Greening the Apple

What’s a CAG?

By Aria Isberto

Gowanus Canal

Gowanus Canal

As an intern, I had the opportunity to attend a Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site. Following Earth Day last month, days after activist Christopher Swain’s famed swim in the heavily polluted waterway, a spotlight was focused on the development of its ongoing cleanup. Members of the CAG and the community met, as they often do, to receive updates and to address vital concerns.

In the broadest sense, what I learned is that a CAG is one of the bridges between the federal agencies working on a Superfund site and its surrounding community. With a regularly held public forum, EPA and the CAG get to work together in the decision-making progress of the cleanup.

A CAG is made up of passionate community members of different backgrounds, representative of the diversity and interests of those affected. I observed that the meeting followed an agenda, led by a facilitator, with minutes taken and posted. The >Gowanus Canal CAG members are also organized into four sections of responsibility: Archaeology, Outreach, Real Estate, and Water Quality & Technical (but each CAG could vary depending on the need of its Superfund site).

I also discovered that there are two CAGs in New York City, 11 in EPA Region 2 and 66 nationwide. It is one of the most effective ways to connect, exchange information and meet face-to-face with the agencies responsible for the Superfund site. At the meeting I attended, EPA was represented by >Christos Tsiamis, Project Manager of the Gowanus Canal cleanup and Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator at Region 2.

After initial introductions, I knew I was in a room full of people with the same goal in mind: all wanted to make sure the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal happened, that it happened soon, and that there would be as few negative repercussions on the surrounding areas as possible. The room was represented by some staff from elected officials offices, groups such as Friends of St. Thomas Park, Langan Engineering (among many others – too many to list here!), as well as local residents.

People asked questions, voiced concerns, and presented a resolution to EPA, and I listened to the knowledgeable community members talk about the work on the Superfund site. The more technical details were immediately questioned and explained thoroughly. At the end of the meeting, it really struck me how important these CAGs are. Making sure that information about the Superfund site is accessible to all is a responsibility just as vital as the cleanup itself – and so is being aware about the matters that affect our communities!

To learn more about the Gowanus Canal Superfund site CAG, click here: the next meeting is on May 26th. Visit the EPA website to read about Community Advisory Groups, and find out how to be a part of one.

About the Author: Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

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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By Jove, it’s Jupiter!

By Jim Haklar

If you look high in the south at sunset this time of year, you’ll see a bright “star” that’s really not a star at all. You’ll be looking at Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system.

Jupiter is the 5th planet from the sun and is called a “gas giant” planet because it doesn’t have a solid surface (like the Earth). According to NASA, Jupiter’s atmosphere is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, similar to the Sun, and if Jupiter were more massive it would have become a star. There is a huge storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere called the Great Red Spot. The Great Red Spot has been around for hundreds of years and is so big that the Earth can fit inside it!

Jupiter has over 50 moons and four of them are bright enough to be seen with binoculars. These four moons were discovered by Galileo in 1610 and are called the Galilean moons. The Galilean moons are named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Io, the Galilean moon closest to Jupiter, has volcanos that are active. The surface of Europa is covered in ice and may have an ocean of water underneath. Ganymede is larger than the planet Mercury; it’s the largest moon in the solar system. Callisto’s surface has many craters and is thought to be very old, from the time when the solar system was young.

If you look at Jupiter over several hours you can actually see the moons moving. In a small telescope you can sometimes see the shadow of the moons cross over the planet’s atmosphere. This is called a shadow transit.

Right now Jupiter is easy to see right after sunset. But over the next few months it will start appearing lower at sunset until it passes behind the Sun in August. Then it will once again become visible, but in the morning before sunrise. So try and catch the “King of the Planets” before it’s too late!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center.  In his 30 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances.  He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with one of his telescopes.

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

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Do You Know Your Water Footprint?

By Aria Isberto

Water Footprint Calculator

Sometimes it’s difficult to feel connected to water shortage matters in other places, especially when we’re on opposite coasts of the country or half a world away. But while it may seem like the issue is too big, or too far, and our everyday actions as individuals barely make a drop in the bucket, that’s simply not true!

Earlier this week, GRACE Communications Foundation launched a brand-new online footprint calculator that is focused on household water consumption. The interactive questionnaire uses data from the Water Footprint Network, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other sources to calculate an individual’s water footprint. It takes into account the indoor/outdoor water usage we’re all familiar with, like doing the laundry and washing the car.

