sustainable living

Safety First!

by Virginia Thompson

Stay safe in your local pool.

Stay safe at your local pool.

Swimming at our local pool is one of my favorite summer activities.  As I recently reflected on the accomplishment of logging 1,000 laps annually for nearly a decade, it dawned on me we often don’t give a second thought to the water we’re swimming in.

Ironically, many of us have read the book Safety First to our preschoolers, but we may not think about safety when it comes to ourselves as adults.  This year, my fellow swimmers and I got an unexpected refresher lesson in pool safety.  After a horrific storm in June, our pool was closed for four days because there was no electricity to power the pumps that mix the chemicals to  keep our pool in compliance with our state’s safety standards for swimming pools.

Local social media was abuzz about the pool’s status. Once the electricity came back, pool staff continued pumping the water, and adding appropriate levels of chlorine and other chemicals to ensure the safety of swimmers. When the staff was certain the water could maintain the health standards for a full day and beyond, they allowed us back in the pool.

It was an unfortunate break for those of us trying to earn that recreational swimmer’s badge of honor – the 1,000 lap t-shirt – but no one objected to putting safety first.

Swimming pool staff add chlorine and other chemicals like algicides, to the water to kill bacteria, control algae, and clean the walls and bottom of the pool.  These antimicrobial pesticides, need to be added in Goldilocks quantities  that are “just right” –  with too little chlorine tankstreatment, swimmers can get sick; too much can cause harmful reactions to our skin or lungs from touching, breathing, or drinking the water.

Ever wonder about those chemicals? And, where and how pools keep them?  Because storing chlorine and other potentially dangerous chemicals is a serious concern for communities, EPA has resources to help people in our communities such as Local Emergency Planning Committees to make sure that the chemicals are handled, used, and stored safely, and that local responders are well prepared if an emergency occurs.

As I make it a point to get to the pool as often as possible as summer winds down, I know I’ll be thinking about everything that goes into keeping our water safe.

 

About the author:  Virginia Thompson works for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region and is an avid swimmer.

 

 

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 Proof is in the Peppers

by Jennie Saxe

Rain barrel water is great for backyard gardens and saves money, too!

Rain barrel water is great for backyard gardens and saves money, too!

A few months back, I blogged about installing my first rain barrels. With the hot summer nearly in the rear-view mirror, I can report that rain barrels work…and they save money, too!

How do I know that the rain barrels work? Well, the proof is in the peppers. And pansies. And all of the other plants that not just survived, but thrived, on the rain water collected in the barrels. By this point of the summer, I usually have garden beds full of crunchy, brown plants. The rain water has kept my flowers blooming and vegetables growing happily for over 3 months.

I saved some money, too! I water my vegetable garden and flowers about 4 times a week, using about 4 watering cans of rain water each time.  At 2 gallons per can, I avoided using nearly 450 gallons of tap water for my watering needs – enough to fill almost 10 bathtubs. And at about 9 cents per gallon for tap water, that’s a savings of around $40!   pansies

I’ll keep using my rain barrels throughout the fall, to water fall plantings. In the winter, I’ll drain the barrels to avoid any damage. Then next spring, I’ll grab some compost, hook up my rain barrels, and get my garden growing!

For more on sustainable lawn and garden care year-round, check out these tips.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

 

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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Net Zero Heroes

by Jennie Saxe

Net Zero_GFXAt your local wastewater treatment plant,  professional  operators not only use precisely-dosed treatment chemicals, but they also utilize mother nature – a diverse community of microorganisms – to successfully treat the wastewater that’s collected.  While wastewater treatment plants have always been on the front lines of protecting public health and the environment,  some treatment plants, like the one we blogged about in York, Pennsylvania, are now also investigating technologies to become resource recovery facilities, pulling phosphorus out of wastewater for fertilizer and capturing natural gas to produce energy.

EPA’s recent progress report on Promoting Innovation for a Sustainable Water Future highlights many examples of innovation in the wastewater sector, including three wastewater treatment plants in the mid-Atlantic:

  • The Philadelphia Water Department is using the heat from wastewater to warm its facilities and save money on energy bills.
  • In our nation’s capitol, DC Water is using a Cambi process to create biogas and generate energy.
  • The town of Crisfield, Maryland, is planning to use the coastal location of its wastewater treatment plant to generate wind energy, a project that is anticipated to power the treatment plant and save the town up to $200,000 each year in energy costs.

