Monthly Archives: August 2012

Curious Footprints

By Jeanethe Falvey

Just for fun, pause for a second and ask yourself: what was the single greatest thing you could have found when you were a kid?

Of course, this is a personal thing and there is no one correct answer. But if you thought “dinosaur footprints” then you would be right with me. Maybe for some it was a treasure chest – overflowing with pirate loot, but more practically (as kids tend to be) the chance of discovering an Alamosaurus footprint was much more likely.

I thought about it a lot, hopeful that I would stumble upon what no one else had stumbled upon before, something right nearby that others had overlooked. I thought about how much bigger their feet would be than mine (something my friends might now poke fun at!). I thought about how many layers of sand and rock would have covered a footprint and why it would have stuck there in the first place, so many millions of years ago.

Finding dinosaur footprints doesn’t happen often, but it happens. On Friday, August 17 it happened for NASA, right in their earthen backyard.

In case there wasn’t enough excitement going on, twelve days after Curiosity landed on Mars, Cretaceous footprints belonging to a mother and possibly her baby nodosaur were discovered at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Back then, these large, plant-eating dinosaurs were likely hustling to avoid becoming prey to something with much bigger teeth. More than a hundred million years later, scientists walking the same path are realizing just how small we really are.

We live in a fast-paced world. If NASA hadn’t shared that photo with State of the Environment, I very likely would have missed the story myself. I couldn’t help but marvel at the luck of it all.

When discoveries are made, whether they’re out of this world or right under our feet, they never cease to amaze and remind me of just how incredible our planet really is and that there is so much yet to learn.

One thing I know for sure though: in between taking more time to gaze at the stars, I’m on the lookout again for footprints larger than mine.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

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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¿Dónde estaba ese día?

Por Lina Younes

Hay eventos históricos que se arraigan a nuestros recuerdos colectivos. Estoy hablando de esos eventos que, hasta muchas décadas más tarde, recordamos exactamente qué estábamos haciendo cuando recibimos la noticia por primera vez.  Algunos de estos eventos como el asesinado del Presidente John F. Kennedy, el desastre del transbordador espacial Challenger, o el 11 de septiembre obviamente están vinculados a tragedias.  Sin embargo, un evento en particular captivó al mundo por su magnitud y significado. Casi medio siglo más tarde, ese acontecimiento, ese paso singular lanzó una nueva era de ciencia y tecnología y exploración. ¿A qué suceso significativo me estoy refiriendo? La llegada del hombre a la Luna.

Con la reciente muerte del ex astronaut Neil Armstrong,  muchos de nosotros compartimos nuestros pensamientos acerca del fallecimiento de este gran estadounidense. Para aquellos que presenciamos ese momento en la historia,  las discusiones mediante los medios sociales nos permitieron compartir estas vivencias y recuerdos de cómo experimentamos al ver ese primer alunizaje. ¿Dónde estábamos? ¿Qué estábamos haciendo en ese momento? ¿Acaso entendíamos plenamente el significado del momento? Fue interesante notar que hasta el mismo Neil Armstrong, que los que lo conocían personalmente han descrito como un héroe humilde, no quiso clasificar este acontecimiento trascendental como una hazaña solo para los Estados Unidos, sino como “un salto gigante para la humanidad”.

Como he mencionado en blogs con anterioridad,   la exploración espacial ha abierto un nuevo mundo de ciencia y tecnología que nos ha beneficiado aquí en la Tierra aunque muchos lo tomemos por sentado.  ¿Sabía que los satélites de la NASA han abierto un nuevo mundo de comunicaciones que ha facilitado innovaciones en la tecnología móvil que usamos en la actualidad? ¿Qué le parecen las innovaciones en las ciencias ambientales para analizar la calidad de nuestro aire y otros recursos naturales? ¿Sabía que los materiales desarrollados por científicos de la NASA han contribuido a tecnologías verdes como los paneles solares? ¿Sabía que la tecnología desarrollada como resultado del programa espacial también ha contribuido al desarrollo de la ortopedia y prótesis y robótica usada en la medicina para el beneficio de toda la humanidad?   Estos son tan solo algunos de los resultados positivos del programa espacial que son posibles por inversiones en la ciencia y la tecnología.  Nuevos logros serán posibles si más estudiantes estudian las ciencias, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas. Estoy segura que ahora mismo hay un futuro Neil Armstrong o Sally Ride entre nosotros listo para abrir las puertas a nuevos mundos. Las estrellas son el límite.