Your water footprintIt also calculates virtual water consumption: how much it takes to make the food we eat and the products we purchase. From take-out food to clothing, tech devices and home furniture, all the stuff we buy takes a lot of water to make. Did you know that the average water footprint of an individual in the United States is 2,200 gallons a day?

So take 10-15 minutes of your day to calculate your footprint, or better yet, get the entire household involved! Learn about greywater systems and low flow faucets with your family. Change your answers and see the difference it makes, down to the gallon. You can use it as an educational activity with children (check out our kids section here).

The water footprint calculator is useful in re-evaluating daily habits, and in light of the water shortage issues in the past few years, can also be a reminder of each of our roles in water conservation, no matter where we live. So we can always be mindful consumers of our planet’s resources!

About the Author:
Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

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 Premature Plunge into the Gowanus Canal

By Elias Rodriguez

The Gowanus Canal harbors a legacy of industrial waste.

The Gowanus Canal harbors a legacy of industrial waste.

Last week, a gentleman garnered widespread media attention in New York by deliberately swimming in Brooklyn’s highly contaminated Gowanus Canal. This urban water body is on EPA’s National Priorities List of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. The Gowanus is scheduled for a cleanup under our Superfund program.

It seemed like every tabloid and television station in the Big Apple contacted us to ask if it was safe to swim in the Gowanus Canal. In a word: NO! As you can see from our color-coded hazard guide, direct contact with the water of the Gowanus should be avoided to reduce exposure risks.

Color Coded ChartWhat’s in the Gowanus? Data shows the widespread presence of more than a dozen contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and various metals, including mercury, lead and copper, at high levels in its sediment. PAHs and metals were also found in the canal water. PAHs in the canal come mostly from former manufactured gas plants which used coal to make gas. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. PCBs are suspected carcinogens and can have neurological effects. PAHs are also suspected carcinogens.

The origin of the Gowanus Canal goes back to the 19th century. It was envisioned as a transportation route for goods and services and, after its completion in the 1860s, the canal became an important link for commerce in the city. Manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, chemical plants and oil refineries were established along its banks. The canal was additionally an outlet for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. Fast-forward to 2015 and you’ll see in the Gowanus’ murky water a legacy of urban and industrial pollution in the midst of thriving Brooklyn neighborhoods.

EPA’s $506 million cleanup calls for the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The comprehensive plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from re-contaminating the waters and ruining the cleanup.

EPA’s progress to date at the Gowanus Canal has been faster than at any other site of comparable complexity anywhere in the nation. We are currently working on the remedial design for the cleanup project to be followed by the start of actual dredging in 2016. When all the work is done, circa 2022, the Gowanus will be in much better shape. In the meantime, the EPA’s No Swimming warning is serious and remains in effect.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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When it Rains, it Molds: Part 2 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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 Day Every Day: Make the Environment Part of your Daily GRIND(s)

By Heather Barnhart

Disposable Cups

Disposable Cups

My mother always told me that it’s the little things that add up. Don’t get me wrong – BIG things matter too, big things add up to A LOT. But it seems that those big things – like improving air quality and lowering asthma rates around the city (I live next to the BQE, so I know this is a BIG thing) – take a long time, and I may not be able to do anything directly. So, what’s my job? How can I help the environment?

My job at EPA Region 2 – measuring our operational footprint and developing innovative projects to reduce those environmental impacts – is actually a big thing. Executive Orders – the latest being Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decadedefine the federal priorities and goals. The Environmental Management System program describes our local progress toward achieving national goals and reducing our operational footprint. To achieve those goals, I often ask our employees, contractors, interns, other on-site federal employees, and even visitors to do the little things. And, these little things add up. Case in point: our employees were able to reduce their printing by 55 percent last year, which offset a whopping 29 metric tons of CO2.

So, what little things am I asking from everyone working in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico? My ask is something so easy and so basic that I’m hoping it’s already done. I’m asking people to pledge to give up the disposable coffee cup (and water bottle!) for at least a week or a month or better yet, forever!

Why do I think this will make a difference here in our regional offices, and why do I care about coffee cups? Region 2 recently announced our Zero Waste Policy, which is driving us to divert more of our waste from disposal. To achieve “zero” waste, we rely on increases to recycling and reuse, but, most importantly, we want to stop generating waste (source reduction) because even recycling requires resources and has an impact.

