toxic chemicals

Navigating Your Right to Know About Toxic Chemicals

By Sarah Swenson

When I joined EPA six years ago after earning my Master’s degree, I reached a goal I’d had since middle school.  I now worked for the government organization with the most important mission I could think of: protecting human health and the environment. When I started my new job in the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program, it was clear that I’d landed in a unique and important program office at EPA.

TRI should be an important topic for all of us. This program, established by the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, is all about ensuring that people have access to information on industrial use of toxic chemicals. TRI can tell you what chemicals the facility down the street is using, how much is going into the air, water, and land, and what that company is doing to prevent and reduce pollution. And, this information is all in one place!

The program has grown significantly since my arrival.  In 2012, I led a team tasked with redesigning the TRI website. At the time, the site included some useful resources, but lacked logical organization, updated content, and materials tailored to community members. This project was a chance to improve the quality of existing information, create new webpages, and present everything in a clear and understandable way.

Today the website looks very different. The number of resources for concerned citizens and community groups is increasing, as is the amount of content translated into Spanish. Interactive webpages let users explore a TRI facility while learning common TRI terms that will help them understand TRI data. Two tools on the TRI homepage give instant access to facility-level data and factsheets for cities and zip codes, and the “TRI in Action” report gives examples of how the data can be used. A webpage devoted to TRI’s pollution prevention data explains how TRI can help identify which companies are working toward improving their environmental performance.

Although we launched the new TRI website in 2013, we’re still working to make it better, and your comments and suggestions can help! We’re hosting a webinar on June 23 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. EDT to point out some of the newest additions, demonstrate the easiest way to find TRI data for your community, and get your feedback.  We look forward to hearing from you!

About the author: Sarah Swenson is the Communications Coordinator and Web Content Manager for the Toxics Release Inventory 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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How you can help people make safer choices every day

By David DiFiore

How many people can say they really love their job? Lucky for me, I’m one of those people. As part of the Safer Choice Program the work I do helps people make safer choices for their families, pets, and the environment every day.

Safer Choice is our label for safer chemical-based products, like all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, degreasers, and many others.  Each day, consumers, custodians, cleaning staffs, and others use these products, and families, building occupants, and visitors are exposed to them.  The Safer Choice program ensures that labeled products—and every ingredient in them—meet the program’s stringent health and environmental criteria—and perform well, too.

Working in the Safer Choice Program, I have the privilege of seeing the results of our work in many tangible forms in real-time, every day. When I go to the grocery store and see a labeled product on the shelf, I know that the work I do helps protect people, animals and the environment from toxic chemicals.

So how can you help people make safer choices?

Also, if you’re interested in helping people make safer choices across the country, take a look at two new Safer Choice job announcements.  We’re looking to build our team to take on the enormous opportunities in labeling safer personal care products.  Perhaps we’ll get to share the adventure.

Learn more about Safer Choice

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About the Author: David DiFiore has worked for the Safer Choice Program since 1997. Before that, David worked in several other EPA programs, including the New Chemicals Program, where he learned the science and art of identifying and promoting safer chemicals and products.

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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Lead Paint: Doing What’s Right

By Jessica Orquina

The first home I owned was built in the late 1800s. When I had it renovated, the contactors talked to me about what they had to do to protect me and their workers from the hazards of lead paint. I was glad to know that the people working on my home were going to be following proper procedures and building codes. Now, I live in a newer building, but I’m also a new mom. I’m concerned about protecting my son from harmful lead paint chips and dust where he plays and learns.

Reputable builders understand the public benefits from their meeting building code and environmental requirements.  They also know it benefits their business, especially when marketing knowledge, skills and reputation to potential customers.

Since I began working at EPA I’ve learned more about the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule and how it is implemented. This rule is designed to protect children and other vulnerable Americans from the effects of lead paint.

There have always been suspicions about the health hazards caused by lead. It’s now known that lead is a persistent, toxic chemical that builds up in people’s bodies.  Among other problems, it interferes with the development of the nervous system.  That means it’s particularly dangerous to very young children, where it can cause learning and behavioral disorders. As a result, lead was banned from paint in the US in the mid-70s.

For these reasons, the RRP rule requires workers involved with the home renovation business to be trained and certified in work practice standards.  These standards help reduce the health risks from exposure to lead based paint. The rule applies not only to construction workers, but to painters, electricians, plumbers, and anyone else whose work may disturb painted surfaces. Note to do-it-yourselfers: the risks from lead paint dust are just as great in your own work. The rule doesn’t cover you, but you still should follow lead-safe work practices.

