Training

Partnering to Improve Farmworker Pesticide Safety

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By Ashley Nelsen

Image of a family at home.Pesticides play an important role in providing us the variety of fruits and vegetables that we have come to expect. It’s my office’s job to ensure that pesticides do their job in the field and don’t pose unnecessary health risks to people. When studies showed that children of farmworkers are exposed to pesticide residues found in their homes, a longstanding partnership between the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) and the EPA went into action.

The product of this partnership is Project LEAF (Limiting Exposure Around Families) and its training materials. Project LEAF was designed to educate farmworkers and their families on the hazards, prevention and mitigation of take-home pesticide exposure. Carefully crafted messages throughout the training and the training materials are designed to create permanent behavior change, such as laundering family clothing separate from work clothing, thus reducing pesticide residue within the home.

Educating farmworkers, their families and other environmental justice communities on pesticide safety poses unique challenges. America’s farmworkers often migrate with the ebb and flow of the seasons, making it difficult to locate them for safety training. Farmworkers today are predominantly Hispanic and often struggle with low literacy. Therefore, training and supporting materials such as brochures, pocket foldout cards, posters, magnets and public service announcements were designed to be bilingual, culturally sensitive, and low literacy.

In addition to developing the training and its supporting materials, AFOP delivers free Project LEAF training throughout the country. They are one of very few organizations capable of reaching the migrant farmworker population, cultivating the important relationship between farmers and growers, and assisting in locating important resources such as clinics, agricultural extension and churches for farmworkers.

The partnership between the EPA and AFOP has allowed the EPA to cost effectively access AFOP’s national farmworker network. We’re excited about the impact this training makes on the farmworker population by enabling them to protect themselves and their children. Read more information about free Project LEAF training.

About the author: Ashley Nelsen began working at the EPA’s HQ Office in Washington, DC, in May 2008 as an intern, returning as a permanent employee in September 2009. She received her M.A. in International Environmental Policy and Spanish at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Ashley currently works on issues related to farmworker outreach, pesticide safety, the EPA regulation for worker protection and international pesticide policy.

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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Giving Pollutants the Pretreatment

By Steve Copeland

Industry needs a place to send the wastewater it produces. But, conventional wastewater treatment plants can’t handle hazardous industrial pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants can pass right through wastewater treatment plants untreated and discharge to rivers and streams, which can harm aquatic life and human health.  These untreated pollutants can also interfere with the functioning of the wastewater treatment plants so that they are unable to do what they are designed for — treating sewage.

 In order to prevent these problems, the Clean Water Act requires industrial users of wastewater treatment plants to have permits requiring their discharges to be effectively pretreated. EPA works closely with state and local governments ensuring that industries treat their own wastewater before it makes its way to larger treatment plants.

 Effective pretreatment protects our waters so they are safe for swimming, fishing, and drinking.  For example, pretreatment can neutralize the acidity of the wastewater, strip out harmful metals, or dilute the wastewater before it is discharged so that it is no longer harmful. To comply with their permits, industrial users must remove these pollutants before sending their wastewater to sewer systems because wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove these harmful compounds.

 EPA provides training to wastewater pretreatment plant operators on developing successful pretreatment programs. The operators who attend the training and conferences we sponsor have indicated these sessions enable them to implement effective treatment programs.  This is another example of EPA reaching out to industry and local governments,  and working with them to protect public health and the environment.

 Visit this link and click on the “Pretreatment” tab for more information about pretreatment in the Mid-Atlantic 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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Science Wednesday: Modeling Matters: Transparency in Action

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

By Gabriel Olchin

In the age of transparent government, I think it helps to highlight specific products that make our research and approaches more apparent to the public. Transparency is important to me because I work in the field of environmental modeling, and models are often referred to as the ‘black-boxes’ of the research process; and a black-box is not transparent at all!

What does transparency mean, and why is it important to environmental modeling at the EPA?

The modeling research at the EPA is a complex science – one that we don’t take lightly. To me, transparency means providing the relevant information and documentation so that our stakeholders can understand how these ‘black boxes’ (models) work.

Models are used by the EPA for a variety of reasons: for regulatory rulemaking, as research tools, and to generate data that inform decisions. Each model used by the EPA is designed and developed with specific purposes in mind.

