June 30, 2009

Think Your Drink and Save!

As the summer heat rolls in, it is very important to drink enough fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Buying bottled drinks may quench your thirst, but leave you empty pocketed and may pose a risk to your waistline and the environment.

Save money!
Invest in an eco-friendly reusable water bottle. Bottled beverages can become a large expense quickly! If you were to buy a bottle of water, soda, tea or other beverage everyday for a year, you would spend almost $550!

Did you know that when you buy a bottle of water you are actually paying mostly for the bottle, lid and label? Only 10% of what you pay is for the water itself!

Reusable bottles can be purchased at grocery stores, department stores and sport/outdoor stores. Prices will vary based on the materials used to make the bottle and the size of the bottle. Some eco-friendly bottles to consider are bottles made from stainless steel or recycled plastic. Fill your bottle before you leave your house to avoid costly stops at convenience stores!

Save the earth!
Studies suggest that only 10% of plastic bottles that are created are recycled. This means that the majority of plastic bottles are either being burned or sent to our landfills. Plastic can release harmful chemicals into the air when burned. Landfills are reaching maximum fill capacity, as we continue to deposit plastic bottles and other recyclables into the landfill. About 11% of the landfill content is made up of plastic bottles. Scientists think that is takes hundreds of years for plastic to break down all the way.

Plastic and other trash is being dumped into the ocean in some areas, because landfills have been forced to close as they cannot hold any other waste. Plastic in the ocean causes many fish and sea creatures to die. This also causes beaches to become polluted. Recycling can help to save energy, money and the environment! For more information on kicking the bottled water habit check out

Save your waistline!
Bottled drinks such as juice and soda can have nearly 300 calories per bottle. So if you are looking to control your weight or even lose a little, think about what you drink. One recently published study suggests that liquid calories, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, may have a bigger impact on weight than calories from food. Researchers discovered that drinking just one fewer soft drink or sugary beverage a day was associated with significant weight loss in a 6 month period. The findings of this study really support the fact that cutting sugary drinks is a very easy and simple way to help you lose weight or avoid additional weight gain. Choose sugar free or unsweetened beverages such as water, unsweetened tea, or a powdered drink mix like Crystal Light or Wyler’s to cut back on calories.

For information on buying healthy beverages check out this publication from the Centers for Disease Control.

June 22, 2009

You May Have Indoor Air Quality Issues If…

Vestina F. Crayton, Urban Sustainability Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Your indoor space exhibits any of the following:

1. You feel better when you are outside of the space
2. The air is stagnant
3. Obvious odors are present
4. Mold is present
5. High humidity
Many times these symptoms are produced by the release of toxins into the air by objects in our indoor spaces. Some of the main air pollutants are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted from many man-made products such as carpeting, paints, furniture, remodeling materials, cleaning products, and pesticides.

Now that you have identified that there is a problem, and the source of the problem, what is the solution? The solution depends on the source. Depending on the situation, the solution can range from a simple behavior change such as only smoking outdoors (not smoking at all is strongly encouraged) to a costly plumbing job due to a water leak that resulted in mold growth.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

It is virtually impossible to anticipate and plan for all of the unexpected events or elements that can compromise your indoor air quality; however, the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has identified the following three basic ways to improve your indoor air environment (ranging from most to least effective): control the source, ensure proper ventilation, and utilize air cleaners.

Control the Source

Choose low or no VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) products.
Although VOCs naturally occur, as mentioned above, many are man-made. Volatile refers to the way the compound behaves. It is released into the atmosphere at room temperature. This characteristic is of special concern because the average person spends most of their time indoors. The higher the temperature the quicker the evaporation or release into the atmosphere. Organic refers to the carbon element in the compound. Consumers are becoming more diligent about improving their indoor environment. Retailers are becoming more tuned in to the needs of their consumers and are providing low or no VOC products. Businesses are making sure that these products are highly visible.

