Air Pollution

The Village Green Project: Reading the Results So Far…

By Dr. Gayle Hagler and Ron Williams

The Village Green Project is up and running! The lower-cost, solar-powered equipment continuously monitors ozone and fine particles, along with meteorological measurements, and sends the data to an EPA website by the minute.

So, what is the data telling us about local environmental conditions at this point? The graphs below show a snapshot of recorded trends for ground level ozone and fine particulate matter.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project.  Note: data are preliminary and intended for research and educational purposes.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project. Note that the data are preliminary
and intended for research and educational purposes.

The up and down line you see above for daily ozone concentrations is a typical summer pattern. That’s because the summer sun fuels atmospheric chemical reactions throughout the day that create ground level ozone, commonly peaking in the hot afternoon. The process decreases overnight, and ozone concentrations fall.

Hourly ozone data from the Village Green Project.  Note that the data are preliminary  and intended for research and educational purposes.

Hourly PM2.5 data from the Village Green Project. Note that the data are preliminary
and intended for research and educational purposes.

A review of the particulate graph shows very low concentrations in early July. Not surprisingly, this coincided with rainy days, as rainfall usually removes particulates from the air. Once the rain ended, particulate levels started rising to levels we commonly see in the summertime.

The Village Green park bench

The Village Green park bench

So far, the air-monitoring bench survived very hot and humid weather and has operated uninterrupted during several dark and overcast days, including during back-to-back thunderstorms. We will continue to monitor the system’s performance over the remainder of the summer.

Back to School

With fall just around the corner, the school year is about to begin again. We are interested in how we can engage teachers and their students in learning about air quality science and the Village Green Project. Our outreach team is in the process of developing fun and interactive games.

Care to join the fun? Please use the comments section below if you have suggestions or questions about environmental education projects involving the Village Green Project.  And please check back regularly for future blogs!

Village Green graphic identifierAbout the Authors: Dr. Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. Ron Williams is an exposure science researcher who is studying how people are exposed to air pollutants and methods to measure personal exposure.

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

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Research Partnership Advancing the Science of Organic Aerosols

By Sherri Hunt

Air monitoring research site with sensors and towers

Air monitoring research site with sensors and towers

Why is there so much interest in weather forecasts, maps, smoke, planes, balloons, towers, filters, instruments, cities, and trees in Alabama this summer? At this very moment, more than 100 scientists are making measurements at multiple locations in the Southeastern U.S. to investigate a number of challenging research questions related to organic aerosols—small particles suspended in the atmosphere. These particles contribute to concentrations of particulate matter (PM), which can influence both climate and people’s health.

The Southeastern U.S. is an ideal location to study the formation and physical properties of organic aerosol since it is hot, sunny, forested, and impacted by pollution from cities. In a coordinated research effort, scientists have converged at the primary surface site in Brent, AL. They are working there throughout June and July 2013 as part of the Southern Oxidant and Aerosol Study (SOAS) and other related field campaigns, all coordinated under the Southern Atmosphere Study (SAS). Additional measurements are being made on the ground at sites in Research Triangle Park, NC, the Duke Forest, NC, and Look Rock, TN.

By using research towers, balloons, and several aircraft flying above the ground sites, scientists are taking measurements at multiple heights, making this the most detailed characterization of the southeastern atmosphere since the 1990s.

The planning for this campaign began more than two years ago as the scientific community identified the need for a rich data set in order to address pressing research questions related to how organic aerosol is formed and its impact on regional climate.  Improving the understanding of these physical and chemical properties will enable the development of more accurate models of air pollution and climate, which in turn will make more effective plans to improve air quality possible. Such scientific discoveries may enable us to better understand the atmosphere across the country and ultimately determine ways to enable more people to breathe cleaner air. They will also allow scientists to understand, anticipate, and prepare for potential future climate changes.

In order to accomplish a study of this magnitude, EPA is working together with the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others.

EPA is also funding 13 research institutions to participate through the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program. The STAR funded researchers will leverage the measurements and equipment provided by the other partners and conduct analyses of the rich data sets collected. Funded projects include work investigating each part of the organic aerosol system, from measuring emissions and formation products, to cloud-aerosol interactions, to climate impacts of aerosols.

In addition to field measurements, laboratory experiments and modeling studies are also planned that include EPA researchers. As part of EPA’s involvement, Agency scientists are using a novel tracer method that will allow them to differentiate between man-made and natural sources of organic aerosols. The data and results will help improve our understanding of organic aerosol formation and will also be shared with other researchers.

