AirNow

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Hearts – Don’t Forget About Air Pollution

Healthy Heart graphic identifier

By Wayne E. Cascio, MD

Each February during American Heart Month our attention is once again drawn to the importance of promoting heart health. Heart attacks and strokes are on the decline thanks to the dedicated efforts of many health care professionals and organizations and scientists on the frontlines of cardiovascular research and health education. Yet, while progress is being made, cardiovascular diseases still account for the largest number of deaths each year in the US (one death every 40 seconds) and impose an enormous emotional, physical and economic burden on individuals, families and our communities. This underscores the importance of continued vigilance in the fight against heart disease and stroke.

Most Americans by now can recite the major heart healthy lifestyle factors: regular physical activity, a healthy diet and weight, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, and no smoking. Yet, too few know that exposure to air pollution is a risk factor for heart disease, even though scientific evidence is clear that air pollution contributes to heart disease.

Just last December cardiologists and health scientists on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology published a paper in the European Heart Journal adding their voices to a growing chorus of environmental health scientists and physicians calling for increased public awareness of the link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.

EPA’s Healthy Heart initiative was created in 2013 to increase environmental health literacy among health care providers, patients with heart disease who are at highest risk from the ill effects of air pollution, and the general public. Heart patients and caregivers can access information about protecting their heart from air pollution on the Healthy Heart web page. The site includes links to local air quality forecasts on the airnow.gov web page.

Individuals are empowered to take action to protect their hearts from air pollution. They can adjust their daily activities to keep air pollution exposure to a minimum when outdoor levels are high. They can avoid exercise near a busy road and reduce activity level on high pollution days (for example, go for a walk instead of a jog.) Adding these steps to other healthy lifestyle activities can protect hearts and save lives.

And while much scientific progress has been made to uncover the heart-air pollution link, many questions remain that require more science. EPA and other scientists across our country and around the world are hard at work to learn more about why some people are so susceptible to polluted air and what sources may be contributing the most to heart attacks and strokes, among other questions. One such effort is the CATHGEN Air Pollution Study, being conducted by EPA in collaboration with the Duke University School of Medicine. This multi-year study and others under way are anticipated to fill big gaps in current scientific knowledge on the health impacts of air pollution.

About the Author: Cardiologist Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio’s research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

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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Free “Green” Apps

By Athena Motavvef

I’m a college student who is always on the go, so being able to quickly pull out my smartphone to access e-mail, weather information, or the latest news is really helpful. As a regular user of apps and an intern with EPA’s Office of Public Engagement, I became interested in what “green” apps were available. In my role at EPA, I help get the word out about the different ways citizens can better protect their health and help the environment by contributing to the weekly production of the EPA Highlights Newsletter. I’d like to share with you my top three favorite green apps.

sunwise

EPA’s SunWise UV index

Available for iOS, Android and Blackberry
When I go hiking with friends and family or just plan a day where I know I’ll be outside often, I want to protect my skin. I have fair skin, but no matter your skin type or the weather, anyone can be at risk of damage from the sun. The UV Index app allows you to check out daily and hourly UV forecasts so you can help keep your skin healthy. I did a quick check today and despite being a sunny winter day in the nation’s capital, the UV index is at a moderate 3. The app recommends that I protect myself with SPF 30+ sunscreen (will do), sunglasses (check) and a hat (check – it is cold out)!

Get the app: http://www.epa.gov/enviro/mobile/
Learn more about protecting yourself from the sun: http://www2.epa.gov/sunwise

airnow

 

