Human Health

The White Table is a Reminder

By Amy Miller

I was already feeling a bit sentimental when I walked into work one day this week. I have a big birthday coming up, and a daughter home from freshman year in college. Flowers are revealing their spring colors and neighbors and friends are emerging from our New England winter’s WhiteTablehibernation. And so perhaps this all helps explain why I was so struck by the anguished solitude of the White Table set out in the lobby of my Boston workplace, more this year than in the past.

Every May the federal government puts out the White Table, a tribute to the men and women who have died or gone missing in service to our country. Called the Missing Man Table, or the Fallen Comrade Table, each feature of the setting – from the white table cloth to the red rose to the lone chair – carries symbolism.

The White Table, perhaps not so well known to the general public, had its origins with a group of fighter pilots who flew in Vietnam and it grew out of concern for the Vietnam POW/MIA issue. The table is only set for one person. A poster sign next to the table in the lobby of Five Post Office Square told the meaning of the different aspects of the table.

The white table cloth stands for the pure intentions of soldiers serving. The single rose in the vase represents bloodshed, and also the loved ones left behind. A slice of lemon is there to remind us of the bitter fate of soldiers and salt on the table tells us of tears shed by families.

The poster informed me that the glass was turned upside down to show that the soldier would not be returning to use the setting, and the candle sits as a ray of light in hopes that POWs or those MIA would find their way home.

Each day of our job at the EPA we work to protect the environment, and the health of the Earth’s living. It is a good day when we stop to remember the precious task at hand, the fragility of our planet and the life upon it.

So when I walked into the building where I work in Boston and saw the White Table, this stark reminder of people who gave up so much, it was in some ways a good day. For it was a chance to feel glad for life, and for the chance to make life in New England a little bit cleaner and a little bit healthier.

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Amy Miller works in the public affairs office of EPA New England and edits the EPA New England 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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Going Home to Manage the Final Steps of Omaha’s Historic Lead Cleanup

By Steve Kemp

About two years ago, when my boss first asked me to take the lead Remedial Project Manager’s role at the Omaha Lead Superfund Site, I had to laugh. I was born and raised in Omaha, where I graduated from Benson High School, left for four years while I was in the Army, returned to get my degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and then moved away to start my career.

Although I still go back frequently to visit family and friends, I haven’t lived in Omaha since the late 1980s. However, it seems that every few years I am drawn back to my hometown for one project or another.

I worked at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) for many years, and one of the projects I was involved with was the Omaha Riverfront Redevelopment. At the time, the project was the largest in Nebraska’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. The project included the area for the Gallup Riverfront Campus along Abbott Drive, and extended south to the National Park Service building, and the Bob Kerry Footbridge.

The project was a cooperative effort among state, local, and federal government entities, and businesses. Thanks to my staff, the project was a big success. Now I was being asked to assume responsibility for the Omaha Lead Superfund Site, the largest residential lead cleanup site in the history of the Superfund program. I thought it seemed appropriate.

Over a Century of Lead Contamination

The soil in much of eastern Omaha was contaminated with lead from several sources, including a former paint manufacturer, and lead battery recycling, and smelting operations. The most significant source was the former ASARCO lead smelter, located on the west bank of the Missouri River just north of Douglas Street. Lead smelting began at this location in 1870 when the plant was owned by Omaha Smelting Works. The plant changed ownership over time and was owned by ASARCO starting around 1899. By 1915, the ASARCO smelter was the largest lead smelter in the country. ASARCO owned the plant for about 100 years. The ASARCO plant closed in 1997 in a separate cleanup action coordinated by NDEQ.

Workers clean up lead from residential yard in Omaha

Workers clean up lead from residential yard in Omaha

For a century, the ASARCO plant discharged fine particles of lead from the smokestacks into the air. The lead particles were transported by wind and deposited over a large area. In addition to the lead particles from the smelter, another significant source of lead in Omaha’s soil is lead-based paint that chips off of buildings and falls onto the soil near structures, such as houses and garages.

