air quality

County Health Rankings: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Donald F. Schwarz

About the Author: Donald F. Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is Director, Catalyzing Demand for Healthy Places and Practices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

http___www.epa3

Air pollution has long moved on from being a concern reserved for proactive environmentalists. Today, it has become a more visible personal health issue for millions of families and a major and growing public health concern for communities who live in close proximity to pollution sources.

The quality of air that we breathe determines, in part, how long and how well we live. Unfortunately, for residents of predominantly low-income and/or minority counties across the country, the impact of polluted air leads to the biggest concerns. Because many mobile and stationary sources of air pollution tend to be concentrated around the residential areas of low-income and minority communities, certain geographies have a greater threat of damaged health.

That’s why the County Health Rankings, an online tool which uses a variety of indicators to rank public health for almost every county in the nation, includes air pollution as an indicator to measure the health conditions of a county. It recognizes that an important aspect of the health of a community includes factors beyond the control of an individual person. The tool highlights regions by their health quality to help focus local government action.

CountyHealthRankings example

(courtesy County Health Rankings)

Air pollution is not a health concern that exists in a bubble — it has impacts on human health in several realms. For example, we know the links between polluted air and asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine people die from asthma in the U.S. every day. The toll on lives is acute, as is the effect on how well people in impacted regions live. Air pollution also causes decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, and other adverse pulmonary effects. The impact does not end with individual homes and families but over time affects our communities and our economy. In fact, asthma costs us about $56 billion in medical costs, lost workdays, and early deaths each year. These are not expenses that people who are already struggling to make a living are able to comfortably “take on,” nor should they have to.

There are also correlations between air pollution and the quality of life for children, many of whom are low-income or minority, who live, learn, and play in close proximity to pollution sources. There is a strong correlation between birth defect rates and proximity to air pollution, likely because pregnant mothers are a more susceptible population to environmental hazards. For older children, education is a concern based on the fact that more than 10.5 million school days each year are lost among 5- to 17-year-olds due to asthma complications.

Our hopes are that by using the county ranking tool, state and local governments can find ways which to share ideas to improve public health from place to place. For example, a recent study from our home state of New Jersey found that programs like the E-Z Pass open-road tolling (which result in fewer cars idling around toll plazas) have been connected to lower premature birth rate among moms who live nearby. By indicating within states those counties with similar pollution control problems, there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between governments and decision-makers. We hope that knowledge like this can contribute to improved public health for all.

We can hope for brighter futures for marginalized communities by taking direct action in the right areas. Want to know if you are breathing clean air in your county? Check out the 2015 County Health Rankings to see where your county stands in your state for air pollution.

Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community, check out the step-by- step guidance from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--What Works section or the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--Action Center where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.

Donald F. Schwarz: “Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community. Check out the step-by- step guidance in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–What Works section or take a look in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–Action Center, where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Topping Off Asthma Awareness Month with Health Advice for Those You Care About

By Becky Weber

Imagine that you’re spending a quiet day at the beach. You get warm and the crystal clear, blue water looks so inviting, you decide to go for a swim. You venture out into the calm water, but before you know it, waves start rolling over your head. You push up from the sandy ocean bottom and take a big gulp of air before another wave knocks you back over. You finally make it to shore and now you’re exhausted, but your heart is racing like you just ran the Boston Marathon and you can’t make it slow down no matter how many deep breaths you take…

Becky Weber

Becky Weber

This is eerily similar to an asthma attack that adults can experience. An attack can come out of the blue and before it’s over, they might spend time in an emergency room with doctors getting the attack and the resulting rapid pulse under control with asthma medication.

May is Asthma Awareness Month, and I’d like to cap off the month by reminding everyone that adults have asthma, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are just under one million adults in the Heartland living with asthma, or seven percent of the population. These asthma sufferers are moms, dads, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, employees, etc. When they have an attack, it takes time away from their families, jobs, and activities. In EPA Region 7’s Air Program, we work closely with our state and local partners to educate the public about asthma and the common triggers for asthma attacks.

