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Social Media Magic

2014 June 12

As an environmental policy major at the University of Maryland, I knew I’d found the perfect internship at the Office of Web Communications.

Working here is showing me a whole new side to the sites and applications I spend so much of my time on. My normal day on social media includes some frankly pathetic attempts at humor on Twitter, some carefully selected photos on Instagram, and an overwhelming amount of posts with sub-par grammar on Tumblr. How EPA uses social media, however, is a whole different story.  Where my “hilarious” tweets fall flat amongst my small following of friends, EPA’s tweets convey important health and environmental information that reaches thousands and get shared constantly.

Take my first day at EPA for example, Monday, June 2, 2014, the day Administrator McCarthy announced the new Clean Power Plan. I’m not exaggerating when I say the internet EXPLODED.  There were tweets, Facebook shares, and comments upon comments of the public’s reactions all flooding in at top speed. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, but also very intrigued by social media on this scale.  The following week proved to be even more interesting as I got to work on some of EPA’s posts myself. Nothing was more gratifying than seeing a post I helped write on the official EPA Facebook page!

A selfie Maddie took at her desk at EPA.

After just one week here, I’m beginning to see a new picture form about the social media sites I thought I knew so well. I’ve come to realize that social media is not just for teenagers and their endless (beautiful) selfies, but it is a way for the whole world to keep connected to today’s important issues. As I got a chance to explore all the social media outlets the EPA has to offer (check them all out here), I realized that social media is not just about shares and retweets, but is more about participation. Having today’s most important news stories readily available invites a conversation that gets everyone involved. Whether it’s a comment on a Facebook post, a retweet on Twitter, or a video on YouTube, EPA has some great ways to encourage an important conversation with the world.  I am so excited to see and learn more about social media and EPA during my summer here!

About the author:  Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for 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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Improved Cookstoves in Peru: A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

2014 June 5

By Greg “Goyo” Plimpton, PCVC WASH, Peru 18

For the more than 3 billion people around the world, who still cook and heat with open fires inside the home, the improved cookstove is a development technology that reduces the health hazards associated with breathing smoke. In rural Peru, I used funding from the USAID/Peace Corps Small Project Assistance Agreement to introduce my community to this brilliant technology by building 15 stoves and training other Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), NGOs, and local masons in the stove construction, use, and maintenance techniques.

A successful and sustainable project requires good cooperation between the PCV and the community partners. My first challenge was finding a household that was willing to test a stove, with only my explanation and a diagram. Felicia, who became a tireless advocate and “salesperson” in the community, took that leap of faith and patiently worked with me as we sorted out the details on the construction and use together.

One of the truly unique and powerful aspects of the Peace Corps service is that we Volunteers live for two years in close proximity to those we serve. This gives us the advantage of trust, familiarity and, most of all, time. This gave me the opportunity to revisit all of the families, multiple times. The feedback from my community was instrumental in showing me that the improved cookstoves required the user to make many behavioral changes. I also observed many benefits and challenges with the clean cookstoves.

The improved cookstoves not only required more work to start a fire, but they needed smaller sized wood. The stoves only allowed for a limited amount of pots, of a specific size, to fit the stove, and even then, some stoves only allowed 2-3 pots to cook at a time. And in small homes, the larger, improved cookstoves required more floor space, which was a challenge.

However, the health and safety benefits were profound. The open flame and smoke that traditional cookstoves produced was no longer causing issues like damage to lungs or eyes, or causing burns. Cooking fuel was reduced by 50% and the stove resulted in faster cooking times.

Since completion of my project, over one hundred stoves have been installed– a very gratifying and sustainable result. Moreover, it was a real joy to see mothers no longer having to wipe tears from their eyes due to smoke irritation, toddlers no longer getting close to an open flame, and walls and ceilings no longer covered with nasty soot. Folks spent less time or money acquiring firewood, and to my benefit, I was invited to stay for many meals. This face-to-face contact with those we serve is one of the many rewards of Peace Corps service.

About the author: Greg Plimpton of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is currently serving in Peru as a Water and Sanitation volunteer. Plimpton began his service in 2011, and is currently the Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator (PCVC) in charge ofEnergy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) , renewable energy and climate change projects.

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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Reddit “Ask Me Anything” with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

2014 June 4

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

Gina McCarthy, Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, took to Reddit yesterday to answer questions about the EPA’s proposed rules to cut carbon pollution in our power plants.