EPA AIRNow

Available for iOS and Android
As a student growing up in Los Angeles and moving to the Inland Empire for college, I have been regularly affected by higher levels of air pollution than most areas of the country. Planning outdoor activities to keep my asthma from acting up is easier now that I can check real-time air quality. Luckily for those that suffer from asthma as well, this app allows us to quickly see location-specific reports on current and forecasted air quality conditions for both ozone and fine particle pollution. Now I can better plan my day so that I know I will be able to breathe easy.
Get the app: http://m.epa.gov/apps/airnow.html
Learn more about AIRNow: http://www.airnow.gov/

iWARM

EPA iWARM

Available for iOS
If you’re like me, recycling is a habit. Sometimes, I wonder just how much energy I am saving through my actions. The iWARM app helps paint that picture by calculating the energy saved from recycling common household items. The savings are then converted into the equivalent amount of electricity, estimating how long that energy will operate household appliances. I did a quick calculation of what I recycled this week, and I saved enough energy to power my laptop for 3.4 hours! Even small actions like recycling a plastic bottle save energy and can help combat climate change.
Get the app: http://m.epa.gov/apps/warm.html
Learn more about iWARM: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/iwarm/index.htm
These three green apps are great tools to use every day, especially for someone like me who likes to eat yummy food on sunny restaurant patios and catch up with friends.

About the author: Athena Motavvef is an intern in EPA’s Office of Public Engagement in Washington DC. She is currently obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy with an emphasis in urban/environmental policy at the University of California, Riverside. She has interests in environmental education and public engagement.

 

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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3rd Helping of Acronym Soup – CAA

By Jeffery Robichaud

About six months ago I brought you  the first installment of a series about Environmental Regulations  – an article about the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  My intention was to circle through several of our Nation’s environmental laws.  Shawn Henderson helped me out in May with another Acronym Soup post about the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  Unfortunately, the summer proved busier than I expected, but I’m here to Clear the Air (pun intended).cover_sm

We really think of the modern Clean Air Act (CAA) as dating back to 1970 the same year as the birth of the Agency itself, even though there was CAA seven years earlier in 1963 which focused mostly on research.  The CAA shifted the nation’s approach to addressing air pollution by  authorizing the development of comprehensive federal and state regulations to limit emissions from both industrial and mobile sources of air pollution.  The CAA begot four major programs all with their own now familiar acronyms: the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), State Implementation Plans (SIPs), New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs).  You can read about each of these programs and subsequent amendments to the CAA here or check out the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act by clicking on the cover image to the right.

We previously shared information about the AirNow website and AirData both which are great resources to visit to find out information about the quality of air in your neighborhood.  There are some pretty powerful analytical tools on AirData which even allow you to graphically display daily air quality over the course of a year in the metropolitan area of interest to you.  Below I pulled up a graph of PM10 and Ozone (2 criteria pollutants under the CAA) in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area for 2012.  You can see how ozone becomes more problematic as the summer begins, while PM 10 is fairly consistent throughout the year.

omaha

For the geospatial enthusiasts among you, it is possible to download csv files of all of the air monitoring stations across the country at the bottom of this page. You can download the data for each site of interest through the mapping application on the same page, or return to AirData and click on the download data button to download multiple sites within a state or metropolitan area.

monstationsmap

Unlike the days prior to the establishment of the Clean Air Act, air pollution today is often difficult to see.  These new tools should help you to see what is going on across the country and outside your window.

Jeffery Robichaud  is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He has successfully transitioned mowing duties to his oldest son, who now receives the strange stares from passers-by who gawk at the family’s electric mower, purchased several years ago to help air quality in the Kansas City area.

 

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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To Your Health!

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

As I was sending my youngest daughter off to day camp on a very hot and sunny day, I advised her to apply sun block often. In response, she said her own words of wisdom that have motivated me to write this blog. “Mom, they should have an app for that!”

Well, many smart phones, in fact, have mobile applications that can remind you of action items and many other activities. Although we don’t have a mobile app addressing the sun block issue specifically, we do have an app that promotes sun safety. We have the UV Index app that provides the forecast for UV radiation in your area. Equipped with this information, people can make the right choices to protect themselves from the sun.

Are you interested in learning about the environmental conditions where you live? To learn about the air quality in your city, you can visit www.airnow.gov to download a free AirNow Enviro Flash app for smart phones. This information is invaluable especially for sensitive groups like asthmatics, the elderly and children.


