Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dr. King’s Dream and Environmental Justice

President Obama will mark the anniversary of the March on Washington today at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic speech 50 years ago.  As we all reflect on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his influence on American society, let’s also celebrate Dr. King’s legacy of social and environmental justice.

Dr. King was a pioneer on many fronts. He fought to raise awareness about urban environmental issues and public health concerns that disproportionately affect communities of color – issues that are still relevant today. We have made tremendous progress in the past 50 years, but our work is not done.

As I reflect on this anniversary, my thoughts go to scripture. I am reminded of the passage from Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

This sentiment of stewardship is what led me to join the Environmental Protection Agency. At the EPA, we work every day to safeguard our environment – the environment with which we have been entrusted – for future generations.

Something we don’t think about often enough is that ensuring basic environmental protections for all is a civil rights issue – one that we have yet to resolve. Our low income and minority neighborhoods suffer disproportionate health impacts, like asthma and heart disease, due to harmful pollution in the air, land and water.

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For the Birds, and the Turtles, and the Deer

By Moira McGuinness

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson

The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth — soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research.
—Rachel Carson*

 

 

I consider myself a city kid with a country heart.  I was born in Washington, DC, have lived nearly my whole life in the DC suburbs, but I spend every weekend I can in the Shenandoah Valley at a cabin my parents bought in 1966. The cabin and the pond, fields, and woods that surround it are more home to me than the neighborhood I was raised in. Spending time out there just wandering around renews and heals my spirit like nothing else does.

A deer at the farm. Image by the author.

A deer at the farm. Image by the author.

This summer I asked a forester to produce a management plan for the 100 acres of woods on the property.  His plan included short-term ways to make the forest healthier and make room for the undergrowth that deer thrive on, and recommendations for longer-term growth. I agree with Rachel Carson that conservation requires a balanced approach based on research. I am thankful to have the help of a trained scientist in deciding how best to care for the trees and the wildlife that depend on them.

I know having such a connection to nature is a gift as well as a responsibility.  That’s why I especially enjoyed helping to get the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Finalists page ready to go online. The photos, essays, songs, poems, and dances, have inspired me to invite friends out to my little mountain retreat more often and share with them my own sense of wonder at the gift nature is. I invite you to cast your ballot for your favorite entry in each of the categories. Send an email with your favorites to aging.info@epa.gov or mail your votes to:

Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest
C/O Kathy Sykes
U.S. EPA Mail Code 8101R
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Room 41284

Voting closes Friday September 27, 2013.

“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.” ―Rachel Carson

About the Author: Moira McGuinness manages EPA Research web content. When not working with the Science Communication Staff in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, she likes to photograph wildlife she sees near her cabin.

*Letter to the editor, Washington Post (1953); quoted in Lost Woods:The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson (1999) edited by Linda Lear, p. 99

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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Why I (Still) Ride a Bike

Jared Blumenfeld

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. — John F. Kennedy

What was true for our 35th President is definitely true for me.  It’s hard to imagine a more invigorating or magical way to travel.  Gliding along bright green bike lanes with life all around—you can smell, hear and feel the world.  As a child, bicycling provided freedom and independence.  In college it meant a cheap way of getting around. It still does, but today the reasons I bike are many. Because I work at the EPA, you might expect that my main reason is because it’s pro-environment.  In reality, the green aspects of biking aren’t even among my top three.

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How Well Do You Know Your H20?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By John Senn

I drink a lot of tap water – a glass in the morning before I leave for work, three or four throughout the work day and several more from the time I get home until I go to bed. So when I came upon a booth from the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (aka DC Water) featuring a taste test between tap water and bottled water, which I virtually never drink, I thought I would surely be able to tell the difference. But I could not; the two samples I tried tasted virtually identical.

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

I was heartened to learn that I was not alone in flunking the taste test. Last year, only about half of participants who took DC Water’s taste test were able to identify the correct sample as tap water and more than half ranked tap water as better tasting or did not taste a difference between the two.

