pollution

Spread The Word: Cutting Your Costs from Climate Change

Green For All and The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Few of us can afford extra expenses. And yet every day we all are paying a high cost for the effects of climate change, and likely don’t even know it. More and more often, what we used to call “natural” disasters aren’t natural at all. They are the costly results of man-made decisions that allow pollution to adversely affect our planet’s temperature, atmosphere and weather. An issue that once seemed of little consequence in our daily lives is now hitting closer to home.

When you’re paying more for heat and air conditioning to stay comfortable during “record high or low” temperatures, you’re paying for climate change. Or when the cost of fruit, vegetables and other food staples goes up because of severe droughts and floods in America’s agricultural zones, you’re paying for climate change. And those of us who’ve had the devastating misfortunate of losing loved ones and homes even to hurricanes, super storms and other natural disasters that seem to occur more frequently know that the costs of climate change are far too high. More

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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Battling Pollution Balances Health Disparities and Brings Economic Opportunity

Pollution isn’t just a barrier to good health; it’s a barrier to good jobs. Too often, low-income families, the inner-city, and communities of color are overburdened by air and water pollution. President Obama has called closing gaps of opportunity a defining challenge of our time. Meeting that challenge means ensuring clean air, clean water, and safe, healthy work environments. It is our duty, on behalf of the people we serve, to provide equal protection for all. That’s what environmental justice is all about.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Mocha Moms President Kuae Mattox and Board Members of Mocha Moms, Inc.

Photo of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Mocha Moms President Kuae Mattox and Board Members of Mocha Moms, Inc.

 

Mocha Moms, Inc. understands that principle, and launched a National Community Service Initiative in 2009 entitled “Closing the Gap in Minority Health, Prosperity and Achievement.” This wide-reaching initiative promotes education and community service throughout 100 chapters in local communities around the country. Mocha Moms, Inc. and the EPA share a commitment to address environmental health risks and expand the conversation within underserved communities. We are thrilled to announce the continuation of the partnership between the EPA and Mocha Moms, Inc. More

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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Superfund in the Big Apple

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City may soon notch a third site on the EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. The candidate is the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site, a defunct business that processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 in Ridgewood, Queens. Wolff-Alport imported monazite sands, rich in thorium, from central Africa. The site is currently radioactively contaminated, although the risks from this residual radioactive contamination do not represent a health concern in the short-term, it could pose a health risk under certain long-term exposure scenarios. Additional investigation and remedial work is needed, so the EPA is proposing that Wolff-Alport be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

A lot of work has already been done at the site. The EPA installed protective shielding on portions of the site that will prevent nearby residents, employees and customers of area businesses from being exposed to elevated gamma radiation from below the surface. The shielding material included concrete, lead and steel, depending on the area.

Reporters often ask me to compare the cleanup work at the two other NYC Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to ease the transport of goods and services. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Sadly, it also became a giant receptacle for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. EPA’s $506 million Gowanus cleanup will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from ruining the cleanup.

Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal share a legacy of urban and industrial pollution as major arteries in the City’s transportation system. In the late 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s, Newtown was replete with sprawling oil refineries, petrochemical plants, factories, plants, sugar refineries, canneries, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Similarly, the creek is negatively impacted by discharges from combined sewer overflows and sewer treatment plants.

Where the Superfund sites differ significantly is in the status, or better said, where they are situated on the Superfund Roadmap.  In 2013, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Gowanus cleanup. This milestone document explains what cleanup alternatives the Agency has decided are the best choice to clean up a Superfund site. In the case of the Gowanus, the decision document came after the EPA held a 120-day period to receive public comments and hosted two formal public meetings. Prior to the Record of Decision, the Agency evaluated more than 1,800 e-mails, letters, postcards and petitions about the cleanup. Conversely, Newtown Creek is a few years away from a Record of Decision. Currently, the creek is undergoing assiduous sampling and study as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. During this phase, the EPA will determine the nature and extent of contamination. This scientific work is expected to be completed in 2018 and would be followed by a proposed cleanup plan for the public’s consideration.

Another NYC site, the Radium Chemical Company site at 60-06 27th Avenue, Queens was on the Superfund list from 1989 to 1995 when the EPA led a successful cleanup of a radioactively-contaminated plant that no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment. It has since been delisted.

Naysayers claim that placing these sites on the Superfund list creates a stigma and is “bad for business.” Protecting human health and the environment is EPA’s first concern, but there is ample evidence to suggest that a Superfund cleanup can help communities and be a boon to local commerce by creating economic opportunity and using innovative technologies to mitigate contamination in a cost-effective manner. A cleanup also gives rise to redevelopment of an area that was once blighted, thus returning a contaminated property to the community and the tax rolls.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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How Dark is Your Nighttime Sky?

