Eight Years Later: EPA Assists Iowa City’s Sustainable Recovery After Historic 2008 Flood

By David Doyle

In June 2008, parts of eastern Iowa were devastated by a 500-year flood, the second such event in 15 years. Total losses from the flooding were estimated at nearly $3.5 billion.

Flooding in eastern Iowa, June 2008

The disaster’s greatest impact was on Cedar Rapids, where more than 5,200 homes and almost 1,000 businesses were damaged or destroyed. However, the flood also affected dozens of other communities along the Des Moines, Cedar, Iowa, and Mississippi rivers and their many tributaries.

My Role in Tornado Recovery

The previous year, I had been assigned to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) long-term community recovery efforts in response to the EF-5 tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan. This was my first opportunity to participate in a long-term recovery effort in response to a natural disaster.

Aftermath of Iowa flooding, June 2008

EPA’s traditional role after disasters primarily had been responding to the threat and impacts from the release of hazardous materials, along with addressing the impacts on community water and wastewater systems. Long-term recovery was a relatively new role for EPA and involved providing assistance with sustainable community planning to make a community more sustainable and resilient to future disasters.

My role in Greensburg was to help FEMA develop the long-term community recovery plan which was completed after several months of work and quickly implemented, eventually making Greensburg arguably the greenest city in the country.

In 2008, I was again assigned to work with FEMA in Iowa on post-disaster, sustainable long-term planning efforts. I quickly realized that making such plans after a flood was very different than for a tornado.

A Very Different Experience

While Greensburg was a one-square-mile city, much of Iowa was impacted in one way or another by this flood. Fortunately, then Governor Chet Culver established a state government agency called the Rebuild Iowa Office, which spent considerable time immediately after the disaster working with FEMA to determine the long-term recovery needs of communities.

Flooding in eastern Iowa, June 2008

Meanwhile, learning from my experience in Greensburg, I started to reach out to various EPA headquarters offices looking for assistance, knowing there was no funding available from EPA Region 7 to assist with the needed recovery planning.

I quickly found that EPA’s offices of Sustainable Communities and Brownfields & Land Revitalization were willing partners. Both provided funding to bring in technical experts on economic development, transportation planning, and sustainable urban design.

Iowa City Makes the Most of EPA’s Assistance

The Iowa community that took most advantage of these resources was Iowa City, the state’s fourth largest city and home to the University of Iowa and a major medical center. For years, the city had been looking to redevelop an area south of their downtown. The 2008 flood gave them an opportunity to do just that.

This 30-square-block area, renamed the Riverfront Crossings District, includes an aging wastewater treatment plant, recycling center, animal shelter, and various other underutilized properties, many of which were impacted by the flooding.

Diagram from EPA’s “Enhancing Sustainable Communities with Green Infrastructure”

After conducting a retail and housing market analysis, along with a transit-oriented development study, both commissioned by EPA, it was decided that this area could be transformed into a mixed-use, pedestrian- and transit-friendly neighborhood. Again, utilizing EPA funding, contractors with expertise in sustainable urban planning initiated a process to develop conceptual plans for such a neighborhood. After considerable interaction with local stakeholders, EPA finalized these plans in May 2011.

Since EPA’s Involvement

As it takes years – not only for plans to be finalized from conception, but also for them to be implemented – I recently asked Karen Howard, Iowa City’s assistant planning director, to update me on what has happened in the community since EPA’s involvement.

She said a Riverfront Crossings District Master Plan was adopted in 2013, along with a form-based zoning code for the district in 2014 (one of the recommendations from the initial EPA technical assistance grant).

Illustration of Riverfront Crossings District restoration after removal of wastewater plant

Since the form-based code was adopted, private investment in new construction totaled about $160 million, with many projects still under construction, and another $100 to $150 million in private investment is in the planning stages. This is only a small fraction of the redevelopment potential of the Riverfront Crossings District that Howard expects in the coming years.

New private building projects include two new hotels, a 6-story Class A office building, stand-alone restaurant, convenience store/gas station, craft brewery, multi-family and mixed-use buildings with ground floor retail space, and a considerable number of residential apartments and condominiums.

