Toxics

EPA: Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety

For all of their beneficial uses, chemicals can also pose potential risks: manufacturing them can create emissions and waste, and exposure to them can impact our health and the environment. One of EPA’s highest priorities is making sure our children, our homes, and our communities are safer from toxic chemicals.

Last October, Administrator McCarthy asked EPA employees to log into GreenSpark, our internal online employee engagement platform, and share stories of the innovative and collaborative work that they are leading to take action on toxics and chemical safety. I’d like to share some of their exciting work with you.

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Developing Innovative Science: EPA’s Office of Research and Development, with support from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is working to change the way we evaluate chemical safety to make it quicker and easier to understand the potential toxic effects of chemicals on human health and the environment. Here are a couple of great examples:

We’ve developed the Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast), which uses automated chemical screening technologies to understand the effects of chemical exposure. ToxCast evaluated more than 2,000 chemicals from a broad range of sources, including potentially “green” chemicals that could be safer alternatives to existing chemicals. Based on this work, the new Interactive Chemical Safety for Sustainability (iCSS) Dashboard provides a user-friendly web-based application that offers product manufacturers, researchers, and others a faster way to evaluate the safety of chemicals. ToxCast data is also being applied in the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program to target priority chemicals and avoid expensive and time-consuming animal testing methods.

CHEMzebraAnother innovative approach that our Office of Research and Development scientists are developing is a program using zebrafish to rapidly screen standard chemicals and their green alternatives for their ability to affect developing embryos.

CHEMHorizMaking Use of Data: Several EPA programs work daily to make sure the public, communities, regulators and industry have access to data that keeps people safe. EPA’s Office of Environmental Information is working to integrate facilities data relating to chemical plants and their relationship to communities. This work, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, and other agencies supports Executive Order (EO) 13650: Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security and helps inform planning and emergency preparedness and response for safer communities.

Providing Technical Assistance: Artisanal and small scale gold mining is the largest man-made source of mercury. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. To reduce airborne mercury emissions from artisanal and small scale gold mining, EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs worked with Argonne National Laboratory to develop a simple mercury capture system (MCS).

Data collected during site visits in the Amazon and high Andes areas of Peru showed that in shops with the installed MCS technology, mercury vapor concentrations were reduced by 80% compared to shops without the technology. We are now working to raise awareness of the mercury capture technology in developing countries through partnerships with key organizations.

CHEMpeoplestandingWorking in Collaborative Partnerships: Working with local partners including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), EPA Region 2 is helping improve chemical management in high school and college laboratories and the adoption of green chemistry practices through hands-on training for high school science teachers and college faculty in New York. More than 200 teachers from 138 school districts and 29 college and university faculty have participated in trainings, and faculty participants have produced ten case studies on implementing green chemistry practices in college and university settings. This is just one example of the work that our Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention is leading along with our Regional Offices to promote innovations in green chemistry.

Please join me in thanking all of the talented, dedicated employees who have contributed to these and other amazing activities that improve the human health and environment of the communities we serve.

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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Consumer Product Companies Leading the Way to Greener Products

Getting a tour of Earth Friendly Products in Southern California.

Getting a tour of Earth Friendly Products in Southern California.

 

During some recent travel, I spent time with several consumer product companies and retailers who are stepping up as  safer product leaders and innovators, advancing industry beyond the safety “floor” set by the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)

In Southern California, I met with Earth Friendly Products. All their products are manufactured in the U.S. and 90% have earned the Design for the Environment (DfE) label.

I also took part in the Safer Consumer Product Summit in California followed by a visit to the Consumer Specialty Product Association (CSPA) meeting in Chicago.Then, outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I met with BerkleyGreen (Berkley Packaging Company Inc.), a family- and woman-owned DfE partner with 29 DfE-labeled products.

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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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Flush or Drain, Will Cause a Strain

Drug Takeback Day

By Trey Cody

Do you, like many other Americans, look into your medicine cabinet and see bottles of unused prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs? Being in the bathroom with a sink and toilet readily available, your first thought may be to simply flush or dispose of them down the drain. Yes, pills are water soluble, but this solution may have negative outcomes.

