What you can do

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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Mapping the Path to Protection

by Megan Keegan and Catherine Magliocchetti

DWMAPS screen shot of Philadelphia area, depicting crude oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, natural gas, and petroleum product pipelines; overlayed against a backdrop of drinking water sources.

DWMAPS screen shot of Philadelphia area, depicting crude oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, natural gas, and petroleum product pipelines; overlaid against a backdrop of drinking water sources.

In our work, we use geographic information systems (more commonly known as GIS) to create maps that help us make timely decisions and efficiently target resources for protecting the Region’s waterways.

However, GIS technologies can be time-consuming and cumbersome to learn, and for many environmental organizations GIS mapping has become a language all its own. And as with a language, if you don’t use it, you lose it because it’s difficult to remain fluent without using it on a regular basis.

Now there is an alternative that doesn’t require special software or on-going training. EPA’s new tool, the Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Source Waters (DWMAPS) harnesses the mapping power of GIS programs in a user-friendly interface, right in your internet browser!  DWMAPs equips local watershed groups, water utilities, state and federal regulators, and others with a wider variety of water resource datasets. For a better understanding of drinking water resources, users can easily navigate their way to answering all kinds of questions about public water systems, potential sources of contamination, or how to get involved in local drinking water protection efforts.

EPA will use this tool to better protect sources of drinking water by working with states, basin commissions, and collaborative partnerships, such as the River Alert Information Network (RAIN). The Network has high hopes for use of DWMAPS in the future.  RAIN’s program coordinator, Bryce Aaronson, recently told us that “ the ability to shift through the diverse layers detailing watersheds, water sources, and the great litany of possible points of contamination complements the growing early warning spill detection system that RAIN and our water utility partners use to protect the region’s source water.”

Find more information, including a complete user’s guide, on the DWMAPS website. And keep an eye out for instructional videos, webinars, and more from EPA. In the meantime, give DWMAPS a try to learn more about the source of your drinking water and to find water protection groups in your area.

About the authors: Meg Keegan and Cathy Magliocchetti work with diverse drinking water partnerships in the Source Water Protection program. Outside of work, Meg loves to scuba dive tropical locales and Cathy enjoys skiing.

 

 

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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Be a Leak Detective for Fix a Leak Week

by Kimberly Scharl

2016 Fix a leak weekDid you know that easy-to-fix water leaks account for more than 1 trillion gallons of water wasted each year in US homes?  And every year, the average household leaks more than enough water to fill a school bus. These leaks not only waste a precious resource, but they could also be costing you an extra 10% on your water bill each month.

Good news! Fixing these leaks can be easy and inexpensive.  EPA’s WaterSense program encourages everyone to be a leak detective and “chase down” plumbing leaks during the 8th annual Fix a Leak Week. Start by gathering clues that will help you detect leaks in your home:

  • Check your utility bill – Look at your bill from January or February.  If a family of four exceeds water use of 12,000 gallons during a winter month, it’s likely there is a leak.  You can also examine your water bill for unexplained spikes from month to month.
  • Read your water meter – Find your water meter and remove the lid.  Take a reading during a period no water is being used, then take another reading in 2 hours.  If the second reading is not the same as the first, you probably have a leak.
  • Take a toilet test – Put a few drops of food coloring into the toilet tank and let it sit for 10 minutes.  If color shows up in the bowl, you have a leak that can probably be repaired with a new toilet flapper.  Make sure to flush after the test to avoid staining.

A good leak detective knows that leaks can be hiding in other places, too. Here are a few places you might want to investigate:

  • In the bathtub – Turn on the tub and divert the water to the showerhead.  If there is still a lot of water coming from the tub, your tub spout diverter may need to be replaced.
  • Under the sink – Check for pooling water under pipes and rust around joints.
  • Around the water heater – Check beneath the tank for pooling water, rust, or other signs of leakage. 
  • At the hose outside – If there are stray sprays, check the hose connection to the spigot, or try replacing the hose washer.

When replacing fixtures, remember to look for the WaterSense label.  WaterSense labeled products are independently certified to use at least 20 percent less water and perform as well or better than standard models.

Celebrate Fix a Leak Week by chasing down leaks in your own home. Leak detectives can tweet out the news of leak repairs using #Ifixleaks.

