Posts by Gina McCarthy:

Public Service Week: Perspectives from EPA’s Inaugural Employees

My father was a teacher.  My sister is a teacher.  I grew up with the notion that public service was the noblest thing you could do. That’s why it’s such a privilege to come to work every day with my fellow EPA colleagues, dedicated to serving the American people, and determined to fulfill our mission to protect public health and the environment.

EPA has been around for 45 years.  During that time, we have been fortunate to have thousands of committed public servants call EPA home.  This Public Service Week, I wanted to take a step back, and let some of EPA’s “Charter Members” – the few and proud EPA employees who’ve been here since day one – speak to how EPA’s success in fighting pollution has led to significant progress in our country.

Ken Shuster, a charter member who has spent his career committed to resolving solid and hazardous waste issues, explains the essential and difficult task of figuring out what the problem is and why it is critical to determining how we deal with it.

“In 1974 and 1975, I was responsible for documenting damages associated with solid waste disposal. I documented 34 cases of drinking water wells being contaminated by waste disposal sites; and in all 11 cases of vapor intrusion (gases generated by waste disposal sites, mostly methane and carbon monoxide) …  in all cases resulting in fatalities by explosion or asphyxiation. These cases became part of the legislative history leading up to the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976. During this study effort I visited seven sites that were ultimately listed among the top 15 Superfund National Priorities List.”

When there’s something worth fighting for–like a healthy environment for our families–you’d better be willing to fight. And that’s exactly what we’ve done from day one, especially when things get tough.  Bob Freeman, a charter member and Senior Environmental Engineer focused on wastewater treatment had the challenging and critical task of explaining a certain set of Clean Water grants to the public and the private sector:

“I learned in those [early] days that achieving the goals of our Agency was much more likely to happen if we developed positive working relationships based on competence and trust with our stakeholders.  That approach has served well throughout my career.” 

Through it all, EPA’s charter members’ sense of why we do what we do, only strengthens over time.  I speak for many when I say that I’m humbled by their lasting commitment to shield people from environmental harm, and their selfless dedication to something bigger than themselves.  To me, that’s what makes public service still among the highest of callings. Here is Carl Edlund, director of Region 6 Superfund Division:

“When I started with EPA in 1970…we knew that EPA was going to tackle immense changes in the way that people interacted with the environment … For all of human existence, the environment was an unending immensity impervious to lasting damage and something to be conquered, tamed, exploited and/or dumped on.  In 1970, huge, very visible, problems were evident ranging from polluted air, water, and land to indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals.  The enthusiasm of many EPA staff was reflected by one of our early posters that showed a babbling brook with the words ‘I believe that I can change the earth’.  Armed with a slew of new statutes, we set out to make that change … When he participated in the 40th anniversary of EPA, Bill Ruckelshaus [first EPA Administrator] commented that working at EPA was remarkable because it combined excitement, challenges, work of extreme interest and fulfillment. From my experience, I second the motion.”

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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Commitment and Innovation: Serving America at EPA

Every day, EPA employees go above and beyond the call of duty to protect public health and the environment. And three EPA all-stars, Bob Kavlock, Stephanie Hogan, and Jacob Moss, are truly exceptional. They are finalists for the 2015 Sammies (Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals), a highly respected honor with a rigorous selection process. Only 30 finalists are chosen from across the federal government.

I had the chance to meet with them recently and hear about their experiences at EPA and their commitment to public service. We had such an awesome conversation—and they had such great insight—that I asked them if we could share it publicly.

BlogSammiesBelow I’m proud to pass on their reflections—in their own words—on their time at EPA and the crucial work our agency does. We’re extremely proud of them, and we’re thrilled they’re being recognized for their great work. – Gina

Bob Kavlock

It’s fascinating to me to look back on a single day and realize how it changed my life. It was a Friday afternoon during my senior year in college when a friend asked me if I wanted to keep him company when he went to apply for a job. We drove down to the edge of the Everglades and went into the Perrine Primate Pesticide Effects Laboratory. While he was applying, the women asked if I was interested too, as they had a number of positions. Without thinking too much about it, I filled an application, and needless to say, was hired to work in a laboratory studying the effects of pesticides on fetal development. The rest is history. I wound up changing my graduate school research emphasis to developmental toxicology (from Everglades ecology), although I lost the job when the laboratory was moved to Research Triangle Park as part of the consolidation of the newly formed EPA research facilities. I did, however, manage to rejoin EPA upon getting my PhD and have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated my career here ever since. Having been a work study student, a principal investigator, section chief, branch chief, division director, and center director, I have seen many levels of the EPA, albeit within the relatively sheltered confines of our Office of Research and Development (ORD). At least that was until I moved to headquarters three years ago to become the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science in ORD, when I really got to experience the remarkable organization that is EPA. What we do affects virtually every person every day in positive ways, and I much more now appreciate the strength, intelligence and diligence of our remarkable workforce. I can’t imagine having spent a career anywhere else.