Public investment in the district includes the decommissioned and demolished, flood-prone wastewater treatment plant; the first phase of a new riverfront park, a 600-space public parking facility (under construction), new ambulance and medical examiners’ offices (under construction), and a new University of Iowa School of Music (completed in fall 2016). A number of street improvement projects are also in the planning stages.

The old saying, “With disaster brings opportunity,” certainly couldn’t be more applicable to the sustainable recovery efforts that rejuvenated Iowa City after the flood of 2008.

About the Author: David Doyle serves as the Sustainable Communities Coordinator at EPA Region 7. David has a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science in environmental health engineering from the University of Kansas.

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.

Pretty, Polished Cities: They Don’t Happen Without Caring Communities

By Kathleen Fenton

One of the greatest thrills of environmental and sustainability work is the completed project. Often times, a project can take years to complete. Recently, I attended the Mid-America Regional Council’s (MARC’s) ninth annual Sustainable Success Stories event where we learned about some of the end results. It revealed to me just how clever and resourceful community leaders are.

Smart Growth Program LogoAt the MARC event, more than 100 city planners, nonprofits, investors, federal, state and city partners from the Kansas City metro area gathered to hear about smart growth projects that have made a significant difference socially, economically and/or environmentally – the “three legs of the sustainability stool.”

sustainability stoolWe heard about eight 2016 honorees who spearheaded projects across the metro area, from Mission, Kan., to Grandview, Mo., and from Kansas City, Kan., (KCK) to its sister city across the river, Kansas City, Mo. (KCMO).

These projects ranged from stormwater management, a new public transit system, land and streetscape beautifications to the building of new rental and single-family homes in the Ivanhoe District of KCMO. These homes, some built from the ashes of a school burned down by an arsonist, gave new purpose to vacant lots by providing affordable housing to Ivanhoe residents, including cottages designed specifically for low-income seniors. Another project led to the creation of beautiful new walking paths for KCK residents, where nine new walking clubs have started.

Speakers at the event focused on the importance of community-based planning, described their tenacious leaders, and discussed the need for constant, open communication channels between citizens, planners and construction crews.

They emphasized the professional skill it takes to research and collect the various appropriate types of funding for sustainability projects. This is a chore unto itself! I was pleased that EPA Region 7 staff had a seat at many of these planning tables, and were given a shout-out as a partner representing our Brownfield Technical Assessment funding, stormwater management work, and Environmental Justice small grants, just to name a few of our available planning and funding resources.

Cyclist on bike path

Winter cyclist on bicycle path

City planners also spoke about many of their trials and tribulations. Measuring the impact of these changes isn’t always clear or simple, immediately following the completion of these projects. But noticeable improvements and successes can already be seen.

More buildings are now being constructed in the planning areas, and additional dollars have been spent upgrading others. Not only is there an increased number of families moving back into the inner cities, but there are waiting lists to gain access to inner city housing.

Summer art festivals feature newly-constructed sidewalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and bicycle paths are safely marked for fun and transportation. Now these areas are teeming with crowds during weekends and summer events.

But when these partners described their completed projects, what rang out was the overwhelming community support and appreciation of everyone’s hard work. The love and dedication to their jobs and to their communities was crystal clear. Now all of them move on to their next projects, ones that will continue to improve the quality of life in our cities.

Pollinator garden

Pollinator garden

Our cities, just like our homes, will always need constant attention and maintenance. What these success stories prove to me is how prepared, practical and stalwart many public servants must be to keep our cities not only pretty and polished, but also functional, thrifty and forward-thinking.

So the next time you ride on that new bike path, walk in a well-designed park, visit a pollinator garden, purchase a new home in a revitalized neighborhood, or wonder why your downtown doesn’t flood anymore, you might ask yourself, “How did this happen? Who did this?”

The answer is often not just one, but many community leaders, public servants, investors, and concerned citizens who care about their communities and want to leave them just a little bit better for future generations.

For More Information:

Resources for Local Officials and Community Members
EPA Region 7 Communities Information Digest

About the Author: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the environmental education program coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

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.

Creative Ways to Cut Your Holiday Waste

By Grace Doran and Jessica Kidwell

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, American household waste increases by more than 25 percent. Trash cans full of holiday food waste, shopping bags, bows and ribbons, packaging, and wrapping paper contribute an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills.