So, this brings me to another issue where innovative technologies can be developed to apply environmental data for the benefit of human health.  Would you be interested in developing mobile technology such as a portable sensor that would measure the conditions of the air around you and detect in real time their physiological effect on your body? Well, we are very interested in this technology as well and have issued a challenge so innovators and software developers may develop such prototypes. During Phase 1 of this challenge, up to four finalists will get up to $15,000 each and they will move on to Phase 2. The ultimate winner of this challenge will be awarded $100,000.

The goal is to empower people with information about their own health and the air around them. By having a portable device such as a sensor, health measurements can be taken in real time to provide invaluable data to the individual and their doctor. It will be a win-win situation all around.

Visit the challenge.gov website for more information on this challenge, timeline, review criteria, and eligibility rules. The submission period ends on October 6, 2012.

What type of innovative technology would you like to see to better protect your health and the environment?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

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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School Flag Program: Managing Asthma Through Air Quality Awareness

By Melissa Payne

Imagine that you’re a child- or even a teenager- with asthma.  Every day you go to school.  It’s up to you to tell someone when you start to feel wheezy or your breathing is uncomfortable. But, sometimes it’s hard to stop or slow down what you’re doing and tell an adult.

So, what if there was a way for you to know what the air quality was going to be like-  just by walking into school every morning?   Your teachers would know.  Your coaches would know.  You would know.  Everyone would have a part in keeping you and other kids healthy on poor air quality days.

As an adult, there’s something you can do to help your school make this a reality. The School Flag Program helps protect children’s health by increasing awareness about air quality and the effect it can have on children.

Local air quality can affect our daily lives and trigger asthma attacks. Like the weather, air quality can change from day to day. EPA developed the Air Quality Index, or AQI to make information available about the health effects of common air pollutants, and how to avoid those effects.

The School Flag Program is based on the AQI and participating is really simple.  School officials raise the flag each day based on the colors of the AQI (green =good, red=unhealthy, etc.).  The flag colors let kids, teachers, coaches and the rest of the community know what the air quality forecast is for the day.  Using the program activity guidelines schools can modify their outdoor activities when the air quality is unhealthy.

To get your local school started, speak to someone in the school front office, a teacher, or coach.  You can direct them to www.airnow.gov/schoolflag or print out a fact sheet from the website.  It’s an easy way to keep kids healthy!

About the author: Melissa Payne works in the Office of Air Quality Programs and Standards and likes to write about science for kids of all ages.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday – Apps for the Environment: The New Way of Communicating Science and Information

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

Want to know the weather tomorrow, the next movie showing, or the latest Hollywood gossip? There’s an app for that! In the age of smart phones, answers are literally at your fingertips on your iPhone or Android device. There’s no need to scour the internet for solutions when you can simply download an app that will gather the relevant information for you in a user-friendly application on your phone.

Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I constantly hear of the developments and data that Agency researchers and scientists have produced. These scientists work diligently year around on protecting the environment and human health as outlined in Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Seven Priorities. What better way is there for communicating the resources and discoveries of EPA researchers than in an easy-to-use app on your mobile device?

challengebanner_MThe EPA Apps for the Environment Challenge invites software developers to use EPA data to develop apps so the public can understand or protect the environment in their daily lives. Want to know the air quality where you live or which cars have the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions? There could be an app for that!

EPA has a lot of data that is publicly available. This data includes information from the Toxic Release Inventory which tells you facilities that dispose of or release toxic chemicals, real time air quality monitoring, green vehicle guide that gives environmental performance guides for vehicles, a Superfund website, and chemical toxicity information from the ToxCast database. Because these datasets are overwhelming for those with less technical and scientific knowledge like me, EPA held a series of webinars where data owners explained the information.

If you’re like me and don’t know the first thing about developing an app, you can still participate by submitting ideas for apps. These ideas are useful in providing developers and researchers a window of insight into the needs and wants of the public.

For more information and rules, visit the Apps for the Environment website. The deadline for submissions is September 16. In the meantime, you can find out the latest information on Twitter, just search #greenapps.

