Monthly Archives: April 2014

EPA in the Arctic

Ice breaking off the coast of Greenland. (Credit: Ben DeAngelo)

Ice breaking off the coast of Greenland. (Credit: Ben DeAngelo)

The Arctic is changing at a faster rate than the rest of the world. Warming air and sea temperatures mean melting ice, thawing permafrost, and unpredictable seasons. These changes in turn impact the marine and terrestrial ecosystems upon which many northern indigenous families depend for food, clothing, and shelter. My office works to engage these communities in building resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate, while at the same time, we are working at home and abroad to address the causes of these changes.

Supporting Alaska Native Villages means taking action at home and abroad to address the impacts of global warming. EPA leads efforts under the President’s Climate Action Plan and the National Strategy for the Arctic Region to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through domestic regulation, improve the monitoring and reporting of emissions, address sources of emissions with our international partners, and support capacity building for local governments, states, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities. 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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Refreshing…

The Enviroscape model

The Enviroscape model

By Amelia Jackson

In celebration of Earth Day this year, I had the opportunity to visit Mrs. Mulloy and Ms. Jackson’s 5th grade science class at Union Valley Elementary School in Sicklerville, NJ. (Yes, student teacher Jackson is my soon to be college grad-but that’s another blog). During the year, the class has been visited by many parents discussing their careers, to demonstrate why it’s important to study English, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. and provide a glimpse into a day in the life of an adult.

The discussion began with what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is, why it was formed, what we do and the various categories of careers that are needed to make it all work. I also engaged the services of the current Gloucester County Watershed Ambassador, Morgyn Ellis, who eagerly demonstrated the concepts of point and non-point source pollution in a watershed. To 5th graders, a lecture on this would seem boring, but they got to be hands on as Morgyn used Enviroscape, which is a 3D model town, complete with a residential area, factory, farm, park/golf course, roads, creeks, streams and a river. The kids used colored water and various candy pieces to represent different types of pollution, and made it ‘rain’ with a water spray bottle. They got the biggest kick out of using chocolate ice cream sprinkles to simulate various animal’s waste (remember they are 11 years old!) and to see where it all actually winds up after a storm.

I was impressed with the level of knowledge and environmental awareness the children possessed. They knew about aquifers, groundwater uses, watersheds, organic farming, ecosystems and how their actions affect the communities in which they live and play. They offered suggestions on what they and their families could do each day, including reduce, re-use, and recycle to assist in protecting our planet.

I was reminded of the eagerness and the ‘I can do anything’ attitude that is the very core of an 11 year old, and found it contagious. If you can, spend some time with kids and talk to them about our environment and what we do each day at work.  You too, will find it refreshing.

About the Author: Amelia Jackson serves as the Superfund Support Team Leader in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. Amelia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Rutgers University. Amelia’s career spans 26+ years with EPA in support of the regional Superfund Program in the areas of quality assurance, field sampling and laboratory analysis.

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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Earth Month Tip: Wash your clothes in cold water

Washing your clothes in cold water is an easy way to save energy and prevent carbon pollution. Hot water heating accounts for about 90 percent of the energy your machine uses to wash clothes — only 10 percent goes to electricity used by the washer motor.

Depending on the clothes and local water quality (hardness), many homeowners can effectively do laundry exclusively with cold water, using cold water laundry detergents. Switching to cold water can save the average household as much as $40 annually.

Much like running the dishwasher with only a full load [link to dishwasher post], washing clothing in full loads can save more than 3,400 gallons of water each year!

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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Check Your AQI IQ: It’s Air Quality Awareness Week

After the winter that felt like it would not end, the weather is finally warming up in many parts of the country. And now that we can get outside without freezing, many of us are exercising more and sending our children out to play, a step that’s great for improving our health. But there’s another step we can take to protect our health, and this week is the perfect time to start: That’s paying attention to air quality.

This week is Air Quality Awareness Week  – the week each spring when we join with our partners at the CDC, NOAA and at state, local and tribal air agencies to remind people to use the Air Quality Index (AQI)  to reduce their exposure to air pollution. Even for those of us who check air quality regularly, this is a good time to refresh our knowledge of how to use the AQI to plan our outdoor activities. When air quality is good – get outside and play or exercise. When it’s not, change the type or length of your activity, or plan it for a day or time when air quality is expected to be better. 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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Water Monitoring Innovation Thrives in Clusters

By Ryan Connair

close up of waterfallThis year’s National Water Quality Monitoring Conference is being held this week in Cincinnati, Ohio. The conference will bring together hundreds of professionals from the water industry to talk about water quality monitoring and share information about new monitoring approaches and technologies.

Cincinnati is a perfect venue for a conference on water monitoring. Not only is it home to the largest federal water research facility, it also serves as the hub of the water technology cluster Confluence. Covering the Ohio River Valley (southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana), Confluence “stems from an EPA initiative that recognizes the importance of harnessing regional expertise to encourage economic development, and environmental and human health protection,” according to its website.