Serious Health Issue

This lead was found in the soil, and people – especially children – were exposed to the contaminated soil. Beginning in the 1970s, children in Omaha were tested and many living within the boundary of the site had very high levels of lead in their blood. This was a serious issue, because lead poisoning can cause a wide variety of health problems, including difficulty with learning and behavioral development. In 1998, the Omaha City Council requested that EPA help address the lead problem in eastern Omaha.

In 1999, EPA began collecting soil samples from properties, including child care facilities, schools, playgrounds, parks, and of course, private homes. EPA later began testing the paint on homes to determine whether the paint contained any lead. EPA also began collecting dust samples from homes to determine whether lead-contaminated dust had entered from outside.

Successes and Challenges

Example of yard before cleanup

Example of yard before cleanup

After 16 years, EPA’s work is now winding down. Over that time, EPA tested soil samples from 40,000 properties and cleaned up more than 13,000 properties that were contaminated with lead. During the busiest years, EPA cleaned up about 2,000 properties each year. Over the last few years, EPA has cleaned up a few hundred properties each year. The slower pace is largely due to increased difficulty obtaining permission from the remaining property owners to clean up their properties.

In 2010, EPA committed to completing the field work for the project by the end of 2015. When I was assigned to the project in February 2014, there were still about 1,800 properties left to be remediated. EPA had obtained permission to clean up a little more than half of these. One of the challenges was to find a way to clean up all the remaining properties and keep the commitment to complete EPA’s field work by Dec. 31, 2015.

City Takes on Final Phases

Example of yard after cleanup

Example of yard after cleanup

In late summer of 2014, EPA began discussions with personnel from the City of Omaha Planning Department to determine whether the city would be willing to take the lead on the remaining contaminated properties. EPA explained that we had done all we could reasonably do to obtain voluntary access from property owners. If EPA was going to obtain additional access, it would likely be necessary to pursue legal action to compel the remaining property owners to allow their properties to be cleaned up. After extensive discussions, the city decided to take on the final phases of work, agreeing that it would attempt to obtain permission to collect soil samples and clean up the remaining properties.

In May 2015, EPA awarded $31 million to the City of Omaha through a cooperative agreement to address these final phases of work. It is hoped that the owners of remaining properties will feel more comfortable, and therefore, more willing to grant access to the city. Only time will tell.

As EPA completes its portion of the residential cleanup activities, I am glad to have been part of this project. Although I only worked on the project for two of the 16 years, I’m grateful that I was able to make a contribution in my hometown. I am also hopeful that as the city continues with its part of the project, this will prove to be a new type of cooperative approach between EPA and local governments.

Learn more about the Omaha Lead Superfund Site.

About the Author: Steve Kemp has served for the past two years as project coordinator for the Omaha Lead Superfund Site. He’s a native of Omaha, and a professional geologist and remedial project manager for EPA Region 7.

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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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 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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A Safer Choice for Spring Cleaning

by Mindee Osno

Healthy Choices

In my house, once winter is over, it’s spring cleaning time. I’m not alone, nearly three-quarters of American families are planning some sort of spring cleaning. This spring, I’m going to look for cleaning products that carry EPA’s Safer Choice label.

“What is the Safer Choice label?” you may ask.

EPA spent over a year collecting ideas and discussing options with partners and consumers to create a label that makes it easier to find cleaning products which meet EPA’ requirements for protecting human health and the environment. Today, almost 500 partner companies and more than 2,000 products currently qualify to carry the Safer Choice label.

The Safer Choice label gives consumers assurance that EPA scientists have evaluated every ingredient in products that carry the label to ensure they meets Safer Choice’s stringent criteria, and helps choose less toxic products – including all-purpose cleaners, kitchen and bath cleansers, carpet and fabric shampoos, laundry detergents, car and boat care products, and deck and siding washes – that are safer for our families, our workplaces, and our waterways too!

