Pollutants/Toxics

Expectant Moms, Parents, and Everyone Else Should Read This!

By Jessica Orquina

I never thought much about mercury in fish. I like seafood, and have heard there may be some health concerns, but I didn’t really give it much thought. Then, I became pregnant and started reading all the information I could find about health and nutrition for expectant mothers, including about mercury in fish.

I learned that eating fish with high levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. I also learned what types of fish have higher and lower levels of mercury so I could focus my diet on those fish that were safer to eat.

Last fall, my son was born, and now I’m back at work. I was interested to learn EPA has been working with FDA to recommend new draft advice for fish consumption. In the past, our advice was based solely on the health concerns caused by eating fish with high levels of mercury. The new recommendations still consider that issue, but they also look at the health benefits of eating seafood.

I strongly urge you to read the new draft advice (Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know), share your thoughts with us, and adjust your family’s diet accordingly. While mercury consumption is a big concern for expectant mothers and young children, it can affect everyone’s health.

So, take a minute and read this document. I did.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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Our Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Toxic Chemical Releases in Your Neighborhood

By Kara Koehrn

Chemicals have been in the news a lot recently. That makes me curious about what is going on in my neighborhood.

Here in the United States, we’re lucky to have information available through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program. I work on TRI, and it’s important to note that, typically, “release” means disposal of toxic chemicals by facilities operating under permits designed to protect human health and the environment. Only a small portion of the TRI release total is due to spills or leaks.  My coworkers and I are proud to continue the community-right-to-know tradition by providing you with information about toxic chemical releases to air, water, and land on our website.

Every year, we publish a summary of what is going on at a national level, called the TRI National Analysis. This year, we’re making it easy to interpret TRI data at a local level, too: we’re providing analyses for all 891 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas across the United States. Each of these urban areas has its own high-level analysis that can tell you whether TRI chemical releases are increasing or decreasing over time, plus what chemicals and industries are involved. Would you like to know about the Denver area? What about Miami? How do they compare? Take a look! And, if you live in a rural area, type in your zip code or county information to find out what’s going on near you.

In its 27 years, TRI data has done a lot to empower citizens and communities. It’s been used to:

  • Roughly indicate facilities’ environmental performance over time.
  • Begin conversations with local facilities to encourage them to reduce releases, develop pollution prevention plans, and improve safety.
  • Set priorities and assign resources to the most pressing problems.

What will you do with the information you find?

I hope you check out the TRI National Analysis, and our new local analyses, to see what toxic chemicals are being disposed of or released in your neighborhood. After all, it’s your environment, and 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 sold her car two years ago to take full advantage of public transportation in D.C. and doesn’t even miss it.

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 Can Help Make a Difference for Kids with this One Easy Step

By Jessica Orquina

Will you lend us your voice to protect children from pollutants? Children are more sensitive to pollutants: their bodies are still developing; they eat, drink, and breathe more in proportion to their body size; and their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and microbes.

We have simple tips for how to protect children from environmental harms, and we need your help to tell the world. Social media has changed the way we communicate, but it’s also given us new ways to amplify our voices. This week, we’re using Thunderclap to get the word out about tips for protecting kids. Lend us your voice by allowing us to send a message to your social media followers.

Our first Thunderclap will go out on October 31 at 2:00 pm EDT:

“You protect your kids from strangers and bullies. What about harmful pollutants?

What is Thunderclap? It’s a system that helps people share a message at the same time.  How does it work? We’ve created a message, and you can sign up to let Thunderclap post that message to any combination of your Twitter, FB, and Tumblr accounts. It’s like a virtual flash mob – the messages will go out on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. Note that you’re signing up for only this message,  not future thunderclaps.

We need you, because in order to send our Thunderclap, we need 500 people to sign up!

Join us today and add your voice. Thanks for your support!

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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#AskGinaEPA about Climate Change

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will host her first live Twitter chat on climate change on Friday, August 2nd at 12:30 PM ET. Administrator McCarthy will discuss her plans for the agency moving forward, focusing on EPA’s work to combat climate change.

Helping communities adapt to the changing climate and cutting carbon pollution will be a significant part of EPA’s work over the coming years – the Agency will play a key role in implementing President Obama’s Climate Change Action Plan. Administrator McCarthy has also pledged to take action on toxics and chemical safety, safeguard our air and water resources, and continue EPA’s work toward a sustainable future.

