Lawyer, Scientist, Mom- The Lenses I Use To Protect The Environment

I have worked as an International Environmental Program Specialist in EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs since 2003. For the last 8 years, I have been the project manager for international environmental cooperation with Andean countries, particularly those with which the United States has free trade agreements (Colombia, Chile and Peru). It has been very rewarding to oversee and coordinate capacity building and information exchange efforts with our international counterparts, helping them raise their environmental standards and, therefore, protecting our shared environment. When I see the enthusiasm and dedication that my counterparts show for improving their capacity, promoting environmental and human health, and improving their enforcement and compliance of environmental laws, I feel like my job makes a difference.

It all started with a dream to become a lawyer. As a high school senior, I wasn’t sure about my college major until I sat with my mother and went through a catalog of degrees available at the University of Puerto Rico. I was extremely lucky to have involved parents, particularly a mother who knew how important it was to find something meaningful. The more I read about all the disciplines involved, the more I was convinced that environmental science would perfectly blend my interests and skills. Somehow, even back then, I knew I wanted to work for the EPA after I finished my education.

In a funny twist of events, my first job after law school was at EPA, not as a lawyer, but as an environmental scientist. While I realized that environmental policy fits better with my personality, I have discovered that I still tend to see the issues I deal with at work through a legal lens.

Through the years, my passion for my job has grown and, as a mother to a boy and a girl, I find my job is even more important. Now I find inspiration when I think of the world I want them to inhabit, of the values I want them to hold dear and the environment I want them to be able to enjoy. When I take my 4-year-old daughter hiking, I want her to breathe fresh air and think of how she can help, even as a little girl, to protect our environment. She already knows about recycling! And when my son asks for scientific books, I beam with pride because he understands our interconnectedness to everything around us.

My job here has perfectly blended my science and legal education with my endless curiosity and respect for the environment. I look forward to continue reaching new people as I undertake new projects, and setting an example for my children to take care of and appreciate the amazing environment we live in.

About the author: Nadtya Hong has worked in EPA’s Office of International Affairs since 2003. She has a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Puerto Rico and a J.D. in Law from the George Washington University Law School.

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.

Photo Essay: Back to Basics Agenda

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA just concluded two weeks of visits to Appalachia and the urban and rural mid-west. Here are some of the things we saw through the lens of our award winning photographer Eric Vance.

Happy to be working in West Virginia.

The tall rolling hills of Western PA.

Deep down in America’s largest underground coal mine.

A coal miner clocks out in Sycamore, PA.

EPA Administrator meets community member in East Chicago, IN.

East Chicago homes.

Contaminated soil removed and fresh soil being laid

Blue skies, fresh water and green farm land in rural Missou

EPA Administrator taking some cell phone photos with some happy power plant workers.

Coal field in Clifton Hill, MO.

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.

How One Bus Ride Led Me To Public Service

By Elle Chang

“If you look to the right, you’ll see power plants and waste incinerators have been positioned next to elementary school playgrounds, where mercury and lead exposure are harming children, and little is being done to address it. These are environmental justice communities,” our guide explained. Ten years ago, I was on a bus driving through a neighborhood off of North Capitol Street, not too far from where I live now in Washington, DC. It was freshman year of college and that weekend, I had joined thousands of other social justice advocates, student government leaders, and other community representatives at a national conference about climate justice, environmental racism, lobbying, voter education, and becoming empowered citizens to inspire others to plug into movements they cared about.  

The images from that bus ride stick with me to this day as a reminder that we have much to accomplish in terms of protecting human health and the environment. Understanding the relationship between communities and their natural environments has been a theme that I have found myself attempting to understand in each major phase of my life. Seeing many environmental issues with health implications for communities made friends of mine so upset in college that they were willing to skip class to chain themselves to doors of buildings. Potentially telling my mother that I had been arrested for trespassing because I cared about protecting the environment wasn’t an option, so I took a less radical approach and began attending community meetings to listen and see where my intentions could be more useful. The intersection of public participation, good governance, sustainable development, and cooperative management models are what led me to get a degree in political science and work as a Peace Corps volunteer, graduate student, United Nations staffer, climate change researcher, and in my current role as an EPA analyst.

