environmental indicators

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

By Kayla Iuliano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROE graphic 1

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

ROE graphic 2

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA

By Taylor Katz

As a student of Environmental Health at George Washington University, I was excited to be asked to contribute to the Agency’s Report on the Environment (ROE). The Report is a compilation of information on the best available indicators of national conditions and trends in air, water, land, human heath, ecological systems, and sustainability.

What makes the 2014 edition so unique from past versions, is that the 2014 Report on the Environment is entirely online. Through interactive graphs, maps, and charts, the website presents trends and measurements of physical and biological conditions within clearly defined geographic areas. Focal points are the Report’s six theme areas: Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, Ecological Condition, and Sustainability. It’s a hotspot for all things environmental and ecological health related.

EPA's Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

EPA’s Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

Because the Report can be a valuable resource for scientists, decisions-makers, and the public, the team that produced it wanted to ensure that users can find the exact information they want, when they need it. That’s where I come in.

I was asked to help improve the Report on the Environment website by conducting usability tests with EPA employees. To do this, we created two tests—one focused on the site’s indicators, and the other on navigating the site.

Five EPA employees participated in each test, and we gave each eight tasks to perform. For example, task one was: “your supervisor has assigned you to put together some information for a report about mercury. To start, you want to know the mercury levels in the U.S. population. Where would you look for this information?” As participants verbally communicated how they navigated through the site, we observed which tasks participants commonly struggled to complete. We recorded the results of each participant, which will ultimately help the team ensure the website is the best it can be.

Looking back on my summer, usability testing gave me more than just knowledge regarding the Report on the Environment. By meeting different EPA employees from different backgrounds, I gained an appreciation for the fact that everyone at the Agency has a core value of improving the environment and human health.

Working here allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of what really goes on at the EPA. I was able to familiarize myself with different offices, while also witnessing the real life applications of information that I study in textbooks and attend lectures on. This work helped me realize that regardless of one’s research or specialization, it takes the whole organization to produce a great product.

About the Author: Taylor Katz is currently a student at George Washington University and was a summer intern at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

 

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’s Report on the Environment: Tracking National Trends Over Time

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By Lek Kadeli

With the cold winter still stubbornly hanging on, it’s a bit hard to believe that next week marks the beginning of the 2014 baseball season. As a life-long fan of the game, I always find it easy to slip back into the routine of reading the daily box scores each evening, keeping an eye on batting averages and other pertinent statistics, and assessing the progress of my favorite team—the New York Yankees! I am usually ready to start thinking about October travel plans to the watch playoff home games in the Bronx sometime around the All Star break.

The ability to monitor the state of my team is one of the truly gratifying aspects of baseball. Having a similar ability to assess and monitor trends when it comes to the environment is even a more gratifying aspect of meeting our mission here at EPA: to protect human health and the environment.

Today, our scientists and engineers have reached a major milestone in that area with the release of the draft Report on the Environment 2014 (ROE 2014).

Read the rest of the rest of the blog post. 

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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Grocery-store Environmental Indicators?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

I’ve worked for decades at one of the government’s largest science agencies, witnessing how information is carefully collected and rigorously used to make truly important decisions about, for example,

I’ve had a hand in few, but have learned how important it is to make decisions based on well-chosen data and sound reasoning. So it’s been gratifying to see EPA’s (and especially my regional office’s) sustained interest in developing environmental indicators to guide the agency’s work. EPA defines an environmental indicator as a “numerical value that helps provide insight into the state of the environment or human health … based on quantitative measurements or statistics of environmental condition tracked over time.” Higher order indicators track, ultimately, environmental health, while lesser indicators in a multi-level hierarchy portray changes in ambient conditions and environmental protection actions.

Here are my two favorite, if unconventional, indicators; one has gained 20 years of growing popularity and validity (not mine) and one is new, unknown and possibly shaky (mine).

  • Maryland Senator Bernie Fowler leading a crowd down the bank of a waterbody.Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler leads annual wade-ins in streams of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. He and friends see how deep they can walk and still see their sneakers—as a measure of water clarity, and a great way to connect people to this great but vulnerable natural resource.
  • To test how people have started adapting to expensive gas, I began a year ago to track the percent of SUVs and pickups in the parking lot during my weekly supermarket trips. (Does it kill you, too, to see a lone driver use a 6,000 pound SUV to buy groceries?) I know it takes years for the fleet to be replaced, but my year’s “findings,” it seems, are significant and encouraging.

Which low-tech indicators do you use, or propose, that can tell us something interesting about our world’s health?

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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