Monthly Archives: December 2009

Science Wednesday: OnAir – Scientist Wins Two Major 2009 Awards in Two Fields

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

During my October visit to Southern California, I caught up with Dr. Williams Hinds at UCLA.

Hinds, an EPA STAR grantee and researcher at the Southern California Particle Center, received two national awards in 2009 in different fields of research.

Now an Emeritus Professor at UCLA, where he has taught and researched for the past 27 years, Hinds has spent a long career focused primarily on air pollution exposure research.

Arantza Eiguren, an analytical chemist who works closely with Hinds on an EPA funded project noted that he has trained some of the most influential aerosol scientists of our time.

“And, he wrote one of the best books there is on aerosols,” she said in reference to his 1999 text, Aerosol Technology: Properties, Behavior, And Measurement of Airborne Particles, 2nd Ed.

image of UCLA Professor HindsHinds received the Donald E. Cummings Memorial Award from the American Industrial Hygiene Association in June, 2009. The award is a tribute to Donald E. Cummings, the Association’s third president and is given for outstanding contributions to the knowledge and practice of the profession of industrial hygiene.

Just a few months later, Hinds received word of winning the David Sinclair Award from the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR). The award recognizes excellence in aerosol research and technology.

AAAR emphasized the breadth of Hinds’ contributions. “Hinds’ academic career includes extensive peer reviewed publications, research grants, and membership on technical and standard setting committees,” the award announcement read.

I chatted with Hinds just one day after he was notified of the second award. His delight in both accomplishments was evident.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: OnAir – Veteran Chemists Form Lasting Bond

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

On a recent visit to the Southern California Particle Center, amidst the cold sterility of lab equipment and the drone of machinery, a feeling of warmth was palpable. I was there to discuss organic chemistry and toxicology and learn about chemical processes, but couldn’t help noticing something else.

As director John Froines and lead investigator Art Cho discussed their latest scientific findings, references to their strong friendship and deep appreciation of working together repeatedly crept into the conversation. When asked separately about personal investments in the Particle Center, each immediately referenced the other.

image of Art Cho speaking“John and I can sit and talk. He’s also an organic chemist… so we can talk in a common language,” Cho said of the pair’s hours-long daily conversations about chemistry and science.

The Particle Center is an air pollution research consortium funded by a multi-million dollar EPA grant. Scientists at the Center are encouraged to work collaboratively to address questions about air pollution exposure that have real world significance, especially in Los Angeles, where the Center is based.

But to these scientists, their work is more than a just a job. Over and over, each emphasized the personal satisfaction gained through years of intellectual partnership.

image of John Friones sitting and speaking“Art Cho is 81. I’m 70. Do you realize the joy that we have, two of us old chemistry codgers, being able to do the science in a multidisciplinary way?” Froines asked, rhetorically.

Cho echoed the sentiment, expressing his enthusiasm with an inescapable air of academia.

“I’m having fun, as it were,” he mused.

At 81, Cho is still working as a full time lead investigator in his UCLA labs. When the subject of potential retirement was broached, Froines jumped in on Cho’s behalf without hesitation,

“Don’t you even…” he warned with a grin, “…that word is forbidden!”

Whoever said research science was an antisocial career path has clearly not met these chemistry vets. As I proceed on my travels, I’ll continue sharing stories of the cast of characters that study the air we breathe.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

OnAir: Three Scientists Define One Elusive Phrase: “Oxidative Stress”

It has been long known that air pollution causes harmful health effects in people. But scientists have only recently begun to uncover some of the mechanisms behind this causal relationship, a necessary step in understanding how to best regulate air pollution and protect human health.

One key mechanism that EPA-funded research helped identify is oxidative stress. Though it is the subject of scores of scientific papers, finding a single, comprehensible definition of the term is a surprisingly arduous task.