When flushed and drained, it’s possible for pharmaceuticals to get into our streams, rivers and lakes.  This is because drugs, including antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids are not always removed completely at waste water treatment facilities. Continued exposure to low levels of pharmaceuticals in our water systems may alter the behavior and physiology of the fish and other aquatic organisms who call it home.  EPA has been working with other federal agencies and state and local government partners to better understand the implications low levels of pharmaceuticals in water, the potential effects on aquatic organisms and if there is an impact on human health.

Though flushing and draining is not the only way pharmaceuticals enter our wastewater, it’s one we can do something about.

April 28, 2012 is the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration.  During this time you can drop off your unwanted drugs at many participating municipal locations, where they will be disposed of safely and properly.  The last event collected over 188.5 tons of unwanted or expired medications at the 5,327 take-back sites that were available in all 50 states.

But you don’t have to wait until April to dispose of your old meds. You can contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to find if there are drop off locations in your area.  If all else fails, you can dispose of drugs in your household trash by following a few simple steps.

How do you dispose of your unwanted pharmaceuticals? Have you participated in any take back programs?  Do you have any suggestions of how to improve programs like these?  Let us know!

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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Radon – Why Do We Ignore It?

By Shelly Rosenblum

Psychology is fascinating, especially when you consider how we use it on ourselves – or against ourselves to be more precise. When do we use it against ourselves? When we put things off that are good for us, like cutting back on junk food, or skipping the gym, or when we hear someone tell us to test for radon and we don’t.

While it’s difficult to perceive how something we can’t see or smell can hurt us, is there something else stopping us from taking action? After all, the Surgeon General and public health organizations like the ALA and EPA tell us that radon is a leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. We usually take messages from these folks to heart, so why ignore radon?

Dr. Peter M. Sandman is an expert on risk communication. He helps people understand why we fear some things that carry little risk and overlook things which carry a huge risk – like radon. He describes this behavior with a formula: Risk = hazard + outrage. Outrage? What’s that? Suppose a company spills a toxic substance in your neighborhood, creating a health hazard. We’d be angry. Then suppose they’re not forthcoming about the quantity spilled and danger level. We’d be even more angry or OUTRAGED!

The more outraged we were, the greater the perceived risk. Even if the hazard was small, but the outrage large, we’d still perceive a large risk. Now apply this to radon: since it’s natural, there’s no one to be angry with – no outrage. With no one to blame, we somehow convince ourselves that the risk is smaller. This lack of outrage allows us to fool ourselves into not taking action. But consider this: if you found that your children’s school had not tested for radon, or if they had tested, found elevated levels and not told anyone, you’d be outraged – suddenly you would perceive the risk as huge – you would demand action. Consider further, one day your children may have reason to be outraged – at YOU – for not having tested the home they grew-up in!

Test, Fix, Save a Life. Testing is simple and inexpensive. The cost of fixing a home with elevated levels is comparable to other minor home repairs. It’s cheap insurance – against lung cancer and against having your children outraged at you! Learn more about how to test and fix your home.

About the author: Shelly Rosenblum works on the Radiation & Indoor Environments Teams at EPA’s Region 6 Office in San Francisco, CA.

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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Bay Website Focuses on Action

By Tom Damm

Click here to view a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

There’s a new look to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” website.

The pollution diet, or Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), was established by EPA in December 2010, based largely on action plans provided by the watershed’s six states and the District of Columbia.

The website now has a greater focus on activities at the local level happening around the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed to reduce pollution impacting the Bay and its vast network of connecting rivers and streams.

One of the new additions is a brochure produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee featuring examples of local actions to cut nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.

Check out those case studies and the other new items on the site, and let us know what you think.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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An Rx for Unused Pills

Click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.By Brian Hamilton

If you’re like most Americans, you may have some expired or unused medicines sitting in your house and you’re not sure what to do with them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration knows this is a big problem.   That’s why the DEA is hosting a National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at many different municipal locations.   Last year, nearly 4,000 local agencies participated in the event and collected over 309 tons of pills.

