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When it Rains, it Molds

2015 April 14

Part 1 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Mold spores up close

Mold spores up close

When I went back home recently to visit my family, I noticed a number of mold spots on the ceiling in multiple rooms. A result of roof water damage from the winter ice and snow the northeast experienced this year. This prompted me to have an interview with Mark Berry, EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Coordinator for Region 6 (serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes). Here are his responses to some common questions about mold and moisture.

  1. What is it that many people misunderstand about mold? It is important to view mold, not as a mold issue, but as a moisture issue. People think that mold is a hazardous material. Most people do not realize that mold and mold spores are all around us. Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air, and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing. It is important not to provide the moist environment mold needs to grow.

    The solution to the problem is to find and eliminate the moisture source first, and not focus only on the mold. Removing the mold alone does not solve the problem. If the water remains, new mold will grow in the same area.

  1. Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Should I use bleach to clean up my mold? In most cases using bleach isn’t necessary. Soap and water will often do the trick. Using bleach or some other harsh chemical cleaners can create a breathing hazard for you. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always follow manufacturer’s directions, ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

  1. Can I just paint over the mold? Many people see mold, spray some chemical then paint over it, thinking that will solve the problem. Mold can grow between the paint and the wall in all directions. The paint merely acts as a temporary cover-up. The issue with the paint is that it traps moisture between the paint and the wall, further aiding and abetting the growth of mold. Fix the source of the moisture first, and then take the appropriate steps to clean the affected area or remove it altogether.
  1. What are your most compelling mold calls? Landlord /tenant disputes over mold are our most frequent calls. We attempt to educate and make suggestions for remediation that may be used or not used by the caller’s choice. Callers need to consider the problem as both a building water issue as opposed to a mold issue. This strategy addresses the cause of the mold infestation and not the symptom. We try to get to the root cause of the problem and ease the caller’s concerns. Mold is essentially the result of water damage.
  1. Is there more mold in different parts of the country? Yes, and No. We have more mold inquiries in humid areas because the mold continually gets fed more moisture which allows it to flourish. However, mold can grow everywhere and can exist in a broad range of temperatures and humidity levels. Although moisture is necessary for growth there are molds which prefer drier environments and would need much less than other types to survive.
  1. Mold can be a variety of colors

    Mold can be a variety of colors

    What are your most frequent calls? “I’ve got mold problems can you do something to help me?” EPA Region 6’s Indoor Air Quality program (IAQ) is a voluntary program primarily responsible for conducting outreach and educating the public about indoor environmental issues, including health risks and the means by which human exposures can be reduced. IAQ educates the public about indoor environmental pollutants and sources of pollution, including mold. However, EPA does not have any regulatory authority to control mold in private residences nor do we have the resources to inspect individual homes.

    The EPA does not conduct mold cleanups, but we do provide the education necessary to give people the strategy and empowerment needed to solve the problem. We recognize the health danger to schools, homes and places of work. The EPA is the technical lead in mold research from which many states and local agencies borrow.

  1. Is testing for mold necessary?
    In most cases, if visible mold is present, sampling is not necessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Remember that mold and mold spores are natural in the environment so any sampling will result in finding mold.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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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Children’s Health: A link between Allergies, Asthma and School Attendance

2015 April 7

By Marcia Anderson

 Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Cockroach allergens are linked to children’s asthma

Many schools have shown a high incidence of students missing valuable school days due to asthma and allergies. In many of the same schools that report a high incidence of absenteeism, we have also found cockroach infestations in cafeterias, storage closets and teacher break rooms.

Is there a relationship between cockroach exposure, allergies and asthma?

Most people with asthma have allergic responses in their bronchial tubes when they breathe in particles of the right size and shape and composed of materials recognized by their immune system. Exposure to things like mold, cat dander, ragweed, pollen, and rodent and cockroach droppings can elicit an allergic reaction.

The proteins in cockroach feces and their decomposing bodies are of just the right size to be lifted into the air, inhaled and recognized by the immune system as a signal to make an allergic reaction in some people. This is asthma. Airborne cockroach allergens will stick to particles, like dust, that quickly settle onto dust-trapping fabrics found on upholstered furniture, carpets and curtains. Activities like vacuuming, or even walking may stir up these allergens.

