Moving Forward for America’s Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

Our nation’s record of progress in advancing public health under the Safe Drinking Water Act is significant.  But too little water in the West, flooding from extreme weather in the Midwest and Southeast, and the recent water quality issues in Flint, Michigan have rightly focused national attention on America’s drinking water.  As a country, we can and must do more to make sure that every American has access to safe drinking water.  EPA is committed to working together with our governmental partners, communities and stakeholders to strengthen the nation’s drinking water systems. That is why, today, we are announcing the next steps in that effort.  Beginning next month, EPA will lead a series of engagements to inform a national action plan on drinking water, to be released by the end of the year.  In addition, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has begun a new study of the science and technology relevant to ensuring the safety of the nation’s drinking water.


With public attention rightly focused on drinking water quality in communities across the country, it’s worth remembering how far we’ve come in providing clean safe drinking water.  Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974 – granting EPA the authority and the funding to take action and affirming the leading role of states and municipalities – more than 40 percent of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the most basic health standards.

Today, over 300 million Americans depend on 152,000 public drinking water systems and collectively drink more than one billion glasses of tap water each day.  Our agency has established standards for more than 90 contaminants, and our compliance data show that more than 90 percent of the nation’s water systems consistently meet those standards.  Clean water is the lifeblood of healthy, vibrant communities and our nation’s economy.  Making sure that all Americans have reliable access to safe drinking water is essential, and a core task for EPA.

Over the years, through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund established by Congress in 1996, $30 billion in low-interest loans have supported infrastructure projects that are delivering drinking water to thousands of communities across the country.  This has supplemented local and state finance of drinking water infrastructure – especially in low-income communities and where public health risk is the highest.

And, relatedly, our Clean Water Rule is a major step forward to protect our nation’s precious water resources, including streams that are the source of drinking water for 117 million Americans – over one third of the country’s population.

We’ve come so far.  But our work is far from done.


The crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought to the forefront the challenges many communities across the country are facing, including from lead pipes that carry their drinking water and uneven publicly-available information around drinking water quality.  At the same time, as new technology advances our detection ability, we’re detecting new contaminants in our water from industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other sources that can pose risks to public health.

And science now shows that climate change – especially the extreme weather and drought impacts it brings – are placing added stress on water resources and creating uncertainty in many regions of the country.

In some areas, pollution threatens upstream sources like rivers and lakes that feed into our drinking water.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans were cut off from drinking water because of a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia and a harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie that impacted the drinking water for Toledo, Ohio.  We need to protect our drinking water sources and the Clean Water Rule is critical to that effort.

Meanwhile, EPA data show that at least $384 billion in improvements will be needed through 2030 to maintain, upgrade and replace thousands of miles of pipe and thousands of treatment plants, storage tanks and water distribution systems that make up our country’s water infrastructure.  And if local and state governments do not lean into these investments and instead defer and delay, rebuilding our water infrastructure will only become more expensive.

Too often, the toughest infrastructure challenges are found in low-income, minority communities – both large and small – where inadequate revenue and investment have left many water systems crumbling from age and neglect, and where citizens lack the resources and timely and accurate information about their water quality to do something about it.

These are big challenges and EPA recognizes that no one can tackle them alone.


That’s why we’re launching a concerted, strategic engagement with key partners and stakeholders – including state, tribal and local governments, drinking water utilities, and public health, environmental and community stakeholders – to develop and implement a national action plan to address the critical drinking water challenges and opportunities before us.

EPA has already intensified our work with state drinking water programs with a priority focus on implementation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, including directing EPA staff to meet with officials from every state to make sure they’re addressing any high lead levels and fully implementing the current rule.

We sent letters to every governor and every state environmental and/or health commissioner of states that implement the Safe Drinking Water Act, urging them to work with EPA on steps to strengthen protections against lead and on a broader set of critical priorities to keep our drinking water safe.  We’re following up with each and every state on actions to increase public health protection, transparency and accountability.

