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This Week in EPA Science

2014 December 19

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap- Holiday Edition

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the Agency,
Our researchers were working, so much discovery!

Is there one place, where all this can be found?
One science review, no looking around?

Here’s my present to you, no need to unwrap
Right here on this blog, your Research Recap!

 

 

  • Climate Change and Extreme Events Research Showcased at American Geophysical Union Meeting
    EPA’s Dr. Michael Hiscock recently attended the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting where he convened a technical session focused on the complex interaction between climate change, extreme events, air and water quality. The session featured scientists and research teams from 20 different countries. Dr. Hiscock shared his experience on the blog.
    Read more.
  • New Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water
    EPA along with other federal agencies and private partners announced the Nutrient Sensor Challenge. The challenge will help accelerate the development of sensors that can be deployed in the environment to measure nutrients in our country’s waterways. Its goal is to have new, affordable sensors up and running by 2017.
    Read more.
  • Growing Environmentally-Friendly Packaging Out of Mushrooms
    Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer were awarded an EPA Small Business Innovative Research grant in 2009 to fund their research for Ecovative, a biodesign company. Using the roots of mushrooms, Ecovative turns agricultural waste into “green” packing materials, insulation and even surfboards. Their business was recently featured on National Public Radio.
    Read more.
    And check out Gavin McIntyre’s It All Starts with Science blog on Ecovative.
  • The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology
    Listen to EPA’s Gina McCarthy and other women from across the Administration tell the stories of their personal heroes across the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
    Listen to the stories here.

 

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

Happy Holidays!

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.

Climate Change and Extreme Events Research Showcased at American Geophysical Union Meeting

2014 December 18

By Dr. Michael Hiscock

Satellite image of large storm approaching the eastern United States

“Sandy” approaches the U.S. east coast, October 28, 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon with data courtesy of the NASA/NOAA GOES Project Science team.

 

Derechos. Blizzards. Polar vortexes. Superstorms. Whatever you call them, you’re probably aware of the extreme weather events that have occurred with increasing frequency the past few years. What you may not be aware of is their complicated relationship with climate change, air and water quality.

Although science will probably never be able to pinpoint the specific cause of any extreme weather event, there is rising evidence that human-caused climate change is increasing the probability of future such events. This will have astounding societal and environmental impacts, as climatic and meteorological extremes can affect the hydrologic and atmospheric processes that in turn impact water availability, and water and air quality for people around the world.

This week, at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, I had the pleasure of convening a technical session focused on the complex interaction between climate change, extreme events, air and water quality. The session, Extreme Events and Climate Change: Impacts on Environment and Resources, was the largest global environmental change session at the meeting, and featured scientists and research teams from 20 different countries. Over two days, we saw more than 70 presentations on how climatic and meteorological extremes have changed and what their impact on resources and the environment will be.

In 2011, EPA released its first grant solicitation (“Request for Applications,” or RFA) to support research exploring the topic of extreme events and climate change. The request, Extreme Event Impacts on Air Quality and Water Quality with a Changing Global Climate, sought research proposals designed to provide the information and capacity needed to adequately prepare for climate-induced changes in extreme events, in the context of air and water quality management. We were looking to support research institutions that demonstrated the ability to develop assessments, tools and techniques, and demonstrate innovative technologies to achieve that.

The 14 institutions we supported, all of which presented at the above mentioned session, are currently seeking to better understand extreme events and establishing ways for climate scientists, impact assessment modelers, air and water quality managers, and other stakeholders to co-produce information necessary to inform sound policy in relation to extreme events and their impact on air and water quality within a changing climate.

The session provided an international networking event for top researchers to showcase their results: to better understand how local and regional extreme events will change in the future; to identify the impacts of extreme events on local and regional
water and air quality; and finally, how to disseminate the information effectively to stakeholders. Collaboration opportunities like this one will lead to comprehensive analyses of extreme events to better form sound policy for preserving and improving air and water quality and protecting human health for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hiscock is a project officer in the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He supports scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program to improve the scientific basis for decisions on air, climate, water and energy issues.

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.

New Challenge: Put Technology to Work to Protect Drinking Water

2014 December 17

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

By Ellen Gilinksy

You likely remember when, this past summer, half a million people who live in the Toledo, Ohio, area were told not to drink the water coming out of their taps for several days. A state of emergency was declared because of a harmful algal bloom, which released toxins into the water that could have made many people ill.

Algal blooms like the one near Toledo are partly caused by an excessive amount of nutrients in the waternutrient-sensor## – specifically, nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are essential for ecosystems, but too many of them in one place is bad news. Not only do harmful algal blooms pose huge risks for people’s health, they can also cause fish and other aquatic wildlife to die off.

Cleaning up drinking water after a harmful algal bloom can cost billions of dollars, and local economies can suffer. The U.S. tourism industry alone loses close to $1 billion each year when people choose not to fish, go boating or visit areas that have been affected. It’s one of our country’s biggest and most expensive environmental problems. It’s also a particularly tough one, since nutrients can travel from far upstream and in runoff, and collect in quieter waters like lakes or along coastlines.

That’s why a group of federal agencies and private partners – including our Office of Research and Development and our Office of Water – are announcing the Nutrient Sensor Challenge. The challenge will help accelerate the development of sensors that can be deployed in the environment to measure nutrients in our country’s waterways. Its goal is to have new, affordable sensors up and running by 2017.

At EPA we run an innovative research program on nutrients management, at sites that range from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay. We’ve also been working with new technologies that can give us better information on nutrient pollution, including satellites and portable remote sensors.

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.

