air quality

It’s Air Quality Awareness Week. How Can You Be Aware of Your Air Quality?

Rooftop air monitor

Rooftop air monitor (photo: NYSDEC)

By Bob Kelly

There are at least three levels of air quality data you can use in everyday life: neighborhood data, sidewalk data and right-where-you-are data. (Data from satellites are interesting, but not used so much on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, personal level.)

‘Neighborhood’ data are from the air monitors run by the state air pollution agencies. You can get these data in within an hour or so of sampling from AirNOW.gov. Based on these data and weather conditions, state agencies forecast air quality alerts, when needed. Be alerted by signing up for email notifications from your state or via your state’s EnviroFlash.info page. Neighborhood data are often from rooftop locations since we need information on air pollution over large areas using the fewest monitors possible to efficiently spend taxpayer dollars. Neighborhood sites are often selected because they have air pollution concentrations similar to air pollution in other areas not monitored. This way, you get good quality data which gives an overview of air pollution across the city.

A second level of air quality data we can call ‘sidewalk’ data. Since pollution varies from your sidewalk compared to many other sidewalk locations, we would need hundreds of air quality sites to know what’s happening all the time. But special studies tell us what is happening at the sidewalk level. A good example of this is the New York City Community Air Survey. New York City uses special monitors for two weeks at a time, applying statistics to ‘fill in’ the areas between the neighborhood monitors. Even if you don’t live in New York City, use the information from this study to ‘fill in’ the areas between monitors in your location. Do you live near major highways, or a large boiler that combusts oil or gas (or wood)? This way, you can adapt neighborhood data to where you live, work or exercise.

A third level of air quality data is right-where-you-are data. Perhaps you have a portable air pollution sensor, as many do on their smartphones, to sample the air around you. As you learn where air pollution is highest, you can spend less time in locations with higher concentrations. You may even find cleaner places with your sensor. You can compare data from your sensor with neighborhood monitors and when air quality alerts are issued to find how widespread air pollution affects the where-you-are level. Most importantly, you can use all this information from every level with awareness of how you feel on any given day to learn what level of air quality affects your health. Is it harder to breathe on some days? Are your running times or amount of exercise you can do different as air pollution levels change?

Compare your health with air quality measurements from neighborhood monitors, information from sidewalk statistics and data from right-where-you-are to make your own decisions on where you’ll go today and what kind of exercise is best for your health today.

 

About the author: Bob is an air pollution meteorologist with the Air Programs Branch. He enjoys taking a few minutes from reviewing state air pollution cleanup plans to pass along the air quality forecasts to help keep people informed about what is happening in the air around them.

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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Simulating Wildland Fires in a Tube to Protect Public Health

By Dina Abdulhadi

After a long day of backpacking in the woods, I always look forward to watching the story arc of a campfire. The flames grow slowly, then leap up as the fire builds momentum. As the fire calms, the logs smolder and glow with heat.

Wildfires have similar phases. During an active fire, flames rapidly move over the landscape. The remaining embers can smolder on for days to weeks after the fire front passes, depending on what trees or other vegetation are there to fuel the fire. These two factors—what is burning and whether it’s flaming or smoldering—affect the smoke that people ultimately breathe.

To study the potential health risks of breathing wildfire smoke, a major form of air pollution, researchers at EPA are now using a technology that mimics these phases of a fire in a laboratory in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Originally developed to investigate tobacco’s health effects, this Biomass Furnace System allows researchers to study the chaotic nature of fire in a controlled setting and compare emissions from different trees during the fire and smoldering stages. Knowing these differences will provide more information to protect public health and enable air quality managers to prepare for the increased wildfires we expect in the future due to climate change and drought.

Tube used to conduct simulation

Biomass Fuel Combustion System

 

Particulate matter (PM) is one of the main pollutants created by fire. These tiny particles are produced when anything is burned—whether that’s the logs to your campfire or gasoline ignited to fuel your car’s engine. Many studies have linked it to effects on the heart and lungs.