We’re now taking the next step forward.  In the coming weeks, EPA will launch a targeted engagement with key state co-regulators, regulated utilities, and nongovernmental stakeholders on priority issues related to implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The focus of that engagement will include:

  • Advancing Next Generation Safe Drinking Water Act Implementation:  Identify key opportunities and initiate work on critical next steps to strengthen and modernize state and federal implementation of Safe Drinking Water Act regulations and programs, including ways to increase public data transparency and accountability.
  • Addressing Environmental Justice and Equity in Infrastructure Funding:  Identify additional steps federal, state, tribal and local governments, and utilities can take to better ensure that drinking water infrastructure challenges of low-income environmental justice communities and small systems are being appropriately prioritized and addressed, including through increased information, sharing and replicating best practices, and building community capacity.
  • Strengthening Protections against Lead in Drinking Water: Prioritize opportunities to collaborate and make progress on implementing the current Lead and Copper Rule, particularly in environmental justice communities and expand and strengthen opportunities for stakeholder engagement to support the development of a revised rule.
  • Emerging and Unregulated Contaminant Strategies:  Develop and implement improved approaches through which EPA, state, tribal and local governments, utilities and other stakeholders can work together to prioritize and address the challenges posed by emerging and unregulated contaminants such as algal toxins and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

In each of these areas, we will work together with our partners and stakeholders to set a strategic agenda and identify and implement priority, near-term actions we can take in the coming months.  By the end of this year, we will release a summary of our progress and a national action plan for the future.

At the same time, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is beginning a new study of the science and technology relevant to ensuring the Nation’s drinking-water quality.  PCAST will seek input from EPA, other relevant agencies, and a wide range of experts on ideas on investments in new technology and infrastructure to protect drinking water resources, detect pollutants, advance treatment to remove contaminants and pathogens, and develop improved infrastructure for the future.  Following this review, PCAST will recommend actions the federal government can take, in concert with cities and states, to promote application of the best available science and technology to drinking-water safety.  This builds on current efforts by the Administration to draw on the power of existing and breakthrough technology to boost innovation in water supply.

We owe it to our kids today and to future generations to take steps now and develop future actions to ensure that all Americans have affordable access to high-quality water when and where they need it.  We look forward to partnering with the public and stakeholders in the development of this plan.

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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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.


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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Celebrate New England’s National Parks

By Gina Snyder

This is a year of anniversaries for the Boston Harbor and Islands. Twenty-five years ago the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority announced that no more sludge would be dumped into the harbor. After over 100 years of discharges to the harbor, this was a real milestone and it opened the way for the Boston Harbor Islands to become a unit of the National Park System 20 years ago. And just a decade ago, Spectacle Island, reclaimed from a former landfill, was opened for visitors.

While the first National Park was created on March 1st, 1872, it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that we had a National Park Service. What better way to celebrate the first National Park and the 100th anniversary of the Park Service than for New Englanders to visit the island jewels in Boston Harbor and celebrate the environmental milestones at the same time?  Ferries run in summer to some of the 34 islands in the park, including Spectacle Island and George’s Island (www.nps.gov/boha).

Visiting our National Parks is a great way to enjoy nature. As of this year, Massachusetts has sixteen National Park locations DeerIsland.NPservice(www.nps.gov/ma) among twenty-seven national parks plus several national historic sites and scenic trails in all of New England. Ranging from small historic sites to a 2,180-mile long public footpath known as the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, these parks give you a variety of choices for celebrating the centennial.

If it’s a small historic site you want, why not head to JFK’s birthplace in Brookline or Washington’s headquarters at the Longfellow House in Cambridge. And if it’s a wilderness hike in nature, check out one or all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail as it runs through the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains, through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont each have one National Park – Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont. Maine and Rhode Island each have two sites. In Maine – well-known Acadia National Park and Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, home of the earliest French presence in North America. And in Rhode Island, Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence and Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport.

Celebrating our national parks lets us get outside to enjoy the environment. Here in the Boston area, it’s an advantage that you can get to many of our nearby parks by public transit. The three right in Boston are easily accessible: Besides the Harbor Islands, Boston’s National Historic Park is at Faneuil Hall (www.nps.gov/bost) and the Boston African American National Historic Site and meeting house is centered on the north slope of Beacon Hill (www.nps.gov/boaf).