During an October visit to the Southern California Particle Center, I asked three scientists to define oxidative stress in the context of air pollution. Here’s what they had to say:

Arthur Cho, PhD, Organic Chemist
“As the name implies, it stresses the cell and promotes the cell to secrete chemicals that stimulate an immune response, such as symptoms of asthma. The idea is that you’re exposed to air pollutants, the pollutants enter your lungs, components of the pollutants react with components in your lungs and these potentially harmful chemical reactions are initiated.”

Ralph Delfino, MD, PhD, Epidemiologist:
“It can be thought of as a biochemical imbalance in which large molecules are oxidized to the point where they become either toxic or, in the case of important biochemicals, dysfunctional. It induces a cascade of events that leads to inflammation and, at its worst, cell death. Inflammation, as seen in immune responses to bacteria or virus, can be a good thing. But there are types of inflammation, like arthritis for example, that are not good. Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation in lungs that worsens asthma, or inflammation in blood vessels that leads to atherosclerosis.”

Andre Nel, MD, PhD, Immunologist:
“The easiest way to describe oxidative stress is to give an analogy: If you bite an apple and you hold it up in the air it will go brown after a few minutes, same with a banana. What you observe there is decay in the fruits’ tissues because oxygen radicals in the air are attacking their cell membranes. The same principle applies in humans, where oxidative stress is damage to organs and cells by oxygen radicals we are exposed to.”

Next I’ll share some surprising research I encountered at the Southern California Particle Center and report from the second leg of my tour- Harvard.

Editor’s Note: Look for more of Becky’s “On Air” posts this Science Wednesday about other EPA-funded scientists she has recently met on her travels.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Question of the Week: What’s number one on your green holiday gift list?

We love to give – and get – gifts at holiday time. With so much to choose from it’s hard to know where to begin! But with a little searching you can find gifts that use less energy, are made with environmentally friendly materials, or can be reused and last a long time.  Share your ideas for greener gifts!

What’s number one on your green holiday gift list?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Cuál es el artículo número uno en su lista de regalos verdes para estas fiestas?

Nos encanta dar – y recibir – regalos durante las fiestas. ¡Con todo lo que hay para escoger es difícil saber por dónde comenzar! Pero al buscar inteligentemente puede encontrar artículos que usen menos energía y que estén hechos con materiales más beneficiosos para el medio ambiente o que puedan ser reutilizados o sean más duraderos. Comparta sus ideas sobre cómo hacer regalos más verdes.

¿Cuál es el artículo número uno en su lista de regalos verdes para estas fiestas?

Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Environmental Protection through “Cap and Trade”

As a kid growing up in the 1990’s I remember watching public service announcements and educational videos warning my generation of the dangers of pollution. The main focus of this effort was to educate people about acid rain. Stories consistently appeared in the news regarding damage to a local cityscape as a result of acid rain deposition.

This widespread concern eventually led to political action with the passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990. An important part of that legislation included the creation of a “cap and trade” system, started in 1995, that caps power plant emissions of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and NOx (nitrogen oxide) – the primary contributors to acid rain. In accordance with the cap, allowances are distributed to the utilities and can be used to account for emissions, banked for future emissions, or sold to another utility that needs extra allowances to order to be in compliance.

As an intern here at the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division, I have experienced first hand how, over the past couple of decades, “cap and trade” programs have played a vital role in the EPA’s efforts to lower harmful air emissions and their deposition.

The use of “cap and trade” programs has led to a decrease in wet deposition of the sulfate portion of acid rain by 40 percent through the Acid Rain Program (ARP). Another “cap and trade” program administered by the Clean Air Markets Division is the NOx Budget Trading Program (NPB). Emission reductions achieved under the NPB has led to improvements in air quality and resulted in 103 million Americans breathing cleaner air as well as 580 to 1,800 incidences of premature deaths avoided in 2008.