Between contractors, employees, other federal employees and interns, we have about 1,050 people in our offices in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. If we estimate that each person is in the office 190 days per year, and they buy and throw out one disposable cup per day, then we generate about 6,250 pounds of coffee cup waste per year.

But doesn’t EPA recycle all of their trash? Recycling rules differ depending on municipal or local ordinances – those requirements differ for home owners versus businesses in Edison (Middlesex County), New York City, and Puerto Rico. While our regional offices do recycle more than required, coffee cups are not included.

But don’t I waste water when I wash my mug? It’s true, you’ll use water to wash your mug. However, the benefits of giving up disposable cups outweigh the concerns over the amount of water used to wash reusable mugs. True that a full (and energy efficient) dishwasher conserves the most water per cup, but you can still efficiently hand wash your mug using much less water than the 8,095 gallons needed to create 10,000 disposable cups.

Still not convinced? OK – here are more numbers for you (I love numbers!).

Annually Americans throw away 25 BILLION cups per year, which means:

  • 9.4 million trees were harvested just for cups;
  • 363 million pounds of waste were generated; and,
  • 3,125,000 tons of CO2 emissions were generated.

If even half of the EPA Region 2 employees give up their cup, then we offset 12.5 tons of CO2 every year. And, Green Apple – you’re 8.4 million people strong. Together, we can pledge a little thing and make a HUGE difference!

About the Author: Heather Barnhart is the NYC EMS coordinator. She got her start studying forestry at LSU, perfected her Hausa as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, joined Region 2 as a water quality expert, and now works on reducing the office’s footprint. For her, every day really is Earth Day.

 

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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Sustainable Things to do in NYC: Earth Day Special

#NatureSelfie

Don’t let the wet weather wash out your Earth Day celebrations this week. Our list is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you some excellent ideas for getting out and about in New York City with others who want to honor our great Earth.

Earth Day Craft and Mini Garden Tour: Visit the Queens Botanic Garden after school for a botanically-themed craft. Wednesday, April 22, 3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Earth Matters: Designing our Future: Join the New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center for a day-long event featuring workshops and discussions on climate action and sustainability. Wednesday, April 22, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

E-Waste Recycling Event: Bring your old, unwanted electronics to this Park Slope collection event. Sunday, April 26, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

5K Walk and Green Tour Event: Join Earth Day New York’s volunteering event and learn about green places around NYC. Wednesday, April 22.

Green Festival Expo: Head to the Javitz Center in Manhattan for this sustainability and green living event including workshops, exhibits, yoga classes and more! Friday, April 24 – Sunday, April 26.

Harlem Earth Day Celebration: This family friendly event includes live performances, environmental art, bike rides and yoga classes. Saturday, April 25. Noon – 4 p.m.

#NatureSelfie Campaign: If you want to join the social media conversation, get out and take a #NatureSelfie this week and post to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Don’t forget to mention @eparegion2 in your posts.

Rockaway Beach Celebrates Earth Day: Keep the celebrations going into next month by heading out to Rockaway Beach for their annual beach themed Earth Day festival. Saturday, May 2, noon – 4 p.m.

Stargazing on the HighLine: Don’t let your celebrations stop when the sun goes down! Get out and view the stars from the High Line. After dusk, Tuesday, April 21.

The Canal, A Documentary: Learn about the issue of microbeads and other plastic in our New York State waterways by attending this documentary film premiere. Friday, April 24, 8 p.m.

Tags: Earth Day, ecofriendly activities, New York City, sustainability, things to do, family-friendly NYC

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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When it Rains, it Molds

Part 1 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Mold spores up close

Mold spores up close

When I went back home recently to visit my family, I noticed a number of mold spots on the ceiling in multiple rooms. A result of roof water damage from the winter ice and snow the northeast experienced this year. This prompted me to have an interview with Mark Berry, EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Coordinator for Region 6 (serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes). Here are his responses to some common questions about mold and moisture.

