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The Beauty of the World in Our Backyards: What We Can Do in Our Everyday Practices to Protect It

~ By Carol Armstrong (7-19-2017)

There are many ways to live a more sustainable and healthy life. Most involve imitating nature’s ways. I will review several main categories of life on which you might focus. Find your passion about the environment, and use it to motivate and stimulate your creative thinking. Where do you think the following statement comes from?

The Pennsylvania Constitution Article 1, Section 27, provides

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations to come.”

This amendment was adopted because people living with mining impact of 100 years ago believed that destruction of the environment was too high a price to pay for economic gain.

Today, I hope to leave you with a greater passion and reverence for the water under our feet this moment. Water quality is a looming environmental crisis, even in our state that is the most water rich in the lower 48, second only to Alaska.

But first, here is a review of ways you can focus and learn more. It will be ‘too much information’, but all are important ways to reduce our impact on the environment.

  1. Air Quality
    1. Pollutants effects on health, not only asthma, permanent loss of lung capacity, accelerated aging of the lungs, bronchitis, emphysema, etc., but also cardiovascular aging and stroke, and damage to liver, kidney, and the central nervous system. See the EPA website for more information on health effects and key signs associated with VOCs.
    2. Solvents/Volatile organic compounds – particles that are emitted as gases and frequently act as pollutants. VOCs produce greenhouse gases, and produce ground-level ozone formation and affect air quality, and that damage health and crops.
    3. VOCs are up to 10x higher indoors than outdoors, due to: paints, varnishes, wax, cleaning products, disinfectants, cosmetics, degreasing products, hobby products, fossil fuels, aerosol sprays, wood preservatives, dry-cleaned clothing, pesticides, stored fuels and automotive products, building materials, furnishing, copiers, printers, copy paper, adhesives and glues, permanent markers, photographic solutions, and all solvents.
  2. Noise Reduction – improve township ordinances, as responsibility for noise control is local. See EPA information on health effects of adverse noise levels.
  3. Light Reduction – improve township ordinances
  4. Soil Quality – Keep it covered! How the land is used will in most cases determine water quality and the health of the ecosystem.
  5. Carbon Emission Reduction
    1. Trees, trees, trees. Trees to shade, clean the air, clean the soil, reduce runoff, and create more diverse ecological systems. A mature tree absorbs 48 lbs. of CO2 each year. When that tree dies, all the carbon it absorbed is released back into the environment – 48 lbs. x years of age. In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced
      by a typical car in a year.
    2. Use of renewable energy generated electricity
    3. Electric, hybrid, hydrogen fuel-cell cars, and car-pooling! A comparison of the carbon cost of all the ways of transportation – the lowest emission was an electric or hybrid car carrying four passengers, unless you have an electric car powered by solar panels. (CO2 emissions in units per mile).
  6. Pesticide Use and Home Pollutants
  7. Recycling (Earth911.org)
    1. Household
    2. Garden/lawn
    3. Automotive
  8. Plastic Use Reduction
    1. Small plastics path to the ocean
    2. Reduce reuse recycle
  9. Renewable Energy – use energy where it is produced – applies to electricity and food
  10. Energy Efficiency – LED lights – the single least expensive and most cost reducing action
  11. Household Waste
    1. Household hazardous substances: Paints, used oil, batteries, tires, household cleaners, solvents, pesticides, sealants, and fertilizers. Pouring into the sink, storm drain, or land sends this into your on lot septic system and then your ground water, or directly into our streams. Chester County Health Dept. sponsors 6 drop-offs this year.
    2. The challenges of becoming a zero waste household
      1. Eat a plant based diet
      2. Don’t use a straw to drink
      3. Have zero waste types of cleaning supplies
      4. Use phosphate-free household soaps
      5. Used clothes
      6. Recycling
      7. Buy processed food in glass instead of plastic
      8. Compost for food waste
      9. Read: “The Zero Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less”, by Amy Korst – goes through room by room
      10. Rethink, repair, repurpose, re-wrap
      11. Living lightly, what you eat and consume
      12. Think about all the things that were involved in getting the orange to you. Buy local, and ask yourself, “what did it cost to the environment to use it?” Watch the video: “The story of stuff”
      13. Don’t purchase online, don’t use packaging such as plastic bags when you purchase something, purchase the produce that is not wrapped.
      14. Terracycle.com: collect the liners of cereal boxes, little bags of chips, granola bar wrappers, shredded cheese wrappers, scotch tape container. Purposed towards organizations rather than individuals, creates charity dollars.
      15. EPA reported that Americans generate 4.4 lbs. of waster PER PERSON/PER DAY. OF the 258 million tons of municipal solid waster generated in 2014, about 34% was recycled and composted, resulting in an annual reduction of CO2 equivalent to over 38 million passenger cars. 53% was landfilled. The poorest rates of recycling and composting were for certain consumer electronics, tires, glass containers, PET bottles and jars, and HDPE white translucent bottles.
        See the EPA website for a thorough discussion of this.
  12. Invasive Species – native plants evolved alongside the insects in that habitat, and permit more diversity of species.
  13. Lake and Pond Health – leave an unmown riparian buffer, do not put pesticides/herbicides near water.
  14. Agriculture: water quality, soil conservation.

Water Quality – Watersheds: Every property is a piece of at least one watershed, and in fact, your property IS a mini-watershed. 84% of all CC land area drains to an instream public water supply. 74% of people in CC get their water from streams.

  1. Land surface, including rooftops, that catch rainfall and direct the runoff into runoff pathways
  2. Drainage, either natural or manmade, that collect and drain the water from the land surface
  3. A ground water aquifer that underlies your property

Water quality: Largest water quality problems for streams/rivers in PA:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Abandoned Mine Drainage
  3. Urban Runoff/Storm Sewers – salt, herbicides, other pesticides, animal residues, waste from driveways, roofs, and lawns

Principles of basic watershed techniques for maintaining your land
Know your nearest stream (Lower French Creek watershed) – where your runoff will go.  Green Valleys website will locate them for you.

Join your local watershed association for information and to become involved: e.g., Green Valleys Watershed Association

Lead by example, and share your information and ideas with your neighbors

  • Plant more trees and bushes, which slow runoff and erosion-keep the water where it falls because infiltration recharges your ground water aquifer, and biogeochemical processes that occur during infiltration can extract some pollutants
  • Do not mow right up to a stream bank. The wider the riparian buffer, the healthier the stream and the better and more diverse wildlife habitat.
  • Re-direct downspouts away from driveways and sidewalks, and onto grass or gardens. Put a few small rocks at the end of the downspout to dissipate the velocity and energy of the running water to avoid erosion rivulets. Install a rain barrel.
  • Convert small depression areas into rain gardens, and use native, water tolerant plants, bushes,and trees to retain and use runoff, and prevent erosion. Watershed associations will help.
  • Contact 1) your town’s engineer, 2) Penn State Cooperative Extension, 3) Chester County Conservation District, or 4) the Chester County representative for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for significant erosion problems to receive help.
  • Do not use fertilizer on lawn near walks and driveways – leave a buffer strip to eliminate excess chemicals running off in streams and waterways.
  • Disconnect impervious areas, make roadway green islands, use forest buffers.
  • Conserve water – our use has doubled since 1950. Conservation of water reduces the costs of providing high quality tap water and the sewage facilities for your town, and septic systems work better when less water runs through.
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