Environmental Factor, June 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Institute Shows Off Its "Green" Side on Earth Day 2007
By Eddy Ball
On April 22, 1970, environmentalists led by then Senator Gaylord Nelson spear-headed the massive grass roots demonstration that came to be known as "Earth Day." Almost to the day thirty seven years later, environmentalists at NIEHS celebrated the event with a creek clean-up in Durham, an invited lecture on practical steps to achieve sustainability and an Earth Day Fair full of good information for environmentally conscious Institute and contract employees.
In a 1993 retrospective, American Heritage Magazine called the keynote event "one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy." Although the first Earth Day was longer on hair and rhetoric than practical alternatives, it set into motion nearly four decades of progress - leading to tangible results from conservation, recycling and alternative energy advancements.
Today, the Institute has a full-time employee, Environmental Compliance Specialist Bill Steinmetz, overseeing development of an ISO 14000-compliant Environmental Management System to build on other advances in conservation and alternative energy development (see text box).
Earth Day 2007 began with an April 21 clean-up of South Ellerbee Creek near downtown Durham. Volunteers from across the Triangle collected everything from porcelain stoves and tin roofing to rusty bicycles and shopping carts. New sewer work recently opened up an unseen section of South Ellerbe that could best be described as a large, under-water Durham History Museum - for NIEHS Volunteer John Schelp, "a poignant reminder that our work is never done."
On April 23, invited guest lecturer Larry Shirley, director of the State of North Carolina Energy Office, spoke on "Sustainable Energy Strategies for North Carolina." Hosted by Employee Services Support Specialist Dick Sloane, the talk focused on energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, alterative fuels and vehicles, and state-coordinated strategies for dealing with energy emergencies.
The world is peaking or nearing the peak in non-renewable energy production at the same time that demand is rising sharply, Shirley explained at the beginning of his lecture. No one is certain when the "slippery slide" will happen, he said, but within a generation or two the disparity between supply and demand will reach a crisis state. Shirley devoted the rest of his talk to discussing the very significant accomplishments of North Carolinians in the private and public sectors - and the equally significant challenges the state faces in its quest for sustainability.
Earth Day 2007 events concluded on April 24 with the Earth Day Fair in the lobby of the Rall Building. The Fair featured several tables with information about conservation, recycling and other environment-friendly topics, such as bird and bat houses, native plant cultivation and vermicomposting. In addition to providing information, Earth Day volunteers urged visitors to take the Earth Day Pledge - committing themselves to specific steps for improving the health of the planet.
Environmental Accomplishments at NIEHS
(Initiated by individuals and groups from several different branches within the Institute)
By Environmental Compliance Specialist Bill Steinmetz
- NIEHS typically recycles over 60 percent of its solid waste stream. Nearly 10,000,000 pounds (5,000 tons) of waste have been recycled at the NIEHS since February 1993.
- The majority of our NIEHS fleet vehicles are fueled with E85 (85 percent ethanol/15percent gasoline) from our onsite tank. This program is mandated by an Executive Order to reduce petroleum usage by federal fleet vehicles.
- NIEHS operates three composting bins that use vermi-technology (worms) to turn pre-consumer cafeteria waste and shredded paper into usable mulch. About 5,000 pounds of pre-consumer produce waste are composted per year through onsite vermicomposting.
- NIEHS has a mercury thermometer exchange program to reduce the potential for mercury to enter the environment via the sanitary sewer. Over 650 mercury-filled thermometers have been collected and exchanged for safer alternatives since 2001.
- The existing emergency phone network is being upgraded with solar powered stations This effort limits ground-disturbing activities and conserves electricity over time.
- NIEHS was the first individual facility in RTP to become Wildlife and Industry Together (WAIT) certified. The certification requires the development of an employee education program and other activities to manage, protect and promote onsite wildlife.
- The Institute is recognized as an Environmental Partner within the NCDENR Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI). The ESI requires a commitment toward improving environmental performance beyond traditional levels of compliance through Environmental Management System (EMS) implementation.
- NIEHS has been designated as "A Best Workplace for Commuters" since 2004.