Ensure Proper Ventilation

Open the Windows
According to the USEPA, “Ventilation, either natural or
mechanical, is the second most effective approach to providing acceptable indoor air.” Generally speaking, an HVAC system is designed to push a certain amount of outdoor air inside. However, when there are periods of extreme hot or cold temperatures, the expense of cooling hot air and warming cold air is costly. To address the cost issue, some HVAC systems are designed to restrict the flow of outdoor air into a space. The result is increased levels of indoor air toxins. Since it is necessary to have a sufficient amount of fresh outdoor air into an interior space to control pollutants, opening a window allows the admittance of fresh air.

Get the Air Moving In New Constructions
Many new constructions are built with energy efficiency in mind. Creating a structure that is air tight ensures that excessive air does not slip in or out which directly effects the operation of the HVAC system. Unfortunately, being air tight can present its own challenges. An air tight space does not allow the proper flow of outdoor air into a space which helps to reduce the levels of indoor toxins. The USEPA created the Indoor airPLUS Label for New Homes for builders to address this concern. Builders that implement products and practices that serve to ensure healthy indoor air quality as well as energy efficiency can then designate the home Indoor airPLUS.

Utilize Air Cleaners

Clear the Air
In conjunction with source control and proper ventilation, using an air cleaner is an option. An air cleaner physically removes varying sizes and types of pollutants from the air. There are three types available: Mechanical filters, Electronic air cleaners, and Ion generators. In addition to the size and type of toxins being removed, flow rate, and how the equipment functions influences the effectiveness of the air cleaner.

Other Strategies

Regular Maintenance of HVAC Systems
Following the maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer will help minimize the introduction of indoor air pollutants. Many companies will send a reminder for the annual inspection. Whether you are moving into a previously owned home or a rented space, ask about the maintenance history of the HVAC system.

Change Air Conditioning Filters Monthly
Make it a habit to change your filter each time you receive your power bill. A properly maintained filter will operate at its optimum by restricting the release of air pollutants into a space. A clogged filter allows air to pass into the space carrying pollutants.
This article simply highlights the basic approaches to achieving a healthier and safer indoor air environment. Make sure you do your research and evaluate the associated pros and cons before determining which method meets your needs. By far, source control is the most effective and cost efficient way to enjoy quality indoor air.

For more in-depth information about how to minimize indoor air toxins and create a healthier indoor environment, Pinellas County Extension will be offering a Healthy, Home, Healthy Family seminar September 12, 2009. Please check back for more details and to register at



UF IFAS My Florida Book 2.2: Keeping Your Home Healthy

Healthy Indoor Air for America Homes

June 16, 2009

Weed Control Made Easy

By Jane Morse, University of Florida/IFAS Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Weeds in Florida can be a nightmare. Abundant summer rains and scorching sunshine lead to lots of germinating (sprouting) weed seeds. Weed control in the fall isn’t too bad, but trying to keep up with weeds in the blistering heat of summer, while dodging rain storms, sweating, and swatting mosquitoes is miserable.

To control weeds we need to have a basic understanding of some of their differences and how we can use these differences to our advantage.

First, let’s learn about the types of weeds. There are broadleaf weeds. These types of plants generally have net-like veins in their leaves and many have showy flowers. Some examples are dollarweed, creeping beggarweed and Florida pusley. Grass weeds have hollow, rounded stems and nodes (joints) that are closed and hard. The leaf blades have parallel veins and they are much longer than they are wide. The leaf blades also alternate on each side of the stem. Some examples are crabgrass, torpedograss and sandbur. Sedges are “grass-like” weeds, but they are not true grasses. Sedges have a solid, triangular-shaped stem with leaves that extend in three directions. Examples include yellow nutsedge and purple nutsedge.

Plants are also distinguished by how long they live. Some are annual (they germinate, grow, flower, seed and die in one year). Others are biennial (it takes two years to complete their life cycle). The hardest to control plants are perennial (they live more than 2 years) because they have several means of reproducing. Not only may they reproduce by seed, but they may reproduce vegetatively by bulbs, rhizomes, stolons, or tubers.

There are two basic methods of weed control -- physical control and chemical control. Usually the best control is achieved using a combination of these two methods.

