Monthly Archives: June 2012

Japanese Tsunami Debris and Potential Invasions In Western North America

By Chris Janousek, Melanie Frazier, Henry Lee II

"Floating dock washes up on the Oregon coast."

A large floating dock from Japan recently washed up on the Oregon coast, bringing a host of non-native species with it.

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan’s coast on March 11, 2011 it resulted in the loss of nearly 20,000 lives and billions of dollars in damage.  One result of this devastation was an estimated 25 million tons of debris, much of which was swept into the Pacific Ocean as the tsunami receded.  The refuse that did not sink formed a floating field that scientists predicted would arrive on the North American coastline in 2013.

One surprising early arrival was a large floating dock that washed ashore June 5, 2012 on Agate Beach, about five miles north of our EPA research lab in Newport, Oregon.

Seaweed and Invertebrates

Invertebrates and seaweeds flourished on the side of the floating dock.

The dock, about the size of four large rental trucks (roughly 20 meters long and six meters wide), was covered with organisms not native to North America, including sea stars, barnacles, mussels, amphipods, and algae.

One organism of particular concern was a ruffled kelp, Undaria pinnatifida.  The species, also known as ‘wakame,’ is a seaweed used in Japanese soups and salads, and is also classified as one of the world’s top 100 worst invasive species by the Global Invasive Species DatabaseUndaria has not become established in the Pacific Northwest, but has invaded coastal waters in California.

Invasive species are one part of EPA’s effort to understand threats to natural ecosystems.  Along with partners from the U.S. Geological Survey, we are building an “Atlas of Nonindigenous Marine Species in the North Pacific” to catalog marine and estuarine invaders in the U.S., Canada, and Asia.

The Atlas will help risk managers assess the likelihood of new invasions by geographic location and species.  This type of information will be an invaluable resource for monitoring the arrival of invasive species from Japan or other parts of the world.

While the dock represents an unusual threat to the outer coast and estuarine ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, the degree of risk depends to a large extent on the specific Japanese species transported and whether they have already invaded the U.S. west coast.

Biologist shows Japanese kelp

An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist shows a sample of a Japanese kelp.

Most marine invaders are introduced into new areas of the world’s coastline by ballast water discharged from ships or by transport on boat hulls.  The Japanese dock demonstrates that debris from last year’s tsunami may be a significant additional way for non-native species to arrive in North America during the next couple years.

About the authors: Ecologists Chris Janousek, Ph.D., Melanie Frazier, Ph.D., and Henry Lee II, Ph.D., study the current status and stressors of coastal ecosystems. All three work at EPA’s Western Ecology Division laboratory in Newport, Oregon.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.

Underwater Taking Samples with EPA Divers

by Sean Sheldrake, EPA Region 10 Dive Team and Alan Humphrey, EPA-Environmental Response Team (ERT)

In our last segment, I had just rehearsed with the diver their underwater “dance” of careful movements to safely get the data we need to support our Willamette River cleanup. Now with the diver descending into the murky depths, they are focusing on that rehearsal. The diver will next install the sampling devices and talk to me (the dive supervisor) shipboard the entire time via a communications cable between the boat and the diver—and we will continue to stick with the choreographed maneuvers we have rehearsed. Each movement is calculated. If there is any increase in her/his breathing rate that we can’t control by talking through the causes, the dive will be called off immediately. Once the diver has placed the devices, I’ll ask her/him to back away –downcurrent– carefully from the instrumentation before they come up. “Have you backed off the sampler about 3 feet? Great, ok, let’s start bringing you up nice and slow. We don’t want any of your gear to catch on that sampling equipment.” While we’re doing this, we’re looking for debris, vessel traffic, and anything else that might concern the diver on the surface.

EPA Diver with Carp (?) Eggs, Williamette Cove, Portland Harbor, OR

“Diver—um, surface would like to inform you that we have a large armchair inbound.”

“Surface, an armchair?”

“Diver– that’s correct—must have fallen off someone’s dock—we’ll direct you around it.”

Sometimes dancing in polluted water takes various forms.

Once the diver is back on the surface they undergo at least an extensive clean water rinse to ensure that all bottom sediments they may have picked up on their gear is rinsed back into the River, and not brought onto the boat deck to get mixed up in someone’s lunch. Soaps may be used and collected if needed, such as on a diver covered with oil—luckily those were not necessary today.

