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May is American Wetlands Month: What We’re Doing to Protect America’s Wetlands

By Joel Beauvais

May is American Wetlands Month and a time to celebrate the importance of our nation’s wetlands. Healthy wetlands reduce water pollution, buffer communities from severe and costly impacts from floods, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Our economy also benefits from many recreational opportunities that wetlands offer along with goods that come from wetlands.

Earlier this month, we released the country’s first-ever national assessment of the ecological health of our nation’s wetlands. With support from our state, tribal, and federal partners, we were able to send over 50 field crews to survey 1,138 wetlands across the nation to collect data on plants, soil, water chemistry, and algae.

The report found that about half of our wetlands are in good condition, with 32 percent in poor condition.  Nationally, the top sources of stress for wetlands come from vegetation removal through actions like mowing and forest clearing, soil compaction for paths and roads, and intrusion of non-native plants.

The report’s state-of-the-art, high-quality wetland science has advanced our understanding of these dynamic and extremely important ecosystems that were once actively removed throughout much of the U.S. With new insight, we are in a better position to work with our state partners to more effectively manage, protect, and restore some of those wetlands that have been lost.

It’s exciting to see that others are finding this environmental data useful, too. The Association of State Wetland Managers is using the report’s monitoring methods to evaluate wetland restoration projects in North Carolina and Ohio.  EPA’s Office of Air is using the collected soil carbon data to better estimate carbon sequestration in coastal wetlands and marshes. And, states and tribes are reaching out to us to develop complementary monitoring tools, analytical approaches, and data management technology to further their wetland protection and restoration programs.

The sampling work for the next report is already underway. It will be interesting to see new trends emerge that show that progress we are making to improve the condition of our nations’ wetlands.

EPA is also launching the National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge to encourage graduate students to identify and use the data to address one or more key and innovative questions and hypotheses on water quality, wetland health, or wetland ecology.

In addition to advancing the science, EPA is working with partners to address wetland protection and restoration in the U.S. Some of the ways include:

  • Overseeing dredge and fill permit decisions to ensure permits are based on science and policy, as well as developing tools for improving the management of aquatic resource protections.
  • Working with states and tribes directly and through the Association of State Wetland Mangers to bolster the ability of states and tribes to manage, regulate and protect wetlands within their state and tribal lands.
  • Working with other federal agencies on national programs to map, assess, manage and restore wetland resources on federal lands and to help private landowners be informed stewards of their wetland resources.
  • Continuing to lead the Interagency Coastal Wetlands Workgroup on new tools, strategies, and information for protecting and restoring wetlands in coastal watersheds.

I hope you all take some time during American Wetlands Month to read our assessment and then get out to experience a wetland first-hand.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Thinking About What’s Under Our Feet

by Valerie Breznicky

They’re out of sight, often out of mind, and increasingly, out of time.

In many cases, the drinking water and sewer lines that run beneath us have aged beyond their useful life.  And when these lines crack and leak, serious public health issues can occur from contaminants entering our drinking water systems, as well as raw sewage infiltrating ground water and surface water supplies.

Just days ago, we marked National Infrastructure Week.  It was an opportunity to highlight the value that well-maintained infrastructure can bring to our economy, our jobs and public health and safety.  It was also a chance to share information on how specific gaps in our infrastructure matter to all of us – from lost water to sewer overflows.

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Fortunately in our office, we manage the region’s EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), working with our states to finance fixes for some of those leaky and creaky lines.

Here are just a few examples:

With a $784,576 loan from the CWSRF in the State of Delaware this year, Cape Henlopen State Park will be able to use Cured-in-Place Pipe Relining to fix cracked sewer lines.

West Providence Township in Everett, Pennsylvania, is using a $5 million CWSRF loan to replace 35,000 linear feet of existing terra cotta sewer pipe (which has cracked and disconnected), replacing it with new Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) collection lines.  This will prevent high flows to the treatment plant which has caused overflow of diluted sewage during wet weather events.

By using $34,000 in DWSRF grant money in Virginia, the Virginia Rural Water Association was able to purchase leak detection equipment to aid small water authorities in locating physical leaks in drinking water distribution lines, saving the communities money and precious clean water.

