Report on the Environment

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleHappy Friday! Like most people, I love Fridays—and not just because that’s when Research Recap is posted. This Friday is especially happy because it’s a long weekend which means an extra day to relax and recharge. Did you know that mental breaks actually increase productivity and encourage creativity?

Before you head out for the long weekend and give your mind a much needed break, check out this quick recap of the latest news in Agency research.

  • Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA
    Taylor Katz spent his summer interning at EPA contributing to the Agency’s Report on the Environment. 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. Read more.
  • Happy Cities, Happy People
    The 2014 EcoDistricts Summit took place in Washington DC. The three-day conference consisted of a variety of themes like collaboration, health, innovation, technology, sharing, green building and digital tools. Diane Simunek, a Student Contractor with EPA, was able to attend and share her experience. Read more.
  • EPA Awards $4 Million Grant for Research of Drinking Water Purification
    In early September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted $4 million to the University of Colorado, Boulder to establish a national center to improve drinking water treatment facilities for small towns and rural communities. Known as DeRISK, or Design of Risk Reducing, Innovative Implementable Small System Knowledge Center, this new center will develop sustainable methods to reduce water contaminants. Read more.
  • Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki
    The Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki has been released is now open to the public. It is important to understand and map AOPs in order to incorporate toxicological data into chemical risk assessments and regulatory decision-making. The goal was to create an easy-to-use tool that will stimulate, capture, and use crowd-sourced knowledge from the scientific community. Read more.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Student contractor and writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a frequent contributor to “It All Starts with Science.”

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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Changing Times: EPA’s Report on National Trends

By Gaelle Gourmelon

Some things in my childhood memories look different when I revisit them as an adult. That tall slide in the playground? It’s really only four feet high. The endless summer bike rides to the beach? They now take ten minutes. Sometimes, however, things seem different because they’ve actually changed. I recently went to a favorite childhood beach and saw that the dock was now stranded in the water, no longer reachable from the beach. Undeniable evidence of the changing coast.

But what evidence do we have to observe real changes over time when it comes to our national environment? What data can we use to determine if our environment has meaningfully changed?

To help answer these questions, EPA released the draft Report on the Environment 2014 (ROE 2014) for public comment in March, and it will undergo external peer review on July 30-31, 2014.

The ROE 2014 is not an intimidating, technical tome; it is an interactive website, full of national-level environmental and health indicators and is designed to make it easier to find information on national environmental trends. It’s not a giant, unwieldy database. Rather, it’s a summary of important indicators that paints a picture of how our environment is changing.

Why use indicators?

Just like having a high temperature indicates you are sick, environmental indicators help us understand the health of the environment. ROE indicators are simple measures that track the state of the environment and human health over time.

For example, if we want to understand the nation’s air quality, we can measure indicators such as lead emissions, acid deposition, and particulate matter concentrations to give us clues about overall changes. These indicators can help us make informed decisions about conditions that may otherwise be difficult to measure.

Report on the Environment

An exhibit for the acid deposition indicator gives us a clue about the changes in the quality of outdoor air in the US.

 

What’s included in the Report on the Environment?

Data for the ROE indicators come from many sources, including federal and state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations. EPA brought together scientists and other experts to determine what data are accurate, representative, and reliable enough to be included. With feedback from the public and our partners, we selected 86 indicators that help to answer questions about air, water, land, human health and exposure, and ecological condition. The ROE 2014 also includes new indicators on aspects of sustainability.

Why do we need the Report on the Environment?

EPA designed the ROE to help answer mission-relevant questions and help us track how we’re doing in meeting environmental goals. But because the ROE 2014 is an easy-to-use, interactive website, scientists, decision-makers, educators, and anyone who is curious about the environment and health can view the most up-to-date national (and sometimes regional) data, too. The ROE shows trends and sets up baselines where trend data do not yet exist. It also highlights gaps where we don’t have reliable indicators.

How can I participate in the external peer review meeting?

EPA is committed to proactively engaging stakeholders, increasing transparency, and using the best available science. By releasing the draft ROE 2014 for public comment and peer review, we benefit from stakeholder and scientific engagement to support the best conclusions possible. The draft ROE 2014 website will be reviewed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board in a public meeting on July 30-31, 2014. For additional meeting details, visit the July 11, 2014 Federal Register Notice and the SAB meeting website.

How can I stay connected with the ROE?

Everyone can use the ROE to inform their discussions of environmental conditions and related policies in the U.S. The information it provides helps you understand your environment, and encourages you to ask more questions about your environment and health. Now, it’s time to investigate. Things might have changed more than you think.