An asthma attack can happen when a student is exposed to “asthma triggers.” One child’s triggers can be very different from those of another child or an adult with asthma.

What Causes the Allergic Reaction?   The job of the immune system is to find foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria, and get rid of them. This protects us from dangerous diseases. People with allergies have supersensitive immune systems that react when they inhale, swallow or touch certain substances such as pollen or dust that contain the allergens. Some people are born with allergies. Others seem to acquire these allergic sensitivities as they grow older.

Asthma Studies: A 2014 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed marked geographic differences in allergen exposure and sensitivity in inner city children. Early exposure to cockroach allergens can actually cause asthma to develop in preschool aged children. Inhaling particles from cockroaches can cause coughing and wheezing in babies less than 12 months of age. A lack of understanding about asthma and its treatment may cause further risk of severe, undertreated asthma. In many low income communities, coughing and wheezing are accepted as part of normal growing up and medical care may not be sought because it isn’t considered necessary, or it is too difficult to access.

A National Institutes of Health research project demonstrated a definitive connection between income and the severity of asthma in the population (http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/sept98/niaid-21.htm). The study compared people hospitalized for asthma in six major U.S. cities. It found that the lower the average income, the more frequent the need for hospitalization for severe asthmatic attacks.

Exposure to the things that stimulate asthma like cockroaches, second hand smoke, mold, and air pollution are often greater in poor households. In dwellings where the amount of cockroach allergens are high, exposure is high and the rate of hospitalization for asthma goes up.

Keeping your home and family safe:  The EPA recommends that you use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to pest control. Smart because IPM creates a safer and healthier environment by managing pests and reducing children’s exposure to pests and pesticides. Sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in buildings. Sustainable because the emphasis is on prevention that makes it an economically advantageous approach.

Actions you can takeFrom cracks to drain traps to groceries, cockroaches can find a way into your home in the oddest of places. Focus on sanitation to eliminate food sources, moisture sources, and harborage for the insects. At least every two to three days, vacuum or sweep areas that might attract cockroaches.

Allergen concentrations are generally highest in kitchens where there is plenty of food and water for cockroaches. Keep counters, sinks, tables and floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Clean dishes, crumbs and spills right away. Store food in airtight containers. Seal cracks or openings around or inside cabinets to keep cockroaches out.

Next are bedrooms where people inhale the allergens that have settled into bedding. Wash bedding regularly in hot water and remove any unnecessary fabrics like curtains and upholstered furniture. Replace carpeting with smooth flooring that can be damp-mopped.

Controlling Cockroaches. To prevent and treat cockroach infestations in your home use IPM methods first – sanitation followed by low-impact pesticides such as baits, or gels.

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

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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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Women and Climate Change Summit: Part Two

2015 March 26

By Aria Isberto

Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion

As we mentioned in the previous post, EPA’s Women and Climate Change Summit had three goals: to educate, energize, and elevate the voices of women on the important issue of climate change.

Biogeochemist Dr. Kathleen Weathers dove into the first goal with an inspiring talk entitled “What’s New in Climate Change?” She emphasized that human influence on climate change is indisputable. “We know this through experiments, observations, consensus reports and long term records,” she explained, providing hard-hitting and impossible to ignore data. In the face of such a concerning future, Dr. Weathers advised: “Emit less, prepare well for the effects, and understand what is going on. Communicate. Act.”

