neighborhood

Composting in Urban Areas

By Claudia Gutierrez

On a recent trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, I purchased the latest Brooklyn Botanical Garden Guide for a Greener Planet titled, “Easy Compost.” For those of us who live in urban centers, with limited space, sometimes it’s challenging to compost. Composting, however, can play a large big role in reducing waste that is sent to landfills. Studies have shown that as much as 40% of our organic waste can be diverted from landfills if composted. New York City just recently passed legislation to begin a residential composting program. Check out the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling web site at: www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/compost/composting_nyc.shtml.

While you’re at it, also check out the “Easy Compost” guide. The guide focuses on teaching the reader how to compost at home. It details the type of bins, worms, etc. that one should choose based on their needs. It is a very resourceful guide for urbanites who want to help mother earth in diverting organic waste from landfills. For more resources about gardening and composting, please visit www.bbg.org.

About the Author: Claudia Gutierrez is currently a Senior Advisor on Caribbean issues for the Regional Administrator since 2010. In this capacity, Claudia is working on different partnerships, including the White House Puerto Rico Task Force on Status, Vieques Sustainability Task Force and both the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Recycling Partnerships.

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

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

By Kara Koehrn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: So What’s In Your Neighborhood?

By Kara Koehrn

Have you ever wondered what’s coming out of that factory stack you pass on the way home, or whether there are chemicals being cover_national_analysis_200released upstream from your favorite fishing spot? If so, maybe I can help you. I work with the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which was designed to help the public answer questions just like these.

Before I came to EPA I knew very little about TRI. However, without realizing it, I had already read about chemical releases in news articles and scientific papers that used numbers from the TRI public database of chemical releases to the environment. I have since learned that TRI is a database with detailed information on over 600 toxic chemicals from over 20,000 U.S. facilities nationwide. You and I have access to information about disposal or other releases of chemicals into the environment as well as information about how facilities manage chemicals through recycling, energy recovery and treatment!

Over the past several months I have been involved in the preparation of the 2009 TRI National Analysis, which is EPA’s annual interpretation of TRI data. I was very excited to work on this project because TRI is such a rich database. It has a seemingly endless number of ways to slice the data and reveal national and local trends of releases to the environment including by chemical, geographic region, parent company, industry sector, etc.

This year I am especially eager for the release of the National Analysis because we have incorporated some exciting new features. It now includes analyses specific to 13 of the most populous urban areas in the country. Would you like to know about toxic chemical releases in the Denver area? What about Miami? How do they compare? The National Analysis also includes analyses for tribal lands and ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. Take a look!

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What About Where You Live?

How much do you know about the environment of where you live? That’s right, not the rain forest, not the polar icecaps, but your neighborhood. Lots of us take our environment for granted. Water comes out of spigots and waste gets carted or flushed away. Unless there’s an environmental problem nearby, like a polluting factory, most folks don’t give it a second thought. Our environment just is.

But environmental protection starts at home, and it is important to understand how one thing affects another, so here’s the challenge (actually a great project for a class to do) – find out and then write up a report so others can understand your local environment too.

I did this a few years ago for the town in which I live, Narberth, Pa. I looked into:

  • How our electricity is produced.
  • Where the oil that runs my heater came from.
  • Where the natural gas that runs my stove came from.
  • The origin of my drinking water.
  • Where my wastewater goes.
  • What happens to the recyclables (plastics, paper, glass) that are collected.
  • What happens to our yard waste that’s picked up.
  • Where my household waste/trash goes.
  • The quality of the air I breathe.
  • The levels of radon from the ground.
  • What happens to our rainwater after it goes down the storm drains.
  • The name of our watershed and the location of our streams.
  • Our climate and planting zone.
  • Where our gasoline comes from.
  • What mass transit is available.
  • Our topography and geography.
  • How our town is zoned.
  • The location of our historic buildings.

In the process I discovered some interesting things. Some streams had been piped underground and weren’t on the surface anymore. Our household waste goes to an incinerator where it is burned to produce electricity. Our rainwater goes directly into streams; it’s not treated first. The oldest intact structure in Narberth is a Swedish log cabin. But since it has had many additions, it just looks like a normal house now.

My report is on the web at: http://www.narberthpa.org/environment.htm. Feel free to use it as a model for yours. Go out and discover your local environment!

Editor’s note: you can get started learning what EPA knows about your area with MyEnvironment.  Try it out or read the Greenversations post about it.

About the Author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. She currently manages the web for the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. Before getting involved with the web, she worked as an environmental scientist. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created.

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.