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Thirty Years of Undergraduate Support through the Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship Program

2015 April 1

By Georgette Boddie

Photograph of GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

When I came to the Environmental Protection Agency some thirty five years ago, I did not know it would include the wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of so many students. As Program Manager for the Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship Program, I have worked with hundreds of Fellows to ensure that they have the support they need while in the program. I began in 1997 when it was called the Minority Academic Institutions Undergraduate Student Fellowships, which targeted underrepresented undergraduate students interested in the environmental sciences. We offered an opportunity for promising undergraduates to pursue these related disciplines as undergraduates with less of a financial burden. Fellows could also participate in a 12-week summer internship at an EPA facility, doing real-world science and engineering.

When I think back to my first group of Fellows (11 students), it is amazing to see that the program has grown to fund up to 40 students per year. And it’s even harder to believe that more than 400 students have been supported through the program.

The most rewarding part is knowing that because of GRO, Fellows were able to gain invaluable experience and find their true calling in the environmental field. Many now work in academia, the federal government, the private sector, non-government organizations and state agencies.

Our GRO Forum shares the stories of our alumni as they continue to protect human health and the environment. There are many that stand out in my mind and a few that have kept in touch with me over the years, keeping me posted about their career journey. Here are just a couple:

  • 1995 Fellow Gregory Crawford is easy to remember because he started before I was managing the program. I first reached out to him requesting information to include in the GRO Forum. He responded almost immediately and we have been in contact ever since!
  • Another that comes to mind is Cynthia Williams, a 2007 Fellow. She has been working toward her doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of California-Davis, with hopes of one day working for EPA. She has also given back to the program on numerous occasions, serving as a peer reviewer evaluating program applicants.

Those are just two examples of many memorable students I’ve been fortunate to get to know, but they all have had impacts on the program.

This year marks more than 30 years that EPA has provided support to undergraduate students through GRO. And with the recent announcement of our 2014 cohort of GRO Fellows, 34 more now have the opportunity to focus on their studies in environmental-related disciplines.

When the time comes for me to retire, I know I’ll be pleased to know that I have made a positive difference in the lives of so many students, and have helped to set their path as future environmental pioneers.

About the Author: Georgette Boddie has worked at EPA for 34 years. During that time she has served in numerous capacities, and in more recent years, as program manager for the GRO Undergraduate Fellowships program. Ms. Boddie has managed hundreds of student fellows throughout her professional career. However she has no doubt touched the lives of thousands.

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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FracFocus Report: Helping us Paint a Fuller Picture

2015 March 30

The following is an excerpt of a blog posted on EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

By Tom Burke

Portrait of Tom Burke

Thomas Burke, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development and EPA Science Advisor

Only a few years ago, very little was known about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Congress asked us to embark on a major effort to advance the state-of-the-science to accurately assess and identify those risks. Today, we are releasing a new report to provide a fuller picture of the information available for states, industry, and communities working to safeguard drinking water resources and protect public health.

The Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Registry 1.0. is a peer-reviewed analysis built on more than two years of data provided by organizations that manage FracFocus, the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Operators disclosed information on individual oil and gas production wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 and February 2013 and agency researchers then compiled a database from more than 39,000 disclosures.

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.

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Organs-on-a-Chip: The Future of Chemical Toxicity Testing

2015 March 25

By Tom Knudsen, Ph.D.

Illustration of a human brain on a computer chipLast week, my colleague Jim Johnson shared a blog post (Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models) about EPA’s leadership role to advance chemical toxicity research, including news that the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program will provide research institutions with up to $6 million each to further develop organotypic culture models (OCMs)—“organ-on-a-chip” microsystems.  The grants support innovative research that will eventually model complex functions of the human system like metabolism, multicellular communication within a tissue or target organ, and how these multiscale systems change over time.

Today, I am excited to share the three institutions that will receive EPA support to advance this innovative work. The institutions and their work are highlighted below.