My colleagues at EPA work hard to increase compliance with the RRP rule. For example, we provide plain language compliance resources for construction workers and ask people to submit tips and complaints to us. We also work to bring companies, like Lowe’s Home Centers, into compliance after our inspections found their contractors were not using lead-safe work practices.

As a consumer, remember to make sure you’re hiring certified renovators who use the correct work practices. Contractors that are certified under the RRP rule are encouraged to display EPA’s “Lead-Safe” logo on their workers’ uniforms, signs, and website.  Protect yourself by looking for this logo before hiring a home contractor. Whether you’re installing new windows or finishing your basement, using the correct renovating methods will pay dividends to you and your family, and to the next person that rents or buys your house.  If you hire uncertified renovators, it not only creates potential lead paint risks for your family, but reduces the incentive for other renovators to pay the extra cost to comply with the rule. For more information, visit the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program website.

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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Green Choices Are The Right Choices

By Lina Younes

Environmental protection takes hard work. Doing the right thing for your environment and your health involves tough choices. Whether you want to save water, save energy, protect natural resources, reduce toxic chemicals, all these actions involve making a choice between a greener option or a less environmentally friendly option. Let me explain.

The greenest option is not always the easiest. For example, you want to save water? You can’t let the water faucet run without end. You can’t take a shower mindlessly. Want some suggestions for water conservation?  Turn off the tap while shaving or brushing your teeth. Take showers instead of baths and the shorter the better.

Over the years, many of us have gotten used to recycling used bottles and cans. However, reducing waste from the outset involves a greater effort. What can you save today? For example, instead of using disposable plastic bags for saving food, save leftovers in reusable durable containers. Look for products that have less packaging. These are some suggestions on how to make greener choices for the environment.

Want additional suggestions on how you can help protect natural resources like water, air, land, and energy? Please visit our Website.  The choices may seem simple, but there is no doubt that they require a conscious decision if you want to incorporate these actions into your daily lifestyle. Doing so will go a long way to having a healthier environment. What have you done for the environment lately? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

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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Science Wednesday: EPA Teams Up with L’Oréal to Advance Research

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Monica Linnenbrink

Now I can look great and feel good about using my favorite mascara. Why? Because EPA researchers are collaborating with L’Oréal to help end the need for animal testing. EPA is using its ToxCast program to screen chemicals to understand their potential impact on biological processes that may lead to adverse health effects.

EPA’s ToxCast program screens chemicals using state-of-the-art scientific methods (including robots!) to learn how these chemicals affect the human body. We’ve never tested chemicals found in cosmetics before, so this partnership with L’Oréal will expand the types of chemicals that ToxCast screens.

L’Oréal is providing EPA $1.2 million in collaborative research funding plus safety data from a set of representative substances used in cosmetics, which will expand the types of chemical use groups assessed by ToxCast. EPA will then compare its ToxCast results to L’Oréal’s data to determine if ToxCast is appropriate for use in assessing the safety of chemicals used in cosmetics.

Traditional chemical toxicity testing is very expensive and time consuming, so many chemicals in use today have not been thoroughly evaluated for potential toxicity. ToxCast, on the other hand, is able to rapidly screen thousands of chemicals via hundreds of tests and provide results that are relevant to various types of toxicity.

As someone who uses L’Oréal products, I’m excited that they are taking the initiative to better understand how chemicals in their cosmetics might interact with my body’s natural processes. I’m also excited to hear that they are exploring new ways of testing that could end the need for animal testing. Since I use their products on my face, it’s nice to know that L’Oréal is working to ensure their products are safe to use and are working to do this in an animal friendly way.

About the author: Monica Linnenbrink is a Public Affairs Specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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.

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Celebrating 25 Years of Community Right-to-Know

By Bill Finan

In the mid-1980s, I was surprised to hear stories about firefighters being injured and sometimes killed when they entered a fire scene that included chemicals. Those firefighters were brave and wanted to save lives, but they had not been trained to understand chemical hazards.

Just as firefighters often did not know what chemicals were in a burning building, or how the chemicals could harm them, it would have been difficult for the average person to know what toxic chemicals were in their neighborhoods. But after a series of deaths and injuries because of accidental chemical releases, Americans demanded to have information about chemicals in their community. EPA’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the motto, “If you don’t know, you don’t go,” adopted by firefighters in 1986 resulted from that public outcry.

