Monthly Archives: January 2014

Calculating the Future with Green Infrastructure

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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking at the National Council for Science and the Environment. Photo credit: John Mcshane

 

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said “the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” He made the point that science and research are critical to keeping that competitive edge—but also to protecting our public health and our environment. I couldn’t agree more.

Science has always been at the heart of our mission at EPA. In the State of the Union address, President Obama doubled down on his commitment to using science to address a changing climate and carry out his Climate Action Plan—which aims to curb carbon pollution, build climate resilience in our towns and cities, and lead the world to a sustainable, clean energy future.

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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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The Greenest Super Bowl Ever?

Everything about the Super Bowl is big – the athletes, the media coverage, the prices for hotels. It’s also a big opportunity to help the environment by using as little energy as possible. The NFL and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey have seized the opportunity by making this the greenest Super Bowl ever.

MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and the New York Giants – and host to this year’s Super Bowl – is a model of green design. It is the most energy-efficient football stadium in the US, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

And EPA has been involved from the very beginning. While the stadium was being built, EPA signed a memorandum of understanding with the stadium’s owner outlining a plan to build and operate the new stadium as a green building.

The Super Bowl wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without food, and the NFL and MetLife Stadium are making sure that leftover food doesn’t go to waste. The NFL plans to donate unused food to local soup kitchens, shelters and churches, which will feed the hungry while keeping food waste from being shipped to landfills and incinerators.

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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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Gleaning Gourds

By Jim Callier

Last month I shared with you about noteworthy efforts to feed the poor here in Kansas City by “gleaning.”  I wanted to follow up by sharing the conclusion to this story and the positive impact this experience had on me, the community, and the environment.

Food is Too Good To Waste!

One of the reasons for my enthusiasm about the gleaning effort is that EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, places feeding hungry people near the top in terms of preferred alternatives to wasting.  Considering higher uses of food is important because in addition to the social and economic benefits of not wasting food, alternatives to landfilling are important for the planet.

Food waste, especially when disposed of in a landfill, is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases through the production and release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.  In the US, a significant amount of food waste is disposed of in landfills every day – more than 34.5 million tons in 2011.  This is enough food waste to fill the Rose Bowl each day!  What’s more, many in the US do not have enough to eat.  Hunger is a serious problem in the US – with 1 in 5 children going to bed hungry.

The gleaning effort organized by SoSA West that took place in Kansas City this past November was one of many notable efforts to take food that otherwise would be wasted and get it to those in need. I was honored to be a part of this effort and am glad to be able to share my account.

Getting Squash to Those in Need

A couple of days following the gleaning event, squash1I met up with volunteers to make deliveries of gleaned squash to pantries and shelters.  I met Scott, a volunteer for Operation Breakthrough who would drive the truck and Jesse, another volunteer who would sack and deliver the squash.  Scott and Jesse were interested in my involvement in the project so I explained EPA’s food recovery program and the importance of food recovery to the economy and environment.  When I mentioned feeding people as a beneficial alternative to wasting and our partnership with USDA, they were enthusiastic and better understood the bigger picture of food waste in the US.

We began our journey for the day with an initial list of 6-7 stops and loaded with 4 full skid boxes — over 4000 pounds of squash, and numerous bushel-sized sacks to fill.   At every stop, we met incredible people.  Some were chefs that would prepare the squash and some were people in need.  Everyone we met was incredibly appreciative, but I felt the most privileged, having the opportunity to be part of the effort.

squash22One of the stops that had a particular impact on me was a men’s shelter.  While we were there a number of men came over to our truck to help unload a couple hundred pounds of squash.  Although the honor was ours, they were truly grateful.  As we prepared to leave the shelter, a couple of men who were in a van leaving for an errand backed up, stopped, rolled the window down, and called us over to once again express appreciation.  This totally unexpected, additional act of gratitude really hit home for me on the value of the effort made by all of the organizations and volunteers.

