Science Wednesday

The Bottom Line: Why Permeable Pavements are Good for the Environment and Your Pocket

by Jeanna Henry

A Philadelphia Water Department parking lot includes interlocking concrete permeable pavers and other types of permeable pavements

A Philadelphia Water Department parking lot includes interlocking concrete permeable pavers and other types of permeable pavements

Are you looking for ways to reduce your environmental footprint, improve water quality, and save money?  If so, permeable pavements are a great way to green your community – and put some “green” back in your pockets.

We’ve blogged recently about the environmental benefits of permeable pavements, a green infrastructure alternative that can be used for stormwater management in urban areas.  Did you know this technology also provides a host of economic benefits?

Permeable pavements are one way take advantage of financial incentives from many state and local governments for reducing stormwater fees, and they can potentially help developers and property owners qualify for credits under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.

Local economies also benefit from the use of permeable pavements because they create “green” jobs. In addition, permeable pavements serve as both a paved surface and a stormwater management system, so they can reduce the need for conventional stormwater management practices such as piping, retention ponds and swales, resulting in overall cost savings.

Permeable paving is being used across the mid-Atlantic, in places like Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD. But my favorite illustration of cost savings is out of the University of New Hampshire (UNH), which happens to also be one of five recent Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant recipients researching green infrastructure in Philadelphia.

This UNH case study compares the costs of conventional and low impact development (LID) stormwater management designs.  The LID design included the installation of two porous asphalt parking lots covering a total of 4.5 acres.  Although the paving costs for the porous asphalt drainage systems were estimated to cost an additional $884,000, the LID option provided significant cost savings for earthwork ($71,000) and stormwater management ($1,743,000). Total project cost savings were around $930,000, a 26% decrease in the overall cost for stormwater management.

The LID option doesn’t just save money, monitoring results from the case study show that porous asphalt systems are successfully treating stormwater to remove sediment and nutrients to protect local waterways, and meeting durability and permeability expectations for peak flow.

Interested in more on permeable pavements, like porous asphalt and pervious concrete? The National Ready Mix Concrete Association, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, and the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute have information on certified craftsmen, installers and technicians in your area as well as information on how to become certified in these green infrastructure techniques.

 

About the author: Jeanna Henry joined EPA in 2000 as an Environmental Scientist. She currently works in the Water Protection Division focusing on stormwater management through the use of Green Infrastructure. Jeanna loves nothing more than spending time outdoors with family and friends hiking, kayaking or spending a day at the beach.

 

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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Protecting the Environment for Today and the Future

By Karen Flournoy

We all have the responsibility to protect the environment for today and the future. For some of us, we have the honor every day of protecting the environment – working for EPA, state environmental agencies, other federal or state agencies, businesses, or legal or technical firms. I was in high school when President Nixon signed the order to create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I didn’t imagine that someday I would work for the EPA!

As a kid, I was interested in science, loved being outdoors, and had a rock collection built by family and friends who brought me rocks when they traveled. I was determined in 4th grade to go to college because I wanted to study science or be an astronaut, as the space program was just beginning. In college in the 1970s, I studied civil engineering at the encouragement of my Dad. While many of my male classmates were interested in structures or transportation, I pursued my interest in wastewater. After almost one year at a consulting firm working on wastewater treatment plant projects, I was offered a job at EPA Region 7.

I’ve served in many roles throughout my career in EPA Region 7. I began as an engineer in the construction grants program reviewing wastewater treatment plant projects for funding, then moved to the site cleanup (Superfund) program, and later spent six years advising the Region 7 Administrator on environmental issues in agriculture. Now I serve as the Director of the Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. We are responsible for safe drinking water, wastewater permitting and storm water management, watershed projects, pesticides, and lead-based paint. We also manage the wastewater and drinking water state revolving loan funds, working with states to fund projects for drinking water and wastewater treatment.

What does protecting the environment really mean? For those of us who work at EPA, it means:

  • Making sure the laws passed by Congress are carried out through regulations and voluntary programs.
  • Providing information to students, the public, and regulated facilities.
  • Finding answers to environmental challenges through research.
  • Working with federal, state, local, and tribal partners to carry out environmental programs.

What does protecting the environment for today and the future mean for you?

