Monthly Archives: March 2010

OnAir@AAAR: Kicking off Air Science 40

Dan Costa, national program director of EPA’s Clean Air Research Program, presented Air Science 40 at Tuesday’s AAAR conference lunchtime lecture.

The presentation marked the beginning of a yearlong celebration of 40 years’ worth of air pollution research at EPA.

Over the course of 2010, a five-part Air Science 40 seminar series will take place on Capitol Hill and at EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC. The series will include lectures on the hottest topics in air science by some of the most prominent researchers in the field.

Recognizing the importance of communicating this research to policymakers and the public, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Thoracic Society (ATS) have joined the celebration as sponsors of selected seminars. The AHA will use Air Science 40 as a platform to release an important statement from the cardiology community that contains new information on the impacts of air pollution on cardiovascular health.

In another Air Science 40 milestone, the new Clean Air Research Centers—each funded by a multimillion dollar EPA grant—will be revealed in 2010. The Centers will provide the fundamental scientific research EPA needs to develop multi-pollutant policies and manage air quality sustainably. They will also expand the scope of previously funded EPA PM Research Centers, which gave critical new insights into the sources and health effects of outdoor particles.

Another goal of Air Science 40 is to promote an informed public. Americans are directly impacted by regulatory decisions based on air research; they need and deserve to understand the science behind these important decisions.

Air Science 40

Throughout 2010, the public will have new opportunities to learn about air science and how it has directly impacted their lives. A 10-minute documentary film on the history of air pollution research and its major contributions to environmental and human health will be presented at regional meetings and on the web. Print literature and web features will also be widely distributed to increase awareness about timely air quality issues.

Since 1970, EPA has provided the research to support the development and implementation of national air quality standards. The scientific information, tools and technology to reduce and control air pollution are products of air science research. It deserves to be celebrated.

More information about the Clean Air Research Program

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.

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.

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Science Wednesday:OnAir@AAAR: For Coarse Particles, is a Single Monitor enough?

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

Payam Pakbin, an EPA grantee and scientist at USC, has recently begun to investigate a controversial topic in air pollution science: coarse particles.

Coarse particles are relatively large, ranging in diameter from 2.5 – 10 micrometers. They come from sources like windblown dust, pollen and fungal spores—which, unlike the combustion sources that produce fine particles, are often extremely difficult to control.

Though there have been preliminary studies on the health effects of coarse particles, there is still a lack of definitive evidence.

EPA scientists are working to bridge this gap in understanding. Until there is a scientific consensus on the health effects of coarse PM, regulations to control it as an isolated pollutant cannot be developed or implemented.

payam pakbin-AAAR

Scientists like Pakbin and his advisor, Costas Sioutas, are beginning to tackle this scientific question and its accompanying challenges. Because coarse PM levels vary significantly over seasons and space, estimating the extent to which people are exposed is very difficult.

By sampling in 10 locations across the Los Angeles Basin once per week for an entire year, Pakbin and Sioutas were able to observe how coarse particle levels changed over space and time. This information is critical to health researchers who need accurate estimates of coarse PM exposure in order to determine the long term effects on human health.

Pakbin found that in the urban locations where pollutants mostly come from the same sources, there was little spatial variability. This suggests that a single, central monitor may be adequate for estimating the amount of coarse PM exposure in a given region. This finding is a boon for health researchers who may now be able to rely on cheap data from central monitors that already exist.

The LA Basin study area makes this work especially significant, Sioutas explained.
“One in 18 Americans lives in the LA Basin,” he said, “this makes our research extremely relevant.”

Pakbin and Sioutas believe that their findings will be relevant to other regions in the U.S. with air quality characteristics similar to the LA Basin.

Data from the study has already been shared with the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) Air study, where associations between coarse PM and health will be assessed by expert epidemiologists.

The work was presented Monday at the 2010 AAAR conference and has been accepted for publication in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology.

For more information on Pakbin’s research, visit

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.

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.