Stephanie Hogan

I’ve had a longstanding interest in environmental issues, so I welcomed the opportunity to work at EPA four years ago. I was fortunate to be asked early in my career at EPA to work on important Clean Air Act issues including the challenging question of how to regulate pollution originating in one state that affects air quality – and therefore public health — in another state. Before joining the agency, I was working for a small public interest law firm that represented communities affected by toxic pollution. I appreciate that my work had the potential to directly benefit those communities and that now, at EPA, I contribute to and defend agency actions that provide even more substantial environmental and public health benefits. Above all, I value working with a supportive, creative, and motivated community of colleagues across the agency.

Jacob Moss
I got fascinated at how environmental pressures shape our lives while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. I came back and worked on a range of water, air quality, and waste issues at the state and local level, and eventually decided to join EPA to explore opportunities to solve these problems on a national scale. Working at EPA has been a joy in so many ways: I’m passionate about the mission; I love the people; and I thrive on the culture of solving important environmental problems in innovative, yet practical ways. But what’s been most amazing for me personally has been the risk the agency took with regard to my cookstoves work. Neither my superiors nor I were sure we could succeed, but our collective risk has paid off in a meaningful way.

We still have a long ways to go, but I’m not sure there are many other organizations who would give an employee the time and freedom to try something so unusual and ambitious.
These exceptional public servants represent the best EPA has to offer, and we wish them luck at the award ceremony this fall.

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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Acid rain, toxic leaded gas, and widespread air pollution? Not anymore. Thanks to EPA.

Acid rain. Dangerous DDT. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk—not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that.

We put smart policies in place to fix them.

So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and where we’re headed next.

Acid Rain

Caused by air pollution mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere, acid rain was once poisoning our rivers and lakes, killing fish, forests, and wildlife, and even eroding our buildings.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants causing acid rain, from power plants. The EPA developed the first market-based cap-and-trade pollution reduction program, and guess what—it worked.

Despite the doomsday warnings from some in the power industry that the regulations would cause electricity prices to spike and lead to blackouts, over the last 25 years, acid rain levels are down 60%—while electricity prices have stayed stable, and the lights have stayed on. Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and industry, our nation has put policies in place to solve the problem over the long haul.

Leaded Gasoline

For decades, leaded gasoline threatened the air our kids breathed. Lead from polluted air was absorbed into their bloodstreams, endangering their brain development and risking consequences like permanent nerve damage, anemia, and mental retardation. So EPA phased out leaded gas. Back in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to less than 1 percent.


The bald eagle once faced extinction. The culprit was DDT, a powerful pesticide that made birds’ eggshells too weak for the chicks to survive, and also caused liver cancer and reproductive problems in humans. EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972, and since then, bald eagles have made a huge comeback—they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007—and our families are safer from harmful chemicals.

Air Pollution

A newspaper headline once called the smog shrouding Los Angeles “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.” L.A. and many other cities like this one were choked by severe air pollution—leading to asthma, respiratory illness, and certain cancers. But over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. It goes to show that a strong economy and a safe environment go hand in hand.

Breathing Easier

Every day, EPA works toward cleaner air. One recent study found that thanks to the strides we’ve made in cutting air pollution in just the last 2 decades, children’s lungs in Southern California are 10% bigger and stronger today than they were in children 20 years ago.

Last fall, we built on that success by proposing stricter standards for ozone pollution to protect those most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma. For our kids, that means avoiding up to a million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks. Adults could avoid hundreds of emergency room visits for cardiovascular reasons, up to 180,000 missed work days, and 4 million days where people have to deal with pollution-related symptoms. Every dollar we invest in these standards would return $3 in health benefits.

Looking Ahead

And now, EPA is taking action on another major environmental challenge—climate change. The carbon pollution driving it comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot that can cause asthma and certain cancers, especially for those living in the shadow of polluting industries.

When we finalize our Clean Power Plan this summer, we’ll not only cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source, but we’ll also reduce those other dangerous pollutants and protect our families’ health. When we act, we also help safeguard communities from the impacts of climate change—like more severe droughts, storms, fires, and floods.

