environmental protection

Progress in Communities: It All Starts with Science

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

By Lek Kadeli

This week is the 43rd Anniversary of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and we are marking the occasion by revisiting how our collective efforts on behalf of the American people help local communities become cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable. As the Assistant Administrator for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I can’t help but see a strong undercurrent of science and engineering in every success story.

Over the past four plus decades, EPA scientists and engineers, along with their partners from across the federal government, states, tribes, academia, and private business, have supplied the data, built the computer models and tools, and provided the studies that have helped communities take action to advance public health and protect local environments.

In every area of environmental and human health action, EPA researchers have helped local communities make progress. Read more…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Making Sure Chemicals Around Us are Safe

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, OCSPP

Chemicals are found in most everything we use and consume— from plastics, to medicine, to cleaning products, and flame retardants in our furniture and clothing. They can be essential for our health, our well being, our prosperity and our safety— it’s no understatement to say that the quality of life we enjoy today would be impossible without chemicals. However, our understanding of chemical safety is constantly evolving and there remain significant gaps in our scientific knowledge regarding many chemicals and their potentially negative impacts on our health, and the environment.

While you may be familiar with the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts— you may not be as familiar with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the environmental statute enacted in 1976 to regulate all chemicals manufactured and used in the U.S. When TSCA was enacted, it grandfathered in, without any evaluation, the 62,000 chemicals in commerce that existed in 1976.

Unlike the laws for drugs and pesticides, TSCA does not have a mandatory program where the EPA must conduct a review to determine the safety of existing chemicals. TSCA is the only major environmental law that has not been modernized. The process of requiring testing through rulemaking chemical-by-chemical has proven burdensome and time consuming.

Compared to 30 years ago, we have a better understanding of how we are exposed to chemicals and the distressing health effects some chemicals can have – especially on children. At the same time, significant gaps exist in our scientific knowledge of many chemicals, including those like flame retardants. Increasingly, studies are highlighting the health risks posed by certain chemicals and recent media coverage has heightened public awareness about the safety of flame retardants.

As part of EPA’s efforts to assess chemical risks, we will begin evaluating 20 flame retardants in 2013 in order to improve our understanding of the potential risks of this class of chemicals, taking action if warranted, and identifying safer substitutes when possible. Over the years, EPA has also taken a number of regulatory and voluntary efforts, including negotiating the voluntary phase-outs of several toxic flame retardants. EPA’s review of and action on flame retardants has spanned over two decades and while these are important steps forward, the long history of EPA’s action on flame retardants is tied in no small part to the shortcomings of TSCA and stands as a clear illustration of the need for TSCA reform.

We have the right to expect that the chemicals found in products that we use every day are safe and provide benefits without hidden harm. It is critical that we close the knowledge gaps and provide this assurance under a reformed, 21st century version of TSCA.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 24 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women’s History Month: Honoring Achievements in Science

By Maggie Sauerhage

Ecologist Rachel Carson helped shape how people see the natural world.

An ecologist who changed how an entire country looks at the natural world. The first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only one to win the prize in two separate fields. A computer scientist whose research helped launch rockets into space. A pioneer who realized the dangers of air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. A champion in protecting endangered species. And the first African-American woman to receive a degree in bacteriology.

Who are they? Rachel Carson. Marie Curie. Annie Easley. Mary Walton. Jane Goodall. Ruth Ella Moore.

These are just a few of many inspiring women who have impacted all of us with their innovations in science, engineering, conservation, medicine, and human health protection. They have inspired generations of scientists, engineers, trailblazers, women, and men to find a place where they can make their own impact, no matter how small, in comparison to these great achievements.

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.

In honor of women, both past and present, who have changed all of our lives for the better through their work protecting human health and the environment, this month we are profiling EPA women scientists and engineers who are striving to make the planet a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable place to live. They share their research, how they discovered their passion for science or engineering, and give advice for anyone who is interested in pursuing their dreams.

We’ll add more profiles throughout the month, so please check back as the next four weeks roll on and maybe you, too, will find a passion for environmental and human health research!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is part of the communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Learn More:

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Protecting the View from the Mountaintop

By Jessica Orquina

Previously, I served as a pilot in the U.S Air Force Reserves and had the opportunity to visit many places around the world. Throughout my travels, I gained an appreciation and respect for the vast variety of natural environments that exist around our planet.

Last week my husband and I took a trip to visit friends and go skiing. During my time as a military pilot, I had flown over these majestic mountains many times, admiring the shiny, snow-capped peaks from above. However, until last week, I never visited them at ground level.

The first day we went skiing we drove into the mountains, initially winding along the valley floor with peaks rising on either side. Soon we turned upward and followed winding roads switching back and forth along the mountainside to the ski slopes. There we parked our car, I put on my skis, and headed to the lift.

