Historic Shipwreck Removed from Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

By Natalie Loney

At the bottom of the murky polluted waters of Gowanus Canal rests the remains of a World War II vessel. How did a WW II boat end up in a canal in Brooklyn, NY?

Recent photograph of the shipwreck.

Recent photograph of the shipwreck. (AHRS, 2016)

This shipwreck is all that’s left of a Miami 63-foot Aircraft Rescue Boat. The “Miami’ boats, designed by the Miami Shipbuilding Corporation, were used at sea in WWII to rescue downed pilots and air crew. The boat in the Gowanus was built in 1943 and was used by the U.S. military until about 1963.

Subsequent to its military service as a “crash boat”, the now Gowanus wreck was refurbished and converted into a ferry. Renamed the Point O’Woods V, the boat was used as a ferry service to Fire Island from 1963 until 1985. In around 1989, the boat became the Kokkomokko and was used as a houseboat in the Bronx until around 2003.

After suffering ice damage, the boat was salvaged and towed to the Gowanus Canal where it became a floating arts and community services space called the Empty Vessel Project. In 2006 the boat, now renamed the Green Anchor Yacht (or more commonly the SS GAY), was used as an arts area, houseboat, and a “queer and trans-friendly space.” It’s believed that the SS GAY sank sometime in 2009.

63’ Aircraft Rescue Boat operating at high speed. (Buhler, 2008)

63’ Aircraft Rescue Boat operating at high speed. (Buhler, 2008)

On October 24, 2016, as part of EPA’s overall plan to clean up the Gowanus Canal, contractors began removing debris from the Gowanus Canal 4th Street turning basin. Unfortunately, the SS GAY was too far gone to be salvaged. Bits and pieces of the vessel where among the first items removed from the canal. The material recovered from the canal was sorted into recyclable and general landfill categories. Hopefully the metal parts of the SS GAY will be recycled into another use and the WW II crash boat will live on.

For more about the Gowanus Canal shipwreck, see “IDENTIFICATION AND HISTORICAL ASSESSMENT OF “TARGET 31a” 4th STREET BASIN, GOWANUS CANAL SUPERFUND SITE, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK”, William Jason Flatt, PE and Michael Audin, RPA, Archaeology & Historic Resource Services, LLC.

 

About the Author: Natalie Loney is a community involvement coordinator in New York City. She has been in Public Affairs since 1995.

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.

Aquatic Robotics: Underwater Glider Helps Monitor Great Lakes Water Quality

By Tom Hollenhorst and Paul McKinney

four people stand around the glider, preparing to launch it into the water.

Preparing to deploy the Nokomis

It’s always exciting to be on a boat heading out under the Duluth lift bridge towards the middle of Lake Superior, but last month’s trip was especially thrilling. Our mission was to rendezvous with EPA’s autonomous Slocum glider, the Nokomis.

The glider was returning to the Duluth area after a nearly 40-day deployment in which it travelled over 1000 kilometers across Lake Superior. Acquired in 2014, the glider complements the EPA’s Great Lakes science initiatives by providing high resolution observations of temperature and concentrations of chlorophyll-a, colored dissolved organic matter, and suspended matter. These are important measurements because they tell us about the relative health and productivity of the lake.  These types of data are especially useful if they are collected continuously over a period of time across an area of interest, like the data collected by gliders. And even more useful if the measurements are made in conjunction with other monitoring efforts and data (including remote sensing data).  In addition to continuously collecting data every half second, the gliders can also be out in the lake during storms and adverse conditions, when we wouldn’t want to put lives at risk.

Named after Joshua Slocum, the first person to single-handedly sail around the world, the glider propels itself by changing its buoyancy and adjusting the position of its forward battery pack. The buoyancy changes cause it to rise and fall, and its wings turn the vertical motion into forward motion. This method of propulsion is very battery efficient, allowing the glider to perform extraordinarily long missions. In fact, a Slocum Glider piloted by students at Rutgers University crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. That trip took 220 days. As a result of its unique saw-toothed path, our glider, Nokomis completed over 7000 vertical profiles as it made its way back towards Duluth this summer.

a small yellow craft glides along the water, in the foreground a large ship

The Nokomis (yellow) in action.