Despite the fact that tap water is virtually free – a gallon costs consumers about a penny – many people still prefer to drink bottled water. DC Water says that figure is about 50 percent in Washington. Admittedly, tap water, especially in big cities like Washington, gets a bad rap due to incidents where public health has been compromised because of excessive pollution in the water supply. Those incidents, while well-publicized, are relatively rare and in the case of an immediate public health threat, your drinking water provided is required by law to alert its customers. In 2011, 93 percent of Americans that got their water from a public water supply received water that met federal standards for drinking water every day of the year, evidence that the U.S. enjoys one of best drinking water systems in the world.

Tap water is also regulated by EPA and local public water systems are required to provide their customers with a report about the quality of their drinking water each summer. Soon, that report will be available by email. But bottled water, which is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is important to have stockpiled in case of an emergency situations or natural disasters when your tap water may be unavailable or compromised for several days.

And regardless of whether you can tell the difference between tap water and bottled water, you can get more information about your drinking water on our website or by contacting your local provider.

About the author: John Senn is the deputy communications director in EPA’s Office of Water and also serves as a member of the Agency’s emergency response team.

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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Environmental Justice is Served

By Erin Heaney

Every community has the right to know what they are being exposed to. That’s why at the Clean Air Coalition (CAC), our mission is to develop grassroots leaders who organize their communities to run and win environmental justice and public health campaigns.  We’ve seen over the years that when leaders and residents have good data, they are better able to become strong advocates for their neighborhoods.

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One example of this is our recent work to protect residents of Tonawanda, New York from dangerous air pollution. After CAC-led citizen science showed high levels of benzene in Tonawanda, New York originating from a foundry coke plant operated by Tonawanda Coke, residents mobilized to hold the plant accountable. They knocked on their neighbors’ doors, met with decision makers, and earned dozens of press hits. The public pressure generated by CAC members resulted in historic enforcement action against the plant.

In December of 2009, the US Department of Justice, the US EPA, NYS DEC and US Coast Guard executed a federal search warrant at Tonawanda Coke. Less than a week later the company’s environmental control manager was arrested.  On March 28th, 2013 a jury found Tonawanda Coke and the environmental contral manager guilty of violating the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the environmental control manager was also found guilty of obstructing justice. The company faces criminal fines in excess of $200 million and the company’s control manager faces up to 75 years in jail.

Now, we are working to ensure that the community has a voice in providing the court with project proposals from the community that may be funded in their community through a court ordered penalty. The Clean Air Coalition used a participatory budgeting process to identify potential projects for the court’s consideration Check out this short film on how the process worked!

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The Tonawanda Coke case is an amazing example of how citizen science, access to environmental data, combined with community mobilization and strong support from the federal government can result in tangible results for communities on the margins.

But it all starts with community awareness. One tool we used to build this awareness among residents in the fight against Tonawanda Coke was the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI online database was developed by EPA to give communities more information about what’s released by large industry in their backyards.  I originally wrote about our first TRI training for residents in the region last year. Now, we have learned a lot and we want to share the lessons we learned with other communities. We’ve turned them into a training guide  that people like you can use to educate and train your communities.

The guide is divided into two sections. The first hour explores the movement and history that advocated for TRI and the rules that govern the program. The second half gives folks hands-on practice using the database and exploring the releases in their neighborhood.

We hope other communities throughout the country will use our guide to share information with impacted residents, educate policy makers and continue to build a movement for the environment. Enjoy!

About the author: Erin Heaney is the Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, a grassroots organization that develops community leadership to win campaigns that advance public health and environmental justice. She has trained hundreds of grassroots leaders and won campaigns that have resulted in significant emissions reductions from some of the region’s largest polluters.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/71938803[/vimeo]

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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Rain Barrel Workshop Provides Educational Fun

By Kevin Kubik

Painted Rain Barrel

Painted Rain Barrel

My wife and I attended a rain barrel workshop in Eatontown, NJ.  The workshop was on teaching people about water conservation and reducing storm water runoff in our communities and making rain barrels. The best part of the workshop was that they gave us everything we needed to make our own rain barrel including the barrel, a spigot and all the fittings.

It was a lot of fun hearing about the program and making the rain barrel. Special instructions were given on how to connect two or more rain barrels in a series to make greater use of big rain events, what to water with the collected water (lawn and garden watering) and what to avoid (consumption). Everyone was also shown a couple of ways to avoiding mosquito breeding in the rain barrel.

