Clean Water

Citizen Science Pathogen Monitoring in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Watershed

By Jim Ferretti

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

What’s the deal with bacteria?
Bacteria (along with soil erosion/runoff, and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus) are the leading types of pollution in our nation’s waterways. Pathogenic, or disease-causing microorganisms are associated with fecal waste and can cause a variety of diseases (typhoid, cholera, Cryptosporosis, etc) either through ingestion/contact with contaminated water or ingestion of shellfish. Not all bacteria are harmful (yogurt contains live bacteria cultures), but the presence of some indicator bacteria such as fecal coliforms and enterococci are a clue that potentially more harmful bacteria and viruses may be present in the water as well.

There are many different types of general pathogens that are dangerous to humans, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Measuring all of these potential harmful organisms is not practical, cost effective, and measuring methods are often complicated. Instead, specific surrogate bacteria (i.e., Fecal Coliforms, E. coli, and Enterococcus sp) that can be cultured or detected easily and can be related to the risk of human illness are used as “indicator” bacteria, because their presence indicates that fecal contamination may have occurred. The higher the number of indicator bacteria would increase the risk of finding increasingly more harmful assemblages of more harmful types of organisms in the water.

Common sources of bacteria in surface waters are from combined sewers (which can overflow in a rainstorm and dump untreated sewage directly into our waters) and runoff of animal waste (including wild animal droppings) from farmland and city streets.

Indicator Bacteria and Citizen Science
During the summer months, bacteria concentrations are measured at least once a week at most of our New Jersey and New York bathing beaches. There are many other waterways that are used for boating, fishing and even swimming that are also susceptible to bacterial contamination. Citizen scientists offer a great resource to fill data gaps, produce data that will be usable by the states for assessment purposes, engage their community and raise awareness of potential environmental issues.

There are a few common types of laboratory tests that are performed to measure bacteria, such as growing them on a filter, growing them in test tubes, or growing them in special trays until a color endpoint is observed. Many of these tests are outside the technical expertise of many citizen science groups.

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

The EPA has been involved in Citizen Science since 1988 (formally called Volunteer Monitoring). The number of Citizen Science groups across the nation and particularly in our region has risen sharply in recent years. In an effort to empower citizens in their community through collection of high quality data, the EPA has recently been involved in a technical role in a Citizen Science Pathogen (Bacteria) Study involving two citizen science groups from New York (Bronx River Alliance and Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance) and two from New Jersey (Friends of the Bonsal Preserve and the NY/NJ Baykeeper). The goal of this grant based program from the Harbor Estuary Program and administered through the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission was to train citizen science groups, assist them in preparation of a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) or a plan that details all facets of their study, provide equipment and testing guidance manuals, perform on-site lab and field assessments, and provide a means to enter data into the national water quality data repository, WQX (formerly STORET).

Citizen Science Equipment Loan Program
Not only is this project important to the communities that are involved, this effort has provided the framework for future citizen science groups to conduct similar projects. Citizen scientists and communities may use the existing Quality Assurance Project Plan, Field and Lab Data Sheets, Excel spreadsheets for reporting, and technical guidance documents for sampling and analysis from this project that can be readily modified to fit their own pathogen monitoring program.

Another major hurdle for many citizen based science groups is the cost of equipment needed to collect the data. The cost for the lab equipment for a group to start a pathogen and water quality program similar to the one describe here is approximately $10,000. This cost is prohibitive to many citizen science groups so EPA is in the process of establishing an equipment loan program. The equipment loan program will offer citizen science organizations the opportunity to conduct water quality and/or pathogen studies with the benefit of borrowing on a short term basis (three to four months) lab equipment (incubators and sealers) and field equipment (water quality parameter meters and GPS units) plus the available technical documents (QAPP, testing guidance, and datasheets). Minus the cost of equipment, the actual per test cost for measuring bacteria is approximately $5-6 per sample.

So, prepare your QAPP, enroll in the equipment loan program, and have your group get out there and monitor!

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

 

 

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.

Improving Access to Environmental Data through ECHO

By Rebecca Kane

I work at the Environmental Protection Agency because I care about protecting communities from pollution. I believe that information is critical to taking action, be it working with stakeholders to affect local policies or empowering citizens with tools to reduce their environmental footprint.

I manage EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online website, known as ECHO, which provides information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for EPA-regulated facilities, like power plants and factories. As one of our most important and popular resources, ECHO houses information about more than 800,000 facilities nationwide, and last year, it was visited more than 2 million times. I consider it an important tool to staying informed about my community in suburban Washington, DC.

