Monthly Archives: January 2011

How Safe Is Your Snow Removal?

By Denise Owens

The snow was coming down so pretty and white and quickly my yard became covered. After snowing for hours, it was then time to clean up the pretty white stuff.

So I started shoveling my walkway to make it safer walking to and from the house. After shoveling for awhile, I decided there’s no way I could shovel my driveway. Although it wasn’t a foot of snow, it was just enough to make it difficult for me to drive in my driveway. So I decided to have my driveway cleared. I looked in the phonebook. Surprisingly, no, the Internet has not changed my old habit of using a phone book to find a company for snow removal.

I called several companies and unfortunately a lot of them were booked for the day. But I looked out of my window and noticed that one of my neighbors had a person come out and clear their driveway. So I walked over to ask if he could do the same for me. He agreed to come over to clear my driveway. He cleared my driveway with his truck and applied salt.

Later my neighbor came over and asked what was applied to our driveways. I guessed it was salt, and he asked whether I was sure, so I asked him why’d he ask that. He said it has a color to it, so I then went out to see, and it did have a color to it. It must have been some type of chemical. I had no way of finding out what was used because this guy that cleared my driveway was just going door to door. So my neighbor then said we must be careful what’s being used because we have animals and plus it ruins your driveway and the environment. So please make sure you know what’s being used when having your snow removed.

What do you use to remove your snow? Is it environmentally safe?

About the author: Denise Owens has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency for over 25 years.

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

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

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Winter Through the Eyes of a Photographer

By Danny Hart

<i>Erie Canal - Photo by Danny Hart</i>

Erie Canal - Photo copyright Danny Hart (click image to see larger)

There is something magical about a cold winter morning. The crackle of snow under your boots and the crisp feel of the air as you breathe in deeply. Recently, I visited family in Upstate New York for the holidays. It has become my ritual during these trips to take a morning escape to the outdoors for a photo adventure.

The call of the outdoors runs strongly in my genetic material. Fishermen, hikers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, outdoorsmen (and women) of every ilk are we. Growing up, the New York winters were long, so we constantly found ways to embrace Mother Nature in all her glory.

Out of a cozy warm bed and into air which registered 12 degrees. I quietly stepped out from my sister’s home, and into the morning adventure. First a stop at the nearby lock of the Erie Canal, less than a mile away, to capture the rising sun shimmering off the Canal ice while 2 ducks stared with knowing grins across their beaks. It was just the ducks and I this frigid morn. Then taking my leave from my feathered friends I headed 25 minutes west to the shores of Otisco Lake.

Otisco Lake Sunrise - Photo by Danny Hart

Otisco Lake Sunrise - Photo copyright Danny Hart (click image to see larger)

To be out in the environment, and to be open to the beauty of the moment and looking with an artist’s eye is something I likely will never be able to explain with words. And it is that feeling that keeps me coming back time and again. When folks ask me about a photo I’ve taken I try to describe emotions or light or composition but realize it’s just best to let the photo do the talking. For me it’s all about the moment of connecting with the beauty all around us. Pausing…for just a moment.

So, whether you’re a photographer or not, finding time to get outdoors; even when the temperature drops lower than you’d like, is worth the effort. It’s one of the reasons my work here at EPA is so fulfilling to me. I feel each day I work to help preserve my favorite subject.

About the Author: Danny Hart has been with EPA since 2006. He’s the Associate Director of Web Communications. Danny spent eight years in the US Army as a Combat Photographer.

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


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

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Oysters: Shucking Pollution with our Help!

Click here to visit the Oyster Recovery PartnershipOysters can be a delicious meal. Whether you like them fried, broiled, or you are adventurous enough to try them raw, oysters are enjoyed all over the world. 

 Did you know that the shelled mollusk has another incredible characteristic?  Oysters are natural filters. They draw water in from their gills – trapping and consuming plankton and excessive nutrients, which improves the health of the water they inhabit. Oyster reefs also provide great habitat for other organisms; crabs and small fish can hide and live in the cracks and crevices of oyster reefs.

