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What do you know about H-2-O?

2015 April 30
The Schuylkill River, one of Philadelphia’s drinking water sources.

The Schuylkill River, one of Philadelphia’s drinking water sources.

by Patti Kay Wisniewski

Do you ever wonder about the quality of your drinking water?  Perhaps the recent train derailments and other chemical spills have piqued your interest. Where does your drinking water comes from? How is it treated? What is being done to protect it?

For over fifteen years, EPA has required water suppliers to provide their customers with an annual water quality report (also known as a Consumer Confidence Report).  This report includes information such as the source of the drinking water, recent monitoring results, violations, and how to obtain more information from your water company.

Recently, water systems have been able to share this information electronically.  If you are living in an apartment and do not receive a water bill, many water companies are now allowing consumers to receive these reports through email.  Customers that receive a water bill should look for either a paper copy of this important report, or where it is available online. Your water company’s website may also highlight the report, or you can contact your water company and ask for a copy.

Drinking Water Week (May 3-9 this year) is a great time to check out the many EPA webpages devoted to the operation of water systems and consumers learning more about how to protect their drinking water. You can learn the basics of drinking water, take a virtual tour of a water treatment plant, and find out how to prepare an emergency kit that includes enough drinking water for you and your family.

 

About the author: Patti Kay Wisniewski has worked in the drinking water program for close to 30 years covering such topics as emergency preparedness, consumer confidence reports, and the new electronic delivery option.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating the 45th Earth Day

2015 April 23

by Jennie Saxe

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held as a national “teach-in” on environmental issues. That day, rallies and conferences were held across the country to get Americans engaged in environmental protection. For a look at the first Earth Day rallies in Philadelphia, check out the history and videos compiled by the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia, including footage from news reports on the first Earth Week.

As we celebrate the 45th Earth Day, staff in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are participating in many events that honor the environmental education focus of the day. Even though the Healthy Waters blog is all about water, our Earth Day outreach featured much, much more!

Last Saturday, dozens of EPA employees took advantage of the beautiful weather to lace up their sneakers for the Clean Air Council’s Run for Clean Air. This race, beginning near the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, follows the Schuylkill River – a source of drinking water for the City of Philadelphia – for much of its route.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies' Red Goes Green game.

EPA staff shared information on sustainability at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game.

Yesterday, EPA celebrated Earth Day all across the region. Employees shared tips to protect the environment with rail commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, with students at the National Constitution Center, with sports fans at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Red Goes Green game, and with everyone working and living at Fort Meade in Maryland.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center's Earth Day event.

EPA educated students on native plants and more at the National Constitution Center’s Earth Day event.

But wait…the week isn’t over yet! Look for EPA at Temple-Ambler’s EarthFest on Friday, April 24, and at Core Creek Park for the Bucks County Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 25.

In case EPA’s Earth Day outreach didn’t make it to your neighborhood this year, check out these links for a “virtual Earth Day” experience:

  • Save water and money with WaterSense labeled products
  • Protect local waterways by disposing of expired medication properly
  • Use less water in your landscaping by planting species native to the mid-Atlantic – they’re easy to grow and create habitat for birds and butterflies
  • Keep pollution out of our streams by using green infrastructure to soak up rainwater in your yard

Earth Day doesn’t have to come just once a year! Let us know how you plan to make #EarthDayEveryDay.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. For Earth Day, she’s installing rain barrels to slow the flow of rainwater across her yard.

 

 

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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Save the shellfish

2015 April 16

by Jennie Saxe

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

Oysters and other shellfish are at risk due to ocean acidification

On a recent visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to try eating raw oysters for the first time. Though I found the first slurp slimy, the texture quickly gave way to amazing taste: some were briny, some were almost sweet. Needless to say, the oysters disappeared quickly. But my beloved shellfish are in peril, according to this recent study. The culprit? Ocean acidification.

What is ocean acidification? Here’s a quick science lesson: gases have the tendency to “dissolve” into liquids until they reach a stable state between the liquid and the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, released from power generation, transportation, industry, and other sources, behaves in just this way.