The most common triggers for asthma in both adults and children are:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Dust mites
  • Molds
  • Cockroaches and pests
  • Pets
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Chemical irritants
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Wood smoke

Having healthy indoor and outdoor air is important for every citizen, but it can mean life or death for people with asthma. Our Air Program is doing its part to protect air quality in the Heartland via the regional indoor and outdoor air programs, closely working with our Public Affairs and Environmental Justice experts on education campaigns and with our state and local partners. We hope our efforts result in fewer missed school and work days, less missed time with families, fewer hospital visits – and most of all, a better quality of life for our citizens living with asthma every day.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Is there anything I can do?” Yes, there are several things you can do to help those with asthma around you. Carpool more or take public transportation to reduce air pollution. Use green products when cleaning your home or office space. Buy Energy Star or energy-efficient products. And educate yourself on asthma trigger prevention. We can all do our part to help prevent asthma attacks!

For more information on asthma, triggers, and prevention, please visit EPA’s Asthma page.

About the Author: Becky Weber serves as the Director of EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division, and has worked over 20 years at EPA managing a variety of programs. She has a Bachelor of Science in meteorology from Texas A&M University. Becky enjoys cooking, reading, walking, and spending time with her family and friends.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sharing Best Sustainability Practices with Communities

One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at EPA is the work we do with climate and energy program staff from communities and tribes across the country. These sustainability professionals are tireless organizers, skilled problem solvers, and endlessly enthusiastic about helping residents and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, improve air quality and public health, create jobs, and save money. Despite common challenges they face I am always impressed by how much local sustainability professionals are able to accomplish with so little. By taking action on climate in their own back yards, they are building stronger and healthier communities – and looking out for all of our futures.

Part of our job here is to help local government employees achieve success. Our Local Climate and Energy Program conducts continued outreach by hosting webcasts, sending out newsletters about resources and funding opportunities, and producing resources and tools of our own.
Our latest round of resources are written by communities, for communities. Each resource was driven by community needs, inspired by actual implementation experiences, and informed by staff who have developed successful climate and energy programs. They provide practical steps for communities to follow when building or growing a climate and energy program. These new resources are the result of strong relationships we have built with communities and tribes across the country who have invested in achieving climate and energy results in their own backyards.

Local Climate Action Framework

This online guide provides step-by-step guidance and resources for local governments to plan, implement, and evaluate climate, energy, and sustainability projects and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. It captures lessons learned and effective strategies used by local governments, breaks down program implementation into concrete steps, and curates resources to help local governments find the information they need. The framework was developed with extensive input from local government stakeholders, including our Climate Showcase Communities.

Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs Tip Sheets

This series of nineteen tip sheets was developed based on the experience and feedback of our Climate Showcase Communities. Each tip sheet focuses on a different aspect of program operation and highlights best practices and helpful resources discovered or used by these communities. Topics include marketing and communications (effective messaging, traditional media strategies, community-based social marketing, and testimonial videos) and working with specific types of stakeholders (institutional partners, contractors, experts, utilities, early adopters, volunteers).

Local Climate and Energy Program Model Design Guide

This guide was developed for local climate and clean energy (i.e., energy efficiency, renewable energy, and combined heat and power) program implementers to help create or transition to program designs that are viable over the long term. The guide draws on the experience and examples of our Climate Showcase Communities as they developed innovative models for programs that could be financially viable over the long term and replicated in other communities.

Although climate change is a global issue, many critical actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to promote resilience can be initiated locally. Cities and towns across the U.S. are taking real action against climate change by talking to other communities and sharing practical step-by-step advice on planning and implementing local climate and energy programs,. I am thankful for the valuable input EPA received from local and tribal government stakeholders as we developed these resources and welcome feedback about the new materials.

About the author:

Andrea Denny is the Local Climate and Energy Program Lead in the State and Local Branch of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The branch focuses on supporting state and local governments that are developing policies and programs to address climate change.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

What Does Air Quality Mean for Your Exercise Routine?

By Alison Davis

We read or hear about it every day: exercise plays a critical role in keeping us healthy. So, what do you do when you want to exercise outside, but the air quality forecast is Code Orange – or higher? Does that mean you shouldn’t exert yourself outdoors?