 Oysters can filter 2 gallons of water an hour. The phytoplankton and excessive nutrients removed helps clarify the water which allows more sunlight through and promotes bay grass to grow. The bay grass, in turn, generates more oxygen in the water which improves the water quality for living organisms. More bay grass also means less wave energy pounding shorelines and increases habitat for other organisms.

 The Chesapeake Bay is a body of water that used to have huge oyster populations. Throughout the years, the pollution added to the Bay along with a loss of habitat and disease has made the oyster population drop to dangerous lows. There are efforts being made to bolster the oyster population. More oysters in the bay means more oysters to filter pollution and more oysters the local watermen can harvest.

 Major clean water initiatives like the recently-established Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” will help improve conditions for the oyster population and in turn help bolster the local economy that relies so heavily on tourism and people coming to enjoy the shelled delicacy of the bay. Here’s more on the “pollution diet.” Also check out the Oyster Recovery Partnership for more on this comeback effort .

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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Oficinas verdes

Por Lina Younes

En la entrada de la semana pasada, hablé sobre las cosas sencillas que podemos hacer en el hogar para contribuir a la protección ambiental. Una de las personas que envió comentarios señaló la gran cantidad de edificios de oficinas en el área de Washington que dejan las luces encendidas en la oficina después de horas laborales y el fin de semana. ¡Qué gran cantidad de energía desperdiciada!

¿Sabía que los costos energéticos anuales combinados para edificios comerciales e instalaciones industriales en Estados Unidos suman $202.3 mil millones de dólares? ¿Sabía que el treinta por ciento de la energía usada en los edificios se utiliza ineficientemente? Entonces, ¿qué pasos podemos tomar para mejorar le eficiencia energética en edificios comerciales?

Muchas de las cosas que podemos hacer para mejorar le eficiencia energética en la oficina se  asemejan a los pasos que podemos tomar en el hogar. ¿Qué les parece apagar las luces cuando no está en la oficina? El reemplazar las bombillas de las lámparas de los escritorios con bombillas fluorescentes compactas también utilizaría 75% menos energía que las bombillas incandescente tradicionales? ¿Qué le parece crear un equipo verde entre sus compañeros de trabajo para identificar métodos adicionales para ahorrar energía en la oficina?

Además de ahorrar energía, el reducir desechos [http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/office.html ] es otra manera de hacer el lugar de trabajo más beneficioso para el medio ambiente. Todos debemos poner de nuestra parte para hacer una diferencia. ¿Cómo ha contribuido para lograr un lugar de trabajo más saludable?

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como directora asociada interina para educación ambiental. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

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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Green Offices

By Lina Younes

During last week’s blog I focused on the fact that with simple actions at home we can all contribute to environmental protection. One of individuals who left comments to that blog pointed out that many office buildings in the DC area leave the lights on after office hours and weekends. What an enormous waste of energy!

Did you know that the combined annual energy costs for US commercial buildings and industrial facilities is $202.3 billion? Did you know that about thirty percent of the energy used in buildings is done so inefficiently? So, what types of steps could we take to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings?

Many of the things we can do to improve energy efficiency in the office are not that different from some of the steps we take at home. How about turning off the lights when you’re not in the office? Replacing the bulbs in desk lamps with compact fluorescent lights will also use about 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. How about creating a green team among your co-workers to identify additional energy saving methods in the office?

In addition to energy, reducing waste is another way to make the workplace more environmentally friendly. We should all do our part to make a difference. How have you contributed to a healthier workplace?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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

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

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U.S. and China Extend 32-Year Agreement to Cooperate in Science and Technology

by Suzanne Giannini-Spohn

Last year – the 30th anniversary of the 1980 signing of the first US-China Science &Technology agreement on environmental cooperation – EPA joined China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) in celebrating 30 years of cooperation, and to jumpstart that celebration, this past October Administrator Jackson and her Chinese counterpart signed a renewal of our cooperative agreement.

