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National Radon Action Month

2014 January 17

By Wendy Dew

I work in EPA’s Denver regional office, and we’re proud to congratulate 14-year-old Maison Ann Williams, from Utah, who was the first place winner in the 2014 National Radon Poster Contest. It never ceases to amaze me how engaged kids are in protecting the environment.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. EPA estimates there are about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year from radon exposure in the U.S. It can be found all over the U.S. and it can get into any type of building — homes, offices, and schools. You can’t see radon, and you can’t smell or taste it, but it may be a problem in your home. The good news is that you can pretty easily fix the problem.

It’s important to get your home tested; I should know. We knew our new house in Colorado had higher than safe levels of radon (it’s built on a large granite boulder, surrounded by decomposing granite). Within a few weeks of moving in, we put in a radon mitigation system with a commercial-sized fan and two vents in our basement. We tested continuously for a year, and our levels went down to safer levels. Whew!

Teaching others about radon, and what you can do about it, is where the poster contest comes in, which we run with Kansas State University. Tell your kids that entries for this year’s contest will be accepted from March through October. Students ages 9-14 from states and tribal nations across the country, and all U.S. territories, are encouraged to create posters that raise radon awareness and encourage radon testing in every home. The top three national winners will win a prize, and their poster will be used in radon awareness efforts.

I’m so glad that students like Maison are helping to spread the word about radon and the danger it can pose to families. Remember: test, test, and test some more if you do not know what the radon levels are in your home. January is National Radon Action Month … what a great time to test!

For more information

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

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 Phoenix Rises: From Contaminated Land to Clean Energy

2014 January 9

 By Tim Rehder

I’m always hoping to see an F-16 fly over when I drive by Buckley Air Force Base. No such luck today, but as we reach the top of the rise, we’re met by an even better sight: the brand-new 500 kilowatt Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array. I’m here for the ribbon cutting.

Most people know that a big part of EPA’s mission is to clean up contaminated lands. What’s less well known is that EPA also works hard to get contaminated sites back into productive use. An innovative approach to this in Colorado has been the development of community solar gardens on compromised lands. 

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

Aurora/Arapahoe Community Solar Array, Aurora, CO

 I’ve been pitching this idea for some time. The rationale is pretty simple: installing solar cells in developed areas lessens the need to construct projects on pristine lands. These projects typically generate energy close to where it will be used, reducing the need for new transmission lines. And, of course, solar energy generates electricity without the harmful air emissions associated with traditional power generation.

Community-owned solar energy is a big idea whose time has come. Colorado passed legislation in 2010 requiring that utilities establish community-owned solar projects by offering incentives. Customers purchase or lease panels and the electricity produced is credited to the customer as if the panels were on their roof. 

 Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO

Cowdery Solar Array Boulder County, CO

The Aurora solar array is the second community solar project where EPA Region 8 has provided technical assistance this year. The property is located atop contaminated ground water that has migrated from the Air Force base. EPA’s RePowering America’s Lands program funded a study to evaluate placing a solar project at the location. That study caught the attention of Clean Energy Collective, a Colorado company that has pioneered the concept of community-owned solar energy. Earlier in the year, EPA helped them locate a 500 kW project adjacent to the Marshall Landfill Superfund site near Boulder, Colorado, which is another site where contaminated ground water is a concern.

Projects like the ones in Aurora and Boulder County will allow more people than ever to generate electricity, leading them to pay more attention to the energy they’re using and strive to conserve it. Furthermore, these projects are demonstrating that contaminated lands can have a second life, one with a big environmental upside.
As we leave the ribbon cutting, the construction manager tells me that an F-16 flew a couple hundred feet above the site 45 minutes before I arrived – big sigh – but I won’t complain. It’s been a great day.

About the author: Tim Rehder is a senior environmental scientist in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver.  He works in the Brownfields program promoting renewable energy projects and green building on contaminated and formerly contaminated lands.

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.

Got Gadgets and Gizmos A-Plenty

2014 January 8

By Felicia Chou

I’m waiting for the moment when smart phones become obsolete: when scientists announce I can now share the latest doge meme, what I had for lunch, and embarrassing pictures from my last holiday party straight to the rest of the world without some clunky device. Forget game consoles, computers, tablets, and cameras. Someday, someone’s going to find a way to incorporate all those electronic devices into a miniscule hologram projector that can be embedded into something as small as a ring. 