And just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) is taking steps to produce enough energy to “get off the grid” entirely.

Still not sold on the wonder of wastewater treatment? Check out this new video featuring CCMUA’s “net zero” energy approach. It just may open your eyes to some innovative things that wastewater treatment plants can do for the communities they serve – leading the way to a more sustainable future by becoming “net zero heroes.”

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

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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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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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Rain Barrels of Savings

by Jennie Saxe

As I spent a recent weekend doing springtime yard work, I noticed that the side yard of my house seems to have washed away over the past few years. After a short investigation, I realized that three downspouts on my home pointed at this exact location. I wondered…could I use green infrastructure to help slow the flow of rainwater?

I decided to install a rain barrel to direct some of the rain water to storage instead of letting it flow as run-off across the ground. Reducing the amount of run-off from my roof will keep the soil from washing away. As an added benefit, the stored rain water will be perfect for watering our flowers and vegetable garden.

Full disclosure: DIY is not my strong suit. Even though it’s fairly simple to build your own rain barrel, I purchased mine. All that was left was to follow the directions for connecting it to a downspout.  Here’s the finished product:

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

A recent, brief rain shower filled about one-third of this rain barrel.

The rain barrel was installed in a couple of hours, but I did make some rookie mistakes. If you’re thinking about installing your first rain barrel, here are some helpful hints:

  • Location: I knew which downspout to connect to, but I also had to be sure I was able to connect a hose. I also had to consider where excess water would drain once the barrel was filled. Excess water can be directed to overflow, to another rain barrel, or to a rain garden.
  • Safety: A 60-gallon rain barrel will weigh 500 pounds when full, so it’s a good idea to make sure that little ones won’t be tempted to play around it. I used a bed of stones to make sure the base of the rain barrel was sturdy in all weather and able to support the weight of the barrel. To protect against mosquitos using your rain water as a breeding ground, be sure to have screening over all openings.
  • Level: This was the hardest part. Since you won’t want to move the rain barrel once it’s installed, take all the time you need on this step.
  • Have the right tools: If you purchase your rain barrel, follow the instructions. Common tools will include a level, a hacksaw, and a tape measure. Be sure you also have gloves and eye protection – a cut aluminum gutter can be sharp!

Now, if it would just rain! The conditions in my area have just been declared “abnormally dry” (designated “D0” on the U.S. Drought Monitor map). But with my rain barrel installed, I’ll be ready to save the rain when it does arrive.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She thanks fellow Healthy Waters bloggers Steve Donohue and Ken Hendrickson for their helpful hints on rain barrel installation.

 

 

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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Sustainable Weekend Activities: NYC

Check out our top eco-friendly weekend recommendations and feel free to share your own in the comments section.

Canstruction Design Competition: Twenty-five teams of architects, engineers, contractors and the students they mentor will compete to build enormous structures made entirely out of unopened cans of food, which are then on view to the public until they are dismantled and donated to City Harvest for distribution to those in need. Admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring a can of high quality food to the exhibition’s collection station to reach their goal of collecting over 50,000 pounds of non-perishable edibles. Saturday, February 9 and Sunday February 10, 10:00 a.m. –6:00 p.m.

Clothing and Textile Recycling:  Textiles can be dropped off weekly at eight select Greenmarkets: 97th Street, Union Square (Monday and Saturday only), Grand Army Plaza, Fort Greene, McCarren Park, Inwood, Tompkins Square and Jackson Heights.  Collections accept clean and dry clothing, paired shoes, bedding, linens, hats, handbags, belts, fabric scraps 36″ x 36″ or larger and other textiles. Click here for the full schedule of textile recycling stations.

Free Music Fridays at the American Folk Art Museum: Enjoy live music every Friday from 5:30 –7:30 p.m. Admission is always free.

Health & Race Walking in Central Park— Still looking to turn over a new leaf in 2013? Join other New Yorkers as you get fit and enjoy Central Park’s winter landscapes. Saturday, February 9, 9:30 a.m.—11:00 a.m.

