chemicals

P2 Really Does Pay: Pollution Prevention in the Real World

By David Sarokin

In the course of our careers, we all collect stories. Here’s one of my P2 favorites.

Years ago, I asked a number of chemical companies to open their facilities to me so I could learn where P2 was occurring. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of companies who invited me in.

One facility, a urea-formaldehyde resin manufacturer, discovered P2 during a crisis. The company had discharged its wastewater to the local sewage plant. But a permit renewal suddenly restricted discharges to just a few parts per million of formaldehyde. The plant was stuck! There was no room for an on-site treatment facility, and it was too expensive to truck the wastes off-site. The company considered shuttering the aging facility.

The plant manager found a novel solution: a plant walk-through!

“For the first time,” he told me, “I went through our processes, step by step, to see where wastes were coming from.” His workers to did the same, and found dozens of instances of avoidable wastes. A disconnected hose, for example, was left to leak into a floor drain. “Not a lot in terms of lost material,” he noted, “but enough to contaminate a few million gallons of wastewater.”

The largest single source of waste was the backwash used to clean a product filter, a step that produced a wastestream with high concentrations of chemicals. The product caught in the filter was just a bit “lumpy” according to the plant manager. They had been rinsing the filter this way for a generation, without ever considering alternatives.

The workers devised a simple procedure to break up the lumps and reroute the backwash into the process, avoiding the generation of a huge quantity of formaldehyde-contaminated wastewater. The procedure also improved the overall economics of the resin production.

With a few more clever tweaks, the plant achieved its new discharge limits.

There were a few valuable take-aways from this story:

  • Waste that is out of sight, is out of mind
  • Challenge workers to eliminate waste, and they’ll probably find a way.
  • Pollution prevention pays
  • Regulations can be your friend

About the author: David Sarokin is a P2 specialist at EPA and the author of Cutting Chemical Wastes, one of the first major studies to focus on pollution prevention in the chemical industry.

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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A Better Approach to a Clogged Drain?

By Laura Janson

It happens every so often. One of the drains in my house gets clogged. It is usually the drain in my shower stall or the drain in my bathroom sink. They tend to collect hair.

Being a health-conscious environmentalist, I try not to use harsh chemicals — you know — the ones that contain an irritant that can burn your skin or the inside of your nose? I’ve tried a drain snake, but that requires some elbow grease and sometimes I can’t seem to reach the clog. Why don’t I just use a drain sieve or filter on top of the drains? The bathroom sink is angled so that one will not lay flat. I did find one for the shower that’s easy to clean—stainless steel—and is fine enough to catch hair, but it doesn’t fit in the kids’ tub. What about an environmentally friendly drain cleaner? Good approach, but let’s think outside of the box.

An idea hit me when my brother showed me the filter in my dishwasher that catches large food particles and “foreign objects” like fancy plastic toothpicks. Who knew? Not me, but then I never read the entire manual.

Why not have the same gizmos, those traps they have in many dishwashers, in bathroom drains? Then I could just unscrew the cover on the drain, pull out the trap, remove the hair, put back the cover, and voila, an unclogged drain! It would just take a minute and it would be environmentally friendly.

Calling all faucet manufacturers or entrepreneurs. Find a way to incorporate a filter into every faucet’s design. Then everyone can clean their own drain filters. . . they just have to read the manual to know it’s there.

While you’re thinking about eco-friendly bathroom fixtures, check out all the water efficient appliances from the Water Sense program. Will you be giving your bathroom an eco-makeover?

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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A Lifelong Journey from the Towns of Guatemala

By Ana Corado

I would like to tell you the story that leads to my leaving the Sava Center in Belgrade, Serbia, on a late foggy Friday evening, after a long week of discussions on international chemicals management.

My story begins many years ago, as a child in Guatemala, where I was born and raised. My parents worked with grassroots and international organizations devoted to rural education in a country that has over 20 different ethnic indigenous groups. As early as I can remember, my school vacation consisted of living in remote villages where other children wore non-western clothing and spoke indigenous languages. To this day I recall the mountain air, clean water springs, pine forests and starry nights. The villages lacked electricity and most didn’t have running water. Our days were filled with basic chores: collecting water, washing clothes by hand, helping set the fire, cooking, or walking through corn fields discussing agricultural practices. Despite their scant material comforts, peasants in the communities welcomed us into their lives.