As we celebrate the holidays, it pays to be mindful of sustainable consumption and materials management practices. They may help you focus even more on caring and celebration during this holiday season, and could even reduce the strain on our fiscal budgets and  the natural environment.

Giving

  • Less is more. Choose items of value, purpose, and meaning – not destined for a yard sale.
  • Give treasure. Pass on a favorite book, plant start, or antique. Check estate sales, flea markets, and resale shops for unique finds.
  • recycling, energy, power, environment and ecology concept - clos

    Consider rechargeable batteries

    Give “anti-matter.” Focus on the experience, rather than wrapping and shipping. Share event tickets, museum memberships, gift certificates, or even your time and talents.

  • Impart values, not wastefulness. Start a child’s savings account, or make a donation to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name.
  • DIY. Handmade food and gifts display your creativity and demonstrate your dedication.
  • Consider the source. Choose recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Shop local to support area shops, makers, and artisans while reducing shipping costs and impacts.
  • Recharge. Consider rechargeable batteries (and chargers) with electronic gifts.
  • Blank linen shopping bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag

    Use a reusable cloth bag for your purchases. Avoid bags altogether for small or oversized purchases.

  • Plan ahead. Consolidate your shopping trips to save time, fuel, and aggravation. You’ll have more time for careful gift choices.
  • Rethink the wrap. Reuse maps, comics, newsprint, kid art, or posters as gift wrap. Wrap gifts in recycled paper or a reusable bag. Or skip the gift wrap, hide the gifts, and leaves clues or trails for kids to follow.

Celebrating

  • Trim the tree. Consider a potted tree that can be replanted, or a red cedar slated for removal during habitat/farm maintenance.
  • Light right. Choose Energy Star energy-efficient lighting. LED outdoor holiday lights use 1/50th the electricity of conventional lights and last 20 to 30 years.
  • Choose LED lights

    Choose LED lights

    Make it last. Choose and reuse durable service items.

  • Keep it simple. For larger gatherings, choose recyclable or compostable service items. All food-soiled paper products are commercially compostable, unless plastic- or foil-coated.

Looking Ahead

  • Reduce. Donate outgrown clothes, old toys, and unwanted gifts.
  • Reuse packing and shipping materials. Save ribbons, bows, boxes, bags, and décor for the next holiday.
  • Recycle old electronics and batteries with an e-steward.
  • Replant, mulch, or compost your live tree. Compost food scraps.

About the Co-Author: Grace Doran is a student intern in EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, studying civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. Grace has a passion for environmental education, listening to podcasts, running and pizza (and those don’t contradict each other).

About the Co-Author: Jessica Kidwell is a hydrogeologist with EPA Region 7’s Environmental Data and Assessment staff. She’s provided technical expertise and worked with stakeholders to advance scientific, environmental, and sustainability objectives for nearly 20 years.

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.

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.

‘Dr. Lowry, I read on the internet that I shouldn’t feed my child rice cereal. Is this true?’

Introduction by LaTonya Sanders

October is Children’s Health Month. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics established October as Child Health Month in order to focus national attention on children’s health issues. This month and throughout the year, EPA works with parents, teachers, health providers and other partners to promote healthy environments where children live, learn and play.

Only through partnerships and collaboration can we make a difference and leverage the needed resources and support to guard all children against environmental health threats.

PEHSUEPA is proud to partner with people and organizations that are on the forefront in protecting children’s health and the environment, which is consistently true for Dr. Jennifer Lowry and the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Dr. Lowry is a crucial partner to EPA, and her work is instrumental in creating a healthier future for our children.

By Jennifer Lowry, MD

Jennifer Lowry, MDPediatricians love children. We love helping children become the best people they can be. We love doing what is needed to make the world a better place for children to be healthy.

What pediatricians don’t love is being caught unaware of the latest blog, internet chat, or media storm regarding environmental health issues. Media and other news outlets often inform parents of possible environmental exposures that can cause harm to children.

Unfortunately, not all of the information is true, which causes undo concern for parents and confusion to pediatricians who are asked about these effects.

