toxic substance control act

Our Environment: Your View

By Jeanethe Falvey

I could not take my eyes off the jar of brown water and the woman’s face outside her home in Licking County Ohio, the scuttled Volkswagen in Jamaica Bay, New York, or the black smoke as discarded automobile batteries burned away in Texas. I had pored over and studied countless environmental case studies of the 1970s before coming to work at EPA. Perhaps that’s what hit me when Documerica came to my attention: I had read, but had never seen what people went through before there were environmental laws in place to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. Imperfect and controversial as any regulations may be, they exist now. Every day they are providing a foundation for a better quality of life for all of us.

Documerica gave us photographs of the environment and primarily the state of American life from 1971-1977. What else the project inspired we may never know, but that decade marked the dawn of a new era. We would never again tolerate poisoned air and water. From 1970 to 1980, the United States Congress passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and Superfund: a small laundry list for a brand new agency. There is no doubt that the awareness both from within our government, but also from the public, supported these monumental steps toward a safer environment. Maybe a few simple photographs helped out. 

As EPA heads through its 41st year of service, what’s your take on the State of the Environment? In this moment in time we’re asking you to capture photographs of your environment: where you live, work or play. From Earth Day 2011 to Earth Day 2012, we’re giving Documerica another go, challenging you to show your view, no matter how big or small.

Up for more? Follow our weekly challenge for a Documerica photo taken near you to get a current “after” photo in the same place.

Submit your photos and stay tuned as we feature weekly photos! Yours could be part of our Earth Day 2012 Exhibit in Washington D.C.

Hope to see you in Flickr-land.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, U.S. EPA Office of External Affairs, Boston, Massachusetts

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.

Just One Word….Plastics

I still remember the brief exchange in the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” The actor Walter Brooke insisted on giving the young Dustin Hoffman one piece of advice: “Plastics….There’s a great future in plastics….” I guess this just shows my age. However, I still recall the time when most of the containers for household detergents and common hygiene products were made of glass instead of the more commonly used plastics that we see nowadays. During the past decades, advances in the petrochemical industry have led to positive uses for plastics in the fields of medicine, construction, automotive, packaging, and many others. The innovative usage of plastics has fundamentally changed our world. Unfortunately, its proliferation has had unintended consequences.

Today, plastics are a constant in our lives. From beverage containers, household items to packaging, plastics are everywhere. Ultimately, many of these items are discarded on a daily basis and they end up as trash in our landfills or oceans. For example, in the year 2007, almost 12.1 percent of the total municipal solid waste in the United States came from 31 million tons of plastics. Since plastics do not easily break down into simpler components, they become virtually everlasting in the environment. Increasing awareness of the situation is just the first step in addressing the problem. Recycling deals with just one area. Technological advances are only part of the solution.

That brings me to another aspect of the preponderance of plastics: their toll on the environment. The adverse effects of plastics are not solely related to the tonnage of plastic debris produced yearly. Moreover, the negative impacts on human health and the environment stem from some of the chemicals added to plastics during the manufacturing process.  Recently, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson outlined the Obama Administration’s principles for reforming the legislation commonly known as TSCA, the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act.  In a recent speech at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, Administrator Lisa P. Jackson spoke of the need to fix the weaknesses in TSCA with a new chemical risk management law. The planets seem to be aligning in the right direction. Important players in government, the private sector, health and environmental organizations all seem to agree that the time for reform is now.

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 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.