The EPA Blog The EPA Blog Fri, 18 Sep 2015 20:25:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This Week in EPA Science Fri, 18 Sep 2015 20:25:57 +0000 By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

Do you know what pairs perfectly with that pumpkin spice latte? Reading about EPA science!

Check out what we are highlighting this week.

  • Take a Bite Out of Science!
    The “Science Bite” podcasts explore research conducted by some very dedicated EPA scientists and engineers to protect air quality, prepare for climate change impacts on human health and ecosystems, and make energy decisions for a sustainable world. Researchers talk about their work and why it is important.
    Read more about the podcast series in the blog Learn about Your Environment with Science Bite Podcasts.
  • Stepping it Up
    EPA’s Kathy Sykes was invited to participate in the official launch of “Step it Up!”—the Surgeon General’s call to action to promote walking and walkable communities. “Mobility can be a challenge from very early, later in life, or throughout life. It is up us to make changes to ensure that we all can enjoy the independence, health, and environmental benefits of walking,” she notes.
    Read more about the importance of walkability for sustainable and healthy communities in the blog Stepping it Up: Embracing The Surgeon General’s Call to Action for Walkable Communities.
  • Teaming up to Advance Chemical Safety
    EPA and Unilever, a global consumer products company, are kicking off a research collaboration to advance chemical safety for consumer products. EPA researchers will work with Unilever partners to develop a series of case studies based on five chemicals of mutual interest. If successful, research from this collaboration will result in better ways to evaluate the potential health effects of new ingredients and chemicals we currently know little about.
    Read more about the partnership in the blog EPA and Unilever: Teaming Up to Advance Chemical Safety.
  • Measuring Pollution at Street Level
    Using satellite data, mobile devices, and the Internet, environmental scientists are pinpointing when and where our environment can be toxic for our health —both indoors and out. Chet Wayland, director of EPA’s Air Quality Assessment Division, was a featured guest expert on The Kojo Nnamdi Show about these new tools.
    Listen to the The Kojo Nnamdi Show’s clip Cleaner Air: Measuring Pollution at Street Level.

Photo of the Week

EPA researcher in the field

Dr. Sandy Raimondo, a self-proclaimed “biology nerd,” is a research ecologist at the EPA’s Gulf Ecology Division in Florida, where she studies the effects of chemical contaminants on endangered species. Sandy is shown here in the field in an estuarine marsh on the Gulf Coast.


If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.


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EPA Works Toward ‘Making a Visible Difference’ in Omaha and Council Bluffs Communities Fri, 18 Sep 2015 18:26:24 +0000 By Kathleen L. Fenton

From left: Bill Lukash, Toni Gargas and Dave Williams

From left: Bill Lukash, Toni Gargas and Dave Williams

An eager EPA team, Toni Gargas, Dave Williams and I, came together to begin a new chapter last week in our work with communities. We’ll be working in a focused way with the cities of Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa. EPA has an exciting new initiative called Making a Visible Difference in Communities. It’s a tall order but the three of us are up to the challenge.

We started our work with our Acting Regional Administrator, Mark Hague, reaching out to the two cities’ mayors and city planning administrations. Last week, between the two cities, our team met with many community service and public health providers, city planners, and neighborhood leaders.

As an initial step, we will listen to determine what is needed. Then we’ll find out where EPA Region 7 staff can best help with our current resources and technical assistance.

Our Omaha visit was initiated by an invitation from David Thomas, Assistant Director of the Omaha City Planning Department, to attend a community planning meeting at Prospect Village. There we met with over 30 community service partners who have worked with neighbors, organizations, and faith community to help move and build up this neighborhood for the past two years. The city plans on focusing their efforts on a number of established neighborhoods that are interested in enhancing their sustainability and quality of life.

Theresa Gilreath tends the urban garden

Theresa Gilreath tends the urban garden

Bill Lukash, Omaha City Planner, gave us a short but informative tour of the neighborhood and the various city efforts underway in northeastern Omaha. One example of the current work supported by the city is the placement and growth of many urban gardens throughout neighborhoods, senior living complexes, and schools.