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller
When my sister cancelled our trip to Carter Notch this summer, it was not the mountains or hike I was saddest to lose. It was the darkness. Our annual pilgrimage to the White Mountains is the one night a year when I can sit in darkness among the stars.

Most of the year, I see the glow of a streetlight out my window. Behind my house, I can get in the shadow, but the light from my neighbor’s spotlight, the empty church parking lot, and the school up the road all add light pollution to the night sky.

We have had dark nights and light days through most of history. Today, however, two thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way at night from where they live. And, just about all of us live within the glare of some nighttime illumination. Even places like Acadia National Park are threatened by light from nearby cities. A friend of mine told me recently that people travel to Lyford Pond, in Maine, just to experience dark skies.

Each August, stargazers look to the skies to see meteor showers. Although you can see some of this yearly light show nearly everywhere, how much you can see depends on where you are: 50 or even 100 shooting stars an hour in Maine’s logging country, but only a handful in downtown Boston.

Some research suggests that night light creates stress, headaches and anxiety as our circadian rhythms are disrupted. And there are ecological costs, including disoriented migrating birds fly into buildings and sea turtles losing nesting areas.

In 1992, few towns had outdoor lighting laws. One of the first was written by Peter Talmage in Kennebunk, Maine. He was a member of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group, a stargazer, and an engineer with experience in outdoor lighting. That law limited the intensity of outdoor lights and regulated the addition of new street lights.

Today, many communities nationwide are passing nighttime lighting laws. Others are voluntarily turning off street lights. Beyond light pollution, avoiding over-lighting at night saves several billion dollars a year and eliminates an estimated 38 million tons of carbon dioxide.

I rarely take the time to enjoy night skies. And when I do, artificial lighting prevents me from gazing into the starry universe I remember from childhood. Losing naturally dark skies is as sad as losing forests, fresh air or clean water.

Here’s some more information on enjoying a nighttime sky in a national park.

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, eight chickens, one 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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Career Advice from Bruce

bruce

Many times when you start a new job or project, you develop new interests you never knew you had, based on that work.  In the course of doing these career interviews, I have come to realize that this has happened to many EPA employees.  Bruce Sypniewski is no exception to this.  I sat down with Bruce to hear about the variety of experiences that lead him to where he is today. 

 

What is your position at the EPA?

I am the Deputy Division Director for the Air and Radiation Division.  My position is internally focused.  I make sure the division has the resources it needs to perform and achieve goals.  I address human resource and funding issues and when needed step in for the Division Director when he is unavailable. 

Do you have prior work experiences that lead you to the EPA?

After graduate school I worked for the Lake County Health Department assessing closed and covered landfills and their impact on groundwater.  This led me to a consulting job at Ecology & Environment.  Here I did assessments of abandoned hazardous waste sites for the Superfund Program. I got to see a lot of environmental issues and pollution and wanted to get involved in regulation, which led me to the EPA.  I have had a number of positions here including Permit Writer, Remedial Project Manager, Supervisor and Program Manager, along with many different temporary assignments.

What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day.  I get pulled into all kinds of meetings with Senior Managers and staff on topics ranging from the budget to environmental issues.  My job is to distill information and make it presentable and understandable to the common person.  I help boil down all the information to applied science – so that the research and data can be applied to real world scenarios. 

What is the best part of your job?

There are a lot of best parts!  I love tackling problems that have a huge impact on public health and the environment.  Having a hand in that whole range of environmental problems is great, when results are seen.  There is a long term impact in this work.  Ideas become realities!

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

Yes, through my father.  My father was a tradesman and spent most of his days in a shop or factory setting so his ideal downtime was outside where nature was.  He taught my siblings and me that we can’t put a price on nature and that we are stewards of the land. 

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

I was a geology major and my job title for Lake County Health Department was Geologist.  I applied many of the classes I used in school to my previous jobs.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

I will pass on my father’s advice; “When you leave a place, leave it cleaner than you found it”.  Think of yourself as a steward and not an owner of the land to do with it what you will.  You have a responsibility to the next generation to preserve and protect the environment.

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

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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Injecting Knowledge to Cure Injustice

By Dr. Sacoby Wilson

Growing up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I had a fondness of the Big River and the love of the environment.  Unfortunately, I was aware that some communities did not enjoy the same level of environmental quality that others did.  I grew up near a concrete plant, waste water treatment plant, oil facility, and power plant in the background.  My father was a pipefitter who over the years worked at nuclear power plants, oil refineries, coal fired plants and was exposed to many contaminants.  These experiences, combined with my diagnosis at age 7 with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, really drove me to explore why some communities were burdened by hazards and unhealthy land uses and how exposure to environmental stressors can lead to negative health outcomes.