Recent updates to ECHO allow me, and all who want to stay informed about environmental issues in their community, to find information more efficiently and accurately. Here are some examples of how these upgrades help me use the data:

  • We’ve brought back the popular Clean Water Act features, and now it’s easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • I can search for Clean Water Act dischargers based on type of pollutants discharged. For example, I can quickly find facilities in the area that discharge metals and check to see whether they are meeting their permitted discharge limits. This matters if my family wants to fish or swim in nearby streams and rivers.
  • When I download data to analyze violations at facilities near my neighborhood, I can see information that’s been updated within the week.
  • I can now encourage web developers to build EPA’s enforcement data directly into their own web pages and apps, because ECHO reports are now built on web services.

I’m proud to be a part of ECHO’s continued development, and there’s more to come as we continue to advance our commitment to inform and empower the public. We’re always working on enhancements to ECHO, and welcome your feedback about the site.

About the author: Rebecca Kane is a program analyst who has worked at EPA for 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and is leading the ECHO modernization effort.

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.

A Streetcar Named…Green Infrastructure?

By Matt Colip

A 40-degree day wasn’t ideal for an open-air trolley ride.  But the sights we witnessed in Virginia’s capital were worth the chill.

I joined EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin as he participated in a recent trolley tour of projects in Richmond that are helping to improve water quality in the James River and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.  The tour was provided by officials from the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the non-profit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The first stop was the city’s wastewater treatment plant to view massive upgrades designed to sharply reduce pollution discharges to the James.  EPA funded more than half of the project through its Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  From here, the trolley rolled off toward downtown Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

Regional Administrator Garvin (center) tours green infrastructure sites in Richmond.

There, we came to a stop for a different form of transportation: the Bus Loop Green Street project.  This project retrofitted the bus loop for the Capitol to utilize pervious pavement and rain garden planters with native species to filter and absorb the captured rain water.  This was a great example of the green infrastructure opportunities offered by urban environments – a strategy EPA supports across the region to improve water quality.

After a few minutes at this site, we traveled to our third stop, Capitol Square – this time by foot. Walking past the Capitol to this next stop reminded us of how beautiful Virginia’s Capitol building truly is; its historic architecture makes you think that Thomas Jefferson could be walking out the front door.  It may have been a cold day, but the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down and reflecting off the Capitol building’s sheet white walls – you almost needed sunglasses just to look at it!

It wasn’t long before a representative from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay explained that the brick walkway surrounding the Capitol that we were standing on was pervious, too.  An underground cistern harvests rainwater from the walkway, which is then used to water plants and provide water for the Bell Tower fountain on Capitol Square.  This project not only reduces the amount of stormwater runoff from what was once an impervious surface surrounding the Capitol building, but serves as a high-profile education tool to inform the public about the benefits of controlling stormwater with surfaces that let the rain soak in.

The final stop was a single-lane carriage street on 12th Street near the Capitol that had also been retrofitted with porous material, another example of history interfacing with cutting-edge environmental solutions in Richmond.

Both Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and I were very impressed with these projects, which provide a tangible representation of what Richmond and other urbanized areas can do to improve the long-term health of their local waters and the larger water systems they are a part of.

About the Author: Matt Colip works in the region’s Office of State and Congressional Relations as the as the State and Congressional Liaison for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Originally from Texas, Matt graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., with an interdisciplinary BA in Public Health and has a MS from Saint Joseph’s University that focused on environmental protection policy and management. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

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.

A Quarter Century of Clean Water Projects

By Tom Damm

With EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, there are projects you can see and those you can’t.

But whether it’s adding the latest pollution-reduction technology to a wastewater treatment plant or building underground sewer lines to eliminate leaky septic systems, the projects all have something in common – they improve water quality and give a nice boost to the local economy.

The program – which is marking its 25th anniversary – is impressive in sheer numbers alone.

Since its inception, nearly $8.5 billion has been invested in more than 6,000 clean water infrastructure projects in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region; more than $100 billion nationwide.

But it’s the difference the program is making in communities that’s been the real measure of success.

From every locale, large and small, you can witness the results, from improvements on farms that reduce runoff to nearby streams, to upgrades of treatment plants resulting in significant progress by  the wastewater sector in reducing pollution to local waters and the Chesapeake Bay.  Check out this map and description of projects in Maryland, for example.

We like doing groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting events to celebrate the water and wastewater projects because it allows people to appreciate the benefits of this unique federal-state partnership.

The program works like this: EPA provides grants to the states, and the states in turn, provide affordable financing to communities, non profits and others for needed projects that improve and protect the quality of the local water.  The program is funded with annual federal grants, state contributions, loan repayments and interest.

How the Clean Water SRF Program Works. Click for more information.

Our state partners have the highest praise for the program, perhaps best expressed by Virginia State Revolving Fund Program Manager Walter Gills.  He says the initiative “combines the power of the federal seed funding with the innovation, efficiency, and customization of the various state government delivery systems.”