As I walked back to the delivery truck, I noticed a black POW MIA flag.   Subsequently, I did a little research and learned that this organization’s mission includes helping veterans and houses close to 200 veterans.  This really made a mark on me because Veterans and active duty service personnel have a special meaning for me.  One reason is that my father and eldest brother were veterans; my father served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II and my brother served in the Army during the Vietnam era.  Also, I have met numerous veterans and service members throughout my work at EPA.  While working in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands assessing and cleaning up WWII sites, I met current and former Navy Explosive Ordnance Detachment Officers, also known as “bomb techs.”  squash3

Meeting these appreciative vets and others on our journey that day was a fantastic experience.  In all, we made about 13 stops and delivered most of the squash that day.   I felt uplifted to meet the generous volunteers and grateful recipients.  It is encouraging to know that efforts like this are going on and that what we do at EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge is necessary and important.  As I witnessed by participating in this gleaning effort, the work of many at food waste reduction is turning what would have been left behind as waste into an opportunity to make lives a little better.

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

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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Is Your Septic System Ready for the Big Game?

By Maureen Tooke

I come from a large family and get-togethers can be stressful, even for our septic system. My family is just one of the nearly one-quarter of U.S. households that should follow a few simple steps to avoid problems with their systems during family gatherings and parties, like many that will happen for Sunday’s big football game.

While we’re all familiar with how the system works and are careful to maintain it, all that extra flushing and water use during parties can really stress the system, causing it to fail.
 
I remember several things in particular my mom would do around the house, in addition to having it inspected and pumped, which were good daily practices to ensure that our system worked. 

Kitchens back in the day didn’t have garbage disposals, so she would put food waste in a little bag and throw it in the trash.  She would also put the grease from the Sunday morning bacon in a tin can for it to harden and then throw it away.  Turns out that it was a good thing we didn’t have a disposal, as EPA recommends you not use one if you have a septic system.  All that extra food waste and cooking grease clogs the system. There’s nothing worse than your septic system backing up!

For the bathroom, she’d buy thin toilet paper and we’d never flush anything other than what we were supposed to, though I’m sure one of my brothers’ little green army guys might have slipped in when no one was looking.  My dad would stay on us about taking short showers and not running the faucet while we brushed.  These are good water conservation practices, regardless.

Like my mom, EPA’s SepticSmart program has easy to remember tips about keeping your system properly maintained during the big game and all year long:

  • Get your septic system inspected by a professional at least every three years and pumped every three to five years.
  • Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.
  • Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
  • Never park or drive on your septic drainfield.
  • Conserve water around the home as much as possible since all of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system.

Proper system care and maintenance are vital to protecting public health, water resources and your property value.

About the author: Maureen Tooke is an Environmental Protection Specialist who works in the Office of Wastewater Management in EPA’s Region 10 Idaho Operations Office in Boise. She lives in the North End with her fiancé and dog.

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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Quilting to Give a Community a Voice

“We would like to dedicate this blog in memory of the four Lake Apopka farmworkers, community leaders, and long-time Farmworker Association of Florida members – strong and dedicated women leaders and agricultural workers – who we lost in 2013.  In memory of Angela Tanner, Willie Mae Williams, Betty Woods, and Louise Seay.  With gratitude and remembrance from the community.  We will miss you.”

By Jeannie Economos

When I first started working for the Farmworker Association of Florida in 1996, they told me part of my job was to work on the issue of Lake Apopka.  Little did I know at the time that Lake Apopka would become my life’s work for the next 17 years. And, it would become personal…as I came to know and love the community of people I worked with – the farmworkers who fed America for generations.

Untitled-2Lake Apopka is Florida’s most contaminated large lake.  On the north shore, 20,000 acres of farmland were carved out of what was once the bottom of Lake Apopka.  Farmworkers farmed that land – they call it muck –for decades beginning in the 1940s during World War II until the farms were bought out by the state and shut down in 1998 for the purpose of trying to restore the lake’s natural wetlands.

Alligator studies in the 1980s and the tragic death of over 1,000 aquatic birds on Lake Apopka in 1998-99 were linked to toxic organochlorine pesticides that had been used on the farms prior to their being banned in the 1970s. Farmworkers were exposed to these same chemicals, but nobody was looking at their health problems from chronic occupational pesticide exposure on the farmlands. Millions were spent to study alligators, and later the birds, and to try to restore the ‘dead’ lake. But no money was ever spent to address the health concerns of the farmworkers, who were acutely exposed to these pesticides for years.

The community would not accept this, especially when they saw their friends and family members getting sick and even dying.  Thus, was born the idea of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project.  With a lot of hard work and commitment from former Lake Apopka farmworkers from Apopka and Indiantown, it has become a reality. The quilts were created to honor the lives of the farmworkers who have been exposed to the pesticides and to keep alive their history. The artwork of each individual square weaves the personal stories, tragedies, and small victories together to speak about the environmental injustices at Lake Apopka. The Lake Apopka farmworker leaders continue to use the quilts to both raise awareness among student and church groups about environmental justice and their community, and as a tool to press their case with state and local decision makers to address the health and environmental problems facing their community members.