  1. What is it that many people misunderstand about mold? It is important to view mold, not as a mold issue, but as a moisture issue. People think that mold is a hazardous material. Most people do not realize that mold and mold spores are all around us. Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air, and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing. It is important not to provide the moist environment mold needs to grow.The solution to the problem is to find and eliminate the moisture source first, and not focus only on the mold. Removing the mold alone does not solve the problem. If the water remains, new mold will grow in the same area.
  1. Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Should I use bleach to clean up my mold? In most cases using bleach isn’t necessary. Soap and water will often do the trick. Using bleach or some other harsh chemical cleaners can create a breathing hazard for you. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always follow manufacturer’s directions, ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

  1. Can I just paint over the mold? Many people see mold, spray some chemical then paint over it, thinking that will solve the problem. Mold can grow between the paint and the wall in all directions. The paint merely acts as a temporary cover-up. The issue with the paint is that it traps moisture between the paint and the wall, further aiding and abetting the growth of mold. Fix the source of the moisture first, and then take the appropriate steps to clean the affected area or remove it altogether.
  1. What are your most compelling mold calls? Landlord /tenant disputes over mold are our most frequent calls. We attempt to educate and make suggestions for remediation that may be used or not used by the caller’s choice. Callers need to consider the problem as both a building water issue as opposed to a mold issue. This strategy addresses the cause of the mold infestation and not the symptom. We try to get to the root cause of the problem and ease the caller’s concerns. Mold is essentially the result of water damage.
  1. Is there more mold in different parts of the country? Yes, and No. We have more mold inquiries in humid areas because the mold continually gets fed more moisture which allows it to flourish. However, mold can grow everywhere and can exist in a broad range of temperatures and humidity levels. Although moisture is necessary for growth there are molds which prefer drier environments and would need much less than other types to survive.
  1. Mold can be a variety of colors

    Mold can be a variety of colors

    What are your most frequent calls? “I’ve got mold problems can you do something to help me?” EPA Region 6’s Indoor Air Quality program (IAQ) is a voluntary program primarily responsible for conducting outreach and educating the public about indoor environmental issues, including health risks and the means by which human exposures can be reduced. IAQ educates the public about indoor environmental pollutants and sources of pollution, including mold. However, EPA does not have any regulatory authority to control mold in private residences nor do we have the resources to inspect individual homes.

    The EPA does not conduct mold cleanups, but we do provide the education necessary to give people the strategy and empowerment needed to solve the problem. We recognize the health danger to schools, homes and places of work. The EPA is the technical lead in mold research from which many states and local agencies borrow.

  1. Is testing for mold necessary?
    In most cases, if visible mold is present, sampling is not necessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Remember that mold and mold spores are natural in the environment so any sampling will result in finding mold.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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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Children’s Health: A link between Allergies, Asthma and School Attendance

By Marcia Anderson

 Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Many schools have shown a high incidence of students missing valuable school days due to asthma and allergies. In many of the same schools that report a high incidence of absenteeism, we have also found cockroach infestations in cafeterias, storage closets and teacher break rooms.

Is there a relationship between cockroach exposure, allergies and asthma?

Most people with asthma have allergic responses in their bronchial tubes when they breathe in particles of the right size and shape and composed of materials recognized by their immune system. Exposure to things like mold, cat dander, ragweed, pollen, and rodent and cockroach droppings can elicit an allergic reaction.

The proteins in cockroach feces and their decomposing bodies are of just the right size to be lifted into the air, inhaled and recognized by the immune system as a signal to make an allergic reaction in some people. This is asthma. Airborne cockroach allergens will stick to particles, like dust, that quickly settle onto dust-trapping fabrics found on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. Activities like vacuuming, or even walking may stir up these allergens.

An asthma attack can happen when a student is exposed to “asthma triggers.” One child’s triggers can be very different from those of another child or an adult with asthma.

What Causes the Allergic Reaction? The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. This protects us from dangerous diseases. People with allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react when they inhale, swallow or touch certain substances such as pollen or dust that contain the allergens. Some people are born with allergies. Others seem to acquire these allergic sensitivities as they grow older.

Asthma Studies: A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner city children. Early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause asthma to develop in preschool aged children. Inhaling particles from cockroaches can cause coughing and wheezing in babies less than 12 months of age. A lack of understanding about asthma and its treatment may cause further risk of severe, undertreated asthma. In many low income communities, coughing and wheezing are accepted as part of normal growing up and medical care may not be sought because it isn’t considered necessary, or it is too difficult to access.

A National Institutes of Health research project demonstrated a definitive connection between income and the severity of asthma in the population (http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sept98/niaid-21.htm). The study compared people hospitalized for asthma in six major U.S. cities. It found that the lower the average income, the more frequent the need for hospitalization for severe asthmatic attacks.

Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma like cockroaches, second hand smoke, mold, and air pollution are often greater in poor households. In dwellings where the amount of cockroach allergens are high, exposure is high and the rate of hospitalization for asthma goes up.

Keeping your home and family safe: The EPA recommends that you use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in buildings. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.

