Clean Air

Showcasing Community Efforts to Clean the Air and Safeguard Health

What do the following projects have in common: A solar photovoltaic system built by a small community in Tennessee; indoor air quality training for 200 tribes in the Northwest; cleaner buses for 115 school districts across North Carolina; and incentives for ocean-going vessels to use low-sulfur fuels at the Port of Seattle? The answer is that all of them are making a difference in air quality across the country … and they are just a few of the winners of EPA’s 2014 Clean Air Excellence Awards.

“Clean School Bus NC: Kids Breathe Here” program has significantly improved air quality through retrofits, reducing idling, and other steps, benefiting the 800,000 children who travel by bus across the state.

“Clean School Bus NC: Kids Breathe Here” program has significantly improved air quality through retrofits, reducing idling, and other steps, benefiting the 800,000 children who travel by bus across the state.

 

The Clean Air Excellence Awards Program, started in 2000, honors outstanding and innovative efforts to help make progress in achieving cleaner air. On April 2, I had the pleasure of recognizing one individual and twelve different organizations for their commitment and on-the-ground results in improving the air we breathe. More

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Climate Leadership Provides Inspiration – and a Cleaner Environment 

Intel, a 2013 Climate Leadership Winner, has multiple solar arrays on its corporate campuses in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Oregon. This photo shows a solar support structure at the company’s parking lot in Arizona.

Intel, a 2013 Climate Leadership Winner, has multiple solar arrays on its corporate campuses in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Oregon. This photo shows a solar support structure at the company’s parking lot in Arizona.

By Melissa Klein

Part of my job is helping organize EPA’s annual Climate Leadership Awards. Through this work, I’ve been greatly inspired to learn about and highlight the steps companies are taking voluntarily to manage and reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Earlier this year, we honored 23 corporations, public agencies, and individuals for their exemplary leadership in reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change. The winners demonstrated their commitment to conducting operations in a more sustainable way – diversifying their energy supply, mitigating fuel cost risk, and cutting their energy-related emissions.

Their forward-thinking actions to reduce GHG emissions can have exciting ripple effects. For instance, when a business takes action on climate, the whole supply chain often improves, encompassing efficiency related to operations – from purchased goods and transportation – to distribution and product use. The ripple effects result not only in cleaner air and water and improved public health, but also in money savings on energy costs and economic growth.

It’s encouraging and inspirational that four of the five top winners were local governments, who often face budget and staffing constraints, but still made incredible progress. Sonoma County Water Agency in California, The Port of San Diego, City of Austin, Texas, and Boulder County, Colorado, have all taken impressive and meaningful steps toward carbon-neutral operations and have mobilized large networks of partners to enable change. Check out the full list of award winners here to see if your hometown made the list.

Planning for the third annual awards in 2014 is underway and the application period is open until September 13, 2013. We, in collaboration with our co-sponsors – the Association of Climate Change Officers, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and The Climate Registry – are challenging organizations to think creatively and comprehensively to cut GHG emissions. For more information on the awards, please visit

About the Author: Melissa Klein, MPH, is the communications director for the Center for Corporate Climate Leadership within the Climate Protection Partnerships Division 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 Independence Day Musing

By Dave Deegan

This week we celebrate one of my favorite holidays – Independence Day, the Fourth of July. Even now, decades after I left school for good and have been in the workforce, this early summer holiday continues to hold strong associations and memories of the thrill I once felt knowing that the whole summer was waiting ahead of me with fun activities like swimming, camping, baseball games, picnics, long days and lingering twilight.  Great, relaxing times with family and friends, and sometimes a welcome trip to the beach or a mountain lake.

Nowadays, celebrating our nation’s founding on Independence Day has far deeper meaning than the pleasure of a picnic or watching a jaw-dropping fireworks display. I always am grateful for the freedom we enjoy in the US: freedoms to read and write and debate, the liberty to live where and how we choose and the promise to define one’s own life work.