In this year of centennial celebration for the National Park Service you are invited to get out and find your park, ( www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/findyourpark.htm) but with the success of the Boston Harbor clean up, you can get out and find your island.


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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I Walk the Beach in Winter

By Phil Colarusso

Empty, cold, windy, the beach in the winter. I walk down a deserted shore with the waves rumbling next to me. Little evidence of life except for a stray gull or a few eider ducks diving just beyond the surf zone. The wind whips sand particles stinging as they hit my face. Walking into the wind takes some effort.BeachinWinterpicPhil

Geographically, this is a beach I visit often, but it is a very different beach than the one I walked on in the late fall. Winter storms, wind and waves have continued with their eternal reshaping of the landscape. Large sections of sand dunes have eroded in one of the winter storms. The constant wind redistributes clouds of sand along exposed sections of beach. Sand grains collect in clam shells, behind clumps of dune grass or debris, any place that allows relief from the vigorous wind.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen nature’s reshuffling of this beach dozens and dozens of times. As I stroll along the shore, I contemplate the fate of a grain of sand. How many times does a single grain of sand get moved in its life span? How far does it travel in its lifetime? I envision the grain of sand being blown down the beach by the wind and moving in and out on a wave or with the tide. The one constant for a sand grain is motion. The one constant for most beaches is change. With climate change triggering sea level rise and more intense storms, this current rate of change will also change.

It’s time to turn back and as I retrace my steps from the way I came; the wind is now at my back. With the wind at my back, nature doesn’t seem quite as violent.  The waves coming ashore don’t look as big.  A gull floats effortlessly above me on the wind exerting no effort at all, appearing at peace. The deeper message seems pretty clear, we need to work with nature not against it. Are we as a society, sand grains being blown around haphazardly by the wind or are we the sea gull who can adapt and use that same wind to our advantage? In the distance, three wind turbines are visible on the horizon.


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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South Korea and the Heartland Connected by World Wide Water

By Jeffery RobichaudSouth Korea Meeting photo 1

Here in Kansas, we are the EPA Regional Office that is farthest from an international border. But surprisingly, we still get our own share of out-of-town visitors.

In August 2015, scientists from our Drinking Water Program and Environmental Science and Technology Division sat down with five South Korean representatives from Kunsan National University, the National Institute of Environmental Research, the Korea Environment Corporation, and the country’s Ministry of the Environment. Dr. JeJung Lee, who is our partner in the very cool KCWaterBug, helped arrange the visit and assisted with translations where necessary.

South Korea Meeting Photo 2

What was truly fascinating, yet I suppose not altogether surprising, were the issues we talked about. This group of scientists from across the Pacific wanted to learn more about how our Agency protects and regulates groundwater in the United States. They also met with staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the University of Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey. As it turns out, many of the issues they grapple with are, in fact, the same ones we deal with here in the Heartland.

We first talked about nitrate pollution. Here in the United States, nitrate is regulated in drinking water at public water systems, with a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million, which is rarely exceeded.

South Korea has many more private wells in urban areas, while nearly all individuals in metropolitan settings within the United States get their water from regulated public water systems with protected water sources. We learned that sampling at residential homes is difficult for them to accomplish, because homeowners are afraid of losing the ability to use the water or are fearful that they will be required to pay for treatment.

On the remediation (hazardous waste cleanup) side, our visitors were interested in chlorinated solvents and the concerns and risks associated with the vapor intrusion pathway at sites with volatile organic compounds. A specific area of interest was methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that used to be prevalent in the United States, and its associated vapor intrusion concerns and risks.

On this day, EPA did most of the talking. It would have been nice to have had the time to hear more about how South Korea regulates groundwater nationally, South Korea Meeting Photo 3especially private water well use and construction standards, as well as their experiences with water treatment processes and techniques for drinking water and wastewater. Unfortunately, they had a busy schedule and were sprinting over to the University of Kansas to meet with professors, before moving on to Tennessee to meet with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey.

We will just have to wait for another visit. As you can see in the photo, even with the language differences, we managed to share some laughs!

