Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Best and the Brightest, #NewEnglandFall

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 Jeanethe Falvey

Everything is starting to taste like pumpkin, the fancy squash are out on the streets, and the cool air is bringing on thoughts of apple crisp and pie. Summer wasn’t even over on the calendar before I overdid it on the maple sugar candy. Fall is simply glorious in New England, thank goodness. Summer’s end would be downright depressing if it weren’t for the vivid tones that will soon overtake our landscape and the scent of cinnamon and spice everywhere.

Photo of fall leaves by Jeanethe Falvey, Cannon Mountain, NH

Photo by Jeanethe Falvey, Cannon Mountain, NH

The summer bunches are already replaced with early “leaf peepers.” Contrary to popular thought, these are not tiny toads, but larger, two-legged beings. You can spot them donning elongated bifocals and the latest flannel fashions from our finest outdoors outfitters. Peak season for sightings is between September and November.

We’re proud of our leaves, it’s true. So, from the Boston office, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating and embracing this beautiful time of year by sharing your photos with State of the Environment. This has been an ongoing EPA documentary of our environment today, created by your photos. While the project is not just about what’s beautiful, rather about what’s real, they’re often the same thing.

We’ll share our favorite submissions here over the coming weeks, and we have a sneaking suspicion they’ll also be shared at www.epa.gov/stateoftheenvironment as well. We do, after all, have a homegrown advantage …

Join us to document the best and brightest of our #NewEnglandFall. Here’s how: _________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Take your camera or camera-phone next time you go apple-picking, pumpkin-patching, scenic-carpooling.
  2. Sign up for Flickr (it’s free) and go to www.flickr.com/groups/ourenvironment
  3. Click “Join Group.”
  4. Upload your photos and follow the guide below to share your favorites with us.
  5. Please put #NewEnglandFall in the title, description, or as a tag. This will help us locate it among the many other photos flying in from around the world. You can also tell us where the photo was taken.

Note: if you’re new to Flickr, it may take a few days for your friends to see the photo in the group. This is a normal, Flickr thing and it’s simply to verify that your account is sharing appropriate photos. _________________________________________________________________________________
In Flickr, your uploaded photos will look like this (below). The three-dot option to the right opens up the option to share further into the Flickr-sphere.

Photo of how to use Flickr.

We look forward to seeing your splendid shots. Please let us know here if you have questions or comments. In the meantime, enjoy the slideshow below: scenes from our world today, thanks to you.

State of the Environment is open to pictures of our lives and planet as you see it. Individual scenes, taken together, build the larger picture of our environment today. Photos taken from 2011 until the end of 2013 may be submitted on Flickr. All levels of photography experience and skill are welcome.

State of the Environment is open to pictures of our lives and planet as you see it. Individual scenes, taken together, build the larger picture of our environment today. Photos taken from 2011 until the end of 2013 may be submitted on Flickr. All levels of photography experience and skill are welcome.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead, writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, and is having her fill of pumpkin lattes in Boston, Massachusetts.

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 a White House Google+ Hangout with Energy Secretary Moniz & EPA Administrator McCarthy Moderated by Grist

UPDATE: Due to scheduling conflicts, today’s Google+ hangout with Administrator McCarthy and Secretary Moniz has been cancelled.

Cross-posted from the The White House Blog

By Erin Lindsay, White House

Less than three months ago, President Obama delivered an address at Georgetown University that underscored the moral obligation we have to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The President issued a Climate Action Plan for his second term that laid out commonsense steps to reduce carbon pollution and address the effects of climate change both here and across the globe.

Today, the Administration issued a Climate Action Plan progress report detailing important implementation milestones on everything from cutting carbon pollution, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change and ways we are leading global efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, advance international negotiations and promoting new actions to promote energy efficiency. Check out highlights from our progress since the President announced the Climate Action Plan.