Throughout its mission, Nokomis regularly sent in snippets of the data it was collecting while receiving updated instructions via the satellite phone in its tail. The regular contact provided our team opportunities to pilot the glider towards areas of interest that we had observed in satellite images of the lake’s surface. By combining the remotely sensed data with the high resolution glider data, we expect to increase our understanding of exchange processes between nearshore and offshore areas of the lake. The work is a collaboration with EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office and is part of its collaborative science monitoring initiative.

 

To learn more about our glider work and the recent post-mission recovery, check out the Duluth News Tribune article Gliders provide in-depth scientific data on Lake Superior.

 

About the Authors:

Tom Hollenhorst is an Ecologist at EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division.  He’s been studying the landscapes and watershed in and around the Great lakes for nearly two decades.  He’s especially interested in understanding watershed-nearshore-offshore connections and the transfer of energy and nutrients between them.

Paul McKinney is a National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral research associate based at EPA’s Mid-Continent Ecology Division. His research is focused on understanding the processes linking nearshore and offshore areas of the Great Lakes.

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.

Solar in Your Community Challenge: Apply Today!

Solar%20in%20Your%20Community%20Challenge

About the Author: Caroline McGregor is the acting Soft Costs Program Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

One million solar energy systems across the country are powering homes, businesses and communities with renewable, affordable and clean energy. And yet, nearly 50 percent of homes lack the appropriate roof structure to go solar. Beyond that, many homeowners simply can’t afford the upfront cost to install their own system and have difficulty accessing affordable financing options. These limitations are especially burdensome for many low income families who could benefit from lower energy costs, but don’t have the extra money to invest in home renovations.

Solar%20by%20the%20NumbersTo spur solar adoption by these communities, the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative launched the $5 million Solar in Your Community Challenge, which expands solar access to Americans who have been left out of the growing solar market.

In order to make solar energy more accessible for every American, the Solar in Your Community Challenge encourages the development of innovative financial and business models that serve low and moderate-income communities. Offering $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance over 18 months, the challenge supports teams across the country to develop projects or programs that reach underserved customers in their communities, while proving that these business models can be widely replicated and scaled up.

Solar%20Across%20the%20US%20MapTo ensure that communities with environmental justice concerns benefit from this challenge, we have designed the challenge rules with these communities in mind. Teams that successfully demonstrate new ways of opening up solar for low- and moderate-income communities will be eligible to compete for the grand prize of $500,000.

SolarDo you want your community to participate in this challenge?

We are hosting an informational webinar to provide further instructions on how to participate! Make sure you reserve your spot by registering today.

Date/Time: Wednesday, December 7, 2016; 2 to 3 p.m. ET

Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/solar-in-your-community-challenge-informational-webinar-for-communities-with-environmental-justice-tickets-29587689576 

If you have questions regarding the webinar, please contact Michele Boyd.

The early application deadline to participate in the challenge is January 6, 2017, and the regular deadline is March 17, 2017. Visit the Solar in Your Community Challenge website to learn more about the challenge and to apply today!

Given the current growth of the energy market, solar installations will continue to grow at an unprecedented rate. And we want you to be part of that bright future!

We look forward to speaking with all of you during the upcoming and we are excited to review your applications.

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.

EPA Brings a Low-Cost Air Sensor Network to Memphis

By Michaela Burns

air sensors on top of building overlooking memphis

Sensors installed at the Memphis Area Transit Authority facilities.

Outdoor air quality can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood within the same city. All sorts of things can contribute to this variation, including traffic patterns, local industry, and even the way air moves between buildings.

Communities are increasingly interested in learning more about what pollutants are in the air.  Knowing about the air quality in your community can help you decide what actions to take to protect your health. That is where new air sensors come into play. They are low-cost, highly portable, and offer new ways to measure air quality in and around a community.

However, this new monitoring technology may not be as precise as more traditional technology used by state and federal governments for regulation. How can scientists use data from these sensors, even if they are not as accurate as traditional models?

To help answer this question, EPA is collaborating with the Shelby County Health Department and the Memphis Area Transit Authority to conduct the CitySpace Air Sensor Network project. EPA researchers will install and field test a city-wide-network of low-cost sensors to measure air pollution across the greater Memphis area, which includes counties in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

The goal of the CitySpace project is to examine the value of using a low-cost air sensor network to estimate the distribution of local air quality conditions and how emerging technologies perform in this type of research.

In October and November, researchers installed air sensor pods at locations in the greater Memphis area based on the input of local communities and other local stakeholders.  Sensors are located in neighborhoods, industrial areas, and rural settings. The sensors use emerging technologies that allow environmental data to be measured and instantaneously streamed to a secure EPA website.

