Monthly Archives: January 2013

Education Outreach: Fun for All!

By Maureen Gwinn, Ph.D., DABT

Since 2007, the Girl Scouts Council Nation’s Capital Chapter has organized a Girl Scout Science Day to give local Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn more about science in a fun and friendly environment. 

I first became involved as a friend of the troop leader in charge of the event.  She and I would work on ideas, adapt experimental protocols and talk our science friends into volunteering at the event. 

EPA's Maureen Gwinn: "I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science."

From the beginning, experiments have been led by Cadette or Senior Girl Scouts with the assistance of volunteers, including troop ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ and area scientists. We have hands-on experiments that address concepts of chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and toxicology.  We have had discussions related to what goes into your personal hygiene products, why DNA is unique to each of us, and how forensic science can help to solve a crime.

The Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts running the experiments at a recent event were the 4th graders who participated five years ago.  It has been a pleasure to see these girls not only learn the scientific concepts well enough to teach them to the new Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, but to watch them take on more responsibility for the event itself.  Through my involvement in this event, I have been privileged to watch those young, giggly ten-year-old girls turn into responsible young ladies – that still giggle, but do so while teaching or setting up for the next group of girls. 

This event inspired me to volunteer in education outreach at other events, including the Society of Toxicology Annual meeting, EPA’s Earth Day celebrations, and the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Volunteering in education outreach was not something I had considered in the past, but after participating in the Girl Scout Science Day for the past five years, I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science, to ask questions about how things work, and to work together to solve scientific problems. 

The Society of Toxicology Education Committee has ways to help support these types of opportunities, and for K-12 in particular we are putting together a website of ideas, experiments, and how-to’s to get you started in the new year. 

Are you interested in getting involved in education outreach, but don’t know where to start? Or are you already involved and have some tips or favorite resources to share? Please post your questions or suggestions in the comments section below so we can join forces.

The impact these events have on the kids is worth the effort. 

About the Author:  Maureen Gwinn is a biologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment and works as an Associate National Program Director for Sustainable and Healthy Communities.  She is currently serving in her final year as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology and is always looking for ideas for scientific outreach.

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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Sea Farming Shellfish and Seaweed in Long Island Sound

Local students, through a program with Rocking the Boat a nonprofit community development organization, helping to set up the shellfish and seaweed raft off of Hunts Point in the Bronx.

By Mark Tedesco

The theory behind the martial art of Jiu Jitsu is to use an attacker’s force against him or herself.   What if the same theory can be applied to pollutants that degrade coastal water quality?  An innovative project just offshore of where the Bronx River empties into western Long Island Sound is doing just that.

Shellfish and seaweed suspension raft off the Bronx River

There on a raft anchored about 20 meters offshore, not far from the Hunts Point market, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Connecticut, and Purchase College are studying a pilot sea farm of shellfish and seaweed.  Students from the South Bronx community are maintaining the sea farm through involvement of Rocking the Boat, a nonprofit community development organization.  The seaweed and shellfish (ribbed mussels) grow by absorbing and filtering nutrients from the water.  When harvested, the nutrients they contain are taken out of the water.  As a result, sea farming of shellfish and seaweed could be a powerful tool in cleaning up nutrient-enriched waters.

While nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for the growth of plants and animals, in excess they can overwhelm coastal waters, resulting in poor visibility, low oxygen levels, and loss of healthy wetlands and sea grasses. Through the Long Island Sound Study, EPA and the states of New York and Connecticut are taking action to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound by reducing the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound by 60 percent, mainly by upgrading wastewater treatment plants and controlling fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff. Enhancing sea farming of shellfish and seaweeds in Long Island Sound can complement nutrient control strategies as part of a comprehensive clean water strategy.  The pilot study is evaluating a range of potential markets for the harvest, from seafood for human consumption to agricultural feeds, from biofuels to pharmaceutical products.