In addition to safer ingredients, EPA’s Safer Choice standard also includes requirements for performance, packaging, pH, and limiting volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

To learn more about Safer Choice, visit EPA’s website. There, you’ll find a list of Safer Choice products, and answers to frequently asked questions. Happy spring cleaning!

 

About the author: Mindee Osno has worked for EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia since 1991. She has been working on Pollution Prevention and Sustainability efforts in the Land and Chemicals Division since 2008.  Prior to that, Mindee was the regional ENERGY STAR Program Manager for over 10 years.

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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Cockroaches in the School Kitchen

By Marcia Anderson

Cockroaches can be major pests in restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices and buildings with food-handling areas. Cockroaches are known to carry human pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can result in human diseases, such as food poisoning or diarrhea.cockroaches on the floor

This message came from the state of Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Really, it could come from nearly any state, any country or any continent. Cockroaches are one of the most common animals on earth.

Late last summer, I visited a school in the Northeast that was overrun with cockroaches. A custodian led us to classrooms, restrooms, storage areas and, finally, the cafeteria and kitchen. Most of it was cleaned during summer break. But when we entered the cafeteria, we found the floor littered with debris – food wrappers, papers, plastic drink bottles, and food.

We flicked on the lights and the floor moved. Thousands of cockroaches were scurrying from the light. We did a dance to avoid the mass of moving bodies.

Custodians had been directed to clean the building from the top down and the kitchen and cafeteria were on the ground floor. They were told not to clean the kitchen – that was up to kitchen staff. As the end of the year approaches, this results could be instructive for this year’s summer cleaners.

The kitchen staff had only a few days at the end of the school year to clean. Countertops, stovetops and sinks appeared clean, but ovens were caked with grease, as were pipes coming from the stoves, and floors under appliances.

Amer Cockroach  Clemson Univ  USDA Coop ex  Bugwood  1233111Large indoor cockroach populations are a leading cause of allergies, asthma and other bronchial disorders. In fact, cockroaches are one of the main triggers for asthma attacks for children in inner cities..

The presence of cockroaches is an indication that food, moisture and save havens for the roaches are present. Conditions in this school kitchen allowed the cockroach population to explode.

We advised the school to reduce the cockroach infestation by incorporating Integrated Pest Management practices. EPA recommends all schools manage pests using this approach.

Cockroach control is best accomplished through prevention, exclusion, sanitation and monitoring. Not only would these measures help prevent an infestation, they would reduce cockroach-related allergens.

Because of the severity of the infestation, we recommended the school get professional advice and service.

Here are some IPM-based actions your school can take to help reduce and prevent cockroaches and other pests. These tips can also work in your home if you have a problem with unwanted insects.

Sanitation. Eliminate sources of food and moisture, as well as hiding places for pests. Every day, sweep and mop areas that could attract cockroaches. Empty trash containers frequently, and line them with plastic bags. Kitchen appliances and areas around appliances should also be kept clean.

Exclusion. Cockroaches easily move through plumbing and electrical connections. Gaps around plumbing, electrical outlets, and switch plates should be sealed. Kitchen staff should scan grocery items for evidence of cockroaches before putting items away. Remove cardboard as cockroaches love to dine on the glue that holds boxes together.

Eliminate Water Sources. The single most important factor in determining cockroach survival is the availability of water. German cockroaches live less than two weeks without water.

Eliminate Harborage. By nature, cockroaches prefer dark, warm cracks and crevices. Any small gap or hole (1/16” or larger) that leads to a void is a prime cockroach living area. These cracks and crevices should be sealed.

Following these simple steps in your school will result in fewer pest problems.

EPA offers information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website and visiting our school IPM website.

Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine

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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Calling All Planners

by Megan Goold

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

To me, a new year means it’s time to start planning: vacations, doctor’s appointments, summer camps, career development plans…the list goes on and on.   Some planning is easy and exciting, and more welcomed than others. For example, I’d rather plan a vacation than a root canal.

