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This Week in EPA Science

2015 January 30

By Kacey FitzpatrickTeam Research Recap

From the field, to the NFL Environmental Program, to the 120 million pounds of avocados that will be consumed – this year’s Super Bowl is all about green. Across the country, both teams and their fans are “greening” sports — saving energy, cutting waste and preventing pollution. You can read more about EPA Green Sports here.

Still not enough green for one weekend? Here is some more environmental science news in this week’s Research Recap.

  • Researchers Find New Way to Monitor Toxicity in Subsistence Foods
    The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium will launch a traditional food and water monitoring website recently developed through an EPA General Assistance Program grant, in response to widespread concerns in rural Alaska communities.
    Read more about the program in this article.
  • Connecting Students to the Natural World around Them
    Teacher Gerry Reymore was a recipient of the 2014 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.  This award recognizes K-12 teachers who use innovative methods to teach environmental education. He shared his plans for the funding in a blog post this week.
    Read the blog post here.
  • New Paper from a Pathfinder Innovation Project
    Pathfinder Innovation Projects challenge EPA scientists to answer the question, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could … ?” In the paper Systematic Proteomic Approach to Characterize the Impacts of Chemical Interactions on Protein and Cytotoxicity Responses to Metal Mixture Exposures, researchers provide a novel approach to characterizing and predicting the toxicities of metal and other chemical mixtures.
    Read the paper here.

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in 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.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

2015 January 23

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

This week in his State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that climate change is the greatest threat to our future.  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy showed support of his statement in her blog, Climate Action Protects the Middle Class, where she discussed how EPA is taking action and delivering on a key part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

EPA researchers support both the Agency and President Obama in taking action on climate change by providing the science that decision makers, communities, and individuals need to protect human health and the environment in the face of a changing climate.

You can learn more about the work EPA researchers have done to support climate action here.

And here is some more research we’ve highlighted this week.

  • EPA Releases Final Connectivity Report in Support of the Clean Water Rule
    On January 15th, EPA released the final report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence. Researchers found that the scientific literature clearly demonstrates that streams, regardless of their size or frequency of flow, are connected to downstream waters in ways that strongly influence their function.
    The report can be read here.
  • EPA Funded Research Finds BPA Exposure during Pregnancy Causes Oxidative Stress in Child, Mother
    A study done by the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at University of Michigan was published in the journal Endocrinology, which found that exposure to the chemical BPA during pregnancy can cause oxidative damage that may put the baby at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease later in life.
    Read more about the study here.

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in 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.

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.

This Week in EPA Science

2015 January 16

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

With the chilly forecast ahead, there’s only one thing better than spending this long weekend enjoying the great outdoors: reading about environmental science from the warm comfort of your couch.

Here’s this week’s Research Recap so you can do just that.

  • Advancing Species Extrapolation: EPA’s “Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility”
    EPA researchers are creating an online tool that will help predict potential chemical risks across different species. The tool, Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility or SeqAPASS, provides an example of how EPA researchers are leading the effort to usher in a new generation of faster, more efficient, and less expensive toxicology practices.
    Read the blog post. 
  • Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries
    EPA’s Lek Kadeli shared his thoughts on the scientific report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence released this week. The state-of-the-science report shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways such as rivers and lakes.
    Read the blog: “Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries” 
  • Study: Pollution Controls Really Work
    In the United States, pollution control legislation passed in 1990 began to take effect for various pollutants in 1995.  An EPA researcher recently took a look back to see exactly how effective these controls have been over the last 20 years. The study and its findings were featured in Conservation Magazine.
    Read “Study: Pollution Controls Really Work”

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in 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.

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.

Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries

2015 January 15

The following excerpt is reposted from “EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership” 

Aerial photograph of river and wetland

EPA recently released a scientific report about the connectivity of U.S. waters.

By Lek Kadeli

You may have noticed along a favorite hiking trail that some streams only appear after rainfall, or maybe you’ve seen wetlands far from the nearest river. You probably didn’t think about the importance of those smaller water bodies. But a new scientific report we’re releasing today shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

Our researchers conducted an extensive, thorough review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies to learn how small streams and wetlands connect to larger, downstream water bodies. The results of their work are being released today. The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, is a state-of-the-science report that presents findings on the connectivity of streams and wetlands to larger water bodies.