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AIRNow: The Power of Partnerships

Earlier today, I posted a picture of a guy named Bill Ryan to EPA’s AIRNow Facebook page. Bill teaches air quality forecasting at Penn State University, and he’s been a big supporter over the years as EPA has worked to share air quality information with people all across the United States. Last week, we named him the 2010 AIRNow Partner of the Year.

As I was uploading Bill’s picture, it struck me: the great partnerships we have in the AIRNow program, combined with today’s technology, have created powerful tools for letting all of us know what we’re breathing right now – and what tomorrow’s air quality could mean for us.

EPA launched AIRNow.gov nearly 12 years ago, building off a mapping program started by EPA’s New England office to share real-time information about ozone pollution. As technology and our partnerships have expanded, so have the ways you find out about air quality where you live.

Today, in the Research Triangle, N.C., area where I work, I can get air quality forecasts pretty much any way you can imagine: on the AIRNow Web site, on local TV, from a state telephone hotline, in my local newspaper, or through EnviroFlash e-mails or tweets. If ozone or particle pollution levels are high, I can quickly find out how I can protect my health. And I can get a list of simple steps to take to help improve air quality where I live.

So can you! AIRNow forcasts and real-time data are available for more than 300 cities across the country. The engine behind this info is powered by more than 170 state, local and federal partners – all committed to sharing monitoring data and information so you can make decisions that affect your daily lives.

Every day, all year, our partner agencies feed real-time air quality data and forecasts to the AIRNow system. We send it back out to weather service providers and to national media such as the Weather Channel and USA Today. The National Weather Service uses the data in the air quality models it makes available to state and local forecasters, like Bill Ryan, who start the process all over again.

My local air quality forecast for Tuesday is Code Green – or good – for both ozone and particle pollution. What’s yours?

About the author: Alison Davis is a Sr. Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards. This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

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.

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OnAir@AAAR: Ironing out Trace Metal Measurements

Michelle Oakes has developed a new instrument to more accurately measure a dangerous air pollutant: Iron (II).
Oakes, an EPA STAR grantee and scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, presented the new instrument Monday at the 2010 AAAR conference on air pollution and health.

blog_ironII_michelle oakes

Iron (II) is commonly emitted by sources like biomass burning and coal-fired power plants and is associated with the production of harmful reactive oxygen species in the body. Oakes’ device, called a Particle-to-Liquid Sampler, measures the dangerous trace metal significantly better than previous methods ever have.

“People usually use a filter that works over 24 hours to measure Iron (II),” Oakes explained.
“But what we found is that the filters underestimate Iron (II) by a lot.”

She reported that in some cases, the Particle-to-Liquid Sampler measured Iron (II) levels twice as high as those measured by the filters—a very significant difference.

Because the Sampler conducts automated measurements every 12 minutes, it does a better job than 24-hour filters at capturing changes in Iron (II) levels throughout the day.

As wind speeds change, it is common for Iron (II) levels to fluctuate, producing what Oakes calls “transient events,” or periods of time where iron levels oscillate strongly from high to low.

The average daily Iron (II) measurements produced from the filters tend to mask these fluctuations.
Oakes explained that her device and its ability to more accurately reflect Iron (II) variations over time could significantly benefit the public health community.

“From a health standpoint,” Oakes said, “you need something that’s reliable…you want to be able to see the times of day when it’s most dangerous for people to be outdoors.”

But there are additional advantages to the “totally new” device.
“Not only does it do a better job measuring variations, but it’s also much less labor intensive than using filters which require lots of hours and work,” Oakes pointed out.

Once adapted to become more easily deployable, the sampler could potentially help States measure trace metals more easily.
Oakes presented the work during Monday’s AAAR poster session and seemed pleased to share the new technology.
“I really enjoy working on this,” Oakes said smiling, “it’s a way to do chemistry, be outdoors, and make an impact.”

AAAR_intro

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.

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.

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Health Effects of Homeless Children

In high school I volunteered for a non-profit organization called “Stepping Stones,” a program that provides transitional housing for children. I set up a table outside of the cafeteria to help raise money and spread information about the organization. There was another student helping me. I didn’t know her very well, but I decided to start a conversation with her as I knew I would be volunteering with her for the day. I soon learned that she was a part of the Stepping Stones program. At that moment I realized that homelessness does not always have the usual, negative stereotype. The truth is that that the majority of homeless people in America are children.