These childhood experiences taught me an invaluable lesson in appreciating other cultures. These lessons would again be applied when I came to the United States to pursue advanced studies in environmental engineering and became a U.S. citizen. I started my professional career in Los Angeles working on water resources issues, later moved to work for EPA’s regional office in San Francisco, and then to EPA headquarters in Washington, where I was introduced to the Office of International and Tribal Affairs.

My interest in technical issues led me to the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at
EPA where I work on international chemicals management issues. On a day-to-day basis, I provide technical support to U.S. efforts with international partners. I attend international meetings where countries discuss how to work together to ensure that chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize potential adverse effects on human health and the environment. Again, my childhood experience with different cultures helps me to better understand the need for diplomatic engagement with partners around the world. This work took me to that cold night in Belgrade, where despite feeling tired after a long-week of discussions, I had the satisfaction that 150 delegates at the meeting agreed to continue efforts to reduce the use of lead in paint globally and promote the use of alternatives to perfluorinated chemicals.

About the Author: Dr. Ana Corado is an Environmental Engineer with the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics and member of the international team. She has worked on environmental issues for 20 years in the U.S. where she resides with her husband and daughter. She still continues to support educational initiatives in Guatemala.

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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Dust Bunny – Friend Or Foe?

They seem pretty harmless….those dust bunnies.  They sit under your bed, watching you watch them. 

The thing is those balls of dust living under my bed aren’t just gross but they can be toxic.  It doesn’t stop here.  My basset hound Murphy’s dander can be harmful too. Chemicals from around your home and from the outdoors can wind up indoors causing harm without you knowing it.  Even in low doses, these chemicals can make it indoors and be toxic, compromising your health.   Dust is made up of all sorts of gross stuff like this, including human hair and skin, fungal spores, and tiny particles and fibers.

All of these things can trigger asthma attacks in you, older adults, or young kids just like it does to my little sister, Olive.    Asthma can make it harder to breathe and get air into your lungs.  A lot of the times, Olive has to sit out playing volleyball or soccer.  It’s not fair.

What can I do as Olive’s big brother?  Try preventing the asthma triggers.

First, I make sure there aren’t any armies of dust bunnies building in my room by vacuuming it regularly.   Murphy, the basset hound, probably needs to have a bath and be groomed outdoors weekly, especially during the spring.  If I see a film of dust on my electronic equipment, it’s time to wipe it down and get rid of the dust on it. 

Yea, Olive can be a pest sometimes but she’s my little sister and as her big brother, I have to watch out for her.

Learn more about asthma and its environmental triggers at: www.epa.gov/asthma

Joseph is a 9th grader who likes hanging out with his friends and playing the violin.

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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Adventures in Babysitting

Babysitting. Sometimes it’s the easiest way to make some extra money after you’ve used your allowance on the latest music, book, or outing with your friends. Other times, it’s a must. You HAVE to watch and take care of your little brother.  They can make it easy on you, or manage to run you around and do unpredictable things.  This could get dangerous.

Babies like to crawl on the floor and put things in their mouth.  Toddlers or smaller children that are walking, love opening cabinets to find all sorts of shiny, dangerous things.  If any of them get a hold of chemicals or pesticides, any exposure could be dangerous.   They’re curious and you need to know what is safe to have around them.

So before you use any chemicals around children, read the label. If you’re feeding them, make sure to wash their hands and yours beforehand.  Keep them safe and get more information at: http://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/

It’ll make you a better babysitter and knowledge makes you more valuable.

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently pursuing a dual graduate degree at DePaul University.

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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Never Too Old to Play

By Kathy Sykes

The older I get, the more I like to play. Did you know that May is Older Americans Month and that this year’s theme is “Never Too Old to Play.” The theme encourages Older Americans to stay engaged, active and involved in their communities.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of a book, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, that changed the lives for many people who love nature and the out-of-doors.