 

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to the mid-Atlantic region from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the regional liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

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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Management of Much Maligned, Often Misunderstood Bats

By Marcia Anderson

During summer evenings in Maine, I often sit outside and watch the bats flying to and fro, devouring insects near the edge of a lake. Bats have a reputation for being spooky or even dangerous, but they are some of the most beneficial animals to people. Bats are misunderstood and needlessly feared. Bats actually do humans a great service, as each one can consume hundreds of crop-destroying insects and other pests every night.

Bats do not encounter people by choice and very few bats consume blood. Of the more than 1,100 bat species worldwide, only three feed on blood and none of those live in the United States.

New England is home to many species of bats including the big brown, little brown, red, hoary, batatnightEastern small-footed myotis, and Indiana bat. A single little brown bat can eat 3,000 mosquito-sized insects a night. Most North American bats have small teeth for eating insects including corn earworms, cucumber beetles, leafhoppers, stink bugs, mosquitoes, moths, termites, ants and cockroaches.

Bats are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems and economies, yet their populations are declining worldwide from habitat loss and disease. Some bats are primary pollinators for fruits and other produce and help disperse seeds of plants that restore forests. Bats prefer roosting near open bodies of water, parks and fields where they can catch the most insects during their nighttime forays.

During the day, bats prefer to roost in tight crevices such as cracks in rocks, and in awnings of buildings where they are protected from predators. They may also roost in attics, soffits, louvers, chimneys and porches; under siding, eaves, roof tiles or shingles; and behind shutters. Still, bats need to be treated with respect and care if they enter a house. Usually they enter through an open door or window, but can fit through openings as small as one-half inch in diameter. Without doubt, the bat’s primary goal is to escape back outside.

If you encounter a bat, don’t panic. Bats are rarely aggressive, even if they’re being chased, but they bats in cagemay bite in self-defense if handled. It is true that bats can carry rabies and should never be touched with bare hands.

If bats begin to roost in your attic or somewhere you don’t want them, your best bet to solve this problem is with is integrated pest management. First, do not simply wait for bats to fly out at night. Not all bats leave the roost at the same time and some may stay inside for the night, especially the young. To properly seal holes, you can use caulking, flashing, screening or heavy-duty mesh. Ask a professional the best way to evict the roosting bats. Often the answer is a one-way door. In any event, get rid of your bats before mid-May or after mid-September to avoid trapping young.

Every state has unique laws related to bat protection, and it may be illegal for anyone, including animal control officers and exterminators, to kill certain bat species. No pesticides are licensed for use against bats and it is a violation of federal law to use a pesticide in a way not described on the label.

When you decide to get rid of bats you should provide a near-by shelter, such as a bat house. Install the bat house a few weeks before you eliminate their indoor roost, to allow the bats time to find the new shelter. Trees are generally not good places for bat houses since they are accessible to bat predators like raccoons and cats. However, if you do use a tree, add a metal protector guard. A pole mount in a garden or field is the preferred bat house location.

Community bat houses can be educational. Families, like ours, can sit outside at sunset and watch the bats on their nightly fly-out. It seems that there really were fewer mosquitoes this past summer, perhaps because of the presence of more bats.

More information on bats from the Smithsonian Institution (http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmnh/batfacts.htm)

More information on Integrated Pest Management: http://www.epa.gov/managing-pests-schools/introduction-integrated-pest-management

More information on Safe methods of pest control: http://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol

Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine.

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.

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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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Making a Visible Difference through Citizen Science

By Laura Stewart

About the author: Laura Stewart is an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the EPA Region 10 office.

My first citizen science project was in 1999; working on a United Nations-funded project in Swaziland. In a poor community near a paper mill, we worked to address environmental and local health concerns due to the plant’s emissions. As a result of the youth-led project, the factory extended the height of its smoke stakes to disperse the emissions, which improved air quality. Seeing this interplay between environmental science and social justice changed my life.

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland "bucket brigade."

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland “bucket brigade.”

Today, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, growing to an estimated 9 million jobs by 2022.

Despite this projected growth, diversity in these fields is decreasing. Since 1991, 12 percent fewer women are earning computer science degrees. According to a National Science Foundation report, 8 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans earned bachelors degrees in engineering, and currently people of color make up less than 20 percent of staff in the nation’s environmental organizations.

