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Science Wednesday: Life after College

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

By Rachel Belkin

As a college senior graduating this May, the number of times I have been asked ‘what are you doing after college’ has multiplied as each sweet week of the safety-net of college goes by. Questioned by everyone from my mother to the front desk person at my apartment, I began to doubt the general idea of life after college and developed a fear of getting stuck at one job forever.

After another sleepless night a few weeks ago, I went to my internship in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD). That day was the Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas’s farewell. Dr. Anastas, a.k.a. the “Father of Green Chemistry,” was returning to his family and to his post as the head of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

My fellow intern and I got assigned to the lobby to escort guests. We got to talking about life after college (what else!) and I told her about my crisis. She pointed to Paul Anastas’s vibrant career, which began as a staff chemist at EPA, then brought him to the American Chemical Society, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Yale, and then back to EPA as an Assistant Administrator.

During his farewell speech, Dr. Anastas gave excellent advice for the future of the EPA, such as the status quo being our enemy and not to steal from our children through environmental degradation. I couldn’t help but think about his career. I don’t know if Dr. Anastas had his own early life crisis, but he certainly didn’t get stuck. He’s had an amazing career doing things all across the spectrum.

Although I doubt I will become an EPA Assistant Administrator—and I definitely will not become a chemist—I took Dr. Anastas’s career as an outline for my own future. I know that whatever I end up doing this May does not have to be for the rest of my life.

With that in mind, I decided to revisit an idea I’ve been struggling with—joining the Peace Corps. Like Dr. Anastas’s two years at the helm of ORD, my potential two years and three months as a Peace Corps volunteer is really just a blimp on the radar of my evolving career path.

I finished my Peace Corps application two weeks after Dr. Anastas’s speech, and have been sleeping fine since.

About the author: EPA science Communication intern Rachel Belkin is a senior at the University of Maryland, and looking forward to what’s next.

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

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A Week for Happy, Lead-Free Kids

By Esther Kwon

Among the long list of things my parents told me to be afraid of when I was a child, lead-based paint was never one of them. Perhaps the reason why I was able to grow up without worrying about what was coating the swing set I played on and what kind of paint was on the walls in my room was because of the federal regulations and efforts made since the late 1970s to prevent children and adults from being affected by lead-based paint poisoning. However, it saddens me to know that there are still so many children who are exposed to lead-based paint hazards in and near our homes.

I came to the EPA as an intern to learn about the Agency’s regulatory rulemaking process for six months, but I did not expect to gain so much knowledge about lead hazards and safety practices. For example, I found out about the types of cognitive disorders that could occur in children from lead poisoning, and learned that even a few particles of lead in the dust are enough to poison a child. More than 1 million children are affected by lead poisoning today, and this is especially troublesome, in my opinion, because lead poisoning is 100 percent preventable. Although, as an intern, the scope of power I have at the EPA is extremely limited, I am thankful that I can assist in any way that furthers the Agency’s public health protection and education goals for lead poisoning prevention, including reaching you through this blog.

This week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a week dedicated to educating parents and children on the dangers of lead-based paint exposure and the importance of the health and safety of our homes. To participate, you do not have to donate money or start a march for the cause. You can help by simply spreading the knowledge to your friends and family that lead in paint is still a problem in the US and that lead-based paint exposure can be prevented. Send an E-card on lead-safe work practices or print out a poster and hang it at your work place or at school. You can also find great prevention information and a neat web tool to help parents identify common danger zones for lead in older homes built before 1978. Check it out. Read about the facts and act on them.

About the author: Esther Kwon is an intern for the Lead, Heavy Metals & Inorganics Branch in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. She will be returning to Smith College in December, where she will be graduating in the spring.

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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Improving Air Quality in Schools to Celebrate Children’s Health Month 2011

By Lou Witt, Indoor Environments Division and Kathy Seikel, Office of Children’s Health Protection

With an emphasis on healthy schools, this year’s Children’s Health Month brings back memories of life as a student. When we were children, not many people focused on indoor air quality in schools. Until fairly recently, few made removing asthma triggers a priority. Industrial strength pesticides and cleaners were used liberally, and teachers smoked in their own separate lounge. Times have changed. Now we understand how important a healthy environment is to the learning process.