EPA DiverOnce decontamination is completed, the diver is brought back into the clean zone in the cabin for some water and light food. “One more sample completed, 2 dozen down, 2 dozen to go,” I say. Good science done safely, one sample at a time. The project managers at EPA and ODEQ will later make multimillion dollar cleanup decisions with that data, impacting a host of Willamette River users—a small “sampling” of what EPA divers do.

Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at www.facebook.com/EPADivers.

EPA video: Sean Sheldrake talks about his job.

About the authors: Sean Sheldrake and Alan Humphrey both serve on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements. In addition, they both work to share contaminated water diving expertise with first responders and others.

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.

¡La vida es mejor debajo del agua!

Por Waleska Nieves-Muñoz

Tenía 10 años de edad cuando fui por primera vez a hacer buceo de superficie mejor conocido como hacer snorkeling. Rápidamente estaba sorprendida con la variedad de especies  viviendo en el océano, pero también estaba sorprendida al ver basura al fondo del océano.  Este momento de asombro y confusión de ver algo tan bello contaminado con basura me motivó a estudiar Tecnología Ambiental en la Universidad Interamericana Recinto de San German en Puerto Rico.  Después continué mis estudios con una Maestría en Ciencias y Política Ambiental en la Universidad de George Mason en Virginia.  Exitosamente obtuve una oportunidad de trabajar en la Agencia de Protection Ambiental de EE UU (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés). Mientras trabajaba en la Agencia,  sentía la necesidad de ayudar a mi comunidad hispana para que ellos pudieran tomar decisiones inteligentes referente al ambiente. 
El alcance comunitario es clave para que las comunidades puedan tomar decisiones sabias referente a su salud y al medio ambiente. El idioma puede ser una barrera para poder tomar decisiones inteligentes especialmente para  muchos individuos con destrezas limitadas en el inglés en este país. Como resultado de esa escasez  de información en español comencé a traducir información ambiental referente al programa de Superfund.  

Se preguntará ¿cómo el programa de Superfund está relacionado con el ambiente marino? Bueno, si no protegemos y limpiamos nuestros suelos, las playas  y el ambiente marino, las condiciones marinas fácilmente pueden ser degradadas como uno de estos sitios regulados por el programa de Superfund. Al traducir los documentos de alcance público comunitario pude ofrecer a la comunidad hispana la oportunidad de desarrollar su vecindad y su comunidad de una manera más saludable.  A la vez que las personas se informan mejor, dejan de tirar basura que contaminan nuestras playas.  Como resultado, todos nosotros podremos bucear, nadar, hacer snorkeling y surfear en un área segura, y además podremos observer  arrecifes de corral y las maravillas que ofrece el diverso mundo marino mientras disfrutamos de las playas.

¿Qué podemos hacer?  Usted y su familia pueden organizar actividades de limpieza este verano en la playa. O simple y sencillamente recoja su basura después de haber disfrutado de un día de playa.  Eduque a su familia y amigos a usar utensilios reusables en la playa. No deje las bolsas plásticas y la basura alrededor. Usted puede hacer la diferencia por medio de la protección de las líneas divisorias de aguas en las costas.  Para más información vea la siguiente información de EPA sobre cómo proteger las playas , y la hoja informativa (en inglés) de las  líneas divisorias de aguas en las costas  y la hoja informativa (en inglés) de prevención de escombros marinos  y vamos a  ayudar a mantener nuestros océanos limpios para nuestra familia, nuestra comunidad y nuestro futuro. ¡Si se puede!

Acerca del autor: Waleska Nieves-Muñoz ha trabajado como científica ambiental en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. por más de doce años. En la actualidad, trabaja en el Programa de Cumplimiento Externo del Título VI de la Oficina de Derechos Civiles. La misión del Título VI consiste en asegurar que las entidades que reciban asistencia financiera de EPA cumplan con los requisitos relevantes de no-discriminación bajo el Título VI de la Ley de derechos Civiles de 1964.

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.

