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Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40

2014 October 7

As a child in Cleveland in the 1960’s I grew used to seeing the signs of our bustling industrial city; flares on tall smokestacks just off the highway, the elegant Terminal Tower shrouded in haze and smog barely visible on a hot summer day, and the awful smells near “the Flats” by the Cuyahoga River. This was all just another part of living near the city. But like most kids, I was still eager to find new places to play outside, even downtown. One of these was Edgewater Beach on Lake Erie, right in downtown Cleveland.

Whether we were there to see the fireworks on the 4th of July or stopping by to get near the water on a hot Sunday afternoon, we were uneasy about taking a swim. Even as a 7-year old, I understood that something had to be really wrong when the Cuyahoga River caught fire. What I didn’t understand was that the water that I watched burning on the nightly news, flowed into the source of my drinking water.

Cities around the country faced similar source water challenges that impacted drinking water quality, and they are part of the reason the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974. I didn’t understand until much later the very important role that implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act played in protecting the health of Americans by cleaning up Lake Erie and waters all across the US. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the law, which requires all public water systems to comply with strict drinking water quality standards.

Safe drinking water is central to our lives and to our health, but there are many continuing and emerging challenges to providing safe drinking water. To mark the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we will highlight stories and examples of the importance of drinking water to our economy, our health, and our environment. We will also share the efforts currently underway to address the challenges our drinking water supplies face. You can follow and share these stories by going to the Safe Drinking Water Act 40th Anniversary website  or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is Director of EPA’s Office of Groundwater 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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Helping Communities Plan for Climate Change

2014 October 6

image of sunset over water

Before coming to EPA, I had an opportunity to work at Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments, studying climate change in North and South Carolina. These two states have some of the most beautiful beach towns I’ve ever visited, and both enjoy breathtaking mountain views in their upstate areas. Unfortunately, many of these scenic places, and the communities and habitats within them, are threatened by climate change impacts like sea level rise, increasing precipitation and increasing temperatures. The health of people and the environment, and the viability of the local economy are all at stake. When I spoke to people in the area about the situation, they repeatedly told me that they need tools to help them identify specific climate impacts and potential solutions.

As part of EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries (CRE) project, I’ve been able to help develop some of these tools, while working on climate resiliency on a national scale. We recently published, “Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans,” which is intended to help environmental managers and planners identify climate change risks and select adaption actions to address the most pressing ones. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program in Puerto Rico has already successfully used the workbook to identify its climate risks; the report they’ve developed will be used to inform future efforts to develop an adaptation action plan.

The CRE program will feature the workbook and the San Juan Bay pilot project during several webinars and conferences throughout the next year to introduce it to stakeholders and provide technical assistance on the methodology.

I’m pleased that although I no longer work in the southeast, I am still able to support those communities and others across the country through my work with EPA. I encourage you to learn more about what EPA and other federal agencies are doing to help Americans adapt to current and potential climate change risks, and download your copy of the workbook. Maybe you can help your community increase its resiliency to climate change.

About the author: Ashley (Brosius) Stevenson is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant working with Climate Ready Estuaries in EPA’s Office of Water. She received her Master’s in International Affairs from American University, as well as a Masters in Natural Resources & Sustainable Development from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. She enjoys spending time with her family at their beach home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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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Memories of a childhood home with a septic system in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2014 September 25

By Hiwot Gebremariam

A couple of years ago during SepticSmart Week, my colleague Maureen Pepper (Tooke) shared her experience growing up with a septic system in New Jersey. Let me share mine from another side of the world.

I grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on a septic system that didn’t work well for many reasons. It was built in the lower part of a steep landscape, which means rainwater drained into it. We drove our car over it daily because our garage was next to it. At some point, we even built a livestock barn on top of it! The septic system was built on clay soil common in Addis Ababa, preventing the downward flow of wastewater, and in dry seasons the soil cracked.

The result was the system quickly overflowed (especially in rainy seasons), upsetting our neighbors. We had to bear the expense of having it pumped twice a year.

I’m not sure what type of septic system we had, but the sewage effluent was going straight into the Bulbula River, which looked so brown and dirty no one ever swam in it. Nevertheless, the river was used to irrigate a flower and vegetable farm about 300 meters away from my house, where I had spent a lot of time playing with friends and picking fruits to buy. Now I wonder if the two diagnoses of giardia and one for typhus I had were caused by it.

I never made these connections at the time; that happened only when I learned about septic systems while serving as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant at EPA. Almost everything in EPA’s SepticSmart brochure would have been handy for my family back then — except the fact that we didn’t have a garbage disposal to start with, which may have prevented us from pouring fat and solids into the sink.

This week is SepticSmart Week. I will remember my childhood home and how I had a great time growing up playing with what nature gave me. I’ll also remember how the environment and public health can be protected with the right type of information and practice no matter where we are in the world.