Unless you’re looking for a reason to head for the couch, there’s good news. On most days, you can exercise outside – even if air quality isn’t the best. By using the Air Quality Index (AQI) to make simple changes to your workout plan, you can still get physical activity outdoors, while reducing the amount of pollution you take into your lungs.

If checking the AQI isn’t part of your daily routine, this is the perfect time to start. Air Quality Awareness Week is April 27 through May 1.

Join us at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 30 for a Twitter chat about air quality and physical activity. EPA’s experts will be joined by experts from CDC, the National Weather Service and the National Park Service to answer your questions about how using the AQI can help you get the exercise you need to stay healthy when air quality is poor. Join the conversation: follow the #AirQualityChat hashtag @EPAlive, @CDCenvironment, @NWS, and @NPSair. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can post your questions in the comments below and follow the #AirQualityChat hashtag during the chat. We look forward to talking with you!

About the author: Alison Davis is a Sr. Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

When it Rains, it Molds: Part 2 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Expanding the Village Green Project to Measure Local Air Quality

By Esteban Herrera, Gayle Hagler and John White

VG Station in Philadelphia, PA

Village Green Station in Philadelphia, PA

We have been busy for a few years with the Village Green Project, exploring new ways of measuring air pollution using next generation air quality technology put into a park bench. After testing our first Village Green station in Durham, N.C., we are now in the process of building and installing new stations with some design improvements and modifications.

The Village Green Project expansion is being made possible with the support of state and local partners across the country. Five new locations for stations have been selected through a nationwide proposal process open to local and state air monitoring agencies.

Today, EPA announced the partners and location for the new stations and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Philadelphia, Pa. for one of the five stations.

The Village Green Project has many benefits. It enables EPA’s scientists to further test their new measurement system, built into a park bench, and it provides an opportunity for the public and students to learn more about the technology and local air quality.

Each station provides data every minute on two common air pollutants – fine particle pollution and ozone – and weather conditions such as wind speed and direction, temperature, and relative humidity. The data are automatically streamed to the Village Green Project web page. You can access the data generated by stations as they come on line at www.epa.gov/villagegreen. As members of a team working on the Village Green Project at EPA, we have been doing a lot of coordination and tackled some difficult scientific challenges to get this project launched. But it is all coming together as we get the stations installed. We think it will be a great opportunity for educational outreach and to showcase some new capabilities for communities to learn more about their local air quality. These monitoring stations will enable communities to get information about nearby sources of air pollution that can impact local air quality.

VG Station in Washington, DC

Washington, DC

The five station locations being installed in 2015 as part of the local and state partnership are:

  • Philadelphia, Pa. – the station is located in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia owned by the National Park Service.
  • Washington, D.C. – the station is located in a children’s area at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
  • Kansas City, Kan.- the station is located outside of the new South Branch public library in Kansas City.
  • Hartford, Conn. – the station will be located outside of the Connecticut Science Center and will be installed in the summer or early fall of 2015.
  • Oklahoma City, Okla. – the station will be located in the children’s garden of the Myriad Botanical Gardens and will be installed in the summer or early fall of 2015.
VG Station in Kansas City, KS

Kansas City, KS

So what is next? We are excited about the expansion of the Village Green Project and hope to learn how some of the new system features perform, such as a combined wind and solar power system we’re using for more northern locations. We hope the project will provide more knowledge about how to build and operate next generation air quality measurement systems for use by communities. Please stay tuned for more updates from the Village Green Project team members as we continue our learning journey.

 

About the Authors: Esteban Herrera is an environmental engineer and project lead for the Village Green Project. Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. John White is leading the effort of expanding AirNow’s capabilities to handle one-minute data, including data from the Village Green stations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

When it Rains, it Molds

Part 1 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Mold spores up close

Mold spores up close

When I went back home recently to visit my family, I noticed a number of mold spots on the ceiling in multiple rooms. A result of roof water damage from the winter ice and snow the northeast experienced this year. This prompted me to have an interview with Mark Berry, EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Coordinator for Region 6 (serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes). Here are his responses to some common questions about mold and moisture.

