Earth Day 2011–Looking Back, Looking Forward

From the April 2011 issue of EPA NRMRL News, received via e-mail.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970. In the years since then, the United States and its frontline environmental agent–the Environmental Protection Agency–have come a very long way toward preserving our finite resources of clean air, water, and land. Earth Day 2011 provides a perspective on past EPA successes, especially the scientific accomplishments that laid the foundation for legislative action, and for the environmental tools and technologies in use today. But Earth Day also looks ahead to a new vision of sustainability.

Water Use and Reuse

More than a half-century of scientific research in drinking water chemistry resulted in the first U.S. legislation–the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974–that today ensures clean drinking water for communities and efficient controls on community waste water and storm runoff. Some results of the 1974 legislation and its amendments include:

  • Control of chemicals, bacteria, and viruses in drinking water
  • Identification of unwanted byproducts of chlorine disinfection
  • Development of risk standards for lead, copper, and arsenic in drinking water
  • Control of microbial contaminants in source waters
  • Control of municipal waste water for potential reuse
  • Controls on storm water runoff and combined sewer overflows

Clean Air

EPA research laid the foundation for Clean Air Act legislation in 1970 to protect against hazardous air pollutants, especially highway traffic emissions and power plant emissions. Some clean air research accomplishments include:

  • Control of sulfur and nitrogen oxides from coal-fired plants
  • Control of radon infiltration into buildings
  • Identification of indoor air pollutants from household products
  • Development of safe replacements for high-risk CFCs in refrigerators
  • Identification of hazardous coatings, cleaning solvents, and adhesives
  • Control of mercury from power plants and municipal waste burning

Land and Groundwater Protection

Land remediation and groundwater pollution research has resulted in innovative technologies in soil and sediment remediation and redevelopment. Some of them are:

  • Identification of nonaqueous-phase liquids (denser-than-water hazardous solvents) and their removal from groundwater
  • Permeable reactive barriers (subsurface treatment walls) to remediate groundwater pollutants
  • Site-specific technical support for Superfund cleanups
  • Groundwater protection from concentrated animal facility operations
  • Watershed management
  • In situ bioremediation (use of bacteria or plants) for restoring contaminated ground water
  • Reuse of processed wastewater residuals for land and forest reclamation
  • Planning models for municipal restoration of abandoned industrial properties

Research for the Sustainable Future

EPA scientific and engineering research programs have been intensely involved in the problems of restoration and reclamation. Many research efforts continue on this path. But the EPA mandate of protection also involves the growing scientific understanding of the future–the sustainability–of American environmental resources. Many EPA researchers whose work follows this new path are expanding the traditional laboratory setting to add increasing contact with stakeholders in the interaction that sustainable decision making demands. EPA life-cycle analysts, for example, collaborate with business and manufacturing stakeholders in assessing the long-term impacts of products and processes on the environment. This cradle-to-grave assessment requires both data-based modeling and stakeholder contact to be implemented successfully in a real-world economy.

The EPA PLACES program works with a living community to make decisions about community development, land use planning, and property management, among other things, in a long-term, monitored sustainability planning model.

Another notable research model is EPA’s Shepherd Creek Pilot Project, which is using economic incentives to involve property owners in improved storm water management practices in a community with large volumes of storm water runoff.

These research programs reflect EPA’s new concepts of stewardship and sustainability that seek a balance of economic growth and environmental responsibility, public and private. They also reflect the expanded vision of Earth Day celebrations since 1970.

Media Contact: Steve Doub, 513-569-7503

Nanoparticles Improve Solar Collector Efficiency

Read the full story from the American Institute of Physics.

Using minute graphite particles 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, mechanical engineers at Arizona State University hope to boost the efficiency — and profitability — of solar power plants.

EPA Announces Updated Energy Star Standards for Lighting

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing updated standards for light fixtures to qualify for the Energy Star label – an efficiency program that has saved consumers money on their energy bills while contributing to cleaner air and protecting people’s health since 1992. Effective October 1, 2011, to qualify for the Energy Star label light fixtures will need to increase efficiency 30 percent above currently qualified fluorescent-based fixtures.  In 2013, performance requirements will increase further, providing 40 percent higher efficiency compared to currently qualified models.

Light fixtures that earn the Energy Star save consumers money on their energy bills and reduce the costs and hassle associated with bulb replacement. The bulbs in Energy Star qualified fixtures last at least 10 times longer than standard light bulbs. The fixtures will continue to meet other strict performance requirements that ensure quick start-up and high quality light output, as well as reduced toxics in the fixture materials. Additionally, the fixtures will come with a 3-year warranty, which is above the industry practice.