So what does this have to do with Healthy Waters?

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet can pass through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and lakes, which may serve as sources downstream for community drinking water supplies.  In homes that use septic tanks, medicines flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water.

In addition to the National Drug Take Back Day, check with your municipal or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there are other drug take-back programs available in your community.

Click here to learn more about the National Drug Take Back Day and find take back locations. Also click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.

About the Author: Brian Hamilton works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support at Region 3. He helps manage the Healthy Waters Blog, and assists in reviewing mining permits and does other duties as assigned. Brian grew up in Central Pennsylvania. He has worked for the EPA since July 2010.

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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Watts up? Bring ‘em down

To learn more, click here to register for a  June 16, 2011 webinar that starts 2:00pm http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=business.bus_internet_presentations.  Click on “View live web conference schedule…”   In the search tool, type “wastewater.”

EPA is offering your town a way to save money on energy costs.

Energy use at wastewater treatment plants (WWTP’s) and drinking water treatment plants (DWTP’s) contribute significantly to municipalities’ total electric bill.  These critical utilities operate large motors that run pumps and blowers used for treating and conveying water and wastewater 24/7.  These facilities offer opportunities for cost-effective operational changes and investments in energy-efficient technologies.

The first step to energy and cost savings is to benchmark current energy usage.  A free and easy way is for towns to use EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager.  This online tool allows managers of WWTP’s and DWTP’s to track energy usage, energy costs and associated carbon emissions and to compare energy usage with comparable plants.

The tool is also helpful in identifying efficiency opportunities within a facility. 

Towns will have an opportunity to learn more during a June 16 webinar.

Encourage your town to participate.  It’s free and it could lead to big savings.

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 funny thing happened on the way to the Delaware River Basin Forum

Learn more about the Delaware River Basin ForumWhen you go to your faucet and get yourself a glass of water do you know where your water comes from? It most likely comes from a local water body. It is important for citizens to understand where they get their water so they can take an active role in protecting it. For residents within the Delaware River Basin, there is an excellent and interactive way to learn more about the source of your water.

The Source Water Collaborative is sponsoring a Delaware River Basin Forum on March 10, 2011. The Forum will be a one-day, basin-wide event on issues affecting water resource sustainability for the more than 15 million people who rely on surface and ground water from the basin. The format of the event will reflect a theme of regional-local connection. At the central session in Philadelphia panelists will set the stage by framing current and forecasted influences on water resources basin-wide, such as water demand, land use changes and climate change. They will interact with satellite forums in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania where stakeholders gather to discuss local issues and needs. Click here to view the locations. Anyone can attend the forum at any location. It’s free and everyone is encouraged to be active participants. Click here to register to participate in a certain location.

Moreover, to promote the concept of “meeting green”, the events at all 8 locations will also be webcast live. If you can’t attend a local meeting, consider tuning in on March 10th via the links that will be posted on the Forum website (www.delawarebasindrinkingwater.org).

Source water protection means protection of drinking water supplies. Drinking water can come from ground or surface water, and a collaborative effort is needed to ensure that our sources of drinking water remain clean for future generations. Taking positive steps to prevent pollutants from ever reaching these sources can be more efficient and less costly than treating drinking water later. States within the Delaware River Basin each have unique authorities and approaches to source water protection. Visit the Source Water Collaborative to learn more about protecting drinking water. You can search for allies of drinking water in your area here.

We hope that you can go to one of the 8 locations to participate in the forum on March 10th. If you can’t, make sure to check out the forum online and be sure to visit www.delawarebasindrinkingwater.org  to get updates. If you are attending the forum, share what site you will be attending and what topics you would like to see discussed on a comment below! Hope to see you there!

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 you have the “RTK”?

