Protecting waterways, one lasagna pan at a time

by Jennie Saxe

Safer choiceHow can a mundane task, like washing dishes, protect local waterways like the Delaware River? It’s simple! When you roll up your sleeves to scrub that lasagna pan, reach for a dish soap with EPA’s Safer Choice label. The Safer Choice label indicates products that have safer chemical ingredients and meet quality and performance standards.

Products with the Safer Choice label have been reviewed to make sure they use chemicals from EPA’s Safer Chemicals Ingredients List that do their specific job (for example, as solvents – needed to dissolve substances – or surfactants that remove dirt) and are safer for aquatic life after they go down the drain. Safer Choice labeled products, like laundry detergent and dish soap, are reviewed to make sure that their ingredients and the break-down products (or “degradates” for the chemists out there) are not carcinogens, toxics, or persistent in the environment.

If the products are “greener” when they go down the drain, they’ll have less of an impact on aquatic life if they do happen to make their way through the wastewater treatment process. There is even a subset of Safer Choice products that are labeled for use in situations, such as cleaning your boat, where they could be directly released to the environment.

Check out the list of products that have received the Safer Choice label, and look for them at a store near you!

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Year in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap with Happy New Year message

Our EPA researchers were hard at work in 2015—so to highlight that effort, we’ve put together a list of the ten most popular blogs from this year.

Happy New Year!

  1. Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment
    Read about EPA’s Report on the Environment, an interactive resource that shows how the condition of the environment and human health in the United States is changing over time. It can be used by anyone interested in environmental trends and presents the best available indicators of national trends in five theme areas: AirWaterLand, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition.
  1. Release of Community Air Monitoring Training Videos
    Small, hand-held air quality sensors are now commercially available and provide citizens the ability to plan, conduct, and understand local environmental air quality as never before. Learn about how to use these tools yourself or educate interested groups and individuals about best practices for successful air monitoring projects.
  2. Training Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality
    Read about when Administrator Gina McCarthy joined New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, and other community members at Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood Family Success Center to launch an EPA-Ironbound partnership for community air monitoring that is a first of its kind citizen science project.
  3. Seeding Environmental Innovation
    Read about when EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team attended a national conference and met with environmental entrepreneurs and successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.
  4. Moving Away From “High Risk”
    This year the Government Accountability Office released their biennial High Risk Report, which included EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program. Read the blog by EPA’s Lou D’Amico and Samantha Jones discussing the program’s progress.
  5. Visit a Unique Air Monitoring Bench this Summer
    Read about how EPA has developed an air-monitoring system that can be incorporated into a park bench. The Village Green bench provides real-time air quality measurements on two air pollutants – ozone and particle pollution – and weather conditions. The data is streamed to a website and can be obtained at the benches using a smart phone. There are several benches throughout the country that you can visit!
  1. Swimming with the Sharks
    Through Small Business Innovation Research contracts, EPA helps many great, environmentally-minded business ventures with potential, get the funding they need to get started. Read about some of our success stories—one of which was recently on the show Shark Tank—in this blog.
  1. When Cooking Can Harm
    The process of cooking is one of the greatest health threats for the three billion people throughout the world who use biomass or coal-fed cookstoves to cook their meals and heat their homes. Read about how EPA supports research for cleaner technologies and fuels for cooking, lighting and heating in homes that have limited or no access to electricity or gas lines.
  1. Are Some People at Greater Risk from Air Pollution?
    Read about how researchers at EPA and Duke University are using a database called CATHGEN to see how factors like age, sex, race, disease status, genetic makeup, socioeconomic status, and where a person lives can put someone at greater risk from the health effects of air pollution.
  2. Indoor Air Quality in Schools – Concerns and Need for Low-Cost Solutions.
    Evidence has mounted regarding the contributions of poor indoor air quality and inadequate classroom ventilation toward student illnesses, absenteeism, and decreases in academic performance. Read about how a new EPA Science to Achieve Results grant will focus on high schools, a relatively under-studied school environment with numerous data gaps.

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap logo with a holiday wreath in the center‘Twas the day before Christmas, and all through the Agency,
Our researchers were working, so much discovery!
Is there one place, where all this can be found?
One science review, no looking around?
Here’s my present to you, no need to unwrap.
Right here on this blog, your Research Recap!

 

Swimming with the Sharks
Shark swimming toward lens
Through Small Business Innovation Research contracts, EPA helps many great, environmentally-minded business ventures with potential, get the funding they need to get started. Read about some of our success stories—one of which was recently on the show Shark Tank—in the blog Swimming with the Sharks.