We also ran into Theresa Gilreath, who lives at Village East Senior Apartments. With the help of many in the community – especially her friend, Ginger Thomas, and the Omaha City Planning Department and local development organizations – Theresa, Ginger and others in the community have maintained one of the most beautiful and prolific urban gardens I have ever seen. This senior living complex and its urban garden, now in its fall harvest, feeds over 42 families with fruits, vegetables and herbs. It is also a restful meeting place for members to use for outdoor visits.

Another example of EPA’s intended efforts, and the topic of some of our meetings with Omaha and Council Bluffs, was discussing a resource EPA can bring to the table: training sessions for schools. Our grantee, Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., will bring Healthy Schools training to those who work on school maintenance and children’s health, like school nurses and the county health departments. We hope to deliver a number of Healthy Schools training sessions to the two cities, each by 2016.

EPA will support what the two cities need most from EPA, and “connecting these dots” through information, technical assistance, and hard work will be our primary focus in Omaha and Council Bluffs. The cities have welcomed our initiative. Toni, Dave and I look forward to meeting some thoughtful and dedicated elected officials, city government staff, and citizens who are continuing to build their communities one step at a time to make a visible difference. Stay tuned for the next steps in these partnerships as we work together for the Heartland!

About the Author: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator and the Lead Strategic Planner in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

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Work That Matters to Me: Building Trust, Greener Communities Thu, 17 Sep 2015 19:55:12 +0000 Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

David Doyle is a public servant’s public servant. I’ve known Dave for 24 years and if you have a “federal agency” question, Dave will either know the answer or the person to call to help you. He has mentored many of us at EPA about the intricacies of community work, and has truly “woven straw into gold” for many communities with the limited, complicated funding and layers of federal and state resources applicable to them. Dave turns over every stone and has left in his wake a sustainable legacy.

By David Doyle

A tornado devastated Greensburg, Kan. on May 4, 2007.

Aftermath of Greensburg tornado

It’s June 2007, and I’m sitting under a large red-and-white tent in Greensburg, Kan., feeling a little disoriented and anxious. I was told a week before that I had been assigned to work with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on developing a long-term recovery plan for the community that was wiped out by a tornado a month earlier. Once I drove to Greensburg and located the FEMA trailer, their recovery staff directed me to a community meeting.

It must have been 100 degrees under that tent. With huge fans trying to cool the place and only adding to the noise and confusion, I suddenly heard the speaker on the platform say, “EPA’s here to help.” I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get from the audience in southwestern Kansas, but as I stood up and meekly waved, I got nothing but cheers and applause. I was relieved by that reaction, but I sat down wondering what I was going to do next.

Emergency response personnel make plans in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kan., on May 4, 2007.

Greensburg community meeting 

What I had learned up to then in working with communities is that building trust is by far the most important thing to do. I also understood that being patient with people, listening to their concerns, and being honest and responsive to their needs are key things to keep in mind. Work I had done in Stella, a southwestern Missouri town with a population of 150, prepared me to some extent for what I was asked to do in Greensburg.

EPA had performed a “miracle” in Stella, as described by some of the residents, by demolishing an abandoned hospital that sat in the middle of their downtown, using our authority under the Superfund law. We then brought in architectural students from Kansas State University to design reuse plans for the site and later developed a master plan for the community. The local officials recognized my work, along with other EPA staff, by presenting us with award plaques hand-carved from local walnut trees during the annual Stella Days Fair.

In Greensburg, we decided to form a “Green Team” that came up with recommendations for turning it into the greenest community in the country. The team had representatives from the business community, school district, and a number of local citizens, along with representatives from several state and federal agencies. We met on a regular basis to bounce ideas off each other. Our recommendations were incorporated into FEMA’s Long-Term Community Recovery Plan, and all of them were eventually adopted by the city council and implemented.

The redeveloped Greensburg, Kan., now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in America.

