pollution

Turning Data into Action

By Jim Jones

I’ve always been amazed by the power of data. Given the right information at the right time, we have the power to transform our lives. During my time at EPA, we have worked with companies, manufacturing facilities, and professional organizations to reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances and prevent pollution – a good thing for industry and for the American public. As part of our efforts to create a more sustainable future, we provide information to the public about chemicals, chemical releases, and pollution prevention practices.

One of our longstanding tools for providing this information is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI collects information from industrial facilities on which toxic chemicals they’re using and how much of each is released into the environment. Information is power and time after time communities have used this information to effect change and take action to protect families and the environment. Making these data publicly available also gives companies an incentive to reduce pollution, and we’re seeing real results.

Over the past 15 years or more, pharmaceutical firms have implemented a wide array of green chemistry practices in their manufacturing processes. The environmental benefits that these green chemistry practices have had, and continue to have, are evident in the TRI information they submit to us. Between 2002 and 2014, the quantities of toxic chemicals reported annually by pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities to our TRI Program declined steadily by 58%.

Similar trends are observed in the TRI information submitted by facilities in the automotive manufacturing sector. Between 2004 and 2014, the quantities of toxic chemical releases to the environment and reported annually by automotive manufacturing facilities declined by 56%. This occurred at the same time that production within the automotive sector rose sharply. Despite the increase in production, since 2009, the quantities of toxics reported as released to the environment or otherwise managed as waste have not increased.

Data drives informed and empowered decision making. By leveraging TRI data to help identify industries that are practicing or can benefit from implementing green chemistry practices, we’re taking tangible steps to work with industry 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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How’s Rock Creek?

By Mary Schollhamer

A hidden gem in Washington, DC is Rock Creek Park. Less than a mile from my home, Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre oasis, whose meadows and forest are home to coyotes, deer, foxes, raccoons, beavers, hawks, and – our newest residents – bald eagles.

Rock Creek Park is also home to the Rock Creek waterway, a tributary of the Potomac River. This is my dog’s favorite part of DC, as we rarely miss a weekend to play fetch in the creek. With the amount of time spent in the water, I often wonder: How safe is Rock Creek?

EPA’s tool, “How’s My Waterway?,” answers my question in just a few clicks, but the answer appears to be more cause for concern. Rock Creek was assessed in 2012 and failed water quality standards. It has flow issues, populated with bacteria and other microbes, degraded aquatic life, excess sediment, mercury, metals, PCBs, and toxic organic chemicals. For each of these pollution categories, “How’s My Waterway?”, offers links to technical reports – as well as plain language – and information about what I can do to help.

While Rock Creek’s current prognosis isn’t very good, EPA is taking steps to change that. You can use the How’s My Waterway? tool to find out many of the activities EPA takes to improve water quality in Rock Creek, like cleanup plans for mercury, metals, and bacteria and other microbes. Polluted runoff control projects, fish habitat partnerships, and community grants are also listed. The tool also gives a who/what/where/when for discharged pollutants, along with information on how to contact your state water quality program. Through transparent information about pollution and water quality, every citizen is empowered to get involved in the health of their waterway.

So, how’s Rock Creek? Not great, but it’s getting better. How’s your waterway?

About the author:  Mary Schollhamer is the Acting Deputy Director of Communications in the Office of Water. She holds a Master’s Degree in English with a focus on ecofeminism from Stony Brook University and loves dogs.

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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Cars and Trucks and Things That Go…Put the Brakes on Traffic-Related Pollution Exposure at Schools

By Ruth Etzel, MD

School bus with black smoke.

Many scientific studies have found that people who live, work, or attend school near major roads appear to be more at risk for a variety of short- and long-term health effects, including asthma, reduced lung function, impaired lung development in children, and cardiovascular effects in adults. For example, a study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that children who live within 500 meters (that’s about one-third of a mile) from a freeway incur substantial and long-lasting deficits in lung development and function compared to children living at least 1500 meters (a little under 1 mile) from a freeway.

Yet nearly 17,000 of our country’s schools are located within steps of a heavily-traveled road, potentially exposing more than 6 million children to traffic-related pollution at a time when their developing lungs are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.  Because one in ten children in the U.S. suffer from asthma, that number includes many kids who may already be struggling to breathe. What’s more, low-income and minority children are disproportionately impacted by asthma and are more likely to live and attend school near major roadways. Many communities are also facing difficult decisions about where to put new schools to serve a growing student population and how to design those schools to maintain a healthy learning and teaching environment.