All of these sensors will collect data on particulate matter (PM), a common air pollutant, and meteorological conditions such as temperature, humidity, and wind patterns.

Want to know one of the best parts of the study? A majority of the air sensors are 100 percent solar powered and self-sustainable.  They won’t require a lot inspection or maintenance, so scientists can focus on reviewing the data.

Hopefully, the work won’t stop in the Memphis metropolitan area. The success of this study could encourage other cities to use low-cost air sensor networks in evaluating local pollution.  Through air research efforts like this, EPA is helping to fulfill its mission to protect air quality.

Learn more about the City Space project:

Read the press release.

Read our factsheet on the CitySpace project.

About the Author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for 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.

Down by the Riverside

by Tom Damm

One of the ways I intend to work off my Thanksgiving excess is to bike along the Delaware River.

Washington crossing

Washington Crossing Historic Park

If it’s like the past few weekends, I’ll be carefully riding by families, couples and individuals enjoying nature on a crisp fall day beside one of the nation’s most iconic waterbodies.

On these riverside jaunts, I’ve been able to take in a little history at Washington Crossing Historic Park and window shop in New Hope, Pennsylvania, swigging from a reusable bottle filled with water that originated in the Delaware itself.  I’ve seen hearty kayakers navigating river rapids and bird watchers scanning the skies.

My neighbors have finally packed away their jet skis, but they had been out on the Delaware regularly this fall, riding the waves with wetsuits protecting them against the chilly river waters.

There are a host of recreational opportunities along the Delaware.  They’re not just great fun, they’re big business.  In fact, a University of Delaware professor estimated that recreation provides $1.2 billion in annual economic activity in the Delaware Basin.

That’s one of the reasons EPA and fellow federal, state and interstate agencies are working with non-profit groups, utilities and others to build on efforts to restore the Delaware River and counter threats from stormwater, wastewater, PCBs and other forms of pollution.

CaptureSo if you’re feeling the weight of the holidays, take a stroll or a bike ride along a stream or river near you.  It may not fully compensate for that piece of pie, but it will give you some peace of mind.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

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.

Unintended Consequences of Transporting Firewood

by Marcia Anderson

Over the past 15 years, exotic insects like the Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer (EAB), and hemlock woolly adelgid have killed millions of trees in cities and forests across the United States. Once established in new areas, these pests can quickly kill trees in our favorite forests, parks, communities, and campgrounds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that over 30 million ash trees have already been killed by the emerald ash borer in Michigan alone, with millions dead or dying in other states (see related blog).

Split firewood in a backyard Photo: ©L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Split firewood in a backyard
Photo: ©L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Firewood has been shown to be an especially troublesome means by which pests are spread. According to the USDA, the best preventative measure to protect our uninfested urban and rural forests from these pests is to limit the movement of infested materials, including firewood.

Firewood is frequently moved long distances by campers and retailers. Not surprisingly, pest infestations are showing up around campgrounds and highway rest areas. In many states, all trees used as firewood are now regulated since they have the potential to harbor invasive insects and diseases.

Firewood has historically been moved with little consideration of the pests it could be harboring. However, the issue is getting increasing attention. This year, USDA and several states put out urgent pleas to avoid transporting firewood.

Emerald ash borer and its damage to an ash tree Image: National Park Service

Emerald ash borer and its damage to an ash tree
Image: National Park Service

To protect forests and trees that are threatened by a host of invasive insects and diseases, regulation has become necessary. While regulations vary by state, they generally include restrictions on importing firewood, the movement of firewood within the state, and the transportation of firewood into state, local and federal parks.

Thirty states have imposed various levels of quarantine as a result of the emerald ash borer. In the Northeast alone, most states have restrictions on the movement of wood products. Other states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland, have also imposed regulations on the movement and importation of firewood. Some regulations do not allow the transport of wood beyond a 50-mile radius of an EAB-restricted zone. A restricted zone is the quarantine of an infested area that prohibits the movement of logs and firewood outside of the zone. Check USDA’s quarantine map before you move firewood, even to another town. Because EAB does not travel far on its own, limiting human transportation of infested material will slow its spread.