Redevelopment in Greensburg, the greenest community in America

The most important recommendation adopted was that all new municipal buildings over a certain size had to be built to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards, the highest certification level for new buildings. As a result, Greensburg (population 800) now has more LEED Platinum buildings than any other community in the United States.

Since my time in Greensburg, I have provided assistance to many other communities here in the Heartland. These collaborative efforts resulted in a new medical clinic surrounded by new businesses in Ogden, Iowa; plans for a new sustainable downtown in Sutherland, Neb.; redevelopment of former gas stations in south St. Louis; new, complete streetscapes in Lincoln, Neb.; plans for a mixed-use neighborhood in Iowa City, Iowa; and improvements in other communities.

I still remember those hot, windy and dusty days in Greensburg when a local citizen named Jack would often come up to me with a big smile on his face, shake my hand, and say how much he appreciated EPA being there and helping out.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: David Doyle serves as the Sustainable Communities Coordinator at EPA Region 7. David has a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science in environmental health engineering from the University of Kansas.

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Learn About Your Environment with Science Bite Podcasts Thu, 17 Sep 2015 13:30:59 +0000 By Jocelyn Buckley

I know you’re really busy. I know that as much as you want to stay updated on the latest news, you just don’t have the time to sit down and read a newspaper. We want to make it easier for you to stay informed about some pretty cool science that is protecting your health and environment. Instead of downloading the latest Maroon 5 song, you should check out EPA’s “Science Bite” podcast. While each episode is only about three minutes long, they provide a healthy dose of research news.

Science Bite graphic identifier: illustration of globe with headphones“Science Bite” explores the research conducted by some very dedicated EPA scientists and engineers to protect air quality, prepare for climate change impacts on human health and ecosystems, and make energy decisions for a sustainable world. Researchers talk about their work and why it is important.  I had the privilege of meeting some of these researchers while helping write the most recent podcast, and I have never met such passionate, intelligent people.

I found out a lot about environmental issues and interesting facts by listening to these podcasts. Here’s a quick sampling of my three favorites (there are more):

  • July’s episode focused on the dangers of cookstoves fueled on wood, charcoal and other traditional fuels, and how they affect the health of many, many people around the world as a result of their indoor emissions.
  • In May’s “Science Bite,” EPA researchers talked about the Village Green Project, and how this state-of-the-art park bench can measure air pollution.
  • The most recent podcast discusses wildfire emissions. Who knew that there are many more things to consider besides your lungs? Researcher Ian Gilmour talked a little bit about his experience with the 2008 study of a peat fire in Eastern North Carolina.

Science-Bite1So, if you’re driving to work or eating breakfast, spare a couple of minutes to hear what’s going on in your environment. Go to for more information.

About the Author: Jocelyn Buckley was a student intern in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program this summer. She will graduate from high school next year, and hopes to pursue environmental policy and journalism.

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The Magic in Water Thu, 17 Sep 2015 13:25:32 +0000 by Mindy Lemoine

USEPA Photo by Eric VanceI recently accompanied Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin on a visit to the headquarters of Renmatix, a 2015 winner of the Presidential Green Chemistry Award. You might expect that an award for innovation in green chemistry would involve an unpronounceable compound created through a complex sequence of transformations. Not this time. The solvent and catalyst for the award-winning process is…water!

Widespread adoption of plant-based chemicals to replace petrochemicals has been hampered by the high cost of the process of extracting sugars from biomass (plant material), such as wood. Current processes requiring enzymes or acids can’t compete economically with petrochemical sources. The award-winning innovation is a cheaper way to extract sugars using water. By making plant-based petrochemicals less expensive to produce, this process has the potential to be a game-changer in reducing our dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuels which contribute to climate change.

Ordinary water under the extraordinary conditions of high pressure and temperature becomes supercritical water: not quite a liquid, not quite a gas. This supercritical water can extract the sugars from biomass quickly. Then it becomes ordinary water again, ready to be cleaned up through reverse osmosis and returned to the process.