Actions you can take: From cracks to drain traps to groceries, cockroaches can find a way into your home in the oddest of places. Focus on sanitation to eliminate food sources, moisture sources, and harborage for the insects. At least every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches.

Allergen concentrations are generally highest in kitchens where there is plenty of food and water for cockroaches. Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away. Store food in airtight containers. Seal cracks or openings around or inside cabinets to keep cockroaches out.

Next are bedrooms where people inhale the allergens that have settled into bedding. Wash bedding regularly in hot water and remove any unnecessary fabrics like curtains and upholstered furniture. Replace carpeting with smooth flooring that can be damp-mopped.

Controlling Cockroaches. To prevent and treat cockroach infestations in your home use IPM methods first – sanitation followed by low-impact pesticides such as baits, or gels.

EPA offers more information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend reviewing EPA’s Asthma Checklist and exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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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Women and Climate Change Summit: Part Two

By Aria Isberto

Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion

As we mentioned in the previous post, EPA’s Women and Climate Change Summit had three goals: to educate, energize, and elevate the voices of women on the important issue of climate change.

Biogeochemist Dr. Kathleen Weathers dove into the first goal with an inspiring talk entitled “What’s New in Climate Change?” She emphasized that human influence on climate change is indisputable. “We know this through experiments, observations, consensus reports and long term records,” she explained, providing hard-hitting and impossible to ignore data. In the face of such a concerning future, Dr. Weathers advised: “Emit less, prepare well for the effects, and understand what is going on. Communicate. Act.”

But we did not forget the victories made thus far. A six-person panel focused on local, successful endeavors was hopeful proof that our actions do make a difference:

  • Alliance for Clean Energy’s Executive Director Anne Reynolds gave the good news about New York’s progress, being one of the states at the forefront of renewable energy. We now have a 25 % Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Hydropower provided 25% of the state’s energy in 2010, with an aim to increase that by 5% this year.
  • Jenny Briot of Iberdrola Renewables revealed that the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in upstate New York produces enough energy to power up to 160,000 homes and has increased the amount of wind power in the state by 600 percent. The land used remains available for farming, while the project benefits communities by powering school computers and providing jobs.
  • Green City Force is an AmeriCorps program, represented by Lisbeth Shepard, who explained the need to engage our city’s unemployed youth. The program “gives them a means to address climate action goals” while providing them with a stipend and metro card.
  • Tria Case, Director of Sustainable CUNY, gave an update on the NYC Solar Map project. While still in the midst of working towards a more streamlined solar power installation process, the NYC Solar Map is an informational source and useful tool for New Yorkers who want to contribute to the solar movement. Along with practical guides, the website allows visitors to calculate the solar potential of their building with the input of an address.
  • The Yonkers Streetlight Replacement Project will reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 10%, as detailed by Yonkers Director of Sustainability Brad Tito. The project works by replacing Yonker’s cobra-head streetlights with LED lights, with 11,300 replaced last year. It will save nearly $2 million in energy costs in the span of a decade.
  • The City of Kingston is making large strides as well. As a DEC Climate Smart Community, Kingston has been reducing emissions while adapting to a changing climate. Panelist Julie Noble from Kingston’s Parks and Recreation presented to the summit the city’s many forward thinking actions, one of them putting to use CANVIS, a type of resiliency planning tool that assesses site-specific potential damage caused by sea level rise. The city monitors sea levels with a mapper and develops adaptation strategies accordingly.

By lunchtime, the summit was buzzing with excitement. EPA’s Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, took the stage to thank all of the participants for being a part of the summit. She spoke about some of the women who have inspired her in her work, mentioning Rachel Carson, Lois Gibbs and Klara Sauer herself, who was sitting in front of the room. Enck also expressed how proud she was that four of the last six EPA Administrators have been women. Citing the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record, she highlighted some of EPA’s work and urged all to support and follow the sustainable progress being made in the region and all over the world.

A conclusive discussion entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” was moderated by Catherine McCabe, Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA Region 2, for the participants at the summit to discuss and come up with real solutions. The discussion was intent in its purpose to cultivate fresh ideas and for everyone to leave with a newly invigorated determination that carries long after the event has wrapped up. With thoughts such as: “How do we empower people to realize each can make a difference?” and “How can we make scientific data even more accessible to all?” It would be no surprise to anyone if new projects and collaborations are traced back this day.

Watch a video of the summit by the Poughkeepsie Journal here.

About the Author:
Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.