos como huracanes, tornados, inundaciones y terremotos en conjunto?

¿Entonces, qué debemos de hacer inmediatamente para sobrevivir este calor extremo? ¡Debemos asegurarnos de beber bastante agua para permanecer hidratados!

Los ancianos, los niños y las mujeres embarazadas son los más susceptibles a las temperaturas extremas. Debemos destacar que como parte del proceso de envejecer, los adultos en sus años dorados tienden a perder el sentido de la sed. Por consiguiente tienen un riesgo mayor de deshidratarse y son más vulnerables a los impactos ambientales. Por otra parte, los niños también se pueden deshidratar  durante actividades al aire libre y ellos no saben reconocer los síntomas de golpes de calor o insolación. ¿En el caso de los niños, cuáles son algunas de estas señales?

·         Disminución en la actividad física

·         Falta de lágrimas al llorar

·         Boca seca

·         Irritabilidad y nerviosismo

 

Si no bebe suficiente agua regularmente, podría deshidratarse y la deshidratación puede conducir a un golpe de calor o insolación que podría amenazar su vida y requiere atención médica inmediata.

¿Cuáles son algunas de las señales de golpes de calor o insolación?

·         La piel se pone rojiza y muy seca

·         Hay poca o ninguna sudoración

·         Respiración profunda

·         Mareos, dolores de cabeza y/o fatiga

·         Se produce menos orina y es de color amarillo oscuro

·         Confusión y falta de conocimiento

·         En adultos, alucinaciones y agresión

 

Además de hidratarse con regularidad, debería permanecer en un lugar fresco siempre que sea posible.

¿Y qué pasa con las personas que tienen que trabajar al aire libre [https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/spanish/index_sp.html]  aun durante el calor intenso? Deben programar periodos de reposo frecuentemente donde puedan beber agua y permanecer en áreas con sombra o aire acondicionado. Deben vestirse con ropa apropiada que sea holgada y de colores claros. Usen sombreros de ala ancha y gafas de sol.

Por lo tanto, recuérdese de beber agua frecuentemente. Disfrute el verano y permanezca seguro. ¿Tiene recomendaciones acerca de cómo sobrevivir estos calores? 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.

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Join us for a nutrient Twitter chat today at 2:00 pm (ET)!

Questions and AnswersReminder: Join us for a Twitter chat today at 2:00 pm (ET)!
Got questions about how nutrient pollution affects our water? Join EPA scientist Anne Rea and other Agency experts today at 2:00 pm (ET).

Use #waterchat to ask a question or participate.

To get you started and introduce you to Anne, we’ve asked her to answer a few questions.

What is your educational background?
I have a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan. I studied the biogeochemical cycling of mercury and trace elements in forested ecosystems. Since little work existed in the mercury realm, most of the literature and experts I worked with focused on nitrogen pollution.

How did you become interested in nutrient pollution?
After joining EPA, I wanted to work on the ecological side of things (versus human health) and spent several years doing ecological risk assessments. I then led a joint review of two air pollutants, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This was the first time two pollutants were reviewed together, and the first time a “secondary” (public welfare) standard was separated from the “primary” standard (human health effects). I’ve always worked on multi-pollutant, multi-media problems, so was uniquely suited to lead the risk assessment for that review.

What’s the most interesting thing you have learned trying to solve this problem?
The dedication and commitment of staff across EPA is amazing. This is one problem the Agency is uniquely suited to solving from a scientific and regulatory perspective—but we can only do it together—across offices, regions and research programs in the Agency, and in collaboration with the states and other federal partners.

How can technology and innovation help solve the problem?
We’ve struggled to solve this problem for more than 40 years, and I think as an Agency we’ve made some progress. As the world’s population increases, there is a demand for increased food production and increased energy use—all of which releases nitrogen (and sometimes phosphorus, sulfur, and carbon) into the environment.

We are working across the Federal government to develop a ‘nutrients challenge’ which will challenge teams globally to come up with innovative ideas to reduce nutrients—either from the emissions source or from the waste stream.

We know we can’t solve nutrient pollution alone. What other federal agencies are we partnering with?
We are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and others, through jointly funded research, collaborations, cooperative agreements, etc. We work hard to share and use each others data and models as we work collectively to make an impact on nutrient pollution for the country.

Join us at 2:00 pm (ET) to Learn More!
Got more questions? Want to learn more? Don’t forget to join us for a Twitter chat today at 2 pm (ET). Use #waterchat to ask a question or participate. Not on Twitter but have a question? Please add it to the comments section below.

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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Drink Water To Survive The Heat!

Several links below exit EPA  Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

As I was watching the news last night on the ongoing extreme weather conditions this summer, I was struck by something the reporter said. Did you know that heat waves are the most common cause of weather-related deaths in the United States? Did you know that heat waves have caused more deaths in this country than other extreme weather events (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes) combined?

So, what is something we should do immediately to survive this extreme heat? Make sure that we drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!

The elderly, children and pregnant women are most susceptible to extreme temperatures. We should note that as part of the aging process, adults in their golden years tend to lose their sense of thirst. Thus, they are at a greater risk of dehydration and they are more vulnerable to environmental impacts.  On the other hand, children can easily become dehydrate during outdoor activities and they don’t recognize the symptoms of heatstroke. In children, what are some of these warning signs?

  • Decreased physical activity
  • Lack of tears when crying
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability and fussiness

If you don’t drink cool water regularly, dehydration can lead to heat stroke which can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

What are some of the signs of heat stroke?