As I rode the chairlift even higher up the mountain, I watched the skiers and snowboarders below glide along the snow. At the top of the lift the view that met me took my breath away. The mountain top I was standing on was surrounded by more sparkling, snow-capped peaks – it was as if I had skied into a postcard. I took a moment to reflect on the natural beauty around me and was reminded how precious and fragile our environment is.

A photograph of my view from the mountaintop.

My View from the Mountaintop

Now, I’m back home thinking about the view I experienced on that mountaintop. It reminds me why the work I am part of here at EPA is so important. Protecting our environment will ensure that future generations will be able to experience this same beauty.

Here are some things you can do every day to help protect our environment at your home, in your community, and while traveling. Why is protecting our environment important to you?

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

By Jessica Orquina

Previously, I served as a pilot in the U.S Air Force Reserves and had the opportunity to visit many places around the world. Throughout my travels, I gained an appreciation and respect for the vast variety of natural environments that exist around our planet.

Last week my husband and I took a trip to visit friends and go skiing. During my time as a military pilot, I had flown over these majestic mountains many times, admiring the shiny, snow-capped peaks from above. However, until last week, I never visited them at ground level.

The first day we went skiing we drove into the mountains, initially winding along the valley floor with peaks rising on either side. Soon we turned upward and followed winding roads switching back and forth along the mountainside to the ski slopes. There we parked our car, I put on my skis, and headed to the lift.

As I rode the chairlift even higher up the mountain, I watched the skiers and snowboarders below glide along the snow. At the top of the lift the view that met me took my breath away. The mountain top I was standing on was surrounded by more sparkling, snow-capped peaks – it was as if I had skied into a postcard. I took a moment to reflect on the natural beauty around me and was reminded how precious and fragile our environment is.

Now, I’m back home thinking about the view I experienced on the mountaintop. It reminds me why the work I am part of here at EPA is so important. Protecting our environment will ensure that future generations will be able to experience this same beauty.

Here are some things you can do every day to help protect our environment at your home, in your community, and while traveling. Why is protecting our environment important to you?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Do-It-Yourselfers Have To Be Careful, Too!

By Lina Younes

In these times, everyone is looking for ways to save money. Whether it’s saving energy, cutting coupons or reusing certain items, we all want to limit our expenses. So, for those who are handy with tools, the do-it-yourself-way might be the most economical option for making repairs at home. While many home improvement stores provide useful kits and information to update the look around the house, one word of caution: make sure that the simple steps you take in your home will not adversely affect your health or your family’s. Let me explain.

For example, if you live in a home that was built before 1978, it is likely that at some point your house had lead-based paint. Why should you be concerned about this? Well, lead paint poisoning affects over a million children in the United States today and it can lead to learning disabilities, hearing loss, and other serious health effects. If you are going to renovate, repair or paint your home, make sure that you use lead-safe practices to contain the work area, minimize dust, and clean up thoroughly after the paint or renovation job is over. Your best bet might be to hire a lead-safe certified contractor.

On another issue, some common home problems like drafty rooms, poorly maintained air-conditioning or heating equipment can all contribute to high energy bills. Simple repairs around the home like sealing air leaks, cleaning air ducts, and properly maintaining cooling equipment and appliances will go a long way to improve your health and save money. Here you will find additional tips to improve energy efficiency and better protect the environment.

During the summer, we see an increase in creepy crawlers inside and around the home. For some, the initial reaction is to grab the closest pesticide and spray it all over regardless of the annoying pest at hand. For others, they prefer to call professional exterminators to do the job. Regardless, the best advice is to prevent pests from invading your household in the first place. If pesticides are still necessary, follow the instructions correctly and safely.

Now, for doing-yourself auto repairs, I guess I’ll leave that for another blog. Your comments are always welcomed. Talk to you next week.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: I’m an American and Environmental Protection was “My” Idea

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

The genius behind the Microsoft advertising slogan, “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea,” is that it takes a basic, nonspecific truth—companies use customer feedback when updating their products—and gives it a brand-specific identity. Whether Windows 7 was developed with more user input than were other versions is besides the point. More important is that users feel ownership over the product because Microsoft made their contributions central to its Windows 7 roll-out campaign. The clever way the TV commercials do this is to have individuals claim they personally invented Windows 7, while we all know that many people had a hand in creating the product.

JeffMorrisPortrait-2010As a nation, let’s send a similar message with environmental protection. One can debate whether the roots of environmentalism can be traced back solely to the United States, since global movements nearly always have multiple origins. Yet history is clear that over the past several decades U.S. leadership has been central to the development of the environmental protection laws and practices that exist today around the world.