During 2011, wildfires and controlled burns alone contributed up to 41 percent of emitted PM pollution in the U.S. This pollution can have drastic effects on the local community, but it can also affect the air breathed by those far away as the smoke drifts.

To understand the growing impact of wildfires on human health, researchers plan to look at effects on the heart, nervous system (such as headaches), and respiratory system from a variety of wood fuels by using models. They’ll also investigate if PM from wildfire smoke is more or less harmful than PM from other sources of air pollution, like car exhaust.

map of potential fires across US

Map showing distribution of potential wildfire fuels across the United States (Credit: Yongho Kim)

According to the National Fire Center, two fires are burning right now in my state of North Carolina alone. When you consider what could be happening in the other 49 states as well, this kind of research becomes that much more valuable for scientists working to protect public health.

Want to learn more about the research EPA conducts on wildfires to protect human health and the environment? Listen to our Science Bite Podcast Following the Smoke: Wildfires and Health.

About the author: Dina Abdulhadi is a student contractor 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.

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EPA “Aim High” Success Stories on Climate and Air Quality

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

The public health case for climate action is compelling beyond words. The interagency Climate and Health Assessment released last month confirms that climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the weather we experience, and the air we breathe. And we know that it will exacerbate certain health threats that already exist – while also creating new ones.

As we celebrate the recent signing of the historic Paris Agreement by countries around the world, there’s no better time to reflect on EPA’s many ongoing efforts to fight climate change and protect the air we breathe.

As part of our “Aim High” effort to highlight success stories from across the agency, I asked EPA staff to share examples of their work to protect public health by taking action on climate and air quality. Here are some highlights:

Child with pinwheel and blue sky in the background.Asthma Awareness Month: Asthma affects nearly 23 million Americans and disproportionally impacts low-income and minority communities. In the U.S., the direct medical costs of asthma and indirect costs, such as missed school and work days, amount to over $50 billion a year. Every May, EPA leads a National Asthma Awareness Campaign to increase public awareness about asthma risks, strengthen partnerships with community-based asthma organizations, and recognize exceptional asthma programs that are making a difference. Every year, this effort reaches 9,000 groups and individuals and provides them with the information and motivation to take action.

Group photo of employees from EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency .U.S EPA Africa Megacity Partnership: EPA’s environmental program in sub-Saharan Africa is focused on addressing the region’s growing urban and industrial pollution issues, including air quality and indoor air from cookstoves. The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from cooking causes 4.3 million premature deaths per year. EPA and the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency are working together under the Africa Megacities Partnership to develop an integrated air quality action plan for Accra. As a result of this partnership, Ghana EPA has already made significant progress using air quality monitoring and analysis and is serving as a model for other African cities with limited data, that want to take action.

Group of people by reservoir impacted by drought.Climate Change and Water Utilities: Between 1980 and 2015, the United States was impacted by more than 20 major droughts, each costing over one billion dollars. EPA staff in the Office of Water developed an easy-to-use guide to assist small- to medium-sized water utilities with responding to drought. The Drought Response and Recovery Guide for Water Utilities, release last month, includes best practices, implementation examples and customizable worksheets that help states and communities set short-term/emergency action plans, while also building long-term resilience to drought. EPA staff also developed an interactive drought case study map that tells the story of how seven diverse small- to medium-sized utilities in California, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma were challenged by drought impacts and were able to successfully respond to and recover from drought.

Screenshot of EPA Region 1 Valley Indication Tool.Outreach on Risks from Wood Smoke: Exposure to particle pollution from wood smoke has been linked to a number of adverse health effects. Valleys in New England, where terrain and meteorology contribute to poor dispersion of pollutants, are especially vulnerable during winter air inversions. EPA Region 1 used publically available study results, databases and in-house Geographic Information System resources to develop “The Valley Identification Tool” that identifies populated valleys throughout New England that are at risk for wood-smoke pollution. Using this tool, EPA and state air quality managers and staff can better plan air-quality monitoring, outreach, and mitigation.