But while we wait for science to catch up to our wildest technological fantasies, we’ve got to stick with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got are much larger gadgets and gizmos that are made of valuable resources and special materials. We’re talking about all sorts of metals, plastics, and glass, all of which take energy to mine and manufacture.

That’s why I enjoyed helping to put together our new infographic about the secret life of a cell phone. Take a look – it’ll help you make more environmentally-friendly choices to make a difference.

That includes using your electronics to their full potential, like upgrading the software and hardware as needed to get the most bang for your buck. You can also give unwanted electronics a second chance by donating or selling them. And if you’re ready to ecycle, make sure you do it with a third-party certified recycler that has protecting human health and the environment in mind.

Like floppy disks, typewriters, pagers, and virtual pocket pets, our shiny new gadgets will ultimately be replaced by superior things. But that’s ok, as long as the resources and materials we put into our gadgets today can be reused for better things tomorrow. And hopefully by the time we can share the latest video with touchable holograms, wasting resources will also have become obsolete.

About the author: Felicia Chou is a program analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She is looking forward to the future of technology, sans homicidal robots, zombie-causing viruses, and apocalyptic computer failures.

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.

Indoors, Radon Stands Out

2014 January 6

By Henry Slack

For the past twenty years, I’ve helped EPA fix indoor air pollution problems. Mold, odors, air cleaners, sick buildings, you name it – I’ve helped people learn how to manage these problems in their homes. The key thing I’ve learned: the most insidious indoor air pollutant is radon.

Radon is hidden and dangerous. We can’t see or smell it. The only way to know it’s around is to test for it. Did you know that radon in homes first drew concern as a public health threat after a worker at a nuclear power plant started setting off the plant’s radiation alarms? His home’s radon level was so high, he was carrying radiation into the plant. Yet he had no clue his home was radioactive before the testing started. The old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” holds true.

Radon causes lung cancer, second only to smoking as the leading cause. It leads to an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Some of my relatives have had cancer; it’s serious. The good news, however, is that radon-induced lung cancer (like smoking) can be prevented. Testing your home and taking corrective actions to reduce high levels is easy, cheap, and local resources are available to help.

EPA has been talking about the dangers of radon for decades. Lately, the group Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR) has joined the effort to raise awareness and help people take action to reduce their risk. Members share their personal stories about how high the radon levels were in their home, how they or a loved one battled against the disease, and how they want others to test for radon. Their goal: no one else having to watch someone they care about get sick and die of lung cancer.
Radon deaths are completely preventable. Please test your home, and fix it if you have a problem. Thank you.

About the author: Henry Slack from EPA’s Atlanta regional office has taught and helped people in the southeast with indoor air problems for more than 20 years.  His study of chemistry (B.S.) and mechanical engineering (M.S.) give him a strong background in the field, and he is active with the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).     

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.

Environmental Issues Know No Boundaries

2013 December 24

By Salimatou Pratt

If you’re like me, talking about environmental issues is normal, especially around the dinner table with family and friends. Coming from Conakry, Guinea, and learning about how I may have been exposed to toxicity from local industries while growing up, has intensified my desire to be part of the bigger environmental discussion. Interning in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement has given me a unique perspective on how the agency connects with communities, both nationally and internationally.

When I visited my family in Guinea two years ago, I paid attention to things I hadn’t thought about before, such as lead-based paintpesticides, and contaminants in drinking water.  In my community, these are things that directly affect the homes we live in, the food we eat, and the water we drink. I have seen firsthand how the lack of oversight of these basic needs has taken a devastating toll on people, families and communities. While pursuing my liberal arts degree at The Evergreen State College, I’ve concentrated on environmental studies to learn more about health hazards, both here in the US and in my home country.

I constantly ask myself what I can do to help the most vulnerable people, like children, pregnant moms and seniors. The first step towards addressing these issues is to raise awareness, so I’ve been helping to support the current conversation about EPA’s proposed standards on carbon pollution for existing power plants in the US. It’s exciting to know that everyone in this country has the opportunity to comment on rules like this and that their voices are an important part of the rule making process.

I’m committed to applying my knowledge of public health and lessons learned during my coursework and internship to help educate those around me, especially the most vulnerable in my local community in Guinea.

About the author: Salimatou Pratt is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and is graduating from The Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Washington. She is planning to further the conversation about the environment in her home town of Conakry, Guinea.

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.