  • Consider a career in environmental protection or encourage students to pursue careers in the environment, science, engineering, and math.
  • Purchase Energy Star and WaterSense labeled products to save energy and conserve water. Fix leaks in your toilets, faucets, and irrigation systems.
  • Be an example for children, including how to recycle, compost or properly dispose of items that cannot be recycled or composted.
  • Learn about your community’s wastewater and drinking water systems. The pipes under the ground that we don’t see every day carry safe drinking water to homes and businesses and wastewater to treatment plants.
  • Keep trash out of lawns and storm drains, and pick up pet waste.
  • Don’t rinse grease down your kitchen sink.
  • If you have a septic system, pump out the contents to ensure proper operation and protect nearby streams and groundwater.
  • Keep drinking water supplies safe by not disposing of chemicals on the ground and by applying the proper rate of fertilizer to your lawn.
  • Install a rain garden to keep rainwater on the property and rain barrels to catch rainwater for watering plants and lawns.
  • If you farm, install and maintain best management practices to minimize runoff of fertilizers and nutrients from farm fields, and keep livestock and manure from animal feeding operations out of streams.

If you already are a protector of the environment, that’s great! Keep up the good work! If you would like to learn more about what you can do to protect the environment for today and the future, please visit www.epa.gov for more information.

Karen Flournoy serves as the Director of EPA Region 7’s Water, Wetlands and Pesticides Division. She has a degree in civil engineering and has served in a number of positions in Region 7. Karen is a native Kansan with a lifelong interest in science and water.

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: It All Starts with Science

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

By Aaron Ferster

July 23rd, 2008. That was the launch of our first Science Wednesday blog.

Since then, we’ve faithfully posted Wednesday blogs and entertained hundreds of comments from readers. We’ve covered topics ranging from nanotechnology to watersheds, and from bedbugs to biodiversity.

But today marks a milestone in our science blogging efforts here at EPA. Today is the last science blog that will appear under the Science Wednesday heading.

Next week, we’ll be joining the rest of the EPA blog community as we usher in the next generation of Greenversations. Starting next Wednesday, Science Wednesday will be…(drum roll, please…) It All Starts with Science, an EPA blog about science matters (ta da!).

You’ll be able to find us at blog.epa.gov/blog.

The new titles better reflects the central role science plays here at EPA. And since we have way more science than fits into one blog per week, we are gearing up to post more frequently about our ongoing research efforts. Our new design will also have plenty of options for you to get alerts about new posts, or have them delivered right to your inbox.

Sharing stories about human health and environmental science has been a natural fit ever since EPA started its blog. That’s because everything that EPA does to meet its core mission to protect human health and the environment starts with science. EPA researchers and engineers provide the data, knowledge, and tools that form the foundation of every decision the Agency makes.

The collective impact of that work, conducted over more than 40 years, has resulted in cleaner air and water, and healthier communities across the country. Today, that work continues to protect people while advancing a more sustainable, vibrant future for us and for our children.

Almost three years ago while introducing Science Wednesday, I wrote, “there never seems to be a shortage of fascinating stories unfolding at labs and field sites wherever researchers or engineers are running experiments, gathering data, or building the next prototype.” That has certainly proved to be the case, and I look forward to continuing to share that exciting work in our new blog.

Because at EPA, It All Starts with Science.

About the author: The soon-to-be former editor of “Science Wednesday”, Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer-editor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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: Life after College

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

By Rachel Belkin

As a college senior graduating this May, the number of times I have been asked ‘what are you doing after college’ has multiplied as each sweet week of the safety-net of college goes by. Questioned by everyone from my mother to the front desk person at my apartment, I began to doubt the general idea of life after college and developed a fear of getting stuck at one job forever.

After another sleepless night a few weeks ago, I went to my internship in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD). That day was the Assistant Administrator Paul Anastas’s farewell. Dr. Anastas, a.k.a. the “Father of Green Chemistry,” was returning to his family and to his post as the head of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.

My fellow intern and I got assigned to the lobby to escort guests. We got to talking about life after college (what else!) and I told her about my crisis. She pointed to Paul Anastas’s vibrant career, which began as a staff chemist at EPA, then brought him to the American Chemical Society, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Yale, and then back to EPA as an Assistant Administrator.

