toxic

Do You Have A CO Detector In Your Home?

By Lina Younes

Recently I was reading the weekly community paper and a front page story caught my attention. “CO detector saves local family.” According to the article, the local fire department station responded to a carbon monoxide (CO) detector going off in the early morning hours. The homeowners were awakened by the CO detector that detected the presence of carbon monoxide in the home. When the firefighters arrived, they found unhealthy levels of the poisonous gas in the home as a result of a broken furnace exhaust pipe which was discharging the exhaust directly into the home. Had the family not had a CO detector, the outcome of this incident would have been very different.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide poisonings often occur as a result of people using generators in closed areas or using gas burning appliances improperly in the home. Using these appliances properly can prevent carbon monoxide poisonings. As we saw in this case, a CO detector quickly indicated unhealthy CO levels early, thus protecting the family.

Why are carbon monoxide detectors important? Well, carbon monoxide is an odorless toxic gas which you can’t see, taste or smell. Exposure to these toxic fumes at low levels can easily be mistaken for flu-like symptoms. Yet, at a higher concentration or a lengthier exposure, CO will be deadly. Detectors will quickly register unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide, thus setting an alarm. It is recommended to place these CO detectors just outside of sleeping areas so that they will alert families even while sleeping and help save them as we saw in this instance.

  • What other steps can you take to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your home?
  • Well, first and foremost, never use generators inside the home or enclosed areas
  • Keep your gas appliances properly adjusted
  • Install and use exhaust fans vented to the outdoors over gas stoves
  • If you are going to burn wood in your home, do so properly.

By taking these simple steps, you’ll have a healthier indoor environment and protect your family. Stay safe.

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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My Secondhand Smoke “Aha” Moment

By Alison Freeman

Did you know that more than half of young children are exposed to secondhand smoke and most of this exposure occurs at home? Now that the weather is warming up, this is a good time to talk with loved ones who smoke about the benefits of taking smoking outside.

My secondhand smoke “aha” moment came a number of years ago at a colleague’s going away party. I picked up my son at his pre-school near work, cautiously entered the restaurant (sniffing for smoke along the way), then dashed my son to the private back room where the event was being held. Relieved there was a door and the air smelled free of smoke, (and giving no thought to ventilation), I foolishly concluded that it was safe for my son to stay. During our drive home, I kissed my son’s head and ruffled his hair and quickly discovered he reeked of cigarette smoke.

There’s good reason for my instinctive reaction I experienced and that I still so clearly recall. There is no risk-free exposure, no safe level of secondhand smoke, and no safe tobacco product, either for the smoker or the nonsmoker exposed. Cigarettes are a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and breathing in even a little smoke can be dangerous, resulting in temporary and sometimes permanent health consequences. We know secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in adults and children who do not smoke.

Choose to smoke outside, until you can quit, and share that message with others you care about or who care for your kids in their homes or cars.

To learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke, visit EPA’s website.

To get help with quitting, visit Smokefree.gov or contact the national quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW.

Lastly, the Surgeon General and CDC websites host a number of helpful consumer publications, posters, and tips.

About the author: Alison Freeman is the secondhand smoke policy specialist in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, which addresses indoor air topics, including smoke-free homes, asthma, mold, radon, Indoor airPLUS and schools.

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 EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Celebrating 25 Years of Community-Right-to-Know

By Kara Koehrn

In 1984, when a deadly cloud of chemical gas killed thousands of people in Bhopal India, a power movement was set in motion. Back then, Americans had little access to information about chemicals in their neighborhood. The spill in Bhopal along with another accident at a sister plant in West Virginia, awakened public interest in knowing more about potential hazards. Communities demanded information about toxic chemicals being released outside facilities, and it was in this environment that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was created by the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act in 1986.

25 years later, my coworkers and I are proud to continue the community-right-to-know tradition with the publication of this year’s TRI data and analysis. The report is called the TRI National Analysis and it can tell you whether toxic chemical releases have increased or decreased nationwide, what chemicals are being released in the Denver area, which industries are releasing the highest amounts in the Los Angeles area, or whether toxic chemical releases have increased in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Take a look!

I am especially excited for this year’s analysis because it includes new features designed to make TRI data more informative and relevant. We have worked with economists to incorporate information on how the economy may be affecting TRI releases, included risks associated with TRI chemicals, more information on what facilities have done to help reduce their chemical releases, and translated even more materials than ever before into Spanish.

We publish the National Analysis every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses on TRI data. Any member of the public can analyze or look up what chemicals are being released in an area. My favorite tool to use for quick information about chemical releases in my zip code is myRTK (myRight-to-Know,) which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.