Over the years, we have achieved many things together, including important advances like addressing the hole in the ozone layer and removing harmful lead from gasoline. As the world’s two largest economies, America and China have a chance address ongoing and emerging national and international environmental challenges. Issues like clean drinking water, healthy air, reduced exposure to toxic chemicals, improved management of electronic waste, and yes, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout the years we have worked collaboratively to better understand, manage, and improve air quality which has helped officials in China address regional air quality issues and achieve cleaner air through integration of air quality management approaches into national guidance and upcoming revisions to China’s Air Pollution Control Law. We have also supported China’s adoption of its first series of regulatory guidance, provided direct long-term cleanup field assistance using U.S.-developed technology to reduce dioxins emissions from cement kilns, and helped China implement its first-ever PCB soil remediation project.

US EPA and China MEP have been partners for 30 years, and we are thrilled that our partnership can only grow stronger through the January 19th extension to the US-China Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology. The newly extended agreement will continue decades of cooperation in areas such as agricultural science, high-energy physics, clean energy, and biomedical research.

To learn more, visit

About the Author: Suzanne Giannini-Spohn is China Program Manager in EPA’s Office of International & Tribal Affairs. She has worked with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and other organizations to implement EPA environmental cooperation projects since 2000. In 2008, Suzanne received EPA’s National Honor Award, the James W. Craig Pollution Prevention Leadership Award, for her work on preventing pollution from cement kilns in China.

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


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

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Science Wednesday:Bed Bugs, Not Just Your Grandparents’ Problem

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Daniel M. Stout

Bed bugs are for everybody, not just for the few. This insect pest has coevolved with humans, following a trail of bites from our prehistoric caves to our modern dwellings. Your grandparents knew this pest and were familiar with methods to cope with its nightly forays into their beds, disturbing their sleep and leaving tell-tale bites.

With the advent of pesticides we were able to gain about a 30 year respite from this nuisance. But the bed bug is back, resurging with a vengeance, and to make matters worse, we have forgotten how to deal with them. Figuratively, we got caught with our bed sheets down.

Bed bugs have become a problem in all 50 states and are being transported nationally on our luggage and personal possessions. In fact, it is reported that 95 percent of professional pest management companies have encountered bed bugs in the past year. And, consumers paid $258 million for bed bug control in 2009.

The problem is so significant that a congressional bed bug forum was convened and the Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act was proposed. In February 2011 EPA will participate with other federal agencies in the second bed bug summit.

Do you have questions about bed bugs, such as:

  • Are you wondering how this pest resurged?
  • Are you concerned about preventing bed bugs from infesting your home?
  • Do you currently have bed bugs in your home or are you wondering how to avoid bed bugs as you travel?
  • Do you believe bed bugs can jump or fly?
  • Are you curious about what they look like, how to identify them, and how to tell if they are biting you?

Greenversations can help! Send me your questions and share your experiences about bed bugs in the comments below.

About the author: Daniel M. Stout II is an urban entomologist who joined EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory in 1998 and conducts research on the behavior of pesticides, primarily insecticides, following their application in residential environments.

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

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

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The Radon Kids

By Wendy Dew

You are never too young to start saving the world! Kids of all ages are tackling tough environmental issues with enthusiasm and drive.
Eric,10, and sister Christina, 12, have founded the grassroots initiative RAP-Detect to Protect, a collaborative with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the American Lung Association. The objective of Radon Awareness Project, or RAP, is to work in partnership with city, county and state offices to assure that families, schools and elected officials are aware of the potential threat. Christina was recently recognized for her entry in the Colorado 2011 Radon Poster Contest. This is their third award in the contest. Their first came in 2008 when they first learned of the contest and radon.

January is National Radon Action Month and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and eight other federal agencies are announcing a new effort to strengthen the fight against radon exposure. Radon exposure is the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer.
Radon is a naturally-occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas. One in 15 American homes contains high levels of radon. Millions of Americans are unknowingly exposed to this dangerous gas. By taking simple steps to test your home for radon and fix if necessary, this health hazard can be avoided.

