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Keep Pesticides and Other Chemicals in Their Original Containers to Prevent Poisonings

2014 March 20

By Darlene Dinkins

Neighbors often save money by sharing things like tools and lawn and garden products. But, sometimes a neighbor’s good intentions may lead to tragic consequences – like when a neighbor shares a weed control product and gives it to you in an old water bottle. His good intentions could quickly turn dangerous if someone mistakes the bottle for a beverage.

Poison centers are all too familiar with accidental poisonings that occur after a person ingests a chemical that was transferred from its original container into a beverage container. In California, poison centers identified more than 1,400 cases of accidental poisoning caused by storage of non-food substances in soda bottles, unmarked bottles, cups, or glasses from 1998 to 2009. For example, there was the case of a 49-year-old man who reached for his coffee cup and took a sip while working in the barn one morning. He forgot that he had just poured an herbicide into his cup because he was concerned about the deterioration of the original pesticide bottle when he initially opened the container.

National Poison Prevention Week is March 16-22. It’s a time to raise awareness about simple steps that we can all take to prevent poisoning. I want to highlight the dangers of removing pesticides and other household chemicals from their original containers and storing them in bottles or cans that can be mistaken for beverages. One of the simplest ways to prevent poisoning is to always keep products in their original containers. Product labels contain valuable use instructions, important precautions, and first aid information that is needed in case of an emergency.

Take action to prevent a poisoning from occurring in your home:

  • Post the Poison Control Center national helpline number, 1-800-222-1222, near your phone or program the number into your phone’s speed dial feature.
  •  Read the product label first before using a product and follow the directions to the letter.
  •  Never transfer pesticides and other household chemical products to containers that may be mistaken for food or beverages.
  • Don’t use empty pesticide containers to store anything else. Even if you wash the container, it could still contain residues of the pesticide and could hurt someone.
  • Seal products after each use and store them out of children’s reach.
  • If you use mouse or rat poison, use products with tamper-resistant bait stations to protect children and pets.
  • Remove children, pets, and toys before applying pesticides either inside or outside your home.
  • Follow label directions to determine when children and pets can re-enter the area that has been treated.

Poisoning incidents are preventable. Take these steps today and help us raise awareness of how to prevent poisonings and exposures to household cleaners and pesticides.

About the author: Darlene Dinkins is in Communications Services Branch of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. Darlene represents EPA on the Poison Prevention Week Council, which promotes National Poison Prevention Week, and distributes the Council’s materials and messages.

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.

Our Waters Know No Borders

2014 March 5

By Allison Martin

On my recent visit to South Texas with our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program, I met with local residents and learned the challenges they face from failing wastewater treatment systems. One person explained how, during heavy rains, she had to wade through thigh-deep water mixed with sewage in her yard. A mother described her children’s skin and stomach problems due to contact with wastewater.  Another showed me a puddle in her yard. Her son stood a few feet away; he must have been well-instructed that this ever-present puddle above the family’s failing septic system was off limits. But as I eyed the small compound, I had a sinking sense that staying away from the puddle was not eliminating the family’s contact with the wastewater.

Many border communities are economically disadvantaged and can’t bear the financial burden to build or repair their water infrastructure. Failing systems can significantly affect the environment, spilling untreated wastewater into streets, rivers and streams. This can seriously affect community health, increasing the risk of water-borne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and gastro-intestinal diseases. Unfortunately, these issues are not isolated. The U.S. and Mexico share many rivers, and sewage discharged into them pollutes our shared water resources.

My trip reemphasized to me the importance of our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program. It funds the planning, design, and construction of high-priority drinking water and wastewater treatment systems in border communities. Meeting with border residents gave me a deeper appreciation for the program’s unique technical assistance component, which helps communities select the type of infrastructure that is right for them. The program also emphasizes community participation, empowering residents to get involved in the process. Most importantly, the projects funded by this program help prevent serious health and environmental problems.

To protect the health and environment of those who call the border home, we have to continue to work collaboratively to treat pollution at the source.  Our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program does just that.

About the author: Allison Martin is an ORISE participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Allison supports the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program, Clean Water Indian Set-Aside Program, and Decentralized Program.

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.

ICYMI: Air Pollution and Heart Health

2014 February 28

Did you miss our Healthy Heart Month Twitter chat? Have no fear! We’ve pulled out some of the gems for you below. Visit to learn more about protecting your heart from air pollution.

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.

