pollution

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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Introducing Our New Compliance Website

By Marion Herz

As chief of staff for EPA’s Office of Compliance, job #1 for me is protecting people’s health and their communities. Our office makes sure everyone plays by the same rules when it comes to the environment.

We recently launched our new compliance website to make it easier to stay informed about our work and to share tools that can help companies and others follow the law. The goal of our site is to help everyone understand what we do, why we do it, and how.

Here are a few of the features you should know about:

  • At the heart of our compliance program are inspections of facilities. The new site explains how they are conducted. Sometimes these inspections identify cases where we can better protect people from harmful pollution. For example, our inspections recently found that contractors with Lowe’s Home Centers were not using lead-safe work practices. A settlement in that case requires them to follow laws designed to protect children and families from dangerous lead exposure.
  • We all want to know what’s happening in the community and around the country. The new site provides easy access to ECHO, an online tool my colleague Rebecca Kane wrote about recently. ECHO lets you analyze compliance and enforcement data through dashboards, maps and charts. It also gives you access to other EPA tools designed to identify pollution sources, including greenhouse gases, wastewater discharges and toxic chemicals.
  • For those who work in a regulated facility, the new site helps you comply with the law. We work with industries to create Compliance Assistance Centers. The Centers offer easy access to plain-language materials, from virtual plant tours to industry-specific information to fact sheets, guides, access to expert help and more. The site also provides resources for workers to help them follow laws and protect themselves and their communities.
  • The site provides information about our Next Generation Compliance program. Next Gen is helping us and our partners take advantage of innovative approaches and advanced technologies to improve the effectiveness of our compliance program. It’s designed to benefit everyone, from companies to local residents, by reducing costs, saving time and improving the accuracy of monitoring and reporting.

I hope you find the new Compliance site informative, easy to use and helpful. We’ll keep it up to date with new information and tools, so check back often!

About the author: Marion Herz is the chief of staff for EPA’s Office of Compliance.

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 Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water

You likely remember when, this past summer, half a million people who live in the Toledo, Ohio, area were told not to drink the water coming out of their taps for several days. A state of emergency was declared because of a harmful algal bloom, which released toxins into the water that could have made many people ill.

Algal blooms like the one near Toledo are partly caused by an excessive amount of nutrients in the water – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for ecosystems, but too many of them in one place is bad news. Not only do harmful algal blooms pose huge risks for people’s health, they can also cause fish and other aquatic wildlife to die off.

Cleaning up drinking water after a harmful algal bloom can cost billions of dollars, and local economies can suffer. The U.S. tourism industry alone loses close to $1 billion each year when people choose not to fish, go boating or visit areas that have been affected. It’s one of our country’s biggest and most expensive environmental problems. It’s also a particularly tough one, since nutrients can travel from far upstream and in runoff, and collect in quieter waters like lakes or along coastlines. More

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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EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat

By Lek Kadeli

About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. This lab, recognized across the scientific community, centers its research on the effects of pollution and chemical exposures on the environment – particularly aquatic ecosystems, fish and wildlife.

The results of restoring the prairie have been inspiring. The lab saves $3,500 in maintenance costs every year, and EPA staff get to see butterflies, birds and spring and summer blooms that brighten their workdays. Instead of the periodic roar of lawnmowers, they can stroll the grounds during their breaks in quiet solitude, maybe even catching an occasional glimpse of deer, fox and other wildlife.

These 1.9 acres of prairie have also provided an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive – and this relationship between the pollinators flying about and the habitat of native plants recently caught the attention of the White House. EPA’s Duluth Lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The document supports President Obama’s memorandum recognizing the critical role pollinators play in food production and our economy.

Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to the nation’s agricultural crops each year, but populations of honey bees and other pollinators have declined over the past 50 years. EPA has taken a number of actions to protect pollinators – and there’s more to come.

There will be two listening sessions in the Washington, DC metro area, on November 12th and November 17th, where people can provide input into a federal strategy to be developed by the National Pollinator Health Task Force. The task force is co-chaired by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Key parts of the strategy will include a research action plan, public-private partnerships, public education about the importance of a healthy environment that includes pollinators, and ways to increase and improve pollinator habitat. Learn more about the listening sessions here.

The EPA has a vital part to play in protecting bees and other pollinators. Some lucky employees looking for inspiration for their work can get it just by stepping away from their desks for a stroll.

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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American Ingenuity on Display at Next Gen Tech Demo Day

•Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

Administrator McCarthy, then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe and Assistant Administrator Giles learn about water pollution monitoring technology.

 

I’ve been talking a lot about the impact and promise of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy. As a vital program to reduce pollution, build transparency and save costs, it has become a driving force to unleash American ingenuity and innovation. This was certainly evident last week, when EPA hosted a “Next Generation Compliance Advanced Monitoring Tech Demo Day” that convened some of the latest advances in pollution monitoring across the country. Walking through the event with Administrator McCarthy and then-Deputy Administrator Perciasepe was so much fun, not to mention inspiring. EPA, academia, industry and non-profit organizations presented so many solutions there, each with a unique approach to solve complex pollution challenges.

Here’s a quick recap of what we saw.

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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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A Cleaner Environment, a Stronger Economy

When we last heard from the Chamber of Commerce, they were releasing a report that made unfounded assumptions about EPA’s commonsense standards to cut the harmful pollution from power plants. The Washington Post Fact Checker later gave those citing the study a “Four Pinocchio” rating.
Yesterday, the Chamber had another blog post that both misrepresents EPA’s analysis of the economic impact of its regulations and misleads about a recent GAO study.

EPA is keenly aware that our economy is on the rebound and that policy makers are concerned about impacts on employment — that is why we have increased the amount of employment analysis we perform over the last several years, particularly for economically significant rules.

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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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From Cutting Edge to Commonplace

By Cynthia Giles

I’ve dedicated my career to working with state, local and tribal partners to enforce environmental laws to protect American communities from pollution. Looking back, we’ve come a long way in how we measure for pollution and take action to curb it. Years ago, accounting for air pollution from refineries, for instance, was unreliable and burdensome. It relied in large part on estimates, often done by the refineries themselves, which often undercounted actual emissions and the risks posed to neighbors. In those days, fully understanding refinery emissions would have required taking air samples one-by-one across many potential sources.

Over the past decade, new technologies and innovative solutions have significantly improved our enforcement and compliance efforts. Through EPA’s Next Generation Compliance strategy, we’re building these tools into settlements with companies, pushing their development and implementation in communities across America.

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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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