With a deep belief in public service, community engagement, policy and science-based facts, my role in the American Indian Environmental Office involves managing the partnership with the National Tribal Caucus that includes a national group of tribal environmental leaders who advise EPA on policies affecting Indian country. One of the best aspects about my job is that I get to work with the tribal offices in the regions, at headquarters, and throughout the federal family and it pushes me to continuously learn about new issues in highly diverse communities from a social justice and environmental policy perspective. Though the work can feel overwhelming, I am always inspired by the positivity, passion, and necessity to persevere and protect our shared environment by our tribal partners who are a reminder that our policies and actions here in Washington, DC have wider and deeper implications than we will ever experience.

Prior to joining EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, Elle Chang graduated from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University with a master’s degree in International Development where she explored the intersection of integrated conservation solutions and indigenous issues as it relates to natural resource management. Ms. Chang served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Java, Indonesia where she focused on secondary school education and gender empowerment 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.

Haskell Indian Nations University’s ecoAmbassadors Bolster Composting and Waste Reduction

By Travis Robinett

Not long ago, a student group called the ecoAmbassadors at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., set out to enhance the university’s composting system with the help of an EPA partnership and grant assistance through EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. I recently had the pleasure to see firsthand the successful implementation of these students’ hard work.

Haskell student Steven Peña asks about composting methods at a recent meeting between students, EPA Region 7 and KDHE at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Liz Blackburn, EPA tribal solid waste coordinator (right), is helping Haskell build a composting program from the ground up.

Haskell student Steven Peña asks about composting methods at a recent meeting between students, EPA Region 7 and KDHE at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. Liz Blackburn, EPA tribal solid waste coordinator (right), is helping Haskell build a composting program from the ground up.

Haskell University has improved its composting system this semester, with support from EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Liz Blackburn, tribal solid waste coordinator with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division, set up a meeting recently between Haskell students and Arthur Fink, KDHE composting expert, who was consulted on their plan. He explained how best to monitor and adjust the pile, helping waste break down into healthy compost. Food waste collection for the new system began in early March 2017.

Region 7 has assisted students in bringing composting to Haskell since 2015, building on previous joint efforts from a Memorandum of Agreement between EPA and the university. Blackburn said she’s proud to continue strengthening that partnership.

KDHE’s Arthur Fink gives expert advice to Haskell students on their composting plan recently. He’s standing beside wooden pallets for holding food waste as it breaks down, allowing airflow through the compost pile. The oxygen keeps food waste from decomposing in anaerobic conditions and emitting methane.

KDHE’s Arthur Fink (right) gives expert advice to Haskell students on their composting plan recently. He’s standing beside wooden pallets for holding food waste as it breaks down, allowing airflow through the compost pile. The oxygen keeps food waste from decomposing in anaerobic conditions and emitting methane.

“It’s exciting, because I think improving waste management is the best way to target pollution prevention and reduction,” she said.

In 2015, Haskell’s ecoAmbassadors set out to improve the school’s food-waste management with grant assistance through EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. The composting system is a major piece of their waste reduction plan, which arose after fall 2015 assessments at Haskell’s dining hall showed how much food could be composted.

Haskell started composting shortly afterward with a one-bin system, but the students wanted to improve their methods. So they sought out ideas from a variety of places, including EPA and nearby Tribal Nations.

A compost thermometer shows the temperature under the surface. Compost piles can get hot. If the pile reaches about 140 degrees, the heat will kill most pathogens and denature any seeds. If it dips below 120 degrees, and food isn’t broken down, that’s the time to turn and mix the compost.