Here’s the plan:

  • Tweet your questions to @GinaEPA anytime on Friday morning using the hashtag #AskGinaEPA. She will respond to questions beginning at 12:30 PM ET.
  • You can ask Administrator McCarthy a question, share your ideas, and join the conversation on protecting people’s health and the environment.
  • Don’t use Twitter? You can still ask questions in the comments section below and watch the discussion at @GinaEPA and #AskGinaEPA.
  • We will be translating this chat into Spanish. Follow @EPAespanol and #HablaConGina to participate.

Administrator McCarthy is new to Twitter, and looking forward to answering your questions in her first live Twitter chat!

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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Suburban Chickens: Sustainability at Work in My Home

by Mindy Lemoine, Region 3

As a child, I hung out at my grandparents’ farm outside of Ville Platte, LA, where they had chickens, pigs, cows, guinea fowl, a garden, a smokehouse, fruit trees, etc. Now, my house sits on about 1/64th of an acre just outside the city limits of Philadelphia. And just as my grandparents did, every morning I put on my barn coat and walk about 30 steps to feed my two chickens.

Chicken

The chickens, Marshmallow and Speedy, live in a coop tucked discreetly behind my garage. Since the spring, my hens have provided me with one or two eggs daily: sage green from Marshmallow and speckled brown from Speedy.

How did a former country kid, who grew up to be a scientist living in the suburbs, start keeping chickens? As a child, I loved to feed the chickens and gather their eggs. While living outside of Philadelphia, one day my nephew offered me his hens because he was moving and had no place to keep them. I jumped at the opportunity to return to my farm roots and put more of my sustainability views into practice. I was fortunate: thanks to an enlightened elected official who was a fellow chicken lover, my township allowed residents to keep chickens.

The space behind my garage had a nice 6×18-foot fenced-in area that was perfect for keeping my girls safe.

Aside from the fresh eggs, one of the delights of owning suburban chickens is that neighbors and their children stop by to visit my hens.

Because of my work at EPA, I know the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills. My hens know something about that, too, because they get excited about the old rice, carrot peelings, food scraps, toast crusts, etc., that I feed to them.

The food scraps that the chickens don’t eat, and other things like coffee grounds and egg shells, are a great addition to my compost pile. The hens help out with the compost as well: their droppings provide a rich source of nutrients that will eventually help nourish my garden. Compost reduces the amount of fertilizer, weed killer and water that my garden needs – a model of sustainability!

The hens are part of the family, and the next generation has arrived. I have four adorable fuzzy baby chicks peeping under a heat lamp in my basement! But as a mom, the best thing about owning chickens is pictures of my son and his friends with chickens sitting on their heads!

About the author: Mindy Lemoine is a Life Scientist and Pollution Prevention Coordinator for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. A native of Opelousas, Louisiana, Mindy grew up rambling in the woods and fields with her siblings and developed an abiding curiosity about what might be living in that ditch. She holds an MS in Geography from Louisiana State University.

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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Proper Cleaning Prevents Poisonings

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

Among the fondest memories of my childhood was the time that I spent at my grandmother’s home in Old San Juan. I loved walking through the city with such a rich history and unique architecture. Every time I visit the Island, I take a stroll through the old city and memory lane.

I remember one day, I must have been around 9 or 10. I attempted to help my grandmother in cleaning around the house. I wanted to make her proud of my efforts. So I started mixing some of the cleaning products under the misguided notion that “more is better.”  To this date, I still have a very vivid image of my cleaning experiment. I remember one of the liquid cleaners was a dark amber color that when you diluted it in water it would become white. The other was some sort of clear liquid. However, when I made my cleaning concoction, it turned into a bright red! I quickly flushed the cleaning potion down the toilet. It was a good thing that it didn’t explode, but who knows what chemical reaction occurred! I guess I will never find out, but that leads me to the real subject of this blog entry: how to prevent accidental poisonings and exposures to chemicals. The issue is very timely given that we are celebrating National Poison Prevention Week.