However, it’s the difficult issues that tend to need the most planning, the most preparation, and involve the most information. So, as you can imagine, an issue as complex as climate change requires planning and preparation across the board. How will a changing climate impact our town? Our roads? Our electricity? How will it impact my school? My health? My safety?

Understanding our vulnerability to increased risk from flooding, more frequent extreme weather events, and other climate change impacts is the first step in being prepared for these changes.  On April 4-6, Antioch University and EPA are co-hosting a conference in Baltimore which is designed to build capacity for local decision-makers to take action on climate change in the face of uncertainty.  The conference will include sessions on constructing resilient buildings, conducting vulnerability assessment for flooding and extreme heat, planning for the needs of at-risk communities, and much more.

In addition, a workshop will be held on the third day of the conference to bring together students and educators to focus on the question – how can we build community resilience through education?

As you are starting to plan your 2016, put this one on the calendar. It’s a must for local decision-makers, governments, students, and small businesses alike! While planning for a changing climate is not the easiest of tasks, it’s a necessary one.

Check out EPA’s website for more about climate change impacts on water quality and quantity, and learn more about the Local Solutions: Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference on the conference website.

 

About the author: Megan Goold is the Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 office, where she manages a network of climate change professionals, and has recently launched a Climate Literacy initiative.

 

 

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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A New Name, Same Important Mission

By Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management

Over the last year, my staff and I have been working diligently to identify a new name for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER). We wanted a name that reflects the breadth and depth of our programmatic footprint in protecting human health and the environment. We asked for input from our personnel and key regional staff. After compiling and reviewing responses, I am pleased to share that the new name is the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) with the unchanged mission of restoring land, preventing releases, and conserving resources.

The evolution of the “waste office’s” work has resulted in an office that not only addresses waste issues but one that protects human health and the environment through diverse ways. These are some examples of our work and how we’ve grown:

  • We advance recycling and adopting a sustainable materials management approach. Sustainable materials management (SMM) represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. Partnerships with the public and private sector have helped EPA launch innovative recycling initiatives such as the Electronics Challenge, the Food Recovery Challenge, and the Federal Green Challenge. We’ve also gone global and are working with the world’s leading economic countries to advance SMM through the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency.
  • We invest in efforts that create sustainable community revitalization. For nearly two decades, we have been on the forefront of transforming communities. We have established critical relationships with local government leaders, local residents, community organizations, and local businesses to convert blighted properties into economic and social opportunities. Additionally, through programs like the Investing in Manufacturing Communities initiative, we are leveraging the financial and technical resources of federal agency partners to breathe new life into growing and thriving American neighborhoods in a way that’s environmentally and economically sustainable. Learn about land revitalizationbrownfields, using cleanups for alternative energy, and other cleanup programs such as SuperfundRCRA Corrective Action, and cleaning up underground storage tank releases.
  • We enhance the agency’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities to better ensure the safety of communities. Most recently, through Executive Order (EO) 13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”, we are strengthening the capacity of the emergency response community, enhancing coordination with federal partners, modernizing rules and regulation, and remaining in close dialogue with stakeholders involved in emergency management.

These are, of course, examples: there is so much more we are called to do. I want to reiterate that while our name has changed, our mission has not.

More information about the name change is on our website. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on twitter @EPALand to stay up to date on all the great work we’re doing! You can also learn more about our impact by viewing our interactive FY14 Accomplishments Report.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Coming to the Table: The Importance of a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Climate Justice

A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations. Photo: HHS
A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Photo: HHS

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr. is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Previously, Tim served as EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

Climate change is one of the major public health challenges of our time.  Certain individuals and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, low-income residents, and people of color.  As the conversation about climate change has grown, a new emphasis on climate justice has emerged, focusing on the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.  Climate justice has become a high priority focus of the environmental justice movement.

Recent calls for action to address the public health dangers of climate change have been joined by leaders such as President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.  They and many other leaders agree that climate change is impacting communities across the country and around the globe, particularly those communities already disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and social conditions.