As our drinking water and wastewater pipelines increasingly show their wear, investing in the next generation of infrastructure makes sense, not only from a public health perspective, but from an economic standpoint as well.  While there is a cost to making these investments, we need to me mindful that access to clean, safe water is essential to all of us, and investing in clean water today will save us all money over the long run.

 

About the Author: Valerie is an EPA environmental scientist and one of the Region III Sustainable Infrastructure (SI) Coordinators.  She has more than 31 years of experience managing infrastructure grants and has spent over seven years as an SI Coordinator, ensuring the sustainability of our water and wastewater infrastructure through information sharing and the integration of SI principles in all state 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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When Buildings Compete, We All Win

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

On average, Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. So the buildings where we work, learn, and shop have an important role to play in our wellbeing. At the same time, buildings also contribute to the health of our surrounding environment. In 2015, about 40% of total U.S. energy consumption was consumed in residential and commercial buildings. And commercial buildings are responsible for nearly 20% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Improving energy efficiency has proven to be one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways for businesses and organizations to save money, create jobs, and improve employee wellbeing. Plus, facility improvement measures can actually improve employee productivity by creating more comfortable spaces for people to work.

Since 2010, EPA has run the ENERGY STAR® Battle of the Buildings, which enlists interested building owners from across the country to compete in saving energy and water.

Last year, 143 teams – made up of at least five buildings each – along with thousands of individual buildings signed onto the challenge, setting out to slim down their energy and water “wastelines” by making behavioral changes, upgrading inefficient equipment, and optimizing mechanical systems.

The 2015 results are in. All told, last year’s Battle of the Buildings competitors achieved impressive savings, to say the least. More than 60 buildings cut energy use by 20 percent and 40 buildings cut water use by 20 percent or more in just 12 months.

Seven people stand in front of an industrial facility with the Texas A&M logo

Pictured: The Texas A&M University – ESCO Project’s energy management team

GOLD FOR ENERGY: Texas A&M University – ESCO Project,in College Station, improved energy efficiency by 35 percent and saved nearly $550,000 across their six competing buildings. All told, they prevented more than 1,700 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the emissions from the annual energy used by more than 150 homes. The team completed a full lighting retrofit, updated the building automation system, and installed occupancy sensors and a pump variable frequency drive. They maximized savings related to heating and cooling by connecting lighting occupancy sensors to an automation system that controls the HVAC system. They also appointed a full-time team to work closely with students and faculty to ensure comfort while conserving energy.

A large group of standing people.

Pictured: The coaches at Southface Energy Institute who helped Team Boys & Girls Clubs All Stars save energy

GOLD FOR WATER: Team Boys & Girls Clubs All Stars cut water use by more than 50 percent across their 12 competing buildings in seven different states, with help from their “coaches” at the Southface Energy Institute. The biggest savings opportunities came from eliminating water leaks, upgrading plumbing fixtures, securing faucets, and replacing toilets and urinals with low-flow equipment. The Boys & Girls Clubs also switched from potable water to rainwater for some of their educational projects. Today, the building features a new rainwater harvesting system that collects water from the roof of the facility for use in the garden. Savings from reduced water costs have allowed the Boys & Girls Club to allocate more resources toward hiring staff, purchasing program supplies, and fulfilling its mission: “Enabling all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Check out the full list of winners and a wrap-up report with advice and best practices on the competition web page.

Do you have what it takes to join the Battle of the Buildings?

This year, the competition will return as the 2016 ENERGY STAR BOOTCAMP – a 90-day competition to reduce energy and water use in our nation’s buildings. Register to participate in the 2016 ENERGY STAR BOOTCAMP now through July 17, 2016.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Learn, Explore and Take Action During American Wetlands Month!

By Cynthia Cassel

May marks the 26th anniversary of American Wetlands Month, a time when EPA and our wetland partners across the country celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to our ecological, economic, and social health. EPA and a host of other public and private partners planned a number of events as part of this year’s celebration. Here are a few highlights:

Migratory Bird Day

water and birdsOn May 14, International Migratory Bird Day celebrated its 24th anniversary with events hosted at hundreds of sites throughout the Western Hemisphere, reaching hundreds of thousands of youth and adults.

As part of the 24th anniversary celebrations, the theme “Spread Your Wings for Bird Conservation” highlighted the importance of international efforts to conserve birds through the RAMSAR Convention, which protects wetlands on a global level and the many ways we, as citizens, can take action to ensure that these protections remain in place. Wetlands serve as important bird habitats for breeding, nesting, feeding and other needs.