Keep an eye out for a project near you. And listen to our podcast to hear more about some of the visible impacts in communities in the Mid Atlantic Region from the past 25 years of the Clean Water State Revolving fund. For more information on the program, visit water.epa.gov/grants_funding.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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.

Challenging Nutrients: EPA and Partners Launch New Ideation Prize

Effects from excess nutrients in American waterways cost the country more than $2 billion each year.

Activities of daily modern life add small amounts of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus to our lakes, rivers and estuaries, either directly or indirectly.

We all contribute to the widespread problem. Runoff from our suburban lawns, city streets and rural fields is just one of many ways we introduce more nutrients into the environment.

The partnership for this challenge currently includes: - White House Office of Science and Technology Policy - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  - U.S. Geological Survey - Tulane University - Everglades Foundation

The partnership for this challenge currently includes:
– White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
– U.S. Department of Agriculture
– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
– U.S. Geological Survey
– Tulane University
– Everglades Foundation

These excess nutrients end up in our waterways and fuel algae growth that exceeds healthy ecosystem limits. In turn, algal blooms can contaminate drinking water, kill aquatic species and negatively affect water-based recreation and tourism.

A partnership of federal agencies and stakeholders has announced a new prize competition to collect innovative ideas for addressing nutrient overloads.

The challenge aims to identify next-generation solutions from across the world that can help with excess nutrient reduction, mediation and elimination. The total payout will be $15,000, with no award smaller than $5,000. Proposals can range from completely developed ideas to exploratory research projects.

Ideas will be judged on a range of criteria, including technical feasibility and strategic plans for user adoption. Additionally, the challenge entries will inform the partnership members’ broader commitment and vision to find new ways to approach this decades-long problem.

Submit your idea today!

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA 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.

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.

Is there a virus in the water? A story of innovation

By Dustin Renwick

Adeno virus. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adeno virus. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Innovation has two parts: the awe-striking changes that generate instant headlines and the long-developing back stories. Products and processes that alter our world don’t happen in a flash. They are the results of years of research and open-minded collaboration that eventually meet in a more famous eureka moment.

Remembering the innovation is easier than remembering the story behind it.

EPA microbiologist Jennifer Cashdollar and her Pathfinder Innovation Project team are working on a fundamental shift in how we test for pathogens in water.

Currently, researchers use two main methods to detect viruses in water samples: culture-based and molecular.

Culture-based tests rely on living cells. If a water sample causes the cell culture to die, there’s a good chance that the sample contains an infectious virus, Cashdollar says. But this testing can be slow, and you’ll have a hard time processing cell cultures in the field.

Molecular tests identify viral genetic signatures in the water—nucleic acids, more commonly known as DNA or RNA. Such tests are less expensive, and could fit in a hand-held device. However, the identification of nucleic acids doesn’t always mean that a potentially infectious virus is in the water.  Virus particles must be whole to be infectious, whereas fragments of floating DNA or RNA might register in the water samples but can’t affect humans.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can fill that gap between the culture and molecular methods,” Cashdollar says.

To do that, Cashdollar and her research partners are applying traditional techniques with an innovative twist.

If the team can show that traditional measurement techniques don’t allow nucleic acid fragments to pass through, any molecular signals in the final water samples would almost certainly originate from whole viral particles—which could be infectious because they’re in one piece.

The scientists have experimented with tap water so far, and they’ll soon test river water, a better real-world proxy. On the horizon, this work could lead to a field-ready device that not only gives the best of both detection methods, but also adheres to a classic story of innovation.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA 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.

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.

Around the Water Cooler: Wastewater Treatment (nothing to scream about…)

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

I came across this little gem the other day while working to promote EPA’s water science research.  A sci-fi novel set in a wastewater treatment plant? Brilliant. And the tagline: Where no one cares when you scream? Clearly author Dodge Winston has a lot to think about while at work as a wastewater plant operator in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll bet, though, that most of us haven’t given the wastewater treatment plant in our communities much thought, yet wastewater treatment is a key contributor to keeping us healthy and the environment clean.

Do you know what happens to the wastewater when you flush the toilet or run the disposal, or even finish a load of laundry? The wastewater collection system consists of a network of pipes, pumps, and tunnels that connect our household plumbing to sewer lines and pump stations.  Eventually the wastewater is sent to the treatment plant for cleaning and distribution.

There are approximately 800,000 miles of public sewer lines in the United States, most installed after World War II. There are also close to 20,000 wastewater treatment pipe systems and 15,000 wastewater treatment facilities in the United States, most of them aging and certainly many that can’t handle a large storm without sending overflows of untreated wastewater into our waterways.

With this in mind, EPA engineers and scientists are developing tools, rehabilitation technologies and methods to increase long-term effectiveness of wastewater treatment systems. They also help municipalities and wastewater treatment plant staff keep our water clean, contributing to healthier people and a cleaner environment. EPA researchers are working  to keep our water sources free from chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants, too.