Want to know more about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan? Join us Monday, September 23rd at 12:15 p.m. EDT for a White House Google+ Hangout with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, and moderated by Lisa Hymas, Senior Editor of Grist.org.

During the Hangout, Secretary Moniz and Administrator McCarthy will answer questions from the public about the progress underway to implement the President’s plan. You can participate and and ask your question by visiting Grist.org or on Twitter using the hashtag #ActOnClimate.

Here are the details:

Don’t forget to tune into the Hangout live at 12:15 p.m. EDT on Monday, September 23rd on WhiteHouse.gov/ClimateHangout or on the White House Google+ page.

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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Closing the Carpet Loop(hole)

My children are teenagers now, but it seems like yesterday they were toddlers crawling around on the carpet.   It makes you wonder about children’s exposure to  the chemicals that make up the synthetic materials in carpets.  While most of these chemicals pose no risk to human health or the environment (due to their properties and how they are used in the making of consumer products), some do.

Some chemicals used in carpets to resist soil and stains have been found to persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans and animals— posing potential long-term health risks. More

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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Evaluating Studies to Understand if a Chemical Causes Cancer

IRIS graphic identifier

By Kacee Deener

When friends ask me what I do, I always mention the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program and explain that through IRIS, EPA scientists help protect public health by evaluating scientific information on the health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants.  The questions inevitably come up—how do you do that, and what kind of information do you look at?

Scientists around the world contribute to the knowledgebase about the health effects of chemicals.  A particular area of interest has been chemicals’ potential to cause cancer.

Because EPA’s work must be grounded in the best possible science, we recently updated how we consider some of the cancer research of the Ramazzini Institute (RI), a laboratory in Italy known throughout the world for their extensive work in this area, completing cancer studies for more than 200 compounds.

A few years ago, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) identified differences of opinion between their own scientists and those from the Ramazzini Institute in diagnosing certain types of cancers in a study on methanol.  The scientific community—including EPA—was concerned, since Ramazzini data was included in IRIS evaluations.  We reviewed all of our IRIS assessments to determine which, if any, relied substantially on RI data; we found four that did, and we put those assessments on hold.

To follow up, EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences cosponsored a group of scientists with expertise in evaluating tissue samples and making disease diagnoses, a Pathology Working Group (PWG), to review several Ramazzini Institute studies. They found some instances where respiratory infections in Ramazzini study animals made definitive diagnoses difficult, and disagreed with some Ramazzini diagnoses, primarily certain leukemias and lymphomas that had been identified. Therefore, EPA decided not to rely on RI data on lymphomas and leukemias in IRIS assessments. There was agreement, though, in diagnosing solid tumors, and EPA decided to continue to consider Ramazzini Institute solid tumor data in IRIS assessments.

This has been an important issue in the world of chemical risk assessment. Last week, this was highlighted once again when a paper authored by EPA scientists, Scientific Considerations for Evaluating Cancer Bioassays Conducted by the Ramazzini Institute, was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.  The article interprets Ramazzini Institute study results and compares their testing protocols with those used by other federal agencies.  The results were consistent with the PWG findings—Ramazzini Institute results for cancer endpoints other than lymphoma and leukemias, and some cases of tumors of the inner ear and cranium, are generally consistent with those of the National Toxicology Program and other laboratories.  The paper also notes that, while differences in Ramazzini Institute testing protocols can complicate the interpretation of study results, they may also provide chemical risk assessors with insights that might not be observed in other laboratories.

The short answer to my friends’ questions is that EPA works to use the best available science—from across the U.S. and around the world—to support IRIS and our other assessments designed to protect public health.

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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Helping Make Our Estuaries “Climate-Ready”

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Mellissa Brosius EPA works with coastal managers to assess climate change vulnerabilities, develop and implement adaptation strategies, and engage and educate stakeholders

By Mellissa Brosius
EPA works with coastal managers to assess climate change vulnerabilities, develop and implement adaptation strategies, and engage and educate stakeholders

By Ashley Brosius

For as far back as I can remember, my family has vacationed at our beach house in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The house sits just one block from the beach and abuts the channel, so we have gorgeous views on all sides of the wraparound porch.

