spring

Duck, Duck, huh?

By Linda Mauel

The Mallard

The Mallard

The weather finally caught up with the calendar, resulting in a beautiful day last week. So I threw my back door open, breathed in the fresh air and looked across my back yard. I glanced at the neighbor’s pool, wondering when they were going to open it, then did a double take. Relaxing in the water filled pool cover were a pair of Mallards. The drake (male) and hen (female) were also basking in the sun – but in a pool?

Per Wikipedia, the Mallard inhabits a wide range of habitat and climates, from Arctic Tundra to subtropical regions. It is found in both fresh- and salt-water wetlands, including parks, small ponds, rivers, lakes and estuaries, as well as shallow inlets and open sea within sight of the coastline. I live near the Jersey shore and it’s not like New York and New Jersey don’t have plenty of natural water options.

This got me thinking about how adaptable nature is. Trees and plants bud when the weather is right – regardless of whether this occurs in early March or late February. Wildlife traverses land and sea for food, to breed and to adjust to changes in weather. We humans could learn a lot from our wildlife counterparts. Among the lessons that come to mind are: to try to be more malleable (pun intended) and roll with the punches; don’t sweat the small stuff; and look for the good that life has to offer – there is a lot out there.

About the Author: Linda Mauel serves as the region’s Quality Assurance Manager.  She works in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. Linda holds a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Chemistry from Rutgers University. She worked in the private sector for 11 years then began her 22+ year career with EPA in the quality assurance program.

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

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It’s Time to Spring into Action – Carefully

By Linda Mauel

Ah Spring!  The days are longer, the trees and flowers are blooming, and the weather is calling us to come out and do something physical.  Yes, it is time to begin our spring projects!  Whether building a new deck in Long Island, planting a community vegetable garden in Brooklyn, or participating in a river clean-up in Buffalo, now is the time to put the TV remote control down and get started.  Really?  This sounds good in theory, but in reality I would rather grab an iced tea, a good book, and lounge in the sun.

Since I did just that last year, as the saying goes, it’s time to get the show on the road.  What projects do you have on your wish list?  Mine includes repairing the back deck and replacing parts of my fence that came down during Super Storm Sandy.  I could find a contractor to do this for me, but in this economy I think not.  Instead, I think I’ll ask a few people to come over and help me rebuild in exchange for pizza or subs and cold drinks.  I could use the exercise anyway and will enjoy spending the time with my friends.  Hmm – this may not be so bad after all!  Ok, first things first.  I can’t have the gang come over and expect them to start without knowing exactly what I want.  Been there – done that!

It was like the story about a team of fellows who won a contract to build a train track.  The supplies were delivered; they knew where the track was to begin, where it was to end; and they had a picture of the path it was to follow.  Time was money, so the contractors decided that since they were all experts and the project was straight forward, they did not need to waste time going over the details.  Instead, half of the contractors took supplies to the beginning of the proposed track, the rest took the remaining supplies to the end of the proposed track, so as to work from both sides and meet in the middle.  Funny thing was, once they met in the middle, the tracks did not line up.  Why one might ask, since they all knew what to do and how to do it?  Well, one group used metric measurements, while the other used English standard.  They learned the hard way, as did I, that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

I did not want this to occur in my back yard!  I could probably live with the fence not lining up exactly as it should, but the deck was another story.  So, before we meet to spruce up my backyard, I’ll have a plan drafted – with details – to share with my friends over coffee.  I figure we’ll modify it based on our discussions, then be ready to begin on our agreed upon dates.

My wish to you is that while the weather is warm and the days are long, you spring into action, but do so carefully.  Make a plan, then collaborate and communicate to make sure the project comes together as expected.  Once done, sit back with a cold drink and enjoy a job well done.  I plan to!

About the Author: Linda Mauel serves as the region’s Quality Assurance Manager.  She works in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  Linda holds a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Chemistry from Rutgers University. She worked in the private sector for 11 years then began her 20+ year career with EPA in the quality assurance program.