During his farewell speech, Dr. Anastas gave excellent advice for the future of the EPA, such as the status quo being our enemy and not to steal from our children through environmental degradation. I couldn’t help but think about his career. I don’t know if Dr. Anastas had his own early life crisis, but he certainly didn’t get stuck. He’s had an amazing career doing things all across the spectrum.

Although I doubt I will become an EPA Assistant Administrator—and I definitely will not become a chemist—I took Dr. Anastas’s career as an outline for my own future. I know that whatever I end up doing this May does not have to be for the rest of my life.

With that in mind, I decided to revisit an idea I’ve been struggling with—joining the Peace Corps. Like Dr. Anastas’s two years at the helm of ORD, my potential two years and three months as a Peace Corps volunteer is really just a blimp on the radar of my evolving career path.

I finished my Peace Corps application two weeks after Dr. Anastas’s speech, and have been sleeping fine since.

About the author: EPA science Communication intern Rachel Belkin is a senior at the University of Maryland, and looking forward to what’s next.

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:Innovation for Clean Water

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

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Recently, I sat down with Sally Gutierrez, EPA’s Chief of the Environmental Innovation Technology Cluster Development and Support Program, located in Cincinnati, OH. She oversees the Water Technology Innovation Cluster, a public-private partnership covering Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana.

Over the last year, the Water Cluster has had significant impact on the way we view water research and water technology commercialization. Gutierrez said, “The region has attracted many emerging small water technology businesses, resulting in several cooperative research agreements and technical assistance from EPA researchers, as well as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to small businesses developing new technologies to keep our water clean.”

Three of those Small Business awards went to regional companies such as UES, Inc located in Dayton, Ohio. According to Gutierrez, they are developing a real-time In-line sensor for wastewater monitoring. This new technology will be able to detect biological agents and toxins in our water supply in real-time. Something that, if successful, would redefine the way we monitor our wastewater and provide utilities, and EPA, a new way to prevent contaminants from reaching our water.

Speaking of contaminants in our water, Faraday Technology, also in Ohio, is developing a new microelectrode array technology that will enable multiple contaminant monitoring in drinking water, wastewater, surface water and ground water according to Gutierrez.

And with our freshwater resources dwindling, Okeanos Technologies, in northern Kentucky, is developing an innovative new way to take the salt out of saltwater. “Their desalination system uses ion concentration polarization elements and modular arrays,” Sally adds. “This technology takes a really innovative approach to desalination that uses less energy and along with the salt, removes multiple contaminants, including trace contaminants, from water which is of great interest to EPA.”

The impact these small businesses could potentially have on our water supply and even our economy as they grow and create jobs is tremendous. These companies, and the other SBIR winners, are great examples of how a public-private partnership works in developing new technologies to keep our water safe.

As we celebrate 40 years of the Clean Water Act, it’s important to note that the challenges we face today are more subtle and more complex than they were 40 years ago. It’s great that the Water Cluster is looking for new technologies, more innovative and sustainable solutions to make sure that our water supplies are safe and clean for future generations.

About the author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a communications specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: To hear Sally Gutierrez talk about the exciting innovations flowing out of the Water Cluster, listen to the latest Science Matters podcast.

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: Why Research Matters at Breakfast Time

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

By Tarlie Townsend

I cover breakfast cereal halfway with unsweetened almond milk, then add an ice cube and fill the bowl the rest of the way with cold water.

My flat mates think it’s pretty odd. What doesn’t strike them as odd, though, is that I consume water from the tap. Why would it? These days we can be confident that, when we turn on the tap, clear, potable water will flow out.

But maybe that shouldn’t be such a given. It’s not like we create pure water by combining two hydrogens and an oxygen in some giant combustion chamber. No, the water I put on my cereal has made it through the earth’s complex recycling system, and may have spent time on land, in the ocean, and in the air—so it’s actually pretty impressive that it comes out so clean.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Years ago, rivers and streams—common sources of drinking water—were also dumping grounds for human and industrial waste. Sure, people knew polluted water was unsafe to consume, but the details weren’t well understood. Before water could be clean enough to pour on my cereal, and before environmental laws (such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act) could be created to keep it that way, scientists had to tackle several important questions:

  1. What about polluted water makes it unsafe? What are its biological, chemical, and physical properties?
  2. How do we detect and measure a given pollutant?
  3. How much can be in the water without creating health concerns?
  4. How do we remove pollutants to actually get the water clean?