  • Skin is flushed, red and dry
  • Little or no sweating
  • Deep breathing
  • Dizziness, headache, and/or fatigue
  • Less urine is produced, of a dark yellowish color
  • Confusion, loss of consciousness
  • In adults, hallucinations and aggression

In addition to staying hydrated, stay in a cool place as much as possible.

How about people who have to work outdoors even during this extreme heat? They should try scheduling frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. They should dress appropriately with loose, light-weight clothing and light colors. They should wear wide brimmed hats and sunglasses.

So, remember to drink cool water often. Enjoy the summer and stay safe. Do you have any recommendations on how to survive the heat? We 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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Capturing Rain and the Imagination

By Shawn M. Garvin

It’s fitting and perhaps perfect timing for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Regional Office to be opening up a new educational exhibit in our Public Information Center titled, “The Art and Science of Rain Barrels.”   Record-setting amounts of rainfall this past June in Philadelphia and Wilmington serve as a reminder of the challenges communities face in solving wet weather problems such as flooding, sewer overflows and run-off of pollutants and debris into urban creeks, streams and rivers.

No pun intended, but for most of us, wet weather problems ‘hit home’ when our basements flood…or when our commutes to work and school are disrupted and delayed, and when outdoor events and recreational activities get postponed or cancelled.   All the more reason why EPA, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Energy Coordinating Agency and the nonprofit Mt. Airy Art Garage teamed up to create this current EPA exhibit.

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

One of the rain barrels on display at the EPA exhibit

We want to foster greater awareness of the health, environmental, and economic benefits that can be gained by better managing potentially harmful rainwater runoff.  The Art and Science of Rain Barrels is one way our organizations are engaging Philadelphia residents in the City’s Green City, Clean Waters plan to transform many of Philadelphia’s traditional hardened surfaces to green areas, ultimately making local waters cleaner, and communities healthier, vibrant and more attractive places to live and work.

It’s been a little over a year since EPA and the City of Philadelphia embarked on this new Green City, Clean Waters partnership, and momentum and support for the plan’s goals continue to grow.  It’s exciting to see community-based organizations, regular citizens, and students jumping in to make a difference.  The City of Philadelphia is encouraging its residents to install rain barrels to reduce stormwater runoff.   A rain barrel is a structure that collects and stores stormwater runoff from rooftops. The collected rain water can be used for irrigation to water lawns, gardens, and street trees.   Although these systems store only a small volume of stormwater, collectively, they can be effective at preventing large volumes of runoff from entering the sewer system, potentially causing overflows and impairing local waterways.

That’s the message we want to drive home through our exhibit.  The display features two mock city row-homes, one which uses a traditional aluminum gutter and down spout to convey rainwater from the roof to the ground; the other which uses a rain barrel connected to the down spout to capture and store rainwater for beneficial use.

We’re grateful to our partners for loaning us other rain barrels that are on display, several of which are hand-painted or artfully designed by students and seniors from Philadelphia.  These unique rain barrels illustrate that these structures can be useful and appealing.

I encourage you to check out EPA’s Public Information Center rain barrel exhibit, located at our Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, M-F, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator responsible for ensuring the protection of human health and the environment in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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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Diving into Nutrients: How much is too much?

By Sean Sheldrake

An EPA diver kept isolated from contaminants.

An EPA diver kept isolated from contaminants.

There’s a nutrient “problem”?

Did you know nutrient pollution, primarily in the form of too much nitrogen and phosphorus, is one of the nation’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems?  Some 16,000 waterways are impaired, and 78 percent of assessed coastal waters suffer from nutrient pollution, affecting water used for drinking, fishing, swimming and other recreational purposes.  These impacts also threaten tourism, home and property values and public health.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are food for some plants, like algae, and too much can spark a large algal bloom that can end up consuming all the dissolved oxygen in a waterway, causing fish to be starved for that critical gasp of O2.  Fish die-offs are common with extreme nutrient problems.

Where does it come from?

Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus are often the result of human activities. Primary sources include agriculture (manure, excess fertilizer and soil erosion), inadequately treated wastewater, stormwater runoff, air pollution from burning fossil fuels and—us! Huh? Whenever we do things around the house that add nitrogen and phosphorus to the local watershed we are part of the problem. That can include not cleaning up after your dog, using too much fertilizer on the lawn or garden, or washing your car on the driveway (most soaps contain nutrients).

How can I help?

Washington Department of Ecology Image.

Washington Department of Ecology Image.

The good news is that since we are all part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution.

Bag the dog waste, apply fertilizer according to the label (or better yet, switch to using some backyard compost!) and park your car on the lawn instead of the driveway when you wash it, or go to a carwash. We can really make a dent in the problem.

How about a little science to help out?

But it’s not all up to individuals alone. EPA scientists are working on solutions, too.

EPA divers help deploy and retrieve scientific instruments, such as Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs), to help study nutrient pollution.  For example, in one project in Puget Sound we deployed ADCPs to collect information on water flow, a critical first step that EPA computer modelers use to calculate the level of nutrients a water body can tolerate.  Ensuring the proper placement for data collection is paramount for data quality.

EPA diver deploys an ADCP.

EPA diver deploys an ADCP.

Getting into the water can be a challenge though!  Divers may have to upgrade to protective equipment and do a decontamination wash after the dive to ensure the safety of each diver getting in the water to collect data.

Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

 

About the AuthorSean Sheldrake is part of the Seattle EPA Dive unit and is also a project manager working on the Portland Harbor cleanup in Oregon.  He serves on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements.  

Join us for a Twitter Chat to Learn More!
Got questions? Want to learn more? Join us for a Twitter chat this Thursday (July 18, 2013) at 2 pm ET on nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms. Use #waterchat to ask a question or participate. Not on Twitter but have a question? Please add it to the comments section below. 

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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