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Leading the Way: Asthma Management Programs in Boston

2014 May 8

By Margaret Reid

On behalf of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), a previous winner of EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management, I would like to congratulate Peach State Health Plan, Tufts Medical Center and Multnomah County Health Department for winning this year’s awards. BPHC is honored to partner with EPA to improve the lives of people with asthma in Boston, and ultimately throughout the country. In Boston, we’re launching initiatives to address asthma control in the school and child care settings, including attempting electronic referral with the medical home and community resources.

Tufts Medical Center, located in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, serves an immigrant Chinese patient population. Tufts is a member of our city-wide Boston Asthma Home Visit Collaborative. Our collaborative may be the only community in the Asthma Community Network that can say that ALL of our members have been recognized with the EPA’s national asthma award, including:  Boston Public Health Commission/Boston Medical Center in 2009, Neighborhood Health Plan and Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010 and now Tufts Medical Center in 2014!  This collaborative approach serves as a model for programs across the country, and in partnership with EPA, we’ve helped other programs implement effective asthma programs.

One example highlights our partnership with 2014 winner Multnomah County Health Department in Portland, Oregon. In 2009, Multnomah contacted BPHC about Boston’s Breathe Easy at Home Program, which allows clinicians to make on-line referrals for home inspections for their patients with asthma. Multnomah not only adapted the program, they set the bar so much higher!  Visit http://www.asthmacommunitynetwork.org/webinars to learn about their comprehensive program which receives web-based referrals and provides inspection and/or home visits based on their client needs.  In addition, they’re receiving reimbursement for these services, which is extremely impressive.

Asthma Awareness Month provides us an opportunity to feature our successful partnerships, implement activities to raise asthma awareness, and engage with organizations across the country to share best practices. In May, under the umbrella of the Healthier Roxbury Asthma Subgroup of the Massachusetts Alliance for Quality Health, we’re challenging ourselves to a “Tweet a day for the month of May” to spread asthma awareness. Follow us on @HealthyRoxbury  during the month of May. Learn more about all of our award winning programs by reading about EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management.

About the author:  Margaret Reid is a registered nurse and will complete her Master in Public Administration in June 2014. As Director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Division of Healthy Homes and Community Supports, Ms. Reid oversees the Commissions Asthma Prevention and Control Program, which works to improve the health of Boston children and adults with asthma, with a focus on low-income residents and minority populations.

 

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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Thinking About Technology During Drinking Water Week

2014 May 7

By Katie Henderson

This week is national Drinking Water Week, and it’s a good time to highlight drinking water technology, a critical component to safe drinking water in the United States.

A few years ago, my husband and I went camping in Montana. My husband likes to find ingenious gadgets and gear for outdoor recreation. Right before the trip he had bought a portable water sterilization gadget that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to purify water. We decided to give it a try during our hike. I have to admit, it seemed a little like science fiction! Of course, this little gadget only had to treat a liter of water. The average American household uses about 1100 liters of water every day. Public water systems must meet nearly 100 different standards to deliver safe water using a variety of technologies, including UV treatment.

I continue to marvel at the improvement of water technology over the last century. Public health experts say that water technology improvements – like chlorine treatment and filtration – are some of the most important public health innovations of the last century. One hundred years ago, waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery were much more common. They are very rare in the U.S. today thanks, in a large part, to drinking water technology.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which requires EPA to establish national standards for drinking water quality and treatment for all public water systems. Public water systems must comply with SDWA as they treat and monitor your water, maintain the system’s infrastructure and equipment, and keep consumers informed. The little UV gadget we used on our camping trip is a tiny version of the sophisticated processes involved in delivering your drinking water.

About the author: Katie Henderson is an ORISE Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of the Office of Water. She received her Master’s degree from Utah State University, where she wrote her thesis on water infrastructure challenges in the west. She likes to travel, bake cookies, and promote environmental justice.

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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Compelling Journeys, New Opportunities: 15 Years of Superfund Redevelopment

2014 May 6

By Jim Woolford

In 1996, Jonathon Harr wrote A Civil Action, a book highlighting two hundred years of poor industrial practices that led to contamination at the Wells G & H Superfund site in Woburn, MA. Three years after Harr’s publication, our Superfund program – the federal program established to address uncontrolled hazardous waste sites – embarked on a new initiative, the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative (SRI). This program takes formerly contaminated land and puts it back into productive use. The Wells G&H site, along with the nearby Industri-Plex site, are both being addressed through Superfund cleanup and SRI actions.

Last summer I visited these two sites to see firsthand the positive outcome Superfund is bringing to the area. Through ongoing Superfund cleanup and site redevelopment activities, the Wells G&H and Industri-Plex sites are undergoing a renewal, bringing back land once seemingly lost forever to the poor industrial practices of past generations.

Since its inception 15 years ago, SRI has helped more than 700 communities reclaim and reuse thousands of acres of formerly contaminated land. In the case of the Wells G&H and Industri-Plex sites, they went from community eyesores to a regional transportation center, a designated green space and wetlands area, and an ice rink and retail sector, among other uses.

During my visit, I met Woburn’s Mayor, Scott Galvin, who praised the role SRI played in revitalizing the area. Local governments have been critical to SRI’s success at creating jobs, enhancing local property tax bases, and improving communities’ overall well-being. We estimate, based on 2013 data at more than 370 sites with some kind of reuse occurring, approximately 2,240 businesses were operating and generating annual sales of $32.6 billion and employing more than 70,000 people earning a combined income of $4.9 billion.

