DDT

Acid rain, toxic leaded gas, and widespread air pollution? Not anymore. Thanks to EPA.

Acid rain. Dangerous DDT. Toxic leaded gas fumes. Rampant air pollution. These environmental challenges once seemed impossible to meet, and they put our nation’s air, water, and land at risk—not to mention our families’ health. The dangers they posed were real, but you probably haven’t heard about them in a while. There’s a good reason for that.

We put smart policies in place to fix them.

So this Earth Day, here’s a reminder of a few of the environmental challenges our nation has conquered with EPA leading the way, and where we’re headed next.

Acid Rain

Caused by air pollution mixing with water vapor in the atmosphere, acid rain was once poisoning our rivers and lakes, killing fish, forests, and wildlife, and even eroding our buildings.

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act gave EPA the authority to regulate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants causing acid rain, from power plants. The EPA developed the first market-based cap-and-trade pollution reduction program, and guess what—it worked.

Despite the doomsday warnings from some in the power industry that the regulations would cause electricity prices to spike and lead to blackouts, over the last 25 years, acid rain levels are down 60%—while electricity prices have stayed stable, and the lights have stayed on. Thanks to hard work by EPA, states, and industry, our nation has put policies in place to solve the problem over the long haul.

Leaded Gasoline

For decades, leaded gasoline threatened the air our kids breathed. Lead from polluted air was absorbed into their bloodstreams, endangering their brain development and risking consequences like permanent nerve damage, anemia, and mental retardation. So EPA phased out leaded gas. Back in the late 1970s, 88 percent of American children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. By the mid-2000s, that number had dropped to less than 1 percent.

DDT

The bald eagle once faced extinction. The culprit was DDT, a powerful pesticide that made birds’ eggshells too weak for the chicks to survive, and also caused liver cancer and reproductive problems in humans. EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972, and since then, bald eagles have made a huge comeback—they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007—and our families are safer from harmful chemicals.

Air Pollution

A newspaper headline once called the smog shrouding Los Angeles “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.” L.A. and many other cities like this one were choked by severe air pollution—leading to asthma, respiratory illness, and certain cancers. But over the last 45 years, we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent, while our nation’s economy has tripled. It goes to show that a strong economy and a safe environment go hand in hand.

Breathing Easier

Every day, EPA works toward cleaner air. One recent study found that thanks to the strides we’ve made in cutting air pollution in just the last 2 decades, children’s lungs in Southern California are 10% bigger and stronger today than they were in children 20 years ago.

Last fall, we built on that success by proposing stricter standards for ozone pollution to protect those most vulnerable—children, the elderly, and those already suffering from respiratory illnesses like asthma. For our kids, that means avoiding up to a million missed school days, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and nearly a million asthma attacks. Adults could avoid hundreds of emergency room visits for cardiovascular reasons, up to 180,000 missed work days, and 4 million days where people have to deal with pollution-related symptoms. Every dollar we invest in these standards would return $3 in health benefits.

Looking Ahead

And now, EPA is taking action on another major environmental challenge—climate change. The carbon pollution driving it comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants like smog and soot that can cause asthma and certain cancers, especially for those living in the shadow of polluting industries.

When we finalize our Clean Power Plan this summer, we’ll not only cut carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source, but we’ll also reduce those other dangerous pollutants and protect our families’ health. When we act, we also help safeguard communities from the impacts of climate change—like more severe droughts, storms, fires, and floods.

Time after time, when science has pointed to health risks, EPA has obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. We’re doing the same thing today. Our track record proves that when EPA leads the way, there’s no environmental challenge our nation can’t meet.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Celebrando las mujeres que posibilitan la protección ambiental

Por Gina McCarthy, administradora de la EPA

Al publicar su libro innovador en 1962, Primavera silenciosa, Rachel Carson convirtió la prosa en una poderosa herramienta para el bien. Ella transformó nuestra perspectiva sobre el mundo natural que nos rodea, al informarnos sobre los peligros de la aplicación rampante del DDT, un poderoso pesticida que envenenó a las aves. Su libro creó conciencia acerca de los peligros del uso excesivo de los plaguicidas y lanzó el movimiento medioambientalista.
Carson, una bióloga marina, trabajó por muchos años en el servicio público como una editora en el Servicio Federal de Pesca y Vida Silvestre (infórmese mediante una grabación que compartí con la Casa Blanca). Ella y muchas otras como ella, abrieron el camino para un sinnúmero de mujeres a lo largo de los años—científicas, investigadoras, activistas y organizadoras—que vencieron todos los obstáculos para decir las verdades que tenían que ser dichas.

 

Marzo es el Mes de la Historia de la Mujer, un momento para celebrar las mujeres valerosas que ayudaron a desarrollar y avanzar el progreso ambiental moderno.