About the author: Hiwot Gebremariam is an ORISE Research Participant in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three sons.

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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Ignite the Passion with Citizen Science

2014 September 24

By Grace Robiou

Citizen science is forcing us to rethink how science is performed, for whom science is conducted, and its role in our society.

In essence, citizen science refers to the participation of the public in the activities and tasks of scientific experimentation. The main objective of citizen science is to engage non-scientists by having them contribute ideas to a scientific endeavor. Basically, citizen science motivates non-scientists to develop new knowledge that contributes to a better understanding of the role of science in our society. Just like citizen journalism has gained relevance over the past few years, with blogs and tweets carrying the news of the moment, citizen science is also gaining ground. Most scientific disciplines will soon have some elements of citizen science involvement in their investigations.

Currently, Puerto Rico is home to several citizen science projects. The Citizen Science Program run by Para La Naturaleza, an independent unit of the Conservation Trust for Puerto Rico, is quite advanced. They conduct investigations in archeology, botany, coasts, birds, the land crab, and bats, and so far their work has engaged over 2,100 citizens who participate in the collection of data and the management of different aspects of the studies. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program also has a citizen science program that involves people in monitoring water quality. Other projects include the Sierra Club – Puerto Rico chapter and their tenacious and successful effort to preserve an ecological corridor that spans the northeast section of the island; Basura Cero, a zero-waste initiative; and the Sociedad Ecoambiental, which conducts activities with university students. Junte Ambiental, Mi Puerto Rico Verde, and the Institute for Caribbean Studies, also promote citizen science actively within their networks.

When a child or even an adult analyzes a water sample that came from the river that runs just steps from his or her home, or takes a nature walk to identify the species, a personal transformation occurs within that individual. Public participation in science makes individuals aware of their surroundings and turns people into defenders of their environment.

Science is, and must be, a passion shared among members of society. Science can change the world. Through citizen science, you can participate, too. Do you want to join us?

About the author: Grace M. Robiou is the chief of the National Water Quality Standards Branch. A lawyer by profession, she’s been working at EPA for over 26 years.

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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Old Habits Can Be Broken

2014 September 22

By Maureen Pepper (Tooke)

When I moved into my position in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management, I knew a great deal about environmental issues. However, I knew little about septic systems other than the one attached to the house I grew up in.

Eight years later, I am speaking to all kinds of people about septic systems, especially during SepticSmart Week, which kicks off this year on Sept. 22. The bottom line is that just because it is out of sight does not mean it should be, or is, out of mind.

On occasion I hear people proudly say that they have never had their system checked or pumped, that it works fine and is not harming anything. A septic system is more likely to fail if it is not maintained, not used properly, or not properly chosen for the soil type. So I ask them if they have a private well for their drinking water and if they ever have it tested. In most cases, a quick geology lesson goes a long way.

Everyone has his or her own motivators. With a septic system you and you alone are responsible for the entire system on your property, inside and out. Trying to ‘sell’ this idea to a homeowner or a community can be surprisingly challenging.

During SepticSmart Week, EPA will provide homeowners with tips for septic maintenance, including:

  • Protect It and Inspect It: Homeowners should generally have their system inspected every three years by a licensed contractor, and have their tank pumped when necessary, typically every three to five years. Many septic system failures occur during the winter holiday season. Therefore, EPA encourages homeowners to get their septic systems inspected and serviced now before licensed inspectors’ schedules fill up around the holidays.
  • Think at the Sink: Avoid pouring fats, grease and solids down the drain. These substances can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode: Only put things in the drain or toilet that belong there. For example, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products,cigarette butts and cat litter can all clog and potentially damage septic systems.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain: Be water efficient and spread out water use. Fix plumbing leaks and install faucet aerators and water-efficient products. Spread out laundry and dishwasher loads throughout the day — too much water at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield Your Field: Remind guests not to park or drive on a system’s drainfield, where the vehicle’s weight could damage buried pipes or disrupt underground flow.

My simple analogy is that your septic is no different from your car — it must be maintained. I have heard people say, “Pay me now or pay me more later.” This could not be truer than when maintaining your septic system. So if keeping money in your pocket and in the value of your home motivates you, go for it. The added bonus is that you, your community, and your environment are protected.

EPA, in cooperation with states and partners, are working hard during SepticSmart Week and year-round to educate local decision makers, engineers and homeowners to find solutions for managing and upgrading their wastewater infrastructure in order to restore and protect the waters in which they swim, fish and drink.

About the author: Maureen Pepper (Tooke) works in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management out of the Idaho Operations Office. She recently married and is living in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and dog.

 

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 Choose Clean Water?

2014 September 9

By Travis Loop

Do you choose clean water? If so, we need your voice. And the voices of your friends.