Climate Change in Yosemite

2013 December 23

 By Harsharon Sekhon

As someone who grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, I’ve been lucky enough to explore the various landscapes the state has to offer. The valley is centrally located to many of California’s attractions, so day trips have always been part of a regular routine for my family. My favorite place to visit is a national park close to home—Yosemite. Since I live less than an hour from the southern entrance, I’ve visited Yosemite countless times and I’m always eager to go back.

There’s a reason for Yosemite’s international fame. It houses granite monoliths, grassy meadows, and my favorite feature: groves of ancient, giant sequoias. While visitors admire these trees, many people are unaware of the effects climate change  has on their chances of survival. Giant sequoias rely on water from both rain and snowfall, which are decreasing due to droughts in California, an indicator of a changing climate. These droughts are leading to wildfires that are becoming more frequent and devastating  for the park.

Since EPA Administrator McCarthy has made combating climate change a major priority for the EPA , interning here has meant a lot to me. Working in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement has not only brought climate change issues to my attention, but it has also taught me how many diverse stakeholders’ livelihoods are affected. Though many Californians, including myself, don’t see immediate effects of climate change such as hurricanes and tornados, I’ve learned that there are many other ways in which it remains a threat. Whether it’s climate change, air quality, or just getting outside, it has been rewarding to see firsthand how the EPA works to ensure a safe and healthy environment!

 About the author: Harsharon Sekhon is a fall intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine. For fun she likes to tread lightly through forests and moonlights as a Julia Child impersonator.

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.

Every Little Bit Helps

2013 December 18

By Howard Cantor

Every year charities throughout the United States and the world ask federal employees to give during the holiday season. Despite economic uncertainty, I am proud to say that EPA Region 8 employees continue to donate every year to the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).

The mission of the CFC is to promote and support philanthropy through a program that is employee-focused, cost-efficient, and effective in providing all federal employees the opportunity to improve the quality of life for countless benefactors of their choice. CFC is the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign, with almost 200 CFC campaigns throughout the country and overseas raising millions of dollars each year. Pledges made by federal civilian, postal and military donors during the campaign season (September 1st to December 15th) support eligible non-profit organizations that provide health and human service benefits throughout the world. In 2012, federal employees donated more than $258 million dollars to charitable organizations.

Last season, EPA Region 8 employees raised nearly $150,000. Every year, a regional committee hosts various events including a chili cook-off, silent auction, and communication campaigns to promote the program. The fact that our employees continue to give despite the economic challenges we face gives me a great sense of pride. EPA’s ability to help charities through the CFC is a great holiday gift that lasts the year through. I am anxious to see what kind of magnificent contribution Region 8 will make again this holiday season.

About the Author: Howard Cantor is the Deputy Regional Administrator for Region 8. Howard joined EPA in 1994 as a Presidential Management Intern with the Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation.


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.

Free “Green” Apps

2013 December 17

By Athena Motavvef

I’m a college student who is always on the go, so being able to quickly pull out my smartphone to access e-mail, weather information, or the latest news is really helpful. As a regular user of apps and an intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement, I became interested in what “green” apps were available. In my role at EPA, I help get the word out about the different ways citizens can better protect their health and help the environment by contributing to the weekly production of the EPA Highlights Newsletter. I’d like to share with you my top three favorite green apps.


EPA’s SunWise UV index

Available for iOS, Android and Blackberry
When I go hiking with friends and family or just plan a day where I know I’ll be outside often, I want to protect my skin. I have fair skin, but no matter your skin type or the weather, anyone can be at risk of damage from the sun. The UV Index app allows you to check out daily and hourly UV forecasts so you can help keep your skin healthy. I did a quick check today and despite being a sunny winter day in the nation’s capital, the UV index is at a moderate 3. The app recommends that I protect myself with SPF 30+ sunscreen (will do), sunglasses (check) and a hat (check – it is cold out)!

Get the app:
Learn more about protecting yourself from the sun:




Available for iOS and Android
As a student growing up in Los Angeles and moving to the Inland Empire for college, I have been regularly affected by higher levels of air pollution than most areas of the country. Planning outdoor activities to keep my asthma from acting up is easier now that I can check real-time air quality. Luckily for those that suffer from asthma as well, this app allows us to quickly see location-specific reports on current and forecasted air quality conditions for both ozone and fine particle pollution. Now I can better plan my day so that I know I will be able to breathe easy.
Get the app:
Learn more about AIRNow:



Available for iOS
If you’re like me, recycling is a habit. Sometimes, I wonder just how much energy I am saving through my actions. The iWARM app helps paint that picture by calculating the energy saved from recycling common household items. The savings are then converted into the equivalent amount of electricity, estimating how long that energy will operate household appliances. I did a quick calculation of what I recycled this week, and I saved enough energy to power my laptop for 3.4 hours! Even small actions like recycling a plastic bottle save energy and can help combat climate change.
Get the app:
Learn more about iWARM:
These three green apps are great tools to use every day, especially for someone like me who likes to eat yummy food on sunny restaurant patios and catch up with friends.