The project has caught the interest of the CNN and the New York Times.  If successful, the expansion of sea farming of shellfish and seaweed can mean more jobs, cleaner water, and local quality products.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator,  in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

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 Power of Partnerships: Habitat Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay

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Brown pelicans are among the many species of birds that visit Poplar Island

By Ross Geredien

Last November, I accompanied U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists to inspect a unique habitat restoration project led by the FWS Chesapeake Bay office. Here’s my account of that day:

The wind stings my face as we skim across the water. To my left, the bay’s silvery sheen meets leaden clouds at the southern horizon. I look to my right and see a northern gannett, a large, oceanic bird, floating on the surface.

I’m on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workboat, heading across Chesapeake Bay at 24 knots. It’s a brisk morning, and our destination is Poplar Island, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deposits the dredge spoil from Baltimore Harbor’s approach channels.

Poplar once boasted a lively fishing community, complete with weekend retreats and abundant wildlife. From 1840 to 1990, erosion reduced the island to just 10 acres. Since 1998, however, spoil deposits have restored Poplar to over 1,100 acres of productive marshland, and wildlife is once again flourishing.

Upon reaching the island, some 90 brown pelicans perch nearby. “It’s unusual to see this many,” says Chris Guy, one of the biologists. “Especially this late in the season,” responds Pete McGowan, another biologist. We discuss how recent storms have blown them off-course. They have found refuge at Poplar.

Over 200 bird species use Poplar Island during the year. As we explore the island, thousands of geese and ducks congregate on large, artificial ponds called cells. We also see uncommon species: night-herons, dowitchers, swans, and loons. The abundant waterfowl attract predators like birds of prey. Indeed, in the afternoon a rare short-eared owl flushes from the grass. “First of the season!” shouts Chris.

What makes all this possible? Poplar Island is a partnership among federal and state agencies. The Corps of

Aerial view of Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay (Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Engineers manages the dredge spoil operation under the Clean Water Act. The Maryland Environmental Service monitors water quality and nutrients while the Fish and Wildlife Service supervises the restoration. The University of Maryland also investigates a variety of ecological questions here. As a fellow working in the EPA’s wetlands program and a former biologist with the Maryland Wildlife Service, this intersection of wildlife, Chesapeake Bay, and clean water issues naturally resonates with me.

The weather has turned fair as we depart, wind-blown spray glistening in the sunlight. I leave Poplar with a new appreciation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the efforts to restore its habitat.

About the author: Ross Geredien is a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education serving in the EPA’s Office of Water, where he works on wetlands permitting issues. Previously, Ross was a wildlife biologist for the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources where he mapped the state’s rare, threatened and endangered species.

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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Free Newspapers Saved From Becoming Litter

By Linda Longo

"I thought to take the photo after I picked up the papers, but notice the green NYC recycling box in the background."

On many New York City street corners you’ll see those free newspaper boxes.   There’s one on my block in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.   Every so often I’ll notice our box is tipped over and the wind has scattered the free papers and everyone walks past oblivious. I’ve done it too. I’ll walk past thinking “well, I should pick it all up because a garbage can is right there”,  then I’m two blocks past and figure someone else will do the good deed.   This Sunday on my way to the local farmer’s market on 5th avenue and 4th street I saw that the wind was really enjoying the free papers.  The entire box was tipped over and the flimsy lid was open.  I placed my grocery cart off to the side and began to pick up the heaps of newspapers.  I quickly noticed the papers were not badly damaged so I righted the tipped over box and proceeded to place the papers back inside.  The few that were muddy I conveniently placed in the green NYC newspaper recycling box just feet away.   No one pointed and laughed at me like I secretly imagined they would.  People kept to their business, but I hope they noticed me because maybe the next time they see spilled free papers they’ll do the same.

I don’t go around picking up trash on a regular basis because I don’t want to get dirty, but that’s my hang up.  We need to understand that trash makes it way to the streets and into the sewer openings where it clogs our drainage system.  And when as little as 2” of rain happens our NYC sewers can get overwhelmed and sometimes this trash ends up in our waterways.  So if we all take a little effort to think about putting our gum wrappers in our pockets till we pass a trash can, or picking up the spilled newspapers, we’ll all contribute just a little to the welfare of our city.  And by the way, on the way home from the market I saw a lady open the free newspaper box and take one.  That made my day.

About the author: Linda started her career with EPA in 1998 working in the water quality program. For the past 7 years she’s helped regulated facilities understand how to be in compliance with EPA enforcement requirements. Outside of work Linda enjoys exploring neighborhoods of NYC, photographing people in their everyday world, and sewing handbags made from recycled materials that she gives to her friends.