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

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Spring Brings Many Things

By Lina Younes

As temperatures start to warm up during the early spring months, we begin to see flowers blooming and animals awakening from their winter slumber. Yet, there are some things that spring often brings that we don’t eagerly welcome. Bugs. No, I’m not talking about beneficial bugs like lady bugs, bees or butterflies, but household pests.

Recently, I had an ant infestation on the kitchen floor. I resisted the temptation of getting a can of bug spray and emptying it in my kitchen. I searched for the source of the infestation. Voila! I had left some dog food overnight in the dog’s bowl and the ants were having a party! So, I clean the bowls and the entire area and the ants decided to party somewhere else. It was simple.

The basic principles of integrated pest management consist of not providing any food, water or shelter to pests. If the pests don’t find anything that attracts them to your home or creates a cozy environment for them, they will essentially search for more inviting surroundings. So, what are some basic tips to prevent bugs and household pests for setting up shop in your home? Here are some suggestions:

  • Cleanliness is a great bug and pest deterrent.
  • Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink over night.
  • Don’t leave crumbs and spills on the table or floor. They only serve as bug magnets while you are away.
  • Repair leaks. Don’t let water accumulate around the kitchen, bathroom or flower pots.
  • Clear the clutter of newspapers, bags, and boxes. Clutter becomes a very cozy surrounding for unwanted pests.

If in spite of your best efforts household pests get into your home, select pesticides for the right pest and follow the instructions on the label closely. By following integrated pest management techniques, you’ll be able to have a healthier home for you and your family. Don’t send pests an open invitation unknowingly.

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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Spring is on its way

By: Jayne

Spring is on its way, and of course that means lots of planting; so I’d like to share some ideas with you on planting in your own community. Planting flowers, bushes, trees, and vegetables can be very beneficial for you. For instance, at my school, we are working on planting flowers in the shape of our school logo, SH. It’s an easy way to show school spirit in a eco-friendly way. You could even be a little more creative by using flowers with your school colors. But the planting doesn’t have to stop there- having vegetable gardens is another excellent idea for a home or school. Where I go to school we have a special day each year where we harvest our vegetables and eat them for lunch. The vegetables we usually plant are tomatoes, lettuce, and basil. In the past we’ve planted pumpkins as well. By doing this in your home, you can save money when buying groceries, and have fresh food whenever you like. So use your green thumb this spring and plant something in your town!

Jayne is a Junior High student in Sleepy Hollow, NY and has an interest in environmental protection.  She is a proud member of the Environmental Action Club at her school.

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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Go Green this Spring!

By: Kelly Siegel

Although it still feels like winter in parts of the Midwest, spring is officially here!  As we gear up for the start of spring and plan spring activities it is important to remember to keep these activities green.  Here are some ideas to make the most of the season:

  1. Get your hands dirty and plant a vegetable garden.  It takes some work and patience now, but when you are eating your home grown tomatoes this summer, it will all be worth it.
  2. Get outside.  Go for long walks, bike rides, or runs and explore your neighborhood you have missed over winter.
  3. Many of us associate spring with spring cleaning.  Go through those old boxes and your closet and donate, recycle, or reuse anything you don’t need any more. You never know what you might find!
  4. On the topic of spring cleaning, use green cleaning supplies.  There are even ways to make your own.  It is very simple and not only better for the environment, but your wallet as well. 
  5. Use reusable water bottles – You can get some with cool designs and not waste plastic water bottles. 

Do you have other tips to go green this spring?  Please share.

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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Tips for a More Environmentally-Friendly Spring Cleaning

By Ashley McAvoy

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

Spring has arrived! It’s time to say goodbye to the cold weather and hello to new life once again. The flowers are just breaking through the soil, the birds are singing, and the trees are growing new leaves. These are familiar images and usually mark the beginning of longer days, picnics in the park, riding bikes and more than anything else, enjoying the warmer weather. If you’re like me, one annual task looms in the way of that fun: the dreaded spring cleaning. This chore is tedious and incredibly time consuming, but it’s necessary after months of being cooped up indoors. There are so many things to do: tidy up the garden, wash the car, dust the curtains, sweep the floor, etc. Don’t forget to use cleaning methods and cleaning products that are the safest for your family, your home, and the environment. Here are some reminders before you get started.