But we did not forget the victories made thus far. A six-person panel focused on local, successful endeavors was hopeful proof that our actions do make a difference:

  • Alliance for Clean Energy’s Executive Director Anne Reynolds gave the good news about New York’s progress, being one of the states at the forefront of renewable energy. We now have a 25 % Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Hydropower provided 25% of the state’s energy in 2010, with an aim to increase that by 5% this year.
  • Jenny Briot of Iberdrola Renewables revealed that the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in upstate New York produces enough energy to power up to 160,000 homes and has increased the amount of wind power in the state by 600 percent. The land used remains available for farming, while the project benefits communities by powering school computers and providing jobs.
  • Green City Force is an AmeriCorps program, represented by Lisbeth Shepard, who explained the need to engage our city’s unemployed youth. The program “gives them a means to address climate action goals” while providing them with a stipend and metro card.
  • Tria Case, Director of Sustainable CUNY, gave an update on the NYC Solar Map project. While still in the midst of working towards a more streamlined solar power installation process, the NYC Solar Map is an informational source and useful tool for New Yorkers who want to contribute to the solar movement. Along with practical guides, the website allows visitors to calculate the solar potential of their building with the input of an address.
  • The Yonkers Streetlight Replacement Project will reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 10%, as detailed by Yonkers Director of Sustainability Brad Tito. The project works by replacing Yonker’s cobra-head streetlights with LED lights, with 11,300 replaced last year. It will save nearly $2 million in energy costs in the span of a decade.
  • The City of Kingston is making large strides as well. As a DEC Climate Smart Community, Kingston has been reducing emissions while adapting to a changing climate. Panelist Julie Noble from Kingston’s Parks and Recreation presented to the summit the city’s many forward thinking actions, one of them putting to use CANVIS, a type of resiliency planning tool that assesses site-specific potential damage caused by sea level rise. The city monitors sea levels with a mapper and develops adaptation strategies accordingly.

By lunchtime, the summit was buzzing with excitement. EPA’s Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, took the stage to thank all of the participants for being a part of the summit. She spoke about some of the women who have inspired her in her work, mentioning Rachel Carson, Lois Gibbs and Klara Sauer herself, who was sitting in front of the room. Enck also expressed how proud she was that four of the last six EPA Administrators have been women. Citing the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record, she highlighted some of EPA’s work and urged all to support and follow the sustainable progress being made in the region and all over the world.

A conclusive discussion entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” was moderated by Catherine McCabe, Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA Region 2, for the participants at the summit to discuss and come up with real solutions. The discussion was intent in its purpose to cultivate fresh ideas and for everyone to leave with a newly invigorated determination that carries long after the event has wrapped up. With thoughts such as: “How do we empower people to realize each can make a difference?” and “How can we make scientific data even more accessible to all?” It would be no surprise to anyone if new projects and collaborations are traced back this day.

Watch a video of the summit by the Poughkeepsie Journal here.

About the Author:
Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

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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Women and Climate Change Summit: Part One

2015 March 25

By Aria Isberto

David Roosevelt (grandson of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt), Uri Perrin (Executive Director of The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership), Judith Enck (EPA’s Regional Administrator) and Cara Lee (The Nature Conservancy) in a lighter moment during the Women and Climate Change Summit.

David Roosevelt (grandson of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt), Uri Perrin (Executive Director of The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership), Judith Enck (EPA’s Regional Administrator) and Cara Lee (The Nature Conservancy) in a lighter moment during the Women and Climate Change Summit.

Earlier this month, an event hosted by EPA and The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Partnership gathered a phenomenal group of people to the historic site in Hyde Park, New York, once home to the longest-serving First Lady of the United States.

On the morning of March 6th, two days before International Women’s Day, the 2015 Women & Climate Change Summit was held. Representatives from environmental organizations were present, including the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and Sierra Club, to name a few. Among the crowd were also staff of Assembly and Senate members, students from various colleges in the region, and people from diverse walks of life sharing a commitment to a sustainable future.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson David was an unexpected initial speaker that morning. As he took the stage and looked out into the sunlit room towards the sea of faces in the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center, he expressed his sincere hope: for all to draw inspiration from his grandmother’s life and her work and to continue carrying her message.

Of course, the awe-inspiring Eleanor Roosevelt was a focal point in the day’s proceedings as the summit converged on the beautiful snow-covered property. Val-Kill had been her home for years after Franklin Roosevelt’s death and was the place where she worked on some of her most important achievements. “Val-Kill is where I used to find myself and grow,” Eleanor once said. “At Val-Kill I emerged as an individual.”