Biogas facilityBiogas to Energy: Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs) help recover water, nutrients, and energy from wastewater. EPA Region 9 is working with WRRFs to boost energy production through the addition of non-traditional organic wastes ranging from municipally collected food scraps to the byproducts of food processing facilities and agricultural production. As a result of these efforts, some of these facilities are becoming “energy positive,” producing enough energy to power the facility and transferring excess energy into the electricity grid for use by others. EPA, in collaboration with universities and industry, is also working to collect and share information on co-digestion practices and biogas management technologies. This work helps improve understanding of the air quality impacts of biogas-to-energy technologies and helps state and local governments, regulators, and developers identify cleaner, geographically-appropriate and cost-effective biogas management options.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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This Spring, Show How You Care About the Air

By Jenny Noonan

What do our kids need to know about air quality? How can we teach them about the links between health and air pollution?  With a pre-kindergartener and a 3rd grader at home, my husband and I are always looking for ways to engage them about the fragility and resilience of the natural world. My job at EPA helps me do that and Asthma Awareness Month and Air Quality Awareness Week (May 2-6, 2016) give me a focus each spring.

This year’s Air Quality Awareness Week theme, Show How You Care About the Air, is a great opportunity to take to social media to share the importance of clean air to my family and yours.

For 10 years, we have sought out state and local partnerships to raise awareness about the connections between air quality and health. We’re highlighting events sponsored by our partners on our website. Show How You Care About the Air is a coordinated theme with a special focus each day of the week, including:

Monday, May 2                 Highlighting State and Local Events

Tuesday, May 3                 Asthma and Air Quality (World Asthma Day)

Wednesday, May 4            Air Quality Around the World

Thursday, May 5               Air Quality Trends

Friday, May 6                    Citizen Science

As part of Asthma Awareness Month, we will be sponsoring two Twitter chats to increase awareness. The first will discuss topics such as the environmental triggers of asthma – both indoors and out – and how you can develop a personal asthma plan to help manage these triggers. You can follow along or participate in this chat, co-sponsored with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 3, from 2-3 pm by following #AsthmaChat, or leave a question below.

We will also be hosting a Twitter chat with CDC on air quality issues on May 5, from 1-2 pm. This chat will talk about topics like the impacts of air pollution on human health, and how you can use air quality tools to reduce your exposure to pollution. Join the conversation at #AirQualityChat, or leave a question below.

Finally, everyone has an opportunity to take a selfie or other photo showing how you care about the air during Air Quality Awareness Week 2016 and share it on the AirNow Facebook page.

 

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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Cockroaches in the School Kitchen

By Marcia Anderson

Cockroaches can be major pests in restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices and buildings with food-handling areas. Cockroaches are known to carry human pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can result in human diseases, such as food poisoning or diarrhea.cockroaches on the floor

This message came from the state of Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Really, it could come from nearly any state, any country or any continent. Cockroaches are one of the most common animals on earth.

Late last summer, I visited a school in the Northeast that was overrun with cockroaches. A custodian led us to classrooms, restrooms, storage areas and, finally, the cafeteria and kitchen. Most of it was cleaned during summer break. But when we entered the cafeteria, we found the floor littered with debris – food wrappers, papers, plastic drink bottles, and food.

We flicked on the lights and the floor moved. Thousands of cockroaches were scurrying from the light. We did a dance to avoid the mass of moving bodies.

Custodians had been directed to clean the building from the top down and the kitchen and cafeteria were on the ground floor. They were told not to clean the kitchen – that was up to kitchen staff. As the end of the year approaches, this results could be instructive for this year’s summer cleaners.

The kitchen staff had only a few days at the end of the school year to clean. Countertops, stovetops and sinks appeared clean, but ovens were caked with grease, as were pipes coming from the stoves, and floors under appliances.

