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Want Less Cancer from Environmental Causes? Let’s Get Building Codes to Reduce Radon

2015 February 4

By Jani Palmer

As part of our Indoor Environments Division, my colleagues and I work to reduce people’s exposure to radon, the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water – where it naturally occurs. Radon gets into the air we breathe, and it can be found all over the country. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices and schools. You are most likely to get the greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.

The good news is that radon is easy to detect and fix. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. And, part of my job at EPA is to introduce radon safety features into state and local building codes, like adding a pipe to collect radon from under the home before it has a chance to get inside. If jurisdictions and states adopt codes that require radon-reducing features to be built into new homes and buildings, far fewer Americans would be at risk of getting lung cancer. After all, building a home with radon-reducing features is much cheaper and easier than fixing elevated radon levels in a home that has already been built.

Recently, I participated in the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code hearing. At the hearing, my task was to ask the room full of committee members to not remove radon reduction features from the code. I only had two minutes to plead my case, and I think I delivered a powerful message.

Spoiler alert: The vote on my issue was not successful. One committee member believed that radon didn’t harm people; another believed that adding radon reducing features was too expensive. Neither of these are true. This means that we need to invest more time in educating codes professionals on radon.  So, while I was there, I met stakeholders that just might help us succeed in the future.

Momentum is on our side. More and more state and local jurisdictions are adopting radon building codes, and many voluntary green labeling programs require radon testing and mitigation. Builders are also including radon-resistant construction techniques in new homes.

We’ll continue to work with states, local groups and industry to spread the word about the protection that radon codes offer, and we’ll continue trying to get radon covered by the International Code Council.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. She has provided indoor air quality and industrial hygiene services for public and private alike, and is currently serving as Radon Team Leader.

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 PIAEE Winner’s Path Forward

2015 January 28

By Gerry Reymore

Greetings from Vermont! The snow is falling and the temperature is a chilly 20 degrees. As a teacher, I’m busy starting the second half of the school year. If your school is anything like ours, you don’t have time to even blink from now until graduation in June. The rest of the school year just seems to fly by.

This year is especially exciting for me as a winner of the 2014 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). This award recognizes K-12 teachers who connect students to the natural world around them and use innovative methods to teach environmental education. I’m proud to be one of the 2014 recipients. I received financial support for my training, and my school received financial support too. I challenged my students this year to brainstorm what we can do with the school portion of the funding.

We agreed to focus on water and incorporate that theme in as many ways as we can. We’ll be updating our water sampling lab equipment, which will allow us to test water samples at our homes and from the local brook that runs behind our school and into the White River. Our town is building a new water treatment plant and we’ll be working with the town to understand water science from a municipal perspective. Finally, we’ll be installing a remote weather station and a water sampling station in our sugarbush (the forest of maple trees where sap is harvested for syrup). With this equipment, we can sample and test rainwater to relate its properties to the health of the forest. Information we gather will be shared with the Proctor Maple Research Center of the University of Vermont.

As for me, I plan to use this award to improve my understanding of water and the environment, but from a different standpoint: engineering. This summer, I plan to study the Erie Canal in Central New York. I would like to focus on the engineering and construction of this historic project and look at the environmental impacts to tie engineering into my teaching. I can see plenty of lesson plans and lab experiments for next year’s class coming out of this experience.

Applications for the 2015 award are now being accepted. If you’re a stellar teacher who is passionate about environmental stewardship and actively incorporating environmental education into your teaching, I highly encourage you to apply for PIAEE.

EPA, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity to learn more about a subject I’m deeply committed to and to give my students a richer learning environment.

Have a great second half to the school year.

About the author: Gerry Reymore is the Environmental Resource Management Instructor at the Randolph Technical Career Center in Randolph Vermont. Before entering the teaching field 10 years ago, Gerry was vice president of a large Forest management and aerial mapping company in New England. He has a BS in Natural Resource Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and a MSE in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle. WA.

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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All Dried Up – Advice for Drought-Impacted Water Utilities

2015 January 27

By Bailey Kennett

Born and raised in upstate New York, the idea of drought was pretty foreign to me. Some summers were dry, and maybe our backyard veggies didn’t do so well, but after some disappointment, we’d just cross our fingers and hope for the weather to turn before the season ended. This passive approach may have been fine for a budding gardener and her fleeting green thumb, but when whole communities are at risk, drought preparedness and response actions are essential.