If your home hasn’t been tested for radon in the past two years, EPA and the Surgeon General urge you to take action. Contact your state radon office for information on locating qualified test kits or qualified radon testers.

For more information

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA @40: Tell Us Your Story

By Melissa Toffel

I knew one thing growing up as a kid: I loved being outdoors. While other kids struggled with what they were going to major in, I just knew I was going to learn more about the outdoors, in whatever form of major that might be. I ended up studying Wildlife Conservation and loved my ornithology, mammalogy, and forestry classes.

After college I moved to the Philadelphia area and got a job with EPA Region 3. I started at EPA in the Pesticides and Asbestos branch — and it couldn’t have been further from the type of work I thought I was going to be doing when I finished college. I was at a desk, reading reports and visiting pesticide distributor facilities! But as it turned out, I loved it. A few years ago I joined the Underground Storage Tank Enforcement branch. Again, it was nothing I would have imagined myself doing. And again, I loved it.

Growing up I cherished the green all around me. After working at EPA I notice all the things that, even if you don’t see them right in front of your eyes, go into protecting the environment. When I fill up my car at the gas station, I think, “What condition are the tanks in that are holding the gasoline in the ground?” I actually wonder if the facility has been inspected recently. I check any chemicals we might use at home for EPA registration numbers. I’ve even gotten my mom to switch to a biodegradable cleanser to use around the house! I love the awareness that working at EPA has brought me. I think that is what I most appreciate from this job; I don’t blindly take things for granted or at face-value anymore.

I’ve taken on my fair share of tough cases in the decade I’ve been at EPA, and I know how to ask the tough questions and how to get answers. I have worked to bring a number of facilities back into compliance, and it makes me feel very fulfilled when I go home every day. I can see with my own eyes where we have made a difference, the latest being where I helped to get about a dozen leaking underground storage tanks removed from the ground and getting the facility to preserve a parcel of land to remain untouched from development. This case made me feel like every minute I’ve spent here at EPA has been put to good use.

This agency accomplishes amazing things, a lot that probably goes unnoticed by the general public. But I think that is part of what I’m so proud of. We may not be shouting from the rooftops what we do, but with our accomplishments we are genuinely making this earth a better place every day that we work, and for that I am beyond proud.

About the author: Melissa Toffel joined EPA Region III’s Philadelphia office in 2000, and currently works on underground storage tank enforcement. From learning so much at EPA, she’s made such energy-efficient choices as installing a tankless hot water heater in her home, changing out lightbulbs to CFCs, and participating in a CSA program.

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

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

How I Tested My Home for Radon

By Jani Palmer

I used to be afraid to know if I had high radon levels in my home. I asked questions, I researched, I analyzed, I procrastinated, but the most important step was just doing it. Compared to a calculus exam or even a driving test, a radon test is hands down the easiest.

I live in an area known to have high radon levels, yet it took me nearly a year to test. Why? Probably because I rent my house. I felt a little helpless as to what I would do if I actually did have high radon. Despite my fears, I finally tested my home, and I’m so happy I did. It doesn’t matter if you live in an area that is geologically prone to have high radon levels; the only way to know is to test.

Here’s how I tested my home — it’s this easy:
Step 1: Ordered a radon test kit.
Step 2: Read the directions.
Step 3: Tested. For most tests, this means set it down for two days, retrieve it and mail it.

Seriously, what could be easier? If you don’t know where to start, visit EPA’s radon website. It’s packed with resources on everything from why testing is importing to how to fix your home. You also can call the radon hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON. I ordered my test kit from a company that takes part in a national proficiency program that ensures testing laboratories are certified and are providing quality measurements. Visit their websites at National Environmental Health Association or National Radon Safety Board for contacts and additional information. A certified tester can even come to your home and test for you if you don’t want to do it yourself. Testing is just so easy. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in the U.S. among non-smokers. Don’t you want to know what is in your home?

About the author: Jani Palmer is a physical scientist in EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry and public agencies.

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

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.