A compost thermometer shows the temperature under the surface. Compost piles can get hot. If the pile reaches about 140 degrees, the heat will kill most pathogens and denature any seeds. If it dips below 120 degrees, and food isn’t broken down, that’s the time to turn and mix the compost.

Based on what they learned, students built three adjacent bins with reused untreated wood pallets. The pallets allow for airflow, which keeps the compost from producing methane. Having three bins allows for older piles to break down while a new one begins.

According to EPA’s composting website, it takes anywhere from two months to two years for food waste to become dark, nutrient-rich compost. Fink said to help it break down, one key aspect to focus on is temperature. He brought a long composting thermometer, which measures the temperature underneath the pile’s surface.

“At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, most pathogens will be destroyed,” Fink said. “It also denatures any seeds.”

KDHE's Arthur Fink explains the benefits of adding the proper amount of wood chips to the compost pile recently at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. The wood draws moisture from the decaying food and helps it break down, though it shouldn’t be too dry when added to the pile.

Fink explains the benefits of adding the proper amount of wood chips to the compost pile. The wood draws moisture from the decaying food and helps it break down, but it shouldn’t be too dry when added to the pile.

If the temperature drops to 120 degrees and the waste hasn’t broken down yet, he said it’s time to turn the pile.

One of the big benefits of composting and diverting food, Fink said, is that food takes up a lot of landfill space and is heavy to transport. Also in landfills, food often breaks down without oxygen, giving off methane as a byproduct.

Steven Peña, a student in Haskell’s American Indian Studies Program, said he hopes this effort is successful enough that in two to three years, the university can build something more permanent with concrete.

“Also, composting is something you can use at home,” Peña said. “We’re hoping people here take this habit with them.”

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.

My Journey from Peace Corps to Minamata

By Marianne Bailey

Every day at EPA, I have the privilege of working with our staff to advance public health and environmental protection through international cooperation. As a high school student in the 1970s, I knew that diplomacy in some form was my path. As it turns out, diplomacy comes in many guises, and the kind we do at EPA is the most fulfilling kind I could have imagined.

After getting some work experience under my belt after college, I got an MPA degree then joined the Peace Corps in Mali, where I worked on agroforesty and nutrition. After that, EPA became my home. I worked on our Asia and Africa programs early in my EPA career. EPA’s expertise is unrivalled in the world, and is in big demand.

Working in close cooperation with our program and regional offices, and with strong management involvement, we achieved a very rapid phase out of leaded gasoline in China and many other countries in both regions, started air monitoring programs, and advanced environmental health initiatives such as the Chemical Information Exchange Network.

More recently, I was proud to have been involved in negotiating the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The Convention requires all countries to meet the same obligations to reduce the globally circulating emissions which impact the food Americans consume.

The Convention even addresses an informal sector, artisanal and small-scale gold mining, which has emerged as the largest source of global mercury emissions. It addresses that sector in a way that respects miners and their families, and should allow them to continue this important income-generating activity without facing the severe health impacts caused by inhaling mercury when the mercury-gold amalgam is burned to make pure gold.

And now, I am so proud of how our newer staff members have put their intelligence and leadership qualities to work on today’s most pressing challenges. Because what has stuck with me the most about this work over the years is that we can make such a big, positive difference in peoples’ lives through our public service.

My advice to those thinking about public service, including careers in environmental protection, and to those embarking on their careers: be willing and eager to take on new challenges, to stretch, to reach for something that might seem unachievable at first look. Look again – there is no challenge too big for your vision!

About the author: Marianne Bailey is the Deputy Director for Global Affairs and Policy at the US Environmental Protection Agency, which works on a wide range of global environmental issues. Marianne has worked on global mercury issues for over a decade and was the US negotiator for the Minamata Convention’s ASGM provisions. She has previously managed US EPA’s bilateral efforts in Africa and Asia; served as a US Peace Corps agroforestry volunteer in Mali; and worked for the US House of Representatives.

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.

