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Lead Paint: Doing What’s Right

2014 April 17

By Jessica Orquina

The first home I owned was built in the late 1800s. When I had it renovated, the contactors talked to me about what they had to do to protect me and their workers from the hazards of lead paint. I was glad to know that the people working on my home were going to be following proper procedures and building codes. Now, I live in a newer building, but I’m also a new mom. I’m concerned about protecting my son from harmful lead paint chips and dust where he plays and learns.

Reputable builders understand the public benefits from their meeting building code and environmental requirements.  They also know it benefits their business, especially when marketing knowledge, skills and reputation to potential customers.

Since I began working at EPA I’ve learned more about the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule and how it is implemented. This rule is designed to protect children and other vulnerable Americans from the effects of lead paint.

There have always been suspicions about the health hazards caused by lead. It’s now known that lead is a persistent, toxic chemical that builds up in people’s bodies.  Among other problems, it interferes with the development of the nervous system.  That means it’s particularly dangerous to very young children, where it can cause learning and behavioral disorders. As a result, lead was banned from paint in the US in the mid-70s.

For these reasons, the RRP rule requires workers involved with the home renovation business to be trained and certified in work practice standards.  These standards help reduce the health risks from exposure to lead based paint. The rule applies not only to construction workers, but to painters, electricians, plumbers, and anyone else whose work may disturb painted surfaces. Note to do-it-yourselfers: the risks from lead paint dust are just as great in your own work. The rule doesn’t cover you, but you still should follow lead-safe work practices.

My colleagues at EPA work hard to increase compliance with the RRP rule. For example, we provide plain language compliance resources for construction workers and ask people to submit tips and complaints to us. We also work to bring companies, like Lowe’s Home Centers, into compliance after our inspections found their contractors were not using lead-safe work practices.

As a consumer, remember to make sure you’re hiring certified renovators who use the correct work practices. Contractors that are certified under the RRP rule are encouraged to display EPA’s “Lead-Safe” logo on their workers’ uniforms, signs, and website.  Protect yourself by looking for this logo before hiring a home contractor. Whether you’re installing new windows or finishing your basement, using the correct renovating methods will pay dividends to you and your family, and to the next person that rents or buys your house.  If you hire uncertified renovators, it not only creates potential lead paint risks for your family, but reduces the incentive for other renovators to pay the extra cost to comply with the rule. For more information, visit the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program website.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Fix a leak

2014 April 16

Water conservation helps save energy and reduces carbon pollution.

Fixing small household leaks can make a huge difference. Small leaks can add up to gallons of water lost every day. Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide — that’s the equivalent of the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes!

The average household’s leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry.

Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and other leaking valves. These types of leaks are often easily correctable, in many cases requiring only a few tools and hardware that can pay for themselves in water savings.

 

Learn more: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/howto.html

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Run your dishwasher with a full load only

2014 April 15

Make the most efficient use of your dishwasher’s energy and water consumption and run the dishwasher only when you have enough dirty dishes accumulated for a full load. Running your dishwasher with a full load only can prevent100 pounds of carbon pollution and save $40 on energy bills annually. Using the air-dry option, if available, helps too.

In addition, you can save water and energy by scraping dishes instead of rinsing them before loading the dishwasher. Most dishwashers today can thoroughly clean dishes that have had food scraped, rather than rinsed, off — the wash cycle and detergent take care of the rest.

 

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Try a programmable thermostat

2014 April 14

Heating and cooling accounts for almost half your energy bill – about $1,000 a year! A programmable thermostat is one of the easiest ways you can save energy in your home and help reduce carbon pollution. An Energy Star qualified programmable thermostat helps make it easy for you to save by offering four pre-programmed settings to regulate your home’s temperature in both summer and winter – when you are asleep or away.

Learn more about saving energy at home: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_save_energy_at_home

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

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Innovating a Path Forward: EPA & the Colorado Natural Heritage Program Wade Into Colorado’s Wetlands

2014 April 14

By: William Bunch

I work in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver and have the opportunity to work with some partners that are doing great work in this area of our country. One such program is the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP).

CNHP is on the cutting edge of wetlands science and is one of EPA’s partners in Region 8. It provides an array of mapping, monitoring and assessment, and other eye-catching projects for the entire state of Colorado. One such project was the development of a wetland plant identification handbook. As a plant ecologist, I’ve used tons of plant field guides, but this is not your ordinary plant handbook. It’s an incredibly exhaustive collection that documents the wetland plants found in the state of Colorado. In fact, the weight of knowledge is so extensive that you can easily tell when the book is in your pack! On this front, CNHP shines yet again. It is currently in the process of converting the field guide into an app for smartphones. The app will reduce the extra weight during field visits, while still providing the extensive information that is included in the handbook.