 

EPA Researchers Share Chemical Knowledge after Contamination Scare
RAFstamp2
In September, people living and working near an Australian air force base were warned that elevated levels of the chemicals Perfluorooctane Sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic Acid had been detected in the surrounding area. EPA researchers Chris Lau and John Rogers were recently interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about their expertise in these chemicals.

Read about their insights in the article US scientists reveal further detail about chemicals at heart of Williamtown RAAF contamination.

Water Security
Tap-Water
EPA is responsible for working with water utilities to protect water systems from contamination and to clean up systems that become contaminated. These systems can be contaminated by, for example, natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or by individuals hoping to cause harm. To help address these science gaps, EPA researchers have developed the first-of-its-scale Water Security Test Bed.

Watch the video EPA and Idaho National Laboratory create first-of-its-scale Water Security Test Bed and learn more about our Homeland Security Research.

 

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Swimming with the Sharks

By Jim JohnsonShark swimming alone in a tank

The halls of EPA have been full of Shark-talk lately—or should I say Shark Tank.  Folks have been emailing around a clip from the hit show where a company named Pitt Moss, which developed a fertilizer alternative to peat moss, was funded $600K by investors.  Not only was it great to see a company trailblazing a new market which at the same time protects vital wetlands and the environment—I was thrilled to learn that EPA actually funded early stages of this product and company through our Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts.  And Pitt Moss is not an outlier—EPA helps many great, environmentally-minded business ventures with potential, get the funding they need to get started.

With support from EPA’s SBIR Program, GVD Corporation created an environmentally friendly mold-release coating that makes indoor air healthier in manufacturing facilities by reducing the use of harmful chemicals. Okeanos Technologies, a recipient of one of EPA’s SBIR awards, is developing and testing a new energy-efficient seawater desalination technology that could provide “clean, cheap and plentiful water for everyone, anywhere”. The technology will cut costs to a point where desalination can take place off-grid, allowing it to be used where it’s needed most.

Solicitations for the next round of SBIR are now open. I can’t wait to see the innovations small businesses will bring to the table this time!  Shark Tank beware!

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. NCER supports leading edge extramural research in exposure, effects, risk assessment, and risk management by managing competitions for Science to Achieve Results and People, Prosperity and the Planet grants, STAR and Greater Research Opportunities Fellowships, and for research contracts under the Small Business Innovative Research Program.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A View from #COP21 in Paris

By Ann Hunter-Pirtle

Last weekend in Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a historic, universal climate agreement that had eluded the global community for two decades. I was proud to be at COP-21 helping communicate EPA and U.S. efforts on climate action at the U.S. Center, the State Department’s public diplomacy space at the COP. I had the opportunity to meet attendees from around the world and to hear about global efforts to combat climate change—so I wanted to share a few thoughts from the conference.

The most striking thing about the COP was its size. Forty thousand attendees came from around the world—educators, students, government officials, and non-profit and private sector leaders—so it was held at Le Bourget, best known as the airplane hangar for the Paris air show. The U.S. Center was one of the many pavilions where visitors could learn more during COP21.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTMsCNfXuAE

This short video gives a sense of the scale of the COP21 venue at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

The U.S. Center COP21 during an event at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

The U.S. Center COP21 during an event at Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

In the spirit of the event, conference organizers went all-in on sustainability with an extensive biodegradables and recycling program. Participants could return reusable plastic coffee cups for a 1 Euro deposit, and the cups quickly became as good as currency. Participants were spotted scooping up coffee cups from empty tables and desks, returning several at a time.

Reusable coffee cup with the COP21 logo from United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

Reusable coffee cup with the COP21 logo from United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, outside Paris, France.

Something I didn’t fully appreciate before arriving in Paris was that the COP is a consensus process—so for the negotiations to succeed, all 195 countries had to be in favor of a deal. So the Paris Agreement reflects the threat climate change poses to every nation on Earth, as well as the global community’s determination to do something about it.

The Paris Agreement is ambitious, universal, and durable. Before the negotiations even began, 180 countries, representing more than 95 percent of the climate pollution on Earth, put forward individual pledges to cut carbon pollution.

The Paris Agreement was built from country-level plans, and it states that countries will limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius on average and make efforts to keep it under 1.5 degrees Celsius—levels science tells us will help avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The agreement calls for transparent reporting and accountability about how nations keep track of carbon emissions. It creates a mechanism for countries to come back to the table every 5 years with increasingly ambitious national carbon pollution reduction pledges, and it includes provisions for financing to developing countries to help them grow their economies with clean energy.