Camping firewood on the move.  Photo: © L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

Camping firewood on the move.
Photo: © L. Greenwood; The Nature Conservancy

It is recommended to use locally-sourced firewood, or firewood that has been confirmed as pest free. Firewood producers and dealers must provide documentation on the source of their firewood. Note that seasoned wood alone is not an adequate treatment method because some insects can survive in untreated firewood for many months. Only firewood that is heat treated, kiln-dried (160° F for at least 75 minutes), is allowed to be brought into parks with source documentation.

Be warned that RVs and other vehicles that have been parked for long periods of time can also harbor tree pests and their eggs. If not removed prior to a road trip, these vehicles can introduce pests into a previously uninfested area. So, take the time to check your vehicle, especially the wheel wells, and remove any insects you find. You can also wash down your camper between trips to help remove any hitchhiking pests.

What is at risk from transporting these pests? The trees in your backyard, along your streets, and in your neighborhood, along with the wildlife that depend on them. In addition, jobs in the timber and forestry industries and manufacturing sector (flooring, cabinets, pallets, and even baseball bats) are impacted. A direct consequence to taxpayers are the costs borne by cities and towns to remove the hazardous trees killed by these pests.

Preventing the spread of pests is one component of an Integrated Pest Management program. Doing your part will help sustain the health of our great forest resources and neighborhood trees.

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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.

Recognizing Leaders in Food Waste Reduction this Holiday Season

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By Mathy Stanislaus

In just a few days, households across the nation will celebrate Thanksgiving, a cherished tradition of spending time with family and friends and sharing a meal. Many households, after enjoying abundant Thanksgiving meals, throw wholesome food into landfills. Did you know that food is the largest part of our everyday trash – more than paper, plastic, and glass? Reducing food waste results in significant environmental, social and financial benefits to our communities.

Food rots quickly in landfills and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Not only does wasting nutritious food exacerbate climate change, but we miss the opportunity to feed the millions of Americans that live in food insecure households. Additionally, throwing away food squanders money – an average family can spend up to $1,500 on food that is never eaten. Communities can save money, feed those in need and lessen environmental impacts by implementing strategies to prevent and reduce food loss and waste.

Innovative organizations recognize the benefits of sustainably managing food and are making real in-roads to prevent and reduce wasted food. This year’s top Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) national performers kept tons of food from becoming waste in 2015. Their creative practices range from targeting food recovery at farmers’ markets, creating food waste eco-leader volunteer programs in high schools, and adding infrastructure to better manage the distribution of perishable produce. These are a few great examples of what businesses and organizations can do to reduce food loss and waste across their operations.

The efforts of this year’s award winners, as well as the actions of all FRC participants and endorsers, will help us meet the national goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030 and aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The federal government, led by EPA and USDA, is calling on leaders throughout the public and private sectors to heed the Call to Action to meet the 2030 goal. To do this, we need help from every sector, organization and household across America. The FRC participants are leading the way and I encourage others to institutionalize these best practices.

What can you do? Businesses and organizations can assess their food waste and related management practices to find out what’s being thrown out and why by utilizing our tools to determine the best ways to implement reductions in their everyday operations. Individuals can make small shifts in how they shop, prepare and store food to reduce waste (e.g., use up overly ripe produce in creative recipes such as smoothies or compotes). Start by considering a new tradition this Thanksgiving of sending your dinner guests home with a container of nutritious leftovers so they don’t go to waste.

Read about this year’s Food Recovery Challenge results and winners: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners

Learn more about what you can do at home to reduce food waste: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home

Find creative ways your business or organization can reduce food loss and waste from the Call to Action by Stakeholders: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/call-action-stakeholders-united-states-food-loss-waste-2030-reduction#opportunities

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: Thanksgiving Edition

research_recap_GI_thanksgiving-3By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Happy Thanksgiving! For this special edition of Research Recap, I asked a few of my colleagues what they’re thankful for in the field of environmental science.