A World of Stuff

What is a pediatrician or family to do? It is important to realize we are surrounded by stuff. We, or the people who have come before us, have made choices that puts stuff in our world that is supposed to make things “better” or “easier.” Unfortunately, not all of the stuff we encounter fits both descriptions.

Cell phones, plastics, better beef, lead in paint, and synthetic athletic fields are just a few examples that may make life easier, but might not (or definitely not in some cases) make life better. But today, everywhere you turn, someone is saying our children’s lives are being damaged by the chemicals we have in the environment. Is this true?

A Matter of the Dose

As a toxicologist, I have been taught “Everything is a poison. It is just a matter of the dose.” Paracelsus was a Swiss-German Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer and general occultist. Born in 1493, he founded the discipline of toxicology. Paracelsus rejected the medical conditions of the time, and pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. He is credited with the phrase “the dose makes the poison,” but is also known to have said: If given in small doses, “what makes a man ill also cures him.” Thus, he realized medicines can be beneficial at low doses, but cause harm at higher doses.

Paracelsus, founder of toxicology

Paracelsus, founder of toxicology

But what about chemicals and metals, both synthetic and natural? What about plants? Is it true there is no harm at low levels? Well, it depends. Medications used to treat illnesses are rigorously tested for safety and efficacy. Chemicals used in the environment are not. Alternative medications (dietary supplements) are not.

We know some medications have benefits at very low doses (micrograms), but can cause toxicity at the milligram dose (or 1,000 times the microgram dose). Some medications have no efficacy at the milligram dose and require much higher doses (grams or 1000 times the milligram dose) to have effect.

Why would we expect plants, supplements, chemicals or metals to be any different? Each chemical is different and has a different profile for efficacy and toxicity. Some chemicals (botulinum toxin, for example) are toxic at even lower doses. Unfortunately, we are finding out doses that were presumed safe were really not safe to begin with.

Arsenic and Lead

Chemical symbols for arsenic and lead

Chemical symbols for arsenic and lead

At one time, we erroneously thought because arsenic was “natural,” it could be placed in soil as a pesticide. However, arsenic is relatively immobile so anything that grows where it was placed (such as rice fields) can incorporate it into the food. Thus, higher levels of arsenic are found in foods grown where arsenic was used.

The same is true about lead. Pediatricians know that children are not little adults. But the level associated with toxicity in adults was applied to children early in the 1900s. However, it was soon realized children were more vulnerable and action was required at lower levels. Lead has not become more toxic over time. Our recognition of the toxicity of lead has changed for us to realize that even low levels of blood lead may result in harm.

So What Do We Do?

Can a 6-month-old child eat rice cereal? YES. Should they only eat rice cereal? NO. Does it have to be the first cereal they eat? NO. Can my teenager have a cell phone? YES. Should they be on it all the time? NO. Should they carry it in their pants or in their bra? NO. Should an infant or toddler play with a cell phone or tablet as their entertainment? NO.

How do you discover these answers? Great resources are available to help you sort this out:

  • Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) – Staffed by health care professionals who are experts in pediatric environmental health, they can help to best inform health care providers and the public on how to keep children safe from environmental toxins.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics – Through the Council on Environmental Health, health care professionals can learn about the latest science on pediatric environmental health and how to incorporate this knowledge into their practice. This website is a great resource for families to find out what experts in children advise.
  • Poison Control Centers – Staffed by health care professionals, they are best able to help you with acute exposures. Some PEHSUs collaborate with poison control centers. Call 1-800-222-1222.

Lastly, be smart. Do you really need that stuff? Do you really need to throw it away? Reduce, reuse and recycle. It is easy to blame others before us for where we are now. But who will our children blame with what we leave them?

About the Introducer: LaTonya Sanders serves as the children’s health coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kan. Her EPA career expands over 20 years in public affairs, communications, outreach, education and congressional relations.

About the Author: Jennifer Lowry, MD, is the medical director of the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, among several other prestigious titles. She served on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee from 2012 to 2014.

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.