Help Expand the Conversation on Permitting

By: Carol Ann Siciliano

Over the last two years, my EPA colleagues Janet McCabe, Ira Leighton and I have had the privilege of talking with people inside and outside EPA about ways to promote greater involvement of communities in EPA decision-making, especially when EPA issues pollution discharge permits to businesses that operate in their communities.  Our particular focus was finding ways to better integrate environmental justice into EPA’s process for issuing permits, but what we learned applies everywhere.

EPA Public Comment Meeting

We learned, from talking to community groups, that the permitting process is hard for them to follow and influence.  We learned, from talking to business groups, that businesses value their relationship with their communities, but simply don’t know how to reach out to their immediate neighbors in effective ways.  We learned, from state and local governments, that opportunities exist for EPA to get more involved in helping both the communities and the businesses.

And so, we assembled many good ideas from the public, consulted EPA’s expert staff from around the country, and published a Federal Register Notice on June 26th with these ideas, many of which center around increasing public participation before a permit is filed. Tell us what you think about these ideas.  Please submit your formal comments to EPA by clicking here or by following the instructions in the Notice.   After the comment period closes, we will carefully consider every comment that we have received to help us finalize the ideas presented in the Notice.

We encourage you to use this blog as a way of sharing your thoughts about the Federal Register Notice with each other because we highly value collaboration and information-sharing. We hope you will use this blog to tell each other your stories about successful interactions between communities and businesses in the context of environmental permitting.  And, if you have had experiences that could have been better, talk to each other about what you learned. Through this blog, we hope to create a place where people with different points of view can share knowledge and experience and gain better insights into each other’s perspectives.

Our goal with this blog is to encourage an ongoing conversation among members of the public during the comment period – and beyond. Think of the notice and formal comment process as a way to tell EPA what you think.  Think of this blog as a way to tell each other what you think.  Though comments on the blog are not considered for formal review, we want YOU to participate in this blog because your views matter to people with other points of view.  Public involvement makes better policies, and that is why you need to get involved and make your voice heard. We’ll all come out wiser in the end!

About the author:  Carol Ann Siciliano is co-chair of the EPA Environmental Justice Permitting Initiative, which is part of Plan EJ 2014.  Carol Ann is joined by her co-chairs Janet McCabe, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation, and Ira Leighton, Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA’s New England Region.  During her 22 years in EPA’s Office of General Counsel, Carol Ann has acquired a lot of experience in Clean Water Act permitting, environmental justice, and ways of promoting public involvement in agency decision-making.

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.

Food Scraps to Powered Lights

Think about the last time you took out the garbage. I bet there were some food scraps in there that were leftovers from preparing lunch or dinner. What if you knew that those same food scraps could help produce energy to power lights or run electricity? Wouldn’t you be curious to know how that happens?

With the help of an EPA grant, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is pioneering an innovative way of taking food scraps from restaurants and commercial food processors and using them to produce renewable energy. If the food scraps are diverted from landfills and used instead to develop energy, we would definitely be on the road to creating a sustainable society.

Watch the food scrap to energy process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhyekv1V32s&feature=endscreen&NR=1

Yvonne Gonzalez is a SCEP intern with the Air and Radiation Division in Region 5.  She recently graduated from DePaul University with a dual graduate degree.

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.

Life is Better under the Sea!

by Waleska Nieves Muñoz

I was 10 when I went snorkeling for the first time. I was immediately mesmerized with the variety of species living in the ocean, but I was also surprise to see trash on the ocean floor. That moment of wonder and confusion of seeing something so beautiful polluted with trash, motivated me to study Environmental Technology at the Inter American University at San German Campus in Puerto Rico. I later pursued a Master Degree in Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University in VA. I successfully applied for a job opportunity at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While working at the Agency, I also felt the need to serve the Hispanic community to make better decisions about their environment.

Community involvement is key for communities to make informed decisions about their health and the environment. Since language can be a barrier to many individuals with limited English proficiency to make these informed decisions, I started to translate environmental information related to the Superfund program in to Spanish. You may ask how is Superfund related to the marine environment? Well, if we don’t protect and clean up our land, the beaches and the marine environment, the marine conditions could easily be degraded to the level of a site as those regulated by the Superfund program! By translating these outreach materials was able to provide the opportunity for the Hispanic communities to become empowered to develop a healthier neighborhood and community.