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. Jeff’s journeys across the Pacific have always stopped just halfway across, and he hopes to someday cross the International Dateline and visit friends in the Far East.

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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Go With the Flow—Green Infrastructure in Your Neighborhood

By Chris Kloss

Ten years ago, we didn’t see much green infrastructure for water resources around our neighborhoods. It was more of a novelty than a focused approach to sustainable development and construction. A few cities started using and experimenting with green infrastructure techniques such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, and bioswales which are landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water. The green was a complement to the gray infrastructure, the established system of underground tunnels and sewers. Together, green and gray infrastructure provided a holistic approach to manage stormwater for cleaner water.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects booklet coverAs the word spread about the early successes of these communities, a growing cadre of public works pioneers joined the movement to apply its principles and techniques to managing their water resources. EPA joined in their discussions, providing support to these pioneers through our technical assistance program. Today, EPA is releasing a summary report of the results from this program that we hope leads to even greater growth in green infrastructure.

Tools, Strategies and Lessons Learned from EPA Green Infrastructure Assistance Projects 

Many of the green infrastructure thinking and practices we see today are not new. Gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavement were standard practices for harnessing and managing water hundreds of years ago. They were old-time technology that let water do what it naturally does —seep back into the earth where it can flow back naturally to streams and rivers, replenish groundwater, or be absorbed by plants and trees.

Communities are now relearning these techniques, and green infrastructure is working for communities across the urban spectrum, from smaller cities like Clarksville, Georgia to midsized, midwestern cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and large metropolitan regions like Los Angeles, California.

The summary document outlines how these and other community green infrastructure projects are successful. It also highlights benefits, offering examples for city managers to think creatively about how they can design their communities for better health, abundant water resources and improved quality of life.

We can all be part of better design for our communities. It just takes a different way of looking at things. When I’m out with my kids, I talk about how when it rains the water runs off streets, parking lots and other hard surfaces and flows down the stormwater drains into the sewer systems where it can’t be used for anything else. Now armed with the information, they’re always on the lookout for the missed opportunities in our neighborhood for letting the water go where it wants to, where it can do the most good for the watershed where they live.

I hope this report contributes to a movement where green infrastructure becomes standard practice. Every time we set out to design or build, repair or remodel our water systems let’s remember to think green infrastructure and let water do what it naturally does.

Learn more at www.epa.gov/greeninfrastructure and check out the 2016 Green Infrastructure Webcast Series for in-depth presentations throughout the year.

About the Author: Chris Kloss is Acting Chief of the Municipal Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. The branch oversees the wet-weather permitting programs (stormwater, combined sewer systems, and sanitary sewer systems) and the green infrastructure program. Chris has nearly 20 years of experience in the clean water field including time in the private and nonprofit sectors prior to joining EPA.

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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Protecting Communities through Superfund Enforcement

By Cyndy Mackey

December 2015 marked the 35th Anniversary of the Superfund program, the federal government’s most successful program designed to clean up the nation’s contaminated land and water and respond to environmental emergencies. I oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

The past 35 years have brought significant changes to Superfund through congressional amendments, changes to perspective through reauthorization discussions, and interpretations from the judicial system. Not only has the law changed, but technology has, too.

I am proud to have dedicated my career to cleaning up contaminated sites, and my goal in my current role is to support EPA’s work to find responsible parties and make sure that polluters pay for the cost of cleanups instead the American taxpayers.

For every dollar spent by the Superfund enforcement program, private parties commit to spending eight dollars toward cleanup work leading to restoration of land and water, facilitating reuse and revitalization, and protecting communities. Since the program inception, EPA has secured over $35.1 billion in private party commitments and over $6.9 billion to recover past cleanup costs. EPA has been instrumental in helping to get the responsible parties to pay for cleanup of sites across the country. For example:

  • A 2006 enforcement agreement with General Electric resulted in a $2.7 billion cleanup of contaminated sediment and 300,000 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) being removed from the Hudson River riverbed. The dredging of the Hudson River PCB Superfund Site was completed in October 2015.
  • A 2014 settlement to resolve fraudulent conveyance charges against Anadarko and Kerr-McGee associated with the Tronox bankruptcy means $1.9 billion will go toward cleanup of contaminated Superfund sites across the country.
  • A 2009 agreement required $975 million for the cleanup of contamination at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. This agreement facilitates the cleanup of 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash waste impacting the Emory River and adjacent land.
  • In 2007, EPA collected more than $124 million from Hercules Incorporated to recover costs for the Agency’s cleanup work at the Vertac Chemical and Jackson Landfill Superfund Sites in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

EPA’s Superfund enforcement program is strong and is committed to finding new solutions as we address new sites, industrial processes, and hazardous substances to ensure human health and the environment are protected in communities across the country.

More information about Superfund’s accomplishments over the past 35 years.

About the author: Cyndy Mackey oversee EPA’s Superfund enforcement program, which focuses on cleaning up neighborhoods, ensuring that the polluter pays, and protecting human health and the environment.

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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A Greener 2016

By Lina Younes

Happy New Year! As we begin the new year, we’re looking for a fresh start to a healthier and happier life. How about finding ways to embrace a greener lifestyle for 2016?

Personally, I’ve selected some green resolutions that will help me make better environmentally sound choices for my family, my community and the planet. I think they’re easy to follow now and throughout the year. I’m sharing them with you. What do you think?water

Resolution #1: Save energy.

Saving energy at home, at school, or in the office can start with one simple light bulb. I know I often sound like a broken record trying to convince my youngest to turn off the lights in her room when she leaves. This year I want both of us to make that special effort. This simple action can go a long way to save energy.
Also, at home, we’ve made sure that all our major appliances have the Energy Star label.  Are you planning to to replace an old computer or household appliance this year? You can save energy and money, too, if you choose a new appliance with the label.

Resolution #2: Save water.

We definitely cannot live without water. So, why not do our best to use this precious resource as efficiently as possible? Saving water saves energy and money. This year, I’m making a special effort to take shorter showers and turn off the faucet while I brush my teeth. These simple steps can go a long way.

Do you have a leaky faucet or toilet? Did you know that household leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water every year in the U.S. alone? I’ve had problems with leaky toilets at home and learned from the experience! Don’t let a leak break the bank.  Look for the WaterSense label when buying new water efficient toilets and other plumbing fixtures to save valuable water and money every day.

Resolution #3: Use safer chemicals.

We’ve all heard the expression: “cleanliness is next to godliness.” So, why not look for safer cleaning products to protect ourselves, our family and the environment? Did you know that we have a program that helps us do just that? It’s called SaferChoice. Products with the SaferChoice label have met high EPA standards to ensure that they’re greener to better protect people, pets, workers’ health and the environment. Personally, I seek greener chemicals to help protect my family. I’m glad there will be more products available with the SaferChoice label this year.

Resolution #4: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Make an effort to reduce waste from the outset. Why not use reusable containers at home, at school, and at the office? Reducing disposable packaging and waste saves you money and ultimately protects the environment. Looking for additional tips on how to reduce waste? Here are more suggestions on what you can do every day.

For starters, I’m focusing on waste free lunches. When I prepare lunches for my youngest to take to school or for me to bring to work, I’m avoiding disposable plastic bags. I’m using reusable containers for the food and beverages. Not only am I preventing those bags from ending up in a landfill, but I’m saving money, too.

By the way, don’t forget the other two R’s—reuse and recycle. For additional tips, visit: http://www.epa.gov/recycle.

Resolution #5: Be more active.

While we often include losing weight as a New Year’s resolution, how about aspiring to become more active as the means to a healthier lifestyle? You don’t have to sign up for an expensive gym membership to achieve that goal. It’s much easier and less costly than you think. How about simply walking more often? Take your dog on longer walks. How about visiting your local park?

Personally, I’m taking the stairs more often at work. I also have a new standing desk. So, I’m not as sedentary as in the past. Being more active at work, becoming healthier, and protecting the environment sound like a win-win to me!

So, what green resolutions will you embrace in 2016? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison in EPA’s Office of Web Communications. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several federal and state government agencies over the years.


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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Will Aquaponic Gardening Help Solve Food Insecurity in the Future?