We have come a long way since 1984, and I hope you take a look at the National Analysis and maybe even try a few of our analysis tools to see what chemicals are being released into your neighborhood. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She recently started a potted vegetable garden at her row house apartment in the city to grow fresh food locally without pesticides.

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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Renewing the American Dream: Healthy Environment for Healthy Communities and Healthy Families

This is cross-posted from The White House Blog

By Al Armendariz

Growing up in the tightly knit community of El Paso, Texas, I was always sure of a few things.

One was that family was of the utmost importance. It’s the kind of place where several generations might live within a few blocks of each other, and someone is always ready to help, scold, or praise you.

The other sure-thing involved the skyline: No matter where I was in El Paso, I could always look up and see the smokestacks of the old Asarco smelter looming. The facility affected the city in more ways than that constant visual presence. It gave many residents, including me, a lasting lesson on how pollution and industrial contamination can affect a community.

For years, El Paso families had suspected chemicals from the copper smelting facility had been contaminating nearby homes. Several studies have confirmed this is the case—toxic contamination from arsenic, lead, cadmium, and other chemicals has been found within a radius well outside the boundaries of the facility. And families who live in this area have suffered because of it. For example, a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry found children living near the facility were much more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to neurological, behavioral, and developmental problems.

Although the smelter closed down in 1999 (after more than 100 years of operation), its legacy of contamination still affects this community.
Since the company declared bankruptcy in 2009, EPA has been working with the state of Texas and local community leaders to determine how best to clean up the toxic pollution so it doesn’t harm more generations of El Paso families. It’s especially meaningful to me to be at EPA while my hometown is in the midst of doing something so significant to improve public health. El Paso has transformed itself from a city dependent on polluting heavy industry to one with a diverse economic foundation in health care, defense, international trade, and education. So the smelter clean-up is not just a big issue for the city of El Paso, it means a lot to EPA as well.

Since becoming the regional administrator for the South Central region of the US, I’ve been a part of many efforts to restore communities that have been affected by toxins and industrial pollution. It’s been one of the most gratifying parts of my career to see communities transforming themselves, including places that are cleaning up from the legacy of toxic industrial pollution, and cities rebuilding themselves after natural disasters.

Seeing first-hand how pollution can harm the soil, water, and air in a family’s backyard is one of my first “environmental memories.” It’s probably one of the things that led me to study chemistry and engineering, and to become dedicated to protecting the environment. So by leading our region’s work with the state and El Paso’s leaders, I get to help resolve an environmental issue that was present in the lives of my families and friends.

Of course, it’s not just in El Paso that EPA is helping keep families safe and healthy. Along the entire border, we’re bringing colonia communities clean, reliable drinking water for the first time, and working with the government of Mexico to reduce air pollution from trucks hauling cargo into the US. I’m proud to be part of an Agency with such a long track record of protecting the health and environment of people along the border.

About the author: Al Armendariz is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator for Region 6(Dallas: serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas)

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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P2 and Sustainability

By David Sarokin

The theme of this year’s Pollution Prevention Week is P2: The Cornerstone of Sustainability.

Is it? Can P2 really take us to a future we can honestly say is more sustainable?

Becoming sustainable is about much more than just environmental improvement. When I was working on Agenda 21 – the sustainable development action plan that grew out of the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – we had the habit of talking about sustainability as a three-legged stool: environmental, economic and social progress, simultaneously, without improvements in one area interfering with progress in the others. I find that old image still aptly sums up what sustainability is about.

P2’s contribution to environmental progress is pretty straightforward. Use fewer material and energy resources and substitute safer chemicals and processes, and there’s less pollution, less toxic exposure, less mess across the board.

But P2 is also about — and has always been about — greater efficiency too, which is a boon to economic sustainability. Another phrase I’ve used innumerable times over the years (well…decades!) is pollution prevention pays, a message still worth repeating. Less waste means more material goes into finished products instead of into the air, water and landfills, resulting in lower costs for production, waste management and environmental compliance. Energy efficiency not only reduces greenhouse gases, but saves oodles of money during manufacture as well during the useful life of our cars, computers and other energy-consuming products. Energy Star led to $18 billion in savings last year (and I suspect that’s a conservative estimate). Commercial estimates have pegged the market in green chemistry at close to $100 billion!

Lastly, P2 builds more sustainable communities in ways both obvious and subtle. This, too, was part of our Agenda 21 focus, as we worked to add tools for community engagement into the sustainability toolbox. There are very few P2 programs that operate with a you-have-to-do-this-or-else mentality. Most of the accomplishments of P2 are built from a cooperative framework with government bureaucrats (and I use that word proudly) working with industry managers, workers on the plant floor, community representatives and environmental organizations to identify concerns, set goals, find at-the-source P2 solutions and monitor progress. The results improve local environmental and economic circumstances, to be sure. But pollution prevention also builds community relations (PDF) that didn’t exist previously, in an air of trust that, over time, becomes self-evidently effective.