Kevin Oldenburg, a Park Ranger at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites introduced his presentation, saying, “not often is the mention of Eleanor’s passion for the environment. That is usually attributed to Franklin.” He went on to highlight Eleanor’s concern for land conservation, such as her worry about the harmful effects of strip mining, insisting on visiting affected sites despite being discouraged to do so. She also spoke strongly for the need to find alternatives for oil. So while she is known for her prevailing sense of social justice, it was Eleanor’s belief that “conservation of our land and conservation of the people go hand-in-hand.”

The Women & Climate Change summit had three goals in mind: Educate one another on policies for addressing climate change (including EPA’s regulatory actions), Energize our daily actions around climate work, and Elevate the voices of women on the historic issue. For many of the 130 attendees of the summit, there was no better way to celebrate March as Women’s History Month than by dedicating the day to their passion in addressing climate change, while at the same time honoring the environmental contributions of Eleanor Roosevelt and many other inspirational women over the years.

Read more details about this groundbreaking summit in Part Two.

About the Author:

Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Mother and Her Son Deal with Bed Bugs.

2015 March 11

By Marcia Anderson

Bed bug up close - Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

Bed bug up close – Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

As a former EPA Regional bed bug consultant, I still occasionally receive calls to assist people with bed bug related issues. A few months ago, I answered several calls and emails from Mattie, a distraught mom who not only had a bed bug infestation, but had received questionable advice about bed bug control that affected her son’s health. Here is her story.

Mattie discovered she had a bed bug problem when her nine year old grandson went back home with his parents with bumps and swollen arms and legs. His parents took him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with having an allergic reaction to bites from some bugs. Mattie’s son, Peter, was also bitten and showed allergic symptoms. Peter suffers from chronic respiratory issues.

They soon discovered that the bites were likely from bed bugs that they found when looking around the apartment. The bed bugs were seen coming out of a crevice in the wall above Peter’s bed. That wall, unknown to Mattie’s family at the time, is adjacent to another apartment that was recently found to have bed bugs.

The landlord instructed Mattie to wash EVERYTHING and gave her just five days to clean out her entire apartment. “We had to wash over 35 loads of clothing, bedding and everything else that had fabric. Peter and I were exhausted,” Mattie wrote in one of her emails.

In the meantime, the landlord arranged for a well-known pest control service to treat the apartment. Mattie reminded the landlord about Peter’s and her health concerns. The landlord told her that they could return to the apartment after it was sprayed and not to worry – the pest control company was professional and would not apply anything that wasn’t safe. The landlord also informed her that the pest control company said there was a severe care of bed bugs in Peter’s room but that no other rooms were infested. Peter’s mattress and bed would need to be thrown out.

Mattie and Peter were given a temporary hotel stay by a local aid agency because of their asthma. She found that four different pesticides had been applied in the apartment and that the pest control company would be returning in five days to check and re-spray.

Mattie continued, “When Peter and I returned to the apartment after two days, we became ill. I could smell the spray. My son began to have tightness in his chest, and so did I. It was apparent that even with the windows open and the ceiling fan blowing that it was going to be impossible to stay in that apartment.” Mattie was concerned about the effect of these pesticides on their respiratory systems, and both had to have breathing treatments when they arrived at the respite house for the rest of the week.

I responded to Mattie: “I was surprised that the pest control company used all of those pesticides. There are other methods of treating bed bugs, such as radiant heat, steam and freezing that do not require the use of pesticides. These methods can easily be followed-up by the use of bed bug barriers and low toxicity pesticides placed strategically in walls and other areas that would not exacerbate your families’ medical conditions.

You do not need to throw out any mattresses, box springs or beds. Instead, purchase encasements for each. The encasements will trap any bed bugs and they will die. If this was a severe infestation, as the landlord reported, some of the bugs would have spread into surrounding rooms, so precautions should be taken throughout the apartment. Until your bed bug problem is gone, use clear plastic boxes to store your clothes and other items that you use on a regular basis. Bed bugs will have a difficult time climbing up the slick plastic sides of the boxes, eliminating yet another hiding place.