Children are uniquely affected by environmental hazards due to their body size and their immune and respiratory systems not being fully developed. A well located, thoughtfully designed, soundly built and efficiently operated school can help ensure a safer, healthier learning environment for children, allowing them to thrive and succeed.

Join EPA this October and throughout the year as we work with partners to promote healthy environments where children live, learn and play. Proven, cost-effective and often simple actions can directly benefit everyone’s health. Indoors, testing for radon, removing furry pets and stuffed animals from classrooms, using low/no VOC products and going smoke-free are common. The physical location of a school also can affect students. A properly located building can help reduce children’s exposure to harmful pollutants by ensuring a potential school site is safe from contaminants and environmental hazards.

If your community is renovating a school, building a new one or wanting to improve the health and performance of students, Children’s Health Month is the perfect time to get involved. Two great places to visit that will get you started are EPA’s new School Siting Guidelines, which can help mitigate outdoor environmental risks; and the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, which provides guidance and helpful instructions for teachers, staff, students and the community.

Better indoor air quality protects children’s health. To see how you can help create a healthier school environment for youth in your community, visit www.epa.gov/schools/ and www.epa.gov/iaq/schools

Learn more and tell us how you celebrated Children’s Health Month by promoting green, clean and healthy schools!

About the authors:

Kathy Seikel, a senior policy analyst with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, has worked for EPA since 1984 and remembers when, as a college student in the 70s, smoking by students and teachers was allowed in all classrooms.

Lou Witt, a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, is promoting indoor air quality risk reduction

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 – Modeling Matters: See Mack Run the Half-Marathon

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

By Tanya Otte

Lots of people like running. I’m not one of them…unless it involves running models! Since I was hired, I’ve been a part of a team that develops and runs models to help understand interactions between meteorology, natural and anthropogenic (“human-caused”) emissions, and air quality. The heartbeat of the air quality model development occurs in EPA’s Atmospheric Modeling and Analysis Division and with the Community Multiscale Air Quality Modeling (CMAQ) system, the Nation’s premier air quality simulation model.

CMAQ (pronounced “see mack”), a state-of-the-science tool for air quality modeling, was first publically released in 1998 by the EPA, and it now boasts a worldwide community of more than 3,700 users in 95 countries. CMAQ has been used by the EPA and by state environmental agencies to support air quality policy decisions. Nations around the world use CMAQ to study air pollution issues and create air quality management strategies. CMAQ provides daily ozone forecast guidance issued by the National Weather Service. The CMAQ user community spectrum spans academia, government, and private industry. CMAQ is one of the most widely respected modeling tools of its genre.

This month, EPA is releasing CMAQ 5.0. Major updates to CMAQ, like this, occur about every three years. CMAQ 5.0 incorporates the latest developments in air quality science, and it can be used to examine the interactions between air quality and climate. One of the biggest advances in CMAQ 5.0 is a comprehensive and synchronized coupling of meteorology and air chemistry to more accurately simulate the feedbacks between weather and air pollution.

This month, EPA also celebrates the 10th anniversary of its partnership with the Community Modeling and Analysis System (CMAS) Center. CMAS has been the conduit for public releases of CMAQ, and they have been instrumental in brokering international scientific contributions to CMAQ. CMAS has provided training and online support for the CMAQ community, and they host an annual workshop dedicated to exchanging the most updated scientific findings. This year’s workshop takes place October 24-26, and more than 250 participants have registered.

CMAQ just completed the half-marathon (measured in years, not miles). With a strong team at the EPA and a diverse and growing community of international collaborators, CMAQ will be running the race for many years to come!

About the author: Tanya Otte, a research physical scientist, has worked at EPA in atmospheric modeling and analysis since 1998.

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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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? An Environmental Justice Advocate!