Acerca de la autora: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. desde el 2002 y se desempeña, en la actualidad, como portavoz hispana de la Agencia, así como enlace de asuntos multilingües de EPA. Además, ha laborado como la escritora y editora de los blogs en español de EPA durante los pasados cuatro años. Antes de unirse a la Agencia, dirigió la oficina en Washington, DC de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales a lo largo de su carrera profesional en la Capital Federal.

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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Back to School Going Green!

Well it is back to school shopping time so let’s talk about saving some green (a.k.a. cash) and going green with the 3-Rs—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Reusing school supplies from last year will reduce the amount of items you need to purchase and decrease your environmental impact.  Look around the house, in your book bag, and under the car seats for pencils, pens, and partly used spiral notebooks.

After you have gathered up last year’s left over school supplies it is now time to go shopping!  Use your environmental consumer super power to purchase recycled versions of items you still need.   There are lots of choices to “make a statement” with your green school supplies purchases.  Purchase brands with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content.  Become an instant Eco Fashionista!  Recycled purses and bags made from juice boxes, seatbelts, magazines, newspapers, and more.  My favorite is recycled paper with flower seeds imbedded in it for those special notes.   I also stop in at my local zoo’s gift shop to get a Poo Paper fix.   It is paper made from elephant (or other animals) manure; no it doesn’t smell, but it does make a great conversation starter.

Make textbook covers from recycled paper grocery sacks, crayons and markers or an old T-shirt. 

Retro is in!  Stop by your local gently used store to buy a new look and donate stuff from your closet that no longer fits your style or your body.  Purchasing gently used clothing is a huge way to decrease your ecological footprint.

If you take snacks or your lunch to school, remember to purchase regular- sized bags and then put what you need for the day into a reusable container.  With snack-sized bags you pay more for smaller portions AND the extra packaging creates more waste

If you drive, start a carpool!  It will not only save some cash but you and your friends can get a head start on “whatz up!” gossip before arriving at school.

Denise Scribner has been teaching about environmental issues for over 35 years.   For her innovative approaches to teaching to help her students become environmentally aware citizens, she won the 2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Her high school was also one of the first 78 schools across the USA to be named a Green Ribbon School in 2012.

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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My Experience as a Summer Intern at ENERGY STAR

Yohana Merho

By: Yohana Merho

For many college students summer is a time to take a well-deserved break from all-nighters, term papers and exam week stress, to go out and find something they are interested in. And if they are lucky, they may find something they could be passionate about as a career. I am a college student in my sophomore year at the University of Maryland, College Park studying Environmental Policy and Spanish. I am fortunate enough to really love my major, but I also know that I am not alone in that I am still unclear of how I want my education to translate in to my life post-grad. So, like most others in my position, I decided to take on an internship for the summer in hopes of learning about the many different roles and professions in the environmental sector that I might find appealing.

After several applications and emails I landed a sweet internship at ENERGY STAR. On my first day I was shown to my personal cubicle with my very own computer, phone and email. This whole ‘taking a sneak peak of the work force’ thing was beginning to feel a little like a reality now! Before I knew it I was going to meetings, working on assignments, doing research and feeling completely immersed in the ENERGY STAR work-culture.

One of my first and most interesting assignments was to prepare for a Congressional Expo that ENERGY STAR was to participate in. We were celebrating our 20th anniversary and my job was to make sure that our signs and posters reflected that through our statistics and general language. Soon after, I was told I was to work at the booth the day of the Expo, talking to other environmentalists about energy efficiency and other environmental issues. I was nervous, but very excited. I got to meet a lot of people, all working to better the environment through their individual professions, and I learned a lot from them.

My entire experience at ENERGY STAR has been a great learning experience. It was interesting to see and be a part of an entire office working independently as well as collectively to make a real difference in the fight against climate change. I had a chance to talk with several employees about their background and how they got to where they are now. I can say that I got exactly what I was hoping to get out of interning at EPA and much more. Who knows, maybe after I graduate I can help ENERGY STAR celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Yohana Merho is a college student in her sophomore year at the University of Maryland College Park. She is double majoring in Environmental Policy and Spanish and spent her 2012 summer interning at EPA’s ENERGY STAR.