As you sleep, bed bugs will try to climb onto the bed for a blood meal. So, move your bed a few inches away from the wall and ensure no bedding is touching the floor. Then, place bed bug interceptors, available on the Internet, under the bed legs and under the legs of all other plush furniture in your apartment.

Be aware that in most cases, pesticides alone will not eliminate bed bugs. Effective bed bug control requires a diverse set of practices called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on knowledge of the pest and a combination of common sense practices, such as inspection, monitoring, reducing clutter, the use of physical barriers, and the judicious and careful use of pesticides, if needed.

An astute pest management professional would have used a less toxic approach to rid you of the bed bugs. I am sorry that you had such an awful experience and hope that others reading this article will learn from your painful lesson.”

Be a strong advocate for your family’s health and for an IPM approach. Find out the exact course of action that is planned for your dwelling BEFORE they treat. Insist on exploring preventative and non-pesticidal options first. For more information on bed bugs and their control go to: http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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 Heavenly Trio

2015 March 2

By Jim Haklar

I took this picture on February 20th from the back of the Edison Environmental Center. The Moon was near Venus (the bright “star” to the Moon’s left) and Mars (just above Venus). Think about the range of distances represented in this picture:

The trees were about 0.04 mile away;

The Moon was about 240,000 miles away;

Venus was 130 million miles away; and

Mars was 205 million miles away.

It’s sobering when you consider the scale of the solar system.

 About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center.  In his nearly 30 years with the agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

 

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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Rediscovering the New York City Dinosaurs that Traveled Down the Hudson River.

2015 February 19

By Marcia Anderson

Photo by Bill Cotter

Photo by Bill Cotter

Back in 1964, my parents drove their pompano peach station wagon into NYC for my first memories of the Big Apple. They took me to the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. I was nine years old.

For those who were not alive for the World’s Fair popular era (1791 through the 1960’s), they were huge expositions, where many countries sponsored exhibit buildings and companies showed off their latest technologies and upcoming products in futuristic exhibits. The New York World’s Fair featured 140 pavilions spread over 646 acres of land, and over 44 million people attended its exhibits in just one year.

Prior to the late 1930’s, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was a swamp and ash dump immortalized as “a valley of ashes” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  The fair site originally consisted of ashes from coal-burning furnaces, as well as horse manure and garbage, and was known as the “Corona Ash Dumps.”  It was converted into the fair site, which is now known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. My mom and dad had visited the site almost 25 years prior to me, as children themselves, to the first NY World’s Fair in 1939-40.  That was the second largest American World’s Fair of all time. The 1964-65 exposition was the second World’s Fair in the same Queens location. Both World’s Fairs in New York (1939–40 and 1964–65) have the distinction of being the only two-year world expositions in history. World’s Fairs still exist, but not at the frequency and scale that they once were.

Photo by Bill Cotter

Photo by Bill Cotter

I still remember walking into the Sinclair Oil Corporation’s Dinoland exhibit. It featured life-size replicas of nine different dinosaurs, including an Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) which took me back 65 million years and has remained with me ever since.The dinosaur exhibit was designed to point out the correlation between the petroleum deposits believed to have been formed at the time of the dinosaurs. The Brontosaurus is parodied in the Toy Story films as being the logo for the DinoCo gas station chain.  At the time of both NY World’s Fairs, the Sinclair Oil Corporation was a New York petroleum corporation.

How did the dinosaurs get to Queens? The Sinclair dinosaur statues were originally created for the 1939-40 World’s Fair and were later reused in the Primeval World diorama at Disneyland. The 1964-65 statues were created in Mahopac, New York and included a Tyrannosaurus rex, the horned Triceratops, the plated Stegosaurus and the lovable Apatosaurus. The dinosaurs took three years to build with a team of paleontologists, engineers and robotics experts who gave them life by integrating cutting edge animatronics.  Upon completion, the dinosaurs were barged 125 miles down the Hudson River to the site of New York’s World’s Fair. When the fair ended, their animatronics were removed and the dinosaurs were sent on a national tour which included the 1966 Macy’s Day Parade! A giant balloon of the Sinclair Dino appeared that year and continued to be a part of the parade until the late 1970’s.