This June, more than 100 people from a variety of government agencies, community organizations, academic institutions, and businesses came together in North Carolina to discuss the health effects of climate change as they relate to vulnerable populations.  Convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference encouraged stakeholders to share community challenges and priorities, as well as promising approaches and opportunities for collaboration for responding to emerging health effects.

Although the conference focused on the strategic elements described in the 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, the dialogue reflected the larger conversation around climate justice.  Federal staff highlighted federal efforts to build climate resilience and promote climate justice.  Representatives of community groups not only offered on-the-ground examples of how climate change is impacting vulnerable communities, they pointed to how they are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action. Other stakeholders discussed tools and resources designed to help communities better understand the health impacts of climate change and become more resilient to these impacts.

Key themes highlighted during the conference include:

  • All stakeholders have a role in responding to the emerging health threats of climate change.
  • Community organizations and environmental justice representatives are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action.
  • Vulnerable communities need to be actively involved as programs, policies, and activities are developed and implemented to ensure climate justice.
  • Strategies are needed regarding how federal agencies could provide additional resources to increase the capacity of communities to address climate justice concerns.
  • Mechanisms should be developed to support workers who live and work in communities disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and are most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  • Relationships with communities should be established as climate change research is conducted, employing mechanisms such as citizen science and community-engaged research to help empower communities to develop useful information.

Participants also discussed the need to achieve more equitable distribution of technical and financial assistance in the face of limited local resources for addressing climate change.  To achieve this, it is important that government agencies better coordinate and share information about climate resiliency services.

The 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference is part of the ongoing dialogue about environmental justice and climate change, occurring 21 years after the signing of the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice and two years after the issuance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The dialogue among all stakeholders about climate justice and public health must continue.  I encourage you to continue to engage and take appropriate actions to address the health impacts of climate change.

Check out the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference Report and other conference materials, including a video from the meeting: https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/conference/hhs_climate_justice/

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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Providing Clean Water to an African Village: Not a Simple Turn of the Tap

By Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our fourth blog is by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

How far away is the nearest water source from where you are sitting now? An arm’s length across your desk? A few feet? Right outside the window?

Villagers carry water jug and food basket

Villagers carry water jug and food basket

Next time you get the urge to take a drink of fresh, ice cold water, take a moment to think about places that may not have the same laws and regulations.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the global water crisis. Many communities in developing countries don’t have easy access to clean drinking water. They must walk miles each day with heavy jugs on their heads, just to collect muddy water from puddles or rivers. This water is then used to drink, wash dishes, and sanitize their bodies. The water is filled with bacteria, parasites, and waste that can cause a variety of debilitating diseases including malaria and cholera. As a result, thousands of people die every day from avoidable diseases caused by contaminated water.

Little do they know, the water they so desperately need is often right beneath their feet.

Emily Nusz (center) with group of Kenyan children

Emily Nusz (center) with group of Kenyan children

A few hot summers ago, members of my church and I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya. Our mission was not only to provide care for children in orphanages, but to provide a village with clean water. We decided the best way to accomplish this task was to build the community a water well in the heart of the village for easy accessibility. Our team raised money for the well, and then we were ready to make a large time and energy commitment to a long-term solution for the people. The excitement of our arrival was very powerful. I remember every face in the village beaming with joy.

Water wells can provide clean water for hundreds of villagers. A pump or a tap built in the center of the community can save an entire day of walking to the nearest muddy puddle, and save hundreds of lives by preventing exposure to harmful or even deadly diseases.

Water can be found in underground, permeable rock layers called aquifers, from which the water can be pumped. An aquifer fills with water from rain or melted snow that drains into the ground. Aquifers are natural filters that trap bacteria and provide natural purification of the groundwater flowing through them. Wells can be dug or drilled, depending on the time and cost of the project. They can be dug using a low-cost, hand-dug method, or built using either a high-cost, deep well method or a shallow well, low-cost method. Safe drinking water can usually be found within 100 feet of the surface.