Emily Nusz-thumbnailBy Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread has been proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our final blog in this series is the second one by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

Water is an essential component of life. Without it, we cannot survive. In my previous blog, I discussed my experience building a well for clean drinking water in Africa. Many developing countries are challenged by the lack of access to clean water. In some cases, people have to walk miles each day just to reach a source, which is why my church’s mission team and I wanted to provide a water well to a village in Nairobi, Kenya.

Water is not the only essential component of life to which some communities across the globe lack access. Finding abundant food sources also may be a problem. I have thought over and over again about how we can solve food insecurity, while also being eco-friendly. During my undergraduate career, I researched and built a system that may have the potential for doing just that. In fact, my former agriculture professor travels to Haiti about once a month to teach this simple gardening technique, which can be used to provide communities with a self-sustaining food supply. This system is unique because it can work anywhere, anytime, through any season.

It’s called aquaponics, a budding technique that allows you to grow your own local, healthy food right in your backyard while using 90 percent less water  than traditional gardening. If you are wondering what aquaponics is, you are not alone. The term “aquaponics” is not part of everyday conversation, but soon it may be. I was not introduced to the idea until about a year ago when I began to build a system of my own for academic research.

How It Works


Aquaponic gardening integrates fish and plant growth in a mutual recirculating cycle by combining hydroponics and aquaculture. It is an environmentally friendly way to produce food without harsh chemical fertilizers through a symbiotic relationship. To give you an idea, the fish are able to produce waste that eventually turns into nitrates, which provides essential nutrients for plant growth in a hydroponic environment without any soil. The plants, which are planted in gravel beds, take in the nutrients provided by the fish and help purify the water for the care of the fish. The purified water then flows back to the fish for reuse. Many cultures are able to use this system to not only grow crops, but have a food source of fish as well.

Many types of plants can be grown in the system, such as lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish because they provide extra benefits other fish cannot, such as high levels of ammonia, which is important for maintaining effective system levels.

My Experiment

When I began to build an indoor aquaponic system, my goal was to research if plants and fish could sustain life in an environment lacking nutrients provided by sunlight. The system contained three separate tanks.

Tank 1 was set up as the “breeder tank.” This tank circulated the Aquaponic Research Setup - Emily Nusznutrients from the fish into the tank containing the plants. Many aquaponic systems do not include a breeder tank, but for my research it was included.

Tank 2 was set up as the “fish tank.” This tank contained all of the fish (about 50 tilapia). Tank 3 was set up as the “plant tank.” All of the plants were planted in the gravel of this tank to absorb the nutrients provided by the fish. The purified water then flowed from this tank back into tank 2 for reuse.

The water quality of the continuous cycle was observed and recorded over a 10-week period to determine the production of plant growth and water quality in an indoor aquaponic system. Measurements of water quality were collected, including pH, electroconductivity, total dissolved solids, potassium levels, nitrate levels, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

Although my research did not support sufficient growth of plants in an indoor aquaponic system, it has been found to work indoors using ultraviolet light as a source. Year-round results can also occur by having the system set up in a greenhouse. As long as the system is set up in a controlled environment that mimics nature, fish and plant production will flourish.

The Future

The awareness and potential for aquaponics is beginning to soar. Aquaponics may not be part of everyday conversation yet, but it could make a tremendous change in how we grow our food in the future.

In fact, today EPA tries to incorporate this type of gardening technique to redevelop contaminated Brownfield sites. They work with communities on many of the redevelopment projects to set up urban agriculture practices for food production. There are many benefits to constructing Brownfield sites into agricultural growth areas, especially using the aquaponic system. Urban agriculture has two major benefits for contaminated sites: it binds the contaminants, and it contributes to the growth of local food.

Emily Nusz-thumbnailAbout the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and continues to work part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.


Emily’s First Blog Entry: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/10/providing-clean-water-to-an-african-village-not-a-simple-turn-of-the-tap/

Brownfields: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields

Land Revitalization/Urban Agriculture Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/fs_urban_agriculture.pdf

USDA Aquaponics Information: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/aquaculture-and-soilless-farming/aquaponics

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.