Spring Cleaning Can Be Even Healthier using Green Products

The welcome return of spring sunshine makes me think of one thing – grimy, winter-weary windows. And then there’s the fridge, the baseboards, the carpets, the bathroom grout, the kitchen cabinets. All these little spots we ignored all winter are now ready for a thorough scrub. No wonder nearly 75 percent of Americans like to do a good spring cleaning.

Good thing you can use the EPA Safer Choice label to help you find cleaning and other household products that are made with ingredients that are safer for people and the environment.

Healthy Choices

That’s a great assurance, considering household cleaning products are one source of indoor air pollution, which can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Products with safer ingredients improve indoor air quality and can lower the risk of health hazards, including respiratory conditions like asthma; allergic reactions, which can cause skin rashes, hives or headaches; and a variety of other conditions. Children and older people, in particular, are more susceptible to risks — so they’re better off in spaces cleaned with safer products and wearing clothes cleaned with a laundry detergent that uses safer solvents and surfactants.  And what about parents and those who regularly clean and do the wash, coming in close contact with cleaners and detergents? Safer is certainly better for them. Safer Choice recognizes that everyday cleaning products make a big difference to your family’s well-being.

Cleaners also affect the quality of our local streams, rivers and lakes. When Safer Choice products get rinsed down the drain and make their way into the watershed, they are less toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That’s good news for New England’s iconic waterways, whether it’s Lake Champlain, the Charles River or Long Island Sound… or the ponds, streams and wetlands found throughout New England.

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Here’s something that may surprise you. Unlike food producers, cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on their containers or make them public. But to display the Safer Choice label, manufacturers must list all of their product’s ingredients either on the product or on an easy-access website.

Safer Choice is the first federal label for cleaning products and it is proving incredibly popular. More than 2,000 products have already earned the right to carry the logo. They’re available in local grocery stores and hardware stores, and include cleaners for use at home, offices, schools, hotels and sports venues.

The agency’s website (https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice) lists all the products that proudly carry the Safer Choice label. We also offer interactive tools to find the best cleaning products for your home and for businesses like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues. And my personal favorite – cleaners for those grimy windows.

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator, US EPA Region 1 (New England Region)

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.

New England Communities Addressing Climate Change

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

Over the past several years I have witnessed New England communities grapple with challenges that are likely indicators of our changing climate. The sea is creeping into parking lots at high tide in low-lying Rhode Island. The Cape Cod National Seashore rebuilds access to beaches as the sea eats away dunes that have loomed for centuries. After Tropical Storm Irene, we saw Vermont communities helping each other and their state recover from the damage.

As more and more communities deal with rising sea levels, increased coastal erosion, seasonal changes, more intense and frequent storms, flooding, heat waves, public health threats, and threats to native species, I am often asked “What advice does EPA have? Who has already begun addressing these problems?”

I’m proud that our office has just launched an online resource to further help New England communities navigate how to respond to climate change. This resource, called RAINE (it stands for “Resilience and Adaptation in New England,”) is full of links, documents and information on how more than 100 New England communities are taking action to adapt to climate change.

When a town in Southern New England faces flooding, it can check the database and find guidance from Vermont’s experience after Tropical Storm Irene. When a beach community wants to find out how it can provide economic incentives to homeowners to provide extra protection for flooding they can look to Hull, Massachusetts. Hull provides a rebate on building department fees for homeowners who increase their building height above the base flood elevation. Users can see how communities are working with local businesses to adapt, such as in Misquamicut Beach Rhode Island, where businesses that were swept away by Superstorm Sandy are now rebuilding so they can get out of the way if another storm surge threatens them.

Becoming more “resilient” takes effort and forethought. Our communities need leaders who guide us to make investments today that will help us be more resilient tomorrow. The bottom line is, resilience is about people taking action to prepare wisely for the future. The RAINE database helps communities share what they have learned about adjusting to our changing climate, so that other communities can gain from their experience.

On the heels of the Paris climate agreement, with more than 190 countries coming together to reduce emissions in order to lessen the impacts of climate change, our RAINE database is further evidence that what is global is also local. New England communities are leading the way, learning from each other, connecting, and working together to address the impacts we are facing. I may be biased, but it seems to me that New England communities are often leaders when it comes to protecting and living sustainably in our environment.

With RAINE, each community isn’t on their own to reinvent the wheel. We welcome New England’s community leaders to use the RAINE database to learn what others are doing, and we invite you to share your experiences with other local decision makers. We can learn from each other as we tackle the challenges of a changing climate.

Raine

RAINE website http://www.epa.gov/raine

About the author: Curt Spalding is the Regional Administrator of EPA’s New England office, located in Boston.

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.

Lungs of the Sea

As a diver and marine biologist for EPA, I spend a fair amount of time underwater. My area of expertise is in the study and conservation of seagrass. These underwater meadows can cover vast swaths of the seafloor and they serve as important nurseries for many fish and shellfish species.

Recently, I had the great fortune of taking a family trip to France and spending some time along the southern coast. It was my first visit to the Mediterranean Sea and I was looking forward to exploring the underwater realm. We stopped in the small town of Cassis, which reminded us of Gloucester, Mass. Cassis has its own fisherman’s statue. It does not have a greasy pole to climb like Gloucester, but it does have its own unique tradition. Local fishermen mount planks on the back of two dories. Boys of about 10 years old are lifted up onto the planks wearing pads on their chests and are given lances. The boats then drive directly at each other and the boys joust until one or both fall into the water.

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The local culture was interesting, but Cassis is also known for “les calanques.” Calanques are inlets surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs; they also are known as mini-fjords. Within these inlets, seagrass flourishes in the clean, calm protected waters. The French refer to seagrass as “les poumons de la mer,” which translates to the lungs of the sea. Like all plants, seagrasses produce oxygen through photosynthesis. On sunny days, it is common to see bubbles of oxygen being released from the leaves of seagrass into the water.