Renmatix is exploring options to extract sugars from a variety of biomass sources other than wood, including switchgrass, corn stover, the empty fruit bunches from palm oil production, and even municipal solid waste. They are also fine-tuning their product for a variety of other uses.

The scientists, engineers, and executives at Renmatix clearly appreciated our visit and EPA’s award as a validation of their innovation. I left the visit inspired by their creativity and energy. Some favorite words from anthropologist and author Loren Eiseley came to mind, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”


About the Author: Mindy Lemoine is the Pollution Prevention Program Coordinator in EPA Region 3. She previously worked with local governments on protecting Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River watersheds. She lives in the Tookany Creek watershed, and is replacing her lawn with a suburban permaculture including sedges, pawpaws, and nut trees


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Apples for the Big Apple:  Northeast Growers Manage Pests to Produce Quality Apples Tue, 15 Sep 2015 20:09:25 +0000 By Marcia Anderson

Apples are susceptible to fungal spores that can blemish the fruit and cause economic harm to the growers.

Apples are susceptible to fungal spores that can blemish the fruit and cause economic harm to the growers.

Apple growers battle pest problems on a continual basis. To pests, such as moths, mites, and fungi, an apple orchard is a place to eat or a place to reproduce. Because the ecology in every orchard is different, pest conditions and circumstances are different for every grower, so controlling pests using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) makes sense.

IPM has become more and more engrained in apple pest management in the northeast over the past 30 years because most northeastern growers live right on their farms. It is in their best interests to keep the land and water as clean as possible. Apple growers have found the most effective way to control their pests is by using scientifically-based IPM practices that have positive long-term effects on their orchards.

Growers monitor their orchards weekly from the beginning of spring through the entire growing season to determine pest pressures. The growers and crop consultants become intimate with their location, learn about past disease and pest pressures, and learn the ecology of their orchards. Admittedly, they learn something new every year.

There is also an economic impact when farmers use IPM. They stand to reduce their two highest bills – chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) and fuel – when they follow the five components of IPM. These components are: 1) prevent pests; 2) identify the specific pests present; 3) set economic thresholds for each pest as a decision making tool; 4) monitor for pests and their damage, and; 5) use a combination of management tools.

Maintenance and sanitation are key parts of preventing pests in apple orchards. Every year, growers follow a rigorous routine in the fall by cleaning the orchard floor, cutting suckers off tree trunks and clearing weeds from under the trees. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, and winter prunings are mulched and returned to the soil. By chopping the leaves into small bits, they will decompose more quickly and neither the pests nor diseases will have anywhere to live over winter. This reduces the pest populations that will be in the orchard in the next spring. The only thing that is removed are the apples.

Just by being particular about maintaining this degree of sanitation, growers have been very successful in reducing the presence of apple scab, one of the most persistent pest problems in orchards. Apple scab comes from a fungal spore that overwinters on the ground. It normally requires a fungicide (anti-fungal pesticide) to be sprayed in order to arrest its development. Those spores go on the fruit and make leathery-brown scabs that blemish the fruit. Blemished fruit is considered to be of lower quality, so its value is reduced leading to an economic loss to the grower.

Apple scab also damages the tree because it creates lesions on the leaves that spread and interfere with photosynthesis. A bad scab infection can shut down a whole tree and spread quickly throughout the orchard. So orchard sanitation is a very important part of scab control.

Other pest prevention methods include planting pest-resistant varieties and nutrient replenishing. Just like people, apple trees need specific nutrients to keep them healthy to produce quality fruit. When hundreds of bushels of apples per acre are removed annually, it means a lot of nutrients are removed from the orchard soil. Monitoring soil nutrient levels and adding nutrients, as needed to maintain tree health, is an essential component of IPM.