As people become better informed, they will not dump trash that pollutes our beaches. We all will be able to dive, swim, snorkel and surf in a safe place, see reefs and the wonderful diverse marine life while enjoying the beach, So, what can we do? You and your family can organize a beach cleanup this summer. Or how about simply picking up after yourself when going to the beach? Educate your family and friends to use reusable utensils at the beach. Don’t leave plastic bags and trash around… You can make a difference by protecting the coastal watershed. For more information, check Protecting the Beaches, the Coastal Watershed Factsheets on The Beach and Your Coastal Watershed and Marine Debris Prevention and let’s help to keep our oceans clean for our family, our community, and our future.

About the author: Waleska Nieves-Muñoz has been working as an environmental scientist for over 12 years at EPA. Currently, she works in the Office of Civil Rights Title VI, External Compliance Program.   The mission of Title VI is to ensure that recipients of EPA financial assistance and others comply with the relevant non-discrimination requirements under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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.

Algae: A Slimy Solution to Improving Baltimore Harbor’s Water Quality

By Nancy Grundahl

Algae are in the spotlight and – this time – for all the right reasons.  That slimy greenish stuff you sometimes see in lakes and at the beach is now being used in a pilot project to see if it can help clean up the water in the Baltimore Harbor.  Algae blooms are normally in the news as the result of excess nutrients that rob water of oxygen.  But this controlled growth of algae is part of an initiative that aims to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

How does it work?  Algae that are naturally in the harbor flows over a mesh screen. There it attaches and grows, removing nutrients and carbon from the water in the process.  Every week, the algae are harvested and then can be used as a fertilizer or converted into fuel.

This innovative pilot is part of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Plan to make the harbor cleaner and greener.  And, if it works, plans are to expand the algal pad to at least an acre, filtering millions of gallons of water each day.  If you want to see what a smaller scale version of an algal turf scrubber looks like, view this lively video:

[youtube width=”640″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5w4R0sNPsc[/youtube]

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of June focused on Fishable Waters.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” 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.

What I Wish I’d Known Before I Moved Into a Dorm

Rosemarie Stephens-Booker

By: Rosemarie Stephens-Booker

Summer is here, and for many families this is a time of preparation as their children get ready to head to college in the fall. Several of my co-workers are in the thick of this planning process, and hearing their stories has led me to reflect on my own journey into college life.

Eight years ago I spent my last summer in the house I grew up in. I was amazed at how quickly the time passed between graduation day and packing the car to leave for college.

But was I ready?

Of course, my neighbors, friends and family tried to prepare me for those sleepless nights in the library, endless hours in the biology and chemistry labs, and the very real freshman 15. But, no one warned me that my entire summer would be filled with shopping trips for those essential college dorm room “must haves.” I remember shopping for the best compact refrigerator, laptop or desktop computer, the multi-colored light fixtures for my room, and most importantly…my first television. I thought about how certain purchases would look with the décor of my soon-to-be new home, and my roommate and I talked about what size television we should purchase. I also knew that I wanted to find a good compact refrigerator. But despite all of this planning, I never thought to look for the ENERGY STAR label.

Did you know products like those listed above make up a significant part of the energy used in the average college residence hall?  At that time in my life, I didn’t even know that most the electronics I bought were available in an energy-efficient, ENERGY STAR labeled model.

I have since learned that my purchasing decisions can have a positive impact in the fight against climate change. By choosing an ENERGY STAR qualified computer or TV, I help reduce my college’s energy bills and help prevent the release of harmful carbon pollution resulting from the burning of fossils fuels used to generate electricity. If every TV, DVD player and home theater system sold this year were ENERGY STAR qualified, we would prevent more than 3 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equal to the annual emissions of more than 300,000 cars.

Today, the little blue ENERGY STAR label can be seen across more than 65 different product categories including lighting, appliances, and electronics. So, don’t be like me — look for the ENERGY STAR!

Connect with us through Facebook, Twitter, and at energystar.gov to learn more ways to save energy, help your college-age loved ones not blow a fuse in the dormitory, and help save the environment.

Rosemarie Stephens-Booker begin her journey with the  ENERGY STAR Program as an EPA intern, and worked on the 2007 “Change a Light, Change the World” campaign.  After completing college she continued to support the ENERGY STAR Program in various roles, including traveling with the ENERGY STAR exhibit house, supporting the Green the Capitol initiative with qualified vending machines, appliance marketing, consumer education and appliance recycling initiatives. She is an avid theatre lover and a professional classical vocalist.