I hadn’t read Silent Spring until I was an adult. As a child, I remember running down nearby railroad tracks where trains passed by daily around noon transporting large logs heading to the paper mills and lumber yards. My little sister and I used to pick bouquets of flowers that bloomed in abundance near the tracks, white and purple violets, daisies, lilies- of- the-valley for my mother to place on the dining room table.

But those tracks were also sprayed with DDT. We were just kids and had no idea how dangerous it was as we ran down the tracks through the cloud of chemicals. We assumed if the cloud of chemicals was bad for mosquitoes it must be good for us. But I have learned now that the metabolites of DDT are one of those persistent toxicants that are forever a part of me.

Fifty years later we are still thinking about Rachel Carson’s message about the dangers of chemicals and pesticides in our world. The train tracks have been converted into a bike path and trails that weave through the back yards of my childhood neighborhood. DDT is no longer sprayed and the wild flowers are still there. My mom has been active in caring for community gardens and volunteering at the local botanical gardens. She has encouraged all my nieces and nephews to garden and appreciate the out of doors. Mother’s day is around the corner and I am planning to play in a garden and maybe submit an entry with my mom for the Rachel Carson contest.

About the author: Kathy Sykes is a Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability in the Office or Research and Development at the U.S. EPA.

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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My Secondhand Smoke “Aha” Moment

By Alison Freeman

Did you know that more than half of young children are exposed to secondhand smoke and most of this exposure occurs at home? Now that the weather is warming up, this is a good time to talk with loved ones who smoke about the benefits of taking smoking outside.

My secondhand smoke “aha” moment came a number of years ago at a colleague’s going away party. I picked up my son at his pre-school near work, cautiously entered the restaurant (sniffing for smoke along the way), then dashed my son to the private back room where the event was being held. Relieved there was a door and the air smelled free of smoke, (and giving no thought to ventilation), I foolishly concluded that it was safe for my son to stay. During our drive home, I kissed my son’s head and ruffled his hair and quickly discovered he reeked of cigarette smoke.

There’s good reason for my instinctive reaction I experienced and that I still so clearly recall. There is no risk-free exposure, no safe level of secondhand smoke, and no safe tobacco product, either for the smoker or the nonsmoker exposed. Cigarettes are a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and breathing in even a little smoke can be dangerous, resulting in temporary and sometimes permanent health consequences. We know secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in adults and children who do not smoke.

Choose to smoke outside, until you can quit, and share that message with others you care about or who care for your kids in their homes or cars.

To learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke, visit EPA’s website.

To get help with quitting, visit Smokefree.gov or contact the national quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW.

Lastly, the Surgeon General and CDC websites host a number of helpful consumer publications, posters, and tips.

About the author: Alison Freeman is the secondhand smoke policy specialist in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, which addresses indoor air topics, including smoke-free homes, asthma, mold, radon, Indoor airPLUS and schools.

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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Science Wednesday: EPA Teams Up with L’Oréal to Advance Research

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Monica Linnenbrink

Now I can look great and feel good about using my favorite mascara. Why? Because EPA researchers are collaborating with L’Oréal to help end the need for animal testing. EPA is using its ToxCast program to screen chemicals to understand their potential impact on biological processes that may lead to adverse health effects.

EPA’s ToxCast program screens chemicals using state-of-the-art scientific methods (including robots!) to learn how these chemicals affect the human body. We’ve never tested chemicals found in cosmetics before, so this partnership with L’Oréal will expand the types of chemicals that ToxCast screens.

L’Oréal is providing EPA $1.2 million in collaborative research funding plus safety data from a set of representative substances used in cosmetics, which will expand the types of chemical use groups assessed by ToxCast. EPA will then compare its ToxCast results to L’Oréal’s data to determine if ToxCast is appropriate for use in assessing the safety of chemicals used in cosmetics.

Traditional chemical toxicity testing is very expensive and time consuming, so many chemicals in use today have not been thoroughly evaluated for potential toxicity. ToxCast, on the other hand, is able to rapidly screen thousands of chemicals via hundreds of tests and provide results that are relevant to various types of toxicity.