About the Author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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 Science Wednesday: EPA Study Shows Health Hazards Associated with Peat Wildfire Smoke

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

By Sarah Blau

A few weeks ago my eyes wouldn’t stop itching. That intense, burning itch you know you shouldn’t scratch, but eventually you do. My irritated eyes were telling me that something was wrong, that some foreign species was polluting the air I breathe and my body did not like it.

The source of this relentless itch I discovered from the news on the drive home—wildfires! Wildfire smoke, to be more exact, wafting some 200 miles from the North Carolina coast where peat fires have been smoldering since early May.

As it turns out, I had only one minor symptom of something that can actually cause serious health problems.

In fact, I recently learned that a team of scientists led by EPA investigated the cardiovascular health effects of a similar eastern NC peat fire in 2008. A paper describing the results of this study was published Monday by Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers collected emergency room (ER) records from counties directly affected by the 2008 fire’s smoke plume and compared those records to ER records from smoke-free neighboring counties. Research statistics show that the smoke affected counties had an increase in ER visits by 65% for asthma, 59% for pneumonia and bronchitis, and 37% for symptoms of heart failure.

Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Peat fires differ from western canopy wildfires in both the way they burn and the chemical composition of their smoke. This is the first known study to show that exposure to a peat fire can cause both respiratory and cardiovascular effects, and the first study to conclusively show associations between a wildfire and emergency department visits for heart failure symptoms.

Wildfires are inevitable, but we are not completely helpless to suffer their mal-effects. EPA’s AIRNow website is an excellent source for information on both the air quality in your region, and how to protect yourself from the hazard of wildfire smoke.

Whether it’s severe cardiovascular illness or minor allergy-type symptoms, research by EPA and others has shown that wildfire smoke can have harmful health effects. Keep yourself informed of your local air quality and when conditions are poor, take appropriate actions. Maybe if I had taken a shorter morning walk outside with my dog, I wouldn’t have had itchy eyes all day!

About the author:  Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s Science Communication Team.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Breathing New Life into Air Quality Forecasting in Towns Big and Small

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

I’m from a small town in Colorado. Not much industry, not many people. It was great growing up with clean air, clear streams, corn fields, cows, and wide open skies.

Now I work at one of EPA’s greatest facilities with scientists who specialize in understanding air pollution exposure. Because of this, more than ever, I pay attention to air quality.

EPA’s commitment to clean air has resulted in many excellent modeling and analysis tools that can warn people about unhealthy air quality — including “Ozone Action Day” alerts. Some people get these warnings from newspapers or their local weather forecaster, or from AirNow — a web-based clearinghouse that offers daily air quality index forecasts for approximately 300 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The AirNow database was developed in 1998 by EPA, NOAA, Environment Canada, and the U.S. National Park Service along with state, local and tribal air agencies.

Growing up, the same person who presented the local weather forecast on the evening news also served as the agricultural reporter. She did her best with the available information, but was clearly more skilled in reporting on cows and corn than the weather.

But I’ve wondered — do small-town citizens routinely get accurate information about air quality from their local weather forecasters? Not sure.

But they could.

It’s available through the National Air Quality Forecast Guidance, a tool developed by EPA and NOAA scientists that generates air quality forecasts — for the entire country.

SWMAPEPA researcher Brian Eder, and colleagues recently evaluated the guidance to see if it was — or wasn’t — providing local ozone forecasts every bit as accurate as those provided by AirNow. The results: the guidance delivers!

Eder’s paper, “Using National Air Quality Forecast Guidance to develop local air quality index forecasts,” in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, explains how people who aren’t trained air quality forecasters can use the guidance to generate localized information that can help people make smarter health decisions regarding outdoor activities on high ozone days.

The economy is such that hiring a trained air quality forecaster probably isn’t on my town’s list of priorities. Nonetheless, I hope towns big and small will discover, and use the guidance to better serve their citizens and protect public health.

About the author: Robin Baily is a writer/editor at EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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AIRNow: The Power of Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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