Monthly Archives: May 2014

Students Lead the Way on Climate Change

In recognition of Asthma Awareness month, we recently had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando where we were greeted by a group of incredibly knowledgeable and passionate students enthusiastic about environmental issues. Our discussion ranged from upcoming legislation and the role of EPA in improving air and water quality to pollution and how we can live healthier, cleaner lives, especially with growing threats from climate change.

The juniors and seniors at Dr. Phillips high school explained to us how they were learning to reduce pollution and environmental health concerns such as asthma.  These kids are doing great work, but Orlando, is not the only place where these students can be found. College Board Statistics showed that at least 118,000 students were enrolled in AP Environmental Science (APES) classes across the country in 2013, which is 10,000 more students than the year before. Interest in the environment is growing among this demographic at an amazing rate. 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: Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country

Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Making a visible difference in communities is at the heart of EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. It is what drives our workforce to go above and beyond to find that “difference” that improves the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country. Last month, I invited EPA employees to share stories of the creative and innovative approaches that they have used to educate, engage and empower American families and communities in environmental protection. I’d like to share some of their stories with you with the hope that you too will be inspired to make a difference in your community. 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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Air Quality and Your Summer Vacation Outdoors

by Susan Stone

Air quality in the United States has improved considerably.  But, summertime air quality can still reach the unhealthy ranges of the Air Quality Index (AQI) – even in remote locations such as our beautiful national parks. Picture this: you’re camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (one of my favorites). You’re ready to take your kids hiking for the day, and you see a sign announcing a park-wide ozone advisory.

ozone

One of your teenagers has asthma. What can you do?

The first step is to check the daily AQI. I check the AQI forecast and current conditions before any hike by entering the zip code into the free AirNow app on my phone. In a national park, you can check with the park rangers if you don’t have the app.  Then use the AQI to help decide whether to change or restrict your activities — something that’s especially important if you’re in a group at greater risk from ozone exposure.

For example, when my children were younger, I didn’t take them on long hikes if ozone levels were Code Orange or above. Children, including teenagers, are considered to be at greater risk from ozone because their lungs are still developing. And children with asthma are at the greatest risk because ozone can cause or increase inflammation in airways.

Asthma is a disease characterized by airway inflammation. It’s this inflammation that can trigger an asthma attack, and it’s inflammation that your child’s asthma action plan is designed to prevent or limit. As ozone levels increase from Code Orange to Code Red on the AQI, it’s more important to limit prolonged, or strenuous, outdoor activities. Take more rest breaks and always pay attention to symptoms. This same approach ensures that kids can engage in outdoor activities safely at school, while still encouraging them to achieve the recommended 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day.

So, if today’s ozone AQI forecast in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Code Red (unhealthy for everyone), the park ranger may recommend that your entire family avoid prolonged, intense activities today and engage in activities at the more sheltered, lower elevation areas of the park rather than the exposed ridgetops. You could plan your more strenuous hike for the next day, when the ozone forecast is Code Yellow. If you were planning to hike the Alum Cave Bluff Trail on the way to Mt. LeConte, a moderately strenuous trail that rises 2,900 feet to 6,400 feet, you could change your plans to visit Cades Cove, a broad valley that offers the widest variety of historic buildings in the park.

cove

Walking around the historical sites in the valley would allow your family to continue enjoying your outdoor vacation, but keep activity levels low enough to avoid unhealthy air pollution exposures.

Check your daily AQI and download the free AirNow app: www.airnow.gov

About the author: Susan Stone is a Senior Environmental Health Scientist who likes to hike, especially in national parks and North Carolina state parks. Her most recent national parks visit was to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. She checked the AQI as part of her hiking plans and had a great time.

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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How Did You Celebrate Earth Day?

By Diane Simunek

Bird Feeder 9000

“Bird Feeder 9,000″

Earth Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, because adequate celebrations require little more than a walk through the park. A bike ride or a hike always seemed like enough to show my appreciation for the environment, and I couldn’t be happier with how little preparation was needed for these festive activities. Unlike for me, however, Earth Day for local middle schoolers of Corvallis, Oregon has involved significantly more planning.

Each year the researchers and other staff at EPA’s Western Ecology Division lab host a competition for local middle school students to channel their innovative sides and create something out of nothing.

This year the Re-use It or Lose It! Animal Edition event challenged students to create animal-themed masterpieces from reused, recycled, or salvaged items. Fourteen finalists were chosen and the students, as well as their parents, were invited to an Earth Day reception at the lab to showcase their projects. The event featured an ensuing awards ceremony announcing the winners.

The students had a choice between two categories, “Functional” or “Fantasy,” around which they could focus their projects. A number of creative entries were seen, from a television turned into a cat bed to a mason bee box. Top honor in the Functional category went to Lauren Dye of Cheldelin Middle School for “The Bird Feeder 9,000,” which she constructed using a stainless steel pot and lid, forks and spoons, and bottle caps with beads strung on fishing line to add flair.