Physical weed control includes mowing, hand pulling, hoeing and mulching. Many weeds in turf can be controlled by proper mowing. In general, Bahia and St. Augustine grass should be mowed at a height of 4 inches and mowed frequently enough so that only 1/3 of the leaf blade is removed each time. Hand pulling can be used if there are a small number of weeds. Mulching is a good weed control method for flowerbeds, footpaths and other areas where there is no grass. Mulch works by smothering out weeds by excluding light. Mulch should be applied about 2 inches thick and kept away from the bases of plants.

Chemical weed control is the use of herbicides. There are different types of herbicides. Selective herbicides control certain plant types without seriously harming other plant types. A selective herbicide might kill broadleaf plants while not seriously harming grass plants, or vice versa. Non-selective herbicides kill most plants regardless of type. Roundup® (Glyphosate) is probably the most widely known and used non-selective herbicide. Then there are pre-emergent herbicides that prevent seedlings from growing and post-emergent herbicides that are applied to existing weeds when they are small and actively growing.

Selective herbicides can be very useful if, for example, you are trying to control grass weeds in a broadleaf planting, or trying to control broadleaf weeds in a grass planting. Grass-B-Gon® (Fluazifop) is a selective herbicide that kills unwanted grasses in and around broadleaf ornamentals. Manage® (Halosulfuron-methyl) is a selective herbicide for controlling nutsedge in turfgrass and landscaped areas.

Non-selective herbicides are most commonly used for killing plants in a large area. For example, if you were replacing a turfgrass area and wanted to clear the area of all plants a non-selective herbicide would be a good choice.

Pre-emergent herbicides offer very good weed control because they keep the weeds from sprouting and growing. Some weeds like crabgrass can only be effectively controlled with a pre-emergent herbicide. Pre-M® (pendimethalin) is a pre-emergent that controls some annual grasses (crabgrass, etc.) and certain broadleaf weeds. It can be used on St. Augustine or Bahia grass and on many ornamentals for weed control. The most important thing about pre-emergent herbicides is timing. They must be applied before the weed seed germinates. Therefore it is important to know the identification of the weed you want to kill and when it germinates.

Post-emergent herbicides are applied to already existing weeds. They work best on young, rapidly growing plants. Some herbicides control some weeds better than others. Again, it is important to correctly identify the plant you want to kill so the best herbicide can be selected to obtain effective control.

Whenever chemicals are used it is extremely important and crucial to read the label and follow the directions exactly. Not following the label directions can be harmful to the environment and people, and is against the law.

For more information or help selecting herbicides contact your local University of Florida Extension Service in Pinellas County at 727-582-2100. Visit our website at: or come to our office at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL. Office hours are M-F from 8AM to 5 PM.

Note: Use of brand or trade names in this publication does not imply endorsement of the products or criticism of similar ones not mentioned. Trade names are used herein for convenience only. Mention of a proprietary product does not constitute a guarantee or warranty of the product by the author.

Information for this article came from these publications: ; and

June 8, 2009

Moving Forward with 4-H SET

By: Andrew Yuan & Melissa Sharp 4-H Youth Mentors, Pinellas County Extension

What does 4-H mean to you? Do you think it’s all about agriculture and animal care? Not anymore it’s not. 4-H programs and clubs have progressed to include project areas outside the traditional agricultural beginnings. 4-H has evolved to keep up with modern times. As 4-H looks even more towards the future, it has adopted a new initiative: developing and implementing programs for 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology, better known as 4-H SET.

The 4-H SET initiative is being carried out through the 4-H Youth Development Program in response to increasing global competition in the field of science. In the United States only about 18 percent of high school seniors are proficient in science according to a 2005 National Assessment of Educational Program study. In addition, only 5 percent of college graduates earn degrees in science, engineering, and technology compared to 66 percent in Japan and 59 percent in China. 4-H SET could be the solution. With resources and connections to 106 land-grant universities and colleges, 4-H is in the perfect position to educate today’s youth.

In conjunction with the new SET initiative, last year 4-H successfully launched the national public service campaign, One Million New Scientists. One Million New Ideas.™ The goal of this campaign is to attract youth to the sciences and have one million new youth in 4-H SET programs by the year 2013. To date, 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology programs reach roughly 5 million youth with hands-on learning experiences with more than half a million adult volunteers providing their devoted support. These programs capture all sorts of subjects including but not limited to rocketry, computer science, bio-fuels, robotics, and renewable energy.