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2013 MLK Day Parade in Florida

Today, the quilts have been viewed by thousands of Floridians and exhibited all across the state, including in Orlando City Hall, the Orange County Public Library, the Alachua County Public Library and the African American Museum of Art. This has helped spread awareness of the injustices the farmworkers face, and has helped build attention from the state legislature, which has been working to propose legislation which would provide long-term health care services for the affected residents surrounding the lake.

Is there still a need to address health care for the farmworkers on Lake Apopka?  Yes, but the creation of the quilts has given the community a voice and a message that they didn’t have before.  And, it has been a way for members to turn their pain into folk art that memorializes the ones they love.  Validation is what the community wants.  The quilts are one way to validate their lives and their contributions to our society.  

About the author: Jeannie has worked for over 20 years on issues of the environment, environmental justice, indigenous and immigrants’ rights, labor, peace, and social justice. From 1996-2001, she worked for the Farmworker Association of Florida as the Lake Apopka Project Coordinator, addressing the issues of job loss, displacement, and health problems of the farmworkers who worked on the farm lands on Lake Apopka prior to the closing of the farms in 1998. After the bird mortality in 1998-99, her focus turned to the pesticide-related health problems of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers, who were exposed to the same damaging organochlorine pesticides that were implicated in the bird deaths.

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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EPA and Freddie Mac: Saving Families Money and Reducing Greenhouse Gas Pollution

Energy efficiency is one of the clearest and most cost-effective ways to save families money, make our businesses more competitive, and reduce greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to climate change.

This is one of the reasons I am excited to have just signed a memorandum of understanding with Freddie Mac, one of the largest lenders in the U.S. Freddie Mac and EPA’s Energy Star program have agreed to focus together on improving the energy efficiency of multifamily buildings, like apartment buildings, condos and co-ops. This is truly a win-win for the environment and for families all across the country.

The agreement outlines strategies to save energy, water, and money for multifamily property owners and residents. This is one important step toward fulfilling the President’s Climate Action Plan goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency.

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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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Coastal Wetlands Getting Swamped

By Charlie Rhodes

While wetlands may conjure up images of “swamp things,” in reality these unique ecosystems have many vital and fascinating characteristics.

For example, wetlands provide crucial food and habitat for wildlife.  Did you know that more than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles, as do 75 percent of our nation’s migratory birds?

Both saltwater (along the coastal shorelines) and freshwater (extending inland) wetlands occur in the coastal watersheds of the United States.

Wetland systems improve water quality and buffer coastal communities from erosion and flooding, while also providing recreational opportunities. A recent report Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watershed of the Continuous United States 2004-2009 summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds. Frankly, much of the report compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn’t good news.

During the study period, wetlands suffered a net national decline of 360,720 acres (an area about the size of Los Angeles), and an average of 25 percent increased loss compared to the previous five years.  Our Atlantic Coasts saw a decline of 111,960 acres (larger than the city of Philadelphia).  Losses and degradation of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Some of the reported impacts include:

  • The loss of an estimated that 7,360 acres of estuarine saltmarsh in the Atlantic coastal watersheds  – mainly due to erosion and inundation from rising sea levels along shorelines near Delaware Bay.
  • Forested freshwater wetlands declined by an estimated 405,740 acres.  Of these losses, 69,700 acres (44%) were attributed to silviculture, the practice of harvesting trees in many swamps.
  • Natural ponds declined by 16,400 acres (-3.9 percent), while detention or ornamental ponds increased by 55,700 acres (+19 percent).  While this would appear to indicate a net gain, the tradeoff is that natural ponds, which often interact with other natural environments and provide additional benefits, were being lost while isolated decorative ponds or sumps of limited ecological value were being created.

While reestablishing and creating wetlands can offset losses, this study also found that these strategies have not been as effective in coastal wetlands as in other types.  Challenges include costs, competing land use interests, and oversight limitations.

Wetland losses coupled with increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy make the mid-Atlantic coasts increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding and inundation.

But not all of the news is bad. Many great opportunities still exist for citizens, industry, government agencies, and others to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and improve the quality of our remaining wetlands.  Learn more about what you can do to protect wetlands and about EPA’s wetland activities in the mid-Atlantic at the following:  http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/protection.cfm; and http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/wetlands/ .