Confluence’s goal is to connect water researchers, businesses, universities, and others in the region to exchange ideas and forge partnerships. The result is more innovative water technologies, including new monitoring technologies.

Here are a few of the water quality monitoring projects flowing from Confluence members:

  • The University of Cincinnati is working to establish a Miami Valley Groundwater Observatory. The Observatory would consist of a series of monitoring wells in the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer System. The wells will serve as a testbed for real-time, wireless water quality sensors. The data collected by the sensors will be useful for modeling groundwater conditions in aquifers and similar water sources across the country.
  • EPA is working with local startup Urbanalta Technologies and the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC) to develop novel sewer flow sensors that can measure flow during heavy rains, helping to pinpoint the locations of combined sewer overflows.
  • MSDGC, Northern Kentucky Sanitation District 1 (NKSD1), and the consulting firm Stantec worked with EPA on an InnoCentive challenge on sensors for combined sewer overflows. Both sewer districts have expressed interest in testing the winning technologies—which will be featured in our next blog post tomorrow morning.
  • University of Cincinnati graduate student Jacob Shidler has started a company, Liquid, to continue developing an app that will let scientists enter water quality data on the spot and upload it to the cloud. His app will make it easier for many people to contribute to a single data set, empowering citizen scientists.

These are only a few examples of the innovative water quality monitoring work coming out of Confluence—and it isn’t the only water technology cluster in the United States. EPA is currently working with more than a dozen water cluster initiatives across the country. We’re excited to see what else they come up with!

About the Author: Ryan Connair supports EPA’s Environmental Technology Innovation Clusters program and works closely with Cincinnati’s Confluence.

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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Schools, Children’s Health and the Environment

By Shao Lin and Christine Kielb

How do environmental hazards and policies affect children’s health and school performance?

Group photo of health schools research team

Healthy Schools Group, from L to R: Melissa Frisbee , Nazia Saiyed, Christine Kielb, Cristian Pantea, Amanda St. Louis, Michele Herdt-Losavio, Neil Muscatiello, Shao Lin.

Thanks to support from the EPA Science To Achieve Results (STAR) program, we explored those questions. Our project is the first to addresses multiple aspects of environmental health and schools, such as developing indicators related to school locations, and how to develop methodologies for assessing and improving school health.

With EPA support, we are: 1) developing and enhancing Environmental Public Health Indicators (EPHI) representing environmental hazards, children’s school performance, and health; 2) exploring new methodologies for assessing exposure sources; 3) assessing how school environments, along with location and socio-economic status affect children’s health; and 4) evaluating the effectiveness of efforts to protect children’s environmental health in New York, such as the New York State Clean air School Bus Program and school bus idling regulations.

EPA support also enabled us to extend or continue our previous activities, including: tracking how school building conditions and asthma hospitalizations change over time in New York; surveying school nurses, custodians, district facility directors, and teachers to identify environmental problems—and potential solutions—facing schools; and examining how the surrounding neighborhood, specifically a school’s proximity to facilities such as hazardous waste sites, major roads, or airports might increase childhood asthma risk. We also assessed the impacts of healthy school characteristics related to indoor air quality, ventilation, cleanliness, thermal comfort, lighting and acoustics on student attendance, academic performance, and respiratory health.

Image of a schoolWe found some important results. For example, our work showed an association between missed school days and certain poor conditions in the school: visible mold, humidity, poor ventilation, and vermin. Having six or more individual such building-related problems was also associated with student absenteeism. Further, these associations were strongest among schools in lower socioeconomic districts, and in schools attended by younger students. We also found district-level childhood asthma hospitalizations to be related to poor condition of roofing, windows, exterior wall, floor finishes, and boiler or furnace.

When looking at air quality, we found that the control policy for nitrogen oxides (NOx) may have had a positive impact on both state-wide and regional air pollution levels and respiratory health. The positive effect varied by children with different types of respiratory diseases, region, and socio-demographic characteristics.

Our EPA-supported research is providing important data and information, informing our work developing and implementing a sustainable school environmental health program for New York State. We have shared our findings with a Steering Committee consisting of approximately 50 key school environmental health stakeholders, including superintendents, facilities managers, teachers, state agencies, physicians and advocacy groups, and have been working on plans to address existing and emerging environmental problems challenging schools. With these efforts well under way, we fully expect our findings to lead to healthier students, teaches, and other school occupants throughout New York.    

About the Authors: EPA grantee Dr. Shao Lin (MD, Ph.D.), has more than 20 years of experience directing environmental studies, including climate/weather factors, air pollution, heavy traffic exposure, residential exposure to urban air pollution, health effects among New York City residents living near Ground Zero, and a series of school environmental health projects.