Apple trees need a wide range of macro nutrients (those needed in large quantity to provide energy) including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Nutrients are added either directly to the soil or by spraying on the tree leaves. Many soils in the northeast have high phosphorous levels and adequate nitrogen levels. If nitrogen is needed, it is most often applied through foliar application. Potassium is the macro nutrient (those vitamins and minerals needed in small amounts for proper plant health) that needs to be replaced on a regular basis. By running soil tests and recording the number of bushels of apples that were removed, growers can calculate how much potassium must be added back to the soil. Micronutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, boron and manganese, also need to be replenished. These are all added through foliar applications.

You can see northeastern growers discuss using IPM to prevent pests in a series of three videos by the New England Apple Association.

So why should we care about pest prevention and the appropriate use of pesticides on our apples? One reason is that apples are very prevalent in the diets of our children. They’re used to make juice and sauce, as well as eaten raw. They’re good for us! Utilizing the scientifically-based best practices of IPM, northeastern apple growers are able to provide us with high quality apples at reasonable prices.

 About the Author: 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.

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Lessons from an Avocado: Making Food Recovery an Everyday Activity Fri, 11 Sep 2015 19:37:22 +0000 By Lisa Thresher

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday and my stomach guides me to the kitchen. I notice an avocado sitting on the counter. Perfect, it’ll be a nice addition to a salad! Then I notice grey fuzz protruding from the top of it. My avocado went bad, and is moldy through and through! This is not good – in more ways than one.

Since I’m a new hire in EPA’s Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention program, one of my main responsibilities is to foster increased food recovery here in the Heartland. So having food spoil is unacceptable to me. Not on my watch! Fortunately, I know of a resource to help me prevent more food from spoiling.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

Lisa (center) as EPA coordinator at first food waste audit at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kan.

EPA has partnered with the West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum on a toolkit called Food: Too Good to Waste. This resource is designed specifically to help household consumers buy what they need, use what they have, and minimize waste as much as possible. Usually, the toolkit is utilized on a community-wide scale, where a neighborhood signs up to use the toolkit for a few weeks and tracks its progress.

One of the toolkit’s strategies and tools that is directly applicable to my current situation is the Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide. Following the case of my avocado, I’d have known to refrigerate it once it ripened. Thankfully, this convenient guide is available online, or I might’ve panicked and stuffed all my fruits and vegetables into the refrigerator to prevent them from spoiling.

Another unfortunate result of wasting my avocado is the loss of time and resources that went into producing it. I’m not just referring to the money I spent to buy it, but the natural resources, energy, time, and labor as well. When pondering the entire life cycle of the avocado, I think about the land, pesticides and fertilizers used, the farm equipment likely powered by fossil fuels, the time and effort spent by the farmer, and other farm-related operations.

My avocado’s journey on2015-9-11 Thresher Food Recovery 2 a farm is only one part of its life cycle. Considering all the steps involved in getting it from the farm to the store where I bought it, I’m amazed that all of that went into one piece of fruit. It’s not easy to make the connection between the complex process that brought the avocado to me as a consumer and the money that I paid for it.

This blog is about my unfortunate avocado, but the story of sustainable food management is a much bigger one – not only a national concern, but a global one. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2011, about one-third of all food products – equivalent to 1.3 billion tons – are lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems worldwide every year. This is a monumental loss that impacts people, the economy, and the planet.

I’ve learned my lesson about food spoilage and will continue to refine my food purchasing, storage, and consumption habits. We’re fortunate that EPA and other agencies have plenty of resources to help us prevent the loss of food. Pair them with focused daily efforts, and throwing food in the trash will be a thing of the past.

Well, I‘m off to compost this avocado so it can at least go into the soil – instead of my lunch!

About the Author: Lisa Thresher is a Life Scientist with EPA Region 7’s Air and Waste Management Division. She recently graduated from Philadelphia University with a degree in environmental sustainability and a minor in law and society. Lisa is a Philadelphia native and has an affinity for the arts and staying active.

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What Do a Parking Lot, Stormwater Runoff and A Rain Garden Have In Common? Happy Plants and Healthy Streams Thu, 10 Sep 2015 19:12:26 +0000  

By Andre Bowser

Display explaining the rain garden at EPA’s Edison, NJ facility.