I still have the brochure from the World’s Fair exhibit, Sinclair and the Exciting World of Dinosaurs, in a box in my attic, along with a replica ‘Dino.’  In hindsight, that exhibit had a tremendous impact on my life, so much so, that I eventually became a geology professor, teaching university students about the historical geology of our planet for 15 years. I still go fossil hunting whenever possible.

Photo by Bill Cotter

Photo by Bill Cotter

Where are the dinosaurs now? Is there really a Lost World? The dinosaurs were never lost, just relocated. The creatures were offered to the Smithsonian Institution, but were turned down. The dinosaurs were then retired and dispersed to different parks. While working for the EPA in Texas, I took a daytrip to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, TX, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas, to view dinosaur footprints.  Much to my amazement, I was also able to revisit my childhood dinosaur friends, Apatosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex. They were permanently put out to pasture in Texas, just like many of the nation’s racehorses. They are still around after over 65 million, plus four score years!

Photo by Marcia Anderson

Photo by Marcia Anderson

Where do the other New York World’s Fair dinosaurs reside? Triceratops is in the Museum of Science & Industry in Louisville, KY; Stegosaurus went to the Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, UT; Corythosaurus is in Independence, KS; Ankylosaurus lives in the Houston, TX Museum of Natural Science; Struthiomimus went to the Milwaukee, WI Public Museum; and Trachodon lives in the Brookfield, IL Zoo. Sadly, Ornitholestes was stolen and never recovered.

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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Citizen Science is for the Birds?

2015 February 9

Every year since 1998, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society have teamed up in mid-February to sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count.  It is recognized as “the first on-line citizen science project to collect data on wild birds.”  Since 1998, more than 100,000 people have participated and reported on the birds they see in their areas.  This year the bird count starts on Friday February 13th and continues through Monday February 16th.  The rules are simple – after you register on-line at gbbc.birdcount.org, you just count the numbers and types of birds you see for 15 minutes, on one or more of the 4 days!  There is a checklist on-line to use to report your results.  It’s also a great website to use to help identify birds you don’t recognize.

In 2014, people from 135 countries participated and reported almost 4,300 species of birds as more than 144,000 checklists were received. The results of last year’s bird count are really interesting and can be seen at gbbc.birdcount.org/news/top-10-lists/.

My wife and I have participated in the bird count for the last 7 years and some of the more colorful birds we have counted in our backyard are shown below (all photos courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornothology):

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Bluejay

Bluejay

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Hope you can join us this weekend and if you can, Happy Birding!!!

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 32 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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 Chat About The Environment With Mike Richter

2015 January 28
Mike Richter, champion on the ice and environmental champion off the ice.

Mike Richter, champion on the ice and environmental champion off the ice.

By Jennifer May-Reddy

Mike Richter is best known as one of the most successful goalies in the National Hockey League. He retired in 2003 and  choose a different path – becoming partner at a private equity firm supporting companies in the environmental industry and launching Athletes for a Healthy Planet, an organization that makes the connection between a healthy planet and healthy athletes. Mike took time out of his busy schedule to talk with the EPA about why athletes and sports fans alike should care about the environment.

Q: Some people might not see an obvious nexus between sports and the environment. What do you think the connection or common thread is between sports and the environment?

A: As an athlete, I’ve been called an unlikely environmentalist but I think the environment is actually particularly relevant to athletes. Performance in sport is directly related to one’s health. The environment in which we live profoundly affects our health.

When it comes to global warming, the roots of my sport are far more affected than some other sports. The frozen ponds and lakes of North America where the sport was born freeze later and melt earlier lessening the opportunity to participate.  The “free ice” which is truly free – being able to bring your skates and just walk up and play – is going away. The great history of this old sport of kids skating down the St. Lawrence River or having a pond in their backyard where they didn’t need to pay to play because this was their arena is going away.  It is a shame.

Of course, so many aspects of our society are affected by pollution.  But there is a direct connection with sports.