Amer Cockroach  Clemson Univ  USDA Coop ex  Bugwood  1233111Large indoor cockroach populations are a leading cause of allergies, asthma and other bronchial disorders. In fact, cockroaches are one of the main triggers for asthma attacks for children in inner cities..

The presence of cockroaches is an indication that food, moisture and save havens for the roaches are present. Conditions in this school kitchen allowed the cockroach population to explode.

We advised the school to reduce the cockroach infestation by incorporating Integrated Pest Management practices. EPA recommends all schools manage pests using this approach.

Cockroach control is best accomplished through prevention, exclusion, sanitation and monitoring. Not only would these measures help prevent an infestation, they would reduce cockroach-related allergens.

Because of the severity of the infestation, we recommended the school get professional advice and service.

Here are some IPM-based actions your school can take to help reduce and prevent cockroaches and other pests. These tips can also work in your home if you have a problem with unwanted insects.

Sanitation. Eliminate sources of food and moisture, as well as hiding places for pests. Every day, sweep and mop areas that could attract cockroaches. Empty trash containers frequently, and line them with plastic bags. Kitchen appliances and areas around appliances should also be kept clean.

Exclusion. Cockroaches easily move through plumbing and electrical connections. Gaps around plumbing, electrical outlets, and switch plates should be sealed. Kitchen staff should scan grocery items for evidence of cockroaches before putting items away. Remove cardboard as cockroaches love to dine on the glue that holds boxes together.

Eliminate Water Sources. The single most important factor in determining cockroach survival is the availability of water. German cockroaches live less than two weeks without water.

Eliminate Harborage. By nature, cockroaches prefer dark, warm cracks and crevices. Any small gap or hole (1/16” or larger) that leads to a void is a prime cockroach living area. These cracks and crevices should be sealed.

Following these simple steps in your school will result in fewer pest problems.

EPA offers information about cockroaches and asthma along with a Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. We also recommend exploring the EPA-sponsored Asthma Community Network website and visiting our school IPM website.

Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine

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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Driving to show we care

By Gina Snyder

Last summer, I had the opportunity to drive an extended range electric car. This is a vehicle that drives only on the battery until all the charge has been used up, then it uses a gasoline engine and hybrid technology for excellent mileage. But the really interesting thing about this car was the extensive feedback on my driving “performance.”

ElectricCar P1040099

A spinning green globe on the dashboard let me know when I began to accelerate out of the efficient range. Not only that, but on this 90-degree day, when I used air conditioning, the climate conditioning display also showed how much power was going to keep the cabin space cool. It turned out that using the eco-air conditioning used 21 percent of the engine’s power on cooling the cabin, but pushing the ‘comfort’ button drove it all the way up to 35 percent of the engine’s power! That just goes to show how much energy it takes to run air conditioning.

I don’t continuously focus on doing everything possible to conserve fuel when I drive, but I do like to drive with fuel efficiency in mind. The best tip I’ve ever found was to drive a car like you would ride a bike. It helps if you think about spending energy as wisely in your car as you do when you ride.

Here are some examples:

  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated and vehicle is in good mechanical condition – this reduces rolling and mechanical resistance. Proper tire pressure is safer, extends tire life, and can provide up to 3 percent benefit per tankful of fuel.
  • Smart braking means that you coast to stops. Go easy on the gas pedal just like you don’t pedal madly towards stop signs and then jam on the binders on your bike.
  • “Driving with load” on hills saves energy. You don’t usually power up hills trying to maintain your previous cruising speed on your bike, do you?
  • Reduce speed. It’s easier for cyclists, who are highly attuned to the relationship between aerodynamic drag and the energy consumed to travel at high speed.
  • Don’t idle your car unnecessarily. You don’t sit and spin your bike pedals while waiting for someone, nor do you ‘warm up your bike’ in the driveway, do you?

