Monthly Archives: April 2010

HERO saves the “dataholic” – On-demand data!

It was nearly three years ago when I met with scientists in EPA’s Office of Research and Development about “modernizing” their processes for producing science assessment documents. I remember that first meeting well — the table was piled high with huge documents with hundreds of word-processing tables representing data from published scientific journal articles, and many file cabinets full of associated paper reprints — and asked, “how do we make this into a database?”

My name is Ellen, and I am a “dataholic.” Although admittedly a dataholic, it was clear to even “non-dataholics” that this was a project ripe for an overhaul. With last week’s launch of the Health and Environmental Research Online (HERO) database,  scientists have an efficient way to identify the science available to produce these documents.

Modernizing the science assessment process had another bonus – it enabled easy access to the science used to inform EPA’s decision-making in a way not possible when the research was tucked in file drawers and buried in reams of tables. We threw in another bonus — thanks to the hyperlink model of the World Wide Web.

It took some adjustment to get used to those blue links throughout the documents. This paradigm shift highlights a major effort on the part of EPA to give open access to the data used. While reading an assessment, these direct links allow the reader immediate access to bibliographic information and summaries of the science used in each assessment. (Go to http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0286.htm to see an example.) Teams of expert scientists use expanded versions of this same information to distill the knowledge into a finished assessment. It’s like having a thousand documents standing right behind the assessments, with on-demand viewing capabilities, ready to be understood by other scientists and the public.

The project that was conceived to convert a paper process to a digital one has found a natural fit with the Administration’s initiative for Open Government. HERO is designed to put into practice this commitment to transparency by sharing the research, methodologies and guidelines that inform the risk assessment process. EPA uses risk assessments to characterize the nature and magnitude of health risks to humans and the ecosystem from pollutants and chemicals in the environment.

“Giving the public easy access to the same information EPA uses will help open the lines of communication, increase knowledge and understanding, and open the doors of EPA,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson when HERO was announced.

This is an exciting time to be a “dataholic” at the EPA.

About the author: Ellen Lorang is project lead for HERO (http://epa.gov/hero) in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment. 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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April is Gardening Month

After the winter storms, it’s truly a wonder to see how Mother Nature comes to life during springtime. As the hours of sunlight get longer and temperatures get warmer, you see the first signs of spring in sprouting bulbs such as daffodils and early bloomers like forsythia bushes. Hints of color interrupt the gray outdoors practically overnight. Chirping birds and singing frogs also contribute to the awakening of the new season.

I confess that my backyard is a sorry sight nowadays. The trees survived the wintry onslaught, but the bushes and perennials did not fare as well. The garden will need some major care that will span several weeks maybe even months. Even though I do not have a green thumb, the time invested in gardening definitely will be rewarding on the personal and environmental level.

Since April is gardening month, it’s a nice time to roll up your sleeves and have fun planting in your back yard. Here are some green tips to take care of your garden with minimal use of chemicals. Selecting native plants is also a way to reduce the need for chemicals to control pests and use water efficiently. You might have to go to the Web to identify nurseries in your area that sell native plants or visit USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for state/territory specific information. Simple actions can go a long way to protect the environment.

Another “tradition” that I have tried to adopt at home has been to plant a tree on Earth Day. Our Earth Day trees have survived in spite of the winter storms this year. If you don’t have a back yard to plant a tree, maybe you can buy a good house plant for your apartment. Every environment counts—whether indoors or the great outdoors.

Are you planning anything special to revamp your garden this month?

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.

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Abril es el mes dedicado a la jardinería

Después de las tormentas invernales, es realmente una maravilla ver cómo la Madre Naturaleza revive durante la primavera. A medida de que las horas de luz solar se extienden y que las temperaturas van subiendo, vemos las primeras señales de primavera cuando los bulbos empiezan a brotar y los arbustos empiezan a retoñar. Destellos de color interrumpen los monótonos grises en el exterior prácticamente de un día al otro. Los cantos de aves y ranas también contribuyen al despertar de la nueva temporada.

Confieso que mi jardín está hecho un desastre. Los árboles sobrevivieron los azotes invernales, pero la mayoría de los arbustos y plantas perennes no tuvieron la misma suerte. El jardín requerirá una atención especial durante las próximas semanas y quizás meses. Aunque no tengo buena mano para las plantas, el tiempo que invertiré en la jardinería definitivamente tendrá recompensas tanto a nivel personal como ambiental.

Como abril es el mes dedicado a la jardinería, es un buen momento para enrollarse las mangas y divertirse sembrando plantas en el jardín. He aquí algunos consejos verdes para cuidar de su patio con el uso mínimo de sustancias químicas. El seleccionar plantas nativas también es una manera de reducir la necesidad de sustancias químicas para controlar plagas y poder usar el agua el agua de manera eficiente. Probablemente tendrá que visitar varias páginas Web para identificar los sitios donde venden plantas autóctonas en su área. También puede visitar el sitio del Servicio de Conservación de Recursos Naturales [http://plants.usda.gov/ ] del Departamento de Agricultura Federal para información específica para su estado o territorio. Acciones sencillas pueden tener repercusiones positivas y a largo plazo para proteger el medio ambiente.

Otra “tradición” que he tratado de adoptar en mi hogar consiste en sembrar un árbol para el Día del Planeta Tierra. Aquellos árboles que sembramos para ese día han sobrevivido las tormentas este año. Ahora, si no tiene un jardín para sembrar un árbol, también puede comprar una planta para su hogar si vive en un apartamento. Cada medio ambiente cuenta, sea en entornos interiores como al aire libre.

¿Acaso está planificando algo especial para darle nueva vida a su jardín este mes?

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.