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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Welcome to the New England Beacon!

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Curt Spalding

Being the administrator of EPA’s New England office for the past three-plus years has truly been a privilege. I am a resident of Rhode Island, but during the course of EPA’s work I’ve gotten to visit so many beautiful regions in each of the six New England states.

From Maine’s inland agricultural expanse to Connecticut’s coastal suburbia, from the forested mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire to the cherished coastlines of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, I am constantly reminded of New England’s stunning natural beauty, extraordinary culture and history. I have met loggers in the far reaches of Maine and urban commuters near Boston. This all has given me deeper appreciation for the ecology, economy and people of our region.

The New England Beacon is a new blog series that we send to you from our regional office. The posts will be written by EPA New England employees from their personal perspectives. It will present snippets about anything related to the New England environment and way of life – the fall apple harvest and March maple sugaring; innovative parks built on landfills and eco-sensitive development and other environmental issues seen through our local perspective.

For instance, in the past our bloggers have written about backyard chickens and visiting hawks in a Maine community; commuting from Cape Cod; and waking pre-dawn to that first glimpse of sunlight in Concord, Mass. In future blogs you might learn golf course ecology from an avid golfer or about unusual treasures collected from local waters by a member of EPA’s dive team.

Instead of learning about best management practices for stormwater, you’ll read about a cat trapped in a storm drain, and rather than scanning Energy Star requirements, you can read about the plethora of Christmas light options entangling New Englanders.

New England is a small region geographically, but it has some of the nation’s richest architecture, oldest farms and most beautiful coastlines. New England’s variety is found in forests, beaches, mountains, farmland, small towns and dense urban centers. It has the maritime culture of New Bedford and the tobacco growing region of the Connecticut River valley. In New England, we see intense development balanced by a profound respect for the environment.

We invite you to make a point of checking in with us every Monday to read about our New England perspectives here at the New England Beacon!

About the author: Curt Spalding is the regional administrator of EPA’s New England regional office in Boston.

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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30mph/365 – Living in the Windy State

By Cynthia Cassel

I was born in the great state of Kansas and I will most likely die here too.  While there are some good things to say about Kansas, what I say next may be shocking to you.  I love and hate this place simultaneously.

Whether you are cold-natured or one of those folks who walk around in shorts and flip-flops all winter long, there is no getting around the single most uncomfortable and annoying aspect of this state; the never-ending, never even waning…wind.    You can bundle against the cold, you can strip like Gypsy Rose Lee when it’s summertime but you can never ever,  ever get relief from this gawd-awful wind.

Chicago is nicknamed ‘The Windy City’ but that’s really a misnomer.  Chicago got that bad rep due to an editorial in the New York Sun in the 1800’s referencing the hyper-loquacious nature of Chicago politicians.  Since the nickname could be applied to every U.S. city, this must be the windiest planet in the galaxy–but I digress.

In a recent Kansas City Star article about the Flat Ridge Wind Farm being built in southern Kansas,  John Graham, CEO of BP Wind Energy said, “Kansas is blessed with very strong winds.”  I don’t think the words blessed and strong winds belong in the same understatement, but that’s just my opinion.

What occurred to me this afternoon, as I desperately tried to keep my feet connected to the ground, was the possibility of another  Great Dust Bowl era.   As I write this,  the wind is blowing a steady 26.4 mph from the West Southwest.  We’ve had a couple of years of miserably dry summers and relatively dry winters. While farming practices have changed and improved since 1930, we still have daily gusts that could scour the paint off your car.   What will happen to the land?  According to an article in the K-State Research and Extension News written by Kathleen Ward  (Windy? Kansas? Well, Yes. And No 1/30/06), that during the Dust Bowl, “Experts estimate western Kansas also lost twice the dirt moved in digging the Panama Canal.”

The other downside is that I keep getting accused of having bad posture.  It’s not bad posture that makes me walk like Grouch Marx.  I’m a small-ish person – it’s the only way I can keep from being blown over backward.