All sports started outside in a fundamental way. Sport in its basic and best sense is a challenge with yourself. You don’t have to be on a team or in an aerobics class. You can actually go up a mountain and see if you can make it to the top.  That is an athletic feat. That is an athletic endeavor.  But if you don’t have the trails and you don’t have the clean water or the non-polluted air, you just don’t participate as much in sports.  Worse, if the local environment is compromised by pollution, it may actually be a hazard to your health.

Q: Can you talk a bit about how you got into the green movement? Were you involved in environmental causes when you were a player?

I don’t remember thinking of myself as an environmentalist. It was just on one level practical-don’t waste anything-food money, time.   On another, the concept fairness and social justice.

I grew up in Northwest Philadelphia in the city – it wasn’t an urban environment, it was more suburban but every adventure I had in the small woods behind my house or local farms, it might as well have been in the Grand Tetons.  It was incredible. We had sleep outs and tree forts, we found minnows and broke ice in the winter in the little creek behind my house.  It is such an enormously important part of life.

I do remember there was dioxin in the river that we used to play in and they would say you really can’t eat the fish out of there. Nothing lived. All from a photo-processing plant upriver. And so it is not theoretical even for little kids.  It is practical. It means that you can’t play in certain areas. It is taking away quality of life.  There is an enormous injustice in that which has always bothered me.

In my life, I also lived on the Upper West Side in New York and admired the West River. The fact you can’t take a fish out of there is a sad thing. And it doesn’t have to be that way. There have been great efforts to clean up the Hudson and it’s come a long, long way. But any 5 year old can tell you that throwing one’s garbage on another person’s house is just plain old wrong.  It is no different when people, corporations, or communities externalize their cost on another and pollute.

Being called an environmentalist is a funny thing.  It has been politicized and it shouldn’t be a political thing. I have friends who are conservative, liberal and everything in between. And they all want clean and functioning resources and healthy children and good health for themselves.

To me, if you live on this Earth, you are an environmentalist.  If you’re breathing, you want clean air and water. I think the questions is more “When did people stop identifying themselves as ‘pro-environment’?”

Q: What can fans or athletes do to be part of the “green sports” movement?

A: Most importantly, educate yourself.  Ignorance of the issues is the real villain here.  Become educated on the problems and available solutions, then implement them in your own life as much as possible.  Take public transportation, recycle, and purchase local food.  When these many excellent green sport programs are unveiled, show your team that it matters to you.  Finally, demand it of their teams, players as well as themselves.  Like any consumer, fans can reward those who move toward sustainability.

Q: In your experience, how are fans and players responding to green initiatives at venues?

People want clean water and clean air, clean energy, and sustainable alternatives to conventional products.  They just don’t want to pay more, have inferior performance, and more difficulty in making it happen. When you go to an arena with 60,000 people in it and there are only two recycling cans on the other side of an acre-long walkway, the fan may not make the effort to recycle the bottle.  It has to be easier.

Now, we see teams starting to understand environmental efforts. We have a long way to go, but they’ve come an enormous distance. You look at the recycling programs and public service announcements at games. Athletes are also starting to get more involved.  We’re in a different place that we were even a decade ago in terms of the acceptance and acknowledgement of it and possible solutions.  Arenas and teams are realizing that there is a more effective and efficient ways of running things. And as any person who runs a business knows, you can never be too efficient.  Where there is waste, you are losing money.

The NHL’s “Rock and Wrap It Up” campaign, where they take food that has been prepared but is unused and donate it is a great example of what the environmental movement should be focusing on.  In the end, we are talking about performance-less waste, smarter technology and design.

Q: Can you talk about the work you have been doing with Athletes for a Healthy Planet and other environmental organizations?

I believe that our problems with resource management are profound but recoverable.  We will need government, the capital markets and NGOs combined to address the challenges if we are going to be successful.  People are busy and there is a lot of information is out there but they want to do the right thing.