Feed People, Not the Garbage

By Jenn DeRose, Green Dining Alliance

America wastes a lot of food. It has been estimated that 40 percent of food in this country gets tossed every year. If you’re wondering how to interpret that number, imagine taking nearly half of every meal you eat and dumping it directly in the garbage. Now imagine 318 million of your neighbors doing exactly the same thing.

Food garbageWasting that much food translated into 37 million tons of garbage in 2013, garbage that could’ve had a different fate as nourishment for hungry people. One in seven Americans are food insecure, which means they do not know where their next meal will come from, if they get a next meal.

The Green Dining Alliance (GDA) has always encouraged our member restaurants to minimize their food waste by reducing portion sizes and composting food waste. So when we heard that EPA was co-leading a new initiative to reduce U.S. food waste by 50 percent by 2030, we had to get involved. The GDA joined EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge as an Endorser, promoting the challenge by suggesting our members to join up as Participants.

Food Recovery Challenge Participants are given tools to measure how much food they’ve saved from landfills, including ways to measure how much they’ve reduced their environmental footprint. They are taught to use the Food Recovery Hierarchy as a template for how to best reduce their food waste.

Food Recovery HierarchyWe have a few food-reduction superheroes in our membership. For example, one Asian restaurant has an all-you-can-eat buffet with a twist. It is served Dim Sum style – you are offered small portions of everything on the menu. If you want more, you have to ask for it. You can have as much as you like, but you don’t get more than you need, reducing the waste that is typical of buffets.

We are also proud of our members who compost, which diverts more waste from the landfill and reduces more methane (greenhouse gas emissions) than those who are only recycling. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

Luckily, reducing food waste in your own home is easy. You can use the Food Recovery Hierarchy to get ideas for best practices, like buying less food. Start an audit or mental checklist of the foods you end up throwing away. Do broccoli or potatoes always seem to go bad before you get to cooking them? Consider buying less to start with, or freezing meals and ingredients for later – that’s “source reduction.”

Let your nose check for the freshness of items with expiration dates for which there are no national guidelines (except for baby formula). These dates are set by industry to ensure that customers buy only the very freshest products. This practice unfortunately contributes greatly to food waste, as customers fear that products past the “best by” or “sell by” dates might harm them.

Home compost Bin

Home compost bin

Home composting is also an easy way to keep food out of landfills. Start a pile in your backyard for eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable trimmings and more.

Food makes up 18 percent of the waste in landfills, contributing 18 percent of our methane emissions. Small steps can make a big difference when fighting the scourge of wasted food. Do your part by visiting GDA restaurants, asking more restaurants to compost, composting at home, ignoring “best by” labels, buying only what you can eat, and eating all you buy.

If America is to cut its food waste in half by 2030, and meet EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge goal, more individuals and industries will have to get aboard the food waste recovery train. Let’s all do our part!

About the Author: Jenn DeRose is program manager of the Green Dining Alliance, a program of St. Louis Earth Day. The GDA is a certification program for restaurants to assess and improve their sustainable practices, including reducing their waste, water, and carbon footprint. Jenn has doubled the GDA’s size in less than a year, now at over 100 members. Jenn is a writer and a LEED Green Associate, and is earning a bachelor’s degree in sustainability at Washington University. She enjoys camping, foraging, birdwatching, and cycling.

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 Grant to Schools Helps Bring Green Thumbs and Healthy Eating to Kirksville, Mo.

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

Teagan Scheurer and Levi Boyer plant pumpkin seeds at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Children will also help harvest the vegetables from their seeds.

Teagan Scheurer and Levi Boyer plant pumpkin seeds at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Children will also help harvest the vegetables from their seeds.

EPA Region 7 awarded an Environmental Education grant in late 2015 that is funding gardening lessons and nutrition classes in the Kirksville School District in Kirksville, Mo. Karen Keck, project manager, has engaged various youth as students, interns and volunteers, not to mention the city’s businesses and senior residents.

Many hands-on, outdoor activities happened this summer. The following blog by Karen gives just a taste of what was accomplished. Besides the good work of the school district, my favorite part of this grant is seeing the happy faces of the students, as they learn about and engage in their environment.

By Karen Keck

The Green Thumb Project had a great summer of activities through the work of people taking the lead on projects at the school and in the community. Four summer interns and our grant coordinator, Josh Ellerman, and an AmeriCorps member, Derek Franklin, were employed in educating various groups about gardening and healthy eating.