These were big questions, and answering them required several decades and the development of innovative technologies and analytical methods. I’m certainly grateful: without EPA research, I might have to eat my cereal with unsweetened almond milk!

Of course, continued research is necessary to keep up with our changing society. EPA researchers play a big role in this, working to update water infrastructure for the growing population, to protect our drinking water from terrorist threats, combat nutrient pollution and, ultimately, ensure the availability of safe and sustainable water resources for future generations.

About the Author: Tarlie Townsend is a communications intern in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She’s also a senior at Indiana University, and would point out that, while almond milk is great in cereal, cow’s milk is really the superior coffee ingredient.

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: Big Ideas in Tiny Particles

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
By Phil Sayre
You may have heard of nanotechnology, but then again, maybe you haven’t.  Despite the ubiquity of nanotechnology—it is now widely used in products ranging from clothing (which incorporates bacteria-fighting nano silver) and sunscreen, to nanoengineered batteries, fuel cells and catalytic converters—many people don’t know what it is or why it’s important.

It’s easy to discount the impacts of nanotechnology because we don’t see nanoparticles.  They are really small.  In fact, a nanometer is a mere one billionth of a meter.  If that doesn’t give you a visual, here are some examples of what I mean:
•    A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
•    There are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch
•    A human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers wide.

Despite their diminutive nature, nanomaterials have global impact.  Research funds for nanotechnology have steadily increased over the past decade to over $10 Billion USD per year worldwide!

The U.S. government’s efforts to assess the potential risks of nanotechnology are coordinated by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a collaborative project comprised of 25 agencies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Environment and Health Sciences, National Institute of Health, and others. The NNI is also cooperating with the European Commission to conduct environmental, health and safety research (for more, see: http://us-eu.org).
The big question about nanotechnology is not whether we can benefit from the technology, but whether we can ensure the technology is as safe as possible.

Over the next three years, the EPA will be working to design a number of new tools that will make it much easier for manufacturers and consumers to recognize the safety or danger of certain nanomaterials.  We also plan to provide solutions and alternatives to the way nanomaterials are produced in order to make their production greener in the near future.
As we collect more data on nanoparticles, we can better understand how to use nanotechnology in sustainable, healthy ways.  Nanomaterials are excellent tools for efficiency and sustainability, and every year we become more and more adept at using those tools to make our world a better place.

Attending the Society of Toxicology Conference in San Francisco this week?  Be sure to attend the Nano Workshop on March 13 (2:45pm – 3:45pm) that will summarize U.S and E.U. Nanotechnology research programs.

About the author: Phil Sayre is the Deputy National Program Director for the Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program.

Editors 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: EPA Teams Up with L’Oréal to Advance Research

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

By Monica Linnenbrink

Now I can look great and feel good about using my favorite mascara. Why? Because EPA researchers are collaborating with L’Oréal to help end the need for animal testing. EPA is using its ToxCast program to screen chemicals to understand their potential impact on biological processes that may lead to adverse health effects.

EPA’s ToxCast program screens chemicals using state-of-the-art scientific methods (including robots!) to learn how these chemicals affect the human body. We’ve never tested chemicals found in cosmetics before, so this partnership with L’Oréal will expand the types of chemicals that ToxCast screens.

L’Oréal is providing EPA $1.2 million in collaborative research funding plus safety data from a set of representative substances used in cosmetics, which will expand the types of chemical use groups assessed by ToxCast. EPA will then compare its ToxCast results to L’Oréal’s data to determine if ToxCast is appropriate for use in assessing the safety of chemicals used in cosmetics.

Traditional chemical toxicity testing is very expensive and time consuming, so many chemicals in use today have not been thoroughly evaluated for potential toxicity. ToxCast, on the other hand, is able to rapidly screen thousands of chemicals via hundreds of tests and provide results that are relevant to various types of toxicity.

As someone who uses L’Oréal products, I’m excited that they are taking the initiative to better understand how chemicals in their cosmetics might interact with my body’s natural processes. I’m also excited to hear that they are exploring new ways of testing that could end the need for animal testing. Since I use their products on my face, it’s nice to know that L’Oréal is working to ensure their products are safe to use and are working to do this in an animal friendly way.