I was so impressed with the presentation that I asked the instructor, Sara Mellor, if she could come to our next divisional “All Hands” meeting to give us a short presentation. She even gave us our own rain barrel that we will use in our Edison rain garden.

Rain Barrel Class

Rain Barrel Class

The workshop was provided by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, Water Conservation Program, which is a collaborative initiative between Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection via funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The link to the rain barrel program is http://water.rutgers.edu/Stormwater_Management/rainbarrels.html. Check it out.

Every year, as part of “Rutgers Day,” a contest is held for the best painted rain barrel. There’s even a video on how to paint a rain barrel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVtLTkGO3zs&feature=youtu.be.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik is the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. He has worked as a chemist for the region for more than 31 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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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Greening Sports to Combat Climate Change

Bob Nationals

I’ve been a sports fan all my life. I have so many great memories of going to games with my family and playing sports with friends and teammates.  Sports play a special role in our country – our local teams are part of our daily lives and part of the pride we take in our communities.  Sports bring Americans together everyday.

Today, EPA released a new Green Sports Resource Directory to help sports venues and teams save energy, cut waste and prevent harmful pollution.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Be It Ever So Humble, There’s No Place Like Home

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 Phil Colarusso

Wednesday had been a long day in the field, and it was great to be home. It was early evening and I was processing the last seagrass sample. Seagrasses provide habitat for many organisms, so it is not unusual to find small invertebrates crawling around in our eelgrass samples.

I poured the last sample bag onto the sorting tray and separated the small rocks, shells and other material from the shoots of eelgrass. It was at this point I saw it: a small hermit crab lay motionless. It had ditched the snail shell it had been living in, which I subsequently found among a small pile of rocks. The crab was dead and I was immediately overwhelmed with guilt. Hermit crabs only leave the safety of their adopted shells, their homes, under periods of extreme stress. As I contemplated the poor crab’s fate, I wondered what extreme event it would take to make me leave the security of my home. I have lived in homes that survived hurricanes, the snow and coastal flooding of the Blizzard of 1978, and countless other events.

A sense of discomfort gnawed at me as my tired mind wandered. Our oceans are home to millions of species. Global climate change, ocean acidification and eutrophication are some of the processes making our waters inhospitable to many plants and animals that live there. Warmer water temperatures change the normal distribution of animals and plants. Shellfish, which use calcium carbonate to build shells, will find that harder and harder to do as ocean pH levels continue to become more acidic. Sensitive habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrass beds, rapidly decline as waters near shore get over-enriched with nitrogen. What happens to all the fish that depend on those habitats? What do you do when you can’t go home?

Photo by Giancarlo Lalsingh (Tobago_Pictures on Flickr)

Photo by Giancarlo Lalsingh (Tobago_Pictures on Flickr)

As I was putting away my scuba gear, something fell out of my fin. In the dark it looked like a small rock. I picked it up off the garage floor with the intent of throwing it into the backyard. I realized it was not a rock, but another hermit crab, still tucked snugly in its snail shell. There was but one thing to do. I hopped in the car and drove the 15 minutes back to the nearest salt water. I returned this crab back to a safe location and he scrambled away. As he wandered away, I marveled at the resiliency of life. It reaffirmed to me the importance of the work I do. Nothing is more important than that place we call home.

Read more info on EPA’s work to protect ocean and coastal areas in New England.

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About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA New England, and is an avid diver. He’s living the dream in Wenham, Massachusetts with wife JoAnn, two kids, dog and white picket fence.

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 Village Green Project: Reading the Results So Far…

By Dr. Gayle Hagler and Ron Williams

The Village Green Project is up and running! The lower-cost, solar-powered equipment continuously monitors ozone and fine particles, along with meteorological measurements, and sends the data to an EPA website by the minute.

So, what is the data telling us about local environmental conditions at this point? The graphs below show a snapshot of recorded trends for ground level ozone and fine particulate matter.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project.  Note: data are preliminary and intended for research and educational purposes.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project. Note that the data are preliminary
and intended for research and educational purposes.

