Monthly Archives: February 2014

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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Protecting Those That Need it Most

The American public depends on us to pursue serious violators of environmental laws and protect clean air, water and land on which we all depend. Nowhere is this more important than in the minority, low-income, and tribal communities overburdened by pollution. That’s why – as the Assistant Administrator with the honor of overseeing EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice – I’m proud to mark the close of Environmental Justice Month with some reflections on how enforcement has advanced the cause of justice for those most vulnerable to pollution.

Pursuing justice for overburdened communities is an essential part of our enforcement work – from the problems we select for enforcement attention, the violating facilities we address, the way we design relief to remedy violations and past harms, and our engagement with affected communities. We’ve developed methods to screen for potential environmental justice concerns and to determine how necessary enforcement actions can benefit communities.

Here are a few examples to help illustrate this:

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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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Celebrating an EPA Ethic of Public Service

In October of last year, EPA employees, along with hundreds of thousands of other federal employees, were furloughed due to a lapse in appropriations.  During the government shutdown, 94% of EPA staff was unable to do the important work that Americans depend on for a clean and healthy environment.

Our scientists and inspectors were prevented from keeping our air and water safe to breathe and drink. Vehicle certifications couldn’t be completed, industrial chemicals and pesticides couldn’t be evaluated, and hazardous waste sites couldn’t be cleaned. Small business couldn’t receive our assistance in learning about grants and loans to continue building our clean energy economy. And on a personal level, our employees and their families made tremendous sacrifices just to get by.

But through it all, I heard stories from furloughed EPA employees who volunteered in their communities, in food banks and shelters – still finding a way to give back. The stories were nothing short of amazing, which is why I’d like to share some of them. I’m so proud to work alongside the EPA community every day, including the tough ones. The creative, innovative work both inside and outside the Agency by EPA staff speaks for itself, and we’re going to continue to find ways to celebrate that work. Here’s a sample of those stories of compassion, perseverance, and volunteerism during the shutdown: 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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EPA Study Shows Poverty Is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease

Cross posted from Science category.

By Ann Brown

In 2008, lightning started a peat bog wildfire in eastern North Carolina. Dry peat is an organic material that makes a perfect fuel for fire. For weeks the fire smoldered, blanketing communities in 44 rural counties with toxic air pollutants that exceeded EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards at times. As a result, many people went to the emergency department with congestive heart failure, asthma and other health problems from smoke exposure as documented in an EPA study.

Untitled-1The wildfire provided a unique opportunity for researchers to evaluate the reasons behind the heart and respiratory problems caused from smoke exposure. They were interested in whether there are community characteristics than can be used to identify residents whose health might be at risk from wildfires or other sources of air pollution. What exactly did the communities along the Coastal Plain of North Carolina have in common?

Researchers analyzed daily rates of visits to the emergency departments during the fire event and community health factors such as access and quality of clinical care, health behaviors, socioeconomic factors and the characteristics of the physical environment. The findings, published in Environmental Health, indicate low socio-economic status alone can be used to determine if a community is at risk for congestive heart failure or other health problems observed. Low socio-economic status is a term used to describe a group of factors such as low income, inadequate education and safety concerns.

While the knowledge that people in poverty are at greater health risk from air pollution is not new, this study provides scientific evidence that a community’s socio-economic status can be used to identify those at greatest risk from air pollution. This is good news for the public health community and others interested in reaching people with heart or lung diseases who may be at risk of air pollution. This study and others being conducted across the country by epidemiologists are helping to find ways to address health problems in communities.

About the author: Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research 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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Water Justice and the Grand Cal

The Grand Calumet River after restoration work

The Grand Calumet River after restoration work

 

Not far from Chicago’s South Side Altgeld Gardens, where Hazel and Cheryl Johnson helped birth and nurture the critical work of environmental justice, meanders the Grand Calumet River.