One of these lovely spring weekends here in the Heartland, pack up the kids and take a short driving trip to Cheyenne Bottoms in Stafford County, Kan., or Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Reno County, Kan., to actually view, enjoy and learn about these winged wonders in our very own Wetlands of National Importance.

Wetlands Trivia

Hardwood SwampsTo celebrate American Wetlands Month, the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) is posting Wetland Trivia to its Facebook page Monday-Friday throughout May. Fun little tidbits include trivia quizzes, interesting and unusual facts about wetlands, wetland photo quizzes, and great ideas for ways you can celebrate American Wetlands Month at work and at home. To join the fun, visit the ASWM Facebook page.

And for a real adventure in wonderment, please explore these very special wetlands:

Nebraska Sandhills Wetlands

The Sandhills of Nebraska are contiguous sand dunes that cover just over one quarter of the state. The area lies above the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from South Dakota to Texas. The freshwater wetlands of the Sandhills are vital for collecting rainwater, snowmelt and runoff that recharges the aquifer, and they also provide vital habitat for countless waterfowl and shorebirds, including endangered Whooping Cranes.

Flowering plants in Iowa wetlandThis wetland system ranges from small shallow marshes to large deep lakes, and from forests to prairie to aquatic vegetation.

Alkaline (or saline) lakes form in basins where there is little rain. Flowing water dissolves minerals (salts) from the rocks and soil, and this salt-laden runoff collects low in the basin, forming a lake. Water in the lake evaporates, but the salts stay behind. Over time, the salts build up and create an alkaline lake. Salt flats and lakes are unique in that little vegetation grows there, yet these wetlands are a popular stopover for many migratory birds.

For More Information

About the Author: Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 6½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

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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Celebrate Those Hidden Pipes and Forgotten Facilities

By Gina Snyder

I’ve never met a group of more hard-working, humble, dedicated professionals than the people I meet from water and wastewater treatment facilities. “Infrastructure Week,” the third week in May, provides an opportunity to celebrate the work they do and the critical services they provide. We make use of our roads, faucets, bridges and bathrooms every day of our life, but how often do we think about infrastructure, this vast array of assets that constantly need our attention.Infrastructure2

Well, a group of dozens of businesses, utilities and other organizations who got together to create Infrastructure Week hope to change that. They hope all of us will start paying attention to these assets and giving them the credit, funding and care they are due. This year’s theme for the week is “Infrastructure Matters.”

And it does! Infrastructure matters, in big ways and small — to our country, our economy, our quality of life, our safety, and our communities. Roads, bridges, rails, ports, pipes, the power grid, all of it matters immensely. As the infrastructure week website points out, it matters “to the goods we ship and the companies that make and sell them; it matters to our daily commutes and our summer vacations; to drinking water from our faucets, to the lights in our homes, and ultimately to every aspect of our daily lives.”

Important as infrastructure is, much of it is hidden. All the underground pipes have been working for us for decades, under cover. These pipes bring water and gas to our homes, and take waste away.

Unfortunately, these important assets get low scores for the poor condition much of them are in.

When construction season begins it may seem we are tackling the problem. Several years ago, my street was dug up and my home was hooked up to a plastic pipe running up my driveway as my town replaced the water line. Now, this spring, the gas company is replacing the gas line in the street.

But all the disruption you see goes only a small way toward closing what’s reported to be a $1 trillion infrastructure investment gap in the U.S.

Perhaps because rain falls freely from the sky, we think water is “free”. But, treating and delivering water is far from free. The same is true for the pipes that carry away wastewater.

Since our water infrastructure is out of sight and out of mind, it is easy to underestimate costs. As one of the largest assets of our cities and towns, water infrastructure deserves more attention than it typically gets.

Our local communities pay most of the cost of water infrastructure, mainly through revenues generated by water rates. These fees will continue to be the primary source of revenue for most community water systems. It is important that we pay the rates that recover the costs to make this service sustainable.

You can help bring this important topic the attention it deserves. For Infrastructure Week, talk about these challenges – and increase awareness of just how valuable our water infrastructure is.