My trip to Woburn allowed me to reflect on SRI’s work to support Superfund communities’ transformative journeys. There are hundreds of Superfund sites with significant redevelopment potential. It’s exciting that two of the earliest designated Superfund sites, Industri-Plex and Wells G&H, are coming full circle from idle, blighted land to critical community assets.

About the author: Jim Woolford is the director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation.  The Superfund program is marking the 15th anniversary of its redevelopment initiative 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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EPA, Schools and Communities Work Together to Reduce Asthma

2014 May 2

By Dr. Teresa Lipsett-Ruiz

Visitors to Puerto Rico often come to bask in the island’s warmth and waves. But, our tropical environment also contributes to the asthma problem that affects about 1 in 10 people here.

In close partnership with EPA, our university-based indoor air quality program builds partnerships with students, schools and the community to improve the environmental conditions in schools and reduce student absences caused by asthma. It has worked! Over the past 6 years, the schools that we’ve worked with have seen significant decreases in the number of missed school days.

Mountainous areas such as the Puerto Rican municipalities of Caguas and Gurabo are surrounded by humid valleys known as “asthma hotspots,” yet asthma education is not always available there. In response, we created a program with EPA that focuses on three key elements: (1) information resources and checklists, (2) school “walkthroughs,” and (3) partnerships with school officials and the community to physically remove indoor environmental asthma triggers.

Our program relies on EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools guidance and Spanish-language indoor checklists to educate the community and schools on managing environmental asthma triggers. Working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, we hold IAQ Workshops on asthma triggers.

During school walkthroughs, we often find pest problems—cockroaches, rats and mice—as well as moldy, wet cardboard boxes overflowing with paper. We then formulate a plan to address these asthma triggers.
At first, some teachers were skeptical. They were worried that this was another burden piled onto their busy schedules. Enthusiasm grew, however, when the students and the community began to help. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.” The school community came together for a “mega green cleaning” of the school. To check our effectiveness, we collected mold samples before and after our plans were put in place and mold counts dropped significantly.

With the support of school officials, we implemented our program at 32 schools, which resulted in a 38 percent reduction in student absenteeism due to asthma. Based on these impressive results, we now are expanding the program in partnership with EPA. To learn more, listen to my presentation in EPA’s Back-to-School Webinar: Managing Asthma in Schools. Our communities are proud to have improved both their health and student attendance. We invite you to pursue similar programs in your schools and community.

About the author: Dr. Lipsett-Ruiz is the Dean of the School of Science and Technology in Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Her partnership with EPA has trained more than 150 teachers in 100 schools on practical steps to asthma management. The program leverages school clubs, blogs, conferences, theater play, and role modeling exercises, along with EPA information resources to reduce student absenteeism due to asthma.

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 Month Tip: Wash your clothes in cold water

2014 April 30

Washing your clothes in cold water is an easy way to save energy and prevent carbon pollution. Hot water heating accounts for about 90 percent of the energy your machine uses to wash clothes — only 10 percent goes to electricity used by the washer motor.

Depending on the clothes and local water quality (hardness), many homeowners can effectively do laundry exclusively with cold water, using cold water laundry detergents. Switching to cold water can save the average household as much as $40 annually.

Much like running the dishwasher with only a full load [link to dishwasher post], washing clothing in full loads can save more than 3,400 gallons of water each year!

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 Month Tip: Try Energy Star’s Home Energy Yardstick

2014 April 29

Energy Star’s Home Energy Yardstick provides a simple assessment of your home’s annual energy use compared to similar homes. Plug in a few details about your home to get your home’s energy score and learn how to improve your score and cut carbon pollution.

By answering a few basic questions about your home, you can learn:

  • Your home’s Home Energy Yardstick score (on a scale of 1 to 10);
  • Insights into how much of your home’s energy use is related to heating and cooling versus other everyday uses like appliances, lighting, and hot water;
  • Links to guidance from Energy Star on how to increase your home’s score, improve comfort, and lower utility bills; and
  • An estimate of your home’s annual carbon emissions.

With recommendations from Energy Star, you can save as much as 20% annually on your energy bills and cut carbon pollution.

Learn more: https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=HOME_ENERGY_YARDSTICK.showGetStarted

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

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 Month Tip: Plug electronics into a power strip

2014 April 28

Even when turned off, electronic and IT equipment often use a small amount of electricity. U.S. households spend approximately $100 per year to power devices while they are in a low power mode — roughly 8 percent of household electricity costs.

Nationwide, it is estimated that standby power accounts for more than $11 billion in annual U.S. energy costs! Using a power strip for your computer and all peripheral equipment allows you to completely disconnect the power supply from the power source, eliminating standby power consumption and cutting carbon pollution.


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

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 Month Tip: Change your HVAC system filter

2014 April 27

Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool — wasting energy and contributing to climate change.

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

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 Month Tip: Insulate your electric water heater

2014 April 26

Improve your water heater’s insulation by wrapping it with an insulating jacket and save more than $30 per year while preventing carbon pollution.

To help keep your hot water from cooling off before it gets to the tap, you can insulate the hot water piping leaving the water heater for additional savings.

And don’t forget to turn off electric water heaters and turn down gas water heaters when going away on vacation!

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

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 Month Tip: Give your car a break

2014 April 25

Using public transportation, carpooling, biking or walking can save energy and reduce carbon pollution on your way to and from work. Leaving your car at home just two days a week can reduce carbon pollution by an average of two tons per year.

Do you hate getting stuck in traffic jams? It may seem bold, but consider telecommuting (working from home via phone or the Internet), which can reduce the stress of commuting, reduce pollution, and save money. Even small life changes, like combining your errands and activities into one trip when using your car, make an impact.

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

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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