The up and down line you see above for daily ozone concentrations is a typical summer pattern. That’s because the summer sun fuels atmospheric chemical reactions throughout the day that create ground level ozone, commonly peaking in the hot afternoon. The process decreases overnight, and ozone concentrations fall.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project.  Note that the data are preliminary  and intended for research and educational purposes.

Hourly PM2.5 data from the Village Green Project. Note that the data are preliminary
and intended for research and educational purposes.

A review of the particulate graph shows very low concentrations in early July. Not surprisingly, this coincided with rainy days, as rainfall usually removes particulates from the air. Once the rain ended, particulate levels started rising to levels we commonly see in the summertime.

The Village Green park bench

The Village Green park bench

So far, the air-monitoring bench survived very hot and humid weather and has operated uninterrupted during several dark and overcast days, including during back-to-back thunderstorms. We will continue to monitor the system’s performance over the remainder of the summer.

Back to School

With fall just around the corner, the school year is about to begin again. We are interested in how we can engage teachers and their students in learning about air quality science and the Village Green Project. Our outreach team is in the process of developing fun and interactive games.

Care to join the fun? Please use the comments section below if you have suggestions or questions about environmental education projects involving the Village Green Project.  And please check back regularly for future blogs!

Village Green graphic identifierAbout the Authors: Dr. Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. Ron Williams is an exposure science researcher who is studying how people are exposed to air pollutants and methods to measure personal exposure.

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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El control de porciones para un mundo más verde

Por Lina Younes

Como he batallado con mi peso a lo largo de mi vida adulta, estoy muy consciente de la importancia de controlar las porciones de alimentos. Aun cuando trato de convencerme de que estoy controlando la cantidad de alimentos que ingiero al limitar el tamaño de mis porciones, he notado que la balanza nunca miente. Si he sido más generosa al momento de servir mis porciones, he podido constatar que las libras registradas en la pesa aumentan en la misma proporción. ¿Acaso han pensado cómo si controlan las porciones de alimentos para un estilo de vida más saludable también pueden tomar acción para un planeta más saludable?

Déjenme explicarles.

¿Sabían que mientras estamos incrementando las porciones de alimentos en nuestros hogares, escuelas y restaurantes, de hecho, estamos desperdiciando mucha comida? ¿Sabían que las personas en Estados Unidos echaron más de 36 millones de toneladas de comida a la basura en el 2011? ¿Sabían que el 96 por ciento de los alimentos desechados terminaron en rellenos sanitarios o incineradores en este país? ¿Entonces, qué podemos hacer para desperdiciar menos comida?

·         ¿Han pensado en servirse porciones más pequeñas o usar platos más pequeños para comer? También, cuando comemos despacio y pensamos en lo que estamos comiendo, es más probable que nos demos cuenta de que ya estamos satisfechos y no tenemos que servirnos nuevamente.

·         ¿Antes de echar frutas frescas o vegetales frescos a la basura, por qué nos aventurarnos y elaborar nuevas recetas? ¿Han pensado en congelar las frutas frescas para usarlas para hacer batidos de frutas en el futuro? También se pueden lavar los vegetales y congelarlos para usarlos en guisados para una cena futura.

·         ¿Qué tal les parece usar el pan después de varios días para hacer croutons en casa?

·         ¿Han pensado en hacer compost de los desechos de alimentos? Pueden usar las cáscaras de las patatas, la cáscara o pulpa de las frutas, la borra del café, la cáscara de huevo o especies secas para crear su propio abono orgánico.

Este verano, la EPA y el Departamento de Agricultura de Estados Unidos (USDA, por sus siglas en inglés) lanzaron un esfuerzo de colaboración llamado el Reto de Desperdicio de Alimentos de EE.UU.  para concienciar acerca de los retos ambientales y de salud creados al desperdiciar la comida. Aprenda más acerca del programa y cómo involucrarse.

Al tomar pasos sencillos para no desperdiciar comida, puede ahorrar dinero al comprar menos alimentos, conservar energía y recursos naturales, y especialmente, reducir su huella de carbono al reducir las emisiones de metano que son producidas en los vertederos durante el proceso de descomposición de la comida en la basura. Me parece que es una solución verde que beneficia a todas las partes interesadas.

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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