Being attuned to your performance as an efficiency-conscious driver will result in a style that mirrors the smooth and steady progress you make on a bicycle. We can all be smooth operators this summer. Go easy on the brake and gas pedals when you approach traffic lights and stop signs. Stopping and accelerating gradually not only gives you a smoother ride, it saves gas—and that’s good for the air and good for you!

Learn more from EPA on Green Vehicles: https://www3.epa.gov/greenvehicles/

Other green driving tips: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/wycd/wycd-road.pdf

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About the author:  Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental Stewardship, Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and serves on her town’s climate committee

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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EPA’s Rigorous Auto Oversight Will Get Even Stronger

By Christopher Grundler, Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality

Last month, Volkswagen admitted to EPA and the California Air Resources Board that the company employed a sophisticated device to cheat U.S. emissions standards in certain diesel cars, including the Audi A3, Beetle, Golf, Jetta, and Passat. We take this matter very seriously. It’s not only a violation of the Clean Air Act, it threatens public health and the credibility of the industry.

Our goal is to complete a comprehensive investigation and to take the appropriate steps to ensure that this never happens again. We are now testing for defeat devices and other compliance issues for model year 2015 and 2016 light-duty diesel vehicles from all manufacturers. On September 25, we notified all auto manufacturers that our testing will include additional evaluations designed to detect potential defeat devices.

We employ a rigorous, multi-layer process to test and certify new vehicle models before they can be sold, and for testing vehicles that are in production and on the road. But technologies evolve and circumstances change, and we’re constantly looking at ways to improve our compliance and oversight programs. Over the past 45 years, our oversight and testing program has developed new tools and new techniques to adapt to technology advances so we can deliver on the agency’s mission.

In the late 1990’s, the heavy-duty industry deployed defeat devices in a large number of trucks, resulting in a settlement valued at over $1 billion. We’ve done extensive on-road testing audits for compliance with the newly implemented greenhouse gas emissions standards. This effort resulted in an enforcement action and ultimately a record-setting settlement with Hyundai/Kia, and significant fuel economy adjustments by Ford and other vehicle manufacturers.

Our testing and oversight includes both in-lab testing using dynamometers and on-road testing in real-world conditions. Both are necessary as part of an active robust program. This provides a multi-layered oversight approach focused on:

  • Testing both pre-production prototypes and production vehicles on the dynamometer, which provides accurate, reliable and repeatable measurements that can be used to compare against the standard, and across vehicle types;
  • On-road testing using portable emissions monitors (PEMs) that measure emissions during real world driving situations. In recent years, on-road PEMs testing has been focused on heavy duty diesel vehicles, which account for roughly 40 percent of the NOx pollution from on-road sources.  (By comparison light duty diesel cars account for about 0.1 percent of NOx pollution from on-road sources.)
  • Laboratory audits ensuring that manufacturer, contract, and other agency test labs conform to testing protocols and data quality standards, so that the data EPA gets from these sources (including the data manufacturers provide to EPA) meet standards and that results can be compared among labs; and
  • Holding manufacturers accountable for their actions through rigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act, which provides a strong deterrence against cheating and helps maintain a level playing field for the vast majority of automakers that play by the rules.

Air quality monitors across the country tell a clear and compelling story: U.S. air quality has dramatically improved as a result of implementing our programs as vehicle miles and the economy have grown significantly. Since EPA’s founding, we’ve cut our nation’s air pollution 70% all while the economy has tripled. A strong oversight and compliance program is critical to ensure that the clean air standards that EPA sets for vehicles to protect public health actually deliver the emissions promised to the American people.  We will learn from this Volkswagen case, and will adapt and improve — as we have before — to ensure we deliver on the Agency’s mission.

More information for owners of affected vehicles may be found here: http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/cert/violations.htm

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Refining Environmental Justice

By Matt Tejada

Before joining EPA, I spent more than five years in Houston working to protect the health of the many low-income and minority communities along the Texas Gulf Coast who share their neighborhoods with oil refineries. I cannot think of a single fenceline community from my work that does not have numerous health and environmental challenges facing local residents. And while toxic emissions from refineries are not responsible for all of those challenges, the risk from refinery pollution is an ever-present part of living in these places.

