Human Health

Thinking About Technology During Drinking Water Week

By Katie Henderson

This week is national Drinking Water Week, and it’s a good time to highlight drinking water technology, a critical component to safe drinking water in the United States.

A few years ago, my husband and I went camping in Montana. My husband likes to find ingenious gadgets and gear for outdoor recreation. Right before the trip he had bought a portable water sterilization gadget that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to purify water. We decided to give it a try during our hike. I have to admit, it seemed a little like science fiction! Of course, this little gadget only had to treat a liter of water. The average American household uses about 1100 liters of water every day. Public water systems must meet nearly 100 different standards to deliver safe water using a variety of technologies, including UV treatment.

I continue to marvel at the improvement of water technology over the last century. Public health experts say that water technology improvements – like chlorine treatment and filtration – are some of the most important public health innovations of the last century. One hundred years ago, waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery were much more common. They are very rare in the U.S. today thanks, in a large part, to drinking water technology.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which requires EPA to establish national standards for drinking water quality and treatment for all public water systems. Public water systems must comply with SDWA as they treat and monitor your water, maintain the system’s infrastructure and equipment, and keep consumers informed. The little UV gadget we used on our camping trip is a tiny version of the sophisticated processes involved in delivering your drinking water.

About the author: Katie Henderson is an ORISE Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of the Office of Water. She received her Master’s degree from Utah State University, where she wrote her thesis on water infrastructure challenges in the west. She likes to travel, bake cookies, and promote environmental justice.

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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National Academies’ report shows that EPA has strengthened IRIS program

By Lek Kadeli

One of the best aspects of my job is working with some of the most dedicated human health and environmental scientists in the business. On a daily basis, I have a behind-the-scenes view of the innovation and problem solving that is meeting the nation’s most pressing environmental challenges and advancing a more sustainable future for us and our children. It’s inspiring to see that progress unfold, and I feel fortunate to have a front row seat. But what’s even more gratifying is when leaders in the scientific community world take notice, too.

That’s exactly what happened today when we received positive news about progress we’ve made to enhance our Integrated Risk Information System, or “IRIS” program. IRIS provides health effects information about environmental contaminants such as dioxin and tetrachloroethylene. The program received some well-deserved kudos from the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC). I’m really proud of the whole IRIS team! This is an example of EPA science at its best, and how our researchers rise to meet challenges.

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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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Recognizing Exceptional Asthma Programs

May is Asthma Awareness Month! Did you know that nearly 26 million Americans, including seven million children, are affected by this chronic respiratory disease? And, did you know that low income and minority populations have the highest asthma rates? Each year, EPA takes this opportunity to ramp up our public awareness campaign, strengthen our partnerships with community–based asthma organizations and highlight exceptional asthma programs.

This year we’re recognizing health plans, health providers and community-based programs with our National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management  for their important contributions to close the gap in asthma disparities. It is the only national award program that recognizes organizations for exceptional leadership in developing and delivering environmental asthma management as a key component of asthma care. I am proud to recognize the organizations from Georgia, Massachusetts and Oregon for the impact that they are having on their communities:

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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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Earth Day and the President’s Climate Action Plan

The arrival of Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the work EPA does to protect the health of Americans and the environment. Early last summer, the President announced his Climate Action Plan calling on the federal government to work together with states, tribes, cities, industries, consumers and the international community to address one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Over the past year, one of our top priorities has been addressing our changing climate, so let me fill you in on our progress so far on the many important steps we are taking to cut harmful greenhouse gas pollution.

Power Plants – Last September, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for New Power Plants .  Based on current trends in the power sector and available pollution control technology, the proposal will protect public health and address climate change while ensuring reliable, affordable, and clean power for American businesses and families. It will also ensure that power companies investing in new fossil fuel-fired power plants – which often operate for more than 40 years – will use technologies that limit emissions of harmful carbon pollution. The agency is now taking public comment on the proposal until May 9. More

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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Have a Question About Asthma?

By Jessica Orquina

Asthma is a serious, chronic disease that is aggravated by environmental triggers, like pollution, mold, and smoke. Here are some basics:

  • Americans with asthma: over 25 million people, including about 7 million kids.
  •  School days missed because of asthma: 10.5 million annually.

The good news is that with medical treatment, and management of environmental triggers, it can be controlled.  That means people with asthma can lead healthy, active lives. However, it’s important to have an asthma action plan and pay attention to the Air Quality Index. Air Quality Awareness Week is April 28 through May 2 and May is Asthma Awareness Month is, so this is a great time to talk about and learn about asthma.

On Thursday, May 1, at 2:00 pm EDT, we’re hosting a Twitter chat about asthma and outdoor air quality. Our experts will be joined by experts from CDC to answer your questions about asthma, air quality, and how to create an asthma action plan. Join the conversation: follow the #asthma hashtag, @EPAlive, and @CDCenvironment. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can post your questions in the comments below and follow the #asthma hashtag during the chat. We look forward to talking with you!

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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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How EPA Conserves Energy

When one hears ‘information technology’, often times their first thought is not about climate change. But electronics, electricity, and changing hardware or software versions have the potential to be environmentally friendly. As Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Environmental Information (OEI), I am charged with leading the Agency’s information management and information technology programs to provide the information, technology, and services necessary to advance the protection of human health and the environment.