Lunar New Year Firecracker Celebration: Join the Better Chinatown Society for the 14th Annual New Year firecracker ceremony and cultural festival at Sara Roosevelt Park this Sunday, February 10 at 11:00 a.m.

Rechargeable Battery and Cell Phone Recycling: Here at EPA, eCycling is one of our favorite topics. If you’re interested in diverting e-waste from landfills, check out GrowNYC’s collection boxes for rechargeable batteries and cell phones, stationed at Greenmarkets across Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. For a complete list of hours and locations, click here.

Volunteer: Find volunteer opportunities in your area as an easy way to shake up your weekend plans (while also lending a hand).

ea as an easy way to shake up your weekend plans (while also lending a hand).

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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Vacation in Jamaica – Being Part of the Community

By Linda Longo

Every February we vacation in rural Jamaica.  This year will be our fifth time staying at the same place.  You’d think we’d want to try a different vacation destination, but the community of Treasure Beach, in Saint Elizabeth Perish, has a genuine welcome to visitors that makes me feel like I’m part of the community.  Each day around 3:00 I take a walk along the dirt road to meet kids playing with sticks or hanging out under shade trees.  I wave to women hanging laundry to dry, I say “hi” to men walking past with heavy packages.  I step inside a local store and see the bare necessities on the shelf.  It amazes me on how little they get by on.

As a guest to Treasure Beach, it’s customary to bring gifts.  So I prepare for the gift giving by asking my family to donate unwanted clothing and shop at the local discount store to catch end of summer sales.  In September I got shorts and tank tops for $1.99 each! The friends we vacation with usually bring drug store gifts like tooth brushes, paste, aspirin, bug itch ointment, etc.  We also like to give a special gift to the two women who cook and clean for us, Ms. Jenny and Ms. Laura.   Now I’m sewing them each a handbag from colorful reused fabrics.  My bags are made out of fabric from old shirts, jeans, wool slacks and other items that can’t be worn again.  It’s fun to create something pretty out of something that was destined for a landfill.  Zippers are still good, buttons are usable, and the worn jean material is quite fashionable.

The community works hard to help each other.  Some families have small businesses, but I get the feeling most folks are low income and work as cooks for vacationers like us.  A community support network exists through the Treasure Beach Women’s Group (TBWG).  They work on job development, healthcare and physical abuse issues.  This year I’m making handbags to sell at their gift shop and TBWG will keep 100% to support their efforts.  I wanted to make a dozen bags, but as of today I only have 5.  I’ll make a few more this weekend.

The next time you go on vacation consider bringing a little something from your community to give as a gift.  Even if you never go back to that same place, you will leave a cultural footprint that I imagine will be cherished and remembered.

About the author: Linda started her career with EPA in 1998 working in the water quality program. For the past 7 years she’s helped regulated facilities understand how to be in compliance with EPA enforcement requirements. Outside of work Linda enjoys exploring neighborhoods of NYC, photographing people in their everyday world, and sewing handbags made from recycled materials that she gives to her 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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Super Storm Sandy Restores Habitat in Sunken Meadow Park

By Mark Tedesco

The storm surge associated with Super Storm Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal communities, altering both human and natural structures.  However, coastal ecosystems have evolved with, and have been shaped by, the forces of coastal storms over the centuries. Periodic storms can even have beneficial effects on certain aspects of the natural ecosystem.  One such example is the restoration of intertidal flow and habitat in Sunken Meadow Creek at Sunken Meadow State Park, New York.

The storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy destroyed a man-made berm across Sunken Meadow Creek that was constructed as part of the development of Sunken Meadow State Park in the early 1950s.  The berm created a road and walkway to nearby woodland for park visitors, but the undersized culverts that were installed restricted the natural tidal flow to the creek from Long Island Sound.  As a result, saltwater fish were prevented from swimming and spawning upstream, and an invasive form of the common reed, Phragmites, proliferated along the now freshwater creek.  Using EPA funding provided through the Long Island Sound Study, New York State Parks was planning to remove the berm to restore tidal flushing to the creek.