The recession has caused many single parents to lose their jobs and remain unemployed, making the problem worse. This leaves families unable to pay bills and to lose their homes. Children are forced to live in undesirable conditions because their parents are unable to bring in a sufficient income. It is a somewhat silent issue because of the embarrassment that comes with being homeless. Families will only turn to homeless shelters and soup kitchens as a last resort because the embarrassment is more hurtful than living in adverse environments.

These children must deal with stress on a daily basis. Even those who are not yet homeless but rather in jeopardy of becoming homeless or living in poverty must face the stress of potential homelessness. Children under such conditions worry about getting enough food, whether or when they will be kicked out of the house, how friends will react once homelessness is announced, and whether the child will be kicked out of school because of the lack of residency.

The stressors of being homeless can lead to many homeless children feeling depressed, causing detrimental health effects. Stress over long periods of time can cause the immune system, digestion system, and growth and reproductive systems to slow down or stop. Children are more at risk as they are still in the growing process. This is when psychological issues turn into physical. Not only is a child feeling depressed, stressed, and isolated, but the child is now suffering from health problems as well.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana 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.

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A New Face for EPA

We’re constantly looking for ways to make it easier for you to do what you want on our Web site, and we’re just starting a major overhaul. But epa.gov is large (500,000 pages) and complex (hundreds of smaller sites), so it’ll take time.

sneakpeekWe’re taking small steps, though, and the first is a new home page. The main issue with the current home page is that it lacks visual and content prioritization, which makes it challenging to use.

Our design goals are straightforward: help you do what you want while sharing what we’re up to. To figure out your top tasks, we used a lot of data:

  • popular search terms both here and in external search engines
  • a question about top tasks in our online customer satisfaction survey
  • scans that showed where people are clicking on the current home page
  • surveys and focus groups that went into our information strategy

The top tasks, both across all audiences and within specific audiences, are remarkably consistent:

  • learn about environmental issues
  • find out what EPA is doing about an issue (this aligns well with our need to report what we’re up to)
  • learn about your local community

Within the business community, an additional concern is to learn about requirements they have to follow. For parents, finding out what they can do to help and finding information for kids are also top tasks. Nothing overly surprising in these results, but it’s good to have data to confirm what we thought.

Our design approach was to greatly simplify the home page, focusing on these tasks and not trying to do everything.

New features include:

  • A section linking directly to the subjects you search for most. We’ll update this section as things change.
  • A new section on what you can do to protect the environment. We’ll change the contents of this section to match current efforts.
  • New banner layouts that give us more flexibility to tell you what we’re doing.
  • New sections showing our latest announcements and our highest-priority efforts.

We retained several elements that match your top tasks, like MyEnvironment, which lets you search for information about your community. And the tabs at the top will still be there (stay tuned for major enhancements to the content behind all of them). You’ll still be able to quickly link to our social media efforts, information about working here, and other information in the footer.

Again, this is just the first step, and we’ll adjust as we go. We’ve posted the new home page as a sneak peek, and we’d appreciate hearing your thoughts. Have we missed something big? Does it work? Are we achieving our goals? Keep in mind the complexity of our mission and our multiple audiences as you consider the new design. And remember, this is just the home page; we’re also working to improve the entire site.

I’m excited to finally be able to share the hard work of many folks here, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions for how we can do even better!

Check out the sneak peek.

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications

http://www.epa.gov/epahome/sneak.html

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.

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Question of the Week: What Outdoor Plans Have You Made to Enjoy Your Environment This Spring?

Spring has sprung (at least meteorologically), the days will be getting longer and warmer. This new season offers much for many of us, including the ability to get outdoors to exercise and play, visit a park or zoo, or just to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy your environment. While you’re at it, why not check out our new video project, “It’s My Environment”, and be a part of something new and innovative.

What outdoor plans have you made to enjoy your environment this Spring?

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.

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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Qué tipo de planes al aire libre tiene para disfrutar de su medio ambiente esta primavera?