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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Around the Water Cooler: Leaving the Outhouse Behind

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Stormwater flows from a large pipe.

Green infrastructure helps keep stormwater in place.

This week, and every Thursday that follows, I’ll introduce you to the EPA scientists and engineers who work to make sure our water stays clean and that we have enough for generations to come.

Today I’m kicking off a series on green infrastructure while we recognize the role of science and innovation in the Clean Water Act, which turns 40 this year.

What is green infrastructure? It’s actually just a fancy term for rain gardens, rain barrels and cisterns that keep excess water out of our storm drains.

But let’s start with some history. In the mid-1800s, flush toilets came to America. Everyone wanted one so that no one would have to make that nightly cold, dark trek to the outhouse. Soon, though, it became obvious that when you “flush” the toilet inside the nice warm house, the waste has to go somewhere. Initially that somewhere was our streets.

Thankfully, that did not last long.

Motivated by smelly city streets, municipalities added underground pipes to carry the wastewater from homes and businesses and deposit in waterways where it could be diluted and carried away in the current. The pipes, though, also carry stormwater that rushes off the streets during heavy rain.

Welcome to the combined sewer system.

There are approximately 800 cities and towns across America that still use combined sewer systems, including big ones such as New York and Chicago, and smaller ones like Omaha and Louisville.

Today, these systems don’t feed directly into our waterways. The water is first sent to a treatment plant where it is cleaned.

The problem with these combined sewer systems is that when it rains hard, the polluted wastewater doesn’t always make it to the treatment facility, and instead goes directly to our rivers, streams and other waterways. (A violation of the Clean Water Act. And also pretty gross.)

But changing out all these networks of pipes—called gray infrastructure—is costly. EPA scientists and engineers have been working with several municipalities around the country to find alternatives—innovative solutions to efficiently and inexpensively reduce runoff flowing into combined sewer systems.

Each Thursday over the next few weeks I’ll highlight green infrastructure research and best practices while sharing ways you can make a difference in your community.

In the meantime, check out this interactive tool from the Arbor Day Foundation to compare the difference between a community with increased green infrastructure in the form of more trees versus a community with less. Which would you rather live in?

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with  EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources team, drinks a lot of water and  communicates water research to anyone who will listen.

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

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Where Were You That Day?

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

There are historic events that become engrained in our collective memories. I’m talking about those events that, even decades later, you remember exactly what you were doing when you first heard the news. Some of these events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, or September 11 obviously are linked to tragedies. However, there was particular event that captivated the world because of its magnitude and significance. Nearly half a century later, that one occurrence, that one step launched us into a new era of science, technology and exploration. What is the significant event that I’m referring to? The first lunar landing.

With the recent passing of former astronaut, Neil Armstrong, many of us shared our thoughts on the passing of this great American. For those of us who witnessed that moment in history, discussions via social media allowed us to share those recollections of how we experienced the first landing on the moon. Where were we? What were we doing at the time? Did we fully understand the significance of the moment? It was interesting to note that even Neil Armstrong who is described by many as a humble and reluctant hero did not classify that momentous occasion as a feat just for the United States, but as “a giant leap for mankind.”

As I’ve stated in previous blog entries, space exploration has opened a new world of science and technology that has benefitted us here on Earth, yet we take for granted. Did you know that NASA satellites opened a new world of communications that facilitated innovations in the mobile technologies of today? How about innovations in Earth sciences to analyze the quality of our air and other natural resources? Did you know that materials developed by NASA scientists have contributed to green technologies like solar panels? Did you know that technology developed as a result of the space program has also contributed to the development of better prothstetics and robotics used in medicine for the benefit of all mankind? These are just some of the positive outcomes of the space program that are only made possible by investing in science and technology. These successes are only possible if more students study science, technology, engineering and math. I’m sure there is another Neil Armstrong or Sally Ride within our midst who will open the door to new worlds. The stars are the limit!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. 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 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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Upcoming Weekend Activities – Last List of the Summer!

Labor Day Weekend is here! Make sure to enjoy the unofficial end of summer with one of these exciting outdoor activities. Come winter, you’re going to want these warm memories!

Bilingual English/Spanish Tree Care Workshop: Million Trees NYC offers its tree care class and planting session en español. Monday, September 3, 6 – 8:30 p.m.