Time after time, when science has pointed to health risks, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. We’re doing the same thing today. Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way, there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.


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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Climate Action Is Driving Innovation, and Our Economy

Forty-four years ago this month, EPA announced its first set of national air quality standards under the Clean Air Act. That’s 44 years of people breathing easier, staying healthier and for many, knowing they can walk outside and see the beauty of the mountains and blue skies that surround them.

There’s another big benefit of these standards and other actions we’ve taken under the Clean Air Act that we don’t talk about enough: They help grow our economy.

For every dollar we spend on clean air, our economy and our health reap huge benefits. Since the Clean Air Act passed, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent, and at the same time our economy has tripled in size. Cleaning up our air has contributed to that growth.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA proposed a Clean Power Plan last summer, to cut the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change from our largest source—our power plants. The Clean Power Plan will encourage investment in cleaner energy technologies and sources. It will boost our economy by helping us move towards a modern energy system that creates good jobs and new opportunities, and unleashes American innovation that will help us continue to lead globally.

The opportunity to act on climate is already shifting the way Americans do business. More than 1,000 of the world’s largest multinational companies call climate change “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of this century,” and major banks like Citi Group are investing hundreds of billions in climate and clean energy financing.

Clean energy is growing like never before. Since President Obama took office, wind energy has tripled and solar has grown ten-fold. In 2015, a full 60% of the new energy that gets added to our electrical grid will come from wind and solar.

That growth expands industries and creates an abundance of opportunities, not only for entrepreneurs, but for people who are seeking good jobs that help them make a difference in their communities. About 2.7 million people now make a living from the clean energy economy, and that number is constantly growing. These people are developing clean energy projects, crafting more energy-efficient appliances, constructing green buildings and retrofitting existing buildings, and more – saving consumers money and driving down the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change.

The Clean Power Plan sends a clear signal to the market, so our nation’s business leaders and innovators can think ahead to the technologies and investments of the future, rather than stay stuck on those of the past. A modern economy needs a modern energy system. The Clean Power Plan is key to seizing our clean energy future, while protecting our health, our environment, and our way of life from the risks of climate change.

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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Building Momentum toward a Safer Climate and a Healthier Nation

April 6-12 is National Public Health Week, which this year carries the theme: “Healthiest Nation 2030.” EPA and the American Public Health Association (APHA) are shining a light on the harmful health effects of climate change and making the case for strong climate action.

We constantly see devastating climate impacts threaten the health of communities around the country. After Hurricane Sandy left New York City dark and underwater, nurses at NYU’s Langone Medical Center had to use the glow of their cell phones to care for infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The historic drought in the West has led to forest fires and water restrictions, and is still punishing people and businesses. Climate change supercharges risks for extreme storms, floods, fires, and drought that destabilize communities, especially those least equipped to defend themselves.

Health risks from climate change are not just born from the crushing infrastructure and weather impacts. The carbon pollution fueling climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide that lead to asthma and respiratory illnesses—including some cancers. As temperatures rise, smog becomes worse, and allergy seasons get longer, further risking our families’ health and making it harder for kids to breathe. Warmer temperatures also increase vector-borne diseases by expanding seasons and geographic ranges for ticks, mosquitoes and other disease carrying insects to roam.

People on a beach

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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Your Input is Shaping the Clean Water Rule

Skokomish River in Olympic National Park

Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies. We have a duty to protect it. That’s why EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction. On April 3 we sent the draft rule to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review. Since it’s not final yet, we can’t speak to every detail. But the spirit of this rule boils down to three facts:

First, people depend on clean water: one in three Americans get their drinking water from streams currently lacking clear protection.

Second, our economy depends on clean water: manufacturing, farming, ranching, tourism, recreation, and other major economic sectors need clean water to function and flourish.

Third, our cherished way of life depends on clean water: healthy ecosystems support precious wildlife habitat and pristine places to hunt, fish, boat, and swim.


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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Driving toward a cleaner future

Today, EPA issued its second annual Manufacturer Performance Report on progress toward meeting the greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. This is essentially a detailed report card telling us how the industry and individual manufacturers are doing in complying with the standards for the 2013 model year. I’m pleased to say that, for the second year of the program, the auto industry is ahead of the curve.