To help schools, parents, and communities reduce students’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution, EPA has just released a new resource: Best Practices for Reducing Near-Road Pollution Exposure at Schools. In this document, best practice solutions that schools across the country are employing to reduce kids’ exposure to traffic-related air pollution are described. This “Best Practices” document summarizes several strategies that can be used to reduce exposures including ventilation, filtration, voluntary building occupant actions, school transportation policies, school siting and site layout decisions, and the use of sound walls and vegetative barriers. The document also contains a school ventilation checklist and links to additional resources for achieving clean, green and healthy school environments, such as EPA’s Voluntary School Siting Guidelines.

EPA and our partners have had tremendous success cleaning the air over the past 45 years, cutting air pollution by 70% while our nation’s economy tripled. That’s good news for our children; research published this year found that the improving air quality in Southern California over the past 20 years has led to healthier lungs for children in the region. But we still have work to do. While vehicle emissions have decreased over the past several decades due to EPA’s emission standards, schools may still be located in areas where air pollution levels are elevated.  We hope that this new resource will help schools and parents across the country find ways to reduce exposure to traffic-related air pollution at schools.

Learn what you can do: www.epa.gov/schools

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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Enforcing the Superfund Law, Past and Present

By Cynthia Giles

Back in 1986, I was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. I was working on a variety of civil enforcement cases, and learning about the importance of holding violators accountable for pollution in American communities. That year, I took on one of the nation’s earliest Superfund trials – U.S. v. Tyson. The U.S. Government was seeking to hold several parties responsible for contaminating a dump site with hazardous substances that ultimately were released into local Pennsylvania waterways.

While holding polluters accountable is always important, this trial in particular had great significance. In the early days of the Superfund law, it was essential to demonstrate that the U.S. government was serious about following through on its commitment to Americans, and prepared to take responsible parties to trial to assure they were held accountable for cleaning up pollution they created. The trial in the Tyson case lasted for three weeks and all the parties involved were found responsible for the contamination. This trial helped to establish the foundation of Superfund’s polluter pays principle.

This winter, as we reflect on the 35th anniversary of Superfund, I’m proud of what EPA’s Superfund enforcement program has achieved. Just as in U.S. v. Tyson, EPA has followed through on its commitment to ensure that responsible parties participate in performing and paying for cleanups. This “polluter pays” principal stands strong – we are committed to making polluters, and not the taxpayer, pay for cleanup of hazardous waste sites.

By placing the burden of cleanup on those responsible for the contamination, EPA is saving American taxpayers money and protecting the environment. For every one dollar spent on Superfund civil enforcement activity, approximately eight dollars in private party cleanup commitments and cost recovery is obtained for cleaning up contaminated sites across the country.

Here are a few examples of how we’ve held responsible parties accountable for cleaning up pollution:

  • Last year EPA, along with the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the bankrupt debtor’s trustee, settled a historic fraudulent conveyance case. The settlement put nearly $4.4 billion to work in communities from New Jersey to California.
  • A settlement last year with Eastman Kodak Company and the state of New York established a $49 million trust for cleanup. In addition to putting much needed funds into cleaning up the local environment, including the Genesee River, the cleanup dollars will support the creation of new jobs in Rochester, New York.
  • In 2009, EPA joined forces with other federal and state agencies during a corporate We pursued and achieved a $1.79 billion settlement to fund environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country.

Today, just as was true back in 1986 in Philadelphia, the polluter pays for cleaning up toxic pollution in communities. Thanks to this important law and public servants across the country implementing it, America is a cleaner, safer place to live.

Learn more about EPA’s Superfund enforcement program.

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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New Greenhouse Gas Data for Large Facilities Now Available

By Janet McCabe

This week, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program released its fifth year of detailed, facility-level data for over 8,000 large-emitters, representing approximately 50% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Why is this important? High-quality, long-term environmental data are essential to protecting human health and our environment. Environmental data are the foundation of practically everything we do, and detailed greenhouse gas emissions data are essential in guiding the steps we take to address the problem of climate change.

We have been providing national-level greenhouse gas emissions data since the early 1990s through the U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. Submitted every spring to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GHG inventory is the official U.S. government estimate of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG inventory is calculated using national-level data sets and provides an estimate of overall emissions for every sector.

Established by Congress in 2008, the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program complements the GHG inventory with additional detail on large emitters of greenhouse gases. While the inventory provides a bird’s-eye view of emissions sources and trends, since 2010 the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program has provided a ground-level view with a rich dataset of facility-level emissions that was previously unavailable.

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program is the only program that collects facility-level greenhouse gas data from major industrial sources across the United States, including power plants, oil and gas production and refining, iron and steel mills and landfills. The program also collects data on the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) predominantly used in refrigeration and air conditioning. While the reporting program does not cover every source, it provides an unprecedented level of information on the largest stationary sources of emissions.