The two branches of the Grand Cal come together to flow out through the Indiana Harbor Canal into Lake Michigan. These waterways are home for some of the heaviest industrial legacy pollutants in the country. Neighborhoods that line the river experience some of the toughest blight of any urban area. Some 90 percent of the river’s flow comes from municipal and industrial effluent, cooling and process water, and stormwater overflows.

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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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La EPA avanza a paso firme para proteger a los trabajadores agrícolas de nuestro país

022614 White House Julie-Chavez-Rodriguez_avatar_1393423968

Por Julie Chávez Rodríguez

Este blog fue publicado originalmente en el Blog de la Casa Blanca.

 

 

La semana pasada, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (Environmental Protection Agency, EPA) de los EE. UU. anunció una propuesta de enmienda de la Norma de Protección para el Trabajador con el fin de proteger a los dos millones de trabajadores agrícolas de nuestro país y sus familias de la exposición a los pesticidas.

Estoy orgullosa de que esta administración haya dado otro paso dirigido a proteger a los trabajadores agrícolas de nuestro país, una causa que se encuentra en el origen mismo de mi pasión por el servicio público. Mi héroe y mi abuelo, César Chávez, luchó sin tregua por los derechos de los trabajadores agrícolas: desde sueldos e indemnizaciones por riesgos laborales más altas hasta acceso a agua potable y medidas de protección contra los pesticidas.

El trabajo de mi abuelo se centró en la justicia y en asegurar que las personas trabajadoras y decentes fueran tratadas con el respeto y la dignidad que merecen todos los seres humanos. La Norma de Protección para el Trabajador de la EPA en su versión enmendada brindará a los trabajadores agrícolas medidas de protección de la salud similares a las que ya gozan otros trabajadores en otros empleos. La norma, que se aplica a las granjas, los bosques, los viveros y los invernaderos, no ha sido actualizada en 20 años y muchos estiman que las modificaciones se deberían haber llevado a cabo mucho antes.

Entre los cambios a la Norma de Protección para el Trabajador Agrícola (Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, WPS) propuestos por la EPA cabe mencionar los siguientes:

  • Capacitación anual obligatoria (en vez de una vez cada 5 años) para informar a los trabajadores agrícolas sobre las medidas de protección que brinda la ley, entre las que se incluyen las restricciones en la entrada a campos y zonas adyacentes fumigadas con pesticidas, los suministros de descontaminación, el acceso a información y el uso de equipos de protección personal. La ampliación de la capacitación incluirá instrucciones para reducir la contaminación del hogar causada por ropa de trabajo impregnada de pesticida y otros temas en materia de seguridad.
  • Ampliación de la colocación obligatoria de señales de prohibida la entrada para los pesticidas más peligrosos. Dichas señales prohíben la entrada a los campos fumigados con pesticidas hasta que los residuos disminuyan a un nivel aceptable.
  •  Requisito de edad mínima por primera vez en la historia: Con excepción de las granjas familiares, los niños menores de 16 años tendrán prohibida la manipulación de pesticidas.
  • Las nuevas zonas de separación con entrada prohibida de 25 a 100 pies alrededor de los campos fumigados con pesticidas protegerán a los trabajadores y a otras personas de la exposición al rociado excesivo y las emanaciones de los pesticidas.
  • Por primera vez en la historia, tanto los defensores y el personal médico de los trabajadores agrícolas como los trabajadores mismos tendrán acceso a la información de la etiqueta y de la aplicación de los pesticidas, así como a los datos de peligrosidad requeridos por la ley recientemente (todo lo cual se debe guardar por dos años en vez de por 30 días).
  • Registro obligatorio para mejorar la capacidad de los estados de hacer un seguimiento de las infracciones a las normas sobre pesticidas y exigir su cumplimento. Los archivos relativos a la información de peligrosidad y de pesticidas de aplicación específica, la capacitación de los trabajadores agrícolas y las notificaciones de entrada anticipada se deben guardar por dos años.

