Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

From Sri Lanka to EPA

By Mathy Stanislaus

I was born in Sri Lanka. My family moved to the United States when I was five in order to build a better life. As an Asian American, I take special pride in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage month. I am now privileged to serve as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

The path that took me to my current position began with my work seeking to improve human rights in Sri Lanka. From there, I became engaged in environmental protection by working with communities who suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution and environmental harm. Since I began at EPA, it’s been one of my top priorities to make sure that communities have full access to information and are involved in the decision-making process. It’s especially important to me that we reach communities who have historically not had their voices heard.

With the recent passing of the one year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill, it’s a good time to look back at EPA’s efforts during that time. I’m very proud of EPA’s work to make sure that our outreach and engagement efforts paid special attention to the Asian American fishing communities who were severely affected by the spill. When the spill happened, I spent several weeks in the Gulf talking to members of the affected communities; I wanted to make sure that EPA’s actions addressed their concerns. EPA conducted targeted outreach to organizations serving the Asian American communities and other communities in the Gulf. EPA’s work supporting these communities included providing translation services and creating a formal unit in the Unified Incident Command (UIC) to reach out to non-governmental organizations. This unit was the first group of its type in UIC history.

As a member of the Interagency Working Group for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I have worked to draw attention to the unique issues of AAPI communities. EPA has committed to ensuring that Asian American and Pacific Islanders enjoy full opportunities in the workforce, partnering with AAPI universities, and addressing the concerns of AAPI communities. For example, many AAPI women who work in nail salons are exposed to chemicals. EPA is working to reduce this exposure by providing education, training, and by examining alternatives to chemicals used in the nail salon industry. By working with AAPI communities and listening to their concerns, EPA can help these Americans achieve a better standard of living.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

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.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Pankaj Arora

By Pankaj Arora, Region 9 Scientist, Indian-American

I grew up among about 1.3 billion people in India. My parents were refugees, coming to India in 1947 when it separated from Pakistan. They were passionate about higher education. Money could be lost (they lost theirs as refugees) but education is yours to keep, and it opens the door to success. They instilled that passion in me.

About 22 years ago, with Master’s degrees in Organic Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering, I came to the U.S. with $600 and a suitcase full of books and clothes. I began studying for a third Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Why? Because the need to drink clean water, live on clean land, and breathe clean air are necessities, yet billions of people lack access to them. I experienced this growing up in India. Environmental Engineering offered a way to follow my heart.

After getting that degree in 1991, I worked as an environmental consultant, then delved into high-tech manufacturing at IBM. Ten years after arriving in the U.S., I was a senior manager at Sun Microsystems. In 2002, I became a U.S. citizen. Did I have it all? That was the first of my mid-life crises. I had drifted away from my passion to improve environmental conditions.  But citizenship opened another door: I could now work for the federal government. I joined EPA in 2003 and have stayed here ever since.

Why? One reason was a phone call in 2008, from someone who wanted to give me an Easter blessing for making life better in a local community. Another was the chance to work at the federal Command Post in Alabama during the BP Oil Spill. Others include opportunities to work on climate change, and to talk about EPA’s work with high school students. At my own expense, I attended the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali and an International Atomic Energy Agency symposium.

Now, I’m going back to school to earn another degree, this time focusing on water, climate change, and sustainable development. Maybe after this the universities will stop me from enrolling. . . . Just kidding!

I’ll return to EPA with new skills and a British accent added to my Indian-American accent. I hope to continue being the change we want to see, a proud U.S. citizen, admiring my Indian heritage as a global citizen.

About the author: Pankaj Arora is an environmental scientist with the Climate Change Office in EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Pankaj is a first generation Indian American.

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.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Sharon Lin

By Sharon Lin, Environmental Justice and Asian American Community

It’s a beautiful 80-degree day in Spring. I put on a pair of sandals for the first time this year and realized that I needed a pedicure. As I walked into a nail salon in my neighborhood, I was overwhelmed by the smell of chemicals. A pedicure with my friends, the typical “moms’ day out” activity, is no longer fun and care-free, since I started working with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative last December. Now, when I think of nail salons, I think about Environmental Justice in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Here are the facts: 40% of the licensed nail salon technicians in U.S. are Asian women, and 80% of them in California are Vietnamese women. Nearly all of these — 95% — are women of child-bearing age. Their average wage is less than $18,200 per year. They are mostly non-English speakers. The nail salon industry is one of the few growing job sectors for new immigrants.