Here’s what they said:

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the most influential environmental health institution in the world. – Thomas A. Burke, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research and Development

 

I’m grateful for the incredible team of public servants I get to work with each day who ensure that we have the science needed to safeguard our planet and its people.  – Liz Blackburn, Chief of Staff

 

I am thankful to work with talented and motivated scientists who study air pollution measurement technologies (old and new) that help us understand our air quality. —Rachelle Duvall, Research Physical Scientist

 

I am thankful for the people pursuing, supporting, and communicating the science that will get us to a better future, particularly for our children.  – Rebecca Dodder, Physical Scientist

 

I am thankful for living in the environment where air and water are much cleaner than other parts of the world and for the opportunity to contribute my knowledge and efforts to protect our environment. – Quincy Teng, Chemist

 

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that I have the opportunity to improve health and the environment for my family, country, and planet. I am thankful that I interact daily with wonderful people who make me both think and laugh; people who challenge me and make me better. Finally, because I am a nerd, I am thankful for Markov Chain Monte Carlo, the Random Forest algorithm, and all the analytical chemists who make it possible for non-targeted mass spectrometry to literally change the way we see the world. —John Wambaugh, Physical Scientist

 

I am most thankful for life’s “Aha!” moments, “Ahhhh!” moments, and even the “Doh!” moments. They continually inspire me to keep seeking, learning, and being. —Linda Harwell, IT Specialist

 

I am thankful when I look up and see a beautiful, blue, smog-free summer sky.  It reminds me that our work makes a difference.  – Deborah Luecken, Chemical Engineer

 

I am thankful to have a fulfilling job where I am happy to come to the office every day to work with intelligent, energetic, and supportive people that are dedicated to EPA’s mission of protecting public health and the environment. —Maureen Gwinn, Toxicologist

 

I am thankful that I get to work with a great group of people at EPA, friends and colleagues who are diligent and work tirelessly in the interest of protecting public health and the environment. It is inspiring and a reminder of the great and impactful work that we do and one of the reasons why I joined the Agency. –Samantha Jones, Toxicologist

 

I am thankful for family, friends, and colleagues who make me smile and laugh every day. —Blake Schaeffer, Research Ecologist

 

I’m thankful our nation has an Environmental Protection Agency to help protect human health and the environment, and that I have the opportunity to work with smart, dedicated colleagues working on critical research to support the agency mission. —Marc Weber, Geographer

 

I’m thankful for my colleagues’ openness to learning more about the social and behavioral sciences. It’s been fun talking with natural scientists about how social and behavioral insights might contribute to or improve their work. – Elizabeth Corona, Social Scientist

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with young science graduates through EPA’s agreements with Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.   Their research support infuses energy, a range of talents, and transdisciplinary perspectives into our programs. –Laura Jackson, Biologist

 

I’m thankful for the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.  This act is a historic opportunity for the Agency to apply cutting edge scientific research to help folks make better informed chemical use decisions. And I’m ALWAYS thankful for my EPA career.  I’m proud to work here and I’m grateful for the chance to work with people who have dedicated themselves to protecting human health and the environment. —John Cowden, Biologist

 

I’m grateful that environmental science is able to make the world we live in a more sustainable place to live in and enjoy with those around us. I’m grateful that it shows us how we as individuals and communities may protect and restore our most cherished and valuable ecosystems. —Jason Berner, Landscape Architect

 

I’m thankful for my colleagues and their integrity and care for the environment. —Marisa Mazzotta, Natural Resource Economist

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to inform the protection of ecosystems and all parts of society with colleagues who are passionate, inquiring, brilliant, and affable. —Ken Fritz, Ecologist

 

I am thankful to be part of an agency that puts the needs of future generations before that of our own as it endeavors to protect and preserve our increasingly fragile planet and its many amazing creatures. —Janice Dye, Research Biologist

 

I am thankful for my rolodex – contact list in Outlook.  I like to solve new problems and realize others can help.  A web of contacts can sometimes help me find a solution. —Steve Clark, Environmental Engineer

 

I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of the solution. EPA science is key to helping our communities and addressing our challenges. —Carole Braverman, Regional Science Liaison

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer on 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.

Our goal: to listen, talk and understand

By Deb SzaroSzaro

My Bias is Unconscious… Is Yours? That was the name of a workshop I attended recently in Washington, DC. It is also what I believe. Accepting without question that we all have biases of which we are not aware may have led to my seat on a panel in this all-day program on Nov. 2 run by EPA’s Diversity Council.

As deputy regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, I have intuitively felt that our office did a good – though never good enough – job of honoring diversity and making all employees feel respected and included.

As one of 10 panelists in a morning session, I gave an account of an African American employee in my region who shadowed me for a day.  Right in the middle of my anecdote, I realized that this account of how we operate in New England closely mirrors just the kind of culture our moderator had said is critical to addressing unconscious biases.

What is important, said Timothy Vianney Kane, associate director for inclusion initiatives at George Washington University, is creating an office and a culture where employees truly get to know one another, where they work together in an atmosphere that breeds support and acceptance.