Use Wood Wisely

2014 February 21

By Steven Donohue, Region 3

I was born and bred in Pennsylvania. My teen years were spent chopping several cords of wood a year to feed a wood stove in an attempt to heat our drafty old house and reduce our heating bill.  
Today, I use about a half cord of wood a year in our fireplace to brighten cold nights and wet, dreary days. Our energy efficient house and careful burning reduce emissions and save time, money, and my back!

Before burning wood (or any other fuel for heating), it just makes sense to seal up any air leaks and add the recommended amount of insulation to keep the heat you generate inside your house.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That old saying, by Philadelphia favorite Ben Franklin, applies as much today as when Ben said it in 1735. 

It’s also important to burn your wood efficiently. Anyone who’s ever tried to heat a house with a traditional fireplace knows they suck almost as much heat up the chimney as they provide.  Our 1970s wood stove was better than a fireplace, but still nowhere near as good as the EPA certified unit I have now.  Our fireplace insert is likely fifty percent more efficient, allowing us to burn a third less wood for the same heat.  And, a few years from now, we’ll have even more efficient units: EPA just proposed new rules to reduce the amount of particulate smoke (unburned fuel) down to the weight of about half a penny per hour.

When using our fireplace, I also make sure I burn only seasoned, dry wood.  Wet wood not only gives off less heat, but it makes more smoke and forms creosote that can cause chimney fires. Having planted my share of trees over the years, I know how long they take to grow, so I try to use the wood they provide us wisely.  Once again, a penny saved is a penny earned. To learn how to tell whether your firewood is ready to burn, and get other information on burning wood efficiently, please visit the  BurnWise website.

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he focuses on greening EPA and other government facilities.

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.

EPA & America’s Farmworkers: Helping Create a Safer Work Environment

2014 February 20

By Cindy Ramirez
I am the granddaughter of a Bracero. In 1961, my grandfather was part of the guest worker program – unofficially called the Bracero program – that allowed Mexican men to work temporarily in U.S. agriculture. I was told by my grandfather that when he arrived, officials sprayed him with pesticides to kill the “Mexican fleas,” an experience shared by over 2 million other men, so he could work in the U.S. For the next two years, he worked on the tomato farms of California to help his young family back home in the rural mountains of central Mexico. Today, millions of farmworkers continue to migrate here seasonally or immigrate permanently in search of agricultural work. 

My grandfather's Bracero ID card

My grandfather’s Bracero ID card

 As an intern with EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, I learned that even though farmworkers are not sprayed with pesticides like my grandfather was, some are still exposed to the harmful chemicals simply because of where they work.
Lessening the risk of occupational pesticide exposure in agriculture is the purpose of EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard. Now, EPA is proposing to amend its 1992 regulation so that almost 2 million workers can benefit from annual pesticide safety training that will include how to better protect themselves from pesticide exposure in the workplace and from bringing pesticides home on their clothes, exposing their families to chemicals. The proposal also includes updated personal protective equipment standards for pesticide handlers; a first-time ever minimum age requirement for pesticide handlers and some workers; improvements in the notification of pesticide treated areas; and access to information on pesticide application, the pesticide label, and safety data for farmworkers and their advocates.

Buckets typically used by migrant workers to pick tomatoes.

Buckets typically used by migrant workers to pick tomatoes.

I have seen America’s farmworkers work despite many risks, including pesticide exposure, in order to provide for their families who are either back home or alongside them in the fields. My grandfather experienced similar hardships to help make a better life for his children. The amendment to EPA’s Agricultural Worker Protection Standard will help make a safer work environment for current and future farmworkers.
Let EPA know your views by commenting on the farmworker proposal.
About the author: Cindy Ramirez is an intern working at EPA in Washington, DC, on projects related to farmworker outreach, pesticide safety, and the EPA regulation for worker protection.


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.

Our Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Toxic Chemical Releases in Your Neighborhood

2014 February 19

By Kara Koehrn

Chemicals have been in the news a lot recently. That makes me curious about what is going on in my neighborhood.

Here in the United States, we’re lucky to have information available through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program. I work on TRI, and it’s important to note that, typically, “release” means disposal of toxic chemicals by facilities operating under permits designed to protect human health and the environment. Only a small portion of the TRI release total is due to spills or leaks.  My coworkers and I are proud to continue the community-right-to-know tradition by providing you with information about toxic chemical releases to air, water, and land on our website.

