Monthly Archives: May 2011

From Sri Lanka to EPA

By Mathy Stanislaus

I was born in Sri Lanka. My family moved to the United States when I was five in order to build a better life. As an Asian American, I take special pride in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage month. I am now privileged to serve as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

The path that took me to my current position began with my work seeking to improve human rights in Sri Lanka. From there, I became engaged in environmental protection by working with communities who suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution and environmental harm. Since I began at EPA, it’s been one of my top priorities to make sure that communities have full access to information and are involved in the decision-making process. It’s especially important to me that we reach communities who have historically not had their voices heard.

With the recent passing of the one year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill, it’s a good time to look back at EPA’s efforts during that time. I’m very proud of EPA’s work to make sure that our outreach and engagement efforts paid special attention to the Asian American fishing communities who were severely affected by the spill. When the spill happened, I spent several weeks in the Gulf talking to members of the affected communities; I wanted to make sure that EPA’s actions addressed their concerns. EPA conducted targeted outreach to organizations serving the Asian American communities and other communities in the Gulf. EPA’s work supporting these communities included providing translation services and creating a formal unit in the Unified Incident Command (UIC) to reach out to non-governmental organizations. This unit was the first group of its type in UIC history.

As a member of the Interagency Working Group for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I have worked to draw attention to the unique issues of AAPI communities. EPA has committed to ensuring that Asian American and Pacific Islanders enjoy full opportunities in the workforce, partnering with AAPI universities, and addressing the concerns of AAPI communities. For example, many AAPI women who work in nail salons are exposed to chemicals. EPA is working to reduce this exposure by providing education, training, and by examining alternatives to chemicals used in the nail salon industry. By working with AAPI communities and listening to their concerns, EPA can help these Americans achieve a better standard of living.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

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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Age Healthier, Breathe Easier

By Kathy Sykes

One of the indelible memories I have of my grandfather, Lars Svensson, was the trouble he had breathing. For as long as I can remember he struggled to breathe, even when we went for a short walk or just a few feet to the mail box in the front yard. My grandfather was a smoker and suffered from a serious lung disease called emphysema, also known as chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
COPD is now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and also causes long-term disability. Both asthma and COPD are common chronic respiratory diseases that take a toll on the quality of life for persons of all ages. More than 12 million Americans suffer from COPD and another 12 million may have it and not know it.

I was a teenager when my grandfather died, at a time when very little was known about treating the disease. We fortunately know a lot more now about living with COPD and asthma including how to avoid the environmental triggers that can cause an attack. By reducing exposure to environmental triggers one can control and reduce the frequency of symptoms and make it easier to breathe.

Triggers in the environment include outdoor particle pollution and ozone. Indoors, where we spend 90 percent of our time, common indoor hazards may trigger an asthma or COPD attack including tobacco smoke, direct and second-hand smoke, animal dander, dust mites and cockroaches, mold, and pollen. It is also important to check furnace and heating units each year and fix water leaks quickly help to reduce the occurrence of these triggers in your home. Pesticides, household cleaning products and substances with irritating odors may also exacerbate COPD and asthma. And don’t forget to check the air quality index where you live to see if the air quality is a problem. If it is, reduce outdoor activity as much as possible on poor air quality days.

Asthma and COPD have a lot in common and affect the health and quality of life of older Americans. The U.S. EPA Aging Initiative has developed a poster in English and Spanish called Age Healthier, Breathe Easier. The fact sheet on the same topic has been translated into 17 languages.

About the author: Kathy Sykes began working for the U.S. EPA in 1998. Since 2002, she has served as the Senior Advisor for the Aging Initiative.

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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Clean Energy from Landfills

By John Martin

When Mayor Bloomberg released the latest version of PlaNYC last month, the idea that got most of my attention was his proposal to turn the city’s landfills into electricity-producing solar plants. Although full implementation is still years away, this initiative could be a win-win for all New Yorkers.

We live in a crowded town. With an additional 1 million people expected to move here over the coming decades, every last inch will have to be put to productive use. While our 3,000 acres of shuttered landfills aren’t suitable for residential development, there are other ways to make good use of this land — fields of photovoltaic cells being one of them.

Under the city’s proposal, 250 of these acres would be leased to a private operator, who would install and run the plants. Although pricey at first, such an arrangement would be attractive to potential developers, since it would likely take just 10 years to recoup construction costs. If all goes as planned, the project could be enough to power as many as 50,000 homes.