During the “Ask Me Anything,” Administrator McCarthy answered questions on a range of topics — including President Obama’s plan to fight climate change, what people can do in their own communities, and her thoughts on Marvin Gaye.

You can see all of the responses on Reddit, or check out the questions and responses below.

Gina McCarthy here. EPA Administrator, mom, wife, Boston area native, Red Sox fan.

Yesterday the EPA proposed a commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. The science shows that climate change is already posing risks to our health and our economy. The Clean Power Plan will maintain an affordable reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and our environment, now and for future generations. Read more here: http://blog.epa.gov/epaconnect/2014/06/our-clean-power-plan-will-spur-innovation-and-strengthen-the-economy/

I’ll be here to answer questions starting at 6:00 PM ET. Ask Me Anything. Proof it’s me: https://twitter.com/GinaEPA/status/473899708721946625

Question: Why do you think climate change has become the partisan issue that is has recently? Do you think we have a chance of moving away from the politicization of science in the foreseeable future?

Reply: We know what the science tells us – the time to act is now. There is nothing political about public health and clean air.

Question: Hi Secretary McCarthy! Thanks so much for taking our questions, and thank you for your efforts in rolling out this historic proposed rule. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of complaints, but you have also made many people incredibly happy and relieved to finally see action in this area, including myself.

  1. Can you discuss the legal authority for setting standards for each state as opposed to individual existing power plants? I think it’s great that the state-wide solution adds more flexibility, but I’m curious about how EPA Office of General Counsel justified authority for this.
  2. Many coal towns are lamenting the inevitable loss of jobs. While jobs are likely to be created elsewhere if the proposed rule becomes final, how can the EPA and the Obama administration directly provide for these communities?
  3. How was a 30% reduction decided upon, and how was it decided to use 2005 as the baseline?
  4. How often do people tell you that your Boston accent is the greatest thing ever? I interned at EPA last summer when you first started as EPA Secretary and all that people on my floor were talking about for a week was the welcome video in which you called EPA employees “soopah smaaht.”

Reply: This is a Clean Air Act rule. State standards make the most sense. We’ll get substantial reductions in carbon emissions in practical, flexible, achievable ways. We expect states can take actions that will protect their communities, public health and local economy. Check out how we did the state standards, it wasn’t about getting 30%, that’s what the standards will achieve nationally. You are wicked cool!

Question: How did you like the Simpson’s Movie?

Reply: I sure hope I’m a better EPA Administrator than Russ Cargill. But seriously, Marge is my favorite. Love the hair.

Question: Can you talk a little about how the EPA Clean Power Plan targets fit into President Obama’s broader 2009 UN Copenhagen Accord targets or long-term plans after 2030? The EPA proposed rule hopes to get to a 30% reduction in electricity emissions by 2030, and the UN Copenhagen Accord targets are quite a bit more ambitious: 17% reduction in total emissions by 2020, 42% by 2030, and 83% by 2050 (1). Based on the EPA GHG inventory (2), this looks like the EPA rules would get us about 30% of the way to the Copenhagen Accord goals by 2030 – what do you see as making up the rest of this gap?

Reply: Our Clean Power Plan is only one action in the President’s Climate Action Plan. It’s a gigantic leap forward and shows significant US leadership, check out the full range of things the President is moving forward: http://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change. And don’t forget the innovation and investment across the US that this rule will unleash will push our energy revolution forward. It turns out that carbon reductions actually do more than save the planet, they protect kids’ health today.

Question: What are the chances of a zombie apocalypse happening?

Reply: Probably a better question for the CDC!

Question: Hi Gina, Junior Environmental Engineer here. What advice do you have for someone like me who wants to make an effective change towards our environment ? What are effective ways of promoting and implementing the principles of sustainability?

Reply: See what’s going on your community. There’s lots happening across the US, and your skills and energy can really make a difference. When it comes to sustainability local engagement can make the most difference. Check out epa.gov. We’ve got a lot of resources there to get you started.

Question: Hi Gina, why do some many EPA employees go work for the industries they regulate? Do you approve of that ? It seems to be a conflict of interest. Wouldn’t you agree?

Also, why are your fines so low? It appears any kind of EPA action is just a cost of doing business for polluters.