  • University of Wisconsin, Madison – Human Model Analysis of Pathways Center:
    The Center will research innovative cellular modeling methods to develop a broadly applicable set of tools for toxicity screening.  Researchers will develop OCMs for functions within the liver, central nervous system and mammary gland with invasive carcinoma.
  • Vanderbilt University Resource for Organotypic Models for Predictive Toxicology:
    The Center will advance alternative methods of chemical toxicity testing using 3D cultures of tissues to reduce uncertainties regarding specific chemical exposures.  The models will simulate a more accurate response in the liver, mammary gland, limb/joint formation, and placental tissues under different conditions and stressors.
  • University of Washington – Predictive Toxicology Center for Organotypic Cultures and Assessment of AOPs for Engineered Nanomaterials:
    The Center will develop innovative OCMs to evaluate potential toxicity in cells and organs following exposure to metal-based engineered nanomaterials within an adverse outcome pathway (AOP) model.  The research will target airway tissues, kidney, liver, and testis.  Models will also factor in lifestage and genetic background.

We believe that the “organ-on-a-chip” microsystems and models the centers develop will provide vital information to predict toxicity and chemical exposure within the human body and at different lifestages and provide data that further minimizes the lengthy testing involved with animal studies. Organotypic culture models have the potential to improve, evaluate, and extend computational models that are currently under development by our own scientists.

Research data will not only help explain how organs and tissues respond to various chemicals, but these models will ultimately be used to validate other predictive models such as EPA’s virtual embryo models which will advance our understanding of the potential links between chemical exposure and development, disease, or other responses.

For more information on OCM Research and our STAR grants, please see our fact sheet.

About the Author: Tom Knudsen, Ph.D. is a developmental systems biologist at EPA’s Center for Computational Toxicology. His research focuses on predictive models of developmental toxicity—building and testing sophisticated computer models. In addition to his research at EPA, Dr. Knudsen is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Louisville, Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology, and Past-President of the Teratology Society. Read more about him and his work.

 

 

 

 

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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This Week in EPA Science

2015 March 20

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

Are you watching March Madness this weekend? Tournament halftimes are five minutes longer than regular season breaks – the perfect amount of time to read Research Recap!

Check out the latest in EPA science (after you refill that chip bowl).

  • Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models
    During the 2015 Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, EPA will host a grantee kickoff event to announce and congratulate the grantees receiving $6 million Science to Achieve Results grants to develop Organotypic Culture Models for Predictive Toxicology Research Centers.
    Read more about these efforts in the blog Exciting Times for Toxicology.
  • Best Paper in Toxicological Sciences Award
    EPA researchers Yong Ho Kim, Christina Powers, and Russell S. Thomas will be honored at the Society of Toxicology’s 54th annual meeting and ToxExpo in San Diego, CA for their work to advance understanding of the effects of chemicals on human and environmental health.
    Read more about the winning authors in the blog EPA Researchers Win Best Toxicological Paper Awards.
  • The Road to “Genius:” It All Started with Science
    Over the past decade, EPA has supported Dr. Tami Bond’s work through several grants issued to the University of Illinois where she has led projects investigating the complex relationship between black carbon and climate change. ​ A few months ago, she was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship.
    Read more about this EPA STAR Grantee and MacArthur Fellow in the blog The Road to “Genius.

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.

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The Road to “Genius:” It All Started with Science

2015 March 20

By Sherri Hunt

Sherri Hunt and Tami Bond for web (1)

MacArthur Fellow Tami Bond (left) and EPA Scientist Sherri Hunt

When I started at EPA back in 2003, my mentor, Darrell Winner and I, began working with a recently funded grantee of the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, Tami Bond. She was my first insight into the projects EPA typically funds and we were extremely excited to follow her career as she investigated the effects of black carbon. Darrell and I would soon come to know Tami as a visionary and talented researcher that is changing the world with her ground-breaking research.