The value of communicating that environmental protection is an American idea is not in selling the rest of the world on the notion of U.S. environmental leadership, but rather is in reminding ourselves that taking responsibility for safeguarding the air, water, and land on which all life depends is part of who we are as Americans. We as a nation are all about stepping up to responsibilities with a positive, can-do attitude that is not content with accepting how things are, but rather demands forward movement toward what can be. 40 years ago we didn’t just create an EPA: we articulated a vision for the world of what a clean and healthy environment could be. With that vision we built an environmental protection “operating system” that for decades served us reasonably well.

Today we face new and complex environmental challenges. However, new thinking and advances in technology provide opportunities to address those challenges. Central to this new thinking is a growing recognition that environmental sustainability is an essential element of future prosperity and well-being. These challenges and opportunities require that we upgrade our environmental protection OS to version 2.0. It’s appropriate that the roll-out begin here. After all, we are Americans and we are proud to join others in claiming that environmentalism was our idea.

About the author: Jeff Morris is National Program Director for Nanotechnology Research in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: What does “environmental protection” mean to you?

EPA was established on December 2, 1970 and since then the nation has made enormous strides in protecting the environment. But every day, we all make individual choices that can affect the environment. One of Administrator Jackson’s priorities is broadening the definition of “environmentalism.”  Share your thoughts about what it means to you.

What does “environmental protection” mean to you?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Young Students Engaged in Environmental Stewardship

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

During a recent visit to K.W. Barrett Elementary School in Arlington, VA, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with a diverse group of young students from the school’s 4-H Club and the LNESC Young Readers Program. It was very exciting to see these young students actively engaged in environmental protection activities like school recycling projects, garden clean ups, tree plantings, to name a few.

When Administrator Jackson asked them about our environmental challenges, many hands eagerly shot up! The children highlighted numerous concerns like global warming, climate change, dependence on fossil fuels, water quality, recycling, etc. I was impressed by their grasp of the issues given the fact that they ranged from first graders to fifth graders. What most struck me was that they were not parroting what they had heard from their teachers in school or from parents at the dinner table. They were truly engaged in the discussion.

Image of Administrator Jackson talking with children seated in a circle around her.

During the Administrator’s visit, the students proudly spoke of their activities. We even saw a video they produced at the school entitled “Hug a Tree”. It was adorable. It warmed my heart to see these young children speaking and acting as concerned citizens of today and tomorrow. I definitely saw future scientists, researchers, engineers, teachers—working together to better protect our home, Planet Earth. Who knows, maybe some of these young students will be future awardees of EPA’s P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability. Anything is possible.

So let’s go green every day of the year, at school, at home, and in our communities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Jóvenes estudiantes comprometidos con el civismo ambiental

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Durante una reciente visita a la Escuela Elemental K.W. Barrett en Arlington, VA, la Administradora de EPA Lisa Jackson se reunió con un grupo de jóvenes estudiantes de diversos grupos étnicos participantes en el Club 4-H de la escuela y del Programa de Jóvenes Lectores de LNESC. Fue muy emocionante ver estos jóvenes estudiantes trabajando activamente en actividades de protección ambiental como proyectos escolares de reciclaje, la limpieza del jardín, el sembrado de árboles, entre otras actividades.

Cuando la Administradora Jackson les preguntó acerca de nuestros retos medioambientales, muchos levantaron sus manos entusiastamente. Los niños destacaron numerosas preocupaciones tales como el calentamiento global, el cambio climático, la dependencia en los combustibles fósiles, la calidad del agua, el reciclaje, etc. Me impresionó ver su manejo de estos asuntos dado el hecho de que la mayoría estaban en los grados del primero al quinto. También me sorprendió el que no estaban repitiendo las cosas al papagayo que quizás habrían escuchado de sus maestros en la escuela o de sus padres en casa. Estaban totalmente enfrascados en la discusión.

Image of EPA Administrator Jackson speaking with children sitting in a circle around her

Durante la visita de la Administradora, los estudiantes hablaron orgullosamente acerca de sus actividades a favor del medio ambiente. Hasta nos mostraron un video que habían producido en la escuela titulado “Abraza a un árbol”. Era enternecedor. Me emocionó ver estos jovencitos hablar y obrar como los ciudadanos preocupados del hoy y del mañana. Definitivamente ví futuros científicos, investigadores, ingenieros, maestros—trabajando juntos para mejor proteger nuestro hogar, el Planeta Tierra. Quién sabe, quizás algunos de estos jóvenes estudiantes serían futuros galardonados del concurso P3 de EPA: la Competencia de diseño estudiantil para la sostenibilidad de EPA conocida como Pueblo, Prosperidad y Planeta. Cualquier cosa es posible.

Por ende, obremos a favor del Planeta Tierra. Seamos verdes todos los días del año, en la escuela, en el hogar, y en nuestras comunidades.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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