One major advantage of this initiative is how clean solar energy is. Increased use of solar power would allow the city to reduce its dependence on its dirtiest plants, improving our air quality. Another advantage of this plan is that it reduces the need for transmission upgrades. The city’s closed landfills are close enough to residential areas that the need for new transmission lines would be minimal.

Finally, solar energy would provide electricity to New Yorkers when we need it most — during the hot, sunny days of summer. Having lived through the 2003 blackout and the July 2006 Queens power outage, a plan to help keep the air conditioners running through the summer is a plan that gets my support.

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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Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Pankaj Arora

By Pankaj Arora, Region 9 Scientist, Indian-American

I grew up among about 1.3 billion people in India. My parents were refugees, coming to India in 1947 when it separated from Pakistan. They were passionate about higher education. Money could be lost (they lost theirs as refugees) but education is yours to keep, and it opens the door to success. They instilled that passion in me.

About 22 years ago, with Master’s degrees in Organic Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering, I came to the U.S. with $600 and a suitcase full of books and clothes. I began studying for a third Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Why? Because the need to drink clean water, live on clean land, and breathe clean air are necessities, yet billions of people lack access to them. I experienced this growing up in India. Environmental Engineering offered a way to follow my heart.

After getting that degree in 1991, I worked as an environmental consultant, then delved into high-tech manufacturing at IBM. Ten years after arriving in the U.S., I was a senior manager at Sun Microsystems. In 2002, I became a U.S. citizen. Did I have it all? That was the first of my mid-life crises. I had drifted away from my passion to improve environmental conditions.  But citizenship opened another door: I could now work for the federal government. I joined EPA in 2003 and have stayed here ever since.

Why? One reason was a phone call in 2008, from someone who wanted to give me an Easter blessing for making life better in a local community. Another was the chance to work at the federal Command Post in Alabama during the BP Oil Spill. Others include opportunities to work on climate change, and to talk about EPA’s work with high school students. At my own expense, I attended the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali and an International Atomic Energy Agency symposium.

Now, I’m going back to school to earn another degree, this time focusing on water, climate change, and sustainable development. Maybe after this the universities will stop me from enrolling. . . . Just kidding!

I’ll return to EPA with new skills and a British accent added to my Indian-American accent. I hope to continue being the change we want to see, a proud U.S. citizen, admiring my Indian heritage as a global citizen.

About the author: Pankaj Arora is an environmental scientist with the Climate Change Office in EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Pankaj is a first generation Indian American.

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.

Adopt-A-Beach!

adoptabeachBeach season is warming up and hopefully you have gotten the chance to get your feet a little sandy. Beaches get a huge amount of concentrated use during the summer season. Millions of people choose to make America’s beautiful beaches vacation destinations. With so many people flocking to the beach it is inevitable that the beach has trash buildup. Delaware has an innovative idea on how to keep their beaches clean for everyone!
Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has partnered with volunteers to create the Adopt-A-Beach program. The program strives to be more than litter pickup and aims to educate and inform citizens about the responsibilities of land stewardship.
DNREC has divided some of Delaware’s beaches into 1/2-mile sections. These 1/2-mile sections have been designated for the adoption program. If a beach is adopted, the volunteers must commit to cleaning the beach up to four times over a two-year period. Clean ups take place in the spring and fall each year.
DNREC provides trash bags, gloves and report forms that are to be sent back to DNREC.

 

For more information on Delaware’s Adopt-A-Beach Program click here!
Check in with the Town Hall or Municipal Building at your beach of choice; they may have clean up opportunities you can participate in. As always, throw your trash away at the beach!
Have you participated in a Beach Clean Up Day? Leave a comment below and share what it was like!

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:Foresight for a Better Future: Green Chemistry

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

By Sarah Blau

“We don’t want to make things just a little less bad, we want to move towards a systems perspective….so tomorrow is not as unsustainable as today.”

These are the words of Dr. Paul Anastas, EPA’s assistant administrator for science. I heard Dr. Anastas speak recently at the Society of Toxicology conference in Washington, DC. These words stuck with me.