Whether you live in the Sonoran Desert or the Land of 10,000 Lakes, drought can impact your water supply and influence how much water you can use at home. Some of us may witness dramatic impacts in parched lakes or vast stretches of cracked earth, while others may see more limited effects in a wilting vegetable garden. But, as these conditions persist year after year as they have in much of the country, it becomes increasingly clear that we are dealing with a disaster – a slow-moving and hard-hitting disaster fueled by climate change.

At the frontlines of the water supply emergency are water utilities, which monitor and manage supplies in order to maintain water service and ensure public health. As record drought conditions continue, many water utilities nationwide are revising their existing drought management approaches to account for new extremes and tipping points.

2014-12-09 Spicewood Onsite-WEM-004

EPA recently launched an effort to develop an interactive, multimedia guide to assist water utilities in increasing their drought preparedness and resilience. This drought response guide is based on lessons learned from six water utilities across diverse regions of the country. Two of the pilot utilities – Tuolumne Utilities District in Sonora, California, and a Corix Utilities system in Spicewood Beach, Texas – shared their insights into the major challenges faced, solutions developed, and steps taken to ensure a more resilient utility and community.

As drought continues across the United States, creating conditions that threaten to become the “new normal”, it is critical that water utilities prepare for changes to long-term supply and demand. Whether it’s using sustainable gardening practices or being aware of water emergency conditions, we as community members must also understand our role in water conservation and stewardship. Drought may be a slow-moving disaster, but our drought management efforts will help more water utilities move towards greater resiliency.

About the author: Bailey Kennett works in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water in Washington, D.C, through a fellowship with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). She works on emergency response programs and tools to increase the resilience of the water sector.

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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11 Sports Teams and Leagues That Have Gone Green

2015 January 27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Carly Carroll

It’s a big week in sports. Folks are getting ready for the big game, and if you’re a hockey fan, there’s a lot of excitement out on the ice. So this week we’re focusing in on the ways that sports teams, stadiums and fans can reduce their environmental impact and take action on climate.

The great news is that many sports teams and leagues have already scored some big environmental goals. Read on to learn about a few of the big steps they’ve taken on the environment.

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles run an efficient offense under Chip Kelly and have started to bring efficiency to their cleaning strategy as well. They are using greener cleaning products that don’t contain chemicals that can harm the environment.
  2. The National Hockey League is on a power play on a number of environmental initiatives, including purchasing wind energy credits to offset all of its electricity usage for its headquarters in New York City.
  3. Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is the first NHL arena to be LEED Gold Certified – the second highest level of certification.
  4. Every year, the National Basketball Association hosts NBA Green Week where it highlights what teams and players are doing to take action for a cleaner environment.
  5. The Boston Red Sox recently wrapped up a new “green monster” in Fenway Park – a five-year plan that included the installation of enough solar panels to provide 37% of their energy.
  6. While Corey Kluber fanned a lot of batters in 2014 en route to his AL Cy Young, the Cleveland Indians fanned their way to clean energy, becoming the first MLB team to install a wind turbine.
  7. The Miami Marlins are sliding into 2015 with a groundbreaking reduction in water use. New plumbing fixtures and water use plans will reduce their use by an estimated 52%, while changes to their landscape design mean a 60% reduction in water for irrigation.
  8. About 65% of the waste generated at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, gets recycled. According to the Pirates, if the plastic bottles they’ve recycled were laid flat end to end, they would stretch from PNC Park to Yankee Stadium and back again.
  9. The St. Louis Cardinals are knocking it out of the park when it comes to reducing wasted food. Since 2008, they’ve delivered $159,462 of safe, healthy leftover food to those who need a good meal.
  10. The Seattle Mariners took a big step adding Robinson Cano to their lineup in 2014. The club has also taken big steps to enhance their energy efficiency and reduce water use. They’ve saved more than $1.75 million in electricity, gas, water and sewer bills since 2006.
  11. The Washington Nationals are leading the league on green building. Nationals Park was the first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver Certified.