As I grew up, my personal interests in the natural environment led me to my professional pursuits in environmental protection. Working with the EPA Climate Ready Estuaries program continues to drive home the need to adapt to our changing climate, such as adjusting to rising water levels. Taking action is especially important in low lying coastal communities like the one that includes my family beach home. My mother often speaks of leaving the house to me some day, but I wonder if it will still be standing in 15-20 years.

Yet, my work with Climate Ready Estuaries has been encouraging. Our team works with the National Estuary Program and coastal managers to figure out where climate change could cause problems, create plans to handle them, and educate everyone affected. National Estuary Program staff are already out there working with coastal communities so they can better adapt and become more resilient to the myriad of potential impacts of climate change. For example, the work being done by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program is helping to raise awareness of regional climate impacts. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program is working to limit climate impacts by estimating vulnerabilities. There are also many regional and city-specific adaptation efforts underway, like the Southeast Florida regional climate change compact and New York City’s adaptation plan.

But, most encouraging of all are the efforts underway to make progress on the White House Climate Action Plan. These local projects will receive guidance and resources from programs like the one I work on every day. I know the likelihood is slim that our family vacation home will still be standing 250 years from now. At least I know that our country is taking steps to preserve the broader community and make it more resilient for the tough road ahead.

This year, go make some memories of your own by celebrating the 25th anniversary of National Estuaries Day on September 28, 2013!

About the author: Ashley Brosius is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant working in EPA’s office of water in the Climate Ready Estuaries program.

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

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Flexing Freshwater Mussels in the Delaware

Reposted from Healthy Waters for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region

By Matt Colip

It takes more than the brute strength of legislation to clean up America’s waterways.  The complex process of aquatic ecosystem cleanup requires many tools, including one of nature’s most powerful muscles: her freshwater mussels.

That’s what the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) – assisted by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Dive Unit – set out to assess during a late summer freshwater mussel survey in a tidal section of the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

Freshwater mussels are bivalves similar to oysters and clams.  But, unlike oysters and clams, freshwater mussels live in inland streams, and provide valuable benefits including strengthening streambeds by keeping soils in place and providing food and habitat needed by other animals and plants.  As filter-feeders, mussels also clean the water in which they live by sucking water in and trapping solids such as dirt, algae and other pollutants, then releasing the clean filtered water back into the environment.

Being in the tidal area of the Delaware River as a scientific diver was an interesting experience. The water was not clear and flow rates were very high due to tidal fluctuation.  In these conditions, I couldn’t help but think, “There’s no way there are mussels down here.”  Despite my suspicions, when I reached the river bottom, sure enough, there were mussels everywhere, thriving and filtering the ambient water!

Freshwater mussel survey

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey.

Ultimately, the survey, in addition to confirming the existence of an abundant freshwater mussel population in a very urbanized section of the Delaware River and providing valuable scientific data, gave me a newfound appreciation for what I used to only consider a tasty added protein to a pasta dish at a restaurant.*

For more information about freshwater mussels in the Delaware River, please visit the PDE’s website.  Read more about EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

*EPA is not endorsing the consumption of oysters, clams and mussels in the wild.   Please refer to the National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines associated with regulating the handling, processing and distribution of mussels prior to consumption.

 

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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3rd Helping of Acronym Soup – CAA

By Jeffery Robichaud

About six months ago I brought you  the first installment of a series about Environmental Regulations  – an article about the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  My intention was to circle through several of our Nation’s environmental laws.  Shawn Henderson helped me out in May with another Acronym Soup post about the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  Unfortunately, the summer proved busier than I expected, but I’m here to Clear the Air (pun intended).cover_sm

We really think of the modern Clean Air Act (CAA) as dating back to 1970 the same year as the birth of the Agency itself, even though there was CAA seven years earlier in 1963 which focused mostly on research.  The CAA shifted the nation’s approach to addressing air pollution by  authorizing the development of comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from both industrial and mobile sources of air pollution.  The CAA begot four major programs all with their own now familiar acronyms: the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), State Implementation Plans (SIPs), New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs).  You can read about each of these programs and subsequent amendments to the CAA here or check out the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act by clicking on the cover image to the right.