In Cassis, protecting seagrass is taken very seriously with a variety of rules. Boaters are not allowed to anchor or place a mooring in seagrass meadows. Boaters are required to stay in the marked navigation channels and when in shallow water reduce their speed so no wakes are produced. In our three days in Cassis, we watched many boats come and go, and not one of them broke the rules.

I approached one of the local fishermen and with my limited French asked him about the local seagrass meadows. He spoke little English. I spied a shoot of seagrass floating near his boat. He scooped it up and held it close to his heart and said “les poumons de la mer.” Posidonia

We didn’t speak the same language, but our common love of the ocean easily transcended the language barrier.

More information on EPA Seagrass research: http://www2.epa.gov/sciencematters/epa-science-matters-newsletter-how-deep-are-seagrasses

Connect with EPA New England on Facebook: facebook.com/EPARegion1

Connect with EPA Divers on Facebook: facebook.com/EPADivers

About the author: Phil Colarusso is a marine biologist in the Coastal and Ocean Protection Section of EPA’s New England office, and is an avid diver.

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.

Carpet Beetles in Kindergarten

By Marcia Anderson

A few weeks after summer recess, some preschool and kindergarten students came into their school nurse’s office with red welts on their legs. The bites were large, itchy, and had a burning sensation. The problem escalated until a few students from different classrooms, had over 20 red welts on their legs. Some students seemed to be bitten daily, while others in the same classrooms had no bites at all. The students began to recover on long weekends, but got worse when they came back to school. This continued for two months.

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Mosquitoes, lice, fleas, spiders, bed bugs? The usual culprits were eliminated one-by-one. The nurse reported the problem and a pest management professional (PMP) was deployed to investigate. The PMP suspected carpet beetles instead of bed bugs due to the fact that some children were being bitten while others were not. Some people are allergic to carpet beetles and some are not; however, almost everyone has some sensitivity to bedbugs. Upon inspection the PMP found carpet beetles but no bedbugs.

Carpet beetles are similar to bedbugs in that they are tiny, hard to find, and most active in the wee hours of the morning. The difference is that bedbugs bite, but carpet beetles do not. Carpet beetles eat natural fibers, like wool blankets and feathers, and naturally occur in most homes.

Through further investigation the nurse discovered that the reading areas in all six affected classrooms had their carpets replaced over the summer with new carpets made from mostly natural fibers.

When children walk or move around on the carpet, especially on dry days, there may be a build-up of static electricity that causes the fine hairs cast off the carpet beetle larvae to pass though all but the finest of weaves of clothes. In these classrooms, it appears that static caused the carpet beetle hairs to impale themselves in the surface of the children’s skin, thus creating small pin prick wounds that looked similar to insect bites. Carpet beetles cause a medical condition where the piercing of the skin causes a reaction, either as a result of the insertion of a foreign object (the hairs) into the skin or as a reaction to pollution that enters the open wound.

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The most commonly found form of carpet beetle is the larvae, which are often termed wooly bears. They are small hairy caterpillars, the skins of which can often be found in dark places. Perhaps they originated from the enclosed, dark conditions in the warehouse where the carpets were stored.

The good news is that no chemical treatment was necessary as it was not the live insects causing the allergic reaction but their prickly little hairs. The solution was to make sure all the allergens (the hairs) were removed from the carpets. The school had the carpets vacuumed with a HEPA vacuum then steam cleaned. The problem was solved.

Read a 2012 story on carpet beetles.

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.

Preventing Pollution Begins at Home

By Roy Crystal
Pollution Prevention Coordinator
EPA New England

Do you remember this first picture of the whole Earth seen from space – a beautiful round ball covered with oceans and clouds? Our home. The image of this fragile blue ball inspires us to want to take better care of the planet that we live on.

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I work in EPA New England’s Assistance and Pollution Prevention Office. I was recently named the region’s pollution prevention coordinator. I am enthusiastic and excited to take on this new challenge. This blog is the first of a series of communications I hope to write on what we are doing here at EPA to prevent pollution – and what you can do at home or at work.

Did you know that this week, September 21 to 25, is Pollution Prevention Week? This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Pollution Prevention Act which states “it to be the national policy of the United States that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible.” Under this law, EPA has awarded grants to many states, institutions, and businesses to carry out actions that prevent pollution. Our state partners have trained many businesses to change their practices to prevent pollution. For example, some auto body shops have switched from solvent-based to water-based paints, and some dry cleaners have eliminated the use of perchloroethylene and switched to wet cleaning. Many other businesses have reduced their use of water and toxic chemicals. Our office here in Boston administers these grants around New England; we also implement a wide range of other activities to prevent pollution, working closely with our states, interstate organizations such as the Northeast Waste Management Organization (NEWMOA), businesses, and communities. The opportunity to work collaboratively with all of these partners is what makes my new role so meaningful to me.

For more information on Pollution Prevention Week and what you can do, go to http://www2.epa.gov/p2week.

So – what can we do to protect the fragile blue marble we call home? Here are some ideas:

• Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – find ways to use fewer toxic materials and conserve resources,
• Look for Safer Choice products in stores and through distributors,
• Look for products with the Energy Star,
• Use water efficiently – get helpful hints from our Water Sense program,
• Soak Up the Rain that falls on your yards to prevent pollution generated from dog waste and fertilizers from running into your local rivers and streams, and
• Take steps to sustainably manage your food.

If you have thoughts to share with me on how we can work together to prevent pollution, feel free to leave a comment.

Yours for a greener Earth –

Roy

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.

Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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.