 

A lo largo de los últimos 45 años de liderazgo de la EPA, hemos logrado tremendos avances—al recortar dramáticamente la contaminación del aire, al limpiar nuestra agua y tierra, y al proteger a las comunidades vulnerables del daño. Este mes, honramos a los líderes que surcaron los caminos para que las mujeres siguieran en sus pasos—desde las cuatro mujeres quienes fungieron como administradoras de la agencia previamente, a un sinnúmero de otras quienes vencieron el prejuicio para transformar la sociedad.

He aquí tan solo algunas de estas mujeres líderes, quienes moldearon y avanzaron el movimiento medioambientalista como lo conocemos hoy en día.

  • Rosalie Edge fue la primera mujer en fundar y liderar una organización defensora del medio ambiente en el 1928. También fue una sufragista consumada. Una aficionada a la observación de aves, ella fundó el Santuario Montañoso para Halcones, la primera reserva del mundo para aves de rapiña.
  • Polly Dyer ayudó a proteger las costas prístinas del Estado de Washington. Ella organizó y abogó a favor de la protección del Bosque Nacional Olímpico, y lideró los esfuerzos de muchos años por aprobar la Ley de Áreas Silvestres de 1964.
  • Peggy Shepard fundó WE ACT (Tomamos acción) para la Justicia Ambiental en el 1988 y lleva muchos años como líder de dicha organización. WE ACT fue la primera organización en Nueva York en enfocarse específicamente en la limpieza del medio ambiente para proteger la salud y mejorar las vidas de las personas de color.
  • Sylvia Earle, una destacada oceanógrafa, lideró más de 50 expediciones de investigación bajo el mar. A principios de los 1990, ella fue la primera principal mujer científica de la Oficina Nacional de Administración Oceánica y Atmosférica. La Revista Time la catalogó como la primera Héroe del Planeta en el 1998.
  • Vivian Malone Jones luchó toda su vida por los derechos civiles. En el 1963, fue una de las primeras estadounidenses africanas en matricularse en la Universidad de Alabama cuando esta institución académica admitió estudiantes de origen africano. Como parte de su lucha por los derechos civiles, luego emprendió una carrera profesional en la EPA, donde pasó varios años como una importante campeona de la justicia ambiental.

En los años sesenta, gracias a la visión vanguardista de Carson, el President Kennedy tomó acción que condujo finalmente a la prohibición del DDT. Si ella nos pudiera ver ahora, Carson no tan solo estaría orgullosa de nuestra marcha hacia un medio ambiente más limpio, sino también por nuestra marcha hacia una sociedad más equitativa. En la actualidad, alrededor del 40% de los científicos e ingenieros en la EPA son mujeres. No obstante, sabemos que queda mucho por hacer en ambos frentes.

Yo espero que se unan a nosotros este mes y todos los meses en celebrar a estas mujeres increíbles y que ustedes también compartirán las historias de las mujeres visionarias que les han inspirado.

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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You Might Know the Next Rachel Carson

flaagRachel Carson wrote a famous book called Silent Spring, which led our country to ban DDT, a harmful pesticide, and rethink the relationship between our environment and our health. Before that, she served as a scientist and editor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief of all of the agency’s publications. In those days, it was rare for a woman to serve as a scientist, and even more rare to rise to a position of leadership.

Our country has made a lot of progress since then. In 1970, only 11% of women between the ages of 25 and 64 had a college degree. By 2012, that number had climbed to 38%. And since the late 1990s, women have been awarded about half of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. But in spite of all these gains, only about one in four environmental scientists or geoscientists across the country are women – so we still have a long way to go.

EPA has been lucky to have many extraordinary women launch and grow their careers here. We make up a little more than half of EPA’s workforce, and about 44% of our supervisors and managers. Women do just about every job you can imagine — from running major research efforts to analyzing data to steering our work to protect clean air and water.

That includes environmental experts like Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in our Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and Janet McCabe, Acting Assistant Administrator for our Office of Air and Radiation, who worked to launch our international air quality monitoring effort that is helping us lead the way as we act on climate. It includes lawyers like Lorie Schmidt, who played a key role in last year’s Supreme Court win affirming our authority to regulate greenhouse gases, and who is heavily involved in finalizing our Clean Power Plan. It also includes innovative leaders like Cynthia Giles, our Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, who developed our Next-Generation Compliance program that leverages new technologies for monitoring, reporting, permitting and transparency, making it easier for companies and organizations to follow the law.

Five of our 13 Administrators since the agency was established have been women, including our current leader, Gina McCarthy. Five of our current Associate and Assistant Administrators are women, too. Three of our 10 Regional Administrators and seven of our 10 Deputy Regional Administrators are women who guide our work in different parts of the country. The women leaders here are too many to list, and for every one woman who has been in the public eye, there are dozens more driving our work forward throughout the organization.