I was part of EPA’s initial implementation of EPCRA. I understood and championed its main goal that would allow average citizens and experts in the community aware of nearby toxic chemicals to analyze how great the chemical risk is and what to do about it. EPCRA provides information about what chemicals are stored, used, and made in your community and what toxic chemicals are being released in your community too. It also helps emergency responders, like police and firefighters, plan for events where there may be life and death decisions based on the information provided by EPCRA.

EPCRA requires the establishment of state and local planning organizations made up of environmental, public health, transportation, and emergency management experts; as well as industry, police and fire departments, elected officials, news media and concerned citizens. Plus facilities must notify to local, state and EPA officials on where and how chemicals are stored and in what quantities, and if there is a chemical accident. Lastly, many facilities must report every year to EPA on releases of close to 600 toxic chemicals. These requirements empower you and your community to make informed decisions to better protect your health and your environment.

Over the last 25 years, I have been proud to continue to work on EPCRA issues and watch it evolve to help raise toxic chemical awareness and improve planning efforts. I believe that EPCRA has made American’s safer from toxic chemical accidents and I look forward to another 25 years of EPCRA.

Learn more about what we have accomplished with EPCRA

About the author: Bill Finan has been working for EPA since 1986 and helped write many of the EPA documents related to EPCRA.

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.

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U.S. and China Extend 32-Year Agreement to Cooperate in Science and Technology

by Suzanne Giannini-Spohn

Last year – the 30th anniversary of the 1980 signing of the first US-China Science &Technology agreement on environmental cooperation – EPA joined China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) in celebrating 30 years of cooperation, and to jumpstart that celebration, this past October Administrator Jackson and her Chinese counterpart signed a renewal of our cooperative agreement.

Over the years, we have achieved many things together, including important advances like addressing the hole in the ozone layer and removing harmful lead from gasoline. As the world’s two largest economies, America and China have a chance address ongoing and emerging national and international environmental challenges. Issues like clean drinking water, healthy air, reduced exposure to toxic chemicals, improved management of electronic waste, and yes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout the years we have worked collaboratively to better understand, manage, and improve air quality which has helped officials in China address regional air quality issues and achieve cleaner air through integration of air quality management approaches into national guidance and upcoming revisions to China’s Air Pollution Control Law. We have also supported China’s adoption of its first series of regulatory guidance, provided direct long-term cleanup field assistance using U.S.-developed technology to reduce dioxins emissions from cement kilns, and helped China implement its first-ever PCB soil remediation project.

US EPA and China MEP have been partners for 30 years, and we are thrilled that our partnership can only grow stronger through the January 19th extension to the US-China Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology. The newly extended agreement will continue decades of cooperation in areas such as agricultural science, high-energy physics, clean energy, and biomedical research.

To learn more, visit

About the Author: Suzanne Giannini-Spohn is China Program Manager in EPA’s Office of International & Tribal Affairs. She has worked with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and other organizations to implement EPA environmental cooperation projects since 2000. In 2008, Suzanne received EPA’s National Honor Award, the James W. Craig Pollution Prevention Leadership Award, for her work on preventing pollution from cement kilns in China.

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.

Go Green on Black Friday

By Lina Younes

Increasingly Black Friday has become the unofficial kickoff of the holiday buying season. As many of you seek good deals at the nation’s stores, have you thought of ensuring that your purchases are environmentally friendly? Here are some green tips that apply to Black Friday or any day of the year.

TOYS

As a parent, we want to ensure that our children’s toys are safe and free of toxic chemicals. We still see occasional reports that popular toys and even children’s toy jewelry may have some toxic content. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has made major strides to ensure the safety of the products we’ll find in stores this holiday season.

ELECTRONICS

Computers, video games, household appliances are popular during the holidays. If you are looking for a green purchase in this area, consider those products with the Energy Star label to save money and protect the environment at the same time. For example, if every home in the US purchased a home office product like a computer with the Energy Star label this year, the nation as a whole would save more than $75 million in annual energy costs and prevent 1 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, equivalent to emissions from 90,000 cars.

RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES

Many toys, electronics, and hand held products require batteries. Rechargeable batteries are a must on any green gift list. The advantage is twofold. Not only will you save on batteries in the long run, but you’ll also minimize waste .

We have additional tips on green shopping.  We would love to hear about your green practices during the holidays.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. 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.