 

About the Author:  Charlie Rhodes is a wetland ecologist who has been with EPA since 1979.  He has worked nationally on wetlands in many capacities including impact assessment, delineation, and enforcement; and in many roles, including expert witness, instructor, and grant reviewer. 

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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Solar Company Complications

Construction work on the solar barn.

Construction work on the solar barn.

By Cyndy Kopitsky

With all of the solar panel company advertising, the information and talks at the EPA on solar power, and as a concerned citizen who tries to conserve energy and be a smart shopper, it makes perfect sense to explore solar power. At least, that is what my husband and I thought in the summer of 2010. Have you ever considered purchasing solar panels for your home?

We started this journey contacting several companies that serviced our area. They were quick to respond and we had three appointments to discuss the options and the costs. To our surprise, each company had a much different plan ranging from ‘your roof is good for the panels if you cut a few trees down” to “you cannot use your roof, there is too much shade even if you cut down the trees.”

After many shade reports, many site visits to our home and many phone conservations, we decided to trust and explore the company that said we could use our roof. The next move before construction began was to cut five trees that provided shading to the home in the hot summer months and privacy along the side of the house. I tried to convince myself that this sacrifice of cutting mature oak trees was to help save the earth, but somehow I still had regrets.

Within days after the trees were cut, the solar company’s senior engineer and three reps came to the house for the final inspection before we signed contracts. Within minutes after they were on the roof, my husband and I heard some loud voices that quickly escalated. We were presented immediately with the problem they were facing.

The roof was not strong enough and would NOT support the solar array!

All I could think of was those trees and all the birds that had to find new locations for their nests, all the wood that had to get cut, how we would have no privacy, how the house would be so hot, and how we killed perfectly beautiful, thriving trees for no reason!

After we adjusted to the disappointments and after much more research, we decided to build an above ground solar barn measuring 40 x 16 feet and 16 feet high. Winter approached soon thereafter and our priorities shifted to recovering from our house fire (another environmental story.) This followed with two more company opinions and money spent in vain on another “I can do this” solar company we hired to build the barn and install panels. At that point, we were finally ready for the state to inspect in the fall of 2012.

To our surprise, we failed the inspection for 32 points and were advised to remove all the panels and make the repairs. We refused to give up. Frustrated, over-invested, and still determined to save the earth, we looked for yet another company to save us.

It is now 2014 and our solar panels have been up and running since September 2013. We have been impressed with the utility savings and the carbon emissions reduced by going solar. My recommendation to you would be, if you’re considering solar, watch what you ask for!

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky works in the Clean Water Division as coordinator for the national Urban Waters Small Grant program. Her many personal interests include, caring for rescue parrots and macaws from unwanted homes. This includes baking “birdie breads”, preparing special hot birdie veggie dishes, and purchasing foraging toys. She loves to cook and bake (even for people), eat healthy foods, take many vitamin supplements, and she tries to respect to the environment with her life style choices.

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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E-Manifest: Modernizing Hazardous Waste Tracking

Hazardous waste barrels

When a facility generates hazardous waste, the waste is often sent to a management facility elsewhere to be stored, treated, or disposed. Currently, we require industry to track and keep records of type, volume, sources and destinations of hazardous waste shipments through a set of paper forms (manifests), reports, and procedures that follow the shipments from cradle-to-grave. This process produces millions of manifests each year in an often inefficient process.

EPA is working with states, industry, and other stakeholders to modernize this process by allowing for electronic manifests (e-Manifest). More

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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Radon Awareness Success in Region 3

January, as National Radon Action Month, is a time to ramp up on radon awareness and celebrate the successes of the state indoor radon programs throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Our mid-Atlantic partners have reached out to more than 2 million residents with information on what they can do to protect themselves from the dangers of radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring colorless, odorless radioactive gas, and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, but testing for radon and reducing elevated levels when they are found can make your home healthier and safer.

Recognizing this, EPA and its state partners are highlighting radon testing and mitigation as a simple and affordable step to significantly reduce the risk for lung cancer.

For 2014, EPA awarded a total of $923,160 in State Indoor Radon Grants to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, Virginia Department of Health, and the District of Columbia Department of the Environment.  These grants will fund the states’ radon programs to address radon risk assessment, risk reduction and radon resistant new construction in homes and schools.

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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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