But back to the wind farms.  Whether you are a proponent of wind energy (in other words, you’ve got a big  gob of land you’d like to lease for a tidy profit), or a proponent of a form of energy that doesn’t thwack pretty songbirds into a stupor, you’ve got to admit Kansas will suffice as a good source of wind. Less dependence on middle eastern oil is the upside and the 274 wind turbines at Flat Ridge-2 can supply 1,600 homes with electricity.  Another plus is that projects like Flat Ridge and Flat Ridge-2 bring dollars into the state.   And even a curmudgeon like me has to admit that hundreds of snow white turbines all spinning at once looks like a lovely in-place ballet.

Another bit from the K-State Extension news article about wind:

A Lakin Eagle newspaper writer joked that a 2-gallon funnel could gather enough Kansas “zephyrs” to drill a 180-feet hole in solid sandstone – easily producing a well with “condensed air.”

Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!  Find a way to make those turbines catch that wind, channel it into a great big funnel and use it for yet another positive purpose.  It wouldn’t be able to blow all of our lovely Kansas soil from here to New York and I could finally walk like a normal human being.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

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: Green Infrastructure Making News

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

EPA will help Philadelphia monitor water quality in rivers to measure the effectiveness of green infrastructure.

Some of my fellow bloggers and I have highlighted a variety of ways “green infrastructure” has helped cities save money, and showcased the impact it has had on helping communities become more sustainable.

We’ve even featured a video of EPA scientist Dr. Bill Shuster at work exploring the benefits of rain gardens and other “green infrastructure” techniques to reduce stormwater runoff from reaching local waterways.

We’re not the only ones who have noticed the potential of green infrastructure. A recent update on the online publication Yale Environment 360 highlights Philadelphia as a possible model for the rest of the country.  In June 2011, the city approved the Green City, Clean Waters program, a 25-year, $2-billion plan to reduce combined sewer overflows.

In April 2012, EPA signed off on the project. This is noted as one of the most comprehensive green infrastructure efforts in the country. EPA will help Philadelphia monitor water quality in surrounding rivers to measure the effectiveness of the green infrastructure efforts.

In another recent article, “Save New York by Making it Soft,” New Yorker magazine writer Thomas De Monchaux explores how establishing wetlands around Manhattan could “create new ecosystems, facilitating greater ecological connectivity, improving water quality, and enhancing opportunities for habitat growth.”

Do you have an example or an idea for tapping green infrastructure around where you live? Please share them in the comments section below.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry works with EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research team and is a frequent “Around the Water Cooler” contributor.

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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Personal Watersheds: Small, but Mighty

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By Jessica Werber

In law school, I was told I would one day become either a big-picture or a detail-oriented lawyer. I took the big-picture approach, but I now realize that the truth is in the small details, for it is often the cumulative small details that have the largest impact on the environment.

Waterbodies can be large or small, and you may be surprised that some of the smallest streams actually have the largest impact on your life and wellbeing. On a country drive in the Mid-Atlantic, you may see signs letting you know that you’re entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed at any number of places along the highway. Did you know that there are five major rivers and over 100,000 water bodies that connect to this larger watershed?

Now, imagine your personal watershed: the land that collects water running downhill, the area surrounding where you live and work, next to your schools, religious institutions and supermarkets. Let’s say you are out walking your dog in the local park and realize you forgot to bring a baggie. So you decide to return and pick up the poop later. But it starts to rain and you figure the rain will take care of things. Turns out, it only makes things worse. The poop is washed into a nearby small stream, which feeds into other streams and rivers, adding to increased nutrient pollution downstream and causing a variety of impacts.

You might not even know it, but your small action has triggered a bunch of reactions in your personal watershed. Think about the other people who go about their daily business. Your neighbor may use too much fertilizer on his lawn or may not be aware that the soap he uses to wash his car contains high amounts of phosphates, both of which also contribute to nutrient pollution. And what happens to all of the water that sloshes down the street in the rain? Or the household water from the shower and water that is flushed down the toilet? The answer: the water ends up in streams that connect your personal watershed to a larger one.

You can make a difference to protect your personal watershed, especially to prevent nutrient pollution. Pick up after your pet and give your neighbors some pointers about how to help minimize pollution. And, think about how even the littlest streams—which seem of tiny importance—are mighty in the end.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney. This post does not represent the views of the EPA or Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

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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¡No se olvide del auto!