A new rule we’re releasing today helps reduce these dangerous emissions – a major victory for environmental justice but more importantly for the communities living and working along the fencelines of refineries.

The rule will reduce visible smoking flare emissions and accidental releases. For the first time in a nationwide rule, it will provide important emissions information to the public and neighboring communities by requiring refineries to actually monitor emissions at key sources within their facilities and around their fencelines. The rule also increases controls for storage tanks and cokers, parts of refineries that many folks rarely think about because they have just become part of their neighborhood background. The pollution reduced from these two types of units is very significant.

The final “Refinery Rule” – as many EJ stakeholders likely know it by – will reduce 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, along with 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds. That is thousands of tons of pollution that will not be coming out of our nation’s refineries every single year. The emission reductions from this final rule will lower the cancer risk from refineries for 1.4 million people. That’s not just good for the communities that live in and around refineries — it’s outstanding. And, not just for the communities, but for the folks who work inside the refineries, as well as stakeholders in the broader community whose regional air quality would otherwise be impacted by some of these pollutants.

This rule means a lot to me personally after all the time I spent in those communities in my home state of Texas. It’s one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to protect environmental justice communities under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. But it’s not the only one – we’ve also worked to create a Clean Power Plan that protects the needs of the most vulnerable Americans, changed the way we prioritize environmental justice in our rulemaking, created EJSCREEN to help communities learn about their environmental risks, and – just this week – released new Worker Protection Standards that keep farmworkers and their families safer from over-exposure to pesticides.

As someone who has worked on the community side of these issues, I know the importance of listening to stakeholders and communities who provide valuable input as we develop rules. The final rule incorporates community feedback and has been strengthened from proposal stage to final, accounting for important concerns expressed by the very people living on the fenceline who we are trying to protect.

Our work to increase that protection is far from done, but this final Refinery Rule is a major step forward in controlling pollution from refineries to protect the health and well-being of those who live near them and it leaves the door open to continue to introduce technology as it advances and offers even greater protection. Because here at EPA we don’t see environmental justice as something to be achieved in one action – but as something we are committed to continually advancing in everything we do.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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County Health Rankings: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Donald F. Schwarz

About the Author: Donald F. Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is Director, Catalyzing Demand for Healthy Places and Practices at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

http___www.epa3

Air pollution has long moved on from being a concern reserved for proactive environmentalists. Today, it has become a more visible personal health issue for millions of families and a major and growing public health concern for communities who live in close proximity to pollution sources.

The quality of air that we breathe determines, in part, how long and how well we live. Unfortunately, for residents of predominantly low-income and/or minority counties across the country, the impact of polluted air leads to the biggest concerns. Because many mobile and stationary sources of air pollution tend to be concentrated around the residential areas of low-income and minority communities, certain geographies have a greater threat of damaged health.

That’s why the County Health Rankings, an online tool which uses a variety of indicators to rank public health for almost every county in the nation, includes air pollution as an indicator to measure the health conditions of a county. It recognizes that an important aspect of the health of a community includes factors beyond the control of an individual person. The tool highlights regions by their health quality to help focus local government action.

CountyHealthRankings example

(courtesy County Health Rankings)

Air pollution is not a health concern that exists in a bubble — it has impacts on human health in several realms. For example, we know the links between polluted air and asthma. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine people die from asthma in the U.S. every day. The toll on lives is acute, as is the effect on how well people in impacted regions live. Air pollution also causes decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, and other adverse pulmonary effects. The impact does not end with individual homes and families but over time affects our communities and our economy. In fact, asthma costs us about $56 billion in medical costs, lost workdays, and early deaths each year. These are not expenses that people who are already struggling to make a living are able to comfortably “take on,” nor should they have to.