Another project from CNHP that has been grabbing the attention of wetland ecologists in Colorado is its assessment of wetland plant communities in Denver parks. I had the pleasure of joining CNHP on a plant inventory of Parkfield Park and it was awesome! Of the many plants discovered and identified, we found Wolffia columbiana, which is the world’s smallest flowering plant. This was only the second known occurrence of this plant in the state of Colorado (first known occurrence in Denver), and reinforces the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The only other documentation of this plant occurring in Colorado was in Yuma County by Ralph Brooks in 1980. Who would have thought that an urban park in Denver would be home to a plant so rare for the state? As John Muir once said,

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe!” We are intrinsically connected to our environment, and everywhere you turn, there are new things to be discovered.

For more information about the great work CNHP does, check out its blog  or its wetlands inventory .  For more information about EPA’s work on wetlands, check out w.epa.gov/wetlands.

The tiny green dots, where the arrows are pointing, are clumps of Wolffia columbiana. The plant’s body is less than 1/16 in. (0.8-1.3 mm) long.  Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

The tiny green dots, where the arrows are pointing, are clumps of Wolffia columbiana. The plant’s body is less than 1/16 in. (0.8-1.3 mm) long. Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

 

Cover page of CNHP’s Field Guide to Wetland Plants

Cover page of CNHP’s Field Guide to Wetland Plants

 

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

About the author: William Bunch is an ORISE Intern for EPA Region 8. He is an avid plant ecologist and, like most ORISE interns, is currently trying to find a permanent position with EPA.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Think about the life cycle

2014 April 13

Forty two percent of carbon pollution emissions in the U.S. are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of the food we eat and the goods we use. In every one of these stages of the life cycle, we can reduce our impact.

Find out what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and learn how to reduce your impact at every stage of the life cycle.

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Use low-flow WaterSense showerheads

2014 April 12

By replacing just one showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model, EPA estimates the average family can save 2,900 gallons of water, the amount of electricity needed to power its home for 13 days, and more than $70 in energy and water costs every year.

Changes we make at home can make a huge difference. If every home in the United States replaced existing showerheads with WaterSense labeled models, we could conserve more than 260 billion gallons of water and save nearly $5.1 billion in water and energy costs across the country annually while preventing carbon pollution.

Learn more: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/shower_better.html

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Remember car maintenance

2014 April 11

A well-maintained car is more fuel-efficient, produces less carbon pollution and keeps you safe. Keeping your car in shape includes keeping your engine properly tuned, using the recommended grade of motor oil, and replacing a clogged air filters. Get regular tune-ups, follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule (which can be found in your owner’s manual), and use the recommended grade of motor oil.

Learn more: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/maintain.jsp

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

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Upcycling for Life

2014 April 11

By Mark Seltzer

With Americans creating literally millions of pounds of trash each year, and 135 million tons ending up in landfills and incinerators in 2012, I’m always looking to upcycle. I enjoy giving unwanted objects new life. Here are some of the interesting items I’ve made over the years out of objects that otherwise would have gone in a landfill.   Macquarium

Back in the day, my high school was discarding Macintosh Plus all-in one computers.  Determined to find a creative use for out-of–date computers, I built a Macquarium – a Macintosh computer aquarium. I took everything in the monitor out and replaced it with an aquarium tank and a filter.  See photos and specific details on how to make one.

Gardening and Composting

Composting is one way to upcycle your food waste, but you can build a composter with recycled materials too. I designed two composters out of reused materials – a tumbling composter with a recycled 35 gallon barrel, and a worm (vermacomposting) bin out of a reused plastic tote.

Reclaimed Wine Bottles

I’ve reclaimed wine bottles by building several prototype lights and pencil cups. These items can be found on my desk at EPA and can make great gifts.

winecup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski bench

I work part time as a National Ski Patroller at a local ski mountain, and I decided something must be done with discarded skis. Now skiiers can rest at the top on the bench I designed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planters

I turned a tiny recycling bin into a mini “Zen Garden.”  I wanted a low profile planter and found that a cast-off recycling bin serves as a narrow planter in a high traffic walkway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights! Bike Light

For a coworker and good friend who is an avid biker, I designed a bike floor lamp.  Certainly one way to recycle!

 

 

 

 

Repurposed Jelly Jars Lights

Jelly jars make great candles. Here are a couple with recycled (filtered) vegetable oil and a wick.   Currently, I’m renovating my house and donating things to a local building material thrift shop. I intend to reuse as much as possible for creative upcycling.  Here’s one gem from my house, a funky shower fixture.  Ideas for reuse? Coat Rack? Bookshelf? Stay tuned … I hope to write a blog post on my reuse ventures from house renovations.

 

 

 

 

About the author: Mark Seltzer works as an attorney advisor for EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention. During the winter months, he can be found on the ski slopes as a ski patroller at a local Pennsylvania ski mountain. During the summer, he can be found running, hiking, biking or canoeing along the Potomac.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Earth Month Tip: Recycle used electronics

2014 April 10

Electronic products are made from valuable resources and materials, including metals, plastics, and glass, all of which require energy to mine and manufacture. Donating or recycling used electronics conserves our natural resources, prevents air and water pollution, and reduces carbon pollution associated with manufacturing.

Manufacturers and retailers offer several options to donate or recycle electronics. You can search below to find programs developed by Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge participants.

Learn more about recycling used electronics: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.