Citizen science

Innovation in Government

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

EPA and other federal agencies are tasked with finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and complicated problems. These problems require innovative solutions, which EPA supports through use of crowdsourcing, citizen science, and public engagement.

Two of these efforts have advanced to the semifinalist stage of the 2017 Innovations in American Government Awards presented by the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. The award recognizes and promotes excellence and creativity in the public sector.

Here’s a quick look at the two EPA-connected projects.

CitizenScience.gov and the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science

In 2012, a small group of EPA and other federal agency officials recognized a surge of interest in citizen science and crowdsourcing. This informal group grew to the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, an organization with over 300 members representing over 60 agencies. As co-chair of this rapidly expanding and productive group, EPA participates in and aids high-level federal efforts to facilitate and implement crowdsourcing and citizen science.

One of these efforts is CitizenScience.gov, which was created in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Commons Lab at the Wilson Center, and the General Services Administration. The site includes a searchable catalog of federally-supported citizen science and crowdsourcing projects, a Toolkit to assist with designing and maintaining projects, and a gateway to the Federal Community of Practice. The resources this site provides helps the public and the federal community work together to address the complex problems our nation faces. The group continues to focus on increasing and enhancing in citizen science and crowdsourcing across the federal government.

The Village Green Project

Village Green station in Durham, NC

Village Green station in Durham, NC

The Village Green project is an EPA-led, community-based research effort to demonstrate real-time air monitoring technology, engage the public in learning about local air quality, and collect high-quality data for research.  Working with state and community partners, the Village Green team places park benches in cities across the US that provide local, real-time air pollution measurements using low-cost monitoring sensor technologies. Each solar- and wind-powered system continuously measures two common air pollutants (ozone and fine particulate matter), as well as wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. The measurements are transmitted to a website every minute.

Beyond measuring the air and weather, the Village Green Project is also about engaging with neighbors in the immediate area about their environment and the public on the web. The station can be used as a community gathering place to learn about new technology, the environment, or simply to sit down and read a book. The stations are currently all located in public environments, including elementary schools, public libraries, the National Zoo, a national park historic site, and a public children’s garden. Learn more about the Village Green Project.

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer on the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Environmental Protection Belongs to the Public: A Vision for Citizen Science at EPA

By Stan Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency

At EPA, we can’t protect the environment alone. Environmental protection belongs to all of us, and participating in environmental science is one way that members of the public can have an impact. Citizen science broadens environmental protection by enabling people to work together with government and other institutions toward shared goals.

In citizen science, members of the public participate in scientific and technical work in a variety of ways, including formulating research questions, conducting experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and solving problems. In particular, community citizen science addresses questions defined by communities and allows for community engagement throughout the entire scientific process, empowering people to ask their own questions, collect their own data, and advocate for themselves.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with experts who participate in an EPA advisory council, the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT). EPA’s advisory councils are an important way for EPA to gather opinions and recommendations from experts outside the Agency. NACEPT has been working for a year to understand citizen science, gather the best thinking on the topic, and provide EPA with advice and recommendations for how to best integrate citizen science into the work of EPA.

Their timely report – Environmental Protection Belongs to the Public: A Vision for Citizen Science at EPA – outlines the transformational potential of citizen science and provides EPA with 13 recommendations to fully integrate citizen science into the work of the Agency. Citizen science can mean many things, and this excellent report provides a useful conceptual framework for considering the spectrum of uses of citizen science data, highlights the importance of a place-based approach to environmental protection, and emphasizes the need to be proactive about engaging the public in environmental protection. This report will resonate with those around the country who see the opportunities in this next wave of environmental protection. It also tells us that we at EPA have work to do in promoting high quality science and expanding our access to information that promotes constructive solutions to environmental problems.