There are also correlations between air pollution and the quality of life for children, many of whom are low-income or minority, who live, learn, and play in close proximity to pollution sources. There is a strong correlation between birth defect rates and proximity to air pollution, likely because pregnant mothers are a more susceptible population to environmental hazards. For older children, education is a concern based on the fact that more than 10.5 million school days each year are lost among 5- to 17-year-olds due to asthma complications.

Our hopes are that by using the county ranking tool, state and local governments can find ways which to share ideas to improve public health from place to place. For example, a recent study from our home state of New Jersey found that programs like the E-Z Pass open-road tolling (which result in fewer cars idling around toll plazas) have been connected to lower premature birth rate among moms who live nearby. By indicating within states those counties with similar pollution control problems, there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between governments and decision-makers. We hope that knowledge like this can contribute to improved public health for all.

We can hope for brighter futures for marginalized communities by taking direct action in the right areas. Want to know if you are breathing clean air in your county? Check out the 2015 County Health Rankings to see where your county stands in your state for air pollution.

Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community, check out the step-by- step guidance from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--What Works section or the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps--Action Center where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.

Donald F. Schwarz: “Learn what you can do to improve the air in your community. Check out the step-by- step guidance in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–What Works section or take a look in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps–Action Center, where you will find tools, resources, policies, and programs to help you make your community a healthy place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 

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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Home Energy Audits are Easy and Worth Your Time

By Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator

I had a great visit recently with a couple of eager young energy consultants sent by my electric utility, and I’m feeling rather good about the results. I learned that all in all, my 2,500-square-foot colonial home is reasonably energy efficient. And I learned that I can invest just $1,000 to make improvements that will more than pay me back in three years.

Since EPA New England is encouraging residents across the region to take advantage of home energy audits, I asked my utility, National Grid, to audit my house. I wanted to find out first-hand what happens in these audits, which, by the way, are often offered for free.

Even though I am the regional administrator at EPA’s New England office, my experience was pretty much what any homeowner could expect – if you ignore the two suited, but very polite executives that trailed me and the consulting engineers eagerly checking on everything from my boiler, insulation and wiring to my refrigerators, stoves and windows.

The entire visit was actually quite fun, but then, I love this kind of stuff. And in just two to three hours I found out that the areas where I thought I was doing well with energy efficiency were not always that great. I learned that my 93-year-old four-bedroom colonial could use a bit more insulation, and that it hosts an attic fan that turns on when it shouldn’t. I was also surprised to hear that the high-priced, energy-efficient air conditioner I so proudly purchased was installed wrong. The installers hadn’t connected the duct work correctly, so I’ve been cooling a 100-degree attic, in addition to our living space.

If I correct these issues, about 60 percent of the $2,500 cost of improvements will be paid for by tax credits and government subsidies, leaving me with just a $1,000 bill. Oh and, they also gave us 10 free LED light bulbs to replace less efficient ones.

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Subsidies and programs already in place in New England put us ahead of the curve of national policy. The US Clean Power Plan, which EPA expects to finalize this summer, will require all states to draft a plan to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA suggests states look at using less fossil fuel, using fossil fuel more efficiently, cutting back on demand and increasing the use of low emission, no–emission or renewable resources. Every state can tailor its own best plan based on their needs.

Each state has its own incentives, and many provide free audits. EPA also offers the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor, an online tool to help consumers save money and improve their homes’ energy efficiency through recommended home-improvement projects. Simple actions, like upgrading a bathroom showerhead, can save thousands of gallons of water a year, which translate to lower water and energy bills.

I asked for a utility audit because I wanted to take part in a program EPA encourages. I wanted to see what is was like to have a home energy audit. It was so satisfying I felt compelled to wander over to neighbors, utility folks trailing behind me, and share with them the lessons I had learned from my audit. I know the improvements I make may only be a tiny difference in the nation’s emissions, but if each of us makes a few recommended changes, it quickly adds up to a big deal.

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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