Esta propuesta representa más de una década de sugerencias de las partes interesadas a nivel federal y estatal y del sector agrícola, incluidos los trabajadores agrícolas, los granjeros y la industria. El núcleo de esta propuesta incluye enmiendas lógicas de gran importancia que ofrecen a los trabajadores la protección a la que tienen derecho, y reconoce, como ya lo hizo mi abuelo, que no podemos simplemente darle la espalda a la gente que ayuda a llevar la comida a nuestras mesas todos los días.

Como dijo el Presidente en el homenaje al Monumento Nacional César Chávez, “[César] tenía la convicción de que cuando un empleador trata a un trabajador de manera justa y humana, eso le da un mayor significado a los valores sobre los que se asienta este país y verosimilitud al argumento de que todos somos uno. Y él creía que siempre que los niños en todos los rincones de Estados Unidos puedan soñar con superar sus circunstancias,

Estados Unidos podrá soñar con superar sus circunstancias y trabajar para convertir en realidad ese sueño, y eso hace que el futuro de todos sea un poco más resplandeciente”.

Para obtener más información sobre la Norma de Protección para el Trabajador de la EPA: http://epa.gov/espanol/normativa/proteccionobrera/index.html

Julie Chávez Rodríguez es la Directora Adjunta de la Oficina de Enlace Público de la Casa Blanca

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 New Beginning: Headwater Research

By Marguerite Huber

I like beginnings. They are a fresh start and influence our lives further down the road. Just like how we have new beginnings, all rivers have influential beginnings too. In a network of rivers up in the mountains, headwater streams are the uppermost streams furthest from the river’s endpoint or merger with another stream. They are the very beginning of miles and miles of rivers and have a great impact on what flows downstream.headwaterstream

Headwater streams and their catchments, or drainage basins, are necessary for the maintenance of healthy and productive streams and rivers. Headwater catchments also provide numerous ecosystem services to humans and the surrounding environment. These benefits include biodiversity, climate regulation, recreation, timber and crop production, and water supply and purification.

EPA researchers studied the importance of headwater catchments by focusing on the quantity and value of a few ecosystem services, and then projected that importance from a regional to national scale. They focused on three ecosystem services (water supply, climate regulation, and water purification) for 568 headwater streams and their catchments.

To assess the potential economic value of headwater catchments’ ecosystem services, researchers used published economic value estimates based on commodity price (water supply), market value (climate regulation), and damage cost avoidance (water purification).

They found the economic value of each ecosystem service as follows:

  • $470,000 – The average yearly value of water supplied through each headwater catchment.
  • $553, 000 – The average yearly value of climate regulation (through carbon sequestration) of each headwater catchment.
  • $29,759,000 – The average yearly value of improving water quality by reducing nutrient pollution.

Overall, the weighted average economic value for headwater catchments in the United States was $31 million per year per catchment. It is essential to note that the national importance of headwater catchments is even higher since the 568 catchments studied are only a statistical representation of the more than 2 million headwater catchments in the continental United States. I think it’s safe to say these beginnings provide some serious benefits!

About the authorMarguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Motivation Meets Innovation in the Name of Water Conservation

California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts the state has ever seen—so smart water use matters more than ever before. Earlier this month, I visited Southern California to get a firsthand look at some of the largest and most successful efforts to reuse and recycle water in the country.

Nancy_OC

From left to right: Jim Colson, Environmental Compliance Manager, Orange County Sanitation District; Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water; Benita Best-Wong, Director of EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds; Mike Wehner, Assistant General Manager, Orange County Water District; and Dr. Robert Ghirelli, Assistant General Manager, Orange County Sanitation District. Photo credit: Jason Dadakis, Orange County Water District

 

One of the facilities I visited was the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System, which puts highly treated wastewater collected from the county’s sewer system—and that would otherwise be discharged into the Pacific Ocean—to beneficial use in the county’s water supply. Finding innovative ways for municipalities and businesses to use water is a priority for EPA. 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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The Art of the Natural Garden”

example of a native plant

example of a native plant

 

by Todd Lutte

  It’s once again time to experience that first “breath of spring” at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  A local tradition with international recognition, the Philadelphia Flower Show has been a prelude to spring for more than 150 years with EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region being a part of that tradition for more than two decades.  As one of the city’s most anticipated annual events, the Flower Show brings thousands of garden enthusiasts to the floors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in early March.