I believe these trends are creating the potential for a fundamental problem in trying to solve environmental and health challenges – how can we make a visible difference in low-income and minority communities when people from those communities are not taking part in STEM? I believe using citizen science at the community level provides a great answer to this problem.

Citizen science is the involvement of regular people in the discovery of scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists come from all walks of life, harnessing the power of information towards a common goal.

Here at EPA, I’m working on a community-based research project testing the beta version of a new EPA resource, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). C-FERST is a web-based environmental information and mapping tool that EPA researchers are developing where communities can identify, understand, and address local-scale sources of environmental exposure, thus becoming a part of the expanding pool of citizen scientists:

  • In Tacoma, Washington we used C-FERST with local government, a nonprofit organization, and a local college to look into food access, houselessness and infant mortality.
  • At Portland Community College, students assessed disproportionate impact, environmental justice concerns and air quality.
  • At Concordia University, social work students used the tool to interpret the real-life implications of environmental data for an upcoming project that focuses on creating safer, healthier, and more educated communities.
  • At Groundwork Portland, youth in a summer employment program used the tool for a livability study. By using C-FERST information about brownfields and air quality, students were able to inform their field research and advocate for equitable development practices in one of their city’s urban growth corridors.
  • In Seattle, we partnered with Antioch University to train their Masters of Urban Environmental Education graduates to use C-FERST to develop culturally-responsive curricula. As part of a STEM summer program at Garfield High School in Seattle, C-FERST was used to teach high school and middle school children of color about environmental justice issues including food justice, urban blight, and transit access. Students learned to conduct a community assessment, create and upload GIS map layers, and envision interim uses for vacant properties in their community.

Citizen Scientiest Groundwork Portland

I believe citizen science dares us to recognize how power imbalances affect the unique experiences of communities and people’s abilities to positively change their communities. Citizen science gives us the opportunity to return that power back into the hands of communities, potentially changing lives, not just the immediate results from science projects, but engaging members of these communities in the long term power of STEM disciplines and what they can bring to their communities.

What is your community doing to make a visible difference through citizen science?

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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Calling All Planners

by Megan Goold

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

To me, a new year means it’s time to start planning: vacations, doctor’s appointments, summer camps, career development plans…the list goes on and on.   Some planning is easy and exciting, and more welcomed than others. For example, I’d rather plan a vacation than a root canal.

However, it’s the difficult issues that tend to need the most planning, the most preparation, and involve the most information. So, as you can imagine, an issue as complex as climate change requires planning and preparation across the board. How will a changing climate impact our town? Our roads? Our electricity? How will it impact my school? My health? My safety?

Understanding our vulnerability to increased risk from flooding, more frequent extreme weather events, and other climate change impacts is the first step in being prepared for these changes.  On April 4-6, Antioch University and EPA are co-hosting a conference in Baltimore which is designed to build capacity for local decision-makers to take action on climate change in the face of uncertainty.  The conference will include sessions on constructing resilient buildings, conducting vulnerability assessment for flooding and extreme heat, planning for the needs of at-risk communities, and much more.

In addition, a workshop will be held on the third day of the conference to bring together students and educators to focus on the question – how can we build community resilience through education?

As you are starting to plan your 2016, put this one on the calendar. It’s a must for local decision-makers, governments, students, and small businesses alike! While planning for a changing climate is not the easiest of tasks, it’s a necessary one.

Check out EPA’s website for more about climate change impacts on water quality and quantity, and learn more about the Local Solutions: Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference on the conference website.

 

About the author: Megan Goold is the Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 office, where she manages a network of climate change professionals, and has recently launched a Climate Literacy initiative.

 

 

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 Summer Send-off at the Coast

by Megan Keegan

Enviroscape

EnviroScape – the ultimate tool for watershed education

How do you interest an audience of children, from toddlers to teens, in watershed protection? It’s easy: bring the subject down to their level – literally! That’s exactly what I did when I arrived to set up an exhibit at Pennsylvania Coast Day. By moving the timeless EnviroScape® – the ultimate tool for watershed education – from the tabletop to the ground, the children got a bird’s-eye view of a watershed comprised of several different land uses.  Parents looked on, amused, as the children helped “make it rain!” to demonstrate how common environmental pollutants make their way into our region’s waterways.