It is great to know that “cap and trade” systems are effective, but the urgency of the 1990’s regarding acid rain has faded. People are focused on so many other things that it is becoming difficult to keep acid rain at the forefront of people’s minds. The scientific community has voiced concern that many acid-sensitive ecological systems have still not been fully restored and they contend further emissions reductions are needed. Though we have come very far and found that “cap and trade” is a successful tool to reduce the harmful pollutants that cause acid rain, we still have a way to go. For more information.

About the author: Josh Stewart is the Communications Intern with the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division. Josh is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Political Management at The George Washington University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Pick 5: eCycle!

Hey Pick 5’ers, it’s time again for you to share what you’ve done and how you did it. If you haven’t done it yet, Pick 5 for the Environment and then come back to comment. Today we cover action #8: eCycle! Please share your stories as comments below.

While helping my grandparents prepare for their summer home to be remodeled, we came across various outdated electronics, including a number of ancient TV’s. I convinced them to upgrade. I explained how some stores offer rebates if you turn in your old TV when you purchase a new one. So instead of disposing of them, we decided to eCycle!. Grand Dad said “I remember when we use to just throw these things in the trash.” Like a lot of us, he didn’t know that many appliances contain hazardous substances that should be kept out of landfills.

Once we finished the house, it was amazing to see how many electronics we had for recycling. Amazingly, my Grand Dad still owned a Beta style VCR! I explained to him how each state has recycling programs to take old computers, DVD players or other electronics for recycling. We took the time to locate a facility near us and made several trips to the recycling center. We had two desktop computers that we were no longer going to use that we donated to the local boys’ and girls’ club. Cleaning out the summer home and disposing of the items in the proper way was a lot of work but it was well worth it for the Earth!

Learn more about eCycling

Plug-In to eCycling is a partnership program between EPA and leading consumer electronics manufacturers, retailers and mobile service providers that promotes opportunities for individuals to donate or recycle their electronics.

Don’t hesitate to share your other Pick 5 tips on how you save water , commute without polluting , save electricity , reduce, reuse, recycle , test your home for radon , how do you check your local air quality , and  use chemicals safely.

Note: to ward off advertisers using our blog as a platform, we don’t allow specific product endorsements.  But feel free to suggest Web sites that review products, suggest types of products, and share your experiences using them!

About the author: Denise Owens has worked at EPA for over twenty years. She is currently working in the Office of Public Affairs in Washington, DC

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Learning from Experience—Planting a Live Christmas Tree

During the month of December, families around the world celebrate many traditions—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, to name a few. In my home, we celebrate Christmas. For me, one of the things that sets me in the mood for the holidays is the fresh scent of live pine trees. Several years ago, I wanted to do something for the environment by purchasing a live Christmas tree to plant after the holidays. Didn’t think much of it in advance. Just bought a nice size tree with the burlapped root ball and took it home. Placed the tree in a corner not far from the fireplace. Kept it decorated well after the holidays since I was in no hurry to plant it. As it was starting to warm up, planted it in the front yard. Well, those of you who know more about trees than I probably can anticipate the outcome. That tree did not survive my care, unfortunately. Little did I know at the time that I was doing everything wrong.

First of all, a live tree should not stay in your warm living room for more than ten days. After it has served its purpose as a Christmas tree, you should move the tree to a cool area like your garage or shed in preparation for planting. Since you want to plant it as soon as possible, it is advised to plan ahead. You might want to dig the hole in your yard even before the ground freezes so that you will be able to expedite the planting process at the right time.

I must note that after my first experience, I did some research and was determined to have a live Christmas tree again. The second time I followed correct procedures. The outcome—a pine tree that has been living for over eight years in my back yard and which we have decorated during subsequent holidays. Might not be the most beautiful tree, but it definitely has a special value for our family.