Over the past decade, EPA has supported Tami’s work through several grants issued to the University of Illinois where she has led projects investigating the complex relationship between black carbon and climate change. ​ A few months ago, she was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. Also known as “genius grants,” these prestigious awards are given to individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits. Her scientific curiosity and resourcefulness have helped her become a leading name in black carbon research.

When I think back on my past 11 years working with the EPA, Tami stands out in my mind as a great role model for innovative and visionary scientists all over the world. She is a dedicated scientist that isn’t afraid to tackle big problems, yet still brings an attention to detail unlike anything Darrell and I have ever seen.

Tami’s global approach to black carbon research is a prime example of her ability to conduct meticulous research to investigate the world’s global problems.

Black carbon, a particle created through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass directly absorbs sunlight and reduces the reflectivity of snow and ice, accelerating ice and snow melt. It also contributes to the adverse impacts on human health associated with ambient fine particles, including cardiovascular and respiratory effects. Although there is still some uncertainty about black carbon, it is clear the reduction of black carbon emissions will bring both climate and public health benefits.

Early on, Tami had the forethought to look at the detailed analytical problem that exists between the scientific knowledge base surrounding black carbon and taking action on climate change.  Thanks in large part to her work, we now know that black carbon offers a promising mitigation opportunity for addressing some near-term climate effects.

The MacArthur Foundation applauds Tami for her creative “beyond the laboratory” work combining engineering and public policy to provide “the most comprehensive synthesis of the impact of black carbon on climate to date.” Her research indicates that global black carbon emissions contribute to anthropogenic climate change much more than we previously thought.

Although solving this puzzle is a daunting one, I’m confident a dauntless scientist like Tami holds the key to understanding the specific climate impacts of black carbon and helping millions of people breathe cleaner air.

About the Author: Sherri Hunt, Ph.D., is the Assistant Center Director and Matrix Interface for the EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy research program. She enjoys reading, running and connecting scientific experts to develop the next generation of work that will enable more people to breathe cleaner air.

 

Image courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Image courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

EPA STAR Grantee and MacArthur Fellow Tami Bond, Ph.D. recently stopped by EPA’s Headquarters in Washington, DC and answered a few questions for us. 

When did you first know you wanted to be a scientist?

I still don’t know if I want to be a scientist but I know I want to solve problems.

I grew up in Southern California which was very polluted at the time and it never occurred to me that that was weird. That there were days that you just couldn’t play outside and that was just the normal. After I had moved away, I was coming back to visit my parents. In Southern California there is a bowl of mountains and all of the Los Angeles pollution washes up against the mountains where my parents lived. As the plane was diving down into this cauldron of brown soot I just went “I have to do something about this.” That was my ‘a-ha’ moment.

I’m not sure I would consider myself a scientist really. I’m an engineer and I use scientific tools to solve problems.

Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to be an engineer?

I went to college for a year and then I left. I worked in an auto shop and I just wanted to learn a lot about cars because I thought they were cool. The environment in the auto shop was a little bit chauvinistic. So one day, I woke up and I decided I want to go to engineering school and then it just clicked. I figured I’m not going to work on cars – I’m going to design cars.

What do you like most about your research?

The ability to put things together. I enjoy the hard science and the discovery but we are still at a rewarding phase of scientific development. A lot of disciplines haven’t merged and people don’t know how to merge them. The notion that you can solve something using two or three different tools is fun.

What has the EPA STAR program meant to your work?

A lot. There are agencies that fund basic science but EPA is the one that really focuses on the use of basic science to tackle applied problems. And that’s what I’m attracted to — things that make a difference to people. I think I would be really frustrated if EPA or the STAR program didn’t exist.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in a career in science or engineering? 

Learn the basics really well. Don’t worry about if it relates to what you want to do because everything will eventually relate to what you want to do.

What do you think our biggest scientific challenge is in the next 20/50/100 years?

This is probably not what you are expecting to hear but the ability to synthesize all the information that is flowing from the scientific community. We are generating knowledge at an amazing rate. A single person’s brain is not getting any more connections in it and yet the amount of information is growing exponentially. We need the ability to capitalize on the wealth of knowledge that we have already developed.

