It All Starts with Science

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch recap with birthday cake

Happy birthday Research Recap! This weekly blog series turned 1 today—celebrate by reading below for the latest in EPA science.

  • Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists
    Small, hand-held air quality sensors are now commercially available and provide citizens the ability to plan, conduct, and understand local environmental air quality as never before. EPA released training videos to share tools used to conduct projects involving this technology and to educate interested groups and individuals about best practices for successful air monitoring projects.Read more about the training in the blog Release of Community Air Monitoring Training Videos.

  • Virtual Beach software making an impact
    Virtual Beach is a software suite that uses location, hydrology, land use, wave height, and weather data to create models that predict waterborne pathogen outbreaks at beaches.  Using this software, beach managers should be able to issue same-day beach closures or health advisories to protect the health of swimmers and the surrounding community.  On August 24, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researcher reported that Virtual Beach recently correctly predicted an outbreak at a city beach. It helped the city issue a timely advisory, and avoid unnecessary advisories.Read the full story in the article ‘Virtual Beach’ for real-water safe fun.

Photo of the Week

diver hands samples up to people on boat

Dive tenders Lisa Macchio and Tim Siwiec take solid phase microextraction devices from EPA diver Brent Richmond at the Pacific Sound Resources Superfund site. EPA divers placed and retrieved these devices which absorb site contaminants over a period of time to determine if the cleanup is working.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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.

Release of Community Air Monitoring Training Videos

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Community leaders and EPA presenters

By Amanda Kaufman

I have seen a fast expansion of next generation air pollution sensor technologies while working in the field of citizen science for the past three years. Small, hand-held air quality sensors are now commercially available and provide citizens the ability to plan, conduct, and understand local environmental air quality as never before. Many of these cost less than $1,000, making them more accessible for community groups and even individuals to purchase.

While the new sensor technologies generally do not provide regulatory-grade data, such devices are rapidly advancing to improve data quality and can be used to enhance monitoring efforts. They can be used in a wide range of situations including to investigate air quality concerns in local communities and to teach people about the importance of clean air to public health and the environment.

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EPA’s Kristen Benedict talks about sensor messaging

With the rapid growth of sensor technologies, there is a great demand for information on how to select the appropriate monitoring technology and use it to gather viable information. That is why I am pleased to announce the availability of six air monitoring training videos, developed to help citizen scientists conduct air quality monitoring projects. The videos feature presentations by EPA experts and a citizen science professional given at EPA’s Community Air Monitoring Training workshop on July 9, 2015.

EPA hosted the training workshop as a pilot venture to share tools used to conduct citizen science projects involving Next Generation Air Monitoring (NGAM) technology and to educate interested groups and individuals about best practices for successful air monitoring projects.

The videos are part of the Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists and are intended to serve as resources for anyone interested in learning more about monitoring air quality. They provide short overviews (between 15-18 minutes in length) on topics that can help citizens plan and implement a successful air monitoring project. The topics and presenters are:

 

I was delighted to see the enthusiasm of the workshop attendees for the training and their desire to apply it to their local situation. It was contagious. Many who attended indicated they would go home and share key aspects of the training with their community groups to develop their own citizen science research plans.

With the availability of the training videos, more people will have access to the information provided on emerging technologies and community air monitoring. I see a bright future for citizen scientists as they become more aware of their local environment.

 

About the Author: Amanda Kaufman is an ORISE participant hosted by EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap with School Bus

Heading back to school soon? Want to freshen up your science skills? Then check out this week’s Research Recap!

  • Be a scientist: Hands on activities to learn about air quality and climate change
    • Build your own Particulate Matter Air Sensor Kit! Particle pollution, known as particulate matter, is one of the major air pollutants regulated by EPA to protect public health and the environment. EPA developed an air sensor kit to monitor for particle pollution and now you can build one too.
    • EPA scientists developed an interactive board game called Generate! to explore energy choices and the environment. Players will learn the costs and benefits of the energy choices we make; find out what happens if the mix of energy sources changes in the future and learn what energy choices mean for our climate, air, water, and overall environmental quality.

      Instructions for both of these activities can be found on the EPA Air Research page here.