Infrastructrure1Ask your public officials to consider alternative solutions – particularly with the heavy rain storms we can expect with climate change, ask them to use green infrastructure approaches when it’s time to fix the storm drains.

Encourage public officials also to consider smart growth when development comes to town. This means building in places and ways that minimize demands on our water and wastewater systems. Sprawl and poorly planned growth can result in more pipes and plants that are harder and more expensive to maintain. Growing “smartly” can put your community’s infrastructure on a more sustainable footing.

You can also help by protecting your water source, which will also protect public health and reduce treatment needs. The quality of the water that provides your drinking water can be threatened by everyday activities and land uses. Make sure your cars do not leak oil and avoid using chemicals on your lawn.

During Infrastructure Week, remember to appreciate the clean water we all enjoy.

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More information from EPA about Sustainable Water Infrastructure https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-water-infrastructure

About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee.

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’s Rock Creek?

By Mary Schollhamer

A hidden gem in Washington, DC is Rock Creek Park. Less than a mile from my home, Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre oasis, whose meadows and forest are home to coyotes, deer, foxes, raccoons, beavers, hawks, and – our newest residents – bald eagles.

Rock Creek Park is also home to the Rock Creek waterway, a tributary of the Potomac River. This is my dog’s favorite part of DC, as we rarely miss a weekend to play fetch in the creek. With the amount of time spent in the water, I often wonder: How safe is Rock Creek?

EPA’s tool, “How’s My Waterway?,” answers my question in just a few clicks, but the answer appears to be more cause for concern. Rock Creek was assessed in 2012 and failed water quality standards. It has flow issues, populated with bacteria and other microbes, degraded aquatic life, excess sediment, mercury, metals, PCBs, and toxic organic chemicals. For each of these pollution categories, “How’s My Waterway?”, offers links to technical reports – as well as plain language – and information about what I can do to help.

While Rock Creek’s current prognosis isn’t very good, EPA is taking steps to change that. You can use the How’s My Waterway? tool to find out many of the activities EPA takes to improve water quality in Rock Creek, like cleanup plans for mercury, metals, and bacteria and other microbes. Polluted runoff control projects, fish habitat partnerships, and community grants are also listed. The tool also gives a who/what/where/when for discharged pollutants, along with information on how to contact your state water quality program. Through transparent information about pollution and water quality, every citizen is empowered to get involved in the health of their waterway.

So, how’s Rock Creek? Not great, but it’s getting better. How’s your waterway?

About the author:  Mary Schollhamer is the Acting Deputy Director of Communications in the Office of Water. She holds a Master’s Degree in English with a focus on ecofeminism from Stony Brook University and loves dogs.

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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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To the Tide Pool, Following Literary Footsteps

By Phil Colarusso

I recently had the good fortune of visiting Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Before the sun was fully up, I journeyed from my hotel to look through some tide pools.Tidepool

Tide pools in the Pacific Ocean are very different from our pools in the Northeast. The western pools are dominated by colorful sea anemones and large sea stars. These are the tide pools that inspired Ed Ricketts, the real life marine biologist who became the Doc Ricketts character in John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. Ricketts wrote the definitive book on West Coast intertidal organisms, called Between Pacific Tides.

For many budding marine biologists, Doc Ricketts was the quintessential marine biologist. His office was a laboratory with a multitude of fish tanks hosting all manners of creatures. His schedule was dictated by the tides, not by the clock. He was a man, who felt most comfortable in hip boots with a net in one hand and collecting jars in the other. He had an unusually keen sense of environmental issues for his time – the 1940s – railing against overfishing in the book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, which he and John Steinbeck co-wrote.tidepool2

Like Ricketts, I have spent many happy hours flipping rocks in tide pools. I don’t know if Ricketts believed that the answers to many of life’s mysteries could be found in a tide pool, but I suspect that he did. My favorite passage from The Log of the Sea of Cortez reflects Ricketts understanding of the interconnectedness of all things:

And if we seem a small factor in a huge pattern, nevertheless it is of relative importance. We take a tiny colony of soft corals from a rock in a little water world. And that isn’t terribly important to the tide pool. Fifty miles away the … shrimp boats are dredging with overlapping scoops, bringing up tons of shrimps, rapidly destroying the species so that it may never come back, and with the species destroying the ecological balance of the whole region.  That isn’t very important in the world. And thousands of miles away the great bombs are falling and the stars are not moved thereby. None of it is important or all of it is.