Every year, we publish a summary of what is going on at a national level, called the TRI National Analysis. This year, we’re making it easy to interpret TRI data at a local level, too: we’re providing analyses for all 891 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas across the United States. Each of these urban areas has its own high-level analysis that can tell you whether TRI chemical releases are increasing or decreasing over time, plus what chemicals and industries are involved. Would you like to know about the Denver area? What about Miami? How do they compare? Take a look! And, if you live in a rural area, type in your zip code or county information to find out what’s going on near you.

In its 27 years, TRI data has done a lot to empower citizens and communities. It’s been used to:

  • Roughly indicate facilities’ environmental performance over time.
  • Begin conversations with local facilities to encourage them to reduce releases, develop pollution prevention plans, and improve safety.
  • Set priorities and assign resources to the most pressing problems.

What will you do with the information you find?

I hope you check out the TRI National Analysis, and our new local analyses, to see what toxic chemicals are being disposed of or released in your neighborhood. After all, it’s your environment, and it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She sold her car two years ago to take full advantage of public transportation in D.C. and doesn’t even miss it.

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.

The L.A. River: A Winding, Twisting Tale of Survival

2014 February 12

By Jessica Werber

I spent most of my formative years in Los Angeles, taking walks down a concrete pathway that I didn’t even realize was part of the LA River. I would jump from side to side, run back and forth, and slide along the warm sun-baked cement. I wasn’t splashing in puddles because there was no water that I could see, feel, or hear. It was all concrete.

The story of the LA River began long before I was born. In 1913, the city increased in density and the LA Aqueduct was built. The river’s historic flow pattern led to winter flooding, which resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and dozens of deaths. By the mid-1930s, local municipalities started flood control efforts to abate winter flood flows, and the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with designing a flood risk management system. The end result was the river that I would later come to know as my concrete playground.

More than 70 years later, in 2007, LA took steps to restore the river to a more natural state. The city drafted the LA River Revitalization Master Plan, with a long-term vision benefiting water quality, flood protection, and community revitalization. Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a feasibility study covering different restoration options, which was released for public comment in September 2013. Non-government organizations engaged in local activism and you, the American public, sent in your opinions and ideas.

In 2010, right before I started my fellowship at EPA, the agency took an active role in protecting the LA River by designating all 51 miles a “traditional navigable water” under the Clean Water Act.  In 2013, EPA commented on the Corps’ feasibility study and explained that the principles guiding the effort are part of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which promotes clean urban waters, water conservation, connecting people and their waterways, encouraging community involvement, and promoting economic prosperity. I believe the restoration of the LA River will help to fulfill these goals for the communities in LA, and I hope people in LA recognize how much effort it takes to restore a river as large as this one.

Look at the two pictures below:

Existing view of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

Existing view of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA


Proposed restoration of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

Proposed restoration of Taylor Yard in Los Angeles, CA

They are of Taylor Yard, a 247 acre former railroad site near downtown LA. They show the difference between the existing site and a proposed alternative, which replaces the old railroad yard with lush vegetation.

Viewing these contrasting images, I’m transported back to my former life in LA. Adjacent to my bedroom window was a concrete channel that echoed the voices of directors screaming “ACTION!” at the studio across the way. It seems as if action will indeed be taken. By the time my future children visit the LA River, I hope they can appreciate it for what it really is: a river full of life and spirit…and, of, course rushing water.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney.

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.

Do You Know…About Green Power?

2014 February 10

By Mollie Lemon

You probably know that carbon pollution is the biggest driver of climate change. But, did you know that one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions come from power plants? Power plants generate electricity for our homes, businesses, and workplaces. Did you know that green power, sourced from renewable resources including the sun and wind, produces electricity with little or no fossil-fuel based greenhouse gas emissions? And, did you know that green power is available to every single business, institution, and residential electricity consumer in the U.S.?

I’ve been working for EPA’s Green Power Partnership program since 2011, and buy green power for my own electricity use at home. I have many reasons for using green power – because I’m concerned about extreme weather events that are exacerbated by climate change, because I want my young cousins to be able to play outside in the summer, and because some of my favorite places I’ve visited in my travels over the years are under serious threat from climate change. Working at the EPA has shown me that changing the source of my electricity is one of the easiest and most impactful things I can do in the face of such threats.