Picture of a flag on a bridge over water.

Of course, we all accept that our personal freedom has limits, either for other people’s good or for the community as a whole. When it comes to the environment, we all live both upstream as well as downstream.  My actions can impact you, just as yours can impact me.  As someone who cares a lot about EPA’s mission – to protect human health and the environment – I am always aware of the trade-off required when it comes down to EPA enforcing the laws to keep harmful pollution from the water, air or land.

What is ironic in all of this is that so much of what makes our collective independence so precious actually depends so much on our collective interdependence.  Our will and willingness to be good neighbors to each other often goes hand-in-hand with being good stewards of our environment.

So here’s to a great Fourth, to enjoying some potato salad, a burger, a small-town parade and a marching band playing the patriotic classics.  And maybe a few thoughts to how good it is to breathe clean air, to enjoy fresh healthy water and to dig a garden in good soil.

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not digging rocks out of his garden, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

 

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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Wearing a Mask

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

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

In some Asian towns an estimated one out of five people wears a face mask. Until you see it, though, that’s just a statistic from afar. In the last five years in Boston, New England’s largest city, I don’t recall ever seeing a face mask outside a doctor’s office.

But sitting recently in a Bangkok café, riding a “tuk tuk” in Luang Prabang, Laos, and touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I saw the reality. We, residents of Planet Earth, have begun to build our bubbles – bubbles protecting us from the world we are polluting.

My journey to Southeast Asia began during Chinese New Year, when millions of Chinese tourists filled the streets. The month before had seen a national health emergency in Beijing – the second most populous city in China. As the city experienced 19 days above acceptable air pollution levels that month, many of them way above, companies gave masks to employees, residents were told to stay home, factories were closed and government cars were ordered off the road.

At the height of the smog, readings for PM2.5 – particles small enough to penetrate the lungs deeply – hit 993 micrograms per cubic meter, almost 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit. According to EPA, levels between 301 and 500 are “hazardous,” meaning people should avoid outdoor activity.

Many of the masked tourists were coming off the heels of this.

But the reasons to wear a mask can range from fear of getting sick to fear of infecting someone else to protection from air pollution. On dusty roads masks make breathing easier. Masks are even becoming fashion statements, I read.

The masked included police officers in Chiang Mai, Thailand; construction workers in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and residents on motorbikes in Laos. And of course Chinese tourists everywhere. All protecting themselves from the world around them.

On the same trip, I visited a village in the mountains of northern Laos where the men still weave bamboo walls for houses, women head to the fields to reap grass for making brooms and night falls in a world devoid of electricity, letting the stars in the sky light the way to the loo.

I am not prone to sentimental musings on sunsets or dewdrops. But confronting so directly the human cost of pollution, set starkly against a backdrop of unspoiled beauty, I greatly appreciated stepping off the plane into Boston, where the AQI was, oh, about 35 on the day I landed.

http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_city&zipcode=02138

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

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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Black History Month: Generation Green

By Kuae Kelch Mattox
National President, Mocha Moms, Inc.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember being concerned much about the environment. We didn’t scrutinize labels, all our trash went into one can and we never considered buying “organic.” But now I’m mother to three children who remind me every day what I should be doing to be a kinder, gentler friend to this world in which we live.

My nine year-old daughter tells me I waste water when I let it run while brushing my teeth. My thirteen year old son regularly reminds me he can’t bring anything but a reusable water bottle onto the lacrosse field. He’s also the resident scholar on which plastic is recyclable, and which is not. My teenage environmentally conscious daughter chastises me for putting groceries in plastic bags and points out suspicious chemical key words on cosmetic labels. At our local elementary school, Waste Wednesday is a school tradition. Classes compete to see whose lunchroom trash weighs the least.

Our children are growing up in an era of unprecedented environmental consciousness. The environment is an important part of science and social studies curriculum, science fairs are hot ticket events and extracurricular programs remind our children how their actions impact the environment.