Derek Franklin works with a Village 76 resident and Green Thumb Intern Kaitlyn Meyer to check the health of the "veggie squares," personal gardens created for residents.

Derek Franklin works with a Village 76 resident and Green Thumb Intern Kaitlyn Meyer to check the health of the “veggie squares,” personal gardens created for residents.

Intern Cole Haugen maintained the garden at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Additionally, Cole presented interactive lessons to the children who attend the center during the summer.

Kaitlyn Meyer and Becca Elder were supported by the Kirksville Housing Authority to build, maintain and move “veggie squares” (4-by-4 raised beds) outside the doors of elderly residents at an independent living community, Village 76. They held events with this community through the summer, usually involving vegetables and herbs and plenty of conversation. Kaitlyn and Becca also contributed to educational activities at a subsidized housing area in Kirksville.

Amanda Thomas was hired to make t-shirts for the project, spruce up the learning garden at the schools, and find creative ways to advertise the project throughout the city. Justin McKean also worked at the learning garden, weeding and planting to keep it looking good throughout the summer and making sure it would be ready to use for classes and after-school programs when classes began.

EPA's Kris Lancaster participates in an outdoor environmental education program, sponsored by the Kirksville School District in partnership with the Green Thumb Project.

EPA’s Kris Lancaster (left) participates in an outdoor environmental education program, sponsored by the Kirksville School District in partnership with the Green Thumb Project.

Together, they led a “Seed to Plate” camp and presented garden programs to children enrolled in a YMCA summer program. Overall, a variety of engaging activities were implemented for a wide variety of people in Kirksville!

About the Introducer: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Karen Keck is the outdoor education coordinator for the Kirksville School District, and teaches environmental science, earth science and biology at Kirksville High School. She is the current chairperson of the Green Thumb Project Board of Advisors.

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.

Learning the 4 R’s: Kansas City Area Students Strive to Reduce Food Waste

By Shari L. Wilson, Project Central

Kansas City students help divert food waste from the landfill

Kansas City students help divert food waste from the landfill

About 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. That is a huge problem for our country. Over the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many great people to help schools in the Kansas City metro area understand more about food waste and what they can do to reduce it.

I really enjoy teaching the 4 R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. “Refuse” means saying no to accepting unnecessary packaging, such as plastic bags. Kids get it. I also involve custodial and kitchen staff in the process. My focus is to help the school divert waste from the landfill, while remaining focused on not adding more work tasks to school staff.

Through a grant program funded by the Mid-America Regional Council’s Solid Waste Management District and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, five schools composted more than 50 tons of waste last year, and so far this year, 13 schools have composted more than 36 tons.

A few of the schools I’ve been working with include Trailwoods Elementary, Rogers Elementary, and James Elementary, which are close to East High School in Kansas City, Mo. It’s the first time some of the students have been exposed to environmental education. Teachers and students are enthusiastic, and kids are sometimes leading the efforts in the lunchroom. These students have worked hard to become good environmental stewards.

Elementary students learn about ways to reduce food waste, including composting

Elementary students learn about ways to reduce food waste, including composting

I’ve enjoyed working with Jensen Adams, energy and sustainability manager, Kansas City Public Schools. He is an enthusiastic environmental partner, and totally engaged in getting kids involved in environmental protection.

My colleague in these efforts is Environmental Scientist Gary Kannenberg. We have worked to engage students in learning about food waste in the lunchroom, composting and waste diversion, and also with EPA Region 7 staff who have provided technical assistance, utilizing data and taking into consideration overall food costs at schools.

Joining EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) brings many benefits, including:

  • Reducing your environmental footprint
  • Helping your community by donating nutritious, quality, unused food to feed hungry people
  • Saving money by purchasing less and lowering waste disposal fees
  • Gaining visibility by having your name listed on EPA’s website
  • Receiving recognition through awards and social media
  • Getting free technical assistance in the form of webinars, an online database, and resources to help you plan, implement and track your activities
  • Getting a free climate change report to highlight your positive effect on the environment

My hope is to engage more schools in food waste education, and for schools to consider joining the Food Recovery Challenge. Currently, about 20 schools in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska have signed up for the FRC. The ultimate goal is to make food recovery part of the culture and curriculum in schools, and part of the students’ home environment.