  • One last backyard project this summer
    When rain hits rooftops, parking lots and roads instead of wetlands, forests and grasslands, it tends to run into storm drains that are directly connected to our waterways. Stormwater runoff is one of the fastest growing sources of pollution. Green infrastructure practices mimic natural habitats and absorb excess water. Building a rain garden—a kind of green infrastructure—is a fun way to help keep your waterways healthy and learn about the water cycle!

    Learn more about building your own rain garden in EPA Science Matters for Kids: “Green Infrastructure”- Soaking it In!

  • Wonder what it’s like to be like to be an EPA scientist?
    • EPA chemical engineer Diana Bless works on sustainable materials management research for rare earth elements in consumer electronics and approaches related to characterization, source control and treatment of mining-influenced waters.

      Meet EPA Scientist Diana Bless.

    • EPA Scientist Eric S. Hall is currently developing a decision support tool (web browser) to help communities make sustainable decisions.

      Meet EPA Scientist Eric S. Hall.
      Meet more of our researchers at our Researchers at Work page.

Photo of the week

 Bob Kavlock (ORD), Troy Pierce (EPA Gulf of Mexico Program), and Chesapeake Biology Laboratory researcher review Chesapeake Bay water quality measurements on the R/V Rachel Carson during the Challenging Nutrients Coalition meeting in Solomons, MD.

Bob Kavlock (ORD), Troy Pierce (EPA Gulf of Mexico Program), and Chesapeake Biology Laboratory researcher review Chesapeake Bay water quality measurements on the R/V Rachel Carson during the Challenging Nutrients Coalition meeting in Solomons, MD.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

Need a science fix a little closer to home after the Perseid meteor shower? Check out some of EPA’s latest science on the ground in this Research Recap!

  • Visualizing Nutrients Challenge
    Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problems. EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Blue Legacy International challenged solvers to use open government data sources to create compelling visualizations to inform individuals and communities about nutrient pollution. The winners of the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge were announced this week!
    Learn more about the winning team in this press release from the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Chemical Exposure Research
    This week, EPA announced almost $4 million in Science to Achieve Results grants to six universities to study the ecological impacts of manufactured chemicals, leading to better chemical risk assessments and decisions for protecting the environment. The winning universities include UC Santa Barbara, Harvard, Michigan State, Oregon State, Texas Tech, and North Carolina Wilmington.
    Learn more about these grants in the fact sheet EPA Grants: Systems Based Research for Evaluating Ecological Impacts of Chemicals.

Photo of the Week

An EPA soil scientist exams a sample at a field site outside of Corvallis, Oregon.

EPA soil scientist Mark G. Johnson exams a sample at a field site outside of Corvallis, Oregon.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick Research Recap graphic identifier

Happy August! Need something to fill these long, lazy days of summer? Check out our Research Recap for the latest in EPA science!

It’s Clean Power Week!

This week, President Obama unveiled EPA’s Clean Power Plan—a historic step to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy listed the six key things every American should know about the plan in this EPA Connect blog.

Walking On Water

Cities have been paving over streams since the 19th century—confining them in pipes and burying them beneath fields, buildings, and parking lots—but scientists are only now learning of potential harms to water quality. In a paper published in PLOS ONE, EPA researchers Jake Beaulieu and Heather Golden found that nitrates—nutrients that can become pollutants—travel on average 18 times further in buried urban streams than they do in open streams, before they are taken out of the water column.

Read the full story in the article from City Lab The Hidden Health Dangers of Buried Urban Rivers.

Photo of the Week

EPA researcher collecting fish samples

An EPA scientist collects a fish sample to be analyzed for mercury for the Everglades Ecosystem Assessment.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap graphic identifierLooking for your next summer read? Look no further—catch up on the latest EPA environmental science right here!

Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change
EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop program focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change. World-class scientists, engineers, and policy experts demonstrated their research and led hands-on activities to encourage innovative thinking.

Read more about the workshop in the blog Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change.

Private, Government Collaboration Advances Air Sensor Technology
Researchers from EPA and Aclima Inc., a San Francisco-based technology company, worked together on a pilot project in Denver, Colorado to assemble a real-time view of pollutant levels and meteorological conditions at the street level. The project involved mapping pollutants measured by three Google Street View cars outfitted with Aclima’s mobile platform of air pollution sensors.

The study even got the attention of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. Read more about the project in the EPA Science Matters story Private, Government Collaboration Advances Air Sensor Technology.