Read the rest of the post. 

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

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.

Advancing Species Extrapolation: EPA’s “Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility”

2015 January 12

By Carlie A. LaLone, Ph.D.

Graphic illustration of molecule with shapes of animals in front. I have been working with a team of EPA colleagues to create an on-line tool, Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility (SeqAPASS), that will help both researchers and regulators readily use available protein sequence and structural knowledge to extrapolate chemical toxicity information across species. When complete, this innovative research tool will help predict potential chemical susceptibility to wildlife, including plants and animals.

Through the years, scientists have come to understand that the sensitivity of a species to a chemical is determined by a number of factors including chemical exposure, absorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination, and the organism’s life-history. Additionally, an important consideration for species susceptibility is the presence or absence of proteins that interact with chemicals. Those that interact can be referred to as “protein targets.” Researchers take advantage of such protein targets to develop or improve drugs and/or pesticides, however it is known that chemicals in the environment can interact with these protein targets in other non-target species leading to unintended adverse effects.

Chemicals such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides have relatively well-defined protein targets and a majority of these proteins are curated in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) protein database maintained by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. The database contains information on millions of proteins from thousands of different species. Using this massive and continually expanding database, SeqAPASS helps identify whether a protein target is available for a chemical to act upon in a particular species, which could therefore potentially disrupt important biological processes. This method can be used, for example, to explore whether a pesticide developed to control a pest species would be predicted to affect other, non-target species such as pollinators or protected (threatened or endangered) species.

Overall, SeqAPASS provides us with a fast, efficient screening tool. Using it, we can begin to extrapolate toxicity information from a few model organisms (like mice, rats, zebrafish, etc.) to thousands of other non-target species to evaluate potential chemical susceptibility.

SeqAPASS provides an example of how EPA Chemical Safety for Sustainability researchers are leading the effort to usher in a new generation of toxicology practices that aspire to reduce the number of animals used, decrease costs, and increase the efficiency of chemical toxicity testing. The 21st century chemical toxicity testing strategy incorporates these ideals and has given rise to adverse outcome pathway (AOP) development and rapid, high-throughput chemical screening programs such as EPA’s ToxCast program.

We plan to make SeqAPASS publically available later this year. I am very passionate about the work we are doing and hope that future external engagement will enhance the SeqAPASS tool capabilities and its applications. As this project continues to evolve to incorporate the latest bioinformatic technologies for protein comparisons across species, we hope that SeqAPASS can be used to inform risk assessments, particularly in instances where toxicity data is lacking.

This research has been published in Aquatic Toxicology, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Another paper has been drafted to coincide with public release of SeqAPASS via the internet.

About the Author:  Carlie LaLone is a Postdoctoral Associate for the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center in Cooperative Training Partnership with EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is the project lead for the development of the Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility (SeqAPASS) tool.

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

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.

This Week in EPA Science

2015 January 9

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

Are you looking for a New Year’s resolution that doesn’t leave you stuck in an overcrowded gym or staring longingly into a bakeshop window?

How about staying more informed about environmental science! Research Recap is here to help keep you up to date on all that’s been happening in EPA Science.

Here is the latest to get your resolution started:

  • Mapping Estuarine Environments
    Current and historic data on estuary conditions are necessary for researchers to make informed decisions on protecting and preserving these unique environments. EPA’s Estuary Data Mapper application provides a fast, easy way for researchers to zoom into a specific estuary of interest and find current, available data for that system.
    Read more.
  • Protecting Research Volunteers: It’s All Part of the Family
    EPA is one of the 16 agencies that has signed onto the Department of Health and Human Services’ regulation to protect human subjects. EPA’s Dr. Toby Schonfeld recently attended the annual meeting of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research and shared some of EPA’s specific research protections.
    Read more.
  • Survive, Adapt, and Grow: EPA, Rockefeller Foundation Team Up for Resilient Cities
    EPA recently announced a partnership to help communities across the United States and around the world achieve city resilience by supporting 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. EPA researchers will work directly with urban communities to share a variety of innovative tools and initiatives they have developed to meet challenges.
    Read more.
  • Environmental Science: Pollution Patrol
    The journal Nature recently reported on the ‘citizen-science’ approach to providing high-resolution measurements of air pollution where people actually live. EPA’s Tim Watkins discussed how EPA is exploring how cheaper, mobile, and even wearable sensors can provide data that will complement the sparsely spaced, top-of-the-range kits.
    Read the full article here.