We previously shared information about the AirNow website and AirData both which are great resources to visit to find out information about the quality of air in your neighborhood.  There are some pretty powerful analytical tools on AirData which even allow you to graphically display daily air quality over the course of a year in the metropolitan area of interest to you.  Below I pulled up a graph of PM10 and Ozone (2 criteria pollutants under the CAA) in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area for 2012.  You can see how ozone becomes more problematic as the summer begins, while PM 10 is fairly consistent throughout the year.

omaha

For the geospatial enthusiasts among you, it is possible to download csv files of all of the air monitoring stations across the country at the bottom of this page. You can download the data for each site of interest through the mapping application on the same page, or return to AirData and click on the download data button to download multiple sites within a state or metropolitan area.

monstationsmap

Unlike the days prior to the establishment of the Clean Air Act, air pollution today is often difficult to see.  These new tools should help you to see what is going on across the country and outside your window.

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.  He has successfully transitioned mowing duties to his oldest son, who now receives the strange stares from passers-by who gawk at the family’s electric mower, purchased several years ago to help air quality in the Kansas City area.

 

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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Do Your Part, Be SepticSmart!

By Maureen Tooke

When you think of infrastructure, you typically think of roads, right? But there is a hidden infrastructure we all tend to forget about since it’s underground: our drinking water and wastewater systems. Unless there’s a water main break or a septic system failure, people don’t tend to think much about them.

In my eight years working in EPA’s onsite wastewater treatment (aka septic) program, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about our nation’s water infrastructure. I’ve also learned a great deal about this country’s reliance septic systems, which treat wastewater onsite instead of sending it down the sewer to a treatment plant. About a quarter of U.S. households and a third of all new construction – both domestic and commercial – rely on these kinds of systems.

Today’s onsite systems aren’t like the one I grew up on. These advanced treatment technologies are able to treat wastewater to levels that protect the environment similar to traditional sewer systems. They’re also able to treat large volumes of wastewater from many homes through the use of cluster systems. As the nation’s population continues to grow, and as cash-strapped rural and small communities look for viable, effective methods to treat wastewater, septic systems will continue to play a critical role in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.

Low-income and rural communities, especially in the South (with 46% of the nation’s septic systems), are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to adequate wastewater treatment. This creates an environmental justice concern.
For homes with septic systems, proper septic system maintenance is vital to protecting public health and keeping water clean. When homeowners don’t maintain their septic systems, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows. That can mean costly repairs, polluted local waterways, and risks to public health and the environment.

To help raise awareness about the need to properly care for septic systems, and to encourage homeowners to do their part, this week we’re hosting the first SepticSmart Week, September 23-27. By taking small steps to maintain home septic systems, homeowners not only help keep their communities safe, but can save money and protect property values.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She lives across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, where she kayaks and bikes regularly.

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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Mi comunidad se enverdece

Por  Lina Younes

Recientemente estaba leyendo el semanario que cubre eventos comunitarios en vecindarios en el Condado de Prince George’s en Maryland donde resido. Me alegré de ver cuatro artículos sobre cuatro asuntos totalmente diferentes que reseñaban los últimos esfuerzos de sostenibilidad en el condado. Déjenme explicarles.

El primer artículo mencionó que el Condado de Prince George’s ahora tiene su primer planificador de sostenibilidad cuya función principal consiste en alentar a los residentes y a los pequeños negocios a ahorrar energía, adoptar prácticas sostenibles, organizar eventos ambientales y de alcance público. El propósito no es tan solo alentar a los empresarios a ser verdes sino a los individuos también.

