chemicals

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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The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Celebrating 25 Years of Community-Right-to-Know

By Kara Koehrn

In 1984, when a deadly cloud of chemical gas killed thousands of people in Bhopal India, a power movement was set in motion. Back then, Americans had little access to information about chemicals in their neighborhood. The spill in Bhopal along with another accident at a sister plant in West Virginia, awakened public interest in knowing more about potential hazards. Communities demanded information about toxic chemicals being released outside facilities, and it was in this environment that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was created by the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act in 1986.

25 years later, my coworkers and I are proud to continue the community-right-to-know tradition with the publication of this year’s TRI data and analysis. The report is called the TRI National Analysis and it can tell you whether toxic chemical releases have increased or decreased nationwide, what chemicals are being released in the Denver area, which industries are releasing the highest amounts in the Los Angeles area, or whether toxic chemical releases have increased in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Take a look!

I am especially excited for this year’s analysis because it includes new features designed to make TRI data more informative and relevant. We have worked with economists to incorporate information on how the economy may be affecting TRI releases, included risks associated with TRI chemicals, more information on what facilities have done to help reduce their chemical releases, and translated even more materials than ever before into Spanish.

We publish the National Analysis every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses on TRI data. Any member of the public can analyze or look up what chemicals are being released in an area. My favorite tool to use for quick information about chemical releases in my zip code is myRTK (myRight-to-Know,) which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.

We have come a long way since 1984, and I hope you take a look at the National Analysis and maybe even try a few of our analysis tools to see what chemicals are being released into your neighborhood. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She recently started a potted vegetable garden at her row house apartment in the city to grow fresh food locally without pesticides.

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: Tox21’s 10,000 Compound List

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

By Aaron Ferster

I’m a big fan of those “Top Ten” lists that come out at the end of every year. I like to track how many of my favorite movie critic’s Top Ten List of Films I’ve caught during the year (so far, I’ve seen most of them—and I’ve still got a couple of weeks to go before New Year’s Eve). The synopses included in the lists of Top Ten Best Novels of the year let me feel like I’m in the know about the latest literature, even though I’ve clearly spent more time at the cinema than at the bookstore.

But this year the most impressive “list” I’ve come across came out last week, when EPA and its partners from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the compounds to be tested as part of the collaborative Tox21 research program over the next couple of years

Only the list is slightly more robust than ten—it’s a 10,000 compound library.

The library contains chemicals covering a wide variety of classifications, including chemicals found in industrial processes, consumer products, and food additives, as well as human and veterinary drugs. A large number of reference compounds are also included to give researchers access to different toxicological or disease endpoints, duplicate compounds for evaluating test methods, and a small set of chemical mixtures for a pilot study.

“The Tox21 partnership integrates revolutionary advances in molecular biology, chemistry, and computer science to quickly and cost-effectively screen the thousands of chemicals in use today,” said Paul Anastas, Ph.D., the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

The compounds will be tested with a high-speed, robotic testing system that was unveiled early this year—the subject of a previous blog post here on Science Wednesday.  That means the tests will continue nearly nonstop, 24-7 until all the compounds have been analyzed.

Results of the tests will provide information useful for evaluating if any of the 10,000 chemicals have the potential to disrupt processes in the human body to an extent that would lead to adverse health effects. I’ll be sure to blog about those results once they start rolling in. But in the meantime, I’ll be at the movies.

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the senior science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and the editor of Science Wednesday.

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:Getting the Word Out About EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Research

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

By Dayna Gibbons

As far as I’m concerned, daylight savings time could not have come at a better time. Last week, EPA released its final study plan to research the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. As a member of the science communications team, part of my job was to help ensure the study plan and a host of supporting material—from a press release to web site updates to @EPAresearch “tweets”—were ready so we could share the news. There was a lot to do, and by the weekend I was grateful to have an extra hour of sleep!

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it’s more commonly called, is a stimulus technique that gas producers use to extract natural gas out of sources such as coalbeds and shale formations. (It’s also used for other applications, including oil recovery.) Many are hopeful that fracking will play a key role in unlocking natural gas from reserves across large areas of the U.S. Yet, concerns have been raised about the impact such practices might have on drinking water resources.

Toward the end of 2010, Congress directed EPA to conduct research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. Since then, EPA has engaged with the public, the scientific community, and interested stakeholders to ensure public input into the study’s design where appropriate. The draft plan went through a public comment period and was peer-reviewed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board to ensure a scientifically sound approach.

EPA’s study will answer questions across the full hydraulic fracturing water lifecycle. This means that the data our scientists collect will help us understand the potential impacts on water resources from the beginning to end of the fracking process—from using large amounts of ground and surface waters, to drilling activities and the use of chemicals and, finally, the management, disposal, and treatment of used water.

The first study results will be released in 2012, and the final report will be released in 2014. In addition, EPA will regularly host webinars—including today at 3:30pm and tomorrow at 2:30pm—and provide updates throughout the study in order to keep the public informed of the progress. I’m sure that will continue to keep me busy, but at least I have an extra hour of sleep under my belt.

About the author: Dayna Gibbons has worked in communications at EPA since 2002.

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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Celebrating 25 Years of Community Right-to-Know

By Bill Finan

In the mid-1980s, I was surprised to hear stories about firefighters being injured and sometimes killed when they entered a fire scene that included chemicals. Those firefighters were brave and wanted to save lives, but they had not been trained to understand chemical hazards.

Just as firefighters often did not know what chemicals were in a burning building, or how the chemicals could harm them, it would have been difficult for the average person to know what toxic chemicals were in their neighborhoods. But after a series of deaths and injuries because of accidental chemical releases, Americans demanded to have information about chemicals in their community. EPA’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the motto, “If you don’t know, you don’t go,” adopted by firefighters in 1986 resulted from that public outcry.

I was part of EPA’s initial implementation of EPCRA. I understood and championed its main goal that would allow average citizens and experts in the community aware of nearby toxic chemicals to analyze how great the chemical risk is and what to do about it. EPCRA provides information about what chemicals are stored, used, and made in your community and what toxic chemicals are being released in your community too. It also helps emergency responders, like police and firefighters, plan for events where there may be life and death decisions based on the information provided by EPCRA.

EPCRA requires the establishment of state and local planning organizations made up of environmental, public health, transportation, and emergency management experts; as well as industry, police and fire departments, elected officials, news media and concerned citizens. Plus facilities must notify to local, state and EPA officials on where and how chemicals are stored and in what quantities, and if there is a chemical accident. Lastly, many facilities must report every year to EPA on releases of close to 600 toxic chemicals. These requirements empower you and your community to make informed decisions to better protect your health and your environment.

Over the last 25 years, I have been proud to continue to work on EPCRA issues and watch it evolve to help raise toxic chemical awareness and improve planning efforts. I believe that EPCRA has made American’s safer from toxic chemical accidents and I look forward to another 25 years of EPCRA.

Learn more about what we have accomplished with EPCRA

About the author: Bill Finan has been working for EPA since 1986 and helped write many of the EPA documents related to EPCRA.

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.