Sign up to be notified about the upcoming release of the final Report on the Environment 2014; you can also receive periodic updates and highlights.

About the author: Gaelle Gourmelon was an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellow working on EPA’s Report on the Environment project from September 2012 through May 2014. Her background in biology and environmental health has fueled her passion for reconnecting people with their natural and built environment.

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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Science Wednesday: The Changing Environment – What Does It All Mean?

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

The state of the nation’s environment is changing. Sometimes the changes are obvious and sometimes they are subtle. When does it matter and why should we care?

One of the more visible and memorable events of the early environmental movement was when the Cuyahoga River, which runs through the heart of my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire in 1969. Some say that it was this event that prompted President Nixon to sign the Clean Water Act into law and create the Environmental Protection Agency.

The River that once burned now runs through a lively and bustling downtown area to Lake Erie. This is not to say that the water quality in the river and lake are now pristine, but that the improvements over time are so profound that it’s noticeable to the naked eye.

Even here in Washington, D.C., there are ways to observe environmental progress. I am lucky enough to garden in the city—a rare treat in the concrete jungle. Over the years I’ve observed changes in the insects and birds that visit our garden. Last spring my bachelor buttons were swarming with bees. This year, however, there weren’t as many.

What should I make of these changes in nature’s pollinators and natural pest management? What should our garden, city, and country do? Are the changes even relevant and is it appropriate for me to draw any conclusions? After all, I’ve only observed these changes while in pursuit of some other goal, such as watering my tomatoes, or driving through downtown Cleveland to catch a ball game.

If you find yourself wondering about the changing state of the nation’s environment and what it all means, there is one place you can go to find objective, scientifically sound information: EPA’s Report on the Environment.

EPA released its Report on the Environment (ROE) in May 2008 and has been updating it online ever since. It’s here that you can find information on the nation’s bird populations, stream water quality, air quality, and much more.

The ROE uses environmental indicators to present the status (i.e. condition) of and trends in (i.e., are things improving or not) for 85 different measurable areas of our nation’s environment in land, water, air, human health and ecosystems.

Check out the interactive Web site to see for yourself and tell us what you want to know about the nation’s changing environment.

About the author: Madalene Stevens joined EPA in 2001 and works on EPA’s Report on the Environment.

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: Planning for the Future

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

About the Author: Jay Messer, Ph.D. is a Senior Science Advisor at the National Center for Environmental Assessment in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is a lead writer of EPA’s 2008 Report on the Environment.

Watching my retirement recede into the future as the financial crisis deepened put me in mind of EPA’s 2008 Report on the Environment.

image of cover of the 2008 Report on the EnvironmentThe purposes of the Report are to “provide valuable input to EPA in devel­oping its strategic outlook and priorities, and [to] allow EPA and the public to assess whether the Agency is succeeding in its overall mission to protect human health and the environment.”

The release of the Report last spring marked the first time that such a wide range of objective, transparent, and scientifically-solid information about environmental status and trends has appeared under in a single EPA publication. I believe that it makes a valuable contribution in telling us how we’ve done over time (not bad!), but I’m less sanguine about its influence on planning for the future.

We in EPA are certainly familiar with “performance measures:”

  • EPAstat presents measures of quarterly performance, primarily aimed at short-term management “outputs,” and
  • EPA’s Annual Performance and Accountability Reports present measures of annual performance aimed at output and longer-term (e.g., 5-year) “outcome” targets for specific programs.

Performance measures are important management tools, but most of the agencies responsible for overseeing banks and securities received scores of “adequate” or better on their latest performance reviews. Apparently we needed more to protect the economy. So we probably need more to protect the environment.

Rather than measuring the performance of particular programs, the indicators in the Report on the Environment ideally reflect more on the outcomes of the way resources are allocated across and among programs, and on multi-program and multi-agency efforts to solve environmental problems and fill critical data gaps. EPA’s latest Strategic Plan notes that many of its targets are consistent with the trends in the Report, but there is no forum in which the Report is systematically used to inform strategic thinking at a higher level.

This is not a problem unique to EPA. Environmental agencies around the globe are facing the same challenge, and a review of several major environmental decisions suggests that environmental indicators seldom demonstrably inform strategic decisions. I’d argue that this needs to change and that EPA can and should provide international leadership in effectively using indicator information in strategic planning.

Because we all look forward to a healthy, well-protected environment that we can (eventually) retire to!

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.