Odds are good that you know a young woman who will soon be thinking about what she wants to study in school, and what path she wants her life to take. Encourage her to seek out a career where she can help protect the environment. That young woman you know could be the next Rachel Carson or Gina McCarthy, and she might step into a decades-long career in public service and environmental protection that changes the face of the world.

All throughout March, we’ll be highlighting women here at the EPA and at some of our sister agencies who are moving our work forward. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to join the conversation, and check out the slideshow below to meet a few of the women who work here at the EPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The National Symbol

By Kevin Kubik

Bald Eagle (credit – Allaboutbirds.org)

Bald Eagle (credit – Allaboutbirds.org)

I’ve been commuting home, south on the Garden State Parkway for almost 32 years and I’ve seen many things, some common, some not. I’ve seen accidents and flipped-over cars and car fires. I’ve even witnessed state troopers with their guns drawn after chasing down “suspects.” I’ve seen deer and ground hogs and various hawks and ospreys. But it wasn’t until last Thursday’s commute home that I saw a bald eagle.

I’ve mistaken ospreys for bald eagles at a distance in the past because, while somewhat different, they both have white heads. But last week as I was just entering the estuary section of Cheesequake State Park, (just south of mile marker 123 on the GSP), a bald eagle was just taking off with a branch in its claws to my right and flew over the Parkway as it was gaining altitude and I assumed, heading for its nest. When it passed over my 4Runner, it couldn’t have been more than 15 feet off the ground.

As soon as I arrived home, I Googled “bald eagle and Cheesequake State Park” and sure enough there were many, many “hits.” The one I found most interesting included pictures of a pair of nesting bald eagles.

I know that there are bald eagles in New Jersey and the New York Metropolitan area. I’ve seen pictures of them nesting and raising offspring at the Manasquan Reservoir and at Duke Farms and even on webcams. I understand that there may be more than 100 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state and that they are recovering from the effects of DDT. I’ve seen bald eagles swoop in, out of seemingly nowhere to steal an osprey’s catch while in Yellowstone National Park. But to see one up close and personal was truly spectacular.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Acting Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. He has worked as a chemist for the region for more than 31 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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 Rachel Carson’s Life and Legacy

 

By Kathy Sykes 

“…spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”

—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Flapping wings of osprey and eagles wish Rachel Carson a happy 106th birthday. They have much to celebrate this May 27th.  Just 50 years ago, the bald eagle seemed headed for extinction. DDT, an organochlorine insecticide, broke the hearts of mother ospreys who unintentionally crushed the thinned eggshells of their unhatched chicks.  Eagles were also disappearing. “By 1963, only 417 pairs were still raising young in the lower 48 states.” [i]

Fortunately, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was released and described how DDT was poisoning birds and wildlife and endangering human health. Silent Spring planted the seeds of the environmental movement and captured the attention of President John F. Kennedy.

A decade later, two seminal events changed the course of history, saving birds and other wildlife from the brink of extinction. First, EPA banned DDT. Next, the Endangered Species Act was passed.  By 2006, the nation was home to nearly 10,000 successful breeding pairs of bald eagles. [ii]

Ospreys, a “close cousin” of eagles and other birds of prey, live close to waterways such as estuaries, reservoirs, rivers, salt marshes and ponds because their diet consists primarily of fish. A pair, Steve and Rachel, is nesting on Hog Island in Maine. You can become an indoor birder and watch for the chicks to hatch on a live web cam.

Appropriately named after Rachel Carson, Rachel will sit on three healthy eggs incubating them until they hatch.  I have become addicted and peek in daily. So far, I have seen brown-and-white-speckled eggs and both parents-in-waiting. I can see the wind fluff Rachel’s feathers and feel her comfort on rainy days as raindrops are repelled, sliding off or balling up on her back of oily feathers. Longing to hear her call, I found recordings on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site. (I love the internet!)

Mother osprey and chick. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

Mother osprey and chick. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

The National Audubon Society’s 10 tips show what we can all do to help the billions of birds migrating north. I plan to join the Hummingbirds at Home project and become a citizen scientist, pledge to curb my cats, drink coffee made from shade-grown beans, and forgo pesticides.

If Emily Dickinson were alive today, she surely would be a citizen scientist. I’d like to think she would have entered a poem and picture of feathers into the 7th Annual Rachel Carson contest.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.  —Emily Dickinson

Your intergenerational team has until June 10, 2013 to jointly submit an original song, poem, essay, photo, or dance. Happy bird-day, Rachel. We thank you for your dedicated work, your creativity, and leaving with us a “sense of wonder.”

About the Author: Kathy Sykes has been working for the EPA since 1998 where she focuses on older adults and the built environment and healthy communities.  In 2012, she joined the Office of Research and Development and serves as Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability.