American leadership paved the way for global action. Secretary Kerry spoke in the second week about the need to seize the moment for an ambitious, universal climate agreement, and how U.S. efforts have led the way. EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a centerpiece of U.S. climate efforts, and Administrator McCarthy spoke at the U.S. Center about why she’s confident the rule is built to last.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP21 about the need for countries to seize the opportunity for an ambitious, lasting climate agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP21 about the need for countries to seize the opportunity for an ambitious, lasting climate agreement.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the U.S. Center about why the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the U.S. Center about why the Clean Power Plan will stand the test of time.

American businesses are also leading the way. On the first day of the COP after President Obama and other world leaders spoke, Bill Gates and other business leaders launched “Mission Innovation” to develop the next generation of clean technologies. Meanwhile, 154 of the largest U.S. companies including WalMart, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Facebook, representing 11 million jobs and more than 7 trillion dollars in market capitalization, signed the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Major companies know that climate impacts increase their financial risk, while climate action represents an unprecedented economic opportunity.

That is the real triumph of the Paris Agreement: it sends a global market signal that a low-carbon future is inevitable, and climate-smart investments are not only the right thing to do, but the profitable thing to do.

Despite the size of the COP, climate change is personal. So it was powerful to hear from the following two local leaders at a U.S. Center side event hosted by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska, and Alson Kelen of the Marshall Islands each explained that climate change threatens their communities’ existence today. Homes in Kotzebue are slowly sinking into the sea as the permafrost underneath thaws and the sea level rises. Traditional food sources—caribou, seals, berries—are disappearing. And thinning ice has made travel dangerous—Councilwoman Lukin lost 2 uncles when they fell through thin ice while traveling to the next town, which doesn’t have a road. In the Marshall Islands, rising sea levels mean just about every time it rains, garbage and sewage wash through communities, making people sick. Warming waters mean fish are disappearing.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska speaks about dwindling sea ice in her region due to climate change.

Councilwoman Maija Lukin of Kotzebue, Alaska speaks about dwindling sea ice in her region due to climate change.

Climate change is threatening our health, our economy, and our national security today. But I am convinced we will meet this challenge, in part because of the incredible will it took from countries around the world to reach the Paris Agreement. Attending the COP was a tremendous opportunity and an experience I’ll never forget—it’ll be a story for the grandkids. Read more about COP-21 here and here.

Blog author Ann Hunter-Pirtle at the entrance of the COP21 venue.

Blog author Ann Hunter-Pirtle at the entrance of the COP21 venue.

About the author: Ann Hunter-Pirtle serves as Speechwriter in EPA’s Office of Public Affairs. Previously, she served as Special Assistant for Land and Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She holds an MS in Agricultural Economics and a BA in Political Science and French from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

“Staying Green” for the Holidays

Christmas tree near dumpster

Don’t let Christmas trees get sent to landfills where they can contribute to dangerous methane gas emissions! Treecycle and turn them into compost or wood chips for mulch. (Source: Flickr user katielehart)

 

By Barbara Pualani

The winter holiday season is one of the best times of the year, but it is arguably one of the most wasteful. As we online shop, cook big holiday meals, wrap presents and decorate our homes, Americans create about one million extra tons of waste – this equals about a 25 percent volume increase of household waste, all generated between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But don’t let this ruin your holiday spirit! There are simple ways to “stay green” during the holidays while still maintaining the holiday cheer.

  • Recycle creatively by using eclectic gift wrapping. Old newspapers, comic books, posters, and magazines can all be used to wrap presents. Also, save bows, ribbons, and bags for reuse next year.
  • If Santa brings you new electronics, be sure to recycle the old ones. Because they can be a source of contamination, it is illegal to dispose of electronic waste in landfills in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Most electronic retailers offer a free buy-back option. In New York City, the Department of Sanitation has established special waste drop-off locations in each of the five boroughs. In addition, e-cycleNYC is a free recycling collections service that can be solicited for buildings with ten or more units. Check local and state websites for other programs as well.
  • Use LED lighting for all your holiday decorations. They use approximately 75 percent less energy and last longer than regular incandescent bulbs.
  • At the end of the season, don’t send your Christmas tree to the landfill where it contributes to dangerous methane gas emissions. Rather, replant, compost or mulch it! There are various programs available. NYC offers free curbside pickup for a couple weeks in January, and many cities in the metropolitan area have similar programs. On January 9-10 you can also bring your tree to designated NYC parks for MulchFest 2016.
  • Finally, be the best host ever and hold a zero-waste event! When hosting holiday parties, use real glasses, dishes, utensils, and cloth napkins to minimize waste. And plan ahead for meals and parties. It’s not only economical, but it will reduce the amount of food thrown away.