As I look into tide pools today, the reflection back is no longer a young marine biologist, but a kindred spirit of Ed Ricketts, who understands and appreciates the interconnectedness of life.

 

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver.

 

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 Can Be Even Healthier using Green Products

The welcome return of spring sunshine makes me think of one thing – grimy, winter-weary windows. And then there’s the fridge, the baseboards, the carpets, the bathroom grout, the kitchen cabinets. All these little spots we ignored all winter are now ready for a thorough scrub. No wonder nearly 75 percent of Americans like to do a good spring cleaning.

Good thing you can use the EPA Safer Choice label to help you find cleaning and other household products that are made with ingredients that are safer for people and the environment.

Healthy Choices

That’s a great assurance, considering household cleaning products are one source of indoor air pollution, which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Products with safer ingredients improve indoor air quality and can lower the risk of health hazards, including respiratory conditions like asthma; allergic reactions, which can cause skin rashes, hives or headaches; and a variety of other conditions. Children and older people, in particular, are more susceptible to risks — so they’re better off in spaces cleaned with safer products and wearing clothes cleaned with a laundry detergent that uses safer solvents and surfactants.  And what about parents and those who regularly clean and do the wash, coming in close contact with cleaners and detergents? Safer is certainly better for them. Safer Choice recognizes that everyday cleaning products make a big difference to your family’s well-being.

Cleaners also affect the quality of our local streams, rivers and lakes. When Safer Choice products get rinsed down the drain and make their way into the watershed, they are less toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That’s good news for New England’s iconic waterways, whether it’s Lake Champlain, the Charles River or Long Island Sound… or the ponds, streams and wetlands found throughout New England.

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Here’s something that may surprise you. Unlike food producers, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. But to display the Safer Choice label, manufacturers must list all of their product’s ingredients either on the product or on an easy-access website.

Safer Choice is the first federal label for cleaning products and it is proving incredibly popular. More than 2,000 products have already earned the right to carry the logo. They’re available in local grocery stores and hardware stores, and include cleaners for use at home, offices, schools, hotels and sports venues.

The agency’s website (https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice) lists all the products that proudly carry the Safer Choice label. We also offer interactive tools to find the best cleaning products for your home and for businesses like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues. And my personal favorite – cleaners for those grimy windows.

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA Region 1 (New England Region)

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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Water for Emergencies: Bigger Solutions than Bottled Water

By Lauren Wisniewski

It is easy to take our drinking water and wastewater services for granted.  Most, if not all, of us have lost electricity in our homes, but I can recall only one time when I turned on my faucet and I had no tap water. That time was in November 2010, just a day after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my twin daughters.

I panicked. I sent my husband down to the basement to get our emergency supply of bottled water, which I bought soon after I started working on water infrastructure resilience and emergency preparedness. Those bottles were long expired. I was ready to send him to the store to buy bottled water (which may not be an option in a wide-scale event). Thankfully, my sister quickly determined that our outage was due to water main repairs on our street and the county utility workers soon had our water working again.

Though our water outage was brief, it highlighted the importance of preparedness both at the personal and utility level. In our home, my family now stores an ample emergency  supply water in our basement as part of our emergency supplies, and I make sure to replace it before it expires. In our community, I know that my county is prepared for power outages, too. It has stand-by emergency generators or transfer switches to connect readily to a portable generator at its water pumping stations and has enough fuel to power its generators for several days. To find out more about building power resilience at your water utility, check out the Power Resilience Guide for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities, which provides tips, case studies, and short videos to help ensure your vital water services continue even during power outages.

The last few years, I have combined my passion for emergency preparedness and knowledge of water utilities to focus on increasing power resilience at drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country.  Check out EPA’s Power to Keep Water Moving video that highlights the importance of power resilience at water utilities.

About the author: Lauren Wisniewski has worked as an environmental engineer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Water, since 2002.  Her efforts have been directed towards power resilience at water utilities, Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection, Climate Ready Water Utilities, Active and Effective Security, Water Quality Standards, and watershed modeling.  Her work involves coordination between drinking water and wastewater utilities and state, local, and federal agencies.  Lauren has a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE), summa cum laude, in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from George Washington 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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