So here are some tips for those who wish to give a gift back to nature during the holiday season. There are many ways to be green during the festivities. Which traditions do you celebrate in your family?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Lecciones valiosas al momento de sembrar un árbol de Navidad

Durante el mes de diciembre, familias alrededor del mundo celebran muchas tradiciones—las Navidades, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, entre otras. En mi hogar, celebramos las Navidades. Para mí, una de las cosas que me hace sentir el espíritu de las fiestas es la fresca fragancia de los árboles de pino. Hace varios años atrás, quise hacer algo a favor del medio ambiente al comprar un árbol de Navidad natural, con sus raíces, para sembrarlo después de las fiestas. Lo hice sin planificar. Conseguí un árbol con raíces envueltas en tela de arpillera y lo llevé a casa. Coloqué el árbol en una esquina de la sala cerca de la chimenea. Lo dejé con los adornos de Navidad aún después del Día de Reyes ya que no tenía ninguna prisa por sembrarlo. Cuando empezó a calentar, lo sembré frente a la casa. Bueno, para aquellos de ustedes que saben más de árboles ya podrían anticipar el resultado. Lamentablemente ese árbol no sobrevivió mi tratamiento. En ese momento, yo no sabía que lo estaba haciendo todo mal.

Primero que todo, cuando se va sembrar un pino de Navidad, no debe permanecer en una habitación caliente por más de diez días. Después de que ese árbol haya servido su propósito durante la Navidad, debe trasladarlo a un área fría como su garaje en preparación para ser sembrado. Debe tratar de sembrarlo tan pronto como sea posible. Por eso, tiene que planificar y hacer el hoyo en la tierra antes de que el terreno se congele para así facilitar el proceso de sembrado en el momento oportuno.

Tengo que destacar que después de mi primera experiencia, investigué el asunto mejor para determinar cómo podría sembrar adecuadamente el pino de Navidad. La segunda vez seguí los pasos adecuados. El resultado—un pino que ya lleva unos ocho años creciendo frente a la casa y que ha decorado durante fiestas subsiguientes. No será el árbol más frondoso y bello, pero definitivamente tiene un valor especial para nuestra familia.

He aquí algunos consejos para las personas que quieren ofrecer un regalo a la naturaleza después de las fiestas. Hay muchas maneras de tomar acciones a favor del medio ambiente durante las festividades.
¿Cuáles son las tradiciones que usted celebra con su familia durante las fiestas?

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Biodiversity Loss Impacts Global Disease Ecology

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
In this month’s Bioscience , we lead a team of ecologists, epidemiologists, an economist, and policy analyst on an article linking biodiversity decline and infectious disease transmission.

For the paper, the research team reviewed and compared seven case studies—malaria, schistosomiasis, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, enteric disease, and allergic diseases—and developed a typology of proposed mechanisms linking human health and biodiversity, from the level of genes to habitats.

What did we find? For one thing, the recent emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases appears to be driven by globalization and ecological disruption. We propose that habitat destruction and biodiversity loss can increase the incidence and distribution of infectious diseases affecting humans.

We think the article could have a major impact on our understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and human health, and the use of new environmentally-based strategies to protect both the environment and public health.

Protecting natural areas, such as national parks and refuges, is the focus of many conservation efforts, but this approach alone cannot prevent biodiversity loss. And since typically not very many people live near these areas, most people don’t realize how valuable they are.

We suggest that biodiversity protection may be just as important to people on a local scale, in their everyday lives, and that science-based management approaches can produce co-benefits for conservation and for human health.

Our paper is a truly interdisciplinary undertaking. While we have training in public health and conservation biology, our fellow contributors include ecologists, epidemiologists, an economist, and a policy analyst. As is the case with biodiversity protection, we believe that this interdisciplinary approach has multiple advantages. It allows us to explore biodiversity conservation, the history of disease, and to take an economic perspective (relevant to decision-making processes) on these disciplines.

The paper concludes with ways we think we can move forward in research and policy, but that will certainly involve more interdisciplinary work on our part. We’re looking forward to that!

About the Authors: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor, and Joe Roman, PhD, is a conservation biologist and a Fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, University of Vermont, Burlington. He was previously at the EPA as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.