It’s possible to have a fun and happy holiday season while maintaining that “green” lifestyle you cultivate all year long. For these and more winter tips, check out EPA’s website.

 

About the author: Barbara Pualani serves as a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She resides in Brooklyn and is a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap: The Science Awakens

Before you head off to a galaxy far, far away, check out some of the science that’s happening here on earth. Here’s what we’re highlighting this week.

  • Air Quality Monitoring
    EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grantee Christine Kendrick helped establish an air quality monitoring station along a major road in Portland, Oregon. She and her collaborators are using the station to learn how changes in transportation patterns affect roadside air quality.
    Learn more about the study in the blog Urban Arterials: At the Heart of Public Health and Transportation.
  • Getting an Upgrade to Protect Air Quality
    EPA modelers have upgraded the Community Multi-scale Air Quality model. With this upgrade researchers and air quality managers have improved options to understand how air pollution moves throughout the atmosphere locally, nationally, and globally. The upgrade provides air quality managers an even more powerful tool to evaluate air quality and protect the air we breathe.
    Read more about the upgrade in the blog Getting an Upgrade to Protect Air Quality.
  • Finding Refuge for Salmon, Cold Water Preferred
    Research has found that when river temperatures rise, salmon and steelhead seek out cold water areas as crucial stopovers during their migrations upstream on the way to spawn. EPA’s Joe Ebersole was recently interviewed by the New York Times about his work on the three-year plan to locate, protect, and restore zones of cold water habitat for fish in the Columbia and lower Willamette Rivers.
    Read more in the article Finding Refuge for Salmon, Cold Water Preferred.
  • EPA Grantee Helps Emory University Participate in UN Climate Talks
    EPA Science to Achieve Results grantee Stephanie Sarnat coordinated Emory University’s application to send participants to be United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change observers during the climate negotiation in Paris. This allowed Emory faculty, staff, and students to participate in negotiating sessions such as those that produced the international agreements in Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009.
    Read more about it in the article Emory University admitted as observer to UN climate talks.
  • From Student Design Competition to Top Chef
    On Thursday’s episode of Top Chef, renowned Chef Jose Andres challenged pro chefs to a solar cook-off with  SolSource. The Solsource Solar cookstove was initially researched and developed using a 2009 EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Competition Phase I grant to Wellesley College followed by a Phase II grant to Harvard University.  The SolSource cookstove is now being used in 18 countries serving both the developed and developing world providing a clean, efficient renewable way to cook.
    Read the blog Solar Stove on Top Chef: Solar Cooking for Foodies and Pro Chefs.
    Learn more about EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition.

 

Photo of the Week

epa fellow reads a magazine

EPA Fellow Erin Urquhart reads the December issue of Earth & Space Science News which features EPA’s harmful algal blooms and cyanobacteria research on the cover.

 

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Will Aquaponic Gardening Help Solve Food Insecurity in the Future?

Emily Nusz-thumbnailBy Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread has been proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our final blog in this series is the second one by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

Water is an essential component of life. Without it, we cannot survive. In my previous blog, I discussed my experience building a well for clean drinking water in Africa. Many developing countries are challenged by the lack of access to clean water. In some cases, people have to walk miles each day just to reach a source, which is why my church’s mission team and I wanted to provide a water well to a village in Nairobi, Kenya.

Water is not the only essential component of life to which some communities across the globe lack access. Finding abundant food sources also may be a problem. I have thought over and over again about how we can solve food insecurity, while also being eco-friendly. During my undergraduate career, I researched and built a system that may have the potential for doing just that. In fact, my former agriculture professor travels to Haiti about once a month to teach this simple gardening technique, which can be used to provide communities with a self-sustaining food supply. This system is unique because it can work anywhere, anytime, through any season.

It’s called aquaponics, a budding technique that allows you to grow your own local, healthy food right in your backyard while using 90 percent less water  than traditional gardening. If you are wondering what aquaponics is, you are not alone. The term “aquaponics” is not part of everyday conversation, but soon it may be. I was not introduced to the idea until about a year ago when I began to build a system of my own for academic research.