Clean water is important – for drinking, swimming, and fishing. We need it for our communities, farms, and businesses. But right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable. To have clean water downstream in the rivers and lakes in our neighborhoods, we need healthy headwaters upstream. That’s why we’ve proposed to strengthen protection for our water.

We hope you’ll support our clean water proposal. To help you do that, and get your friends to also voice their support, we’re using a new tool called Thunderclap; it’s like a virtual flash mob.

Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap post a one-time message on your social networks (Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr) on Monday, September 29 at 2:00 pm EDT. If 500 or more people sign up to participate, the message will be posted on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. But if fewer than 500 sign up, nothing happens. So it’s important to both sign up and encourage others to do so.

Here’s the message we’re asking you to let us post on your behalf: “Clean water is important to me. I want EPA to protect it for my health, my family, and my community. www.epa.gov/USwaters”
To sum up, you can participate through these two steps:

  1. Sign up to join the Thunderclap for Clean Water: http://thndr.it/1rUOiaB
  2. Share the link to the Thunderclap with your friends and followers so we get at least 500 people sharing the message:
    a. Facebook
    b. Twitter
    c. Tumblr

Watch EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy talk about our proposal to protect clean water: http://bit.ly/1h5JgjW

Read about the proposal to protect clean water: epa.gov/uswaters



About the author: Travis Loop is the communications director for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He chooses clean water for his kids and for surfing.

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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Bagasse to the Rescue!

2014 August 27

By Kristine Edwards

When I first visited the Crystal Mine site (part of the Basin Mining Area Superfund Site in Jefferson County, Montana) back in 2006, I was so shocked by how bad it looked that I vowed to myself to get it cleaned up before I retired.

Acid mine drainage from old mines is a big problem in historic mining districts across the U.S. The pH of mine water at the Crystal Mine is around 2.7, which is pretty acidic (on a scale of 1-14, with 7 being neutral pH and what we like to see in uncontaminated water), and carries significant concentrations of heavy metals. In order to treat the drainage, we’re working with our contractor on a treatment system.

An environmental contractor was working on mine sites in Peru when they came across a locally grown material that showed a lot of promise for treating acid mine drainage. It’s called sugar cane bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane. The bagasse is a light weight fibrous material. Additional research at the University of Colorado (Boulder) using sugar cane bagasse showed promise even at low pH levels and low temperatures. Since the Crystal Mine site is at 8,000 ft elevation, it can get very cold there in the winter.

 

Sugar cane bagasse sample

Sugar cane bagasse sample

 

The bagasse is permeable and promotes biological activity by sulfate-reducing bacteria. This converts sulfate in the drainage to sulfide. Dissolved heavy metals like cadmium, copper, iron, lead, nickel, zinc combine with these sulfides to adhere to the fibers, leaving the water much cleaner.

We’re running a treatability study at the Crystal Mine to see if the sugar cane bagasse works better at treating the drainage from this site than the typical methods. The manure and hay, a step in the process, are coming from a nearby barn and the aged wood chips and saw dust are from a local post and pole operation. So, even though the sugar cane bagasse is coming from Louisiana, we’ll be using some local materials as well.

This will be a test that, if successful, could simplify treatment of acid mine drainage at other remote mine sites in this region. It would also lower maintenance costs, if it works the way we hope it will. The study will run from mid-June to October, and then it will take us about a month to interpret the results.

I hope to have a make a decision on how to clean up the site and the design plan in place by June 2015. The Superfund cleanup process can be long and it’s taken several years to complete the investigation of the site. This treatability study with the sugar cane bagasse will help us design the final treatment system and could be something EPA or the state could use at other mine sites with acid mine drainage. I could then retire with a feeling of having accomplished my goal of cleaning up this site, and perhaps help clean up other sites as well!

 

Kristine Edwards at the Crystal Mine Adit Portal

Kristine Edwards at the Crystal Mine Adit Portal

About the author: Kristine Edwards, a “native” Montanan, has always loved hiking, fishing, horseback riding and backpacking in the mountains of Montana. She was hired by EPA out in Seattle (EPA Region 10), and was fortunate to eventually make it back to Montana after 4 years in Seattle and 3 years in Denver.

 

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 Student’s) Green Shopping Guide

2014 August 26

By Stephanie Businelli

Congratulations! You fought through your SATs, got your diploma, and are now heading towards “the best four years of your life,” more commonly known as college. If you’re a student who plans to live on campus, now is the time to start shopping for your new home, one that will be entirely yours (with the sole exception of that roommate you’ve been getting to know over Facebook this summer). While you’re buying supplies that will make your dorm reflect the uniqueness that is you, don’t forget to keep your permanent home – planet Earth – in mind. Making your dorm ‘green’ may seem as impossible as fitting all of your worldly possessions into that tiny room, but it doesn’t have to be! Try asking yourself these questions while you shop for your college dorm essentials:

  1. Can you buy it used? Head to a consignment store before you rush into major purchases. Many items on your list (especially larger ones like furniture) can be found secondhand at a lower price while keeping that “just as good as new” quality.
  2. Is it reusable? Rather than buying single-use items, buy those that have a longer shelf life. A single glass plate can replace countless paper ones that ultimately end up in the trash.