Kenyan countryside in summer

Kenyan countryside in summer

Although I was not physically involved in building the village well, we all contributed to the mission we set out to accomplish. A well was built by drilling a hole that reached down far enough to reach an aquifer, and even lined with steel to keep out pollutants. Our team put together pipes and hand pumps that enabled the villagers to pull the water out of the well and use it safely. Our team was very gratified to know that the well we built will provide clean water for a community of up to 500 people for many years to come!

Learn more about water wells. The best way to keep our water clean is to stay informed of ways to help reduce the risks and protect the source. Learn how you can help. To learn more about global water statistics, visit Global WASH Fast Facts.

About the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

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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EPA Continues Support for Local Preparedness/Prevention Activities

By Mathy Stanislaus

In 2014, after several catastrophic chemical facility incidents, I represented EPA as a Tri-Chair for the creation of The Report for the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, to recognize the central role of local community preparedness to advance safety of chemical plants. Local communities – working through Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) – are the lynchpin to advancing safety of chemical plants, as well as other hazards such as the transport of chemicals and oil by rail. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), these local and state organizations receive information from more than 400,000 chemical plants about the volumes and hazards of chemicals. (This contrasts with the 12,500 chemical plants that we have direct oversight through the Risk Management Planning Program.) They then have the responsibility to analyze the information and develop plans for the safety of their communities from chemical plant accidents, working with local community members and organizations, as well as representatives from the chemical plants.

Enhancing Local Planning under EPCRA

To strengthen local planning efforts, we released a new guide for LEPCs that encourages collaboration through outreach to facilities, illustrating the importance of public safety and the need to comply with EPCRA, as well as steps that can be taken to prevent chemical accidents. This guide discusses the requirements of the EPCRA, roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved in local preparedness efforts, how to develop an emergency response plan, tools for planning and response, and how to enhance community engagement and public access to information. LEPCs and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) play a key role in meeting the goals of EPCRA.

Public Engagement

We also recognize that members of the public have a role to play in assisting the LEPC or TEPC to understand the unique needs of the community regarding communication about the chemical risks and emergency response procedures. For example, individuals with special medical needs, such as the elderly, disabled/handicapped, children, and those with transportation challenges. Tailoring outreach to meet the specific considerations of the local community enables effective participation in the planning process and an efficient response to ensure safety of the public.

LEPCs and TEPCs notify the public of their activities and hold public meetings to discuss the emergency plan with the community, educate the public about chemical risks, and share information on what is to be done during an emergency (i.e., evacuation or shelter-in-place). LEPCs and TEPCs ensure procedures are in place for notifying the public when a chemical accident occurs (via reverse 911 or other system) and that the public understands what to do when they receive that information.
We’re also working with industry associations to develop and distribute similar communications to plant managers and process safety officials to clarify their role and responsibilities in engaging LEPCs and communities in emergency preparedness and response planning efforts. Efforts focusing on community involvement, evacuation and shelter-in-place planning, environmental justice issues, and vulnerable populations are critical to enhancing chemical facility safety, for both employees and the surrounding communities. It takes engagement from all partners to make an impactful change and increase chemical facility safety for those working in and living around hundreds of thousands of chemical plants around the nation.

While we are aware of extensive engagement in communities throughout the nation to collectively address the issues mentioned above, we recognize that there are communities where industry, government, and community partners would benefit from support from the EPA in strengthening their local efforts. I understand this importance and encourage communities to utilize existing tools and resources to work together to achieve local goals.

Tools and Resources

To assist state, tribal, and local agencies in collecting, managing, and using this information, we worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO). CAMEO (http://www2.epa.gov/cameo) is a system of software applications used to plan for and respond to chemical emergencies. CAMEO assists chemical emergency planners and responders to access, store, and evaluate information critical for developing emergency plans. CAMEO is updated frequently to address needs raised by users throughout the nation. The most recent upgrades will help support local communities and first responders in their planning efforts.

Together, we can work to continue to strengthen the preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities. We are committed to continuing our support to all of you working every day to protect human health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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