I have always seen myself as my children’s first teacher, but when it comes to the environment, I find that my children are often the ones teaching me. It is a source of great pride that they see taking care of the environment as a serious matter. I see it as my role, particularly as an African American mother, to guide them along the way, to serve as a reminder that it does feel good to treat the place that we call home with honor and respect. Each moment that they teach me is an opportunity for me to show them that I am listening and I, too, care. I also want them to understand the unique needs of the African American community, and that in many communities people of color suffer from disproportionate levels of environmental risk.

For my son, who has asthma, he needs to understand in particular the importance of breathing clean air. For all children, we must be ever vigilant, making sure that their natural curiosity and desire to do good for the earth continues as they grow into adulthood. Let’s talk about the issues – dirty water, polluted air, leaking pesticides, dangerous toxins, health disparities, and let’s explore solutions. Let’s teach our children to be environmental advocates and help this generation to “green” the next one. Let them know, it isn’t just about recycling plastic bottles and paper products. It’s about giving love to the planet – the grass, the trees, the birds and yes, the bees. It’s about planting vegetable gardens, beautifying the landscape outside your school and leaving that odd shaped stinkbug on your wall alone. It’s also about understanding the environmental justice battles of our African American forefathers, knowing how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

The baby steps we take with our young environmental stewards today will help the next generation to take even bigger steps in the future.

About the author: Kuae Kelch Mattox is the National President of Mocha Moms, Inc., a non-profit organization that supports stay at home mothers of color with 100 chapters in 29 states.

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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Green Heart: Will you be mine?

By Aaron Ferster

As a husband and the father of two girls, I am a big fan of Valentine’s Day. The cards. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Flowers. Maybe even an evening glass of bubbly (or two) once the kids are in bed.  Looking around the crowded metro car on my way to work this morning, it was obvious I’m not the only one. More than a few folks were carrying bouquets, or boxes filled with velvet-icing-topped cupcakes. And everyone was wearing red.

It’s no wonder that public health organizations across the country have picked February—the month marked by Valentine’s Day—to make wearing red a reminder of the importance of heart health. American Heart Month is a call to action to raise awareness about what we all can do to prevent heart disease, the country’s number one cause of death for men and women.

There is a growing awareness of several simple, important steps we can take in that regard: don’t smoke, get regular exercise, and watch our diets.

EPA researchers and their partners have illuminated links between environmental factors, specifically air pollution, and heart disease. Theirs’ and others’ studies show that exposure to air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes, especially for those people with cardiovascular disease.

To help spread the word about these findings and actions people can take to lower their health risks, EPA recently launched the Green Heart initiative.  For example, one important action is to regularly check the Air Quality Index (AQI) forecast for your community. AQI is EPA’s color-coded tool for showing air quality, illustrating how clean or polluted your local air is. It also provides recommendations for steps to reduce your exposure, such as:

  • If you  have heart disease, are an older adult, or have other risk factors for heart disease, take steps to reduce your exposure when the AQI forecast is at code orange or above. These can include reducing your activity level (for example, walk instead of jog), exercising indoors, or postponing your workout or other activity for when the air quality is better.
  • Avoid exercising near busy roads if possible. (This is always a good idea.)
  • And most critical, if you feel symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, stop and seek medical help immediately!

While the Agency, states and tribes are taking actions to reduce air pollution by moving ahead with stronger emission controls on vehicles and industry and more protective air quality standards, there are steps people can take to reduce their own risks from air pollution.

Helping spread the word about what we can do to promote a healthier environment for our own hearts and those of our loved ones is a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. While I won’t skip picking up a box of chocolate on the way home, next year I think I’ll wear green!

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and the editor of “It All Starts with Science.”

Learn more!