But on October 29-30, 2012, Hurricane Sandy decided that Mother Nature knows best, impatiently breaching and eroding away portions of the berm. As a result, Sunken Meadow Creek has returned to its natural state, an estuary where fresh and salt water mix.  The fresh water common reed, Phragmites, will most likely die back and be replaced by saltmarsh grasses.  Saltwater species cut off from the creek, including alewife, striped bass, juvenile bluefish, winter flounder, weakfish, silverside, killifish, American eel and various shellfish, waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds will all benefit.  Although intertidal exchange has been restored by the force of Sandy, planning is now underway to control bank erosion and restore access to the other side of the creek for park visitors.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of EPA’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook 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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Cooking and Being Green

By Nora Lopez

Brrrr … It’s cold!  I want to eat things that warm up my belly once I get home from work. But my schedule is pretty hectic. I am lucky, I only work 10 minutes from the office, but when I get home it is around 5:30 pm and I usually cook a real meal every night as we are not into picking up food on the way home… there is nothing like a home cooked meal! However, I do need to be out of the house by 6:30 pm to go to the gym, every night … a commitment I set for myself once the kids were out of the house :)  Dinner needs to be ready in one hour….oh and by the way, I just started a Paleo diet this week  (if you do not know what it is Google it… and it will open your eyes to a new way of cooking!).

So  what does my ordeal have anything to do with cooking and being green? Let me introduce you to my solution to the rat race: The CROCKPOT! I just put it on early in the morning, before I leave to go to work, and when I come in I have a meal ready, add a salad and voila! Yummy food :)   I am so much into it that I was trying to convince my sister to get one, but she was very hesitant … she lives in Puerto Rico and electricity is extremely expensive there. So she was concerned that having a Crockpot on all day would increase her electric bill.

So the scientist in me was turned on and went digging for information on the energy efficiency of this pot.  What I found was great information that says that it depends on your stove and type of fuel. The following table I found the most helpful because it was simple to understand. Obviously you need to adjust per your watt costs, but it gives you an idea of the energy consumption:

What I also found is that there are so many web sites for people who are concerned about the energy consumption issue; what is better or not; weighing the pros and cons, that it really made me feel good that so many people think about how our behavior can influence how we can save in energy resources.

As for my sister, once she saw all the information I gathered on how she would be saving money in electrical … she ran to the department store and got an energy efficient Crockpot and she invited me over to delicious pulled pork the next time I was in Puerto Rico.

My first convert! …. Anyone else?

About the Author: Nora works out of EPA’s Edison, New Jersey facility, where she manages the Region’s Toxics Release Inventory Program.  After work she can often be found channeling her inner chef.

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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Eco-friendly Weekend Activities

Cross Central Park Promenade Tour – You will see many surprises: a hidden bench that tells time, miniature boats powered by the wind, a magnificent sculpture celebrating fresh water. These are just some of the sites on this east-to-west walk through the Park. Sunday, February 3, 2:30 – 3:45 p.m.

Family Art Project at Wave Hill: March Out The Mardi Gras! Join visiting native New Orleans artist and instructor Paul Deo to make a colorful parasol, hat, nature mask or funky bead necklace. Then join an imaginative indoor parade as we create the sights, colors and sounds of the Mardi Gras at the Ecology Building in Wave Hill. Sunday, February 3, 10:00 a.m. –1:00 p.m.

Fix Your Bike Workshop: Come learn how to fix bikes, do simple maintenance and tune-ups at the Time’s Up bike mechanic skill share. Sunday, February 3, 6:00 p.m.

NYC Audubon Winter EcoCruise: Step aboard the New York Water Taxi for a winter adventure in New York Harbor! Look for harbor seals on the rocky shores of Governors Island and the more remote Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Learn about the surprisingly diverse winter birds of New York City, including ducks, geese, loons, and sandpipers – many of which migrate south from the Arctic Circle. Dress warmly and bring your binoculars because there will be plenty to see! Departs Pier 17, South Street Seaport. Sunday, February 3, 2:00 –4:00 p.m.

The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter – Ready for summer? Stop by the American Museum of Natural History this weekend to frolic with 500 butterfly specimens in a balmy 80 degree vivarium. Saturday-Sunday, February 2-3, 10:00 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

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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