Consumers can expect to see a range of technology options qualifying under the new Energy Star requirements — including fluorescent and LED lighting — each held to the same high standard. In order to earn the Energy Star label under the new requirements, product performance must be certified by an EPA-recognized third-party, based on testing in an EPA-recognized laboratory.  In addition, manufacturers of the products must participate in verification testing programs run by recognized certification bodies.

Energy Star was started by EPA in 1992 as a market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, the Energy Star label can be found on more than 60 different kinds of products as well as new homes and commercial and industrial buildings that meet strict energy-efficiency specifications set by EPA. Last year alone, Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved $18 billion on their energy bills while reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 33 million vehicles.


Webinar: Smart, Sustainable, Livable Communities: Plans, Projects and Key Market Drivers

April 12, 2011
2:00 pm ET | 11:00 am PT
Register here.

  • 80% of voters nationwide agree that sustainable communities are an important part of rebuilding the national economy.*
  • 84% of Americans believe that our country is too dependent on oil.*
  • 75% of Americans agree that infrastructure spending on roads, trains and buses creates jobs and helps the economy get stronger.*

How will America’s state and local government leaders address these issues?
This free webinar will give you an opportunity to learn about the “green government” market. What specific plans and projects are underway?

You will learn about opportunities in:

  • Green government market
  • Green building
  • Energy efficiency
  • Transportation
  • Economic development and job creation


  • Dan Gilmartin, Executive Director & CEO, Michigan League of Municipalities
  • Yvonne Hunter, Program Director, California Climate Action Network, Local Government Initiative


  • Bob Graves, Senior Fellow, Sustainability Advisor, GOVERNING Institute
  • Marina Leight, Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, GOVERNING

Starbucks Cup Recycling: What’s the Holdup?

Read the full story at Earth911.

Glass bottles and aluminum cans are a gimme when it comes to recycling thanks to a combination of state container deposit laws, municipal curbside programs and a robust market for the recycled material – so why not paper cups?

That’s the dilemma coffee giant Starbucks is tackling in earnest, although far too slowly for its critics and many customers who see the iconic cups as the company’s top environmental concern. Starbucks, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this spring, has pledged to make 100 percent of its cups recyclable by 2015.

Lean Green Machines: 7 Sustainability Stars in Higher Ed

Read the full story in Campus Technology.

Across the world of higher education, IT departments are embracing sustainability to save money–and the planet. We profile seven institutions that have shifted their efforts into high gear.

Challenge Grants Seek Green Targets

Read the full story in Chemical & Engineering News.

Discoverers of a new product or technology can face challenges getting the help and financing they need to turn their breakthrough into a commercial success. To ease this process, a grant program at the Department of Commerce is looking to create regional coalitions designed to make it easier to move innovative ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

The i6 Challenge, which is starting its second year of competition, is seeking the best ways to expedite the commercialization of new technology by bringing experts in science and academia together with businesses and entrepreneurs. The program, a multi­agency effort managed by the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), is considered an important component of President Barack Obama’s Startup America initiative to promote job creation through U.S. innovation.

Thin Sheet of Diamond Has Worlds of Uses

Read the full story from the U.S. Department of Energy.

A new technique from Argonne National Laboratory creates thin diamond films that are helping industry save energy and could even be used in heart and eye implants.


Webinar: An Introduction to Lean

The NC Environmental Stewardship Initiative will be hosting a Lean and Green webinar entitled “An Introduction to Lean” on Wednesday, April 20th from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Our guest speaker is Lee Ann Parrott, the lead auditor and program coordinator for QMS, EMS, and OHSMS for EMC Corporation in Apex, NC. Lee Ann is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a qualified EMC instructor for several Lean Six Sigma courses, and a qualified mentor. She has been in quality management for 12 years.

Points covered in the presentation will include the following:

  • Lean Six Sigma defined
  • Why Lean Six Sigma?
  • What’s a process?
  • Interrogating the process by identifying Value & Waste
  • Brief overview of some tools that identify Waste
  • Key principles of Lean Thinking: Flow & Pull
  • Brief overview of some tools that help eliminate Waste

To register:

The NC Environmental Stewardship Initiative is a voluntary program open to DENR-regulated facilities. The ESI promotes environmental improvement and leadership through recognition, technical assistance, training and networking opportunities. The ESI membership currently includes 118 member sites across the state. For more information on ESI, please go to .

The missing piece of Obama’s energy security plan: cities

Read the full story at Grist.

I had plenty of complaints about Obama’s big energy security speech last week — see here andhere. Most of them centered on his crassly political decision to put supply-side solutions first, despite the fact that supply is a red herring; all the serious solutions are demand-based.

There’s one complaint I didn’t say much about, which I wanted to amplify: In the speech and in the accompanying materials, short shrift is given to land-use change, urban density, and transit.