Progress – Story by Story

by Amanda Pruzinsky

Our EPA region does a lot of work with partners to improve water quality.  We’re capturing examples of those actions in an online series.

The stories illustrate how EPA – working with states, cities, utilities, non-profit groups and businesses – helps people and communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

The stories are available through an interactive map with the content and location of each story.  You can click on an individual water droplet for a story happening in a particular area.  Or you can access all of the stories we have to date for a given state.

In the series, you’ll find a story about an EPA-funded project in West Virginia to resolve conditions caused by failing or non-existent septic systems.  While you’re on that page, learn about the rebirth of the Cheat River, a haven for outdoors enthusiasts and those who enjoy fishing.

Among other stories, you can check out the recovery of a river scarred by acid mine drainage in Pennsylvania, a recycled water project in Virginia, an urban farm in the District of Columbia, and a 60 percent reduction in contaminants in Delaware’s Mirror Lake.

The stories showcase the variety of ways EPA is making a difference – from improvements to the Chesapeake Bay through wastewater treatment plant upgrades to green street initiatives that reduce stormwater and transform communities.

Take some time to browse the map and check back for the latest updates.

 

About the Author: Amanda Pruzinsky is a physical scientist for the Water Protection Division in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region working to support all of the water programs with a focus on data management, analysis, and communication.

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.

From Brownfield to Ball Field, Springfield, Mo., Hit a Home Run!

By Ashley Murdie

Hammons Field

Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo., home of the Springfield Cardinals, was constructed from a former brownfield site made ready for reuse with the support of EPA funding.

Baseball is back! It’s Opening Day of the 2017 season and just knowing that makes today, a Monday, not half bad. The opening of baseball season is like spring itself. It ushers in a new beginning for the ever-hopeful baseball fans. EPA Region 7’s Brownfields team is in Springfield, Mo., today, where they’ve been working for a couple of decades on projects with the city to revitalize downtown, including Hammons Field, home of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, a farm club for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The EPA Region 7 team is in Springfield for a graduation ceremony with the city’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program, which represents just the latest new beginning created from this long partnership.

The EPA team has been working since 1999 with city officials and members of the Citizens Advisory Council on the Jordan Valley Corridor, an underused, 300-acre downtown industrial area that served as the starting point for redevelopment of the entire industrial corridor. Previously, the Hammons Field property was the site of warehouses, but that changed when the city of Springfield decided to include it as part of this revitalization project.

Over the years, the city leveraged $7 million in EPA Brownfields Program assistance funds that drew in more than $460 million in other public and private investments.

Hammons Field development site

Hammons Field development site

The project began when Springfield received a $200,000 Brownfields Assessment Pilot grant from EPA in 1999. This grant provided the initial push by funding assessments on six of the 28 properties acquired for the first phase of the Jordan Valley Park redevelopment project. The city brought in additional funds for the project from the Federal Highway Administration, Economic Development Administration, and from many private contributors.

Benjamin Alexander, project manager for the park, stressed the importance of EPA’s Brownfields Program. “We had a vision and a plan, but I don’t think we would have been as successful as quickly without the Brownfields program.”

The assessments revealed less contamination than expected, allowing for demolition of current buildings and redevelopment to start.

Construction began on the stadium in July 2002 and just two years later, the first pitch at Hammons field was thrown April 2, Opening Day of the 2004 season.

Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.

Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.

Since Springfield began its local Brownfields program, the city has applied for and received 17 separate EPA Brownfields grants, totaling $6.3 million, along with non-cash technical assistance valued at more than $800,000, for a total of $7.1 million in support from the agency. This brownfield funding has led to more than 260 environmental property assessments conducted on projects large and small.

As a result, the city has leveraged an amazing $460 million in public and private investments toward the revitalization of former brownfields, with more projects underway.

In baseball terms, that’s like a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in a tied game seven of the World Series!

About the Author: Ashley Murdie is a public affairs specialist with the EPA Region 7 Office of Public Affairs.

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.