This is sustainability at its best. Pollution prevention is at its foundation. The cornerstone, if you will.

About the author: David Sarokin is a proud EPA bureaucrat with a l-o-o-o-n-g history of working in pollution prevention and sustainability, beginning with his 1986 book, Cutting Chemical Wastes.

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.

The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: So What’s In Your Neighborhood?

By Kara Koehrn

Have you ever wondered what’s coming out of that factory stack you pass on the way home, or whether there are chemicals being cover_national_analysis_200released upstream from your favorite fishing spot? If so, maybe I can help you. I work with the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which was designed to help the public answer questions just like these.

Before I came to EPA I knew very little about TRI. However, without realizing it, I had already read about chemical releases in news articles and scientific papers that used numbers from the TRI public database of chemical releases to the environment. I have since learned that TRI is a database with detailed information on over 600 toxic chemicals from over 20,000 U.S. facilities nationwide. You and I have access to information about disposal or other releases of chemicals into the environment as well as information about how facilities manage chemicals through recycling, energy recovery and treatment!

Over the past several months I have been involved in the preparation of the 2009 TRI National Analysis, which is EPA’s annual interpretation of TRI data. I was very excited to work on this project because TRI is such a rich database. It has a seemingly endless number of ways to slice the data and reveal national and local trends of releases to the environment including by chemical, geographic region, parent company, industry sector, etc.

This year I am especially eager for the release of the National Analysis because we have incorporated some exciting new features. It now includes analyses specific to 13 of the most populous urban areas in the country. Would you like to know about toxic chemical releases in the Denver area? What about Miami? How do they compare? The National Analysis also includes analyses for tribal lands and ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. Take a look!

But EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses like these. Any member of the public can look up what chemicals are being released in an area. My favorite tool to use for quick information about chemical releases in my zip code is myRTK, which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases for an area I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.

I hope you take a look at the National Analysis and maybe even try a few of our analysis tools to see what chemicals are being released into your neighborhood. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington DC in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She recently started a potted vegetable garden at her row house apartment in the city to grow fresh food locally without pesticides.

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.

The Rulemaking Gateway: A New Tool to Learn About Our Rules and Watch Their Progress

Before coming to EPA, I taught environmental law at Georgetown for 16 years. As a law professor, I was an avid consumer of information about EPA’s rules, their effects on communities of interest, and their status in the regulatory process. Unfortunately, I often found that it was often hard to find this kind of information at all, and close to impossible to find it all in one place.

This is why I’m so excited about our new Rulemaking Gateway. This is a new web site that makes EPA’s rulemaking process more transparent and easier to follow. It gives you the tools to understand how you can get involved in EPA’s priority rulemakings, how a rulemaking might affect you, and where each rule falls in our rulemaking process. As a former and future professor, I know this tool will be helpful to my students, my fellow academics, and to me. As a citizen, I see that the Gateway will be useful to me, my neighbors, and my community.

I hope you will find that the Gateway helps you to both track and participate in our rulemakings. I currently serve as EPA’s Regulatory Policy Officer, and in this role, I hear from many of our constituent groups. You have told me that you want to know what’s going on with EPA rules early and often. You want to know how you can get involved while the rule is still being drafted. Before I joined EPA, I wanted the same things. I wanted it to be easier to get a brief snapshot of an EPA rule and understand its evolution.

The Gateway does this and more. It gives you the opportunity to learn about a priority rule right from its start. It makes it easier than ever before to get up-to-date information as a rule goes through each phase on its way to being finalized. For example, EPA is working on a rule to investigate the potential hazards associated with lead weights used to balance the wheels on your car. Lead is highly toxic, especially to young children, and recent data shows that even very low levels of lead are associated with decreased intelligence, impaired neurobehavioral development, and behavioral effects. This rulemaking is in its early stages. We started working on it in fall 2009 and aren’t planning to ask for public comment until spring of 2011. Yet the Gateway already projects a date for the proposal; gives a description of how the rule might affect children’s health, environmental justice, small businesses, and sub-national governments; and provides a link where you can learn more about lead in paint, dust, and soil.

The Rulemaking Gateway is a major step forward in response to President Obama’s call to “establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.” I hope you’ll use the Gateway to learn about and get involved in EPA rulemakings. They affect you; they affect everyone. Help us protect human and environmental health by getting involved. And once you’ve experienced our Gateway, visit our Discussion Forum where you can tell us how to make it work even better for you.

About the Author: Lisa Heinzerling is EPA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation (OPEI). She is on a leave of absence from Georgetown Law.

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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