Dr. Anastas was kicking off a well-attended workshop on Green Chemistry with his presentation on “Molecular Design for Reduced Hazard.” His statement which stuck with me (quoted above) is relevant to much more than just Green Chemistry though. I heard him as basically saying: let’s have some foresight with what we’re doing here, people.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from a movie: “Hindsight – it’s like foresight without a future.” “So true” I remember thinking during the movie, and this is what I thought of Dr. Anastas’ presentation as well.

He explained that a major aspect of Green Chemistry lies in the design of chemicals. Chemicals are all around us, and some of them are harmful—either to us, to the environment, or to both. Dr. Anastas believes in using a “systems perspective” with chemical research. This means looking at the whole picture, from where the chemical comes from, the processes used in its creation, its role for us or for the environment, and its potential effects on us and our environment. Basically, taking a systems perspective means utilizing great foresight to understand and predict the consequences of new chemicals in the early design stage of research.

“Design considerations are a part of green chemistry,” Anastas gave an example, “you are not just making a red dye, but a red dye that does not also cause cancer.”

What a great idea—to detect potential harmful effects as early in the designing stages of new chemicals, new materials, and new products as possible. Hindsight only offers us the opportunity to try to fix a problem. Foresight allows us the opportunity to keep problems from developing. Dr. Anastas delivered an important message about the concept of Green Chemistry, but also an important message about all aspects of research (and life too): let’s have some foresight with what we’re doing here, people.

About the author:  Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

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.

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Sharon Lin

By Sharon Lin, Environmental Justice and Asian American Community

It’s a beautiful 80-degree day in Spring. I put on a pair of sandals for the first time this year and realized that I needed a pedicure. As I walked into a nail salon in my neighborhood, I was overwhelmed by the smell of chemicals. A pedicure with my friends, the typical “moms’ day out” activity, is no longer fun and care-free, since I started working with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative last December. Now, when I think of nail salons, I think about Environmental Justice in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Here are the facts: 40% of the licensed nail salon technicians in U.S. are Asian women, and 80% of them in California are Vietnamese women. Nearly all of these — 95% — are women of child-bearing age. Their average wage is less than $18,200 per year. They are mostly non-English speakers. The nail salon industry is one of the few growing job sectors for new immigrants.

Last October, San Francisco established a “green salon” recognition program, encouraging salons to avoid using the carcinogens toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl-phthalate, known as the “toxic trio, in their nail products. This voluntary regulation, recognized by the city’s Department of Environment, is the nation’s first local measure to protect the health of nail salon workers. Other cities are expected to follow.

My awareness of environmental justice started when I became a Superfund project manager for the Palos Verdes Shelf superfund site in 2002. This Southern California Superfund site, which includes an offshore area of sea bottom contaminated with DDT and PCBs, caused contamination in some of the local fish and created a significant health threat to AAPI communities in the Los Angeles area, where many people regularly ate those fish.

My interest in environmental justice for AAPI communities came naturally. As an immigrant from China, I had firsthand experience of being underprivileged. I knew the importance of community-based organizations. My parents and I came to the U.S. when I was 18. We received free health care at the community clinic in San Francisco’s Chinatown. My parents received free job training and English language classes at the Chinatown community center. As for me, two college degrees and four jobs later, I have the privilege of working with the same community organizations that helped my family land on our feet in this country. Each day, I feel honored to be their partner in addressing the environmental and public health needs of the new immigrant communities. This is my American dream!

About the author: Sharon Lin is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Environmental Justice Program in the Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Sharon is also the Asian American Pacific Islander Employment Program Manager in EPA Region 9. Sharon is a first generation Chinese American.

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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Teachers Sow “Green” Career Seeds

By Megan Gavin

I was fortunate enough to be part on the review panel for the Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award sponsored by the National Environmental Education Foundation. While I didn’t know who Richard Bartlett was, I did know that the award is given to a teacher who successfully integrates environmental education into their curriculum and engages students in interdisciplinary solutions to environmental challenges. The application requires a letter from the nominee’s students. Here are some things students said about their teachers: ‘[our teacher is] a very passionate person about helping the environment’; ‘learning various science facts has become so fun thanks to my teacher’; ‘[our teacher] is every school’s dream science teacher’; ‘[our] classroom mimics a university lab, filled with stuffed specimens, pictures of local insects and high grade microscopes’; and lastly, ‘lessons in the environmental learning center were always my favorite’.