 

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

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in 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.

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.

Mapping Estuarine Environments

2015 January 5

By Marguerite Huber

Aerial photograph of estuary at Newport, Oregon

Estuaries serve as the connections between the ocean and freshwater rivers and streams.

As the spots that link freshwater from rivers and saltwater from the ocean, estuaries thrive as productive environments that support distinctive communities of plants and animals.

Current and historic data on estuary conditions are necessary for researchers to make informed decisions on protecting and preserving these unique environments. But with approximately 2,000 estuaries along the five US coastal regions (Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific, Alaska, and Hawaii), scientists have amassed a lot of data to keep track of, and it’s spread out among many different agencies and organizations. Traditionally, it has been a challenge to pull all that information together to see the big picture. EPA’s Estuary Data Mapper application changes that by providing a fast, easy way for researchers to zoom into a specific estuary of interest and find current, available data for that system.

The Estuary Data Mapper provides:

The mapper was designed as a one-stop-shop to support the work of environmental scientists (aquatic biologists and chemists), water ecosystem managers, non-governmental organizations and citizen groups focused on water ecosystems.

Screen shot from EPA's Estuary Data Mapper

EPA’s Estuary Mapper

The Estuary Data Mapper also includes information about coastal rivers, tributaries, and watersheds. On top of that, it gives users the ability to display background reference information, such as cities and roads, to help them explore areas of interest and learn more about the context of their inquiries. Having access to this data will help researchers gauge the status of estuary environments, and even possible threats—facilitating the use of decision-support tools to help them visualize the effects of potential management actions. For example, having access to nitrogen loading sources and predictive models of seagrass habitat can help communities and watershed organizations find ways to reduce nitrogen loads.

The Estuary Data Mapper has just released an updated version with expanded data sources on atmospheric deposition, nonpoint and point nitrogen sources and loads to estuaries and their associated watersheds. EPA researchers will continue to incorporate new data resources and update the mapper to help protect these vital, productive ecosystems well into the future.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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

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.

This Year in EPA Science

2014 December 31

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap - New Year's Edition

Our EPA researchers were hard at work in 2014—so to highlight that effort, we’ve put together a list of the ten most popular blogs from this year.

Happy New Year!

  1. How Many Breaths Do You Take Each Day?
    The average person takes between 17,280 and 23,040 breaths a day. That’s a lot of opportunity for pollutants to get into your lungs and body and to increase health risks if you are exposed to air pollution. EPA researchers are working to provide the science to protect air quality and our health.
    Read more.
  2. Green Roofs Keep Urban Climates Cooler
    EPA researchers and partners explored the three roofs—cool, green, and hybrid—designed to absorb less heat and offset the “urban heat island” effect. They compared benefits and trade-offs and their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
    Read more.
  3. Discover AQ: Tracking Pollution from the Skies and Space Above Denver
    EPA scientists teamed up with colleagues from NASA to advance clean air research. The study, known as DISCOVER-AQ, will give scientists a clearer picture of how to better measure air pollution with an array of instruments positioned on the earth’s surface, from the air, and from satellites.
    Read more.
  4. The Dose Makes the Poision, Or Does It?
    The phrase “the dose makes the poison” has been a central tenant of toxicology and an important concept in human health risk assessment. The more we learn about the health effects of chemicals, however, the more we realize things may not be quite this simple.
    Read more.
  5. Visualize Air Quality with RETIGO
    EPA scientists developed the Real-Time Geospatial Data Viewer, or “RETIGO,” a free, web-based tool that allows users to visualize air quality data derived from any number of monitoring technologies. RETIGO puts the power of analysis in the user’s hands with its interactive platform and easy-to-navigate interface.
    Read more.
  6. Human Health Risk Assessment: What It’s All About
    Risk is something we all understand but have you ever wondered exactly what Human Health Risk Assessment is? EPA’s Kacee Deener explains the concept of risk and why human health risk assessment is important.
    Read more.
  7. Street Trees: More Than Meets the Eye
    In the 2013, EPA scientists began research on “street trees” to assess their benefits. Have you ever wondered about the benefits of trees in your own backyard? You don’t have to be an arborist to find out; you can use i-Tree, a USDA Forest Service model that uses sampling data to estimate street tree benefits.
    Read more.
  8. Air Censors Citizen Science Toolbox
    Researchers at EPA have developed the virtual Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox. It will provide guidance and instructions to citizens to allow them to effectively collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate air quality data. The ultimate goal is to give citizens like you the power to collect data about the air we breathe.
    Read more.
  9. Picturing Algal Blooms in Local Waterways
    This summer, the National Environmental Education Foundation teamed up with EPA and the North American Lake Management Society to bring attention to algal blooms and their association with nutrient pollution by hosting the 2014 Algal Bloom Photo Contest.
    Read more.
  10. Globally Linking Scientific Knowledge through the Adverse Outcome Pathways Wiki
    In September, EPA and our partners released the online Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki—an interactive, virtual encyclopedia for the development and evaluation of adverse outcome pathways. Our goal for the AOP Wiki 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 shared or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in 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.