How It Works

Aquaponics

Aquaponic gardening integrates fish and plant growth in a mutual recirculating cycle by combining hydroponics and aquaculture. It is an environmentally friendly way to produce food without harsh chemical fertilizers through a symbiotic relationship. To give you an idea, the fish are able to produce waste that eventually turns into nitrates, which provides essential nutrients for plant growth in a hydroponic environment without any soil. The plants, which are planted in gravel beds, take in the nutrients provided by the fish and help purify the water for the care of the fish. The purified water then flows back to the fish for reuse. Many cultures are able to use this system to not only grow crops, but have a food source of fish as well.

Many types of plants can be grown in the system, such as lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish because they provide extra benefits other fish cannot, such as high levels of ammonia, which is important for maintaining effective system levels.

My Experiment

When I began to build an indoor aquaponic system, my goal was to research if plants and fish could sustain life in an environment lacking nutrients provided by sunlight. The system contained three separate tanks.

Tank 1 was set up as the “breeder tank.” This tank circulated the Aquaponic Research Setup - Emily Nusznutrients from the fish into the tank containing the plants. Many aquaponic systems do not include a breeder tank, but for my research it was included.

Tank 2 was set up as the “fish tank.” This tank contained all of the fish (about 50 tilapia). Tank 3 was set up as the “plant tank.” All of the plants were planted in the gravel of this tank to absorb the nutrients provided by the fish. The purified water then flowed from this tank back into tank 2 for reuse.

The water quality of the continuous cycle was observed and recorded over a 10-week period to determine the production of plant growth and water quality in an indoor aquaponic system. Measurements of water quality were collected, including pH, electroconductivity, total dissolved solids, potassium levels, nitrate levels, dissolved oxygen, and temperature.

Although my research did not support sufficient growth of plants in an indoor aquaponic system, it has been found to work indoors using ultraviolet light as a source. Year-round results can also occur by having the system set up in a greenhouse. As long as the system is set up in a controlled environment that mimics nature, fish and plant production will flourish.

The Future

The awareness and potential for aquaponics is beginning to soar. Aquaponics may not be part of everyday conversation yet, but it could make a tremendous change in how we grow our food in the future.

In fact, today EPA tries to incorporate this type of gardening technique to redevelop contaminated Brownfield sites. They work with communities on many of the redevelopment projects to set up urban agriculture practices for food production. There are many benefits to constructing Brownfield sites into agricultural growth areas, especially using the aquaponic system. Urban agriculture has two major benefits for contaminated sites: it binds the contaminants, and it contributes to the growth of local food.

Emily Nusz-thumbnailAbout the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and continues to work part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

Sources:

Emily’s First Blog Entry: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/10/providing-clean-water-to-an-african-village-not-a-simple-turn-of-the-tap/

Brownfields: http://www.epa.gov/brownfields

Land Revitalization/Urban Agriculture Fact Sheet: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/fs_urban_agriculture.pdf

USDA Aquaponics Information: https://afsic.nal.usda.gov/aquaculture-and-soilless-farming/aquaponics

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

We Won’t Back Down from our Mission

Liz Purchia Liz Purchia

By Liz Purchia

It’s that time again. Like clockwork, mere days after the world reached a historic global climate agreement in Paris, a small but vocal group are grasping at anything to distract from and derail our progress.

The latest attempt cites EPA’s public communications about providing clean water to the American people as cause to investigate EPA’s use of social media around our Clean Power Plan-an essential rule to fight climate change by cutting carbon pollution from power plants.

Surprising no one. Their goal is to create a buzz around our social media use and draw attention away from the important work to take real action to improve our nation’s waterways and reduce carbon pollution that threatens the health of all Americans.

Let’s review the facts. Like so many other government agencies, private companies, NGO’s, universities, and yes – even Congressional offices – EPA uses various social media platforms to communicate and engage with the public about our work.

It’s almost 2016. One of the most effective ways to share information is via the Internet and social media. Though backward-thinkers might prefer it, we won’t operate as if we live in the Stone Age. EPA wants American citizens to know what we’re up to. We want to be as transparent as possible. We want to engage diverse constituents in our work. And we want them to be informed. Social media is a powerful tool to do that.

Let’s put things in perspective. Here is what this is really about. Last year, we used the GSA-approved platform “Thunderclap,” to get the word out about our historic Clean Water Rule-a law to better protect the streams and wetlands that are the foundation of our nation’s water resources.