Click here to visit the RTK site

By Trey Cody

Yes, you may be up to date with most new chat and instant message shorthand or acronyms used today, like “LOL” (laugh out loud), “BRB” (be right back), and “GTG” (got to go).  But no matter how much of an expert you may think you are, I’ll bet that you haven’t heard of the newest acronym on the block, “RTK!” What “RTK” stands for is, the “right to know.”  Have you ever walked or driven by an industrial factory or plant and wondered if what you see or don’t see being emitted and disposed is threatening to your community?  Do you feel as if you have the “RTK?”  The answer is yes, you do have the right, and with EPA’s newest mobile app “MyRTK,” you now have it right in your hands.

This mobile app can be found on the EPA mobile page under apps.  What “MyRTK” does is allow you to search a specific location for potentially toxic facilities surrounding it.  Say you are in an area near the Chesapeake Bay; with this app you can type in “Chesapeake Bay” or “Chesapeake Bay, MD.”  Once selected, a map will appear with all facilities in the vicinity represented by a pin.  When you select a facility, you’ll be provided with information on the chemicals they handle, what is in their releases, the potential health effects of those chemicals, and a history of the facility’s compliance with releasing the chemicals.

Want the right to know?  There’s an app for that!  So download it now.  Also click here to check out other mobile apps offered by EPA mobile.  Think this app is a good idea, or maybe you have an idea for another app to help people know more about potential water pollutants around them, then let us know.

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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One Man’s Waste is Another Man’s Biosolid!

click here for info on the National Biosolids Partnership If I told you a virtually limitless fertilizer was available from a recycled material would you be surprised?  Well, it is no myth! 

Thirty years ago, thousands of American cities dumped their raw sewage directly into our nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays (gross!). Today, because of improved wastewater treatment (as well as strict Federal and state standards), the treated leftovers from wastewater treatment (or biosolids) can be safely recycled. 

Sewage sludge is created through the treatment of domestic wastewater by sewage treatment facilities. The treatment of sewage sludge is a very long and thorough process to make sure that hazardous contaminants are removed.  Sometimes this process starts long before wastewater even gets to a wastewater treatment plant, with pretreatment at some industrial facilities. Once the wastewater reaches the plant, the sewage goes through physical, chemical and biological processes which clean the wastewater and remove the solids.  The treatment processes sanitize wastewater solids to control pathogens (disease causing organisms, such as certain bacteria, viruses and parasites) and other organisms capable of transporting disease.

This stabilization treatment includes such processes as digestion, lime stabilization, pasteurization and composting, which change the chemical and physical characteristics of the wastewater solids to a biosolids product that may safely be applied to the land.  Safe biosolids can even be made from residential septage (a nice term for human or household waste from septic tanks or cesspools) when treated and processed correctly.  It turns out that the end product of wastewater treatment is an extremely nutrient-rich resource – what a transformation!

Once it is ensured that the resulting biosolids meet specific quality criteria, they can be safely recycled and used as fertilizer to sustainably improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.  Biosolids can reduce a farmer’s costs and replenish the organic matter that has been depleted over time.  Plus, the organic matter improves soil structure by increasing the soil’s ability to absorb and store moisture.  Some biosolids are applied to the land as a liquid, while others have water removed from them and are a consistency similar to wet soil. Still other biosolids are in the form of compost material and pellets.

Every state in the United States uses biosolids in some fashion.  Farmers and gardeners have been using biosolids for years.  Biosolids have been applied to reclaimed mining sites to promote quicker vegetation growth.  But, despite their benefits, only 50% of the biosolids produced are used and they are only used on one percent of America’s agricultural land.  Unused biosolids end up in landfills where this valuable fertilizer goes to waste. Check out who your state contact for biosolids is and  find more information on biosolids.

The National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) advances environmentally sound biosolids management practices. The program is operated by the Water Environment Foundation (WEF), in collaboration with the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and local and regional biosolids management organizations across the U.S. and Canada with support from the EPA. The NBP serves as the information clearinghouse on effective biosolids practices and offers an Environmental Management System (or EMS) based certification program that requires participating organizations to go beyond regulatory requirements. 

Do you have any innovative ways to recycle waste?  Perhaps you have a compost pile?  Share your ideas!

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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