The report is available here: https://www.epa.gov/faca/nacept-2016-report-environmental-protection-belongs-public-vision-citizen-science-epa

EPA has a number of innovative projects working to engage citizens in environmental science and decision-making and involve the public in all aspects of EPA work. You can learn more about EPA’s work in citizen science at www.epa.gov/citizenscience. EPA will take this new report very seriously and use its insights to help us make even more progress in the years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Taking Air Sensors to Communities

By Joel Creswell

When I read about air quality in the news, it’s often described as a large scale problem where entire cities or states are being affected. While it’s important to think about these problems on a larger scale, I often wonder more about what’s happening in my neighborhood. Does the air I breathe while walking my dog down a busy street affect my health? What about if there is construction on my block or an industrial facility down the road? After all, what I really want to know about is what I’m being exposed to–something that information about regional air quality doesn’t fully capture.

Air Sensor with Briefcase that says citizen science toolbox EPA has a team of people working to make low-cost tools for community and personal air pollution monitoring more accessible. They have produced a multitude of resources to help people find the right tool to use and to make sure they’re using it correctly. These include the Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists, air sensor performance evaluations, and a set of curriculum materials for teachers on air quality and climate change. EPA also recently awarded six community air monitoring grants to organizations around the country addressing the challenges of using low-cost tools to monitor local air quality.

two people learning about air sensors

Demonstrating air sensors at the 2016 Summit to Revitalize Vulnerable Communities.

Aside from grant funding, one of the best ways we can help individuals understand their exposure to air pollution is to meet with community leaders and help them address their air quality monitoring needs. I had just such an opportunity recently, when I attended the 2016 Summit to Revitalize Vulnerable Communities. My colleague Dan Bator, an Environmental Health Fellow for the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, and I demonstrated two low-cost monitoring technologies for airborne fine particulate matter. One was an air sensor for educational purposes only (pictured) that you can build yourself using these simple instructions and parts you can buy online. The other was the AirBeam, an off-the-shelf device developed by the non-profit group HabitatMap. Over the course of an evening, Dan and I spoke to numerous community leaders about how low-cost air sensors work and how they can measure air quality in communities and provide data to address environmental justice issues.

The problems described by community leaders varied. One was worried about the volume of traffic from a nearby port while children are going to and from school. One was concerned about industrial facilities. Another was interested in the impacts of a highway in her community. All were excited to learn that there were tools they could use to conduct their own air quality monitoring. These low-cost air quality monitors are not as accurate as the high-precision instruments used for regional and national monitoring, but the ability to monitor air quality at the local level empowers communities to address their concerns with real data.

Measuring my own air quality is important to me too. I built a particulate matter sensor using the instructions above. I’ve used it to measure the air inside my house and on my block. This gives me an idea of when pollution around me is high and when I should think about reducing my exposure, such as avoiding strenuous exercise outdoors. To help me understand my sensor readings and what actions to take, EPA has launched a pilot project to develop a scale for air sensors that provide data in short time increments. I also check the regional air quality forecast on AirNow.gov. Both can help me protect my health.

About the author: Joel Creswell is an environmental chemist and a AAAS Fellow on the EPA Office of Research and Development’s Innovation Team. Prior to coming to EPA, he worked on developing environmental trace metals analyzers for a scientific instrument company.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Offers up to $80,000 to Communities to Develop Air Sensor Data Best Practices

By Ann Dunkin, Chief Information Officer

SMART CITIES AIR CHALLENGE INFORMATION

Application Deadline: October 28, 2016
Announcement of Winners: Around December 1, 2016
Initial award: Up to $40,000 each to two communities to deploy air sensors, share data with the public, and develop data management best practices from sensors
Additional funding: Up to $10,000 each to the winning communities in 2017 based on  their accomplishments and collaboration.

To learn more, visit the Smart City Air Challenge website.

I came to the EPA with a firm belief that data can make a difference in environmental protection. Since I’ve been here I’ve found that communities are leading the way by using data to understand local conditions and operate efficiently. That’s why I’m excited to announce EPA’s Smart City Air Challenge.

This new challenge encourages communities to install hundreds of air quality sensors and manage the resulting data. EPA is offering two communities up to $40,000 each to work with their residents to crowdsource air quality data and share it with the public online. The projects will give individuals a role in collecting the data and understanding how environmental conditions affect their health and their community.