As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, a portion of the CO2 enters the oceans, where it creates carbonic acid, increasing acidity. Increased acidity (or, a drop in pH) makes it harder for shellfish to make their shells out of calcium carbonate. If the shellfish can’t thrive, that negatively affects the marine organisms and processes that depend on them, as well as an economy and a way of life that we recently featured in this blog.

We recently described how cleaner air can mean cleaner water. Ocean acidification is another example of how air quality and water quality are closely linked. By reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we can reduce the impact of ocean acidification on oysters and other aquatic  resources.

So take a look at what you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – you’ll also help ensure a healthy marine ecosystem, a strong fishing economy, and delicious seafood dinners for generations to come.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She encourages everyone interested in seafood safety to check out the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fact sheet on selecting and serving seafood, as well as this advice from EPA and FDA on fish consumption and mercury.

 

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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Progress Toward Cleaner Water Isn’t Just Pass-Fail

2015 April 9

by Jon Capacasa

Imagine your child brings home a test with a failing grade. With time, her grades improve to a solid “C” or a “B.” Before the year is over, she earns an occasional “A.”  Though she hasn’t achieved “straight A” performance, you celebrate her improvement with hopes it will motivate her toward future successes.

Looking back over 42 years of the federal Clean Water Act, there have been similar, incredibly positive improvements in the quality of our nation’s waters which deserve attention.  No longer are rivers on fire or are streams serving as open sewers. Visible pollution is way down. However, the job of sharing the news about these improvements has been difficult.

Capturing progress is complicated by a “pass or fail” approach to declaring “attainment” – or full achievement – of water quality standards.  In the world of water quality standards, waterbodies are either in non-attainment (an “F” grade) or full attainment (an “A”). Adding complexity, a waterway can be in attainment for some activities (like swimming, recreational use, and fish consumption) and not others. Telling the story of water quality improvements can be complicated; however, EPA is committed to telling more stories of incremental progress using hard data and good science.

One tale of improvement is the story of the Delaware River. In the 1970s, its water quality was so bad that the spring and summer dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Philadelphia-Camden stretch bottomed out to “zero” during many weeks.  The lack of oxygen was a roadblock to migratory fish who could not navigate the river for spawning.  Building on decades of work by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), basin states, and municipal wastewater treatment plants, EPA’s Clean Water Act construction funding and enforcement of proper discharge permits spurred a tremendous rebound for the river.  Now, according to DRBC, there is less of a summertime drop in DO levels and the current standard is met much of the time. Shad can now run in the spring to spawn, without being blocked by a low-oxygen zone. However, achievement of the current DO standard is still only a milestone of progress, and not the final goal; protection of aquatic life may require additional protective criteria. Regardless, everyone involved in bringing this great turnaround deserves recognition. The Delaware River waterfront now attracts many visitors to it every year – a huge benefit to local businesses.  In fact, the University of Delaware estimated the economic benefit of a healthy Delaware River to be over $10 billion a year.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is less of a summertime drop in DO levels near the Ben Franklin Bridge, (Philadelphia to New Jersey), and the current standard is met much of the time. Graphic courtesy of DRBC.

There is progress on another front, too: legacy contaminants in river sediments. Legacy contaminants, such as PCBs are remnants of past activities that remain in the environment and affect fish health.  While they last for a long time, DRBC reports that PCB loadings are down significantly and a fish consumption advisory in Delaware was eased in late 2013.

The Delaware River is improving, but the job is far from done. In some ways, the job may be getting harder as we deal with new types of contaminants.  Recognizing progress as it happens, without the constraints of a pass-fail approach, is a win for everyone: watershed groups gain support for their efforts and public and private groups realize early returns on their investments as water quality improves.

 

About the author: Jon Capacasa is the Director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic 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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The Safe Drinking Water Act: A Playbook for Public Health Protection

2015 April 2
by Jennie Saxe 

hoop close up other angleCollege basketball fans have witnessed this phenomenon countless times over the past few weeks: the game-changer. The play in a game where the momentum shifts. After this play, the outcome of the game is a lock…or all of a sudden, it hangs in the balance.