The environmental organizations I’ve worked with are comprised of ordinary people who care about their health, their kids and the future of their planet.  They’re not radical. They are very thoughtful and generous.  These projects need funding, science and volunteers. I believe very deeply in these organizations. Helping out with these organizations is one of the best gifts you can give back to society because everyone truly benefits from it.

Mike Richter is the founder and CEO of Healthy Planet Partners which finances energy infrastructure upgrades and renewables on commercial buildings. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Riverkeeper locally and on the Sierra Club Foundation Board of Directors nationally. Mr. Richter enjoyed a successful 15 year career with the New York Rangers where he was a three time NHL All-Star and in 1994 led the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 54 years. Mr. Richter also represented the United States on numerous international competitions including three Olympic teams, earning World Cup gold in 1996 and an Olympic Silver Medal in 2002. After retiring, Mr. Richter enrolled in Yale University and received his degree in Ethics, Politics, and Economics with a concentration in Environmental 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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Hmmm – Superfund – What is That?

2015 January 22
EPA Region 2 Superfund Director Walter Mugdan explaining the Superfund process from site listing to site deletion.

EPA Region 2 Superfund Director Walter Mugdan explaining the Superfund process from site listing to site deletion.

By Cecilia Echols

Wow, what an experience! Not long ago, EPA Region 2 tried something brand new. Nearly 60 people attended the EPA Superfund Symposium – “Engaging Brooklyn and Queens” – at the Brooklyn Borough Hall Community Room.  This symposium was the first of its kind, blending stakeholders from various neighborhoods to talk about Superfund in their communities.

The goal for this first-time event was to provide a roadmap for cleanups at three hazardous waste sites that have interlocking neighborhoods within Brooklyn and Queens. The sites are Wolff Alport Chemical Company in Bushwick/Ridgewood; Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City and Maspeth; and, Gowanus Canal in Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Park Slope.

Walter Mugdan, our Superfund Director, helped kick it off by explaining the Superfund process from site listing to site deletion. Each of these sites is at a different stage in the cleanup process and they are all impacted by a wide range of contaminants. Recognizing that Superfund cleanups may appear to be a complicated and arduous process, Walter explained the technical steps in an understandable, step-by-step fashion.

In terms of contaminants, Wolff Alport has the presence of thoron and radon gas; indications of an on and off-site spread of residual radioactive materials. Newtown Creek is contaminated with pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds, which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air. The Gowanus Canal, considered one of the most polluted water bodies in the nation, has been polluted for years by industrial waste discharges, storm water runoff and sewer overflows. Other contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics.

Here I am (seated, facing the camera) listening to a community member discuss what it's like working with the EPA.

Here I am (seated, facing the camera) listening to a community member discuss what it’s like working with the EPA.

Michael Sivak, an EPA Risk Assessor, explained in an equally understandable way, the four-step process that is used to assess site-related human health risks – namely, what chemicals are in the soil, groundwater, air and surface water and how we are impacted and exposed to them, in the short and long-term. Additionally, four Community Involvement Coordinators presented, including Melissa Dimas, Wanda Ayala, Natalie Loney and myself. Our portion touched on elements of what we call the “community involvement toolkit,” consisting of Social Media, the Superfund Job Training Initiative, Technical Assistance Grants, Technical Assistance Services for Communities, EJ Screen, MY Environment and Community Advisory Groups (CAGs).

One of the most invaluable components of the Symposium, was a discussion led by two community members. Phillip Musegaas, representing Newtown Creek and Lizzie Olesker, representing the Gowanus Canal discussed how a CAG works for their particular site and mentioned what it is like working with EPA. Their candor and experience was very helpful and it spearheaded a lively conversation with other CAG members, homeowners, partner agencies, local business representatives and non-governmental organizations. A number of elected officials participated as well.

I was delighted with the turnout, and all of the hard work in planning this event paid off. I personally want to thank Borough President Eric Adams for the use of the space. I am pretty sure many more conversations will continue about the EPA’s role in cleaning up Wolff Alport, Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.

http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/gowanus/

http://www.epa.gov/region02/waste/wolff/index.html

http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/newtowncreek/

http://www.epa.gov/superfund/community/toolkit.htm

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.