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I was inspired to use my interest in science and environmental health for environmental justice after meeting Drs. Benjamin Chavis and Robert Bullard in the early 1990s. These professors taught me the value of getting out of the ivory towers of academia and getting into communities to spread knowledge to push for positive change. Since then, I have been a passionate advocate for environmental justice working in partnership with community groups across the United States. Through this work, I have learned that the use of science to empower through education, paired with community organizing and civic engagement, is the key to alleviating environmental injustices.

One of those individuals who helped me understand the importance of getting communities into the research process was Omega Wilson.  Wilson’s Group, the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) has  fought against environmental injustice, infrastructure disparities, and the lack of basic amenities for the last twenty years.  WERA leaders have used a community-driven research approach known as community-owned and managed research (COMR) to address environmental injustice in their community.  COMR focuses on the collection of data for action, compliance, and social change.  In combination with EPA’s collaborative-problem-solving model, WERA’s work provides a blueprint for other communities to use partnerships, stakeholder engagement, action-oriented research, and legal tools to achieve environmental justice.

Untitled-2As a professor who learned through my mentors, I also firmly believe in inspiring the next generation of academics to take their tools and research into communities that need it the most. Currently, I am building a program on Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) at the University of Maryland-College Park. CEEJH is building off existing work of leaders in the DC Metropolitan region to address environmental justice and health issues at the grassroots level; we use community-university partnerships, capacity-building, and community empowerment to address environmental justice and health issues in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Following in the footsteps of WERA, I plan to inspire young people to be bold, courageous, and become advocates for environmental justice.

About the author: Dr. Wilson is an environmental health scientist with expertise in environmental justice and environmental health disparities. His primary research interests are related to issues that impact underserved, socially and economically disadvantaged, marginalized, environmental justice, and health disparity populations. He is building a Program on Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) to study and address health issues for environmental justice and health disparity populations through community-university partnerships and the use of CBPR in Maryland and beyond.

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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Snow Slushies in Spring

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Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

It was the first day of spring and northern New England was looking just plain gorgeous. Not gorgeous like tiny lilac crocus bulbs emerging. Not gorgeous like sun beating down on my patio while I drink coffee.

Rather, gorgeous like Santa in the North Pole, gorgeous like Disney’s winter wonderland. In my Maine yard, soft white snow laces every branch, covers all the pavement and hides any dirt kicked up by car traffic last week. Icicles hang off eaves, while smoke wafts up from woodstoves warming children thrilled to have another snow day home.

OK, it sounds more like heaven in December than in April. But we New Englanders have learned to take what we can get. And make the best of it. So we make snowmen, take walks, get exercise by shoveling and do charity by shoveling for neighbors. We also celebrate with snow slushies. Yes, slushies made with the fallen-from-the-sky white stuff.

Turns out, though, we have to be careful if we are going to make these natural slushies. We all know – even southerners must know – that if the snow is yellow, it has been polluted by animals (likely my dog or his best friend neighbor dog). And black or brown snow most likely comes from cars and people kicking up dirt.

But what about pink snow? Apparently, snow can collect bacteria, which turns the white stuff pink. Snow can also become contaminated by pollution as it falls to the ground. Snow is fairly efficient at collecting pollution as it falls, according to Dr. Helen Suh, environmental studies professor at Northeastern University.

Once formed, the crystals that are snow can stay in the air for hours collecting pollutants before they fall to the ground. This means airborne pollution can be hidden in even newly fallen snow. Meaning that metals, acidic pollutants, and persistent organic pollutants can all be in our slushies.

Lucky for me and my kids, the amount of pollution is related to the amount of pollution in your neighborhood air, which generally is related to traffic. Although my street is sometimes a bypass for people avoiding traffic in the village, we often go minutes at a time without seeing a car.

Even in cities, Suh said, studies have found freshly fallen snow has a low amount of pollution. Just stay away from that colored stuff. And if your kids don’t believe you about the colored stuff, Dr. Suh suggests you melt some snow in a container and see what you find.

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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C.L.E.A.N. (Choosing to Lead Environmental Action Now) Club

In Dr. Seuss’ book, The Lorax, we see the quote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I guess that was my mindset when I began this journey in 2008.  I have always thought that my work could have been achieved by anyone, but my mom said: “Well, maybe it could have, but you are the one that went out there and did it”. I think that is the problem with our world today, we do not have enough people to just go do it.

Growing up on a small farm in Georgia, I was active in Boy Scouts and 4-H, so my world depended on the outdoors.  In 2008, when it came time to plan an Eagle Scout project, I sought the wisdom of those in my community and interviewed leaders in my surrounding area. I finally settled on a storm drain tagging initiative.