We created a page on Thunderclap, labeled clearly, right up top, with our logo and the byline, “by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” that contained the following message: “Clean Water is important to me. I support EPA’s efforts to protect it for my health, my family, and my community.” It linked to an EPA website with information about the rule. We shared this page with all of our stakeholders – no matter what sector, geographic location, or perspective – with the goal of catalyzing our public engagement process, and getting people excited about the importance of clean water.

By visiting the page and choosing to proactively click on a link, users could decide to share the single message across their various social media accounts. Users had the opportunity to customize and edit the message any way they wanted to before they sent it. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called this outreach approach “covert propaganda”.

The GAO also cited EPA’s use of an external hyperlink in a blog post as evidence that we violated anti-lobbying provisions. This link went to a blog about surfers and how they are impacted by pollution. It was written in 2010, four years before our Clean Water Rule even existed. We appreciate the GAO’s consideration of these matters, but respectfully disagree.

At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature about the Clean Water Rule. Plain and simple. The rule is an agency action, promulgated by EPA. It’s not even about congressional legislation.

We will continue to work with GAO and members of Congress to explain what this is and isn’t. And our agency is continually learning and refining our approaches, both to make our communications as effective as possible, and to ensure that we’re continuing to follow the laws governing our means of communicating our important activities to the American public.

We’re always seeking the clearest and best routes to engage Americans in our mission and inform them about the taxpayer-funded work that, each day, protects the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the environment that we all share.

Of the over 100 social media posts reviewed by the GAO, these two extremely narrow examples were plucked out to be challenged – and the case against them is tenuous. Yet those who want to block EPA’s Clean Water Rule are poring over the assessment like it’s a holiday gift. And those who question the well-established science behind climate change are piling into the fray-hoping to squeeze out any crumbs of opportunity to undermine our agency and our ability to fulfill the job that Congress gave us to do.

EPA won’t back down from our mission. We stand by our public outreach efforts on both the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, valuable time and resources are being wasted on empty attacks. The public would be better served without these deliberate distractions, and with full attention focused on meeting our mission to protect the health of kids and families, and ensure our shared environment is clean and safe.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A Vision of Revitalization in Huntington

by Mark Ferrell

Steve Williams grew up in the bustling little city of Huntington, West Virginia.  He swells with pride at any opportunity to tell visitors about the architectural treasures of the downtown historical district. Or about the pastoral green spaces of Ritter Park and its labyrinths of walking and cycling trails that cross stone foot bridges and traverse gorgeously manicured gardens. Or the busy campus of Marshall University, his alma mater, that anchors an urban cityscape uncommon in such a rural area of Appalachia.

WV Huntington Brownfields site which will benefit from EPA revitalization grant funding

WV Huntington Brownfields site which will benefit from EPA revitalization grant funding

But the once-prosperous river city has in recent years struggled with the difficult economic challenges facing many Appalachian communities: a decline in heavy manufacturing, a downturn in the coal industry, poverty, and blight.

Williams, who attended the local schools and became involved in area civic groups, is now Mayor Williams.  He knows that the city has potential; now all it needs are opportunities. Meeting with various citizens and community groups, business leaders, and government agencies, Mayor Williams’ vision for Huntington’s future is coming into sharper focus. The city can’t do it alone, though, and is looking to partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies, to help turn the vision into reality.

Huntington’s city leaders began applying for revitalization grants to support their vision for the city. EPA awarded Huntington a Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant to help get the ball rolling in the Highlawn neighborhood. The city also qualified for EPA Brownfields Assessment Grants to help characterize the waterfront and abandoned manufacturing sites.

As momentum continued to build, so did the strength of the partnership between EPA and the city. EPA identified Huntington as a location where coordinated work across EPA and other federal, state, and local agencies could. By knitting together the resources of the agencies and understanding local needs, there’s a tremendous opportunity to provide meaningful support to this community, and others like it.

On December 8, EPA co-hosted a Revitalization Forum with the City of Huntington. Mayor Williams and EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin led discussions with more than 100 stakeholders with the common goal of fostering new collaborations between government agencies and the city in order to realize Huntington’s vision. Water issues were front and center, with presentations and break-out sessions that delved into green infrastructure and stormwater management. Attendees also discussed the potential revitalization opportunities of streets and trails, and connecting business and residential areas with green spaces and recreational amenities.

The one-day forum was a very productive step toward achieving a healthier, more prosperous Huntington.

 

About the author: Mark Ferrell has been with EPA since 2012 as a state and congressional liaison with EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. In his free time, he enjoys hiking with his dogs, poking around at campfires and learning about wildlife habitat.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.