Spotted Owl Earth Day sculpture

Northern spotted owl

The Fantasy category was won by Megan Mayjor of Franklin Middle School and her sculpture depicting a Northern spotted owl, which just happens to be the subject of a population model developed by an EPA researcher from the lab (read more about it in our newsletter). The piece was assembled with brown paper, corrugated cardboard, and an intricate attention to detail seen in the decoration of each feather. “I feel very happy and excited that I won! My rabbit actually seems to like the owl,” Megan said.

Congruent with the competition, the trophies the winners were awarded were also creatively constructed with reusable material by EPA chemist Bill Rugh. He used wood items from Habitat for Humanity, seed pods, plastic twist-ties, screws, burnt out toaster elements, and coffee grounds. Appropriately, the elaborate trophies were presented to the finalists by lab director Tom Fontaine.

Although my own Earth Day celebrations may be effortless in comparison, these students have put in the time, effort, and imagination to make remarkable results. They developed an idea, acquired the material, and built their creations all in a gesture supporting and appreciating our environment. I’ll be thinking about them on my next hike.

About the Author: Diane Simunek 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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EPA Working to Help Children in Puerto Rico Breathe Free

May is Asthma Awareness Month and I took the opportunity to spend part of the month traveling to several cities where asthma is a problem to raise awareness about this serious childhood illness and the importance of asthma intervention and education.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, I visited the St. Jorge Children’s Hospital and met asthmatic children, their parents and doctors and health professionals who are working to better understand the illness and ways to reduce its incidence. They spoke from experience about the often devastating effects of the illness on people’s lives – family concern and disruption, increased medical expenses and lost days of school and work. 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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Helping Them Breathe More Freely

By Karl Brooks
EPA Region 7 Administrator

brooksAsthma and its triggers constitute a real public health threat.  The almost 25 million Americans who suffer from this serious, sometimes life-threatening disease already know what triggers their disease and have a plan of action.  At EPA, controlling these triggers is part of our mission to protect human health and the environment.

EPA has joined with federal, state and local partners to build the nation’s capacity to control asthma and manage exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants linked to asthma.

Throughout the month of May, EPA Region 7’s inside look into the lives of an asthmatic child and her parents (one an EPA scientist) starkly, personally reminds us of this devastating disease’s toll.

Asthma awareness should begin with a discussion on indoor asthma triggers.  Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, where indoor allergens and irritants play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks. Triggers can cause asthma symptoms, an episode or attack, or make asthma worse. Persons with asthma may react to one or more triggers.

kids

Outdoor triggers have also been a focus of EPA’s outdoor air pollution programs throughout the years. Air pollution can trigger your child’s asthma. Even healthy people can have trouble breathing on high air pollution days.  Asthma attacks can occur the same day, but may also occur the day AFTER outdoor pollution levels are high. Air Quality Index (AQI) reports help to alert people to unhealthy levels.

For most people, the main air pollution triggers are small particles—also known as particulate pollution—and ozone. These pollutants come from smoke, road dust, and emissions from cars, factories and power plants. In general, ozone levels are highest in the summer, but levels of particle pollution can be high any time of year. They tend to be higher near busy roads and where people burn wood.

These challenges will build because the recently released National Climate Assessment (NCA3) tells us that we are faced with increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase.

Protecting health is one of our primary goals, so EPA must create real solutions for these very real problems.  Just one wheezing, coughing, struggling-to-breathe child in the Heartland epitomizes the millions who suffer from asthma. Helping them breathe more freely is cause enough.  EPA remains diligent in our efforts to educate and resolute in our actions to clean the air we breathe.

Dr. Karl Brooks is the Regional Administrator for USEPA Region 7.  Brooks earned a Ph.D in History and Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas, and served as Associate Professor at KU until joining EPA in 2010.  For his full bio visit EPA Region 7.

 

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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Waste not, save a lot

By Jennie Saxe

Most people think of wastewater treatment plants as the end of the pipe: it’s where the water from our sinks, showers, toilets, and sewers ends up. They’re viewed as the place we send liquid waste from our homes and businesses. It’s even right there in the name of the place: “waste.”

These pipes deliver digester gas and natural gas to the 8 microturbines which generate power for the treatment plant on-site.

These pipes deliver digester gas and natural gas to the 8 microturbines which generate power for the treatment plant on-site.

Believe me: the York Wastewater Treatment Plant doesn’t waste anything.