Display explaining the rain garden at EPA’s Edison, NJ facility.

On the surface, it appeared like an ordinary parking lot to me. But off to the sides, a lush wellspring of plants and flowers were bowing in the summer breeze.

Little did I know that it was the stage of a Rain Garden Demonstration Site at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Edison, N.J. installation. This of course is no secret; the EPA touts similar urban ecological models as a matter of good business, just as the Edison site had been oft-touted. But it was news to me – a newbie at EPA in New York.

During a recent summer business trip to Edison from my office in the Big Apple, I literally stumbled on a display that explained why a veritable garden surrounded the parking lot behind me. After tripping on the curb, I reached out and steadied myself on the fixture. I thought it odd that a museum-quality display would be positioned next to a nondescript parking lot.

The display detailed the multi-layered story of the parking lot behind me: how water runoff from rain is routed to nearby plants; how the gravel is waterproof to assist in efficiently shepherding the vital resource; and how the water ultimately ends up in our groundwater, underground wells and springs.   And then there’s the myriad technical benefits, such as helping EPA study “how rain gardens help mimic natural drainage processes” and how they reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that enters the storm sewage systems, according to the display. The site demonstrates how, by reducing the amount of stormwater through a natural filtration process, we reduce the amount of pollutants in our water.

Above all, it’s just plain beautiful. And that such an industrially driven edifice as a parking lot could act as a buoy for plant life – through a symbiotic relationship with nature – is ecological-poetic justice.

Rain water runoff is routed to nearby plants.

Rain water runoff is routed to nearby plants.

For the ingenuity and vision behind the site, the display gives the credit to “research efforts between EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management, Region 2, and the Office of Research and Development.” But let’s also give it up to the beautiful plant life at the site, including Red Maple and Dogwood trees; Switchgrass and Common Rush; Highbush, Blueberry and Beach Plum shrubs; Blue Flag, Sunflower and Golden Zizia herbs, among many others, which are all native to Mid-Atlantic rain gardens.

States like New York and New Jersey have long lauded the positive ecological effects of rain gardens. According to EPA’s New York-state counterpart, the Department of Environmental Conservation, “stormwater running off rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, and streets washes pollutants into nearby streams. As if that weren’t bad enough, as stormwater rushes over these hard-or impervious-surfaces, it picks up speed and force, causing local flooding and erosion.”  (Click on the link above to learn how to make a miniature rain garden.)

Back in Edison, N.J., the parking lot, stormwater runoff and rain garden are contributing to healthy plants, and that’s just the positive effect happening on the surface. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find healthy groundwater finding its way to underground wells, and eventually streams.

About the Author: Andre Bowser is the director of the Public Affairs Division in EPA’s Region 2. Contact him by e-mailing

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Stepping it Up: Embracing The Surgeon General’s Call to Action for Walkable Communities Thu, 10 Sep 2015 16:58:38 +0000  

By Kathy Sykes

Close up of legs and feet walking on cobble stone.

Walkability can be an important aspect of a healthy, sustainable community.

The first steps I took when I was young soon opened the door to my independence and later my first run. Most of us take walking for granted—until it is no longer easy. Luckily, my parents chose Madison, Wisconsin to raise me and my siblings, in a beautiful and walkable neighborhood. The places we frequented on foot left an indelible memory—the Arboretum, Picnic Point (my favorite!), the duck pond, and Vilas Zoo. From pre-school to graduate school, we could go practically anywhere on foot.

A short distance from our home there was a grocery store, bakery, pharmacy, ice cream shop, and dentist. Walking another direction from home I passed the Friends Meeting House, a pet store, a hardware store, a bank, and a mailbox—everything needed was steps away.

When I moved to Washington, D.C. to start my career, I sought a similar neighborhood that did not require a car. While I arrived in DC prior to the creation of Walk Score, I selected a walkable community. Walk Score is a tool that ranks the walkability of a place on a scale from zero (“Must Have a Car”) to 100 (“Walker’s Paradise”).