Public open houses at the Alabama and Tennessee sites on June 19 and 21, 2013 will allow the surrounding communities an opportunity to see the state-of-the-art measurement instruments and meet researchers. Interested?  If you are in the area, please consider coming by to see what all the interest is about.

About the Author

EPA researcher Dr. Sherri Hunt

EPA researcher Dr. Sherri Hunt

Sherri Hunt, Ph.D. is the Assistant Center Director for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy research program. Read more about Sherri and her work on her “EPA Science Matters” interview: Meet EPA Scientist Sherri Hunt, Ph.D.

 

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

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Come Celebrate, Learn, and—Sit on the Village Green Project!

By Katie Lubinsky

Village Green graphic identifierMark your calendars, bring your kids and prepare to learn about some cool, new science! Open to the public, EPA will unveil a prototype air monitoring system on Saturday, June 22, from 10 a.m. to noon. The celebration will take place at the air monitoring system’s first home – Durham County South Regional Library, located at 4505 S. Alston Ave. in Durham, North Carolina.

It’s all part of the Village Green Project, a study to develop a self-powered, low-maintenance monitoring system to measure air quality. The system is built into a park bench made from recycled milk jugs. Testing in a community environment is being made possible through a partnership with Durham County.

EPA scientists and local officials will participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which includes the raising of a flag as part of EPA’s School Flag program to increase awareness of air quality conditions.  Afterwards, booths and activities will be available for adults and children of all ages.

The Village Green park bench

The Village Green park bench

You will be able to connect with the real-time data collected from the system through your smartphone, or other internet devices, either right beside the air sensor or even at home! This nifty project will measure fine particles and ozone minute by minute, which are all known to impact human health.  It will also measure local weather stats such as wind speed and humidity.  The platform provides an opportunity to test new low maintenance air quality sensors.

Being a local resident myself, I am proud to see the Raleigh-Durham area hosting such innovative science projects and events.

With great efforts from EPA, Durham County government and Durham County Library officials, this research project will be a wonderful educational and informative experience. It will help to develop the next generation of air quality monitors for use by this and other communities interested in learning more about their air quality.

I visited the library numerous times during this collaboration and found out its theme is ‘Air,’ so Village Green will fit right in! Now after checking out books at the library, you can sit on the bench, read and check out the local air quality and weather trends with a simple scan of your smartphone!

  • What: Village Green Project Celebration
  • When:  Saturday, June 22, 2013, from 10 a.m. to noon
  • Where: Durham County South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Ave., Durham, N.C.

About the Author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development on communicating new and engaging science and research topics.

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

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Our Built and Natural Environments

By Melissa Kramer

I remember like it was yesterday the first solo drive I took with my newly minted drivers’ license. Being able to drive myself where I wanted to go meant so much to me as a 16-year old who had no real alternatives to a car for meeting up with friends, getting to my first job, or going shopping. Somewhere along the way though the freedom and excitement that I felt behind the wheel was replaced with frustration as I sat in traffic, anxiety any time I had to drive unfamiliar roads, and stress about the cost of keeping my old clunker running.

As a resident of Washington, D.C., I have left behind the life where a car is necessary for most things. I live in a vibrant, bustling neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. Most days I walk to work, but I can also bike or take the bus. My husband commutes 8 miles by bike to work in Arlington, Virginia, and is happier and healthier for it. There are at least a half dozen grocery stores, a couple of hardware stores, countless restaurants, and just about anything I need close by. Several major bus lines run within two blocks of my house, and the Metro is just a 10 minute walk away when we need it.

EPA’s new report Our Built and Natural Environments helps explain how the kind of places where I live can minimize the environmental impacts of development. While the population of the United States roughly doubled between 1950 and 2011, the number of miles traveled increased nearly six-fold, and with it air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and stormwater runoff from roads have increased. Choosing where to build our communities to safeguard sensitive ecological areas; redeveloping already developed places; and putting homes, workplaces, and services close together near transit can help preserve natural areas that provide many ecosystem services. Beyond where we build, how we build is also important. Building compact neighborhoods, mixing uses to reduce travel distances, designing streets to make walking and biking safer, and using better building practices also help protect the environment and human health. This report describes the research documenting these environmental benefits and helps explain why neighborhoods like mine are not just great places to live, but also help minimize residents’ environmental footprints.