Air quality sensors are becoming less expensive and people are beginning to use them to measure pollution levels in their neighborhoods and homes. They’re developing rapidly, but most sensors aren’t ready for regulatory use. However, by networking these devices, communities can better understand what is happening at the local level. Communities will figure out where to place the sensors and how to maintain the devices. It’s up to each community to decide what pollutants they want to measure.

The prize funds serve as seed money, so communities will need to partner with other parties, such as sensor manufacturers, data management companies and universities. These partners can provide resources and expertise in topics where communities lack experience. In doing so, communities will learn how to use data analytics, which can be applied to other aspects of community life.

What does EPA get out of this? We’ll learn how communities collect, store and manage large amounts of data. We’ll also get a better understanding of the quality of data communities collect using sensors for non-regulatory purposes. We’ll see how communities transfer data from sensors to databases and visualize the results. Finally, the sensors will produce as much as 150 gigabytes of open data a year —data anyone can use.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy often says communities are “incubators for innovation.” We’re hoping the challenge will inspire communities to come up with innovative approaches for managing data so their residents and other communities can benefit. Show us how it’s done.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Citizen scientists test Warwick, RI, water

By Amy Miller

It’s not every day you can get your training as a citizen scientist with the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency standing beside you. So residents of Warwick were pretty excited when Curt Spalding, administrator for EPA’s New England office, showed up for their one-day session on how to join professional scientists in keeping their region’s ponds healthy.

EPA scientist Hillary Snook, Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian participate in day of training for citizen scientists.

EPA scientist Hilary Snook, Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian participate in day of training for citizen scientists.

Spalding was pretty happy himself to be out there in the field, watching the work citizens are doing so they too can help out in reducing the amount of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in local waterways. Curt is a big advocate of the program and loves the idea of hands-on citizens involvement, noted Hilary Snook, EPA New England’s lead scientist on this project.

Hilary and other EPA scientists have been traveling around New England this summer in a shiny white mobile lab, teaching citizens how they can play a part in monitoring for this bacteria, which is clogging our region’s and nation’s waterways. The team has already been to several locations around New England including White Pond in Concord, Mass. whose town beach was shut down for the entire 2015 season due to cyanobacteria.

Curt decided to tag along on the trip to Warwick, where a handful of citizens joined local, state and federal representatives for what turned out to be a rainy day of training at Gorton Pond, just behind the Warwick police station.

Warwickvisit2EPA’s new mobile laboratory was outfitted with the computers, microscopes and monitors that provide the on-site training. The mobile lab is designed to take people through all of the main parts of the program, with hands-on experience right at their local body of water.

A video presentation introduced the program to the group, with a so-called “Mi-Fi system” providing direct connection to webpages used for the program. Microscopes inside the vehicle let citizens identify samples taken from Gorton Pond and then upload them to citizen science databases.

Hilary showed volunteers how they could upload EPA’s bloomWatch app to their own devices then and there to submit photos of blooms.

The data collected by volunteers is useful for EPA and other environmental agencies trying to clean waterways and reduce bacteria levels. The system is simple enough that everyone from middle school students to academics and lake associations can participate.

EPA hopes added information will help determine where cyanobacterial blooms exist, whether they contain potential toxin producing species, and whether the existing blooms are toxic.

Through the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, volunteers were invited to get involved at three different levels. Besides the bloomWatch app, they can learn how to take water samples and then study them under a microscope. Some volunteers took home a kit that includes a microscope. Finally, volunteers can collect samples and then send them to EPA for further study using the program’s established protocols.

Citizen scientists in New England join volunteers around the country and world who are helping in this effort. Cyanobacteria blooms are caused mainly by nutrients, particularly phosphorus. With climate change and heavier rainstorms, more nutrients are running off the land into freshwater lakes and ponds. The toxins that can be produced by these bacteria can cause skin rashes and liver damage.

All of which means it’s important to Curt, it’s important to EPA and it’s important to all of us to address the increasing occurrences of harmful cyanobacteria blooms in our nation’s and region’s lakes and ponds.

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Amy Miller works in the office of public affairs at EPA New England

 

More information is available at: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/tag/citizen-science/

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

Need an excuse to hang out inside? Here’s something to read while you stay out of the heat. Check out the latest in EPA science.

Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division
Late this spring, a self-operated wildlife camera captured several photos of adult gray foxes carrying food items from surrounding wild lands onto the grounds of EPA’s Western Ecology Division Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon. Find out what they were up to in the blog Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division.

Investing in our Children’s Futures
To protect children from environmental threats and help them live healthier lives, EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences created the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers (Children’s Centers). Read about the five new Children’s Center grants in the blog Investing in our Children’s Futures.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program
As cyanobacteria bloom incidence continues to increase, EPA strives to create and improve methods for bloom prediction, monitoring, and management. The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program will help generate region-wide data on bloom frequencies, cyanobacteria concentrations, and spatial distribution through three coordinated projects. To learn more about the program read the blog The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program: One Program, Three Opportunities for You To Get Involved!

If you do decide to head outside, don’t forget the sunscreen! Here’s a little lesson in sunscreen chemistry.

Suncreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story
It’s not surprising that sunscreens are detected in pool water (after all, some is bound to wash off when we take a dip), but certain sunscreens have also been widely detected in our ecosystems and in our wastewater. So how is our sunscreen ending up in our environment and what are the impacts? Find out in the blog Suncreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story.

And coming up next week:

Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health
Monday, August 22nd at 1:30 p.m. EDT
There are over 20 wildfires currently burning in the United States. Join us for a twitter chat with EPA research cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio and health effects scientist Susan Stone, along with experts from the U.S. Forest Service and the Centers for Disease Control, to discuss wildfire smoke and health.

To join the twitter chat and ask questions, please use ‪#‎WildfireSmoke and follow @EPAAir. Get more details in the blog Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a regular contributor to It All Starts with Science and the founding writer of “The Research Recap.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program: One Program, Three Opportunities for You To Get Involved!

By Sara Ernst

If you ever have noticed a waterbody wigreen water on the edge of a laketh a layer of green scum coating its surface or a slick green film resembling a paint spill, you likely have witnessed a cyanobacteria bloom. Cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, are tiny organisms found naturally in aquatic ecosystems and numerous other environments. Typically, these organisms are harmless and go unnoticed; however, under certain conditions, cyanobacteria can form a dense mat or bloom on the surface of the water that may produce harmful toxins. These blooms and associated toxins pose a significant threat to humans, animals, and the ecosystem. They can cause illnesses, skin irritations, or worse and can threaten drinking water supplies and recreational opportunities. As cyanobacteria bloom incidence continues to increase, EPA strives to create and improve methods for bloom prediction, monitoring, and management.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, covering the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, will help generate region-wide data on bloom frequencies, cyanobacteria concentrations, and spatial distribution through three coordinated projects: bloomWatch, cyanoScope, and Cyanomonitoring. Each project relies on the general public, citizen scientists, and trained water professionals to locate potential blooms and report applicable information, so we can improve cyanobacteria monitoring and learn more about harmful blooms in the Northeast.

The amount of time, equipment, and training needed to participate varies for each project. The simplest reporting tool to use is bloomWatch, a smartphone app that enables participants to help track cyanobacteria blooms by taking and submitting photos. All you need to do is download the app and you’re in business! bloomWatch teaches you what to look for, provides on-screen instructions on how to take good photos of blooms, and prompts you to answer some questions about the sighting. After submitting the photos and sighting details through the app, you can also send a bloom report to your state’s environmental agency.

The cyanoScope project helps scientists and water resource managers learn more about where and when blooms occur and what types of cyanobacteria are present across the region. With the appropriate gear and training, cyanoScope participants collect water samples of possible blooms, view the samples under a microscope, take photos of cyanobacteria, and upload the photos and sighting details to the cyanoScope project on iNaturalist.org. The cyanoScope community then helps to identify the cyanobacteria present.

The Cyanomonitoring project builds on bloomWatch and cyanoScope; it is the most involved project, and therefore contributes the most detailed information. In this project, professionals and trained citizen scientists use specific gear to monitor cyanobacteria concentrations in lakes and ponds to help determine where, when, and why cyanobacteria are blooming in those areas. Participants also assist in tracking regional trends resulting from climate and land use changes and assess waterbody and human health vulnerability to toxic cyanobacteria.