There are many game-changers in the world of water protection, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed 40 years ago, is one of them. Before this legislation, “Team Pollution” had momentum: the early history of drinking water is marked by outbreaks of waterborne disease and inadequate water treatment systems. But when the Safe Drinking Water Act passed, the pendulum swung the other way, in favor of “Team Protection.”

In the mid-Atlantic region, we’re acutely aware of the protections that the Safe Drinking Water Act and its amendments have brought us.  The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund has allowed upgrades to water treatment plants from White Sulphur Springs, WV, to Ulster Township, PA, and countless places in-between. Source water protection partnerships, like the Potomac Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership and the Schuylkill Action Network, focus on protecting drinking water at its source. And an updated Total Coliform Rule will further protect public health in large and small communities across the region.

More than 27 million people in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region rely on public water systems protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act. From cities in Pennsylvania to rural parts of Virginia, from municipal water systems in Washington, DC, to the smallest mobile home parks, schools, and rest stops across the region, this law protects everyone that relies on that water for drinking, cooking, and more.

If the Safe Drinking Water Act is the playbook for protecting public health, each one of us can be part of Team Protection. Make a big play – check out what you can do to protect drinking water.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She spent her first 7 years at EPA working in the Region’s drinking water program.

 

 

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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Feed the Barrel: A tale of how small actions can change the world

2015 March 26

Crossposted from Environmental Justice in Action

By Lena Adams Kim

Father Didik of St. Thomas Aquinas church is one of the 15 Barrel Keepers who manage the system of oil collection barrels. The oil he's pouring will become biofuel, compost, and soap.

Father Didik of St. Thomas Aquinas church is one of the 15 Barrel Keepers who manage the system of oil collection barrels. The oil he’s pouring will become biofuel, compost, and soap.

It all started Thanksgiving Day 2013, with my daughters frantically yelling, “The basement is flooding!!!” A visit from the plumber, yards of ruined carpeting, and $900 later, it was clear that cooking oil clogging my kitchen drain was the culprit. And so I did what many do after experiencing the horrors of home damage – I complained to everyone who would listen.

My tale of woe reached Indah, a parent in my kids’ schoolyard. Indah, a journalist of Indonesian descent, mentioned how families in her immigrant Indonesian community in South Philadelphia were grappling with the same clogged pipes and costly repairs, yet unlike me, were often unaware of the cause.

She described how many had emigrated from rural areas of Indonesia, where every drop of precious oil is used, re-used, and then re-used again. Very little oil, if any, was discarded. And those first-world kitchen drains and sewer systems? Non-existent in the 17,000 largely undeveloped islands that comprise Indonesia. Those huge jugs of oil, available at low cost at grocery stores in the U.S.? Unheard of on smaller islands where budgets and resources are limited.

Yet things are far different in America, the land of plenty. Additionally, the cultural knowledge of what can and cannot, go down a drain is instilled in many of us from an early age. Not so obvious, however, to newcomers in a new homeland with new customs.

During my conversation with Indah, I realized there was a beautifully simple solution to this costly environmental issue of used fats, oils, and grease, also called “FOG”, which cause public health problems by entering the waste stream. Just last month, the New York Times reported on the impacts of food waste like oils entering waterways and landfills, ultimately decomposing to emit methane, a greenhouse gas. I wondered, “what if EPA worked with this community on proper oil disposal.” Could it make a difference?

Residents drop off bottles of used cooking oil at one of the neighborhood’s 15 oil collection points.

Residents drop off bottles of used cooking oil at one of the neighborhood’s 15 oil collection points.

Today, two years after my basement flood, things are far different from the clogged pipes of the past. Thanks to connections made by Indah, this vibrant Indonesian community is now the first in the nation piloting a wildly successful residential oil collection program. Called Feed the Barrel, the program has gone far beyond just education on oil disposal. Now, they work with an oil recycler to collect and recycle used oil into biofuel, rich compost, and soap. The money made from the oil collected goes toward improving the community.