Many teams, leagues and stadiums are involved with programs here at EPA like the Food Recovery Challenge and the Green Power Partnership. Check out our Green Sports website to learn more.

About the Author: Carly Carroll has worked in public engagement and environmental education for 8 years. She enjoys connecting the sports world with EPA and teaching kids about nature. She graduated from NC State University with a Masters in Science Education, but is a die-hard Tar Heel fan.

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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Radon Risk? You Don’t Know Until You Test

2015 January 12

By Henry Slack

My neighbors Pete and Beth (not their real names) met while in their twenties, and got married. A great couple. Had two beautiful girls, who grew up in no time at all – field trips and soccer, high school sports, college, adventures abroad. A strong couple, who helped lead the PTA, the band parents, you name it. Never smoked, good folks, the kind you like to have as neighbors.

Then Pete got lung cancer. They had some optimism over treatment, but the optimism faded as the disease strengthened, and he passed pretty quickly. Lung cancer, unfortunately, has a survival rate lower than many other types of cancer.

I don’t know for sure that Pete’s lung cancer was caused by radon. But, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Elevated radon is found in one out of 15 homes nationally, and the only way to know if a home has high levels is to test it.

As EPA’s indoor air guy for the southeast, I get calls every day. Most people are worried about mold. A few are worried about odors, or chemicals they may have been exposed to, or some health issue that they think might be related to indoor air quality. Very few people call with concerns about radon – and yet, radioactive radon gas kills more people than any of those other things that people call about. Radon kills over 21,000 people a year in the U.S.

Twenty-one thousand. That’s around 400 a week, every week, every year. Some of them are parents, spouses, partners, best friends, and neighbors who leave behind a world of grief for family, like Beth.

Test your home. It’s easy and inexpensive. You can get low-cost test kits online through the National Radon Program Services or other vendors. And if you have a high level – 4 picocuries and above – get your home fixed.

About the Author: Henry Slack has been the Indoor Air coordinator in Region 4 since 1991 and still enjoys it. A mechanical engineer by training, he’s on the Radon Team, but has had assignments to CDC and Barbados. In 2014, he became a Distinguished Lecturer for American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), speaking about mold, indoor air, and ventilation.

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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I’m Dreaming of Green Holidays

2014 December 23

By Stephanie Businelli

Greeting cards have all been sent, the holiday rush is through. Not quite? With the beginning of the holiday season comes the beginning of the holiday stress. And, if you’re like me and want to have a green holiday season, that adds to the challenges.

But, our Greening Your Holidays Pinterest board has great ideas to help. With suggestions on how to reduce holiday food and paper waste, as well as green decoration ideas, you’ll be able to relax and roast chestnuts on an open fire in no time. Check out the tips on DIY wreaths, new uses for old holiday cards, gift wrapping gone green, and more.

May your days be merry and bright and may all your holidays be green!DIY

About the Author: Stephanie Businelli is a Biological Basis of Behavior major and Environmental Studies minor at the University of Pennsylvania. She interned on the Communications Services Staff in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She loves the most wonderful time of the year and wishes you and yours a very merry (green) holiday season.

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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Home Page Going Mobile

2014 December 16
EPA responsive homepage at tablet size

EPA responsive homepage at tablet size

By Danny Hart

Did you know we have a mobile website? For the last several years, this small version of our full site has provided a limited set of resources that work well on small screens. But it’s always been missing many features we have on the normal home page.

As part of our efforts to make our site work well on both a normal-sized monitor and on a mobile device like a phone or tablet, we’ve been rebuilding our whole website to be responsive. Which means the page changes based on what device you’re using to view it, navigation changes, images scale, content blocks wrap etc. And the home page presented some special challenges.

The responsive design offers you one major advantage over the special mobile site we currently offer: it will provide exactly the same information and links as today’s full-sized design.

We’re almost ready to launch it, but before we do, I wanted to invite you to poke around and let us know what you think. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • You’ll see some features that look different on a small screen. That’s intentional. After all, large images don’t work well on many mobile devices. But everything should work, links should be clickable, etc.
  • Where we can, we link to responsive pages from the home page. For example, our news releases have a responsive version that you should see when you follow a home page link. Same goes for our blog posts. But it’s not universal; we haven’t finished redesigning our entire website.
  • In some cases, sets of links are collapsed into bars that open when you tap them. That’s another conscious choice as we thought through how to make things work best on small screens.