Green Heart Initiative at http://www.epa.gov/greenheart/.
Follow us on Twitter at @EPAresearch

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

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A Breath of Fresh Air: EPA Air Research in the Latest Issue of Science Matters

By Katherine Portilla

It’s only the first month for me as a summer intern at the EPA, and I’ve already learned so much by working on the latest issue of Science Matters. The research that EPA dedicates to the study of the air we breathe is quite simply impressive, not to mention fascinating!

Over the past two decades, the US has seen significant growth in many areas. Between 1990 and 2010, the population grew 24%, energy consumption rose 15%, and gross domestic production increased by some 65%.  Additionally, the US has seen a lively 40% increase in motor vehicle use.

You’d think that with so much growth, especially in motor vehicle use, that there would be an increase in air pollution. So I was surprised to learn that levels of air pollutant emissions have actually dropped by more than 50%! Indeed, the country’s air has gotten a lot cleaner. This fact is even reflected in an estimated five month increase in life expectancy, based on an EPA-supported study.

To what do we owe this success, you may ask? Well, there’s science, for one, and a number of science-based air pollution regulations passed under the Clean Air Act in 1970.

EPA continues to make the air cleaner and healthier for communities across the nation by conducting research to address today’s complex air quality issues, including the interrelationship between air pollution and climate change. The latest issue of EPA Science Matters focuses on these ongoing efforts, with stories including:

Keep reading to learn about the nation’s first zero-emission, all electric school bus, which hit the streets of California’s San Joaquin to improve both air quality and the economy. And if you live near a major road, you can learn how EPA’s research is helping to protect you from traffic emissions.

All this, and more, is in the latest issue of EPA Science Matters, so don’t miss out!

About the author: Katherine Portilla is an intern with EPA’s science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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

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Asthma, Air Pollution, and the Importance of Epithelial Cells

By Jan Dye

Lung anatomyBecause epithelial cells ─ the surface cells of the lung ─ are some of the first cells in the body to encounter air pollutants, they function as an important protective barrier against the numerous noxious or injurious agents found in the inspired air, including microorganisms, pollutants, and allergens.

In my laboratory, we use a relatively simple cell culture approach to investigate how gases and particles from different pollutant sources can induce differing degrees of damage to airway and lung epithelial cells.  Our findings help to link air pollutant exposure to specific adverse effects on these important protective cells of the lung.

  • For example, we have shown that when lung cells are exposed to certain metal mixtures (similar to that found on particles derived from steel mill emissions); cells were more damaged than if they were exposed to just one metal at a time, even at relatively high concentrations.
  • We demonstrated that real-world diesel exhaust particles (which have a layer of organic carbon-rich material and road dust associated metals) are more injurious to airway epithelial cells than simple carbon particles (like that found in cartridge toner). Taken together, results show that both the particle dose and its composition are important in determining its epithelial toxicity.
  • We have also shown that if lung cell cultures undergo physical injury or “wounding” prior to exposure to diesel particles, cultures are not able to “heal” the injured areas as readily or as completely as the unexposed cultures.  It appears that air pollutant exposure may interfere with cell migration. Directed epithelial cell migration is critical for healing of the airways after insult (e.g., viral infection or asthma flare up) and for lung development during periods of rapid lung growth (e.g., early childhood and adolescence).
  • Finally, we have shown that when epithelial cells “grow up” within an inflammatory microenvironment (not unlike that present in the airways of people with asthma), exposure to diesel particles induced significantly greater lung cell damage, resulting in a “leaky” epithelial barrier.  If this were to happen within the airways of an asthmatic individual, inhaled irritants may penetrate deeper into lung tissues, potentially worsening allergen exposure and responses.

These are just a few of the ways in which exposure to air pollutants can negatively impact the health of epithelial cells lining the airways and deep lung spaces.  Epithelial cells also play critical roles in controlling inflammatory and immune responses after lung insult. If damaged by air pollution, these cells are not able to do their job as effectively.

About the author:  Dr. Jan Dye is a health effects researcher in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  She is a Project Lead for the Air, Climate, and Energy program’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards and Multipollutant Project on susceptibility to air pollutants.