  1. What is it that many people misunderstand about mold? It is important to view mold, not as a mold issue, but as a moisture issue. People think that mold is a hazardous material. Most people do not realize that mold and mold spores are all around us. Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air, and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing. It is important not to provide the moist environment mold needs to grow.The solution to the problem is to find and eliminate the moisture source first, and not focus only on the mold. Removing the mold alone does not solve the problem. If the water remains, new mold will grow in the same area.
  1. Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Should I use bleach to clean up my mold? In most cases using bleach isn’t necessary. Soap and water will often do the trick. Using bleach or some other harsh chemical cleaners can create a breathing hazard for you. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always follow manufacturer’s directions, ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

  1. Can I just paint over the mold? Many people see mold, spray some chemical then paint over it, thinking that will solve the problem. Mold can grow between the paint and the wall in all directions. The paint merely acts as a temporary cover-up. The issue with the paint is that it traps moisture between the paint and the wall, further aiding and abetting the growth of mold. Fix the source of the moisture first, and then take the appropriate steps to clean the affected area or remove it altogether.
  1. What are your most compelling mold calls? Landlord /tenant disputes over mold are our most frequent calls. We attempt to educate and make suggestions for remediation that may be used or not used by the caller’s choice. Callers need to consider the problem as both a building water issue as opposed to a mold issue. This strategy addresses the cause of the mold infestation and not the symptom. We try to get to the root cause of the problem and ease the caller’s concerns. Mold is essentially the result of water damage.
  1. Is there more mold in different parts of the country? Yes, and No. We have more mold inquiries in humid areas because the mold continually gets fed more moisture which allows it to flourish. However, mold can grow everywhere and can exist in a broad range of temperatures and humidity levels. Although moisture is necessary for growth there are molds which prefer drier environments and would need much less than other types to survive.
  1. Mold can be a variety of colors

    Mold can be a variety of colors

    What are your most frequent calls? “I’ve got mold problems can you do something to help me?” EPA Region 6’s Indoor Air Quality program (IAQ) is a voluntary program primarily responsible for conducting outreach and educating the public about indoor environmental issues, including health risks and the means by which human exposures can be reduced. IAQ educates the public about indoor environmental pollutants and sources of pollution, including mold. However, EPA does not have any regulatory authority to control mold in private residences nor do we have the resources to inspect individual homes.

    The EPA does not conduct mold cleanups, but we do provide the education necessary to give people the strategy and empowerment needed to solve the problem. We recognize the health danger to schools, homes and places of work. The EPA is the technical lead in mold research from which many states and local agencies borrow.

  1. Is testing for mold necessary?
    In most cases, if visible mold is present, sampling is not necessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Remember that mold and mold spores are natural in the environment so any sampling will result in finding mold.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

U.S. Lessons Help Inform Chinese Policies to Improve Air Quality

As I stepped off the plane in Beijing, I immediately recognized the environmental challenges facing China today. The air quality during our visit ranged at times between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous”; at its worst, we could not see the tops of buildings in downtown Beijing shrouded in smog. We are reminded that many years ago we faced similar challenges in some cities in the U.S., before we took a comprehensive approach to environmental protection.

My colleague Steve Wolfson and I traveled to Beijing as part of the 19th Annual U.S.-China Legal Exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, January 13-15, 2015. Our task was to address legal tools for improving air quality, and the importance of transparency and public participation in implementing and enforcing environmental laws.

Drawing on our experience in the U.S., we highlighted how environmental protection need not come at the expense of economic growth — and indeed how environmental policies can be a driver for a healthy and sustainable economy. And we emphasized the critical need for public access to clear and accurate environmental data, as well as public access to a fair and even-handed court system, as pillars of sound environmental governance.

The response we got back was resounding. During our trip we met with our counterparts from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Commerce, Supreme People’s Court, and other government agencies. We also engaged in lively discussions with representatives of several of China’s leading universities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as with the U.S. business community. In every forum we heard common themes: the urgent need for China to continue to develop an effective environmental law regime, and the critical importance of effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms, all in support of a strong desire by China to maximize its efforts to tackle its pressing environmental challenges and embark on a sustainable path that integrates economic growth, environmental protection, and public health. We also witnessed a genuine eagerness to draw lessons from the successes that the U.S. and other countries have achieved implementing environmental laws that have significantly reduced pollution levels.