Por Lina Younes

Hoy tuvimos la primera nevada del año. No fue una tormenta severa. De hecho, cerca de mi casa solo cayeron unas dos pulgadas, pero fue suficiente para que decidieran empezar las clases dos horas más tarde de lo usual. Como la nieve era como un polvo liviano y seco, el proceso de limpieza de la entrada de la casa y los autos no fue nada de difícil. 
Dado el pronóstico anoche, pensé que había tomado los pasos necesarios para prepararme para cualquier cosa que la Madre Naturaleza me fuera a enviar. Tenía todos los suministros necesarios en casa.

Ayer, decidí llenar el tanque de gasolina para no tener problemas en el evento de que tuviera que quedarme en casa debido a una nevada fuerte. Ya había aprendido mi lección de la experiencia que tuve el verano pasado cuando una tormenta imprevista ocasionó un apagón general en mi área por varios días y prácticamente no habían gasolineras operando en mi comunidad.

Pensaba que estaba en buenas condiciones y totalmente preparada, pero no fue así. Tan pronto como empecé a guiar esta mañana para llevar a mi hija a la escuela, se encendió una luz en el auto avisándome que tenía que echarle el líquido para limpiar el parabrisas. ¡Ay, no! A pesar de que había un sol brillante este mañana, la nieve derretida y las sustancias que echan en las carreteras para deshelar estaban salpicando las ventanas de mi vehículo. Lo cual hizo imprescindible el tener que conseguir el líquido limpiador de parabrisas tan pronto dejé mi hija en la escuela.

He aquí algunos consejos sobre las medidas que debe tomar para preparar su vehículo para el invierno para su seguridad.
•    Inspeccione el filtro de aire y los niveles de los líquidos de su vehículo.
•    Inspeccione las llantas para asegurarse de que estén infladas adecuadamente y que estén en buenas condiciones.
•    Y como me di cuenta hoy, asegúrese de tener suficiente líquido limpiador para su parabrisas.
•    También asegúrese de que los limpiaparabrisas estén en buenas condiciones.

Si se encuentra frecuentemente en la carretera o vive en un área propensa a las tormentas de nieve y hielo, considere tener en su baúl sustancias que no sean tóxicas para deshelar, por ejemplo, arena limpia para los gatos, o un saco de arena común, una pala, una linterna, un kit de primeros auxilios en caso de una emergencia. Espero que nunca los tenga que utilizar.

¿Tiene algunos consejos para emergencias que quisiera compartir con nosotros?

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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Don’t Forget Your Car!

By Lina Younes

Today we got the first snowfall this year. It was not a severe storm. In fact, near my home it was only about two inches, but it was enough for schools in our area to start two hours late. Since the snow was dry and powder-like, the process of clearing the entrance, driveway, and cars was not difficult at all.

Given the snow forecast last night, I thought I had taken the necessary steps to prepare for whatever nature would bring. I had the necessary supplies at home. Yesterday, I also decided to fill up my car with gas so I wouldn’t be stranded at home in the event of a severe snowfall. I had learned from my experience last summer when an unexpected storm left our area without power for several days and virtually no operating gas stations near our neighborhood. So, I thought I was totally ready this time, but not.  As soon as I started driving this morning to take my daughter to school, a light came on in the car:  “low washer fluid.”  Yikes!  Even though the sun was shining bright this morning, some of the melted snow and de-icing substances on the road were splattering on the vehicle, so filling up with windshield washer fluid was in order as soon as I dropped my daughter at school.

So, here are some tips as to what you should do to winterize your vehicle during this season in order to stay safe.

  • Check your air filter and fluid levels.
  • Check the tread wear on your tires and make sure they are properly inflated.
  • And, as I was reminded today, have plenty of windshield washer fluid!
  • Check the condition of your windshield wipers, too.

If you are on the road a lot or live in an area prone to snow and ice storms, consider having non-toxic de-icing substances such as clean clay cat litter or sand in your trunk, a shovel, a flashlight and a first aid kit for emergencies. I hope you don’t have to use them.

Do you have any emergency tips that you would like to share with us?

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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