EPA is committed to taking a common sense approach in addressing climate change and promoting a clean energy economy, but what do we do on a daily basis to ensure the information technology services and equipment that are provided to our employees conserve energy resources? More

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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Protecting Our Research Volunteers

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By Bob Kavlock

Protecting human health is both a core mission, and a natural extension of everything we do here at EPA. Our commitments to protecting the nation’s air, water, and natural ecosystems, taking action on climate change, and working with local communities to help them become more resilient and sustainable all lead back to protecting human health.

Recently, we have revisited that commitment in one particular area of great importance as we continue using the latest, and best-available science to support our work.

read more…

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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Women Leading the Way

By Lina Younes

Recently, EPA hosted a group of students and professors from the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Public Health. The group was visiting EPA and other agencies in Washington, DC to explore internship and employment opportunities in the federal government. It was exciting to see this group of young well-prepared Latinas ready to join the workforce.

The visiting students and professors met with several Hispanic employees from different EPA program offices. They discussed the work they are currently doing to protect the environment and human health. The employees shared some valuable advice on the skills necessary to be successful in the workplace. Furthermore, they described how they joined the agency. While we had Hispanic scientists, engineers, and lawyers with different areas of expertise, they shared some common experiences. Many had joined the agency through EPA’s internship programs.

The highlight of the afternoon was when Administrator Gina McCarthy and OPM Director Katherine Archuleta met with the visiting group and the employees. Administrator McCarthy emphasized that public health is at the core of EPA’s mission. While describing the work the agency is doing to address health disparities among Hispanics and other minorities, she mentioned the research EPA is conducting on the high incidence of asthma among Puerto Ricans.

During the meeting, Administrator McCarthy stressed the need to have a high-performing workforce that “looked like America” to fulfill the agency’s mission. She encouraged the visiting students to keep their eyes open for future opportunities at the agency.  Director Archuleta echoed her words and urged students to visit OPM’s website for internship and job opportunities throughout the federal government. She recommended that they start by registering in USAJOBS. As they left, I overheard several students saying “I’m going to USAJOBS tonight!”

Personally, I was happy to see many women in leadership positions at the agency as well as a new generation of young Latinas following in our footsteps. In sum, the future is bright for women at EPA.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

 

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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Our Waters Know No Borders

By Allison Martin

On my recent visit to South Texas with our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program, I met with local residents and learned the challenges they face from failing wastewater treatment systems. One person explained how, during heavy rains, she had to wade through thigh-deep water mixed with sewage in her yard. A mother described her children’s skin and stomach problems due to contact with wastewater.  Another showed me a puddle in her yard. Her son stood a few feet away; he must have been well-instructed that this ever-present puddle above the family’s failing septic system was off limits. But as I eyed the small compound, I had a sinking sense that staying away from the puddle was not eliminating the family’s contact with the wastewater.

Many border communities are economically disadvantaged and can’t bear the financial burden to build or repair their water infrastructure. Failing systems can significantly affect the environment, spilling untreated wastewater into streets, rivers and streams. This can seriously affect community health, increasing the risk of water-borne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and gastro-intestinal diseases. Unfortunately, these issues are not isolated. The U.S. and Mexico share many rivers, and sewage discharged into them pollutes our shared water resources.

My trip reemphasized to me the importance of our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program. It funds the planning, design, and construction of high-priority drinking water and wastewater treatment systems in border communities. Meeting with border residents gave me a deeper appreciation for the program’s unique technical assistance component, which helps communities select the type of infrastructure that is right for them. The program also emphasizes community participation, empowering residents to get involved in the process. Most importantly, the projects funded by this program help prevent serious health and environmental problems.

To protect the health and environment of those who call the border home, we have to continue to work collaboratively to treat pollution at the source.  Our U.S.-Mexico border water infrastructure program does just that.

About the author: Allison Martin is an ORISE participant in the Sustainable Communities Branch of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management. Allison supports the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program, Clean Water Indian Set-Aside Program, and Decentralized Program.

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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Got Gadgets and Gizmos A-Plenty

By Felicia Chou

I’m waiting for the moment when smart phones become obsolete: when scientists announce I can now share the latest doge meme, what I had for lunch, and embarrassing pictures from my last holiday party straight to the rest of the world without some clunky device. Forget game consoles, computers, tablets, and cameras. Someday, someone’s going to find a way to incorporate all those electronic devices into a miniscule hologram projector that can be embedded into something as small as a ring. 

But while we wait for science to catch up to our wildest technological fantasies, we’ve got to stick with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got are much larger gadgets and gizmos that are made of valuable resources and special materials. We’re talking about all sorts of metals, plastics, and glass, all of which take energy to mine and manufacture.

That’s why I enjoyed helping to put together our new infographic about the secret life of a cell phone. Take a look – it’ll help you make more environmentally-friendly choices to make a difference.

That includes using your electronics to their full potential, like upgrading the software and hardware as needed to get the most bang for your buck. You can also give unwanted electronics a second chance by donating or selling them. And if you’re ready to ecycle, make sure you do it with a third-party certified recycler that has protecting human health and the environment in mind.

Like floppy disks, typewriters, pagers, and virtual pocket pets, our shiny new gadgets will ultimately be replaced by superior things. But that’s ok, as long as the resources and materials we put into our gadgets today can be reused for better things tomorrow. And hopefully by the time we can share the latest video with touchable holograms, wasting resources will also have become obsolete.

About the author: Felicia Chou is a program analyst in the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. She is looking forward to the future of technology, sans homicidal robots, zombie-causing viruses, and apocalyptic computer failures.

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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