My anecdote was about Marcus Holmes, an environmental engineer in our Superfund program who told the staff in our regional office his personal and professional story on a Diversity Panel. After that, Marcus shadowed me for a day, including to a meeting with folks from the human resources office. He listened as human resources staff talked about their respect for each other, at times moved to tears as they reflected on the feelings of loyalty and trust that had built up between them during years of working together.

Later, during an all-hands meeting about professional development, Marcus stood to tell a roomful of Region 1 employees about his shadowing experience, and jokingly said how he now wanted to work in the human resources office.

Although this story does not precisely talk to diversity, or even unconscious bias, it does directly address a culture that is critical to tackling our biases, a culture that is central to the way we try to run our office in Boston. When we get to know each other as people and hear each other’s stories, we can better understand each other. And when we know each other as human beings, not just as lawyers or scientists in another program, we are more apt to listen to each other with a ready mind and an open heart.

I know our office has come far, but there is always farther to go. I know we will not eliminate unconscious biases through a single diversity panel or even 10 all-day workshops. But as I talked and listened during this workshop in Washington DC, I felt validated in our approach here at EPA New England – an approach that firmly declares that only through a pervasive culture of embracing and respecting differences, of promoting humanity and of tackling unconscious bias head-on, can we hope to move forward to a more inclusive and accepting workplace.

This is the philosophy that this regional office excels at, and it is this philosophy that we will continue to nourish in the years ahead.

 

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.

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Finding Solutions the Lean Way

By Travis Robinett

Having spent more than five months as a Pathways Intern at EPA Region 7, something I couldn’t help but hear about was EPA’s focus on Lean practices. In case you haven’t heard about Lean, it’s a method for process improvement. It’s about questioning the status quo of how you work, analyzing it, and making it better. And it’s becoming part of the work culture here in Region 7. We’ve already implemented more than 25 projects since 2013, and are currently working on several more.

It’s pleasant to see a federal agency take such a hard look at itself. It’s especially true here at EPA, because the more efficient and effective we become, the better we can fulfill our mission to protect human health and the environment.

EPA Region 7 personnel work with state partners during a Process Excellence event to improve the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106 work plan negotiations process for Performance Partnership Grants (PPGs) in Aug. 2016. Process Excellence (often abbreviated as PEx) is the Region’s process improvement program, staffed with trained facilitators ready to tackle employee-recommended Lean projects. These facilitators are trained in Lean Six Sigma, and by the end of the year, three Region 7 Employees will be certified Black Belts and 12 others will be certified Green Belts.

EPA Region 7 staff work with state partners at the August 2016 event to improve the Clean Water Act Section 106 work plan negotiations process for Performance Partnership Grants. Region 7’s Process Excellence program is staffed with trained facilitators ready to tackle employee-recommended Lean projects.

I saw it for myself in August 2016, when Region 7’s Chris Taylor and Doug Jones co-facilitated a four-day event to improve the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106 work plan negotiations process for Performance Partnership Grants (PPGs).

I was in the room with 16 participants and two facilitators. The Region 7 states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska all sent leaders from their state water divisions, while Region 7 sent in managers and technical project officers from its Water and Wetlands programs, along with the staff who coordinate the process.

Going in, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Trying to find solutions as a team sometimes works pretty well, but sometimes expectations aren’t met and people can leave in disagreement. With so many state agencies and EPA staff involved, all with their own unique needs, I was curious to see if everyone would be able to put their issues on the table, come up with solutions as a group, and move forward satisfied with those solutions?

Laying the Groundwork for Lean

To get the best results possible, these events are highly structured using Lean Six Sigma methodologies. Trained facilitators use certain tools in a certain order. They manage the team, keep everyone on task, and find a balance between the free expression of opinions, while still following the regimen. For example, if someone proposes a solution when the team is focusing on identifying the problem, the facilitator asks them to save the idea for later by putting it in the idea “parking lot.”

The facilitators do their best to make everyone productive and engaged. And to make that happen, they need everyone in the room to buy into Lean. So Taylor and Jones got to work.

After a basic orientation and laying the event’s ground rules, they demonstrated Lean’s effectiveness to the group by taking 30 minutes for the “Dot Activity.” Essentially it’s a game of production, where the group is assigned different roles, working together to make finished products (paper with colored dots placed in a certain order).