The EPA established the Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling in 2000 to improve the quality, consistency and transparency of the models for environmental decision making. In short, the CREM helps to make the EPA’s modeling transparent. We maintain the Models Knowledge Base, an inventory of the computational models that are developed, used, and/or supported by EPA’s offices. For each model, the Models Knowledge Base provides information or documentation on:

  • the model’s development;
  • the model’s conceptual basis, scientific detail, and evaluation;
  • technical requirements and how to use the model;
  • information on the model’s inputs and outputs; and
  • directions for acquiring the model and links to further information.

The CREM’s latest effort has been focused on developing a suite of training modules for environmental modeling. These modules are designed to take our technical guidance document on environmental modeling and make it transparent to a broader audience. We also developed training modules on the legal aspects of environmental modeling, integrated modeling, and technical topics of model evaluation.

I’m often humbled working at an Agency with such talented modelers. I really enjoy my role at EPA helping to make the great modeling work done in our program and regional offices more transparent to our stakeholders.

About the author: Gabriel Olchin, a biological scientist, has been in the Office of the Science Advisor with the Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling since 2009.

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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Zapping Energy Costs

To get a sense for how your local water sector utility can reduce its energy costs, tune in to the latest EPA webcast being offered to plant operators and the public on Thursday, December 1 at 1 p.m.   By Walter Higgins

EPA is helping local drinking water and wastewater utilities bring down one of their biggest controllable costs – energy.

In a series of free webcasts and other outreach activities this year, the Water Protection Division in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region is offering tips and tools for more efficient energy use at your local treatment plant.

To get a sense for how your local water sector utility can reduce its energy costs, tune in to the latest EPA webcast being offered to plant operators and the public on Thursday, December 1 at 1 p.m.   This one will focus on reducing operating costs through energy use assessments and auditing.

Improving energy efficiency is an ongoing challenge for drinking water and wastewater utilities.  Energy costs often represent 25 to 30 percent of a treatment plant’s total budget.

The December 1 webcast will help plants focus on two key elements of energy management – determining how much energy the utility is using in each part of its operation, and conducting an energy audit to identify opportunities for greater efficiency and cost savings.

Join us on December 1 to learn more.

About the Author: Walter Higgins is in Region 3’s Water Protection Division where he manages grants that fund water quality and drinking water projects.  He is also involved in working with water and wastewater facilities on energy efficiency and has been with EPA since 2010.  Prior to EPA he was a soil scientist with the Montgomery County Health Department, in Pa.  He has a B.S. in Agronomy and Environmental Science from Delaware Valley College, Doylestown, Pa.  Something interesting about Walter is that he’s been in the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade since he was 3 years old.

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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Meeting Tribes in Montana!

By Leah Tai

I was energized as I woke up at 4:30 am, grabbing my bag and a handful of almonds before heading to catch my flight to Billings, Montana. After three months of assisting and learning about my branch’s grant program to provide infrastructure to Native American Tribes, I was finally going to meet tribal recipients of this funding!

After college I traveled in Asia and South America before joining the Peace Corps in West Africa, and I always found that my favorite experiences involved chatting with locals about their community (or simply attempting to learn “Hello” in a new dialect). The personal connections and cultural understanding that comes from hearing the stories and seeing the favorite places of a new acquaintance­­ is irreplaceable. In Montana, I would have the opportunity to meet members of various tribal nations, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, among others, at an EPA training to improve operation and management of tribal water and wastewater infrastructure.

On the first day I immediately took a liking to one of the few training participants, Tina, as she abruptly interjected with opinions and comments gained from 13 years of experience managing the water system in a town of 250 people on the Fort Peck Reservation. Throughout the next three days, Tina never failed to make her voice heard. She and other participants slowly began interacting with one another, realizing they had lots of knowledge and experience to share. One tribal operator was surprised and excited to hear that a neighboring reservation had their own equipment to lift out well pumps in order to do maintenance and started discussing future contact and mutual support. Others discussed their communities’ resistance to increased water and wastewater rates, realizing that they face similar challenges in educating their neighbors and elders about the true cost of clean water. Two members of the Crow Water and Wastewater Authority were happy to give us a tour of their federally funded wastewater lagoon; lagoons were a popular topic during the training because many tribes in the region use them but not all knew about the regular maintenance steps they require.

It was inspiring to talk, learn and work with tribal members on improving their water and wastewater systems. I fell in love with Big Sky Montana but was happy to get back to DC on Monday and continue working to help these underserved communities.

About the author: Leah Tai began her ORISE Fellowship in May of 2011 working with the Sustainable Communities Branch in the Office of Wastewater Management. After extensive travel abroad and work with the U.S. Peace Corps, Leah is excited to work with SCB programs supporting underserved communities around the U.S.A.