I had heard about the sustainable technologies that were being put into place at this treatment plant in York, Pennsylvania, and decided I had to make the trip to see for myself. General Manager Andy Jantzer led me and a small group of my colleagues on a tour of the treatment process from the head of the plant, through some repurposed aeration basins to aid in nutrient removal, past the clarifiers and sand filters, and all the way through to the treated, disinfected outfall to Codorus Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which eventually drains to the Chesapeake Bay.

So far, things looked pretty standard: primary and secondary treatment, nutrient removal, and disinfection.

Then we got to the second part of the tour. That’s where we learned that there was some serious technology hiding out in a repurposed building on the site. Only the small gas conditioning units outside might have tipped you off that inside there are 8 sophisticated microturbines – which sound much like jet engines – 3 of which are powered by gas from the facility’s anaerobic digesters and 5 of which are natural gas-powered. These allow the facility to generate nearly 7,000kW on site. Without the microturbines, the plant would be wasting methane (a greenhouse gas) from its digesters and purchasing all of its electricity from the grid. EPA’s Net Zero Energy team promotes technologies like this to help water and wastewater treatment plants become more energy efficient, and potentially “net zero” energy consumers.

Ammonia and phosphorus are recovered from the treatment plant’s digester centrate to create this pelletized fertilizer.

Ammonia and phosphorus are recovered from the treatment plant’s digester centrate to create this pelletized fertilizer.

What about the centrate (liquid waste) from the digesters? Most plants recycle that back to the head of the plant, which requires not only more energy for pumping, but also additional chemicals for treatment. Not here! The digester centrate comes to the former sludge incinerator building where a special process removes phosphorus and ammonia and creates a long-lasting, slow-release, pelletized fertilizer that is being used in agriculture, on golf courses, and in other applications.

See what I mean? Nothing is wasted. By recovering resources like phosphorus and energy from wastewater, this treatment plant has joined a new breed of facilities that are extracting beneficial products from what most people consider waste. The dedicated management and staff at the York Wastewater Treatment Plant are making a difference to the communities that they serve. Pursuing sustainable technologies like the ones that York has adopted not only solve problems for today, but for tomorrow, as well.

Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time tending to a vegetable garden.

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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Setting the Record Straight on the Chamber of Commerce’s Report

Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report that makes unfounded assumptions about the EPA’s upcoming proposal for commonsense standards to cut the harmful carbon pollution from power plants.

First, before EPA even put pen to paper to draft the proposed standards, we gathered an unprecedented amount of input and advice through hundreds of meetings with hundreds of groups—including many members of the Chamber.  That input fed into the draft proposal we’ll release on June 2, and we plan to kick off a second phase of engagement as we work through the draft and get to a reasonable, meaningful final rule.

Second—the Chamber’s report is nothing more than irresponsible speculation based on guesses of what our draft proposal will be.  Just to be clear—it’s not out yet. I strongly suggest that folks read the proposal before they cry the sky is falling. 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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En reconocimiento de los programas excepcionales de asma

Por Janet McCabe

 Mayo es el Mes de la Concientización sobre el Asma. ¿Sabía que casi 26 millones de estadounidenses, entre ellos siete millones de niños, se ven afectados por esta enfermedad respiratoria crónica? Además, ¿sabía que las poblaciones minoritarias y de escasos recursos  tienen una alta incidencia de asma? Cada año, la EPA aprovecha esta oportunidad para reforzar nuestra campaña de sensibilización pública, fortalecer nuestras alianzas con las organizaciones de base comunitaria para el asma y destacar los extraordinarios programas de asma.

Este año damos reconociendo los planes de salud, los proveedores de salud y los programas a comunitarios con nuestro Premio Nacional de Liderazgo Ambiental en el Manejo del Asma por sus importantes contribuciones para eliminar la brecha en las disparidades del asma. Es el único programa nacional que reconoce a las organizaciones por su liderazgo extraordinario en el desarrollo y la aplicación de gestión del asma ambiental como un componente clave en el cuidado del asma. Me enorgullece reconocer a las organizaciones de Georgia, Massachusetts y Oregon por el impacto que están teniendo en sus comunidades:

Peach State Health Plan, Atlanta, Georgia – es una organización estatal para cuidados de salud manejada por el Medicaid. Su programa de asma centrado en los adolescentes emplea comunicación multimedia, educación bilingüe e incentivos innovadores para ayudar a más de 700 adolescentes a mejorar cada año el cumplimiento con la medicación y el auto-manejo y la reducción en el uso de cuidados imprevistos de salud y la gravedad del asma. El Plan ofrece tanto en las clínicas, el hogar y la escuela servicios de cómo manejar la enfermedad de manera  estratificada, lo cual incluye supervisión de la salud y apoyo médico, social  y ambiental. Peach State estima que el programa ahorra aproximadamente $319 por miembro cada mes mediante la reducción de las admisiones a los hospitales y el uso de medicamentos de emergencia.