 

Photo of the Week

aclima_google_car

Street View vehicles equipped with air quality sensors clocked 750 hours of drive time and gathered 150 million data points, correlated with data from EPA stationary measurement sites. EPA provided scientific expertise in study design and instrument operations. Image courtesy of Aclima.

 

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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.

Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change

By Natalie Liller

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

June 15-19th, 2015 marked EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop—and even more importantly, it summoned the latest group of talented high-school-aged students to learn about the science behind taking action on climate change. This year, the program focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change. World-class scientists, engineers, and policy experts demonstrated their research and led hands-on activities to encourage innovative thinking.

The program’s goal is to reach out to students with a keen interest in science and climate change and equip them with the knowledge and resources to go out into their homes, schools, and communities to raise awareness and to encourage others to act. EPA’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Outreach Program, under the leadership of Director Kelly Witter, is engaging these young, bright, and enthusiastic students to extend their knowledge on climate change and build their confidence to become the scientific leaders of their generation.

EPA's Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

EPA’s Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

As a part of their week-long education, the students were able to see sustainable energy being harnessed while speaking to the scientists and engineers about their work. During one session, the students learned about the technology behind biomass-burning cookstoves and solar ovens with Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D., an EPA Post-Doctoral Fellow. With this first-hand exposure, the students constructed their own solar ovens using recycled pizza boxes and aluminum foil and then baked cookies. These excited students were able to take their knowledge on solar power and apply it to an everyday need—cooking.

Unfortunately, it is not all “milk and cookies.” There is a monumental need for change on a global scale to combat the effects of climate change, present and future. Witter believes that students will be the largest advocates for climate awareness because “they understand and appreciate the science.” She hopes that through this program the students will take their “enthusiasm and passion for protecting the environment and share it with their peers to make a difference and help slow the impacts.” And they are doing just that—six program students are already working on educating their peers with hopes of creating a Climate Club chapter at their respective schools. Cassidy Leovic (Riverside High School) said that the goal of the clubs will be to “inform peers on what they can do,” focusing on energy conservation and sustainable food choices. EPA is thrilled to see these students taking action and looks forward to seeing them continue to foster this enthusiasm and change in the coming years.

About the Author: Natalie Liller is a sophomore at Appalachian State University, majoring in Political Science, Pre-Legal Studies and Environmental Science. This summer she is interning at EPA to focus on educating students on environmental science and climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

The dog days of summer are upon us. Need a break from the heat? Check out some of our cool EPA science!

Here’s what we are highlighting this week.

  • A Small Program with a Big Mission
    EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team recently attended the 2015 National SBIR/STTR Conference and met with environmental entrepreneurs and successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.
    Read more about the conference in the blog Seeding Environmental Innovation.
  • Report on the Environment
    EPA’s Report on the Environment is a tool to effectively communicate information regarding the environment and human health conditions in the United States. It contains a compilation of objective, scientific indicators compiled from a variety of sources, including federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.
    Read more about the report in the blog Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment.

Photo of the Week

Biologist Peggy Harris of EPA's dive team helps to survey coral reef conditions off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. EPA studies coral reefs because they are great indicators of water quality and the overall health of coastal watersheds.

Biologist Peggy Harris of EPA’s dive team helps to survey coral reef conditions off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. EPA studies coral reefs because they are great indicators of water quality and the overall health of coastal watersheds.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s 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.

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.

Seeding Environmental Innovation

By April Richards

EPA's Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

I love my job, but every so often it’s a good idea to get one’s professional batteries re-charged. Recently our EPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team had the chance to do just that when we attended the 2015 National SBIR/STTR Conference. We spent three days getting our annual dose of inspiration by meeting environmental entrepreneurs, the managers of the other 10 federal SBIR programs, and many successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.

The conference kicked off with a celebration of successes—the announcement of the annual Tibbetts Awards. Small Business Administration (SBA) officials, SBIR program managers and awardees gathered in one of the stunning 19th century rooms of the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Surrounded by marble walls, 800-pound bronze sconces and elaborately tiled floors, we recognized the companies, individuals and organizations who received one of the 32 “Tibbies” awarded this year. PCI Corporation, a past EPA SBIR company, was among this year’s winners.

While it was gratifying to see one of EPA’s SBIR companies recognized, I was inspired personally by the special recognition of Roland Tibbets, the “Father of SBIR.” The SBIR program was an innovation in 1976 when Tibbetts piloted the program to champion small business’ access to federal funding for research and development. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet honored Tibbett’s memory saying, “His work revolutionized the innovation landscape in this country and further improved its economic vitality.”