La primavera ha comenzado (al menos meteorológicamente hablando), los días empiezan a ser más largos y cálidos. Esta nueva temporada nos ofrece mucho, inclusive la habilidad para salir al aire libre a hacer ejercicios y jugar, visitar un parque o zoológico, o hasta respirar el aire fresco y disfrutar de nuestro medio ambiente. Mientras tanto, por qué no se entera de nuestro nuevo proyecto de video, “Es mi medio ambiente”, y participe en un esfuerzo nuevo e innovador.

¿Qué tipo de planes al aire libre tiene para disfrutar de su medio ambiente esta primavera?

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.

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Cleaning Up Our Urban Waterfronts

The third Saturday in September is recognized across language and cultural barriers as a day to support and protect our waters as the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC). At last year’s Cleanup, nearly 400,000 volunteers collected over 6.8 million pounds of trash in 100 countries and 42 US states; the largest volunteer effort of its kind. Beginning 23 years ago in Texas, the event has grown into a premiere service event around the world and echoes President Obama’s call to service. Many of the locations are located directly in the heart of large urban populations and serve as sources of education on important water issues. The events’ impact is evidenced by the reduction of trash in the waterways that participate and demonstrates how other clean up efforts around the country can help revitalize the water.

I joined the EPA several summers ago as an intern, while a student at Howard University in Washington, DC. This is when I was first introduced to this annual event, and more importantly the cleanup was my first real experience with water issues and the concept of protecting America’s urban waters. At the time my sole job was managing the partnership EPA had with Howard University, and one of my areas of focus was community service. The two seemed like a perfect a fit since one of the sites designated for a cleanup was here in DC at the Anacostia River. The first year in 2008, we lead a group of about 20 students. With a great response, they were able to develop a sense of ownership responsibility for the waters in their community. In 2009, the amount of support more than doubled, with a little over 50 volunteers from the University and presence at two sites within the city.

I have witnessed the impact that clean ups like this have on our water and in the hearts of the volunteers through my work with EPA and Howard University firsthand. It also brought Environmental issues and more importantly issues with urban waters (like trash and runoff) to both students at Howard and the general population of DC. As this particular event approaches its 25 year anniversary there is still more that can be done especially on our urban waterfronts. Unfortunately trash may always find its way into our waters, but our clean up efforts make a large difference to communities that leave in these areas.

Link about the coastal cleanup.

About the Author: Jarred McKee is a Fellow in the Oceans & Coastal Protection Division in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans & Watersheds. He has been with the EPA for several years now and annually works on the Agency’s Partnership with the Ocean Conservancy and International Coastal Clean Up.

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.

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“OnAir@AAAR: Reporting on EPA Science from the 2010 Specialty Conference”

AAAR_introNext week, I’ll have the exciting opportunity to spend time amongst the best and brightest air pollution scientists in the world at the 2010 AAAR “Air Pollution and Health” specialty conference in San Diego.

The conference is co-sponsored by EPA and this year the theme is “bridging the gap from sources to health outcomes”, a topic relevant to protecting human health both within the U.S. and abroad.

According to the conference website, I can expect to find “rigorous debates,” “state-of-the-art products” and “the latest information on linking adverse health effects of air pollution to emissions sources and atmospheric pollutants.”

During my 5 days navigating a sea of posters, talks, panels, and vendor fairs, I will plan to share daily photos and posts on the exciting EPA-relevant science I encounter. This is a unique opportunity to communicate up-to-the-minute information on science that is happening now.

Hot topics to look out for:

  1. Cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes as air pollution risk factors: What underlying health problems put you at higher risk?
  2. Mortality and long-term particle exposure: Can pollution exposure lead to an earlier death?
  3. Genetics and air pollution: Is our capacity to deal with air pollution written in our DNA?
  4. Multi-pollutants: How can scientists study particle mixtures that contain hundreds of chemicals?
  5. Atmospheric transport and transformation: What happens to pollutants once they are in the air?
  6. Successes and challenges: Have actions to improve air quality been successful? Have there been unintended consequences?

Stay tuned…

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.

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