By Lisa Garcia

When I was six, my father announced that my family would be moving from the Bronx to Caracas, Venezuela. I was nervous and it didn’t help that my 2nd grade classmates told me our family would be living in grass huts. I thought that maybe Venezuela would be like Puerto Rico, where my father’s family was from. What I quickly learned was that, while Venezuela was not Puerto Rico, my classmates were definitely wrong.

Caracas was a vibrant, modern city; more high rises than huts. During the seven years we spent there I became immersed in, and embraced, Venezuelan and Latin American culture and history. It was there too that my parents, who were both civil rights advocates, read to me about the lives and struggles of leaders like Ghandi, Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When we returned to the US, I was confronted with classmates who wondered “what I was” or “what my background was” and what that said about me. An interesting question, because I thought I was like everyone else…American.

This made me want to share my background, what I learned in Venezuela and how being a Latina, speaking Spanish and living in a foreign country, has enhanced my life. I also wanted to show how, while people may have different languages, traditions, and cultures, we are all so similar in so many ways. We see the similarities in our family life, in our desires, in our day-to- day lives, and we see how everyone deserves the same opportunities.

Which is why, between having parents who were active in politics and having the drive to ensure that everyone has the same access to opportunities, it isn’t hard to see how my experiences developed into a career of promoting and ensuring a clean and safe environment for all, regardless of where you grew up, what language you speak or where you live.

As an environmental justice advocate, I can combine my cultural pride, understanding of our similarities, and my law degree to promote healthy and sustainable communities, for Latino communities, for communities of color, and for all low income communities struggling with the realities of environmental pollution. Without realizing exactly how my upbringing shaped me, I grew up to be a proud Latina who in my own way tries to embrace and continue the legacy of our civil and equal rights leaders to improve the quality of life for all Americans. No matter what your background is, you too can make a difference.

About the author: Lisa Garcia, Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

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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Growing Up Poor Gives You A Special Sense of Community And Environmentalism

By Kristinn Vazquez

I have a confession to make. I’m cheap. Most people wouldn’t guess that about me. I do like to spend money on others. But, I’m cheap when it comes to resources at home and at work. I would argue most of us who grew up poor can relate. We’re environmentalists because we’re cost-conscious.

As the oldest of six, you wouldn’t think I received “hand-me-downs.” You haven’t met my family. I received the coolest clothes from an older cousin. When you’re poor, you realize the things you don’t need. You don’t actually need paper towels. You also don’t buy anything you could borrow. And, you rarely throw anything out. Someone might need it or have a creative use for it. Poor families have an incredible sense of community.

In our home now, all kinds of things become art supplies for the kids. Empty toilet paper rolls, bubble wrap, gift ribbons, plastic triangles from the center of pizzas, etc. (use your imagination)! Yogurt and butter containers become leftover containers. Plastic bags become pet waste bags. We’re constantly trading our kids’ clothes with friends. Here’s one we just learned: you can catch water in the shower and use that to water the plants. These are small ways to reuse and recycle materials, but they’re cost-saving measures for us, AND they’re good for the environment.

At the office, I help manage a program that considers bigger ways to recycle. We run the Responsible Appliance Disposal program that encourages utilities, retailers, and manufacturers to take your old refrigerators and window air conditioners, and responsibly dispose of the components that are harmful to the environment. If not properly handled, the refrigerant and foam contribute to ozone layer depletion and climate change. This month, RAD partner GE worked with Appliance Recycling Centers of America to open the first fully-automated appliance recycling facility in the U.S. Based in Philadelphia, the facility will not only serve more than a 12-state area, it has also created more than 50 new green jobs.

I’m proud to be helping the environment and the economy. On a personal note, if you’re upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient refrigerator, resist the urge to put the old refrigerator in your basement. This lowers the demand on the energy grid and perhaps more importantly when you’re cheap, lowers the demand on your own utility bills. I’d love to hear your ideas for creative recycling.

About the author: Kristinn Vazquez is the Deputy Director for the Stratospheric Protection Division. In her free time, she focuses on trying to see the world through her children’s eyes.