Reuse whenever possible

  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Give your unwanted clothes a new life by donating them to your local thrift shop or charity. By reusing clothing and other goods, we can cut down on waste entering landfills.

Recycle all that you can

  • Always check with your local recycling center for any recycling restrictions in your area. Some places only accept certain types of plastic or metal. You should check the bottom of any glass or the back of any plastic container for the recycling number. This number will indicate the type of plastic that it is.
    Check out more at the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle website.

Use cleaning products that are safer for your family and the environment

  • Look for products that are labeled biodegradable, eco-friendly, or non-toxic

Find more information about environmentally safe cleaning products at the Protecting Your Health website

  • Avoid products with labels that read toxic, corrosive, irritant, flammable, or combustible

Conserve water

  • To water the lawn, consider using grey water or even rainwater. An average family typically uses 30% of its water for the garden or the lawn. By using alternative water such as rainwater from a rain barrel, you can cut down on wasted water and even lower your water bill.

For more information about safer cleaning methods for your home and the environment, please visit the Green Homes website.

Happy cleaning!

About the author: Ashley McAvoy is an Intern with the Office of Web Communications for spring 2013. She is a double major in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

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 First Signs of Spring

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 Dave Deegan

There are always a lot of weather clichés: If March comes in like a lion, it will  go out like a lamb, etc.

I wonder if there is a rule to February. If it kicks off with a huge blizzard, and ends with soggy ground, well then I guess we’re just heading into New England’s Mud Season.  It may not be the prettiest time of year, but it is at least a sign that winter is losing its grip and spring will come.

Everyone remembers how mild last year was: we had crocuses blooming on February 26th.

Just a few weeks ago we had one of the bigger blizzards anyone around here can remember. But in the past few days, the temperature stayed (just slightly) above freezing, so we had buckets of rain, instead of feet of snow. Of course, with the ground still frozen, all that rain means a lot of standing water on the ground until it eventually filters into the soil. A soggy mess, or a sign of spring: your call.

It seems as if everybody up in New England pays special attention to the length of days during this time of year.  Even by late January, you start to notice that “Hey, a month ago it was dark at 4:30, and now it’s light half an hour longer.”  Meaning that by now, in early March, I see daylight through much of my commuter train ride home, until close to 6PM.

Right now, we’re only a few weeks away from changing the clocks for daylight savings time.  If only the temperature would catch up as quickly as the light!

The last few mornings I’ve also been cheered to hear the familiar “wheat wheat wheat” call of our resident cardinals, a familiar sound that I associate with the transition to spring. Of course the cardinals are a welcome presence at our backyard feeders all through the winter, but it’s only now that their activity changes and they start singing more.

All of this means that it is high time to dust off our seed catalogs and gardening books, and start planning what our early season vegetable garden will need, and what care will be needed for our other plants that are just now peeking out from under winter’s snowbanks.

About the author:  Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

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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Spring Cleaning? What About Air Ducts?

By Kelly Hunt

It’s spring. How can I tell? Mailings about air duct cleaning. It makes sense that they come now, while us home dwellers prep for the warmer months by cleaning and doing home repairs. But do I need to get the air ducts in my home cleaned? Can this affect the air I breathe indoors? Does that impact my health?

Lucky for me, I work with experts who happily helped me navigate this question. Don’t you fret, though — all of their words of wisdom are on EPA’s Web page on air ducts for you to view anytime, so you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.

Things I learned:

  • First, be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk: control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.
  • Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether dust levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • Indoor pollutants that enter from outdoors or come from indoor activities — like cooking, cleaning or smoking — may cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.
  • You need to inspect your air ducts to determine whether or not they need to be cleaned.