Reply: We have lots of people who come from industry to work at EPA, and they’re totally committed to public health and environmental protection. If people leave EPA and go to work in the private sector, I can’t imagine that they’re going to leave that commitment behind – people who work at the EPA are too passionate about the environment.

I don’t agree that our fines are low. We work very hard to make sure that it doesn’t pay to pollute in this country.

Question: Thanks for taking our questions! What is the number 1 thing individuals can do to support more progress in this direction? What 1 thing would you ask of the private sector?

Reply: The number one thing you can do is to get in the game! Make your voice heard and take action. The same thing goes for the private sector.

Question: Good evening, Administrator McCarthy. West Virginia lawmakers and power industry leaders are worried about the effects of the Clean Power Plan on the state. 1. How many jobs do you predict will be lost in the coal mining industry? 2. How will it affect the price of electricity in the state? 3. How will it affect WV’s economy? 4. Is the base line for the target reductions 2005 or 2012?

Reply: The proposed plan gives the state the flexibilty to design a plan that works for them. We’ll be working closely with folks in West Virigina to make sure they understand what their goal is and the full range of options available. EPA cares about the health and economy of every community in this country.

Question: Do programs like WaterSense and EnergyStar factor into the future climate change initiatives?

Reply: They sure do. Both WaterSense and EnergyStar drive efficiency that benefits every consumer and the planet. You’d be surprised how small reductions add up to big savings for the planet and your pocketbooks. The more people choose EnergyStar and WaterSense products, the more we all win.

Question: Any comments/background/behind the scenes on your marathon of a confirmation fight?

Reply: What confirmation fight? I’m here now and having the time of my life!

Question: Hi Gina! I’d love to hear what your opinions are in regards to nuclear power vs. fossil fuels, specifically as it relates to how best to deal with nuclear waste. Thanks!

Reply: When it comes to nuclear, we know there are some questions, but there’s no denying that it’s carbon free and will be part of the energy mix.

On the issue of waste, it’s been a long standing challenge and one that needs a long term solution. Folks across the Administration are working on it.

Question: Favorite rap/hip hop album?

Reply: I’m more of a Marvin Gaye fan.

Question: I live in Montana and we’re getting bombarded with messages about how this is going to cost us jobs. I recall hearing that global warming wasn’t an issue because technology, in future generations, would fix any problems we might encounter. Won’t that same American ingenuity come up with “clean coal” solutions or other options? Isn’t this more a job shift away from incumbents toward innovators?

You’ve got a tough job ahead. Stick to your guns. History will remember you as being on the right side, no matter what the coal and gas industries say.

Reply: We’re bullish on American ingenuity, that’s what makes this country so great. Thanks for your faith and optimism!

Question: Do you think such an impactful rule should be voted on by Congress? If this rule were put to a Congressional vote, would it pass?

Reply: Congress gave EPA the authority and responsibility to implement the Clean Air Act. We regulate power plants for mercury, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants. Why wouldn’t we regulate power plants for harmful carbon pollution? It fuels climate change and threatens public health.

UPDATE: This has been great – so many great questions. Next time I’ll have to type faster! Thanks everybody.

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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Our Clean Power Plan Will Spur Innovation and Strengthen the Economy

2014 June 2

Crossposted from “EPA Connect

It’s an important day.  Today, at the direction of President Obama and after an unprecedented outreach effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is releasing the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Today’s proposal will protect public health, move the United States toward a cleaner environment and fight climate change while supplying Americans with reliable and affordable power.

By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids. And we don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment–our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs.

Here are the top four things to know about the proposed plan.  The Clean Power Plan:

  1. Fights climate change: Our climate is changing, and we’re feeling the dangerous and costly effects today.
  2. Protects public health: Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. Although there are limits for other pollutants like arsenic and mercury, there are currently no national limits on carbon. Americans will see significant public health and climate benefits now and for future generations.
  3. States leading with proven approaches: States and businesses have already charted a course toward cleaner, more efficient power.  Our plan doesn’t prescribe, it propels ongoing progress
  4. Key is flexibility and putting states in the driver’s seat: With EPA’s flexible proposal, states choose the ways we cut carbon pollution, so we can still have affordable, reliable power to grow our economy.

Watch a video from Administrator McCarthy on the Clean Power Plan here:

Power plants account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While there are limits in place for the level of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution that power plants can emit, there are currently no national limits on carbon pollution levels.