With that said, here’s the responsive design. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 

About the author: Danny Hart is the Acting Director for the Office of  Web Communications in the Office of Public Affairs.

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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Let’s Talk About 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water

2014 December 12

By Peter Grevatt

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act. We’ve made such incredible progress in improving the safety of the water we drink over the past 40 years that today we almost take it for granted. But, clean and reliable water is at the very foundation of what makes our communities strong. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.

As one part of our commemoration of this important milestone, I’ll be participating in a Twitter chat on Tuesday, December 16, at 1:00 pm ET. We’ll talk about the accomplishments of the past 40 years under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the challenges that lie ahead. Please plan to join the conversation by asking questions and sharing your ideas for ways that we can continue to ensure we all have safe water to drink!

Want to join me?

Before the chat:
·    Plan to participate on December 16, 2014 starting at 1:00 pm ET.
·    Encourage your friends to take part, too.

During the chat:
·    Tweet questions and comments to @EPAwater and using the #SafeToDrink hashtag.

To learn more about this milestone for our nation’s drinking water, read my blog post, “Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40,” and visit the 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water website. You can also watch me discuss the anniversary in this video. I look forward to our chat on Tuesday!

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is the director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

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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Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community

2014 December 10

By Lillianne Brown

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.

When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.

Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.

At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.

Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.

About the author: Lillianne Brown is a senior at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. She is a member of the Zero Waste Composting team and won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014.

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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America’s Water Future: Smart, Green, Distributed

2014 December 5

By Charlotte Ely

I was raised with the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” To save water, I started making changes in my own home. Following the advice I’ve given to drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities through my work with EPA’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure program, I assessed our use, identified ways we could save water, and made improvements.

I replaced inefficient fixtures and appliances with WaterSense and Energy Star models. I fixed leaks. Most recently, I installed a graywater system. Residential graywater is water from showers, baths, bathroom sinks or washing machines. Graywater can be used instead of drinking water to safely and beneficially irrigate gardens. The graywater system meets much of our outdoor water needs. Since installed, our household consumption has dropped to an average of 19 gallons per person per day — 60% less than the San Francisco average of 49 gallons per day and 80% less than the national average of 100 gallons per day.

 

The graywater system in Charlotte’s house in San Francisco. Water from one shower and one sink flows into six mulch basins, providing water to a planter bed, four jasmine bushes, a lemon tree and a maple tree.

The graywater system in Charlotte’s house in San Francisco. Water from one shower and one sink flows into six mulch basins, providing water to a planter bed, four jasmine bushes, a lemon tree and a maple tree.

 

As California enters its fourth year of drought, I’m struck both by the immensity of the challenges ahead, and the incredible potential to re-think how we manage our water resources. Innovative water management practices, such as residential graywater and on-site commercial re-use are examples of the kinds of investments that will help communities adapt to water scarcity. One good example is San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s headquarters building which uses 60% less water than similar sized buildings by reclaiming and treating all of the building’s wastewater on site.

I’m especially encouraged by organizations helping to re-envision our water infrastructure as a smart, green and distributed network:

  • Smart: Uses data analytics to optimize utility management.
  • Green: Use strategic landscaping to capture rainfall for reuse or recharge.
  • Distributed: Has onsite treatment and reuse.

Organizations, like Imagine H2O, are cultivating innovative concepts, technologies and entrepreneurs to help communities adapt—not only to climate change impacts such as drought, but also to an escalating need to invest in our nation’s drinking and clean water infrastructure. This year, Imagine H2O’s annual challenge will honor scalable, cost-effective solutions that improve water and wastewater infrastructure. I’m excited to see what the contestants come up with!

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” If we could change how we manage water, could we also change the ‘tendency’ of the water? Would it be less scarce? Less polluted? How do you think we can make our water infrastructure smarter, greener and more distributed?

About the author: Charlotte Ely joined EPA’s San Francisco office in 2006. She works for the Sustainable Water Infrastructure program, helping communities throughout the southwest increase the water and energy efficiency of their water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure.

 

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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