You should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • There’s substantial, visible mold growth inside the ducts or on parts of your HVAC system. (If there’s mold, there’s likely a moisture problem. A professional should find the cause of the water problem and fix it.) If you consult a professional, make sure they SHOW you the mold before moving forward.
  • The ducts are infested with rodents or insects. Not okay.
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris that are actually released into the home from vents.

If you find any of those problems, identify the underlying cause before cleaning, retrofitting or replacing your ducts. If you don’t, the problem will likely happen again.

There’s little evidence that cleaning your air ducts will improve health or, alone, will increase efficiency. To learn about HVAC maintenance and efficiency, see our Heating and Cooling Efficiently page.

Decision, decisions. If I decide to get my air ducts cleaned, I’ll make sure to follow the advice of EPA experts. I’ll also carefully check the service provider’s track record before doing anything. And I’ll remember to SEE, with my own eyes, mold growth or other problems before making a final decision.

About the author: Kelly Hunt, is a communications specialist with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her career in public affairs began in 2001 and she now focuses on emergency response, outreach and engagement for radiation and indoor air issues.

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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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Spring Cleaning for a Healthy Home

By Lina Younes

As we see the first signs of the new season, it’s easy to get into the mood for spring cleaning around the house. We just want to open the windows, freshen the air, put away the heavy coats and signs of winter inside the home. During this process, we start thinking of giving a thorough cleaning around the house and even a fresh coat of paint or doing some renovations. How can we make sure that during this process, we are making our home environment healthier? Well, here are some green tips for your consideration.

Thinking of giving your kitchen or bathrooms a good scrubbing? Do you want to make sure that the chemicals that you are using are safe and green? Here’s a suggestion. Use cleaning products with the Design for the Environment label. (DfE). What is the DfE exactly? It’s an EPA partnership program. Those products with the DfE label have been screened carefully for potential human health and environmental effects to ensure that they are produced with the safest ingredients possible.

Another common spring cleaning practice? Painting! It’s an easy way to give a whole new look to home. However, if your home was built before 1978, it is very likely that it has lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal found in paints and buildings built before 1978 and it can cause serious damage to the brain, learning problems and even hearing problems. So if you are thinking about painting around the house or making some renovations, get some useful information on making these renovations safely or getting a certified contractor.

Thinking of some major repairs such as getting water efficient toilets or new household appliances? Look at products with the WaterSense label for greater water efficiency or Energy Star appliances to save energy, money, and protect the environment.

Over the winter, did you have problems with snow and a leaky basement? Make sure to correct the any mold problems and get proper ventilation to ensure good indoor air quality in your home.

So, do you have any grand spring cleaning plans in mind? Share your thoughts. We love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. 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 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.

Early Signs of Spring

By Lina Younes

Truth be told, this winter season has been relatively mild around the greater Washington, DC area and across the United States. So when the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow forecasting six more weeks of winter, my first thought was: “what winter?”

Taking advantage of the beautiful weather this past weekend, my husband, our youngest daughter and I decided to take a walk around Allen Pond, Maryland near our home. Although it was mid-February, it felt more like early April. In fact, during our walk, we were seeing early signs of spring all around us. There were robin red-breasts hopping on the grass. Several shrubs were showing some signs of budding. The leaves from bulbs were pushing up through the ground making way for an early appearance. The fresh scents and lively sounds of spring were already in the air.

We were also taking advantage of that lovely afternoon to get out and move. While the short winter days seem to give us the perfect excuse to enjoy more sedentary activities, the change in seasons should be an ideal opportunity to get out of our self-imposed hibernation. And what better way of fulfilling a resolution of becoming healthier in 2012 than taking a long nice walk with the family in the park on a beautiful day?

So, do you have any plans for the spring months? Looking forward to gardening? Planning any greenscaping techniques? Please share your thoughts with us. As always, we’re interested in keeping these greenversations going!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. 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 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.