My initial project achieved the goal of tagging 152 drains and hanging 455 educational pamphlets on doors in the six new subdivisions in my county. I also wrote articles to the local newspapers explaining my project and how residents could help. I guess this project was just my starter for the next few years because after I achieved my goal of Eagle Scout, I expanded my project to include 4-H. I developed and gave an educational presentation to thousands of students, teachers and community leaders in Georgia.

For the next four years my project grew. I created a Facebook page on storm drain pollution, and planned more tagging events. I expanded my educational component to include radio & television interviews.  I was determined to teach people that the trash that doesn’t get disposed of properly, could very well lead into our water sources. All of these efforts led to my creation of the C.L.E.A.N. Club, which stands for Choosing to Lead Environmental Action Now, a youth led initiative to clean up & beautify our communities.

In 2010 I started getting recognized for my work; first by Keep Georgia Beautiful as Student of the Year, then by Keep America Beautiful for my C.L.E.A.N. Club.  In 2012, after winning the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) and the Regional Kohl’s Cares Kid, I began to wonder if what I was doing was something significant….but after thinking about it I decided that I had been right all along. I am not special, I just care a whole awful lot, and anybody can make a difference if they care to do so.

Andrew is an 18 year old freshman at Macon State College and a 2011 President’s Environmental Youth Award winner. He loves the outdoors and is a huge advocate in any effort that helps to keep our environment clean.

 

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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Thank You, We Couldn’t Do It Without You

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By Lina Younes

Science is at the heart of everything we do at EPA. That’s basically our mantra. Scientific research provides us with the key information we need to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment. Furthermore it gives us the knowledge to better understand the risks to human health and ecosystems and the means to develop innovative solutions to prevent pollution in order to achieve a healthier world. In sum, science is essential to the Agency’s decision-making process.

However, science is not this abstract theory that exists in a vacuum. It is part of our daily lives.  Scientific knowledge does not just happen by osmosis. Scientific research is done by individuals, men and women scientists and engineers who are the true drivers of the Agency. In order to recognize their contributions, we have featured some of our researchers on our English and Spanish web pages. I highly recommend that you visit these pages to learn how they got started in their careers and their important contributions to environmental protection.

Personally, I hope the profiles of our scientists will inspire the next generation of professionals who will dedicate their lives to careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). In reading their profiles, we see diverse individuals with varied backgrounds who shared many common interests and goals. It is never too late to start.

And once again, to our scientists, thank you for what you do to make this a healthier and greener world.

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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Just Beyond the Ivory Tower

McGlynn Elementary School, Medford, MA

By: Cammy Peterson

Ever since returning to academia as a graduate student at Tufts University’s Medford, Massachusetts campus, I have reentered both the glorious exchange and isolating vacuum engendered by the ivory tower. I have learned gobs about clean energy innovation and climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. And, I’ve loved it. Yet, I was unaware of the impressive energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) efforts being implemented in my own backyard by Medford’s public schools.

I had no idea that five Medford schools had avoided over 1,300 metric tons of carbon pollution since 2007. Though I’d heard whisperings of a wind turbine at a Medford school (which turns out to be McGlynn Elementary School), I was unaware that the town is currently installing 700 kW of solar panels. These initiatives have all occurred since Medford joined the EPA’s Community Energy Challenge in 2007.

Currently, I am serving as an intern in EPA Region 1’s Energy and Climate Unit. I have been fortunate in this position to gain insight into some exciting municipal energy endeavors. Many of these have been spurred by EPA New England’s Community Energy Challenge, a program unique to the region. As the EPA New England website describes, the Challenge “is an opportunity for municipalities across New England to identify simple and cost-effective measures that increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use while reducing air pollution and saving money.” Communities that seek to undertake the challenge and attain EPA recognition for their efforts embark on a four-step process. They pledge to assess municipal energy use and set a baseline and reduction targets. They track this assessment using the free Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool. Lastly, communities like Medford are encouraged to collaborate with utilities and organizations like Clean Air-Cool Planet to explore EE and RE opportunities, and to let EPA know when they succeed.

Medford’s motivation to make a difference helped them to secure funds from National Grid and a federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block grant to support their energy saving programs. EPA has recognized the schools for finding efficient ways to upgrade lighting and remote Energy Management Systems, and to shut off computers and the heat after the school day ends, among many other initiatives. EPA and Medford are obviously proud of all they have accomplished. I’m proud of Medford too, and plan to make sure my classmates know of the energy revolution happening right under their noses.

About the Author: Cammy Peterson is an intern with the Energy and Climate Unit in the Office of Ecosystem Protection at EPA New England. She is a graduate student in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning focusing on climate change and clean energy policy at Tufts University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, and previously worked on environmental legislation for the New York State Assembly.

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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