About the Author: Shari L. Wilson founded Project Central to provide services primarily in the areas of education, environment, healthy communities, and the arts. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and philosophy from Washburn University, and a Master of Arts in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Kansas.

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.

‘Wow, they did all that?’ – Nebraska Teacher, Students Earn National Honors for Community Efforts

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

In our last blog, we proudly featured Shawn Graham and his science students with Omaha Public Schools’ Accelere Program. He’s one of only 10 teachers in the U.S. to receive the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Region 7 spotlights Shawn and his students once more in this second blog, where he continues to describe their nationally-applauded efforts.

Winners of Good Earth Steward Award on Accelere's Hydroponics Team: Shawn Graham, Solangel Feuntes-Vasquez and Gabriela Hernandez, with EPA presenter Kathleen Fenton; Brittany Merrill and Breonna Berry; Colton Hannon and Madyson Dennis

Winners of Good Earth Steward Award on Accelere’s Hydroponics Team – top row: Shawn Graham, Solangel Feuntes-Vasquez and Gabriela Hernandez, with EPA presenter Kathleen Fenton; middle row: Brittany Merrill and Breonna Berry; bottom row: Colton Hannon and Madyson Dennis

I visited Omaha, Neb., in June 2016 to honor the school, Shawn, and 21 of his students with EPA Region 7’s Good Earth Steward Award. I witnessed how Shawn engages his students about the circle of life through science classes, hydroponics lessons, and ways to give back to the environment and their community. It was a fascinating field trip.

There is an old adage: Many hands make light the work. Shawn and his Accelere students know this firsthand and their collective work is amazing! They learn about environmental science, food production, and consistently feed their community with their harvests. A noble effort!

By Shawn Graham

Our Accelere students learn about and produce plants through the hydroponic systems they created with the help of our partners, the Nebraska Academy of Science and Nebraska Environmental Trust Plant Laboratory. It was quite remarkable that the students took over an abandoned locker room just last year to build their new hydroponics lab, and have already reaped so many benefits for themselves and Omaha neighborhoods.

Gabriela Hernandez shows off cucumber plants and fish food

Gabriela Hernandez shows off cucumber plants and fish food

The school and students produce pollinator plants and food for harvesting. Last year, we produced pollinator plants worth more than $11,000 and distributed them free to the public to help others build up pollinator habitats.

Additionally, this year we supplied Black Locust trees, Comfrey, Blazing Star, and Gallardia worth $2,221 to assist our community partner, Omaha Permaculture. Their work creates healthy ecosystems through urban agriculture-related economic development, while promoting the use of unused or unwanted vacant land to elevate the property’s utility and value for the surrounding neighborhood.

Another student project underway this year is with our community partner, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, which entails growing four different species of milkweed plants worth $1,231 to assist in rounding out the pollinator habitats across Nebraska.

One of our finest, ongoing Accelere student and community efforts is working with our partners, Open Door Mission and Sol-Nest International (SI), to grow and harvest White Nile Tilapia (WNT) fish.

Rodney Russel, Sol-Nest International, working with our White Nile Tilapia fish

Rodney Russel, Sol-Nest International, working with our White Nile Tilapia fish

Our students created the hydroponics farm over this past year. Our farm and SI are now the only licensed suppliers of WNT in the entire state of Nebraska! The students received the necessary license from the Nebraska Games and Parks Hatchery to develop WNT as a protein source for the Open Door Mission’s customers.

The Open Door Mission is a nonprofit organization that serves 2,000 meals a day to the hungry and homeless in Omaha. The students have pledged $20,000 of tilapia for the future to benefit the Mission’s culinary arts program.

One of my students, Gabriela Hernandez, explains how people have reacted to this project: “Wow, they [the students] did all that?” Gabriela worked to develop the WNT program from the ground up.

Colton Hannon and Madyson Dennis created a new technique for hydroponic vegetables. Here they show off their fish, Sassy.