Find the report .  Learn about the Our Built and Natural Environments webinar on July 24.

About the author: Melissa Kramer, Ph.D., is a biologist working in EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities. She likes biking, cooking, and tending to her native plant garden

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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Visualizing the Invisible with the My Air, My Health Challenge Winners

By Dustin Renwick

My Air, My Health BannerWhen you win an award, it’s easy to lose sight of the small victories that brought you to a successful finish.

Members of the Conscious Clothing team – winner of the EPA/HHS My Air, My Health Challenge – almost didn’t apply for the challenge.

A friend told team leader Gabrielle Dockterman about the InnoCentive website, a crowdsourcing and open innovation platform. Dockterman said she felt there might be a challenge that would tap into the talents of people she knew. She emailed her friend Dot Kelly, a chemist, and inventor David Kuller, her boss from a previous job.

They stumbled on the My Air, My Health Challenge eight days before the deadline for proposals.

Kuller says that fortunately, all three team members were between projects and at stages in their lives when they could commit to the opportunity.

Eight days later, they submitted their entry just before midnight.

Dot Kelly, David Kuller, and Gabrielle Savage

Dot Kelly, David Kuller, and Gabrielle Dockterman

Using Skype to stay connected across the country and the world, the team explored options for building a prototype that could account for both air pollution and related health metrics, such heart rate or breathing.

On top of that, they had to create a system that could be easily worn or carried.

“It was like being a little kid with Legos,” Kuller said.

The team’s design incorporates an open-source Arduino platform microcomputer that lies against the chest and a particulate matter air sensor that hangs near the neck. The system takes advantage of the common place where men and women typically wear ties, necklaces or other fashion accessories.

Stretchy strips of silver-knitted yarn wrap around the wearer’s ribcage to measure breathing. The integrated system gives wearers an estimate of their pollution exposure by comparing the air quality to how deeply the person breathes.

The data are streamed to any Bluetooth-enabled device, such as a cellphone, and LED lights transform the sensor measurements into visual cues, what the team calls “making the invisible visible.”

Dockterman says the group will next focus on tailoring prototypes for several different applications: consumer athletics, sleep apnea research and children’s asthma research.

Built in large batches, the Conscious Clothing sensor system could cost as little as $20 and could be sewn directly into clothing. The design represents the continuing shift to next-generation sensors that cost less, are easier to use, and can be applied to many different fields.

“I’d like to think we’re going to bridge what could have been a 20-year development gap,” Kelly said.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA 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.

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Can One Community Organization Change an Entire City?

By Dr. LaToria Whitehead

I first met Dr. Mildred McClain as a doctorate student.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the very first conversation that I had with her regarding environmental health disparities in Savannah lead to a five year partnership between the federal government and a community-based organization.  Wearing two hats at that time, I had both a desire to increase lead testing for children in Savannah as a federal employee, and as a student I wanted to understand how an environmental justice organization could accomplish this task. Working with Dr. McClain in this partnership powerfully changed my perspective on how to do both.

Untitled-2Dr. McClain was the founder and director for the Harambee House Inc./Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ). She has been a human rights activist for over 40 years and she initially started the Savannah-based organization as a small focus group in 1991 to fight on behalf of a local subdivision built on contaminated site.  Eventually CFEJ would bring justice and awareness, both locally and nationally, about issues from chemical industries to food deserts to job development.

Like many EJ organizations CFEJ began with a sentiment of moral obligation to the community,  but there is something very special about how this organization works.  As a student, I was a bit naïve about the process of engaging communities. Working with CFEJ, I witnessed how she effectively engaged with the community and listened and responded to their concerns. I was able to see how her hard work and passion led to the trust, respect, and admiration of the Savannah community for Dr. McClain.

She was also very kind and considerate, and brought me along for the journey. I witnessed politicians opening their doors to her, and because I accompanied her, they spoke with me as well. Community leaders and people who resided in these communities their entire lives embraced me and talked with me, a complete stranger, because of her. As a result of the partnership there was an increased awareness about childhood lead poisoning and an increase in the number of children that were tested for high blood lead levels. There was also a new awareness among politicians about a lead ordinance in Savannah, which has been on the books since 1973, and a political taskforce was created by CFEJ to ensure that the ordinance is sufficiently enforced.