Along with EPA’s exhibition, Coast Day boasted a wide range of exhibitors with kid-engaging activities, like the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s demonstration of bivalve water filtration.  Bivalves include clams, oysters, and mussels. In our region, freshwater mussels are critically important because they provide valuable “ecosystem services” like stabilizing stream beds and filtering water. As we mentioned in a blog last year, an adult mussel can filter an astonishing 15 gallons of water per day. The Coast Day exhibit let passers-by see this filtration in action, with water in the aquarium tank going from cloudy to clear in a matter of hours.

The best part about the day?  It was totally free!  Although it was a cloudy day threatening to rain, Coast Day attracted a great crowd reflective of the diverse communities and family-friendly character of Philadelphia. If you missed this celebration of the Pennsylvania coast, head down to Lewes, Delaware, this Sunday for Delaware’s Coast Day – another free, fun, family event.

Find out more about your watershed – and even get involved with local watershed protection activities – by using EPA’s Surf Your Watershed website. If you’re an educator or parent looking for water education resources for children there are many fun, educational activities EPA’s water website.

 

About the Author: Megan Keegan is a new member of the Source Water Protection Team in EPA Region 3.  Her favorite state is Maine, where she enjoys fishing, kayaking, and picking blueberries. She considers Acadia to be the best National Park on the East Coast.

 

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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County Health Rankings: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Donald F. Schwarz

About the Author: Donald F. Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is Director, Catalyzing Demand for Healthy Places and Practices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

http___www.epa3

Air pollution has long moved on from being a concern reserved for proactive environmentalists. Today, it has become a more visible personal health issue for millions of families and a major and growing public health concern for communities who live in close proximity to pollution sources.

The quality of air that we breathe determines, in part, how long and how well we live. Unfortunately, for residents of predominantly low-income and/or minority counties across the country, the impact of polluted air leads to the biggest concerns. Because many mobile and stationary sources of air pollution tend to be concentrated around the residential areas of low-income and minority communities, certain geographies have a greater threat of damaged health.

That’s why the County Health Rankings, an online tool which uses a variety of indicators to rank public health for almost every county in the nation, includes air pollution as an indicator to measure the health conditions of a county. It recognizes that an important aspect of the health of a community includes factors beyond the control of an individual person. The tool highlights regions by their health quality to help focus local government action.

CountyHealthRankings example

(courtesy County Health Rankings)

Air pollution is not a health concern that exists in a bubble — it has impacts on human health in several realms. For example, we know the links between polluted air and asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine people die from asthma in the U.S. every day. The toll on lives is acute, as is the effect on how well people in impacted regions live. Air pollution also causes decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, and other adverse pulmonary effects. The impact does not end with individual homes and families but over time affects our communities and our economy. In fact, asthma costs us about $56 billion in medical costs, lost workdays, and early deaths each year. These are not expenses that people who are already struggling to make a living are able to comfortably “take on,” nor should they have to.

There are also correlations between air pollution and the quality of life for children, many of whom are low-income or minority, who live, learn, and play in close proximity to pollution sources. There is a strong correlation between birth defect rates and proximity to air pollution, likely because pregnant mothers are a more susceptible population to environmental hazards. For older children, education is a concern based on the fact that more than 10.5 million school days each year are lost among 5- to 17-year-olds due to asthma complications.

Our hopes are that by using the county ranking tool, state and local governments can find ways which to share ideas to improve public health from place to place. For example, a recent study from our home state of New Jersey found that programs like the E-Z Pass open-road tolling (which result in fewer cars idling around toll plazas) have been connected to lower premature birth rate among moms who live nearby. By indicating within states those counties with similar pollution control problems, there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between governments and decision-makers. We hope that knowledge like this can contribute to improved public health for all.

We can hope for brighter futures for marginalized communities by taking direct action in the right areas. Want to know if you are breathing clean air in your county? Check out the 2015 County Health Rankings to see where your county stands in your state for air pollution.

Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community, check out the step-by- step guidance from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--What Works section or the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--Action Center where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.

Donald F. Schwarz: “Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community. Check out the step-by- step guidance in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–What Works section or take a look in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–Action Center, where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 

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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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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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