It would take pages to detail the unique ways this community tackled this environmental problem — how they insisted on using a local recycler, how they decided to empower children to help spread the word, and how they enlisted spiritual leadership to encourage neighbors in churches, temples, and mosques to become involved.

And it would be impossible for me to describe the pride I see in my neighbors in their newfound ability to spread environmental awareness — which they can give back to their new homeland that has given them so much opportunity.

News of their success in diverting more than 300 gallons of oil in the first year alone has traveled fast. They have been approached by communities throughout the greater Philadelphia area, and in New Jersey and Houston, Texas. Media coverage has been powerful in spreading the word, as their efforts have been highlighted on National Public Radio, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the city’s respected Grid magazine.

Imagine — Feed the Barrel started from a schoolyard conversation about providing people with something as simple as information. While EPA’s goal of “meaningful involvement of all communities in environmental decisions” might seem broad, its simplicity allowed, in this case, room to develop a creative solution to a nagging problem.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said that, “when people are made aware … they are empowered to act.” To learn more about the possibilities of oil recycling, or to follow pilot progress, visit www.facebook/feedthebarrel. And join the rallying cry: Feed the Barrel to Fuel America!

About the author: Lena Adams Kim is a member of EPA Region 3’s Asian Pacific American Council, as well as a communications specialist in the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Promise of Permeable Pavement

2015 March 19

by Jeanna Henry

Permeable pavement products can be used together with other green infrastructure.

When it rains, or as snow and ice melt, I frequently notice streams of water running off of my lawn, onto the street, into the storm sewer, and ultimately to a local waterway. I’ve also noticed an increase in flooded roadways and neighborhoods in my area even after a moderate to heavy rain. Unfortunately, stormwater is not just a localized issue, it is a problem across the country. As the saying goes: when it rains, it pours.

Flooding results in economic costs, human health impacts, and environmental damage in its wake.  A major factor in more frequent flooding events is the increasing cover of impervious surfaces, such as roadways, parking lots and rooftops.  Since these hard surfaces do not allow stormwater to naturally seep into the ground, most rainfall turns into runoff.  With continuing development and growth, what options are available to minimize the effects of impervious surfaces?  A more sustainable solution is to replace or substitute conventional pavements with permeable pavements – a green infrastructure tool.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Porous asphalt allows water to drain through it.

Permeable pavements include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and permeable interlocking pavers that mimic nature by capturing, infiltrating, treating, and/or storing rainwater where it falls. EPA considers these materials a Best Management Practice (BMP) for the management of stormwater runoff.  Permeable pavements also provide multiple benefits beyond stormwater management and reducing localized flooding: they also have the ability to improve water quality; reduce the “heat island” effect in urban areas; reduce roadway hazards like ponding water and icing; create green jobs; and can increase the livability and resiliency of communities and increase property values when used with other green infrastructure.  In fact, these benefits are already being realized throughout EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

Permeable pavements along with green infrastructure are effective ways to address flooding as well as supporting green, sustainable growth.  So the next time it rains, think about where permeable pavements and other types of green infrastructure could fit into your community.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist.  She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure.  Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking, or spending a day at the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Take a Second to Fix a Leak

2015 March 12

Water-Sense - 2015by Kimberly Scharl

 

 

One trillion gallons.

That’s how much clean drinking water American households waste each year due to leaky pipes, toilets, showerheads and other fixtures. That’s enough water to fill 1,515 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

The good news: fixing these leaks can be easy, inexpensive, and can save you nearly 10 percent on your water bills.  EPA’s WaterSense program encourages everyone to “chase down” plumbing leaks during next week’s 7th annual Fix a Leak Week, because leaks can run, but they can’t hide!

Fix a Leak Week is the perfect time to find and stop water leaks in your home. When it comes to repairing leaky fixtures, and you don’t need to be a home repair expert. Some common types of leaks found in the home, like worn toilet flappers and dripping faucets, are often easy to fix. You might only need a few tools and hardware, and these fixes can pay for themselves in water savings.