The theme for the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show is “ARTiculture…where art meets horticulture”.   The EPA exhibit is titled “L’Art du Jardin Natural” which translated is “The Art of the Natural Garden”.  The display showcases native plants, wetlands and sustainable landscaping techniques in a passive setting

Art and the natural world have forever been intertwined in the human imagination but our scientific understanding of the complexity of these beautiful places has only become its own field of study in more modern times. Through this study, we have learned that our rivers, streams, and wetlands are not just pretty pictures—they are dynamic ecosystems that continually respond to cues from climate patterns, local hydrology, invasive species, human disturbances, and many other factors.

The beauty of these wild places is founded upon resilience as an amazing number of plant and animal species have evolved to fill special ecological niches across very different habitat types. While these native species benefit from clean waters, they also enrich the whole ecosystem through functions that control and abet plant cover, sediment supply, water quality, flood control, and biodiversity.

The use  of native plants has many benefits, including relatively low maintenance, which saves both time and money.  Pollinators, beneficial insects, and other wildlife rely on native plants for food and habitat, and invasive species are less likely to colonize an area with an established native plant community.

If you’re in the area, stop by and experience “L’Art du Jardin Natural”.  The 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 1st   through Sunday, March 9th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia.

 

Todd Lutte is an EPA environmental scientist who works to enforce laws and regulations for the protection of wetlands. Todd is a key partner in creating EPA’s exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show

 

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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Sister Post: Net Zero Strategies – Partnering to Promote Sustainability

One of our sister blogs, EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership, recently shared a post featuring a Net Zero workshop in Research Triangle Park. We’ve included the first few paragraphs here (you can continue reading over on EPA Connect), and we’ve also included a few extra photos for your viewing pleasure. 

By EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe

How can communities reduce their water, waste, and energy footprints? How can they promote sustainable strategies at the local level while simultaneously fostering economic growth and promoting citizen health and well-being? I was recently given the opportunity to consider these questions alongside EPA scientists and community leaders and while observing cutting edge sustainability work.

This week, EPA scientists and community leaders from across the country came together at the Feb. 25-26 workshop “Promoting Sustainability through Net Zero Strategies.”

The workshop builds on the success of EPA’s Net Zero partnership with the U.S. Army. Started in 2011, the partnership aims to develop and demonstrate sustainable technologies and approaches in support of the Army’s ambitious goal to achieve zero energy and water consumption, and create no waste on its installations. Hence, the name: “Net Zero.”

Continue reading on the EPA Connect blog.

Deputy Administrator Perciasepe tours the solar roof of EPA’s current Research Triangle Park building with U.S. Representative David Price, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack, Stan Meiburg, and EPA employees Pete Schubert, Greg Eades, and Liz Deloatch.

Deputy Administrator Perciasepe tours the solar roof of EPA’s current Research Triangle Park building with U.S. Representative David Price, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack, Stan Meiburg, and EPA employees Pete Schubert, Greg Eades, and Liz Deloatch.

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe sitting on the Village Green bench. Learn more about Village Green at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/category/village-green-project/

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe sitting on the Village Green bench. Learn more about Village Green at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/category/village-green-project/

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and others listen to briefing on EPA’s new Research Triangle Park building that is incorporating sustainability principles.

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and others listen to briefing on EPA’s new Research Triangle Park building that is incorporating sustainability principles.

Read other It All Starts with Science blogs about Net Zero.

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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