With the Clean Power Plan, EPA is proposing guidelines that build on trends already underway in states and the power sector to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, making them more efficient and less polluting. This proposal follows through on the common-sense steps laid out in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the June 2013 Presidential Memorandum.

Interested in more detailed information on the benefits of the rule?  View the Whiteboard video by Joe Goffman, EPA Associate Assistant Administrator for Climate.

By 2030, the steady and responsible steps EPA is taking will:

  • Cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year;
  • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
  • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days—providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
  • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

For more information, view the following fact sheets:

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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Air Quality and Your Summer Vacation Outdoors

2014 May 30

by Susan Stone

Air quality in the United States has improved considerably.  But, summertime air quality can still reach the unhealthy ranges of the Air Quality Index (AQI) – even in remote locations such as our beautiful national parks. Picture this: you’re camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (one of my favorites). You’re ready to take your kids hiking for the day, and you see a sign announcing a park-wide ozone advisory.

ozone

One of your teenagers has asthma. What can you do?

The first step is to check the daily AQI. I check the AQI forecast and current conditions before any hike by entering the zip code into the free AirNow app on my phone. In a national park, you can check with the park rangers if you don’t have the app.  Then use the AQI to help decide whether to change or restrict your activities — something that’s especially important if you’re in a group at greater risk from ozone exposure.

For example, when my children were younger, I didn’t take them on long hikes if ozone levels were Code Orange or above. Children, including teenagers, are considered to be at greater risk from ozone because their lungs are still developing. And children with asthma are at the greatest risk because ozone can cause or increase inflammation in airways.

Asthma is a disease characterized by airway inflammation. It’s this inflammation that can trigger an asthma attack, and it’s inflammation that your child’s asthma action plan is designed to prevent or limit. As ozone levels increase from Code Orange to Code Red on the AQI, it’s more important to limit prolonged, or strenuous, outdoor activities. Take more rest breaks and always pay attention to symptoms. This same approach ensures that kids can engage in outdoor activities safely at school, while still encouraging them to achieve the recommended 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day.

So, if today’s ozone AQI forecast in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Code Red (unhealthy for everyone), the park ranger may recommend that your entire family avoid prolonged, intense activities today and engage in activities at the more sheltered, lower elevation areas of the park rather than the exposed ridgetops. You could plan your more strenuous hike for the next day, when the ozone forecast is Code Yellow. If you were planning to hike the Alum Cave Bluff Trail on the way to Mt. LeConte, a moderately strenuous trail that rises 2,900 feet to 6,400 feet, you could change your plans to visit Cades Cove, a broad valley that offers the widest variety of historic buildings in the park.

cove

Walking around the historical sites in the valley would allow your family to continue enjoying your outdoor vacation, but keep activity levels low enough to avoid unhealthy air pollution exposures.

Check your daily AQI and download the free AirNow app: www.airnow.gov

About the author: Susan Stone is a Senior Environmental Health Scientist who likes to hike, especially in national parks and North Carolina state parks. Her most recent national parks visit was to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. She checked the AQI as part of her hiking plans and had a great time.

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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Help Us Remind People to be SunWise

2014 May 16

By Jessica Orquina

We need your help to raise awareness about skin cancer prevention. Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States? More than 3,500,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year and one person dies from the disease every hour. But there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family. We call it being SunWise, and it includes things like using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.

Here’s another big thing you can do: share these steps with your friends. To help you do that, we started a Thunderclap, which is like a virtual flash mob.

Here’s how it works: you agree to let Thunderclap send a specific, one-time message on your behalf to your social networks on Don’t Fry Day, May 23, at 12:00 pm EDT.  If 250 or more people agree, the message will go out on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time for people to read around the world.

Here’s the message:

“It’s #DontFryDay. What are you doing to protect your skin and raise awareness about skin cancer? http://www2.epa.gov/sunwise/dont-fry-day #SunWise”

Remember, we need to get at least 250 people to join our Thunderclap, or it won’t go.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Sign up below to join our Thunderclap.
  2. Share the link to the Thunderclap with your friends, so we get at least 250 people sharing the message.
  3. Read our steps for sun safety and learn how to be SunWise.

Thanks so much for helping us help people be SunWise!

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed 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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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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