Last October, San Francisco established a “green salon” recognition program, encouraging salons to avoid using the carcinogens toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl-phthalate, known as the “toxic trio, in their nail products. This voluntary regulation, recognized by the city’s Department of Environment, is the nation’s first local measure to protect the health of nail salon workers. Other cities are expected to follow.

My awareness of environmental justice started when I became a Superfund project manager for the Palos Verdes Shelf superfund site in 2002. This Southern California Superfund site, which includes an offshore area of sea bottom contaminated with DDT and PCBs, caused contamination in some of the local fish and created a significant health threat to AAPI communities in the Los Angeles area, where many people regularly ate those fish.

My interest in environmental justice for AAPI communities came naturally. As an immigrant from China, I had firsthand experience of being underprivileged. I knew the importance of community-based organizations. My parents and I came to the U.S. when I was 18. We received free health care at the community clinic in San Francisco’s Chinatown. My parents received free job training and English language classes at the Chinatown community center. As for me, two college degrees and four jobs later, I have the privilege of working with the same community organizations that helped my family land on our feet in this country. Each day, I feel honored to be their partner in addressing the environmental and public health needs of the new immigrant communities. This is my American dream!

About the author: Sharon Lin is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Environmental Justice Program in the Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Sharon is also the Asian American Pacific Islander Employment Program Manager in EPA Region 9. Sharon is a first generation Chinese American.

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.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Danielle Angeles

By Danielle Angeles

Growing up, I always took on a motherly role. From friends at school to younger family members, I always made sure that those around me were taken care of – whether they wanted it or not.

When I became a mother four years ago, my vision of the world drastically changed. I saw the world through a different pair of eyes — a world of health risks ranging from lead in children’s toys to pollution in our air and water. This vision gave me a glimpse of the world that I would be leaving to my son and future grandchildren. As a mother and a human being, I needed to protect my child not only from everyday dangers but from future environmental risks as well. To accomplish this, I needed to start making a difference at home and in the world. As we all know, pollution does not obey boundaries. The air we breathe and water we drink can be affected by actions and events around the world.

Working at EPA, I was able to see firsthand the struggles that under served communities face, particularly in Indian Country. I was able to see the challenges on reservations and the hard work that the tribal environmental programs do to protect their homelands from pollution. This work not only educated me on how to protect the environment, but encouraged me to try and assist in any way possible. As an environmental protection specialist, I provide resources to tribes to monitor the quality of their tribal waters and implement on-the-ground watershed restoration projects to reduce water pollution and improve water quality.

When I see that a tribe’s water quality has greatly improved, thanks to the assistance I provide as a employee, I am overjoyed. I know that not only have the tribal resources improved but the health of the community as well. Although a small creek is a small piece of the bigger problem, it is a beginning of a long journey to protect the world for our children.

About the author: Danielle Angeles is a project officer in the EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9) Water Division’s Tribal Office. Danielle is a second generation Filipino American.

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.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Cleaning up Agent Orange — a Vietnam War Legacy

By Vance S. Fong

I was born in Hanoi, and grew up there in the 1960s. During the Vietnam War, my father drove ore trucks on a hazardous route around bomb craters, sometimes while bombs were falling on the city. He was not killed by bombs, however. He died of hepatitis years later, from having drunk polluted drinking water. My father fought liver cancer bravely as he waited for my daughter to be born, but his liver gave up. Each time I visit his grave, I am more committed for make the environment safer, here in the U.S. as well as in Vietnam.

EPA’s Office of International Affairs invited me to return to Vietnam 12 years ago. After my EPA work was finished, I sought to learn more about the conditions that caused my father’s death. In Hanoi I met with scientists of the Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to study the problem of unsanitary drinking water.

Meanwhile, my attention was drawn to the lingering impacts of Agent Orange, an herbicide which contained extremely toxic dioxins and furans. Between 1961 and 1971, more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed on Vietnam’s forests and crops. Four decades later, dioxin remains at dangerous levels around former U.S. airbases that once housed planes carrying herbicides. In some instances local foods have been contaminated.

In 2001, EPA’s Office of Research and Development invited me to participate in a bi-national partnership to cooperate on research and monitoring technologies to find and clean up Agent Orange/dioxin hot spots throughout Vietnam.

I was assigned to collaborate with the Vietnamese government to build capacity for lab analysis of dioxins and related chemicals. The five-year, $2 million project gave Vietnam technologies to assess soil contamination at Agent Orange hot spots at the Da Nang airport. The effort included training, U.S. government donation of equipment, including a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, and assistance with data collection and analysis.

In May 2009, the project reached a major milestone. My EPA colleague Harry Allen, Sr. and I collaborated with Vietnam’s Academy of Science and Technology, and Ministry of Defense, on a bioremediation pilot test at the Da Nang airbase. The goal was to demonstrate a permanent, cost-effective treatment method to protect public health from herbicide hot spots.