Another product of this initiative is 4-H National Youth Science Day (NYSD). The first NYSD ever was held last year on October 8, 2008. It was an official day recognized by Congress that emphasizes the importance of science and sparks interest in youth to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology. The 2008 National Science Experiment featured on that day focused on environmental science and water conservation. Look for upcoming details later this month on the second annual 4-H National Youth Science Day.

The 4-H SET initiative will ultimately increase science literacy and aptitude among the 4-H youth, spark their interest in careers in science, engineering, and technology, and prepare them to compete in a global community. 4-H SET will breed the next generation of global thinkers and technological innovation as we head into the future.

An example of a new 4-H SET curriculum is The Power of the Wind. This is a fun hands on book that teaches middle and high school youth the value of critical thinking and different ways of going green.

The Power of the Wind has many different activities. One activity is about making a wind power boat that could slide along a smooth surface when a fan was activated. This teaches youth the engineering process of planning, building, testing and then modifying an idea. By using interactive methods, youth learn fundamental engineering principles while having a great time! Another example in to build pinwheels in order to learn how turbines work.

Critical thinking is stressed heavily in this book. The activities encourage youth to come up with their own ideas about a problem, or design. For example, in one activity youth are asked to design and then build a wind power machine.

Going green is a big theme in society now, and this curriculum definitely fits into the green movement. The book discusses the benefit and workings of turbines and other wind powered machines as well as how much money turbines save on electricity cost, and why it’s so clean. The curriculum even touches briefly on solar energy, and why going green is good.

If you are interested in more information about 4-H SET, The Power of the Wind, or other project areas for the 21st century, please contact the 4-H office at 582-2215,, or


June 2, 2009

Univ. of Florida First LEED Platinum Facility in Florida

Mary Campbell, Director and Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

The University of Florida has raised the bar on Green by building the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified Platinum level athletic facility in the nation and the first Platinum green building in Florida. The project is an addition to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and a focal point for the football stadium.

According to UF, "The project consists of an approximately additional 30,600 square feet of new construction and 31,800 square feet of renovated offices, meeting rooms, weight room, Interactive exhibition/reception area, and support space for the University of Florida's football program."

LEED is an internationally recognized certification system that measures how well a building performs across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. LEED certified buildings use key resources more efficiently when compared to conventional buildings which are simply built to code. LEED certified buildings have healthier work and living environments, which contributes to higher productivity and improved employee health and comfort.

Platinum is the highest level of LEED certification and there are only 130 in the entire U.S. Studies have suggested that an initial upfront investment of 2% extra will yield over ten times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building. In other words – they save money in the long term and resources. Green buildings have better indoor air quality, use less energy and water, and are built with recycled products. Most of the building’s raw materials came from within 500 miles to stimulate the local economy and reduce transport emissions. Additionally, much of the building’s raw material is recyclable, and 78 percent of the construction debris was recycled.

UF’s athletic facility has energy-saving features that exceed state and national standards requirements by 35 percent and include low-e glazing on glass, insulation and reflective materials, which make the heating and air conditioning systems more efficient. It also contains energy-efficient lighting and light sensors that allow individual lighting preferences and turn off automatically when the room is empty. The facility also has a system for analyzing future energy use. Light-colored roofing and concrete pavement on the plaza keep temperatures lower in and around the building.

Native plants combined with low flow irrigation allow the landscaping to use 50 percent less water. The green roof of the weight room conserves energy and insulates as well by containing storm water for its plant life, rather than directing it to the sewer system.

The new complex has low volatile organic compound levels and carbon dioxide monitors in high-occupancy rooms, which bring in more fresh air if they detect high carbon dioxide levels. It also has Sanidoors, which open touch-free automatically, to reduce building users’ exposure to germs.

Carol Walker, assistant vice president of the UF Facilities, Planning and Construction Division, said, “UF is committed to providing a healthy building and environment for the people who utilize the facility. Long-term sustainability, responsible use of environmental resources, and a healthy and productive work environment are all important.”

Go Gators!

UF Office of Sustainability-