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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Educational Resources & Activities

By Carly Carroll

Going into classrooms and sharing environmental has always been my favorite part of being an environmental educator. One of my favorite experiences was participating in EPA’s Science Day at an elementary school in North Carolina. The teachers and students were always so happy to open their doors and let EPA scientists and community volunteers come in and share a hands-on activity with them. My favorite activities were those that really got the students involved and doing something – like measuring how much electricity various appliances used, or measuring lung capacity and learning about air quality. Seeing these activities lead to teachers asking if EPA had any resources they could use in to bring more environmental science into their classrooms. The answer is yes!

In addition to what EPA has already developed in the past, The Office of Environmental Education is working with various program offices to develop resources highlighting upcoming important issues and monthly themes.

  • October is Children’s Health Month! Check out our series of resources and activities on protecting children’s health at home and at school!
  • Students can learn how to protect their own health with activities on lead, mold, and indoor air quality.
  • All of EPA’s student and teacher resources are in one easy place! Check out the recently updated Students and Teachers page for games, factsheets, teacher resources, activities, and more!

About the author: Carly Carroll is an Environmental Education Specialist with EPA’s Office of Environmental Education in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the office in 2011, she worked as a Student Services Contractor at EPA in Research Triangle Park, assisting with environmental education and outreach.

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.

Renewing the American Dream: Healthy Environment for Healthy Communities and Healthy Families

This is cross-posted from The White House Blog

By Al Armendariz

Growing up in the tightly knit community of El Paso, Texas, I was always sure of a few things.

One was that family was of the utmost importance. It’s the kind of place where several generations might live within a few blocks of each other, and someone is always ready to help, scold, or praise you.

The other sure-thing involved the skyline: No matter where I was in El Paso, I could always look up and see the smokestacks of the old Asarco smelter looming. The facility affected the city in more ways than that constant visual presence. It gave many residents, including me, a lasting lesson on how pollution and industrial contamination can affect a community.

For years, El Paso families had suspected chemicals from the copper smelting facility had been contaminating nearby homes. Several studies have confirmed this is the case—toxic contamination from arsenic, lead, cadmium, and other chemicals has been found within a radius well outside the boundaries of the facility. And families who live in this area have suffered because of it. For example, a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry found children living near the facility were much more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to neurological, behavioral, and developmental problems.

Although the smelter closed down in 1999 (after more than 100 years of operation), its legacy of contamination still affects this community.
Since the company declared bankruptcy in 2009, EPA has been working with the state of Texas and local community leaders to determine how best to clean up the toxic pollution so it doesn’t harm more generations of El Paso families. It’s especially meaningful to me to be at EPA while my hometown is in the midst of doing something so significant to improve public health. El Paso has transformed itself from a city dependent on polluting heavy industry to one with a diverse economic foundation in health care, defense, international trade, and education. So the smelter clean-up is not just a big issue for the city of El Paso, it means a lot to EPA as well.

Since becoming the regional administrator for the South Central region of the US, I’ve been a part of many efforts to restore communities that have been affected by toxins and industrial pollution. It’s been one of the most gratifying parts of my career to see communities transforming themselves, including places that are cleaning up from the legacy of toxic industrial pollution, and cities rebuilding themselves after natural disasters.

Seeing first-hand how pollution can harm the soil, water, and air in a family’s backyard is one of my first “environmental memories.” It’s probably one of the things that led me to study chemistry and engineering, and to become dedicated to protecting the environment. So by leading our region’s work with the state and El Paso’s leaders, I get to help resolve an environmental issue that was present in the lives of my families and friends.

Of course, it’s not just in El Paso that EPA is helping keep families safe and healthy. Along the entire border, we’re bringing colonia communities clean, reliable drinking water for the first time, and working with the government of Mexico to reduce air pollution from trucks hauling cargo into the US. I’m proud to be part of an Agency with such a long track record of protecting the health and environment of people along the border.

About the author: Al Armendariz is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator for Region 6(Dallas: serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas)

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.