Because the ultimate destination for this road trip is to nearly double fuel economy by 2025, a strong start is great news for the environment and public health, family budgets and America’s energy security. When EPA and the Department of Transportation announced the standards, the program was called a “Win-Win-Win.” A win for the environment and our health because it reduces the emissions that contribute to the greatest environmental threat of our time…. climate change. In fact we expect it to cut 6 billion metric tons of GHGs. A win for consumers because the fuel efficiency goals will save families money at the pump, adding up to more than $1.7 trillion in saved fuel costs over the life of the program. And finally, a win for energy independence. The policy is expected to reduce America’s dependence on oil by more than 2 million barrels per day by 2025.


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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Celebrando las mujeres que posibilitan la protección ambiental

Por Gina McCarthy, administradora de la EPA

Al publicar su libro innovador en 1962, Primavera silenciosa, Rachel Carson convirtió la prosa en una poderosa herramienta para el bien. Ella transformó nuestra perspectiva sobre el mundo natural que nos rodea, al informarnos sobre los peligros de la aplicación rampante del DDT, un poderoso pesticida que envenenó a las aves. Su libro creó conciencia acerca de los peligros del uso excesivo de los plaguicidas y lanzó el movimiento medioambientalista.
Carson, una bióloga marina, trabajó por muchos años en el servicio público como una editora en el Servicio Federal de Pesca y Vida Silvestre (infórmese mediante una grabación que compartí con la Casa Blanca). Ella y muchas otras como ella, abrieron el camino para un sinnúmero de mujeres a lo largo de los años—científicas, investigadoras, activistas y organizadoras—que vencieron todos los obstáculos para decir las verdades que tenían que ser dichas.


Marzo es el Mes de la Historia de la Mujer, un momento para celebrar las mujeres valerosas que ayudaron a desarrollar y avanzar el progreso ambiental moderno.


A lo largo de los últimos 45 años de liderazgo de la EPA, hemos logrado tremendos avances—al recortar dramáticamente la contaminación del aire, al limpiar nuestra agua y tierra, y al proteger a las comunidades vulnerables del daño. Este mes, honramos a los líderes que surcaron los caminos para que las mujeres siguieran en sus pasos—desde las cuatro mujeres quienes fungieron como administradoras de la agencia previamente, a un sinnúmero de otras quienes vencieron el prejuicio para transformar la sociedad.

He aquí tan solo algunas de estas mujeres líderes, quienes moldearon y avanzaron el movimiento medioambientalista como lo conocemos hoy en día.

  • Rosalie Edge fue la primera mujer en fundar y liderar una organización defensora del medio ambiente en el 1928. También fue una sufragista consumada. Una aficionada a la observación de aves, ella fundó el Santuario Montañoso para Halcones, la primera reserva del mundo para aves de rapiña.
  • Polly Dyer ayudó a proteger las costas prístinas del Estado de Washington. Ella organizó y abogó a favor de la protección del Bosque Nacional Olímpico, y lideró los esfuerzos de muchos años por aprobar la Ley de Áreas Silvestres de 1964.
  • Peggy Shepard fundó WE ACT (Tomamos acción) para la Justicia Ambiental en el 1988 y lleva muchos años como líder de dicha organización. WE ACT fue la primera organización en Nueva York en enfocarse específicamente en la limpieza del medio ambiente para proteger la salud y mejorar las vidas de las personas de color.
  • Sylvia Earle, una destacada oceanógrafa, lideró más de 50 expediciones de investigación bajo el mar. A principios de los 1990, ella fue la primera principal mujer científica de la Oficina Nacional de Administración Oceánica y Atmosférica. La Revista Time la catalogó como la primera Héroe del Planeta en el 1998.
  • Vivian Malone Jones luchó toda su vida por los derechos civiles. En el 1963, fue una de las primeras estadounidenses africanas en matricularse en la Universidad de Alabama cuando esta institución académica admitió estudiantes de origen africano. Como parte de su lucha por los derechos civiles, luego emprendió una carrera profesional en la EPA, donde pasó varios años como una importante campeona de la justicia ambiental.

En los años sesenta, gracias a la visión vanguardista de Carson, el President Kennedy tomó acción que condujo finalmente a la prohibición del DDT. Si ella nos pudiera ver ahora, Carson no tan solo estaría orgullosa de nuestra marcha hacia un medio ambiente más limpio, sino también por nuestra marcha hacia una sociedad más equitativa. En la actualidad, alrededor del 40% de los científicos e ingenieros en la EPA son mujeres. No obstante, sabemos que queda mucho por hacer en ambos frentes.