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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Where in the world is EPA?

By Christina Catanese

Click here to view a map of EPA projects throughout the worldMost of our activities in EPA Region 3 are focused on just that – our region of Mid-Atlantic states.  But water issues are not confined to one geographic area, and environmental boundaries frequently cross political boundaries – try telling a river it needs a passport to flow from one country to another!  Since water issues are so varied in different areas (and consequently managed much differently), it’s always beneficial to hear about what people are working on in other parts of the country and the world.

On November 4th, a number of EPA representatives attended the 4th annual conference of the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative for that very purpose.  EPA is a collaborator in this network of water professionals in Philadelphia and beyond (including non-governmental organizations, government organizations, universities, and the public) who share a common goal of addressing water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges around the world.  Talk about healthy waters on a large scale!

The theme of this year’s conference was “Managing the Last 1%: Allocating Water to Meet the UN Millennium Development Goals,” a reference to the fact that out of all the water on Earth, only 1% is available for human use and consumption.  I know that seems unbelievable, since we have always learned that the Earth is over 75% water, a characteristic that has earned it the nickname “The Blue Planet.”  But when you consider that oceans are nearly 98% of the Earth’s water resources (which we can’t drink), and about half of the remaining percentage is tied up in glaciers and icecaps, only 1% is left in surface water and groundwater, the only kind we can use for our water supply.  Plus, did you know that 1 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean water, and over 2.5 billion people have inadequate access to improved sanitation facilities?  We don’t often think about it, but there actually is a global shortage of water for people and the environment.

Being aware of this massive water shortage, the participants at the conference discussed the challenges of managing limited water supplies and shared their experiences of success and obstacles.  Speakers talked about their work in diverse places like China, South Africa, Guatemala, Bangladesh, and the Mid-Atlantic’s very own Delaware River Basin.  The work they discussed was fascinating and included:

– installing wells and gardens at schools in developing countries,

-creating basin commissions to manage large interstate watersheds (like the Delaware River Basin Commission)

-evaluating the cost-effectiveness of various water supply and demand measures,

-how water and energy issues are related

-“virtual water” and agricultural water use

-protecting ecosystems and the services they provide us

-corporate strategies to reduce water use

If you missed out on this year’s conference, you can still view the presentations by the speakers.

You might also be surprised to hear that EPA does some international work Presently, a cadre of Mid-Atlantic Region employees is working with the Moroccan Ministry of Environment on developing an enforcement and compliance program whose initial focus has been wastewater discharges.   Phase I of the program saw the development of a wastewater discharge permit application, a basic permit which can be modified based on the permit to be issued, and a permit writers manual.  In addition, the project worked on enforcement by creating an inspection guidance which focused on wastewater dischargers.  Phase II of the project, which has just started, will continue these efforts by developing a permitting and enforcement strategy for wastewater dischargers, address organizational issues, and expand the effort into air and solid waste.   There are also some Mid-Atlantic personnel working with the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua on wastewater permitting issues.  They have provided training and technical assistance to a wide range of stakeholders in various government agencies to help develop a permitting and enforcement system for wastewater dischargers.  Learn about EPA’s water work internationally beyond the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Have you heard of any ways that other countries manage their water resources differently than we do?  What issues are you most interested in on an international scale?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Flushed with Success

If your wastewater treatment plant is following the rules of what it can discharge into your local river, chances are there’s a good operator behind the controls.

And that’s important, because the river receiving the discharge could be the same one that’s supplying the water that’s treated and sent to your faucet.

I’ve found in visiting these plants and providing training, that a qualified operator can make a world of difference in the performance of a facility. In fact, I’d say that of the small treatment plants that are violating their permits, three quarters could be brought into compliance with better-trained operators.

It’s one thing to be certified to run a wastewater treatment plant. It’s another to actually run it efficiently. Operators need to know a good mix of biology, chemistry, math, computers, electricity and mechanics to do the job well. And a college degree is generally not required.

In my wastewater training program for interns at EPA, I’ve done road trips to various plants to give the new hires an appreciation for the role of operators. After these visits, the interns really got a good sense of what it means to run a well managed facility that stays in compliance with federal and state laws.

Are you familiar with how your local wastewater treatment plant operates? Here’s some general information available on EPA’s web site. http://www.epa.gov/ebtpages/watewastewater.html

About the author: Jim Kern works for the Water Protection Division in EPA Region 3. He recently won the region’s Instructor of the Year award for designing and delivering a program to educate regional employees on wastewater treatment.

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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