Bryant Park Ping Pong: Paddles and balls provided free of charge to all skill levels. If you’re good enough, you may even draw a crowd to watch your ping pong skills! Saturday, September 1, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Free Kayaking:  Enjoy a 15-minute trial paddle on the South Beach Boardwalk in Staten Island! You’ll be provided with sit-on-top kayaks, life jackets and paddling tips on land and water. Saturday, September 1, noon – 4 p.m.

Garden Walking Tour in Fort Tryon Park: Take a tour of the “Park for All Seasons.” Learn about the park’s history, future and secrets from a member of For Tryon’s expert horticulture staff. Sunday, September 2, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.

Locavore Challenge: Sign up and challenge yourself to a month of eating locally. Who knew New York could taste so good? Starts Saturday, September 1.

NYC Parks Summer Movie Series: Happy Feet 2: Pack a picnic, grab a blanket, and gather up your family for an outdoor showing of “Happy Feet 2” at St. Mary’s Park. Saturday, September 1, 8 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Sculpture Workshop: A classic family-friendly workshop in the Socrates Sculpture Garden. Saturday, September 1, noon – 3 p.m.

Summer on the Hudson: Lunchtime Listen: If you’re around West Harlem Piers Park tomorrow, stop by with your lunch and enjoy the country-western-swing-accordion-folk group Tres Amigos. Friday, August 31, noon – 1 p.m.

Unicycle Fest: Head out to Governor’s Island this weekend to watch and learn how to ride one wheel. September 1-2, noon – 5 p.m.

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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Encouraging Design Thinking to Develop Integrated Green Infrastructure Solutions

By Ken Hendrickson

Campus Rainworks Challenge - click for more information!When you hear the words “design” or “designer”, what comes to mind?  The latest couture on the runway?  Swiss furniture with names that are hard to pronounce?   While you may envision the products of design, I tend to think about design thinking – the process of working through a complex problem. In many cases, I believe the understanding gained during this process is more important than the product or end result.  Design can result in beautiful or interesting things, but design thinking can help to integrate multiple disciplines, create positive change and advance our understanding of the world.

We’ve all heard the phrase “thinking outside the box” – to be creative and not use the same old thinking to solve complex problems.  Design thinking takes that a step further.  It helps to reframe the problem, consider information from several fields and test possible solutions.  It’s a perfect vehicle for advancing ideas in new and unexpected ways.  This explains the popularity of design competitions as a way to encourage creative thinking around a particular set of environmental problems.

One example is the use of design competitions to explore the possibilities of green infrastructure to address urban stormwater. These green techniques use vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage stormwater close to its source.  They also have the potential to provide additional social and environmental benefits.  Design competitions are helping to build an interdisciplinary discussion around the potential of green infrastructure – thinking outside the pipe.

Region 3’s Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) Initiative did a webcast this spring exploring how design competitions can be powerful tools to spur innovation and adoption of green infrastructure communities. View the archived webcast by visiting http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/watersheds.htm#g3academy and clicking “G3 Academy Studio.”

The Community Design Collaborative, Philadelphia Water Department, and EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office are partnering to host Infill Philadelphia: Soak it up!, an exhibition of best practices in green stormwater infrastructure.  The goal of the exhibition is to showcase projects that soak up stormwater while creating healthy, engaging, and visually-appealing urban places.  Selected entries will be on display at Philadelphia’s Center for Architecture this fall. The exhibition is also a build up to a national design competition.

Design competitions can also engage and educate students.  The EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge seeks to engage college and university students from multiple disciplines to develop green infrastructure solutions.  This design competition is an exciting opportunity for college and university students to be on the cutting edge of a real-world issue and contribute to the discussion.  Students must form teams and register to participate.  Registration for the competition is open from September 4 to October 5, 2012, and entries will be due on December 14, 2012.   Visit the Campus RainWorks website for more information about the competition.

Have you ever thought about designing something to solve a problem?  How did your thinking change from when you started designing to when you developed your solution?  What kinds of things did you have to consider?  How would you design green infrastructure for your neighborhood?