As a student, these experiences would forever change my understanding and approach to environmental justice from learning side-by-side with a real EJ champion. There is a multifaceted approach to achieving what we all call environmental justice.  Alongside this approach, comes trust, respect, honor, knowledge, empowerment, long days and long nights.  This description is not only symbolic of environmental justice, but it also embodies the character of Dr. McClain. After interviewing many people in Savannah, the common theme of all of these conversations was about how enlightenment and empowerment from CFEJ helped change their communities.  Among many other lessons, I’ve learned that trust and relationships are fundamental in the EJ world. Thank You, Dr. McClain.

About the AuthorDr. LaToria Whitehead is an Environmental Justice Officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. She’s also an adjunct professor of Political Science for Spelman College and Clark Atlanta 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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Air Quality Awareness Week: EPA Clean Air Science

By Maggie Sauerhage

Recess at last!

Impatiently, you watch the second hand tick, tick, tick around the clock. Is it possible that it’s slowing down? Finally, it hits the 12 and you hear that magical sound: RRRRING! It’s time for recess! You jump out of your seat, knocking over your chair, and run to freedom alongside your classmates. Throwing the doors open, you’re welcomed by the warm glow of sunshine and the scent of grass, flowers, and blacktop. Taking a deep breath, you fill your lungs with air before running off to join friends in a game of kickball, tag, or to see who can swing highest.

Recess was one of the best parts of my day when I was younger. I was lucky. As reported recently in The New York Times, many kids in China’s cities often have to stay indoors because of high levels of air pollution. Teachers there check the U.S. Consulate’s website or their own government’s website for an air quality reading, to make sure it’s safe for children to go outside.

While air pollution levels in the United States are significantly lower, many cities still have days when the air pollution exceeds what is considered healthy, especially for certain at-risk populations such as those already dealing with asthma or cardiovascular problems (also see EPA’s Green Heart initiative). That’s why EPA scientists are conducting air research and learning how to keep us healthy.

EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards—for six principal pollutants—were developed to help protect human health and the environment. EPA scientists study how the six pollutants are formed, the ways they interact in the atmosphere, and their impacts.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA researchers to periodically review the science behind these standards to ensure the latest findings are used to inform efforts to protect human health and the einvironment. These reviews include scientific assessments of all the existing research on each pollutant.

Scientists must also closely monitor daily levels of pollutants in the air to make sure they aren’t unhealthy. They’ve developed models that are used by the National Weather Service to give daily U.S. ozone forecasts, and states use them to make sure they are complying with clean air standards.

All of this research helps EPA calculate the Air Quality Index (AQI) each day to inform the public of air quality in their neighborhood. The AQI is an easy-to-use table that’s color-coded to match levels of air pollution. The scale goes from 0-500, and the higher the value, the more harmful the level of pollution. To check your air quality forecast, all you have to do is enter your zip code. You can also download an app for your phone to check air quality on the go.

Unfortunately, I’ve outgrown recess. But air quality is still as important to me as it is to the millions of kids who depend on clean air to go outside and play with their friends. So don’t forget to check the AQI next time you want to enjoy the great outdoors!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is a student services contractor working on the Science Communications 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.

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Wearing a Mask

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous postsBy Amy Miller

In some Asian towns an estimated one out of five people wears a face mask. Until you see it, though, that’s just a statistic from afar. In the last five years in Boston, New England’s largest city, I don’t recall ever seeing a face mask outside a doctor’s office.

But sitting recently in a Bangkok café, riding a “tuk tuk” in Luang Prabang, Laos, and touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I saw the reality. We, residents of Planet Earth, have begun to build our bubbles – bubbles protecting us from the world we are polluting.

My journey to Southeast Asia began during Chinese New Year, when millions of Chinese tourists filled the streets. The month before had seen a national health emergency in Beijing – the second most populous city in China. As the city experienced 19 days above acceptable air pollution levels that month, many of them way above, companies gave masks to employees, residents were told to stay home, factories were closed and government cars were ordered off the road.

At the height of the smog, readings for PM2.5 – particles small enough to penetrate the lungs deeply – hit 993 micrograms per cubic meter, almost 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit. According to EPA, levels between 301 and 500 are “hazardous,” meaning people should avoid outdoor activity.

Many of the masked tourists were coming off the heels of this.

But the reasons to wear a mask can range from fear of getting sick to fear of infecting someone else to protection from air pollution. On dusty roads masks make breathing easier. Masks are even becoming fashion statements, I read.