I can think of societal challenges like climate change or energy consumption that we’re going to have to tackle but I think that the challenge for scientists is in the way we do business so that we are able to tackle these challenges.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?

I would like to be able to become really small so I wouldn’t need to use instruments to look at particles.

 

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 Researchers Win Best Toxicological Paper Awards

2015 March 19
EPA scientists Yong Ho Kim, Christina Powers, and Russell S. Thomas

EPA scientists Yong Ho Kim, Christina Powers, and Russell S. Thomas were recognized by the Society for Toxicology.

By Dina Abdulhadi

EPA researchers will be honored March 22, 2015 at the Society of Toxicology’s 54th annual meeting and ToxExpo in San Diego, CA for their work to advance understanding of the effects of chemicals on human and environmental health. Having worked in a toxicology lab at EPA for the past year, I can appreciate the significant amount of hours and effort that go into producing publishable scientific work.

The first authors on the papers receiving the honors are Russell S. Thomas, Director of EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology, Yong Ho Kim and Christina Powers.

EPA scientist Russell S. Thomas accepts his award

March 23 update: EPA scientist Russell S. Thomas accepts his award.

Thomas and his co-authors won the Best Paper in Toxicological Sciences Award. Their work used risk assessment models to understand how chemicals affect the way our genetic information translates into molecules and results in cancer and non-cancer effects. This type of so-called “omics” data (such as transcriptomics data) can be used to help make decisions on regulating chemicals. The paper, “Temporal Concordance between Apical and Transcriptional Points of Departure for Chemical Risk Assessment” was published in Toxicological Sciences, the official journal of the Society of Toxicology.

Kim and Powers each received a Best Postdoctoral Publication Award, provided to early-career scientists for their contributions in toxicology.

Kim’s paper addressed how the size of particulate matter, an air pollutant from peat fires, may affect the type of health impact. Larger particles were linked to respiratory effects, while smaller particles were linked to cardiovascular effects. The paper, “Cardiopulmonary Toxicity of Peat Wildfire Particulate Matter and the Predictive Utility of Precision Cut Lung Slices,” was published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology.

The study also found a way to decrease the animals needed for an experiment. That’s a big plus for both the effort to reduce the use of animals in research and cost. Cultured lung tissue slices (ex vivo) of an animal produced similar lung toxicity data when compared to a whole animal (in vivo).

Powers received an award for a paper that connects research planning to risk assessments of certain chemicals in the environment. The research focused on multi-walled carbon nanotubes, which are used in a variety of consumer products as flame retardants. The paper, “Sparking Connections: Toward Better Linkages between Research and Human Health Policy — An Example with Multiwalled Carbon Nanotubes” is published in Toxicological Sciences.

The Society of Toxicology (SOT) will formally award the researchers at an awards ceremony. SOT is an organization of over 7,600 scientists whose goal is to create a safer and healthier world by advancing the science of toxicology.

If you are attending this year’s Society of Toxicology annual meeting, I encourage you to find out more about EPA’s advances in toxicology research. EPA’s research will be featured during SOT sessions, symposia, workshops, platform presentations, poster sessions and at EPA’s booth in the exhibit hall. To find out when EPA’s research will be featured at SOT, you can visit EPA’s SOT web page at: http://epa.gov/research/sot/. For more information on the awards and the Society of Toxicology, check out the press release.

About the Author: Dina Abdulhadi is a student contractor currently 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.

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Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models

2015 March 18

By Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr.

image of a computer chip with wires coming offNext week, a number of my EPA colleagues will join toxicologists from across the world in San Diego, CA for the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo.” The gathering will feature more than 160 scientific sessions and 2,400 poster presentations, providing important insights into how the study of chemical toxicity can better protect public health and the environment.

Although this particular conference has been going on for more than half a century, these are exciting times for toxicologists. And I’m proud to say that EPA is helping lead the way.