As someone who uses L’Oréal products, I’m excited that they are taking the initiative to better understand how chemicals in their cosmetics might interact with my body’s natural processes. I’m also excited to hear that they are exploring new ways of testing that could end the need for animal testing. Since I use their products on my face, it’s nice to know that L’Oréal is working to ensure their products are safe to use and are working to do this in an animal friendly way.

About the author: Monica Linnenbrink is a Public Affairs Specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Spring Cleaning for a Healthy Home

By Lina Younes

As we see the first signs of the new season, it’s easy to get into the mood for spring cleaning around the house. We just want to open the windows, freshen the air, put away the heavy coats and signs of winter inside the home. During this process, we start thinking of giving a thorough cleaning around the house and even a fresh coat of paint or doing some renovations. How can we make sure that during this process, we are making our home environment healthier? Well, here are some green tips for your consideration.

Thinking of giving your kitchen or bathrooms a good scrubbing? Do you want to make sure that the chemicals that you are using are safe and green? Here’s a suggestion. Use cleaning products with the Design for the Environment label. (DfE). What is the DfE exactly? It’s an EPA partnership program. Those products with the DfE label have been screened carefully for potential human health and environmental effects to ensure that they are produced with the safest ingredients possible.

Another common spring cleaning practice? Painting! It’s an easy way to give a whole new look to home. However, if your home was built before 1978, it is very likely that it has lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal found in paints and buildings built before 1978 and it can cause serious damage to the brain, learning problems and even hearing problems. So if you are thinking about painting around the house or making some renovations, get some useful information on making these renovations safely or getting a certified contractor.

Thinking of some major repairs such as getting water efficient toilets or new household appliances? Look at products with the WaterSense label for greater water efficiency or Energy Star appliances to save energy, money, and protect the environment.

Over the winter, did you have problems with snow and a leaky basement? Make sure to correct the any mold problems and get proper ventilation to ensure good indoor air quality in your home.

So, do you have any grand spring cleaning plans in mind? Share your thoughts. We love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Science Wednesday: Reduce + Reuse + Recycle = Results!

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Nisha S. Sipes

Who knew that we could help make our environment healthier by using new and recycled data!

This month, I have the honor of being presented the Best Postdoctoral Publication Award by the Society of Toxicology (SOT) for my paper “Predictive models of prenatal developmental toxicology from ToxCast high-throughput screening data.” In other words, I studied how new technologies using both new and old data can determine which chemicals are potentially toxic to development.

Along with many other EPA scientists, I have been researching if it’s possible to predict a chemical’s potential toxicity using efficient new technologies in EPA’s ToxCast program. The ToxCast program is running thousands of chemicals through hundreds of different tests in a “high-throughput screening” (HTS) process. If we’re successful, we will be able to better understand how a chemical is toxic to the body and reduce the need for animal testing—all while saving lots of time and money on testing.

My paper focuses on building computer models to predict the toxic effects of chemicals on prenatal development using two sets of data: traditional toxicity data (gathered from 30 years worth of laboratory studies) and ToxCast data (gathered from HTS methods). I compared the two groups of data, and after crunching the numbers we could show that these new HTS methods could predict results from old-school animal testing for developmental toxicity.

It turns out that the ToxCast data can provide new information about which chemicals are toxic to development. We can also use these new technologies to pick out which chemicals are toxic specifically to rat development or rabbit development without animal testing. That level of specificity was wishful thinking just a few years ago!
Hopefully these models, built from reused and recycled traditional toxicity data, will help pave the way for quickly prioritizing which chemicals need a thorough evaluation and will eventually reduce the need for costly and time-consuming animal toxicity testing.

As we get further along in our HTS research, we can use what we’ve learned from this study to better identify target chemicals that may be toxic to humans.

About the author: Nisha Sipes is a post-doctoral fellow for EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. She joined EPA in 2009 and specializes in using computational approaches to understand chemicals’ developmental toxicology.

Editor’s Note: Attending the SOT meeting in San Francisco? Be sure to catch Nisha next week as she presents her paper and the predictive model: March 13, 2012 at 9:37 AM (Pacific time).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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