Tufts Medical Center, Boston, Massachusettses un centro médico académico que ofrece la iniciativa de prevención y control del asma(APMI, por sus siglas en inglés) a una comunidad densamente poblada por una personas asiáticas, con tasas desproporcionadamente altas de asma. El APMI conecta a los proveedores clínicos con programas locales de visita al hogar que educan sobre el asma y el medio ambiente, con los líderes comunitarios y con las escuelas locales para ayudar a los niños con asma y sus familias a mejorar los resultados del asma. APMI ha logrado impactos impresionantes, que incluye la disminución del tratamiento de emergencia y las hospitalizaciones por asma, el aumento de la asistencia escolar, la disminución de la exposición a los desencadenantes ambientales en los hogares, y la disminución del problema del asma en el barrio de Chinatown de Boston.

Multnomah County Health Department, Portland, Oregon – opera un programa de viviendas saludables en coordinación con un amplio grupo de aliados, que incluye organizaciones  comunitarias, proveedores médicos, administradores de casos y trabajadores de la salud  comunitarios. Mediante el trabajo en conjuntos, los socios identifican y proveen cuidados del asma en los hogares, y evaluaciones ambientales e intervenciones a los niños de alto o moderado riesgo de tener asma. El programa ha reducido 2,5 veces la probabilidad de visitas a la sala de emergencia por niños con el asma mal controlada con resultados de  aproximadamente $350,000 en ahorros de costos anuales debido a la atención médica. Además, el programa muestra una menor exposición a los desencadenantes ambientales en el hogar.

¡Felicitaciones a estos programas extraordinarios! Me enorgullece ser parte de sus esfuerzos para mejorar las vidas de las personas con asma en las comunidades de todo el país y les deseo que sigan teniendo éxito a medida que implementan estas importantes iniciativas.

Acerca de la autora: Janet McCabe es la administradora adjunta interina de la Oficina de Aire y Radiación de la EPA.

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

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Supporting Innovation for Cleaner Burning Cookstoves and Cleaner Air

By Jim Johnson

The end of May is always one of my favorite times of year. It includes Memorial Day, the official holiday to honor the service of our dedicated military personnel and military veterans, and my birthday.

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the end of May also coincides with the time of year when the evening air fills with the unmistakable scent of backyard grilling. Barbeque season. Here in this country, that distinctive odor of smoke is associated with tasty food, relaxing, and good times spent with friends and family.

But for most of the world’s population, the smell of an open fire is something completely different. It’s not nostalgic or a welcome diversion from the norm, but a necessity.

Nearly three billion people worldwide rely on burning fuels such as wood, plant matter, coal, and animal waste. And because most of that occurs indoors, it’s a health hazard, too.  The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves leads to 4.3 million premature deaths per year.

Cookstove researcher at work

EPA is a leader in conducting and supporting clean cookstove research.

What’s more, it’s not just a local problem. The smoke from traditional cookstoves is a major source of black carbon, an air pollutant linked to a range of impacts associated with our changing climate, including increased temperatures, accelerated ice and snow melt, and changes in the pattern and intensity of precipitation.

And that brings me to another reason why the end of May this particular year is even a bit more special for me than usual: Yesterday, EPA announced almost $9 million in research grants awarded to six universities to help usher in a new generation of clean, efficient cookstoves.

Funded through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, the research will focus on measuring and communicating the benefits of adopting cleaner cooking, heating, and lighting practices. The impact of the work will improve air quality and protect the health of billions of people, as well as slow climate change—a benefit for everyone, and the global environment, too.

The universities and their research are:

  • Colorado State University researchers will provide new cookstoves to rural areas in China, India, Kenya, and Honduras to explore how their adoption will impact and improve emissions, chemistry, and movement of indoor smoke; they will also assess health and climate impacts.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers will investigate how local resources in rural communities in Alaska, Nepal, Mongolia, and China affect the acceptance of cleaner heating stoves, and take measurements to learn how their use impacts air quality and carbon emissions.
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis researchers will measure changes in air quality and health outcomes from cleaner cooking and heating technologies in China, and model regional weather, air quality, exposure and human health impacts.
  • University of California, Berkeley researchers will explore the relationship between household and village-scale pollution to understand the effectiveness of using cleaner-burning cookstoves.
  • Yale University researchers will use socioeconomic analyses, emissions and pollution measurements, and global climate modeling to investigate the impacts of using next-generation cookstoves in India.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder researchers will use small, inexpensive sensors to monitor indoor air pollution exposure in homes. They will also collect data through health assessments and outdoor air quality measurements in Ghana.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the grants at a reception hosted by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. EPA is a founding member of this public-private partnership, which seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. Our collective goal: 100 million homes adopting clean cooking solutions by 2020. Achieving that will really be something to celebrate!

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s STAR program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

 

 

 

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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