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  1. Does the company promote sustainability? While shopping, look for brands that make green products.  EPA has programs that can help you shop and live green, including ENERGY STARWater Sense, and Design for Environment.
  2. Is it made of recycled materials? Create a recycle ripple effect by buying supplies that use recycled materials. Your purchase will encourage manufactures to make more of these recycled-content products available and help conserve our precious natural resources.
  3. Is it locally produced? Products made locally require less transportation, requiring less fuel use and reducing their overall environmental impact. Not to mention, you‘ll be supporting businesses in your community!

EPA estimates that 42% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the energy used to produce, process, transport, and dispose of food and goods. By making your dorm green (in practice – color is completely optional), you’re working towards a more sustainable future. Your actions can have a huge effect!  For more information and additional ideas check out Think Green Before You Shop.

 

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About the author: Stephanie Businelli is a biological basis of behavior major and environmental studies minor at the University of Pennsylvania. As an intern for the EPA Communications Services Staff in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, she likes to brainstorm green dorm ideas she wishes she had known as a freshman. She’s currently offering a hefty reward for the first person to create a (environmentally-friendly) time machine.

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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Green Your Dorm (or Home!) with Our Back to School Pinterest Board

2014 August 25

By Stephanie Businelli

It’s that time of year again! The summer is slowing down and if you are a high school graduate heading to college, chances are you are frantically buying items from that (never-ending) list of dorm essentials. Before you head out to another store, be sure to check out our new Green Your Dorm (or Home!) Pinterest board. Find easy do it yourself (DIY) projects that can help you recycle objects you have around the house while crossing items off of your shopping list. You’ll find green ways to create cork boards, jewelry holders, air fresheners, and more. Aren’t shopping for dorm supplies this summer but feel inspired? These DIY ideas are great for your home as well!

Why are we sharing this information with us? We need your help to reduce these numbers:
· Americans threw away 250,000,000 tons of trash in 2012.
· 134,000,000 tons of that trash ended up in landfills and incinerators.

Your actions can have a huge effect. Be sure to check out our Green Your Dorm (or Home!) Pinterest board before you go shopping this summer.

About the Author: Stephanie Businelli is a biological basis of behavior major and environmental studies minor at the University of Pennsylvania. As an intern for the EPA Communications Services Staff in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, she loves all DIY projects, especially those that help her protect the Earth (and her bank account).

 

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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EP…Yay

2014 August 19

 

By Gyeongbae Jung

It’s 8 AM. I wake up, shower, put on some clothes, and struggle to find matching socks as I wonder why I didn’t to go to bed earlier. The struggle continues as I get ready to bike to my internship at EPA. I’m not a very good biker, but I lie to myself every morning about how good I am to convince myself to make the trip. I bike past Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, downtown, and the myriads of tourists taking selfies in front of the White House.

Interning at EPA this summer has been a bit surreal for me. I remember I used to stare at these big marble buildings in total awe when my family visited D.C. years ago. Mini me would try to picture what they would look like from the inside and, well, I’m here now. My childhood wonder and imagination have quickly been replaced with rows and rows of doors that lead to unknown offices filled with cubicles, employees, and the hopes and dreams of the American people. As I do my daily walk upstairs to my office, I can’t help but imagine how many people have done the same before me.

I’m an intern at the Office of Web Communications (OWC), or “the office of extreme Facebooking” as my friends would like to call it. I figured nothing would have prepared me more for this internship than the hours I spent procrastinating on social media during finals. But, honestly, that’s a very shallow way to describe the important work this office does. OWC synthesizes content and news, and shares it with the public through various social media channels. According to the American Press Institute, 44% of Americans receive their news through social media. As peoples’ dependence and connectivity to the internet continues to grow, so will the importance of modern media outlets as a way of sharing information with the public. OWC helps the public learn about environmental news and information in 140 characters or less.

Today is the last day of my internship at the EPA. It’ll be 8 AM tomorrow, I’ll wake up, shower, put on some clothes, and once again struggle to find matching socks. I’ll try to lie to myself again, but this time about how I won’t miss the intern struggle. I feel like this time my morning lie won’t be very effective. I sincerely loved my time here, the work I did, the people I met, and the cause I supported. People call it the EPA, but for me it’ll always be the EP….yay.

About the author: Gyeongbae Jung is a sophomore at American University studying environmental science. He works as an intern in the EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

 

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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