About the author: Monica Linnenbrink is a Public Affairs Specialist 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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Science Wednesday: Reduce + Reuse + Recycle = Results!

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

By Nisha S. Sipes

Who knew that we could help make our environment healthier by using new and recycled data!

This month, I have the honor of being presented the Best Postdoctoral Publication Award by the Society of Toxicology (SOT) for my paper “Predictive models of prenatal developmental toxicology from ToxCast high-throughput screening data.” In other words, I studied how new technologies using both new and old data can determine which chemicals are potentially toxic to development.

Along with many other EPA scientists, I have been researching if it’s possible to predict a chemical’s potential toxicity using efficient new technologies in EPA’s ToxCast program. The ToxCast program is running thousands of chemicals through hundreds of different tests in a “high-throughput screening” (HTS) process. If we’re successful, we will be able to better understand how a chemical is toxic to the body and reduce the need for animal testing—all while saving lots of time and money on testing.

My paper focuses on building computer models to predict the toxic effects of chemicals on prenatal development using two sets of data: traditional toxicity data (gathered from 30 years worth of laboratory studies) and ToxCast data (gathered from HTS methods). I compared the two groups of data, and after crunching the numbers we could show that these new HTS methods could predict results from old-school animal testing for developmental toxicity.

It turns out that the ToxCast data can provide new information about which chemicals are toxic to development. We can also use these new technologies to pick out which chemicals are toxic specifically to rat development or rabbit development without animal testing. That level of specificity was wishful thinking just a few years ago!
Hopefully these models, built from reused and recycled traditional toxicity data, will help pave the way for quickly prioritizing which chemicals need a thorough evaluation and will eventually reduce the need for costly and time-consuming animal toxicity testing.

As we get further along in our HTS research, we can use what we’ve learned from this study to better identify target chemicals that may be toxic to humans.

About the author: Nisha Sipes is a post-doctoral fellow for EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. She joined EPA in 2009 and specializes in using computational approaches to understand chemicals’ developmental toxicology.

Editor’s Note: Attending the SOT meeting in San Francisco? Be sure to catch Nisha next week as she presents her paper and the predictive model: March 13, 2012 at 9:37 AM (Pacific time).

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: Lessons from Wildfires and Air Pollution

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

By Martha Sue Carraway

I grew up in the eastern part of North Carolina, near the coastal area and the Great Dismal Swamp. This is home to wide open spaces, long views, and clean air. During a visit Down East this past weekend, I was sitting indoors watching an icy rain fall. But just the day before, spring was everywhere, with new buds and green sprouts widely present. Spring does come a bit earlier down here than in my adopted home in the Triangle. It’s a good place to start my piece on the Green Hearts Campaign.

I began working at the EPA Human Studies Facility in 2007, and was happy to have a job that would allow me to use my background in medicine (I am a lung doctor) and science to study how air pollution harms people by affecting the cardiovascular system. Near the end of my first year, in June 2008, a very large wildfire broke out in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. This was the first of a number of significant fires in eastern North Carolina over the past years, and they seem to be increasing. Smoke from this low burning, smoldering fire cast a haze over the clean skies of eastern North Carolina.

PamlicoSoundsunriseImagine my excitement when scientists at the Clinical Research Branch came together with investigators across EPA to study the health impacts this fire was having on the residents who lived nearby. Because I was away for a few days for my parents 50th wedding anniversary during the planning, I narrowly missed the chance to have an air pollution monitor sited in my home town of Windsor! I enjoyed participating in this project and gathering data about the frequency of emergency department visits during the time of the fire. We found that in areas heavily affected by the wildfire smoke, people were more likely to go to hospital Emergency Departments to seek treatment for symptoms of heart failure and respiratory problems. We hope that some of the lessons learned from this fire will help keep people safer during future fire events. It is rewarding to know that the work we do at EPA impacts people near my home. I am happy that my parents and friends have learned about the air quality index that can help inform them when the air is not healthy anywhere in the USA.

About the author: Martha Sue Carraway is a Pulmonologist and works as a Medical Officer and Principal Investigator at the U.S .EPA Clinical Research Branch, Environmental and Public Health Division, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Find out more about our study of the Pocosin Refuge wildfire

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.

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.