Our researchers and their partners are ushering in a new generation of chemical testing and screening methods, developing “virtual embryos” and other complex models that use scientific data, computer power, and sophisticated calculations to mimic the potential effects of toxins on actual tissues and organs. With other federal partners, they are using robots to advance fast and efficient high-throughput-screening assays, greatly accelerating the pace of chemical screening while dramatically reducing the use of laboratory animals—and costs.

We are also supporting innovative, world-class research through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program. New STAR grants will be announced at the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting (March 25 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) when we will hold a kickoff meeting of our newly established Organotypic Cell Models for Predictive Toxicology Centers. This research is part of EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program.

The research Centers are being established to  develop three-dimensional models, sometimes called “organs-on-a-chip,” which can be used to replicate human biological interactions within tissues and organs. When developed and evaluated, these models known as Organotypic Culture Models (hence the name of the Centers) will help investigate the toxic effects of chemical substances. Such models are established from isolated cells or from tissue fragments, bridging the gap between conventional, single-layered cell cultures and whole-animal systems.

What the Centers learn will be used to develop computational models that can help predict responses and outcomes from chemical exposures, such as human disease and long-term effects on tissue and organ growth. The models they develop will also mimic biological functions such as a metabolic process.

If you are attending the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo” this year, you are welcome to come to the March 25th grantee kick-off meeting.

The impact of all this activity is a new wave of toxicology testing that is faster, more efficient, and far less costly. This will help us at EPA with our number one priority: protecting human health and the environment. That’s some pretty exciting news.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

Please note: We’ll be sharing more about EPA participation at the annual Society of Toxicology Meeting throughout next week, so please check back to learn 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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This Week in EPA Science

2015 March 13

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap St. Patrick's Day

Can’t wait until next week to be green? Start St. Patrick’s Day a little early by reading about environmental science!

Here’s the latest in EPA research.

  • EPA Administrator Visits Newark’s New Community Air Pollution Project
    Administrator Gina McCarthy joined New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, and other community members at Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood Family Success Center to launch an EPA-Ironbound partnership for community air monitoring that is a first of its kind citizen science project.
    Read about the partnership in Training Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality.
  • Got an Environmental Science Question? Ask an EPA Scientist!
    Have you ever had a question about something you saw and wished you had an expert you could ask? In this new blog series, I ask EPA scientists questions about environmental science that were submitted online. The first post tackles this question – Is road salt bad for the environment?
    Read the answer in this week’s Ask an EPA Scientist blog.
  • Contributions in Environmental and Conservation Fields
    March is Women’s History Month, and EPA is marking the event by highlighting the many contributions women have made to the environmental and conservation fields. We shared advice that EPA women scientists and engineers have for students looking to make their own mark in environmental and conservation history.
    Read their advice in this Women’s History Month blog.

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.

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Training Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality

2015 March 13

By Amanda Kaufman

Next-generation air monitor developed by EPA researchers

Next-generation air monitor developed by EPA researchers

As a science fellow at EPA, I am working with Agency researchers to help bring local air measurement capabilities to communities. This includes training citizen scientists with next generation air monitors developed by EPA researchers. One such device is the Citizen Science Air Monitor, which contains many sophisticated instruments to measure air quality under its sleek and simple design.

Today, Administrator Gina McCarthy is joining New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, and other community members at Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood Family Success Center to launch an EPA-Ironbound partnership for community air monitoring that is a first of its kind citizen science project. Read the press release.

The monitor does a lot for being so small and portable. It measures two air pollutants—nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter—as well as relative humidity and temperature. Residents of the Ironbound community are using the monitors to measure pollutants in different locations, during different times of the day and under a variety of weather conditions. The community is impacted by many sources of air pollutants.

In January, I traveled to Newark with researchers who developed the monitor to help train members of the Ironbound Community Corporation to use and maintain the monitors and collect data. The training was very hands-on and the participants were enthusiastic. They even turned the exercise for assembling the monitors into a friendly competition.