These issues were particularly timely as China is in the process of reforming and improving its environmental legal framework. The revisions to China’s framework Environmental Protection Law (EPL) enacted in April 2014 and taking effect on January 1, 2015, constitute one important milestone in this legal reform effort. A key provision of the revised EPL authorizes registered social organizations to bring environmental lawsuits in the public interest against polluters, potentially opening the door for civil society organizations to play a crucial role in addressing China’s environmental challenges.

The Chinese government recently issued interpretive guidance on implementation of these provisions, clarifying how to handle these cases and providing important encouragement for courts to accept more of them. Already there are signs that Chinese NGOs and courts are employing this new legal tool. This month an environmental public interest lawsuit filed by Chinese NGOs Friends of Nature and Fujian Green Home was accepted for consideration by the court in Fujian Province. During our visit we heard about additional NGO cases soon to be filed. The environmental community in China hopes that these provisions will help leverage the growing anti-pollution sentiment in China’s civil society to supplement governmental efforts to control pollution.

This provision is not the only important legal reform. Additional provisions are designed to enhance environmental accountability in China, including requirements for public disclosure of pollutant releases, enhanced penalties for violations of environmental laws, and strengthened mechanisms for holding government officials responsible for achieving environmental objectives. The hope is that legal reform will help develop a system of sound environmental governance, including widespread public access to environmental data, stakeholder engagement in decision-making, and multiple channels of accountability, including access to fair and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms.

China’s air pollution problems have triggered substantial efforts to improve laws and regulations in order to control emissions, an effort which EPA has worked to assist. Improving environmental governance in China can help move towards a level playing field for U.S. businesses competing with Chinese firms, including those who are doing business in China. For these reasons, cooperation on environmental law and governance is a key part of EPA’s overall cooperative engagement with China.

At every turn, I was impressed with the dedication, thoughtfulness, and energy of China’s environmental experts, particularly our counterparts in the Law and Policy Department of their Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as their openness and genuine desire for information on successful cost-effective strategies for pollution prevention and control. Fortified with first-hand knowledge of the many inspiring individuals we met, and with blue skies dramatically appearing on the last day or our trip, we left China with a sense of hope for this critically important undertaking.

About the author: Ethan G. Shenkman is EPA’s Deputy General Counsel. He was previously with the US Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), where he served as Deputy
Assistant Attorney General from 2010 until May 2014.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Radon Risk? You Don’t Know Until You Test

By Henry Slack

My neighbors Pete and Beth (not their real names) met while in their twenties, and got married. A great couple. Had two beautiful girls, who grew up in no time at all – field trips and soccer, high school sports, college, adventures abroad. A strong couple, who helped lead the PTA, the band parents, you name it. Never smoked, good folks, the kind you like to have as neighbors.

Then Pete got lung cancer. They had some optimism over treatment, but the optimism faded as the disease strengthened, and he passed pretty quickly. Lung cancer, unfortunately, has a survival rate lower than many other types of cancer.

I don’t know for sure that Pete’s lung cancer was caused by radon. But, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Elevated radon is found in one out of 15 homes nationally, and the only way to know if a home has high levels is to test it.

As EPA’s indoor air guy for the southeast, I get calls every day. Most people are worried about mold. A few are worried about odors, or chemicals they may have been exposed to, or some health issue that they think might be related to indoor air quality. Very few people call with concerns about radon – and yet, radioactive radon gas kills more people than any of those other things that people call about. Radon kills over 21,000 people a year in the U.S.

Twenty-one thousand. That’s around 400 a week, every week, every year. Some of them are parents, spouses, partners, best friends, and neighbors who leave behind a world of grief for family, like Beth.

Test your home. It’s easy and inexpensive. You can get low-cost test kits online through the National Radon Program Services or other vendors. And if you have a high level – 4 picocuries and above – get your home fixed.

About the Author: Henry Slack has been the Indoor Air coordinator in Region 4 since 1991 and still enjoys it. A mechanical engineer by training, he’s on the Radon Team, but has had assignments to CDC and Barbados. In 2014, he became a Distinguished Lecturer for American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), speaking about mold, indoor air, and ventilation.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.