About the Author: Ken Hendrickson has worked at the EPA since 2010 and is the Green Infrastructure staff lead in the Office of State and Watershed Partnerships.  Ken has a background in landscape architecture, geology, and watershed management.  He enjoys working to empower communities to improve their environment and finding solutions that create more resilient social, environmental, and economic systems. When not in the office, Ken enjoys challenging and rewarding outdoor activities and creative indoor hobbies.

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 August will focus on Science and Innovation.

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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Biomarkers in Human Health Hazard Evaluation

By Jason Fritz

The annual conference of the Society of Toxicology (SOT 2012), attended by many of my colleagues from EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System program, is an excellent venue for scientists of all kinds to come together and discuss the latest and greatest advances in human health effects research.

For me, it was an opportunity to take a mental breath and place my focused efforts into the broader context of lifetime health management and disease prevention.

I’ve always been mechanically inclined, so I try to consider how any particular cog fits into the overall machine: specifically, how could a cog “broken” by toxic exposure in  one organ  foreshadow adverse responses in a distant location, or in the distant future?  Or both?

I particularly enjoyed listening to Leroy Hood, from the Institute for Systems Biology, present a paradigm shift in healthcare, away from today’s diagnose-treat-release medicine and toward personalized health management and disease prevention.  He proposed developing biomarkers in blood that could be used as “fingerprints” throughout the life of an individual to not only foretell impending disease, but define the cause so that intervention could be designed prophylactically for that person.

The implications of these biomarkers for the future of human health and hazard characterization are tremendous.

Like the addition of iodine in table salt to reverse the U.S. goiter epidemic of the 20th century, this could mean more dietary modification and less pharmaceutical administration, but on an individual, not population, basis.  This would truly be personalized medicine, but with a more predictive application that could simultaneously generate positive repercussions for entire populations.

The IRIS program is charged with developing toxicity values that can be used by risk managers to protect people against a lifetime of exposure to the individual components in an increasingly complex environment.  With biomarkers like these, we could predict the effects of toxin exposure in specific people, instead of an “average” person, and at early stages that are much more likely to be reversible.

With big picture ideas like this to put our health protective efforts into context, SOT 2012 was an inspiring success.

About the Author: Toxicologist Jason Fritz joined the EPA in 2011.  He has traveled some, and wishes to travel more: if, in his travels, he meets a man meditating under a Bodhi tree, he will ask for a spaceship and a pony

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

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Opportunities for New and Experienced Toxicologists

By Margaret Pratt

I’ve attended Society of Toxicology, (SOT) meetings regularly since my second year of graduate school. It’s an excellent way to get the latest updates in areas directly relevant to my work, as well as in toxicology in general, including emerging topics and technologies, some of which may be the routine tools of the future.

It’s also an opportunity to connect with friends, former and future colleagues, and collaborators.  This “networking,” forming collaborations, getting feedback, and maybe having a little fun together is a critical part of career development.

I’ve also enjoyed participating in educational outreach activities, and this year’s annual SOT meeting presented another great opportunity.  During the K-12 outreach, we introduced Bay Area kids and their families to toxicology in an interactive setting at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

A big THANK YOU to EPA’s Maureen Gwinn for being one of the leaders of SOT’s educational outreach programs, along with kudos for a well-executed, well-attended event!

Since arriving in EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program less than two years ago, I have become a member of two separate teams conducting assessments of chemical mixtures. My attendance at SOT was an opportunity to enhance my understanding of mixtures and cumulative assessments, as several sessions were devoted to these and related topics.

I also used the SOT Conference to focus on “NexGen” topics. NexGen risk assessment is one of EPA’s research areas that proposes to utilize data derived from the same “systems biology” techniques that have given rise to the notion of personalized medicine. This area holds much promise, but it will take time for the technology – and our use of it – to be sufficiently validated. Additionally, presentations about how epigenetic changes are emerging as factors to include in hazard assessments were also on my itinerary.

In particular, I enjoyed the plenary opening lecture given by Dr. Leroy Hood on the subject of Systems Biology and Toxicology and his vision of using emerging technologies to move from reactive health care to a more prevention-oriented paradigm. It will be interesting to watch the development of his ideas in parallel with NexGen risk assessment.

About the Author: Toxicologist Margaret Pratt joined the EPA in 2010.  She loves to travel and is trying to reconcile that with her love of animals. After joining EPA she began volunteering with an Arlington animal shelter and has since fostered 32 kittens and one cat (not all at once).

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

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