 


[i] Science 22 June 2007: Vol. 316 no. 5832 pp. 1689-1690 DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5832.1689 Can the Bald Eagle Still Soar After It Is Delisted? Erik Stokstad

[ii] http://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/population/chtofprs.html  Retrieved on May 20, 2013

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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Acronym Soup…FIFRA, hold the DDT

By Shawn Henderson

Recently a friend introduced me to a website called Reddit. For those who are unfamiliar with Reddit, it’s basically a forum message board on steroids. Redditors can post news articles, images, links, etc. in all different topic areas. Trust me; you can spend hours looking through the different stories and images many of which are amusing at times. Several days ago I was perusing one of the sections and ran across the picture below, which appears to be from a 1950’s magazine article. Ah yes the 1950’s, sock hops, soda fountains, drive-in movies… and DDT? I poked around a little more and found several You-Tube videos of DDT being applied to swimming pools with kids still in them and even one of a gentleman spraying DDT on a carrot and then proceeding to eat it portraying its relative safety. Needless to say we have learned a lot since the 50s.

DDT

EPA is responsible for regulating pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The beginnings of FIFRA actually date way back to a 1910 pesticide control law, with FIFRA itself being passed in 1947. In its earliest incarnation FIFRA was mostly concerned with labeling to ensure that folks were getting actual pesticides like DDT and not watered down ineffective products.

In 1972 FIFRA was re-written when it was amended by the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (FEPCA) and has been amended numerous times since 1972, including some significant amendments in the form of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996. In its current form, FIFRA mandates that EPA regulate the use and sale of pesticides to protect human health and preserve the environment. Under FIFRA, EPA is specifically authorized to: (1) strengthen the registration process by shifting the burden of proof to the chemical manufacturer, (2) enforce compliance against banned and unregistered products, and (3) promulgate a regulatory framework missing from the original law. You can learn more about EPA’s role with FIFRA at EPA’s Pesticide website.ddt3

Much has changed since the 1950s. DDT has been classified as a probable human carcinogen and has been found to be persistent in the environment. It is one chemical in a suite of pesticides that we look for when analyzing samples of water quality. In my role as EPA Region 7’s STORET (Water Quality Storage and Retrieval System), I get a chance to see all of the water quality data for the Region, and thankfully, we have noticed a downward trend in DDT concentrations over the years, especially in fish tissue. USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program has found the same thing.  However, the picture above should serve as a constant reminder of the need to continue to monitor for chemicals in our environment and study their relationship with human health.  Something we think of as great today, might not be so good thirty years from now.

 

Shawn Henderson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of the Environmental Services Division. He is a part of the Aqua Team, and conducts water quality sampling around the Region’s four states.  He has a Computer Science degree from Park University and helped to develop the Region’s KCWaterBug app and kcwaters.org.

 

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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An Eye-Opening Fish Story

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

Lake near Bald Mountain, Adirondacks. Photo by Danny Hart

By Danny Hart

For the past few weeks I’ve been planning my vacation to the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York. I’ve decided to recapture some of the childhood pleasure of trout fishing. As kids, my siblings and I learned “spin casting” as opposed to the more artistic “fly casting” method of fishing; though my grandfather tied his own flies and could fly cast, we didn’t inherit that skill.

As the time to depart for vacation nears, the excitement grows and I share my anticipation with coworkers. Last week, one asked from across our cubicle which lake I was visiting. I mentioned the name of the lake and she replied, “You know you can’t eat trout from that lake”. I couldn’t believe it! She showed me a website for New York waters and the health risks associated with eating fish from various lakes. I couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t be able to eat fish from a pristine, crystal clear lake! “DDT” she said, and lakes around the area were limited to one fish per month, one! Why? “Mercury” she said.

In that moment, the vision I had in my head of untouched natural wonder transformed to polluted, man-effected potential hazard. How could this be? How could these waters so far from industry have been changed? I realized then, that we are all connected in some way…that the smoke stacks in the Midwest directly affect the water and air quality of once-untouched waterways hundreds of miles away. The winds carry heavy metals and drop them in the form of rain. The DDT came from some other source, which is a mystery on that particular lake to this day.

Once I realized the connection I wanted to know more about this issue. I found out EPA recently finalized what is called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will prevent smoke stack pollution like mercury and other toxics from traveling long-distances and polluting what should be pristine lakes. The agency is also developing mercury and air toxics standards that will go a long way to cut mercury — and other harmful pollution — from our environment, so that maybe one day my kids (and their kids) will have an opportunity to fish in these lakes.

So, next week we’ll boat and swim in the lake. But we won’t fish. To safely fish, we’ll have to drive to another lake. We’re lucky, because there are other lakes in the area where eating the fish is still safe. For now.

About the author: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications.

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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