The more than 1,500 organizations that participate in our Green Power Partnership also know about the benefits of using green power. Today, our Green Power Partners are collectively using more than 29 billion kilowatt-hours of green power every year. That’s equal to avoiding the annual carbon pollution from the electricity use of more than three million average American homes.

I continue to be impressed by the commitment of our partners to using green power, which helps keep our air clean and healthy. We recently released the first quarterly update of our Top Partner Rankings for 2014, which highlights the annual green power use of leading partners nationwide. Close to two-thirds of these organizations are using 100 percent green power, and nearly half are small businesses. And, every single one of them is helping to grow the market for clean energy resources in the U.S. and contributing to a healthier environment for all of us – including my cousins.

Check out our partner list to see if your local government, school, or favorite retailer is a Green Power Partner. If not, let them know how to become a partner and join us in taking action on climate change.

About the author:  Mollie Lemon joined EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in Washington, DC in 2009, and is the communications director for the Green Power Partnership. She enjoys hiking, especially in the cool, clean mountain air of the nearby Shenandoah range.

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.

Let’s Talk About Air Pollution and Heart Disease

2014 February 7

Editor’s note: Due to a major ice and snow storm on the east coast on February 12th and 13th, we’re rescheduling our #HealthyHeart Twitter chat to Thursday, February 20th at 2:30 PM ET. Join us then to talk about air pollution and heart health. Follow @EPAlive and the #HealthyHeart hashtag on Twitter to ask questions and participate. For Spanish, follow @EPAespanol and #corazonsano.

By Ann Brown

February is American Heart Month, and it’s a good time to remember matters of the heart. Did you know that air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes, and worsen heart conditions? With one in three Americans having heart disease, there’s a good possibility that you know people with problems. Learn what we know about the effects of air pollution and help protect them.

Join our live twitter chat on Thursday, February 13th at 1:30 PM ET to learn more about the threats of air pollution to the heart and ways to protect yours. Follow @EPAlive and the #HealthyHeart hashtag to join the conversation. We’ll share information about air pollution and heart disease so that you and your loved ones can take action to protect yourselves. During the chat, we’ll also tweet in Spanish on @EPAespanol using the hashtag #corazonsano.

Dr. Wayne Cascio, a cardiologist who researches these issues at EPA, will be available during the chat to discuss:

  • what we know about air pollution and its connection to heart disease and stroke,
  • how to reduce your risk, and
  • how science is helping us better understand how air pollution can harm the heart.

Feel free to post your questions now in the comment section below, or tweet them when you join us for the chat on February 13. We’ll answer as many questions as we can during the chat. Also, read more about the connection between air pollution and heart disease on our healthy heart website.



About the author: Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program in Research Triangle Park, NC, which is the hub for EPA’s research to protect public health and the environment from outdoor air pollution.

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.

Food Recovery Challenge 2012 Award Winners’ Inspiring Accomplishments

2014 February 6

By Laurie Solomon

I feel blessed to be a member of EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge team. We’re passionate about reducing food waste, which is a big problem. Americans tossed out more than 36 million tons of food in 2011, almost all of which ended up in landfills or incinerators. Despite all this wasted food, nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were food-insecure in 2012, meaning they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. And here’s one fact that I didn’t know before joining the team: food decomposes rapidly in landfills to generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to reduce as much of their food waste as possible – saving money, helping communities, and protecting the environment.

My team recently congratulated nine participants for their significant contributions to reducing food waste in the U.S. in 2012. Wow, is it interesting to see how grocers, universities, sports venues, and other organizations responded. Take Clark University, one of this year’s Innovation Award winners – their composting pilot project discovered that up to 60 percent of dorm waste is compostable. Commercial-size compost bins are now on all floors of freshman dorms, as well as in the dining hall.

Cupertino, CA’s story is also really inspiring.  It negotiated a five-year franchise agreement with its waste hauler to achieve a 75 percent waste diversion rate, meaning this waste wouldn’t end up in landfills or incinerators.  The city identified higher rates of food waste collection and composting as the means to achieving this goal, and is making great progress.  I am so inspired by the innovative actions taken by not just these two organizations, but all the winners of the Food Recovery Challenge awards. Read about the other wonderful winners on our website.

I’m proud to be part of a team that cares about the issue of wasted food and pleased that the team recognized nine organizations’ successful accomplishments.

About the author: Laurie Solomon started with EPA in 1987 and currently works in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Each Earth Day, Laurie dons the Garbage Gremlin costume to interact with elementary school children at her son’s former elementary school.

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.