Here are a few of the tools and models our researchers have developed:

While these technologies and tools are targeted to wastewater treatment plant operators, there are things you can do at home to help keep our water clean and reduce the cost of cleaning our water at the wastewater treatment plant. Learn more about what you can do in your community here.

And for fun, check out this innovative tool the city of Oberlin, Ohio is using. You can see real-time use of electricity and water.

As an aside, this tool was developed by Lucid Design Group, which was founded by members of Oberlin College’s P3 team that organized a two-week “Dorm Energy Competition” where dorm residents competed to reduce their energy and water use and used the dashboards to monitor success back in 2005. Today, Lucid has customers around the country, including towns, building owners, corporations – and even Google – who want to monitor and reduce energy and water consumption.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler, and she also helps promote the great work of EPA researchers in the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program. And at lunch today she will drink about a gallon of clean, treated tap water.

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

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

Innovative Technology for Water

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer
By Nancy Stoner

In March, I released a Water Technology Innovation Blueprint while visiting the University of South Florida’s (USF) College of Global Sustainability in partnership with the Water Environment Federation (WEF).  This Blueprint promotes technology innovation across the national water program as a means to speed progress toward clean and safe water.

Why is technology innovation so important?  With the challenges facing our water resources, it presents opportunities to fix these challenges faster, with significantly less cost and energy consumption. During this visit I toured USF laboratories where new technologies are already addressing some of the top ten issues mentioned in the Blueprint.  It is easy to see a paradigm shift is occurring across the water sector.

In May, I visited Clemson University’s Water Institute to learn about the Intelligent River project, which was awarded $3 million in 2011 by the National Science Foundation. Clemson is developing methods of harnessing information technology to improve decision making for river systems, like the Savannah River Basin, into which the streams near Clemson flow. Clemson is focused on collecting data from all kinds of water monitoring equipment and developing programs that will analyze all of that data to assist in river management.  It can be used not only to provide continual feedback on water pollution, flow levels, aquatic life issues and temperature, but also predict how those water quality and quantity conditions will change based on the decisions made by government, utilities, industry, and watershed groups.  This information could potentially be available to all of those groups to achieve goals like ensuring that there is more water to use during a drought, or better habitat for fish, and cleaner source water for drinking.

Next I went to Oakland, California to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District.  This wastewater facility has implemented a series of projects to produce energy, including generation of methane from waste that in turn powers generators to run a renewable energy system. This is the first of its kind in North America to be a net-energy producer. With 150,000 drinking water and 15,000 wastewater facilities nationwide accounting for 4% of the national electricity consumption, equivalent to about 56 billion kilowatt hours and costing around $4 billion dollars, a facility that not only conserves energy but generates it holds significant promise.

I plan to continue visiting innovative technology projects around the country to show their tremendous potential for solving our water challenges

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

 

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.

Think at the Sink during Drinking Water Week

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer
By Katie Henderson

This week is national drinking water week, and the theme is “What do you know about H2O?” Have you ever considered how water travels from its source and ends up in your kitchen sink?

In 2006, I worked as a volunteer in South Africa. One day I drove across the province to visit a game preserve, leaving the city where I spent most of my time. The contrast between the city and the country was always jarring, and this day I drove farther into the countryside than I’d ever been. Gradually towns dissipated and were replaced by clusters of domed huts. Off to one side of the road, I spotted a woman and her daughter carrying buckets of water into their village. It is hard to describe the dissonance that I felt during this recreational outing to look at elephants with a liter of bottled water tucked into my seat. I’d never had to haul water into my home; I just turned on the tap and safe, clean water poured out. UNICEF estimates that many people in developing countries, particularly women and girls, walk six kilometers a day for water.

The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the EPA to set drinking water standards, protect drinking water sources, and work with states and water systems to deliver safe drinking water some 300 million Americans. In the U.S., the last century has seen amazing improvements to drinking water quality. Mortality rates have plummeted and life expectancy has climbed as a result of better science and engineering, public investment in drinking water infrastructure, and the establishment of landmark environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Some historians claim that clean water technologies are likely the most important public health intervention of the 20th century.

Today, we can celebrate the fact that the vast majority of people living in the United States have access to safe drinking water. Ninety-two percent of Americans receive clean, safe drinking water every day, and EPA is working to make that number even higher by partnering with states to reduce pollution and improve our drinking water systems. However, we should be aware of new challenges to our drinking water systems like climate change, aging infrastructure and nutrient pollution.

For drinking water week this year, stop and think about how far we’ve come by paying attention each time you turn on your tap.

About the author: Katie Henderson is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of EPA’s Office of Water. She likes to travel, bake cookies, and promote environmental justice.

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.

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.

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.