The masked included police officers in Chiang Mai, Thailand; construction workers in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and residents on motorbikes in Laos. And of course Chinese tourists everywhere. All protecting themselves from the world around them.

On the same trip, I visited a village in the mountains of northern Laos where the men still weave bamboo walls for houses, women head to the fields to reap grass for making brooms and night falls in a world devoid of electricity, letting the stars in the sky light the way to the loo.

I am not prone to sentimental musings on sunsets or dewdrops. But confronting so directly the human cost of pollution, set starkly against a backdrop of unspoiled beauty, I greatly appreciated stepping off the plane into Boston, where the AQI was, oh, about 35 on the day I landed.

http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.local_city&zipcode=02138

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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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The Palm-Sized Wonder that Brings Life to Village Green

By Vasu Kilaru and Gayle Hagler, Ph.D.

The petite 'electronics sandwich' at the heart of the Village Green system - an Arduino board on the bottom with layers of other accessory electronic boards stacked on top.

Welcome back to the Village Green Project, an ongoing EPA research, development and demonstration project to build a solar-powered station to measure air pollutants.

This innovative new measurement system must: collect and send data; use minimal power; monitor instrument performance; and have remote on-and-off capabilities for several components to match changing conditions (off for dark and cloudy days, and then on again when the sun starts to shine).

The team searched far and wide for an on-board computer that would serve as the “brains” of the Village Green System. The computer needed to run on very little power, be flexible enough to handle all of our requirements, and ideally work using a free, publically available (“open source”) computer program.

We discovered Arduino—a microcontroller that is essentially a simple computer with an accompanying free programming tool. A wide group of people, including artists, designers and hobbyists, are already using it to build electronics like homemade clocks or robots. It works perfectly for our needs because it uses very low power and can fit in your hand.

A number of accessory electronic items allow the small circuit board to meet the requirements of the system. For example, one accessory adds a timestamp to the data being collected so anyone viewing it can see the amount of air pollutants measured at a particular time and day. Another accessory links the Arduino board with a cellular modem (similar to the “data” port of a cellphone), which then sends recorded air pollution data to our on-line database. These accessories are electronic boards that stack on top of the main Arduino board, making what looks like an electronics sandwich.

With a free programming tool available to the Arduino-user community, we are developing a custom computer program for the Village Green System—nearly 800 lines of code and counting.

So far, so good! Recently, North Carolina experienced several days of cloudy, overcast weather. The trusty Arduino board successfully handled the decrease in power—turning off several instruments during that time and then efficiently restarting them once the sun came back out.

About the Authors: Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

Note: Mention of trade names or commercial products do not constitute endorsement, certification or recommendation for use.

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

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Scientist at Work: Mehdi S. Hazari, Ph.D.

EPA scientist Mehdi S. Hazari is a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Dr. Mehdi’s award recognizes his work demonstrating how breathing in low levels of air pollutants, such as particulate matter and ground level ozone, can increase people’s susceptibility to heart attacks and other cardiac events. His research is also receiving international recognition and is under consideration for inclusion in the update of worldwide standards. Read more about his research in the previous blog post, “You Don’t Need Oz to Give You a Healthy Heart.”

What do you like most about your research?

The opportunity to try something new in the laboratory, but more broadly, the direct impact it can potentially have on protecting human health and the environment.

How does your science matter?

Despite the fact that we are learning quite a bit about how air pollution is directly detrimental to the body, particularly when adverse symptoms are observed, we still need to better identify the latent (hidden) effects of exposure. This is especially true of low concentration exposures to air pollution during which no direct responses may be observed.

My work demonstrates that even in the absence of obvious “symptoms,” air pollution might have the potential to cause subtle internal body changes that increase the risk of triggering something bad happening to your heart, such as an arrhythmia. We all know that exercise is generally a good thing, but its hard physical activity that does create mild to moderate stress on the body. Add high air pollution levels into the mix on a hot day, and instead of getting healthier, that stress might be the trigger for an adverse response. Doing that same activity in a healthy air environment might not. And in the case of stress, it doesn’t have to be just air pollution. The triggers might be any stressful stimuli.

Again, I think my science matters because of the direct impact it can potentially have on protecting human health and the environment.

If you could have dinner with any scientist past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

William Harvey—the English physician and physiologist who completely described the cardiovascular system.

Continue reading Dr. Hazari’s interview here.

Read more Scientist at Work profiles here.

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

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