EPA’s objective was to demonstrate the best methods for sharply reducing the levels of Agent Orange and dioxins in the soil. This information is being used to develop a full-scale cleanup strategy for dioxin hot spots. The project will also have economic benefits. The Da Nang cleanup is necessary for Vietnam to expand the former airbase into an international airport. The expansion will bring jobs, international visitors, and prosperity to the formerly contaminated area.

About the author: Vance Fong is the regional environmental indicator program manager for EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Vance is a first generation Vietnamese American.

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.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Meaningful Work in the Pool of Diverse Ideas

By Andrew Chu

Hi there! Thanks for reading my blog. I’d like to share with you how much it means to me personally and as a federal employee to work at EPA.

EPA offers many opportunities to work with a diversity of interests and ideas. In the Permits Office of the Pacific Southwest Air Division, I work with businesses to process their applications to build new projects that create jobs and strengthen our economy. I also help them find clean technology to minimize or even avoid adding pollution to the air that we all share. I know that navigating the regulations is difficult, but when I work with the businesses to understand them, they find it easier to comply.

It’s important to connect with different communities to understand where they have been disproportionately shouldering environmental burdens. In the interest of fairness and equality, no community should be unjustly singled out to take more pollution than the next one due to differences in language or income. I was born and raised in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, and I understood the difficulties people faced with language barriers and not knowing where to turn with their environmental concerns. Today, it’s my role to make sure that each community is heard and that polluters clean up their act and follow the law. It’s about fairness and doing the right thing.

For example, when I accompanied our regional administrator to meet with community members in Richmond, Calif., I gained a better understanding of their concerns and where they wanted technical staff like me to pay closer attention. I also saw how some businesses have been making efforts toward the goal of a clean environment. These experiences confirm my belief that I’ve found meaningful work, and make me proud to work for EPA.

As an EPA employee, I work with colleagues from different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. By participating in a range of activities here, from honoring Black History Month in February to Native American Heritage Month in November to LGBT Pride in June, I feel a stronger connection with my co-workers. Having learned more about their cultural values and heritages, I can communicate with more openness and on deeper levels. For all of these reasons, my EPA is a truly remarkable place to work.

About the author: Andrew Chu is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region Air Division Permits Office. Andrew is a second generation Chinese American.

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.

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.

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Keith Takata

Superfundman

Superfundman

By Keith Takata, Deputy Regional Administrator

I’m a child of ‘50s, born and raised on a small farm in the Santa Clara Valley, long before the term Silicon Valley was coined. I graduated from a country elementary school, kindergarten through 8th grade, with 16 kids. I spent a lot of time at the Buddhist Church in San Jose’s Japanese American community.

After high school, I went to U.C. Berkeley during the years of social protest. I was heavily involved in the “Third World Strike” to establish an Ethnic Studies Department and stop the Vietnam War.

Figuring I eventually needed to get a job, I went to law school at U.C. Davis, passed the bar, and went to work for EPA’s regional Enforcement Division in San Francisco. My early career at EPA was lackluster until I switched to management, and found my calling.

I started the Superfund program here in 1981, and that’s where I’ve spent the bulk of my career. I liked the direct federal responsibility for Superfund sites and I love the action of emergency response. Last year, duty called and I am now Deputy Regional Administrator.

Every now and then there is a nice confluence of work and life. Recently I took part in the groundbreaking for a cleanup in Richmond, Calif. funded by an EPA Brownfields grant. The money is being used to clean up an area where 17 Japanese American families operated flower nurseries for over a century. After the cleanup, Richmond will develop new housing, preserve an original home and greenhouse, and create open space for the community.

The project is close to my heart because I grew up with farm families who went through some of the same experiences as Japanese Americans in Richmond. My family was interned during World War II just as they were. My father served in the military just as many of their young men did. After the war, my parents returned to San Jose to start farming again just like they did in Richmond.

This generation of Japanese Americans—my parents and grandparents–had the strength to rise above the challenges, just as I know the Japanese people will rise from the recent tragedy of earthquake and tsunami.

As I reach the end of my career, I reflect on the gains we’ve made in environmental protection, but more importantly, I think about what we’ve left undone. Every day a new threat appears, like hydrofracturing and the BP oil spill. We should have more aggressively protected the environment, but now it’s time to pass the torch to the next generation. Are you ready?

About the author: Keith Takata is the Deputy Regional Administrator for EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Keith is a Sansei (third generation) Japanese American.

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.

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.