El segundo artículo destacó que una de las piscinas en el condado está tratando de ser más ecológica al instalar un sistema de paneles solares. La instalación de este sistema de energía renovable es tan solo una de las iniciativas verdes adoptadas por la comunidad. También tienen varios barriles de lluvia para recolectarla y almacenar dicha agua. Esperamos que esta iniciativa verde se extienda a otras piscinas e instalaciones deportivas en el área.  El artículo cita uno de los líderes comunitarios diciendo que “el hecho que realmente estamos ahorrando dinero, es algo positivo adicional”. ¡Muy buena actitud!

El tercer artículo reveló una reciente encuesta que clasificó la Universidad de Maryland de College Park, una de las universidades a las cuales asistieron dos de mis hijos, como la 13ra más verde en la nación y el cuarto artículo trataba sobre un importante proyecto de tránsito público vislumbrado para el 2020 que tendrá beneficios ambientales y económicos para el condado para generaciones venideras.

Como destacó nuestra administradora Gina McCarthy en los temas de acción de la EPA recientemente, la Agencia está trabajando mano a mano con sus socios federales, estatales, tribales y las comunidades locales “para mejorar la salud de las familias en este país y para proteger el medio ambiente comunidad a comunidad a través de todo el país”.  La EPA tiene una variedad de programas que fomentan la sostenibilidad y prácticas verdes en comunidades como la Iniciativa de Aguas Urbanas,  el programa de Brownfields de la EPA, que exhorta a comunidades y partes interesadas clave a colaborar para prevenir la contaminación, limpiar las comunidades de manera segura y promueve el uso sostenible de los terrenos, y también tiene el programa de justicia ambiental.

En esencia, las acciones que tomamos en el hogar, en la escuela, en la oficina, y en nuestras comunidades tienen un impacto en nuestra comunidad y nuestro medio ambiente global. El ser verde, el adoptar prácticas ecológicas no es una moda pasajera, es un imperativo para todos. Esa es mi humilde opinión. ¿Ustedes, qué piensan?

 

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.

Flexing Freshwater Mussels in the Delaware

By Matt Colip

It takes more than the brute strength of legislation to clean up America’s waterways.  The complex process of aquatic ecosystem cleanup requires many tools, including one of nature’s most powerful muscles: her freshwater mussels.

That’s what the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) – assisted by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Scientific Dive Unit – set out to assess during a late summer freshwater mussel survey in a tidal section of the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

Freshwater mussels are bivalves similar to oysters and clams.  But, unlike oysters and clams, freshwater mussels live in inland streams, and provide valuable benefits including strengthening streambeds by keeping soils in place and providing food and habitat needed by other animals and plants.  As filter-feeders, mussels also clean the water in which they live by sucking water in and trapping solids such as dirt, algae and other pollutants, then releasing the clean filtered water back into the environment.

Being in the tidal area of the Delaware River as a scientific diver was an interesting experience. The water was not clear and flow rates were very high due to tidal fluctuation.  In these conditions, I couldn’t help but think, “There’s no way there are mussels down here.”  Despite my suspicions, when I reached the river bottom, sure enough, there were mussels everywhere, thriving and filtering the ambient water!

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey

Recording data during the freshwater mussel survey

Ultimately, the survey, in addition to confirming the existence of an abundant freshwater mussel population in a very urbanized section of the Delaware River and providing valuable scientific data, gave me a newfound appreciation for what I used to only consider a tasty added protein to a pasta dish at a restaurant.

For more information about freshwater mussels in the Delaware River, please visit the PDE’s website.  Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at facebook.com/EPADivers.

 

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s NPDES Enforcement Branch and focuses primarily on enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

*EPA is not endorsing the consumption of oysters, clams and mussels in the wild.   Please refer to the National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines associated with regulating the handling, processing and distribution of mussels prior to consumption.

 

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.