About the author: Athena Motavvef is an intern in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement in Washington DC. She is currently obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy with an emphasis in urban/environmental policy at the University of California, Riverside. She has interests in environmental education and public engagement.


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.

A New Tradition for Holiday Lights

2013 December 16

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

It’s that wonderful time of year again. Along the country roads and city streets of New England, our real-life world of brown leaves, brown grass and gray skies turns into a captivating fairyland. Twinkling icicles line rooftops and color radiates from evergreen trees.

When it comes to the energy consumed by holiday lights, though, I’m hoping this year marks the tipping point. I can feel it when walking through the aisles of my local big box store, and I can see it as I drive along streets sparkling with a bluer shade of white.

In fact, we Americans are finally making the jump to becoming an LED nation when it comes to our holiday light strands.

According to the Associated Press, one major national retailer is selling no incandescent Christmas lights at all this year. General Electric also expects two out of every five strings of lights sold this year will be LEDs. The drop in prices has been a major factor in ushering this trend forward.

LED lights will last far longer than our old lights. The LEDs can last up to 40 seasons, while the Department of Energy predicts three seasons for your old mini lights. LEDs are also less likely to break and don’t get hot.

According to the US Department of Energy, holiday lights use enough electricity to power 200,000 homes for a year. EPA calculates that if all decorative light strings in America met Energy Star requirements, national electricity usage would drop 700 million kilowatt hours a year and we would save about $90 million on electric bills.

Over 10 holiday seasons, the savings for one tree could be $105 for the large LED bulbs and $22 for the minis. Multiply that by a yard full of strands lit up all season, and it really adds up.

Many stores now display a variety of LED lights. Some are warmer in color, while some are brighter. EPA’s Energy-Star label on some boxes can also guide your decision.

All these lights are out there waiting, vying for our attention and waiting for us to come to our senses.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in a great Maine community with her husband, children and many pets.

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.

My Confidence in Future Young Scientists

2013 December 13

Crossposted from “It’s All Starts with  Science”

By Thabit Pulak

I watched as the young students of Magnet Science and Technology Elementary poured the sand and rocks into their soda bottles. The kids were learning how sand water filters work, and making their own mini versions of the filter. The interest and pride the kids took in making their filters gave me confidence that the next generation of Americans would apply the same degree of care and attention to important environmental issues, such as water quality.

The students were taking part in “enrichment clusters,” sessions in which they learn about one important public issue in depth. I was invited by 2nd-grade teacher Ms. Claborn to visit her cluster on water purification and to present a real-life example of a water filter.

I had recently worked to develop an affordable filter that removed not only bacteria and contaminants from water, but also arsenic, a poisonous substance that affects nearly 150 million people across the world today. I had the opportunity to present my water filter at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, where I won 3rd place and EPA’s Patrick J. Hurd Sustainability Award. The Hurd Award included an invitation to present my project at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo, which showcases EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

I presented the filter to the class and answered questions, learning just as much from them as they did from me. I was invited to stay for the remainder of the cluster, where the students were putting final touches on their own water filters. Ms. Claborn gave each of the students some muddy water to run through the filters. It was exciting for me to see the children’s smiles as they looked at the clean water slowly trickling out of the open edge of the soda bottle after traveling through the sand and rocks. The filters were based on a water filtration activity that EPA designed specifically for students.

Afterwards, I was invited to attend the upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) exhibit that the school was hosting. The students’ mini filters would be on display, and I was invited to display my filter alongside theirs. As the stream of curious parents and students came in, I gladly talked about both what the students did and my own filter, and what this means for the future of environmental sustainability issues like water.

This was my first opportunity to present my work outside of my school and science fairs. I felt very honored and happy to be able to give something back to the community. I hope to find ways to keep doing so!

About the Author: Guest blogger Thabit Pulak of Richardson, Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, he was invited to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expo, home of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, DC. He was also the recipient of the 2013 Davidson Fellows Award.


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.