After the awards, conference participants attended workshops and panel discussions on nuts and bolts, future directions, and SBIR success stories. During the conference keynote address, the SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet highlighted one of those success stories. She briefly told the story of one EPA SBIR awardee, Ecovative Design, that is using mushrooms to create sustainable building materials and said, “That’s what SBIR is all about!”

I wanted to stand up and cheer, “That IS what EPA’s SBIR Program is all about – seeding innovation AND making a difference for the environment.” But I just smiled like a proud parent, remembering how every day EPA helps small businesses translate their innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems.

Later in the day, we got down to the business of talking to small business owners. Over two days we spoke to over a hundred entrepreneurs about their ideas for environmental technologies and how the process for SBIR funding works.

The most asked question – “Is my idea a good fit for EPA’s program?” EPA’s next solicitation opens this summer and includes a broad range of topics. My hope is that our presentations and one-on-one communications will help the next group of small businesses navigate their way to success.

I like to say that EPA’s SBIR is a small program with a big mission. Now that we’re back in the office, re-inspired and re-charged, we’re more ready than ever to get back to the awesome work of seeding innovation to protect the environment.

 

About the Author: April Richards joined EPA in 2001 and is Program Manager for the Agency’s SBIR Program.  She appreciates the practicality and commercial edge that small businesses bring to environmental protection.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.

Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment Provides a Tool for Communicating Health and Environmental Trends

By Kayla Iuliano

One of the big lessons I learned as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health was the key role that effective communication plays in bridging the gap between science and reducing diseases and environmental health risks. Not only was that an important concept to embrace, but I found it refreshing to supplement my studies in epidemiology, toxicology, clinical investigation techniques, and biostatistics with a series of science and health communication courses.

As a participant in the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellowship Program over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to put what I’ve learned into practice with EPA’s Report on the Environment (ROE).

The ROE is a tool to effectively communicate information regarding the environment and human health conditions in the United States. It contains a compilation of objective, scientific indicators compiled from a variety of sources, including federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

The science behind the indicators is robust. Each is reviewed by scientific experts to ensure that it is a valid, unbiased measurement.  EPA’s Science Advisory Board conducted an independent peer review of the report in July 2014.

Indicators are organized into five different themes—Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition—addressing questions relevant to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment.  The questions are largely concerned with changes over time, or trends, in the environment and in human health displayed by data within each indicator.  All indicators contain background information and an explanation of the data, along with data limitations, sources, technical documentation, and references.  By consistently updating the ROE as new data become available, EPA can identify how the environment changes over time.  Such changes are displayed in interactive graphs, tables, and maps that allow users to explore the status of environmental and public health conditions in depth.

Many of the ROE indicators display these graphics in one or more exhibits, which provide more information about the indicator by year, location, or another characteristic.

For example, the ROE indicator for Acid Deposition contains multiple exhibits, one of which illustrates the differences in the amounts of wet sulfate deposition over two different time periods. Wet sulfate deposition occurs when burning fossil fuels release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it reacts to form acidic compounds. When these compounds return to Earth via precipitation (commonly referred to as “acid rain”), it can have a deleterious effect on ecosystem health. By toggling back and forth between the two different time frames within the exhibit, users can readily see the changes in wet sulfate deposition across the U.S. between 1989 and 2013—and see the statistically significant decrease in the amounts deposited within that time.

ROE graphic 1

But what about other environmental and health conditions? Acid Deposition is only one of 85 indicators, all of which are sorted into the five-theme structure, allowing users to find any indicator and associated scientific content in the report, using the color-coded banner which appears at the top of every page:

ROE graphic 2

I’ve found the report a great source of objective information due to its reliable data and clear, peer-reviewed methods to analyze and display information.  By better understanding the condition and trends of the environment and human health in the United States, EPA can more effectively prioritize areas that need improvement, and encourage efforts that contribute to indicators that show improving trends. If you want to learn more about the status and trends in the environment and human health, EPA’s Report on the Environment is a great source!

EPA’s Report on the Environment is available at: www.epa.gov/roe/.

 About the Author: Kayla Iuliano is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is currently an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Fellowship Program Participant with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA).

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.