John Schmeid, a 7th grade science teacher from Bothell, Washington, is this year’s Bartlett winner. He frequently collaborates with math, art, literacy, social studies and history teachers to integrate their programming into environmental learning. As part of his class, each student develops her/his own action project to improve the environment; it’s called ‘my present to the environment’.

Dozens of John Schmeid’s students have gone on to pursue science and engineering degrees citing his class as the spark. I tried to recall what impact a teacher had on my career. While I got a taste of environmental studies in my high school chemistry class, I didn’t take an environmental science class until I was in college. But, because of that course and the teacher, I decided I wanted to go into the environmental field. And that led me to EPA. Now, I wonder how many of John Schmeid’s students will end up working at EPA?

About the author: Megan Gavin currently works as the environmental education coordinator in the Chicago office of EPA.

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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Making a Difference: Conducting Environmental Interventions to Deliver Asthma Care

By Jan Roberts

Chances are you or someone you know has asthma. Whether it’s your child, parent or friend, this person helps make up the nearly 25 million people with asthma living in the U.S. This statistic is staggering, as asthma is one of the most controllable diseases. Our job at Genesee County Asthma Network is to turn around this figure by making healthy, environmental changes within our community. By making small changes in homes and schools, we can significantly improve our patients’ quality of life.

Those affected by asthma often use only 50 percent of their lung function because they don’t – or are unable to – eliminate the asthma triggers around them. To effectively deliver high-quality asthma care, we complete tailored environmental interventions in our patients’ homes and schools. We assess homes for asthma triggers while identifying potential financial or social barriers to fixing them. During these visits, we educate our patients about their medication, demonstrate safe cleaning methods, and help develop a personalized asthma action plan, which is tailored to the patients’ sensitivities, such as secondhand smoke or pet dander. For children in our program, we take it one step further and go into schools to educate their teachers, principals and maintenance staff (among others) on the basics of asthma and how it can affect student productivity and performance.

We know this hands-on approach works and produces dramatic results; among the patients we serve, emergency room visits have dropped by 45 percent and hospitalizations by 25 percent. By tracking medical records and administering questionnaires, we have also seen reductions in medication usage, decreased school absenteeism, and a general improved quality of life in both the children and adults we serve.
With limited resources and staff, our program continues to deliver comprehensive care by building partnerships within our community. We team with our local lead poisoning prevention program, Habitat for Humanity, the American Lung Association and others to share resources and holistically address asthma management.

If your program is interested in learning strategies on developing meaningful partnerships, I recommend attending EPA’s Communities in Action National Asthma Forum, June 9-10, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The Forum helped our program discover the power of collaboration and optimizing our resources, while delivering tailored environmental interventions that make a great impact.

About the author: Jan Roberts, RN, AE-C, has been with the Genesee County Asthma Network for 14 years and currently serves as the Asthma Disease Manager. The Genesee County Asthma Network is the recipient of EPA’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management.

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.

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Danielle Angeles

By Danielle Angeles

Growing up, I always took on a motherly role. From friends at school to younger family members, I always made sure that those around me were taken care of – whether they wanted it or not.

When I became a mother four years ago, my vision of the world drastically changed. I saw the world through a different pair of eyes — a world of health risks ranging from lead in children’s toys to pollution in our air and water. This vision gave me a glimpse of the world that I would be leaving to my son and future grandchildren. As a mother and a human being, I needed to protect my child not only from everyday dangers but from future environmental risks as well. To accomplish this, I needed to start making a difference at home and in the world. As we all know, pollution does not obey boundaries. The air we breathe and water we drink can be affected by actions and events around the world.

Working at EPA, I was able to see firsthand the struggles that under served communities face, particularly in Indian Country. I was able to see the challenges on reservations and the hard work that the tribal environmental programs do to protect their homelands from pollution. This work not only educated me on how to protect the environment, but encouraged me to try and assist in any way possible. As an environmental protection specialist, I provide resources to tribes to monitor the quality of their tribal waters and implement on-the-ground watershed restoration projects to reduce water pollution and improve water quality.

When I see that a tribe’s water quality has greatly improved, thanks to the assistance I provide as a employee, I am overjoyed. I know that not only have the tribal resources improved but the health of the community as well. Although a small creek is a small piece of the bigger problem, it is a beginning of a long journey to protect the world for our children.

About the author: Danielle Angeles is a project officer in the EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9) Water Division’s Tribal Office. Danielle is a second generation Filipino American.

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.