For the first round, the rules say to stick to the script, which is purposefully inefficient. After the 6-minute time limit, zero products were ready for the customer. Before the next two rounds, the group collaborated to change the process. By the third, they had made a natural assembly line and streamlined the process, and efficiency exploded. They made 28 products, and only took a minute to finish the first.

The Dot Activity highlighted some of the general ways a process can get bogged down, and how easy fixes can drastically increase efficiency. Just shifting around the work space saw dramatic results. It also got people into the mindset of process improvement and working as a team. Most importantly, it built comradery before really getting started, and got the team into good spirits.

The Process of Process Improvement

lean-governmentOne of the main tools used in Lean is the process map. The process is drawn out step-by-step to visualize it, analyze it, and then decide where to make it better. But before mapping, Taylor went around the room and asked everyone what they did and didn’t want out of the event, making sure everyone had their say.

The four states made it clear that nothing new should interfere with their internal work. EPA’s project officers wanted a better way to track grants through the process. EPA’s Water and Wetlands program staff wanted to make a consistent process that works with all four states. With this in mind, the mapping began. Four different maps were needed to account for the different processes with each of the states, along with a fifth map for the general timeline of the process.

Taylor drew out the maps by hand, step by step, with everyone’s input. Then he recreated them on his computer after the day was over, printing them for the next morning so everyone could double-check the results.

Once the maps were checked and edited, Taylor asked everyone for their “pain points” in the process, where they felt the process was breaking down, and for one thing they liked about the process and wanted to keep. From this, the group made three goals for the new process map: better collaboration from the start, better tracking methods, and better documentation in the process.

Next, the group split up to find potential solutions. They wrote them on sticky notes, reviewed them as a group, and placed them on a “Difficulty-Impact Matrix,” which compares impact to difficulty. The ideal solution is one that makes a big impact and is simple to implement.

In my opinion, the best idea was to have a series of “kickoff” meetings between EPA Region 7 and the states to establish clear work plan expectations from the start. This way, the states know more about any annual updates from EPA headquarters at the beginning of the process, and have a better idea of what to prioritize in their grants. Another solution was to use a shared, online tracking system so work plan progress can be checked instantly.

The next day, they drew a new process, one that would work for all four states, with their preferred solutions mixed in and every step accounted for. But even after the map was finished, the group wasn’t done yet. They made a rollout plan and assigned everyone tasks so the new process would be integrated smoothly.

The final step was the Report Out, where senior-level managers and other staff members came to see the event’s outcome presented, followed by a Q&A session. And when the states were asked whether they maintained their independence in the process, they all resoundingly said “yes.”

So in the end, the team came up with realistic and impactful solutions, along with a plan to implement them, and no one left in disagreement. And ultimately, it’s going to improve outcomes for cleaner water across the region.

This is what Lean and Process Excellence are all about. With these events happening more frequently and having more staff involved, the word keeps spreading. EPA Region 7 is all in on Lean, continuously striving to do better, and collaborating to get there.


Additional Information: Exploring the Clean Water Act and PPGs

What’s a Performance Partnership Grant (PPG)? It’s several grants in one, dealing with water, air, hazardous waste, and other state and EPA priority activities. In the case of this Process Excellence event, the grants are focused on the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106, which encompasses a variety of CWA activities.

The CWA EPA Sealis complex. One of its main components provides for states to monitor their waters to see whether these water bodies are meeting different designated uses. For example, if a stream is not swimmable, or has poor habitat for wildlife, the states pinpoint the lacking water-quality metrics, then come up with a plan to fix the problem, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). And that’s just one of many tasks involved in the CWA.

Just in Section 106, funding is provided for:

  • Monitoring and assessing water quality
  • Developing water quality standards
  • Identifying impaired waters and TMDLs
  • Managing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits
  • Ensuring compliance
  • Implementing enforcement actions
  • Protecting source water
  • Managing outreach and education programs

It’s not cheap to carry out these activities. So the federal government provides grant money to states with delegated programs. The states write the PPG work plans, which plan and budget for their fiscal year CWA 106 activities. These plans are then negotiated and ultimately approved by EPA.


About the Author: Travis Robinett has been a Student Intern at EPA Region 7 since June 2016. He is a second-year graduate student at the University of Kansas (KU), working toward a master’s degree in environmental assessment, and holds two bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English from KU. Travis has a passion for sustainability, public service, teaching, volunteering, and the great outdoors.

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.