Great Lakes Restoration: Charting a Path Forward

By Peter Cassell

Growing up in New Jersey, I always had access to the beach, which every New Jersean knows as the Jersey Shore. Then I went off to college and didn’t get to enjoy ocean anymore. After accepting a job in EPA’s Chicago office, I got a pleasant surprise. There were beaches right near my apartment. Once again, I had access to the water. Lake Michigan does not have that same salty smell as the beaches of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, but going to the beach just has a way of reminding me of home.

When I was not off enjoying and exploring what my new home had to offer, I was hard at work trying to learn about a central piece of my new job: the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. I received crash courses on emerging chemicals, invasive species and other issues affecting the lakes and soon realized that I had a precious resource right in my own backyard. Until I came here, I didn’t really grasp that millions of people rely on the lakes for everything from drinking water to their livelihoods to recreation with friends and family. I learned that the Great Lakes are more than just places on a map, they are a way of life.

I fell in love with the Chicago waterfront and was ready to help make the lakes better so that everyone can enjoy them. When EPA’s Great Lakes Advisor Cameron Davis asked me to help organize Great Lakes Week, I jumped at the chance to do something tangible. We worked for months with nonprofits, businesses and Great Lakes organizations to put on the most wide-ranging Great Lakes summit in history. Hundreds of people will gather in Detroit from October 11-14 to be a part of this historic event. With speakers including Administrator Jackson and former Vice President Al Gore, the week is poised to chart a path forward as we address key issues and work together to achieve results.

Even if you do not live in Metro Detroit, you can still participate by watching the events online at www.greatlakesnow.org or tweeting questions to @CameronDavisEPA with hashtag #AskGLW. We are even taking questions through Facebook at www.facebook.com/epagreatlakes.  Select questions will be featured at the Great Lakes Week Panel and Town Hall.

Do you have a favorite memory about your beach or have you done something to help keep it clean? Feel free to share it with me along with your thoughts on the Great Lakes in the comment section. To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit

About the author: Peter Cassell is a Press Officer in Region 5 who focuses on water issues, the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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.

Science Wednesday: EPA Scientist Honored for Lifetime of Water Research

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

By Sarah Blau

It starts off sounding like a bad riddle: you cannot see it, smell it or taste it, and boiling it in water will not get rid of it. But then the riddle turns serious: it can cause high blood pressure, kidney problems, even cancer in adults, and can delay childhood physical or mental development. The answer to this grim riddle: lead.

I had heard about threats posed by lead from paint chips and dust in older houses, but not until recently was I aware lead is a common contaminant of drinking water. Although the main sources of exposure to lead are ingesting paint chips and inhaling dust, EPA estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water. As other sources of lead exposure are reduced, the percentage from drinking water is expected to rise.

Luckily, EPA scientists became aware of this health threat long before I did. In fact, EPA scientist Michael Schock recently received the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) most prestigious research award, the A.P. Black Award, for his years of research contributing to the understanding, treatment, and prevention of lead in our nation’s drinking water.

Schock began his scientific studies in the field of geology with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the subject. In 1978 he learned EPA was looking for a technician to work on lead problems in New England. Schock applied and got the job. In an AWWA interview he reflects on the team of scientists and staff involved in the drinking water research when he started out, “their enthusiasm and dedication to researching and solving health-related water quality problems was highly contagious.” Schock has now been with EPA for over 26 years.

The prevalence of lead in drinking water has to do with corrosion in the lead-containing materials that make up many water distribution systems. Researching problems with lead in drinking water allowed Schock to use his knowledge of geology in an unusual way. He told AWWA, “corrosion is really geochemistry with just different oxidants and a shorter timeframe.”

During his time with EPA, Schock researched and contributed to multiple publications on properties of lead corrosion as well as how to holistically treat and control water distribution systems suffering from the corrosion of lead, copper and other materials.

When asked about the importance of his research, Schock told AWWA, “I think the biggest reward is knowing we have provided insight that enables a health problem to be solved and future problems to be anticipated and prevented.” Now that’s a much better answer to the lead riddle.

About the author:  Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s Science Communication Team.

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.