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.

Happy Holidays!

2014 December 24

Research Recap- Holiday Edition

Due to the short work week, the Research Recap will return next week. Thank you for your interest in EPA research, and happy holidays to all!

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

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.

Protecting Research Volunteers: It’s All Part of the Family

2014 December 23

By Dr. Toby Schonfeld

2014 Conference

2014 Advancing Ethical Research Conference

You know that great feeling you get when you gather with friends or family members that you haven’t seen in a while? I’m talking about that “I’m part of something special” feeling, where you barely even have to finish a sentence before others are agreeing with you, or exclaiming “Me too!” or just seem to really understand your perspective. In short, these people “get” you.

That’s the feeling I get when I attend the annual meeting of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R), as my EPA colleague Dan Nelson and I did in early December. PRIM&R is a place where people who care deeply about human subject research protections gather to share best practices and to learn from experts in ethics and compliance about contemporary strategies for human subject protections. Officially, the organization provides “professionals responsible for ensuring research protections, and those involved in the design and implementation of research protocols, with education, practical tools, and cutting-edge strategies” (PRIM&R website accessed December 23, 2014: http://www.primr.org/about/).

This year’s Advancing Ethical Research conference was no exception. More than 2,700 professionals traveled to Baltimore to participate in 130-plus break-out sessions and several special events throughout the three-day meeting.

The keynote speakers were particularly engaging this year. John Wilbanks, the Chief Commons Officer at Sage Bionetworks, discussed innovative processes for informed consent in the mobile era. The Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, drew a vivid picture of the history of clinical trials in HIV/AIDS over the past three decades, and included important comparisons between this history and current research involving ebola. Finally, Susan Lederer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave insights into the life of Henry Beecher, well known as the “whistle-blower” of unethical research in the 1960s.

Attending meetings like PRIM&R enhances our work at the Agency in a number of ways. Since EPA is one of the 16 agencies that has signed onto the Department of Health and Human Services’ regulation to protect human subjects (known as the Common Rule), we share a “parent” regulation with many other research partners. Interacting with others who apply the regulation to a variety of kinds of research enables us to learn from them how they approach issues and share with them our approaches.

As part of the sharing process, Dan and I held a “meet the EPA” session, where staff from Institutional Review Boards across the country learned about EPA’s specific research protections. Now, they will understand our particular context when research proposals supported by EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program come across their desks. Dan and I also participated in several other sessions as presenters, which enabled us to share our expertise with the rest of the human research protections community.

Through these and similar mechanisms , the Agency supports and advances important science while also ensuring that those of us who review projects for regulatory compliance are part of a community of practice that also cares deeply about the protection of the volunteers who so generously agree to be human subjects to further research. For Dan and me, they are all kind of like family.

About the Author: Dr. Toby Schonfeld is EPA’s Human Subjects Research Review Official and the Director of the Agency’s Program in Human Research Ethics and Oversight.

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

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.