To kick off the week, EPA is hosting a Twitter Chat on Monday March 16th from 2-3 pm (eastern). Join the conversation by using the hashtag #FixALeak.

The celebration of savings lasts all week: the WaterSense Facebook page has a map of events happening all over the country to celebrate Fix a Leak Week. Here are two in the Mid-Atlantic Region:

On March 16, EPA will be on hand at the South Philadelphia store of The Home Depot – a WaterSense partner – to demonstrate water-saving improvement projects. Stop by to find out about water-saving projects and products.

On March 22, the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, and the Albemarle County Service Authority will host a Fix a Leak 5K, an event where runners will chase a “running” toilet along the city’s main rivers and natural areas.   The family-friendly event will also feature local vendors and non-profits sharing information on water and energy savings.

Share the savings

When you take the plunge to find and fix a leak in your home, share the news!

How do you save water during Fix a Leak Week and every day? Let us know in the comments!

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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Head toward savings

2015 March 5

by Jennie Saxe

The water-efficient “waste collection system” from the space shuttle, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The water-efficient “waste collection system” from the space shuttle, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

As I’ve watched news reports of wild winter weather across the country, I’ve been truly impressed by the resourcefulness and creativity inspired by the snow: amateur MacGyvers have engineered everything from homemade roof clearing devices to custom-designed sleds. But, in my humble opinion, this motorized combination snow plow/toilet created by a Maryland man during the President’s Day snowstorm might just take the cake.

Just as you can depend on snow to spur innovation, you can depend on the word “toilet” to grab attention. Although lots of toilet-related stories in the news are silly or gimmicky, I think it’s time to take the toilet more seriously.

In the developing world, toilets are key to improved public health. Here in the US, they present another opportunity: significant water savings. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, toilets account for nearly 30% of indoor water use in an average home. If the toilets are leaking, they could be using even more.  And if you’re wasting water, you’re wasting money, too.

I checked out the WaterSense website to see just how many toilets have been certified to achieve the WaterSense standard of 1.28 gallons per flush and achieve a high level of performance. I was amazed to find 2,396 models of toilets certified to meet the WaterSense standard. If you lined up that many toilets side-by-side, this line of loos would stretch for over half a mile! With this many models to choose from, you’re certain to find a WaterSense-certified toilet in a style and at a price that meets your needs. I was also surprised to learn that that toilet installation is now so simple, that you may not even need any tools!

So the next time you see a story in the news that uses the toilet as a punchline, just remember that the toilet is more than comic relief – it’s a chance for some serious savings.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability 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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Native Plants: Special Effects for the Environment

2015 February 26

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Native plants from the mid-Atlantic area

Celebrating “the Magic of the Movies,” the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show opens this weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  Each year, the Flower Show provides a prelude to spring, and a temporary escape from the cold and snow of a typical Philadelphia winter for its hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Watching a good movie can provide a great two-to- three hour escape where the unreal becomes convincingly real.   Whether it’s a fictional land inhabited by mythical creatures; a time and place long forgotten; or a futuristic world in a distant galaxy, movie magic and special effects can make anything and everything appear real.

This year, EPA’s  Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit “Now Showing at a Garden Near You,” featuring a cast of aquatic plants including azaleas, laurels, dogwoods, pitcher plants, phlox, and many other varieties of flora native to the mid-Atlantic region, demonstrates a magical yet very real, healthy and balanced garden ecosystem.

Using native plants from your area can provide many benefits for the environment including a source of food and habitat for pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife.  Native plant communities also provide a sustainable way of fighting off colonization by those pesky invasive species.

Since natives require relatively little maintenance, they help save both time and money, and using native plants contributes to a healthy ecosystem that provides important ecological services like flood abatement, and filtering and replenishing groundwater.

If you plan to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show, stop by the EPA Exhibit and see how you can create a sustainable escape by applying  “special effects” that will make your yard beautiful to look at, while reducing pollution and maintenance costs at the same time.  The Philadelphia Flower Show runs from February 28 through March 8, 2015.

 

About the Author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the Communications Coordinator in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division of EPA’s mid-Atlantic 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.

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.