Christine  Kielb has worked as an epidemiologist in the area of school environmental health since 2002, and has coordinated various school environmental health projects. She has played a major role in developing, conducting and analyzing surveys of school nurses, custodians facilities managers, and teachers regarding school environments and 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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In Communities across America, Buildings Save Money and Cut Carbon Pollution with Energy Star

Did you know that the energy used in commercial buildings accounts for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions? That adds up to more than $100 billion in energy costs per year! More companies across America are recognizing that energy efficiency is a simple and effective way to save money and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. With help from Energy Star, facility owners and managers are improving the energy efficiency of their buildings and businesses, while at the same time increasing their property value, providing better service, and making their communities more desirable places to live. In fact, since 1999, ENERGY STAR certified buildings have saved more than $3.1 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use from 2.2 million homes.

April is Earth Month, a great time to showcase the importance of energy-efficient buildings by announcing EPA’s Top Cities for Energy Star certified buildings and the winners of our annual National Building Competition.

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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Deep Impact

Research to support environmental justice is a priority for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. To highlight that important work, we are reposting the following from the Environmental Justice in Action blog.

 

By Gelena Constantine

Learning about environmental justice is much more than participating in meetings or sending e-mails. To fully understand what communities are experiencing first-hand, you have to experience it. That’s why I embarked on a learning opportunity with EPA’s Region 3 Philadelphia Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice (OECEJ) last summer to learn how the elements of environmental justice, science, and technology coalesce in communities.

My first day consisted of the typical introductions. I met with the Region’s Counsel, Danny Isales, who advises OECEJ on multi-media enforcement issues, many involving environmental justice. At that time, Danny was providing input on a new enforcement case involving a compost center that takes in food waste and places it into large piles for composting. The size of the compost and outdoor temperature created an overpowering odor for the neighboring community.

Truck parked at a composting facility

Mountains of material waiting to be processed.

When I drove by the facility with other EPA personnel, the stench was definitely apparent from a distance, and I could see its proximity to the community. There were mountains of material that also included more plastic bags than I could count. We were followed and approached by a worker from another company in a pick-up truck. He inquired about our actions, and once we shared that we were from EPA and what had been reported, he proceeded to share his unfortunate experiences with the foul smell. According to him, “…depending on the wind direction, some days you’d be knocked off your feet.” It was interesting to see that it wasn’t just the residents that were being affected, but the neighboring workers were as well.

 

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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¿Tiene una pregunta sobre el asma?

Por Jessica Orquina

 El asma es una enfermedad crónica seria que se agrava debido a desencadenantes ambientales como la contaminación, el moho, y el humo. He aquí algunos datos básicos:

  • Estadounidenses que padecen asma: sobre 25 millones de personas, incluyendo unos 7 millones de niños
  • Ausencias escolares por motivo del asma: 10.5 millones de días ausentes anualmente.

 Las buenas nuevas son que con el tratamiento médico y el manejo de los desencadenantes ambientales, el asma se puede controlar. Eso significa que muchos asmáticos pueden vivir una vida sana y activa. Sin embargo, es importante que tengan un plan de acción y presten atención al ĺndice de Calidad de Aire. La Semana de Concienciación sobre el ĺndice de Calidad de Aire  es del 28 de abril al 2 de mayo. Además, mayo es el Mes de Concientización sobre el Asma, por lo tanto, es un bueno momento para hablar acerca del asma e informarse.

El jueves, 1 de mayo a las 2:00pm EDT, auspiciaremos un chat de Twitter sobre el asma y la calidad de aire interior. Nuestros expertos se unirán a expertos de los CDC para responder a sus preguntas sobre el asma, la calidad de aire, y cómo crear un plan de acción de asma. Participe en la conversación: siga la etiqueta #asma, @EPAespanol, @EPAlive y @CDCenvironment. Si no tiene una cuenta de Twitter, puede plantear sus preguntas en los comentarios a continuación y siga la etiqueta #asma durante el chat. Esperamos poder conversar con ustedes.

Acerca de la autora: Jessica Orquina trabaja en la Oficina de Asuntos Externos y Educación Ambiental como la principal encargada de los medios sociales para la agencia. Antes de unirse a la EPA, sirvió como piloto militar y de aerolíneas comerciales. Ella vive, trabaja y escribe en Washington, DC.

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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Earth Month Tip: Try Energy Star's Home Energy Yardstick

Energy Star’s Home Energy Yardstick provides a simple assessment of your home’s annual energy use compared to similar homes. Plug in a few details about your home to get your home’s energy score and learn how to improve your score and cut carbon pollution.

By answering a few basic questions about your home, you can learn:

  • Your home’s Home Energy Yardstick score (on a scale of 1 to 10);
  • Insights into how much of your home’s energy use is related to heating and cooling versus other everyday uses like appliances, lighting, and hot water;
  • Links to guidance from Energy Star on how to increase your home’s score, improve comfort, and lower utility bills; and
  • An estimate of your home’s annual carbon emissions.

With recommendations from Energy Star, you can save as much as 20% annually on your energy bills and cut carbon pollution.

Learn more: https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=HOME_ENERGY_YARDSTICK.showGetStarted

More tips: http://www.epa.gov/earthday/actonclimate/

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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