By participating in any of the three projects, you can contribute valuable data that will help scientists learn more about cyanobacteria blooms and how best to monitor them in the future. Interested in getting involved? Visit http://cyanos.org/ for more information on the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program and each of the coordinated projects!

 

About the Author: Sara Ernst is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor who works as the Science Communications Specialist in the Atlantic Ecology Division of EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

Check out some of EPA’s gold-medal-worthy research that we’re highlighting this week.

Algal Blooms
Are you wondering why that water is green? It’s algae! EPA’s Wayne Cascio and Elizabeth Hilborn explain the environmental conditions that drive algal blooms and their health effects in the blog Why is the Beach Green?

EPA and the Chickasaw Nation
Last week in Ada, Oklahoma, EPA’s Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center hosted the 50th Anniversary dedication of the Center. A highlight of the celebration included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between EPA’s groundwater remediation and ecosystem restoration scientists and the Chickasaw Nation, a federally recognized American Indian Tribal Nation located in Oklahoma. Learn more about the research agreement in the blog EPA and the Chickasaw Nation: Working Together to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability and Quality of our Water.

Collaborating with Local Communities to Measure Air Pollution
Managing air pollution is a big job, but it can be made easier when the whole community gets involved. We call it “citizen science” — where people without a background in research can use scientific tools to address problems in their environment. To support this fast-growing field, EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is funding six grants to evaluate how effective low-cost, portable air sensors are when used in communities. Read more about the grants in the blog Collaborating with Local Communities to Measure Air Pollution.

Scientists vs. Rockstars
Meet EPA Physical Scientist Dr. Rebecca Dodder! Dr. Dodder recently received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for her innovative approach to evaluating current and emerging environmental challenges and opportunities related to energy production and use in the United States. As part of the recognition, Dr. Dodder was invited to visit the White House and hear from President Obama. Read about the experience in her blog Scientists vs. Rockstars.

Want to meet more of our researchers?
Meet EPA Chemical and Environmental Engineer Endalkachew Sahle-Demessie! Dr. Sahle-Demessie works on various projects, including nanomaterials and water resources, in EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory.

Meet EPA Research Ecologist Ken Fritz! Dr. Fritz works in EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory where he investigates stream ecosystems, including ones that are dry at times.  He works to supply the research that will inform policy and decisions that affect aquatic ecosystems.

And check out more of our researchers at work.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a regular contributor to It All Starts with Science and the founding writer of “The Research Recap.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Collaborating with Local Communities to Measure Air Pollution

By Michaela Burns

I am no stranger to air pollution. Since I grew up in New York City, my walk to school every morning put me in constant contact with car exhaust and smoke rising from the vendor stations that lined the sidewalks. None of these experiences ever struck me as odd. They were just a part of the city’s charm! We had the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and we had air pollution. On particularly smoggy days, when I could barely see the city from my window, I always comforted myself with the fact that it was a problem far out of my league. After all, I was just an ordinary kid, not a scientist — what could I do to help? Nothing of course.

Once I started working at EPA, I found out that I had been completely wrong. Managing air pollution is a big job, but it can be made easier when the whole community gets involved. We call it “citizen science” — where people without a background in research can use scientific tools to address problems in their environment. To support this fast-growing field, EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is funding six grants to evaluate how effective low-cost, portable air sensors are when used in communities.

APM4C Blog Picture

EPA researcher Eben Thoma adjusts an SPod monitor.

EPA grant winners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will use community-based air sensors to measure air quality and volcanic smog (“vog”) exposure on the Island of Hawai‘i (“the Big Island”). Up the coast at the University of Washington, researchers plan to deploy air sensors in student-directed studies examining heavy wood smoke impacts in their rural community. The team will work in partnership with Heritage University, whose students represent the local population of predominantly Yakama Nation and Latino immigrant families, to identify effective ways to communicate pollutant results to a broader audience. And this is just a sample of the diverse group of projects being done to help make air sensors more available to the public across the U.S. Other efforts include:

Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers will investigate the accuracy and reliability of existing air sensors, as well as their efficacy when put to use in Pittsburgh communities.