Colton Hannon and Madyson Dennis created a new technique for hydroponic vegetables. Here they show off their fish, Sassy.

Students Colton Hannon and Madyson Dennis are our water quality experts, running tests to make sure all the units are running effectively. Both of them are also pioneering a new technique for growing potatoes and carrots with hydroponics.

We have 21 committed students this year, who are working, studying and producing fish and food in the Accelere Hydroponics Laboratory. I’d like to add thanks to our mentors who gave valuable help to our students. And I also want express my gratitude to our community partners. There are more than 50! Without their financial assistance, grants and guidance, none of our projects could have been completed.

“It is a lot of fun to be in Mr. Graham’s classroom,” Gabriela Hernandez said. “He listens to us and helps us learn in fun ways, while we give back to the environment.”

About the Introducer: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Shawn Graham is a science teacher with the Accelere Program at Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Neb. He has been teaching 11th and 12th grade students for 13 years. Shawn’s two main goals are to generate a deeper understanding of course topics by connecting his students with the environment, and encourage students to pursue life-long learning through post-secondary education.

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.

Nebraska Teacher Wins Presidential Award; Students Examine Cosmic Rays in Soil

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

Shawn Graham with his award plaque at the White House ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16, 2016

Shawn Graham with his award plaque at the White House ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16, 2016

Science Teacher Shawn Graham, Omaha Public Schools’ Accelere Program, is one of 10 educators across the U.S. to win the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for 2015-2016. This prestigious award honors K-12 teachers from each EPA region who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for their students’ learning.

Shawn is a compassionate and diligent high school teacher, and one of the best liaisons I’ve seen at work. He networks with over 50 local, state and federal organizations, and most of his students’ parents, who all pitch in to educate the Accelere students.

The Accelere Program provides access to a challenging, accelerated degree format for Omaha students, ages 17-20, who want to earn a high school diploma. Working with his many partners behind the scenes, Shawn develops a tailor-made science program to fully engage all of his students.

Region 7 is featuring Shawn and his students’ nationally recognized work in this blog and the next one. Read these stories to learn how a Nebraska teacher helps his students each day by connecting them to their community by delivering environmental education, science, real-world experiences and fun!

By Shawn Graham

I want to express how lucky I am to be teaching so many talented individuals. I also have the privilege of sharing their talents with several community partners to improve our environment.

My students come up with unique ways of problem-solving today’s challenges. Part of what I do is to relate the students’ interests in post-secondary subjects to the curriculum I teach. I wish to best relate the students’ interests and experiences with their lesson plans and projects.

The first project I have my students explore is through the Cosmic Ray Observation Project (CROP) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, headed by Daniel Claes, Ph.D., department chair and associate dean of research in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Accelere’s CROP program is designed to meet two goals: To study the pattern of cosmic particles, and to interest high school students in science careers (especially physics).

Solangel Fuentes-Vasquez and Gabriela Hernandez in front of their math formulas

Solangel Fuentes-Vasquez and Gabriela Hernandez in front of their math formulas

Through the use of CROP detection equipment, students measure the neutron particles in the soil. They also measure the level of activity of the particles bombarding the Earth and how plants respond to these different levels, specifically as it relates to soil moisture. The work also allows students to produce research-quality data and prepares them for college-level science and research classes.

Solangel Fuentes-Vasquez, Brittany Merrill, and Breonna Berry used the CROP classroom detectors, collected data, and connected cosmic-ray physics with global food security – relating how cosmic rays can affect pollinator plant production.

“We had to learn about this work step-by-step,” Solangel said.

The students have found the work intriguing and love hearing the responses to their studies. Breonna explains, “We are always asked what they (cosmic rays) are and what this data is used for.” Brittany always gets this response from people viewing a scan: “What is that?”

Their favorite explanation is to refer folks to the video produced by Professor Claes, who explains how radiation impacts our everyday lives: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbmSmgTIQ8s.

About the Introducer: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Shawn Graham is a science teacher with the Accelere Program at Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Neb. He has been teaching 11th and 12th grade students for 13 years. Shawn’s two main goals are to generate a deeper understanding of course topics by connecting his students with the environment, and encourage students to pursue life-long learning through post-secondary education.

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.