EPA researchers shared two training manuals that they developed as part of the outreach project. The quality assurance guidelines and operating procedures manuals are available to the public and are part of an online Citizen Science Toolbox developed to assist citizen scientists who are interested in using new air sensor technologies.

While the quality assurance guidelines and operating procedure are specific to the monitor developed for the Ironbound community, many of the concepts detailed in the documents are transferable to similar air quality monitoring efforts using next generation air monitors. The manuals are:

The ultimate goal of the research project is to empower people with information to address their local air quality concerns. I am glad to be a part of this important activity empowering a community to monitor their local quality

About the Author: Amanda Kaufman is an ORISE participant hosted by EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy national research program.

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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Got an Environmental Science Question? Ask an EPA Scientist!

2015 March 10

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

 

Front loader loads road salt into a large dump truck.

What happens to all that salt? Image courtesy of Maryland State Highway Administration

Have you ever had a question about something you saw and wished you had an expert you could ask? This happens to me all the time, so I decided to take advantage of working at EPA and start a new blog series called ‘Ask an EPA Scientist.’

I’m kicking off the series with a question that’s been on my mind recently.

Walking in a winter wonderland can be magical – but what about driving in one? Not so great. As I was driving (very slowly) through a snowstorm last week, I started wondering: What happens to all that road salt after the snow melts? Is it bad for the environment?

To find out, I asked EPA ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. who conducts research on riparian zones and stream restoration. He and two Agency colleagues recently published a paper (Cooper et al. 2014) looking at the effects of road salt on a local stream.

Below is what he told me.

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. at a stream restoration research site.

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. at a stream restoration research site.

Paul Mayer: Road salts are an important tool for making roads safer during ice and snowstorms. Every winter about 22 million tons of road salt and other de-icers are used nationwide. Some washes from roadways into nearby bodies of water. This is a growing concern for the health of our urban watersheds because it can affect water quality and aquatic organisms.

I’ve been part of a study collecting surface and ground water data in Minebank Run, an urban stream in Maryland, since November 2001. We found that salt levels (chloride and sodium) there are chronically elevated throughout the year.

Road salts can accumulate and persist in our waterways, often even into the summer months. We found that the levels are significantly higher downstream of a major nearby road (I-695 beltway), suggesting that this roadway is a significant source of salts in the watershed.

This is a concern for Minebank Run because such salinization may reduce the benefits of restoration work that has been done, limiting the benefits the stream provides the local community and across the watershed. Increased salinity in freshwater systems can also damage or kill vegetation. Other research has indicated that road salts represent a risk to the safety of drinking water sources in the Baltimore area and elsewhere (Kaushal et al. 2005).

The implication of our research and others’ is that stream ecosystems in areas where road salts are routinely applied are at risk of environmental damage and that human health may also be at risk if water supplies are affected.

Kacey: I’m glad I asked! I also found some additional information that includes what we can do to reduce the impact of road salt:

 

Ask an EPA Scientist!
Do you have your own environmental science questions you’d like to see featured on our blog? Please email them to Fitzpatrick.kacey@epa.gov, post them in the comments section below, or tweet them to @EPAresearch using #EnvSciQ. We’ll pick as many as we can to pass along to our scientists, get them answered, and share the Q&A here on this blog. Stay tuned!

About the Author: Curious science writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor working with EPA’s Science Communication team, and a frequent contributor to It All Starts with Science.

References Cited

Cooper, CA, PM Mayer, BR Faulkner.  2014.  Effects of road salts on groundwater and surface water dynamics of sodium and chloride in an urban restored stream.  Biogeochemistry 121:149-166.  DOI: 10.1007/s10533-014-9968-z  (Accessed at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10533-014-9968-z)

Kaushal, et al. 2005. Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. PNAS 102:13517-13520. (Accessed at http://www.pnas.org/content/102/38/13517.abstract.)

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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