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

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Spring Cleaning? What About Air Ducts?

By Kelly Hunt

It’s spring. How can I tell? Mailings about air duct cleaning. It makes sense that they come now, while us home dwellers prep for the warmer months by cleaning and doing home repairs. But do I need to get the air ducts in my home cleaned? Can this affect the air I breathe indoors? Does that impact my health?

Lucky for me, I work with experts who happily helped me navigate this question. Don’t you fret, though — all of their words of wisdom are on EPA’s Web page on air ducts for you to view anytime, so you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.

Things I learned:

  • First, be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk: control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.
  • Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether dust levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • Indoor pollutants that enter from outdoors or come from indoor activities — like cooking, cleaning or smoking — may cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.
  • You need to inspect your air ducts to determine whether or not they need to be cleaned.

You should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • There’s substantial, visible mold growth inside the ducts or on parts of your HVAC system. (If there’s mold, there’s likely a moisture problem. A professional should find the cause of the water problem and fix it.) If you consult a professional, make sure they SHOW you the mold before moving forward.
  • The ducts are infested with rodents or insects. Not okay.
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris that are actually released into the home from vents.

If you find any of those problems, identify the underlying cause before cleaning, retrofitting or replacing your ducts. If you don’t, the problem will likely happen again.

There’s little evidence that cleaning your air ducts will improve health or, alone, will increase efficiency. To learn about HVAC maintenance and efficiency, see our Heating and Cooling Efficiently page.

Decision, decisions. If I decide to get my air ducts cleaned, I’ll make sure to follow the advice of EPA experts. I’ll also carefully check the service provider’s track record before doing anything. And I’ll remember to SEE, with my own eyes, mold growth or other problems before making a final decision.

About the author: Kelly Hunt, is a communications specialist with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her career in public affairs began in 2001 and she now focuses on emergency response, outreach and engagement for radiation and indoor air issues.

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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: Lessons from Wildfires and Air Pollution

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

By Martha Sue Carraway

I grew up in the eastern part of North Carolina, near the coastal area and the Great Dismal Swamp. This is home to wide open spaces, long views, and clean air. During a visit Down East this past weekend, I was sitting indoors watching an icy rain fall. But just the day before, spring was everywhere, with new buds and green sprouts widely present. Spring does come a bit earlier down here than in my adopted home in the Triangle. It’s a good place to start my piece on the Green Hearts Campaign.

I began working at the EPA Human Studies Facility in 2007, and was happy to have a job that would allow me to use my background in medicine (I am a lung doctor) and science to study how air pollution harms people by affecting the cardiovascular system. Near the end of my first year, in June 2008, a very large wildfire broke out in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. This was the first of a number of significant fires in eastern North Carolina over the past years, and they seem to be increasing. Smoke from this low burning, smoldering fire cast a haze over the clean skies of eastern North Carolina.

PamlicoSoundsunriseImagine my excitement when scientists at the Clinical Research Branch came together with investigators across EPA to study the health impacts this fire was having on the residents who lived nearby. Because I was away for a few days for my parents 50th wedding anniversary during the planning, I narrowly missed the chance to have an air pollution monitor sited in my home town of Windsor! I enjoyed participating in this project and gathering data about the frequency of emergency department visits during the time of the fire. We found that in areas heavily affected by the wildfire smoke, people were more likely to go to hospital Emergency Departments to seek treatment for symptoms of heart failure and respiratory problems. We hope that some of the lessons learned from this fire will help keep people safer during future fire events. It is rewarding to know that the work we do at EPA impacts people near my home. I am happy that my parents and friends have learned about the air quality index that can help inform them when the air is not healthy anywhere in the USA.

About the author: Martha Sue Carraway is a Pulmonologist and works as a Medical Officer and Principal Investigator at the U.S .EPA Clinical Research Branch, Environmental and Public Health Division, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Find out more about our study of the Pocosin Refuge wildfire

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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