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.

The National Ocean Policy

by Gwen Bausmith

Growing up in southwest Ohio, I lived over 600 miles away from the ocean, viewing it as a vacation destination, a place very far removed from the agricultural fields and suburbs of the Midwest. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how much all of our lives, whether coastal or inland, are dependent upon and directly impact our ocean and coasts. Where I lived, my local tributaries fed into the Ohio River, which flowed to the Mississippi River, emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, and finally became part of the Atlantic Ocean. Understanding this connection was crucial to realizing my role in ocean and coastal environments.

Healthy and productive ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes regions are a significant part of our nation’s economy, contributing to untold millions of dollars a year and supporting tens of millions of jobs. The oceans are essential in international trade, transportation, energy production, recreational and commercial fishing, national security, and tourism. They also provide many ecological benefits such as flood and storm protection, climate regulation, and important habitat for fish species, migratory birds, and mammals.

My family depended on all of these services, especially for consumer goods and food. In addition, my father worked in the steel industry, relying heavily on our nation’s waters for transporting materials.

On July 19, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order directing the federal government to develop a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, our Coasts, and the Great Lakes, often referred to as the National Ocean Policy. It focuses on improving stewardship for our ocean and coastal resources and addressing their most pressing challenges.

It builds on over a decade of bipartisan discussions and looks toward a science-based approach for Federal, State, Tribal, and local partners to better manage the competing uses in these regions. Designed with extensive public and stakeholder input, the Policy will work to increase efficiencies across the Federal Government and provide access to better data to support multiple industries.

I am very proud to be a part of EPA’s involvement in the National Ocean Policy. EPA is committed to numerous actions and milestones in the Policy’s Implementation Plan, from improving water quality and promoting sustainable practices on land, to restoring and protecting regional ecosystems. I may not have realized it as a child growing up in the Midwest, but everyone has a stake in the future health of our ocean and coastal ecosystems. Every state is an ocean state.

About the Author: Gwen Bausmith is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow at EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds.

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.

Greater Fuel Efficiency Has Many Benefits

By Cristall Grant

Early in his term, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514 “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” which sets sustainability goals for federal agencies and focuses on greening the government.  EPA is implementing this in many ways, including through the management of our fleet of vehicles leased from the General Services Administration. Here in Region 2, employees often use these government-owned vehicles to drive to sites, conduct sampling or inspections, or attend public meetings. As the leases for EPA Region 2 vehicles expire, we are moving toward more fuel efficient vehicles.

What are the benefits to increased fuel efficiency?  For EPA, it reduces our reliance on gasoline, trims our operating costs and shrinks our environmental footprint.  For the community, it means that we are putting less green house gases in the air and that we are contributing less to smog that impacts our air quality and health.

Our fleet also consists of some hybrid vehicles now, which is a great thing.  This is better for the environment and, in general, a smart buy for many reasons:

  • There’s a federal tax deduction for hybrid buyers. Fact is, since 2004, hybrid vehicle buyers received a $1,500 federal tax break
  • Drivers don’t need to change their habits at all. You don’t have to learn anything or do anything different to drive a hybrid.
  • You won’t have a guilty conscience for polluting the environment – hybrids emit up to 97% less toxic emissions and half as much carbon dioxide as the average car.

The EPA fleet makes it easier on the environment and riders.  Fuel efficient cars can save you money on gas, while saving the environment from greenhouse gas emissions.

As the summer approaches, and you start thinking about jumping in your car and heading on vacation, I hope you, too, will think about the benefits of greater fuel efficiency.  For my job, I have researched fuel efficient compact cars and even newly introduced electric vehicles. You can do your own research by checking out EPA’s Green Vehicle site to look at new cars and their fuel efficiency. You can even compare it to your current set of wheels!

About the author: Cristall Grant started her career at EPA in the Student Career Experience Program with EPA Headquarters in 2008.  She now is a full-time employee in the Facilities and Management Branch in Region 2’s NY office.  Cristall has a degree in Finance and Management and is currently pursuing her MBA in Human Resources.  In her spare time she likes to enjoy cultural events, music and shopping.

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.