Kansas State University. Researchers will investigate if communities in South Chicago become more engaged in learning about their environment if they are provided with low-cost air sensors and the information generated by them.

Research Triangle Institute This research team will investigate how low-cost sensors can be used to help the Globeville, Elyria, Swansea (GES) community north of Denver, Colorado measure and understand data indicating the air quality in their neighborhood. The team will also evaluate the effectiveness of how information is presented to enable residents to understand their exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants and potentially empower them to take action to protect their health.

South Coast Air Quality Management District. This research team will provide local California communities with the knowledge necessary to select, use, and maintain low-cost, commercially available air monitoring sensors and to correctly interpret sensor data. The group will communicate the lessons learned to the public through a series of outreach activities.

By supporting the development and deployment of air monitoring technology, EPA is empowering ordinary citizens to take action against air pollution. Looking out for your community can be as easy as using our air sensor toolbox for citizen scientists to find out how to monitor the air quality in your neighborhood. With tools in reach, there’s no reason not to become a citizen scientist today!

About the author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Puerto Rico Water Quality Monitoring Day

Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from streams in Puerto Rico.

Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from streams in Puerto Rico.

By Rachael Graham

On April 9, 2016 more than 1,200 volunteers participated in Puerto Rico Water Quality Monitoring Day to measure…..you got it – water quality!

Over 150 sites throughout the island were sampled by volunteers from 30 municipalities as part of a worldwide effort to gather data using citizen science efforts. The data they collect will be uploaded and become part of a global data set for the World Water Monitoring Challenge.

This was the eighth year of the program coordinated by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program (SJBEP). Prior governmental and NGO sponsors for this event included EPA Region 2 Caribbean Environmental Protection Division (CEPD), Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (PREQB), the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Puerto Rico Water and Environment Association (PRWEA). For 2016, EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science & Assessment partnered with SJBEP and CEPD and sent two biologists to provide technical assistance and training on additional water quality parameters for citizen science.

For the Water Monitoring Challenge, group leaders were trained to use a standardized water quality kit to measure dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and turbidity in weeks prior to the event and then pass this training on to their individual team participants. In 2016, EPA added two other important water quality parameters as a pilot – E.coli and benthic macroinvertebrates.

Approximately 20 volunteers collected samples from 21 locations throughout the San Juan Bay Estuary watershed for analysis for Escherichia coli (E. coli), a common fecal bacteria found in sewage and animal waste. Each participant set up a test to measure E.coli that does not require any equipment and can be incubated at room temperature, called a Compartment Bag Test (CBT), which has everything required to measure E.coli in one small kit. EPA and SJBEP personnel took split samples of the volunteer samples and measured a more rigorous test for E. coli to compare results. The objective was to test the CBT method to see if it can differentiate between low, moderate and high levels of E.coli. Since rapid tests, like the CBT, are simple to conduct and require no laboratory equipment, they allow citizen scientists to screen their drinking water and ambient water for relative levels of fecal bacteria more readily. If successful, the CBT may be turned into a kit and provided on a wider scale for next year’s monitoring event.

Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality.

Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality.

Approximately 90 citizen scientists collected macroinvertebrates from streams in three different areas of the island – Rio Piedras, Rio Mameyes, and a tributary of the Rio Grande de Arecibo. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are creatures that lack a vertebrate, an internal skeleton like mammals. Macroinvertebrates in streams and rivers include insects (caddisflies, beetles, dragonflies), crustaceans (shrimp, crayfish, crabs), mollusks (snails, mussels, clams), and worms. Volunteers were trained on invertebrate ecology, general habitat and water quality requirements, taxa identification, and use of macroinvertebrates as indicators of healthy and poor water quality. The volunteers used the SJBEP field protocol to collect macroinvertebrates and make a determination of the water quality at the stream site. Additional samples were collected with kick nets to compile a taxa list of macroinvertebrates observed. PREQB was present for the demonstrations and would like to incorporate benthic macroinvertebrate data as a way to determine stream health.

To learn more about citizen science projects in EPA Region 2, visit: https://www3.epa.gov/region02/citizenscience/.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.