Here are some tips to prevent accidental poisonings:

  • At EPA we stress the fact that “the label is the law.” Read labels carefully and follow instructions when using household cleaning products and pesticides.
  • As I learned from my experience decades ago, mixing products will not make your house cleaner. In fact, mixing cleaning household cleaners and pesticides can be dangerous.
  • Always keep cleaning products away from children’s reach. If you are in the process of cleaning and you get a phone call or someone knocks on the door, don’t keep the cleaning products unattended. That can be an accidental poisoning waiting to happen.
  • Since most poisonings occur in the home, make sure that you household cleaners and pesticides are properly stored. We even have a checklist to help you in a room-by-room inspection to ensure safety.

So, if in spite of your best efforts, someone in your home becomes accidentally exposed to a toxic chemical, please call the National Poison Control Centers at 1-800-222-1222. There are English and Spanish-speaking operators available round the clock anywhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Attic Squirrels

By Amy Miller

Honey, come quick, I called.
What, what is it?
Just come listen.

We listened. We waited. They scratched. And scratched. We looked at each other. And we knew. These were no mice, these were squirrels. Or raccoons. Or some animal that would laugh at a mousetrap.

By the next day the scratching had stopped.

Our neighbor was not so lucky. For months she tried traps and barriers to get rid of her squirrels. She paid experts. And in the end she had to chainsaw nine-tenths of the branches off her giant pine trees to eliminate the bridges the squirrels were using to her rooftop.

My friend’s mother also wasn’t so lucky. All the boxes stored in her attic fell apart because squirrels apparently munched on the glue holding the boxes together.

According to one web site, about 15,000 home fires each year are caused by squirrels and other rodents chewing on wiring. (Yes, a squirrel is a rodent).

While it’s not so hard to find a squirrel or its nest on a roof, once they are inside the house they will win the game of hide-and-seek hands down.

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is one of the most common pests. At 16 to 18 inches and weighing about a pound, they get in through small holes that they gnaw wider. They bring nesting material with them and make noise scurrying around storing their nuts, seeds, fungi or fruit. They may fall down the chimney or down a wall from the attic and get stuck.

A survey of web sites makes it clear that solving this problem is no picnic. You can try trapping them, locking them out, or quickly sealing up holes if you know they are out to get lunch and water.
I heard one story of a mother squirrel and her babies that camped out in an attic, but when the babies grew up they all left on their own, taking up residence in a new nest in a nearby tree.

Be warned, if someone recommends using mothballs, forget it; it’s illegal. The EPA allows moth balls for moths and caterpillers only. This is because moth balls are toxic to humans and pets.

EPA tells landlords that if squirrels are in a house, the tenants should be told of integrated pest management techniques, and advised to fix screens, remove clutter and eliminate wood piles. In addition, holes should be patched with pest-resistant materials and mesh should be used to cover air intake and exhaust vents.

I wonder what tricks others have used to get rid of their squirrels.

Click for more information

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

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

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Protecting Children Comes First

By Lina Younes

I hate pests! I loathe disease-carrying rodents with a passion.

Several years ago, I participated in the filming of a TV interview in Spanish with an expert in healthy homes. Together, we went room by room through a home and day care to identify potential environmental hazards and, above all, to learn how to keep areas pest free.

I found the experience very informative. Personally, I was struck by the behavior of rodents. Did you know that mice and small rats can fit through holes about the size of a quarter and can squeeze their way into your home and take up residence, nesting in corners and feeding on food crumbs? Yuck!

Likewise, small children have their own behavioral characteristics. They spend a lot of the time on the floor, crawling or playing. Their innate curiosity leads them to grab small articles they find along their way and often put them into their mouths, including mouse pellets they may find in open trays on the floor. More than 10,000 kids each year in the U.S. are exposed to mouse and rat pellets, often by putting them in their mouths. That is why EPA has been working with pesticide manufacturers to change consumer mouse and rat poisons to be sold in enclosed bait stations, to protect curious kids from the poison. The enclosed bait stations are also protective of household pets.

In addition, EPA is banning four of the most toxic poisons from consumer products, to protect wildlife. Mouse and rat poisons that you use inside your home can harm wildlife because poisoned rodents that venture outside can poison wildlife like hawks and foxes that ingest rodents as prey.

So, what can you do to keep your children safe from accidental poisonings in the home?