The reporting program’s online data publication tool, called FLIGHT, is amazing—even if you’re not a veteran number-cruncher. It brings detailed emissions data to users in an intuitive, map-based format. This tool allows states, communities, businesses, and concerned citizens to view top GHG-emitters in a state or region; see emissions data from a specific industry; track emissions trends by facility, industry, or region; and download maps, list and charts.

The data can be used by businesses and others to track and compare facilities’ greenhouse gas emissions, identify opportunities to cut pollution, minimize wasted energy, and save money.  States, cities, and other communities can use our greenhouse gas data to find high-emitting facilities in their area, compare emissions between similar facilities, and develop common-sense climate policies.

I encourage you to take a look at the data and learn more.

See key facts and figures and explore Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program Data:
GHGRP Home Page: www2.epa.gov/ghgreporting/
FLIGHT: http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do

Learn more about climate change, and EPA actions to address it:
www.epa.gov/climatechange

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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What’s an ounce of prevention worth?

By Jim Jones

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s easier to prevent something bad from happening than to fix it after it’s already happened. For me this means stopping pollution before it starts, which is the core concept behind pollution prevention (P2) or sustainability.

Here’s a couple of real world examples of how costly it can be to clean up pollution after it’s already happened:

  • Effective P2 practices could have avoided hundreds of millions of dollars of PCB cleanup costs. PCBs are a hazardous chemical that can cause cancer and were banned in 1979. Cleanup of Hudson River PCB contamination alone has cost more than $500 million.
  • If we can take effective action to slow down the rate of climate change, we can save not billions but trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

From these examples I know that an ounce of prevention is worth millions of dollars in clean-up activities and countless environmental hazards. What many people may not know is that sustainable practices started out as P2. In 1990, the Pollution Prevention Act tasked EPA with establishing a grant program to teach state and local governments and businesses about the benefits of P2. Over time, businesses, colleges, and even sports teams have realized that with P2 they can achieve their corporate objectives and help save the environment, all while improving their bottom lines. From clean energy initiatives, like the Clean Power Plan, to programs that promote the user of safer chemicals, like Safer Choice, sustainability is now part of the fabric of institutions around the world.

This week is P2 Week, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act. During this week, and every week, I encourage you to find things you can do in your daily life to stop pollution before it starts. Whether it’s riding your bike instead of driving or reducing the amount of garbage you generate, you’ll be making choices that are better for you, your family and the environment. What’s an ounce of prevention worth to you?

Learn more about P2 Week and how you can prevent pollution.

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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A Plug for Trash Free Waters

By Annette Poliwka

Ocean samples collected on board the Mystic found plastic throughout the 3,000 mile journey.

Ocean samples collected on board the Mystic found plastic throughout the 3,000 mile journey.

My love of recycling, or better said, my hatred of trash led me to a research expedition through the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, a portion of the Atlantic Ocean that traps man-made debris.

My interest in recycling really began in the 7th grade, when I realized how the newspaper my father read stacked up on the porch until I could carry it to my parochial grade school for recycling. Yes, those were the days when we learned about current events by reading the paper, not our tablets. And those were the days prior to curbside recycling in major cities. I knew there had to be a better way, and I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up: protect the environment. I guess you could say, I’m living my dream.

The 5 Gyres Institute sails around the world collecting samples and conducting analysis of plastic pollution in our oceans. My experience began with a flight to Bermuda where I boarded a 172 foot, three-masted schooner named the Mystic. The boat had already sailed from Miami to the Bahamas, and our final destination was back to New York City! I was in the middle of paradise, along with other “Zero Wasters,” researchers and dedicated environmentalists, collecting samples of plastic pollution and figuring out how to prevent them from getting into the water in the first place.

The research included sampling the sea surface for the 3,000 mile journey. Micro-plastics, which are smaller than a grain of rice, were found in each sample. In the middle of paradise, in the middle of the ocean, and in the middle of the New York City harbor, we were consistently finding plastics. What is often described as an “island of trash,” is more of a “plastic smog.” The sun and waves shred larger pieces of plastics into micro-plastics, which can be a variety of colors and sizes. Fish can’t distinguish between a 3mm piece of plankton and a 3mm piece of plastic. We caught a fish and dissected it, finding plastics in its stomach. This is a human health concern, as plastics can transfer toxins into fish and up the food chain.

A water sample taken this summer in the NYC Harbor contains a wide variety of plastic pollution.

A water sample taken this summer in the NYC Harbor contains a wide variety of plastic pollution.

As we sailed to New York City, the samples of plastics we collected were bigger and more easily identifiable than what we found in the open ocean. This makes sense, as 80 percent of the plastics in our oceans are land-based, and it takes time to break down into micro-plastics. The samples also stunk of sewage!