I grew up in a “very walkable” neighborhood (walk score of 84) and live in one now (walk score 82). While walkability is critical, other attributes matter too, such as the extent of tree canopy cover available to shade the sidewalks on a hot summer day, traffic patterns, how local storm water is managed, and air quality. As a senior advisor working in EPA’s sustainable and healthy communities research program, I work with scientists, engineers, and other experts illuminating those attributes that add up to a healthy environment and how important they are for our own well-being.

One of my tasks as an appointee of the Mayor’s Age-Friendly DC Taskforce was to lead walking audits. Together with individuals of all ages and abilities we documented the absence and conditions of sidewalks, intersection visibility and safety, the presence of curb cuts, and whether individuals with a slow gait had sufficient time to cross. Finally, were benches present to rest or wait for a bus?

Image of Surgeon General at a podium during the "Step it Up!" launch.

Step it Up!

That kind of work is what led to an invitation to represent EPA at the official launch of “Step it Up!”—the Surgeon General’s call to action to promote walking and walkable communities.

Mobility can be a challenge from very early, later in life, or throughout life. It is up us to make changes to ensure that we all can enjoy the independence, health, and environmental benefits of walking.

The Surgeon General has it right: a walk is as good as a hit. In my opinion, his Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities is a home run.

About the Author: EPA’s Kathy Sykes has been “Stepping it Up” to advance sustainability and healthy communities for more than a decade. She is an expert in issues related to aging in place.


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Fresh and Clean, or Fresh and Green? Thu, 10 Sep 2015 14:53:28 +0000 by Matt Colip

O Street NW, in DC, was revitalized to control stormwater  with 33 individual rain gardens built with native plants.

O Street NW, in DC, was revitalized to control stormwater with 33 individual rain gardens.

I’ve always enjoyed walking along new city streets.  The sidewalks are crisp and clean, free from chewing gum and spill marks.  There are no chassis-rattling potholes in the road.  It’s reminiscent of the new car feel, everything seems minted.

In Washington, D.C., and a growing number of communities in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, residents and businesses are getting a bonus when it comes to new road construction – green features to control stormwater runoff.

The nation’s capital, like many older cities in the United States, is faced with the perpetual challenges of revitalizing streets and managing a combined sewer system that mixes stormwater and sewage into large underground pipes that feed the wastewater treatment plant.  The challenge for city governments is that residents want the fresh and clean feel on their streets, and a guarantee that their sewage will reach the treatment plant and not overflow into a river because too much stormwater has flooded the system.  To meet these demands, the District, under the leadership of Mayor Muriel Bowser, has chosen to build fresh and clean streets that are also fresh and “green.”

I accompanied our EPA Regional Administrator, Shawn M. Garvin, recently as he helped cut the ribbon for one of the District’s newest green street projects – this one along the 200 block of O Street NW, a street that has been closed to traffic since 1977.

In addition to integrating green infrastructure into street rehabilitation, the revitalized O Street now includes 33 individual rain gardens along the sidewalks that are landscaped with native plants. These rain gardens capture the runoff from an area 5,732 square feet in size – about 20% bigger than a standard basketball court – and keep the water out of the sewer system.  Rainwater and sewage that flows into this part of the District’s sewer system risks overflowing into the Anacostia River.  The more stormwater that is diverted from the combined sewer system, the less likely an overflow will occur into the river.

Not only does O Street now capture rainwater, it will have a new tree canopy from the trees planted street along its sidewalks.  These trees will also slurp up stormwater, keeping it from entering the sewer system, and eventually provide shaded areas.  This shade will reduce the heat island effect of the black asphalt.  Overall, the street looks great!

This work was funded in part through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) initiative, a program administered by EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The green infrastructure approach of the partners in this project – the District’s Departments of Energy & Environment, Transportation, and General Services – supports the G3 program goals of improving water quality, community livability and economic vitality.


About the author: Matt Colip is a state and congressional liaison in the region’s Office of Communications and Government Relations. He previously worked in the region’s water programs, enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.


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