  1. Read the label first! By not following the instructions carefully, you can actually put your family at risk.
  2. Create barriers to prevent rodents from entering the home by closing cracks, using wire mesh along pipes, so that these unwanted visitors will not seek shelter in your home and you will need to use less poison.

Do you have any safety tips that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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’s Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Facilities Preventing Pollution

By Kara Koehrn

Our economy produces goods that we depend on in our daily lives, like pharmaceuticals, clothing and cars. Sometimes during the production of those goods, toxic chemicals are released into the environment. But what can be done? Are these inevitable or is there something businesses can do to reduce or even eliminate their releases?

As Americans, we are empowered with information to help answer these questions through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). I work for TRI, and my coworkers and I are proud to continue a community-right-to-know tradition at EPA in which TRI provides information to the public about toxic chemical releases to air, water and land right on our website. But now we are going further, highlighting examples of how industry is preventing pollution. Here is just a sample:

  • In 2011, many electric utilities installed scrubbers on their stacks which reduced air releases of hazardous air pollutants, including hydrochloric acid and mercury.
  • In the chemical manufacturing industry, some facilities improved their maintenance and production schedules to reduce toxic chemical releases in 2011. One reported reducing ammonia releases to water (a contributor to eutrophication) after instituting better process control and operator training.
  • A facility in the computer and electronics sector reported that in response to a customer’s demand for lead-free services, it used a lead-free product surface finishing line in 2011, and expects to expand this service to other customers.

Facilities report real-world success stories like these to TRI each year, and we are highlighting them in our annual analysis of TRI data, the TRI National Analysis. We publish this report every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can analyze TRI data. You can use TRI’s new pollution prevention search tool to see which industrial facilities reported the largest reductions and what measures were most effective in achieving these results. Take a look!

I hope you check out the National Analysis and try the new pollution prevention tool to see what toxic chemicals are being released nationwide and what is being done to help clean up your air, water, and land. 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 has recently sold her car to take full advantage of public transportation in D.C.

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 Global Approach to Managing the Holidays’ Hottest Gadgets

Discarded televisions being weighed before recycling in Taiwan

By Panah Bhalla

As we begin our holiday shopping this year, it is hard not to notice how important electric and electronic devices have become in our everyday lives. But with their welcomed constant upgrades, we have to figure out what to do with these products when they stop working or become outdated “e-waste”. As was mentioned by a previous blogger, electronic devices can contain valuable resources such as copper, gold, and silver. But they can also contain harmful materials such as lead and mercury that can pollute the environment and affect human health. A study I read recently estimated that e-waste could increase by 700% over the next 15 years. This growth presents a particular risk for developing countries, where impoverished communities dismantle old appliances and electronics by hand and without adequate safety precautions in order to make money from the scrap metal inside. In addition to the supply of old devices from their own countries, the growing stream of e-waste that ends up in developing nations around the world includes items that were purchased, used, and disposed of in countries like the United States.

Last month I participated in a workshop in Taiwan on how to manage e-waste in an environmentally sound manner. I joined representatives from 13 countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nigeria, Ghana, El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. The bulk of the workshop focused on the recycling system in Taiwan, where fees from producers and importers of new electronics are used to subsidize the safe recycling of e-waste. From the outset, participants asked detailed questions, wanting to know all the intricacies of the fee-based system.

As I watched the discussions unfold, I realized that this workshop was a perfect example of why the President’s National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship charged EPA to work with developing countries on safe e-waste management. At this workshop, we were all working towards the common goal of reducing threats to health and the environment while maintaining economic opportunities for individuals involved in recycling. Nobody had all of the answers, but everybody was learning from each other and identifying new strategies they could implement back home. At the end of the week, we decided to create a formal network to help us share our experiences on an ongoing basis. It is clear that the pollution and health threats associated with e-waste recycling are significant, but by taking a collaborative international approach like this, we all stand to benefit. As we shop for family and friends this holiday season, we can feel confident that the global community is working together to address the challenge of recycling these gadgets safely.

To learn more about my work visit

About the author: Panah Bhalla works in the Office of International and Tribal Affairs as the lead on e-waste issues for the Asia-Pacific and Latin American/Caribbean regions. She holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Management and lives in Washington, D.C.

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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