Our use of plastics affects our waterways, the fish we eat and the general health of our oceans. Researchers have found that experiences, rather than material consumption, make people happy. So rather than buying the next new gadget, spend time doing something interesting, with someone you love. Your wallet and our oceans will be happier, too.

We can all help prevent waste by buying less and reusing what we have. If you live in New York City, recycle with the blue and green bins. Compost with the brown bin, or bring food scraps to Green Markets all around the city, year-round.

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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New Tools and Approaches Are Reshaping Environmental Compliance

I recently joined EPA staff and leaders from across academia, industry and non-profit sectors for a conference dedicated to the latest Next Generation Compliance strategies and solutions, hosted by George Washington University Law School. With topics ranging from how to use new technologies to improve compliance, to citizen monitoring and state-federal collaboration (just to name a few), one thing was clear – there is strong momentum and lots of progress in Next Gen today that’s shaping the future of environmental enforcement and compliance.

The conference inspired me to take a moment to reflect on all of this progress. Here are a few examples of what we’ve already accomplished:

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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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Tell Us Why #CleanWaterRules

By Travis Loop

I’m lucky to work every day for clean water. It’s vital to everyone’s life and an important issue for our country. But, it’s especially fulfilling to work for clean water because it’s central to who I am as a person.

I’m a father. I have two young boys and their health and well-being is my top priority. They need clean water to drink at home, in school, and around the community. We live in Annapolis, Maryland, and spend plenty of time by the Chesapeake Bay and the streams, creeks, and rivers that feed into it. We want that water to be clean as we splash along the shoreline, kayak on the bay, or pitch a tent in camping areas.

1BoysInWater

I am a surfer. When I’m catching waves off places like Assateague Island in Maryland or Cape Fear in North Carolina I don’t want to get sick from pollution. Some of my surfing friends have had bad experiences in polluted waters because surfers spend more time in the water than regular beach goers, swimmers, and divers. Surfers know that even though the ocean is massive, the water along the coast can be impacted by pollution from rivers or bays, or runoff from city streets after a storm. Not cool.

2Surfing

I’m a dog owner. I have a chocolate lab who loves to jump in the water, whether it’s the heat of the summer or when there’s ice on the shoreline. Dogs can be vulnerable to certain pollutants also and they need to swim in clean water to protect their health. It’s awesome watching my sons delight in their dog charging in and out of the water, and then showering them as he shakes off.

3DogInWater

I’m a beer drinker. I enjoy sampling the amazing selection of microbrews produced in the U.S., from lagers and ales to porters and stouts. Beer is more than 90 percent water and brewers depend on a reliable supply of clean water to craft their products. But you don’t have to take my word for it – there is an alliance of brewers speaking out for clean water.

4Beer

So for all these reasons and more, I say that clean water rules.

My daily duties at my job have taught me so much about the protection of clean water. Despite the advanced knowledge gained at our agency, it still comes back to what I learned in elementary school – water flows downhill. We need clean water upstream to have clean water downstream. We can’t protect our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters if we don’t protect our streams and wetlands.

That’s why we’re finalizing the Clean Water Rule. Right now 60 percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands aren’t clearly protected. We all live downstream and need that water to be clean.

People often ask me about the best thing they can do for clean water. I say to spread the word about how much it matters to you and your family and friends. Here is an easy way to do that:

  • Take a photo holding this #CleanWaterRules sign.
  • Post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #CleanWaterRules and give your reason why.
  • Encourage family and friends to do the same.

#CleanWaterRules

I look forward to seeing how many of you agree that clean water rules.

About the author: Travis Loop is the Communications Director for EPA’s Office of Water in Washington, D.C. He previously worked on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts at EPA’s Annapolis office and covered environmental issues as a newspaper reporter and editor in North Carolina and Hawaii.

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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Moms Matter in our Fight Against Climate Change

Our children mean the world to us. So as moms, when we say we must meet our moral obligation to leave the next generation a world that is safe and healthy, we mean it. For us moms, it’s personal. It’s our children and grandchildren who are currently suffering from the effects of pollution. It’s our children and grandchildren who make up the future generations each one of us is obligated to protect. This March marks Women’s History Month; a time to recognize the unwavering strength of the mothers coming together to organize, speak out, and stand up for the health of their children.

MomsblogEPA plays a critical role in protecting our children from pollution by keeping our air and water clean and safe, and by taking historic steps to fight climate change. And it turns out, efforts to combat climate change double as public health protection, too. The carbon pollution that fuels climate change comes packaged with other dangerous pollutants that cause smog and soot. With 1-in-10 children in the U.S. today already dealing with asthma—and even higher rates in communities of color—we must do all that we can to reduce harmful exposure.

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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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