Yo espero que se unan a nosotros este mes y todos los meses en celebrar a estas mujeres increíbles y que ustedes también compartirán las historias de las mujeres visionarias que les han inspirado.

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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Celebrating Women who make Environmental Protection Possible

In publishing her game-changing book in 1962, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson turned prose into a powerful tool for good. She transformed our perspective on the natural world around us, informing us of the dangers of rampant application of DDT, a powerful pesticide that poisoned birds. Her book raised awareness about the dangers of pesticide overuse and launched the environmental movement.

Carson, a marine biologist, worked for many years in public service as an editor at the Fish and Wildlife Service (learn more from an audio clip I shared with the White House). She, and many like her, blazed a trail for countless women over the years—scientists, researchers, activists, organizers—who overcame the odds to tell truths that needed to be told.

March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the courageous women who helped build and advance modern environmental progress.

Over the last 45 years of EPA leadership, we’ve made tremendous progress—dramatically cutting air pollution, cleaning up our water and land, and protecting vulnerable communities from harm. This month, we honor the leaders who’ve paved the way for women to follow in their footsteps—from the four women who’ve previously served as this agency’s Administrators, to the countless others who overcame prejudice to transform society.

Here are just a few of those women leaders, who shaped and advanced the environmental movement as we know it:

  • Rosalie Edge was one of the first women to found and lead an environmental advocacy organization in 1928, and was an ardent suffragist. An amateur birdwatcher, she founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, the first preserve in the world for birds of prey.
  • Polly Dyer helped protect Washington State’s pristine coastline. She organized and advocated for the protection of the Olympic National Forest, and was a leader in the multi-year efforts to pass the 1964 Wilderness Act.
  • Peggy Shepard founded WE ACT for Environmental Justice in 1988, and has been a longtime leader there. WE ACT was the first organization in New York that focused specifically on cleaning up the environment to protect the health and improve the lives of people of color.
  • Sylvia Earle, an accomplished oceanographer, has led more than 50 underwater research expeditions. In the early 1990s, she became the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Time Magazine acknowledged her as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998.
  • Vivian Malone Jones fought all her life for civil rights. In 1963, she was among the first African Americans to enroll at the University of Alabama when it was integrated. As an extension of her fight for civil rights, she’d later take on a career at EPA, where she spent years as a foremost champion for environmental justice.

Back in the ‘60s, thanks in part to Carson’s foresight, President Kennedy took action that ultimately led to a ban on DDT. If she could see us now, Carson would not only be proud of our march toward a cleaner environment, but also of our march toward a more equitable society. Today, almost 40% of EPA scientists and engineers are women. But we know that there’s a lot more to do on both fronts.

I hope you’ll join me this month, and every month, in celebrating these incredible women—and that you’ll share the stories of the game-changing women who inspire you, too.

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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Poison Prevention Starts with You – Protect Your Kids and Pets

By: Administrator Gina McCarthy & Elliot Kaye, Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission

There are some things in life we can’t control – like traffic or our favorite sports team’s performance. But there are plenty of things we can control—and protecting our kids from poison is one.

This is National Poison Prevention Week, which leads into the start of spring cleaning. It’s important to remember that kids and pets are more sensitive to chemicals than adults. Every second in the United States, there are 25 calls to poison control centers, with the majority related to children. Each year, an estimated 80,000 children go to the emergency room with poisonings. Almost 75 percent of those are from sources in their homes. Let’s make sure our loved ones are not part of those statistics.

Most of us know that household cleaners and sanitizers, insect repellents and medicines can pose a serious poison risk for children. Some of these products are colorful and appealing, and could look like candy or toys to young children. But other poison hazards around our homes might be less familiar. Here are three for you to be especially aware of:

  1. Coin sized batteries in TV remotes and other electronics can cause chemical burns if lodged in the throat. With encouragement from the government, battery manufacturers are working on a design solution that would prevent the deadly poisoning hazard with coin cell/button batteries. But, they are not there yet.
  2. Exposure to the contents of single-load liquid laundry packets have led to at least one tragic death and thousands of children being treated in emergency rooms. At the urging of the government, manufacturers are developing a safety standard that would make it harder for children to get their hands on these poisonous packets. They, too, are not there yet.
  3. Old mercury thermometers can break and must be properly disposed of and cleaned up. Also, mercury is USED IN TRACE AMOUNTS IN [an essential part of] CFL lightbulbs. It allows a bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (i.e., not broken) or in use. If a bulb breaks, follow these important steps:


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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