Unleashing Data for Sustainable, Healthy Communities

2014 December 16

By Aaron Ferster

One of my first jobs was serving as the writer for a team developing a new bison exhibit at the National Zoo here in Washington, DC. Not only did I get to walk past elephants and zebras on the way to the office every morning, when I got there I spent time learning and writing about the fascinating history of an iconic western species.

Archival map illustrating bison population decline in  early 1900s.

“Extermination of the American Bison” prepared by W.T. Hornaday

An image from that work has stuck with me almost 20 years later: a map by zoo founder and conservationist William T. Hornaday: The Extermination of the American Bison. Simple, color-coded ranges, population estimates, and dates illustrated how the North American herd had been divided in two by the first transcontinental railroads, then assaulted by “the great slaughter” until few remained.

But we know now that the story of the American bison has a happier ending. The species has rebounded and today is counted in the hundreds of thousands.

I was thinking about the basic elements of that same story last week in a crowded hotel conference room hearing about the launch of the President’s “Ecosystem Vulnerability Climate Data Initiative” and its “Ecoinformatics-based Open Resources and Machine Accessibility (EcoINFORMA).”

At the event, EPA researcher Anne Neale explained how she and her partners have developed EnviroAtlas, a collection of interactive tools and resources that allow users to explore and visualize the many benefits people receive from nature, what she and other scientists refer to as “ecosystem services.” It also provides information linking the environment and human well-being, including the Eco-Health Relationship Browser tool, which shows how ecosystems contribute to human health.

Of course, instead of colored circles and herd numbers, EnviroAtlas combines multiple ecosystem-based data sets, sophisticated geographic information systems, and visualization tools to present fine-scaled, multilayered maps and other resources that people can download and use as they seek to make decisions that will keep their communities healthy and resilient.

EnviroAtlas, which includes more than 300 data layers, serves as the ecosystem services “resource hub” to the larger EcoINFORMA initiative, a data resource designed to facilitate assessments of the impact of climate change, pollution and other stressors on ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as assessments of management responses to such stressors.

EPA's EnviroAtlas

EPA’s EnviroAtlas

EnviroAtlas and Data.gov’s EcoINFORMA aim to provide the same insights that William T. Hornaday used some 130 years ago to understand the plight of the American bison. It’s a modern, high-tech approach to the same basic questions: how are today’s actions likely to impact future resources, what is the state of the environment, and what do we need to consider to make the best decisions for long-term sustainability and human well-being?

With EnviroAtlas and other resources, EPA researchers and their partners are working to help communities make the right decisions, and ensure that future generations can look back 130 years from today to the opening chapters of environmental stories that feature happy endings.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and development, and the editor of It All Starts with Science.

 

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

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

2014 December 12

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. A time for eggnog, cookies, and extended-family gatherings. Wondering how you are going to make small talk with your third cousin, twice removed this holiday season? Why don’t you share some interesting stories you’ve read on Research Recap!

Here are a few from this week.

Students Put EPA Stormwater Calculator to Work for Their Community

Students in Mount Washington, Kentucky applied an EPA tool to a construction project in their downtown neighborhood. They used EPA’s National Stormwater Calculator to make recommendations to reduce the stormwater runoff at a new library site. The original plans are now being re-drawn to incorporate many of the students’ suggestions! Read the blog about Bullitt East High School students.

EPA Finalizes Libby Amphibole Asbestos Health Assessment/Risk assessment

EPA announced the release of its final Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) health assessment for Libby Amphibole Asbestos (LAA). The assessment analyzes the potential cancer and non-cancer human health effects from inhalation exposure, and includes the final Toxicological Review of LAA. Read the press release: EPA Finalizes Libby Amphibole Asbestos Health Assessment/Risk assessment shows EPA cleanup has reduced cancer and non-cancer risks in Libby and Troy.

EnviroAtlas a major “Resource Hub” for Newly-released Open Source on Data.gov

EPA's EnviroAtlas

EPA’s EnviroAtlas

On December 9th, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell formally announced the launch of the U.S. Ecoinformatics-based Open Resources and Machine Accessibility (EcoINFORMA). EPA’s EnviroAtlas—a decision-support tool consisting of maps, graphs, analysis tools, and interpretive information about ecosystem services and their role in maintaining sustainable and healthy U.S. communities—is one of the new portal’s major “resource hubs.” Explore EnviroAtlas and the other ecosystems-related open hubs available at data.gov.

Society of Toxicology Announces 2015 Best Toxicological Paper Award

EPA researchers are being honored by the Society of Toxicology for publishing the best paper in Toxicological Sciences in the last year. The winning paper addresses complex chemical risk assessment issues. The Society of Toxicology also awarded EPA researchers Christina Powers and Yong Ho Kim with a 2015 Best Postdoc Publication Award.

 

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

About the Author: 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.

Students Put Stormwater Calculator to Work for Community

2014 December 12

By Marguerite Huber

The four Bullitt East High School students

Left to right: Bullitt East High School juniors Eliza Love, Isaac Shelton, Haley Steinmetz and Gavin Blain

This year, students from Bullitt East High School in Mount Washington, Kentucky, had the chance to apply an EPA tool to a project that will benefit their community.

The high school juniors are part of a student group called the Youth Chamber of Preservationists, whose mission is to focus on the preservation of Mt. Washington’s past, while caring for the future of the community. The group is sponsored by Dale Salmon of the City of Mt. Washington’s Stormwater Quality Program. Together they learned how to use EPA’s National Stormwater Calculator and recently, an opportunity came along for the students to put their stormwater skills to the test.

The Mt. Washington Library Board had purchased a plot of land to build a library in the downtown neighborhood. When Dale saw that the Library Board’s drawings for the new building didn’t meet the city ordinance for 80th percentile stormwater capture for new development, he found the perfect opportunity for the students to help solve a real environmental problem in their community.

The students got to work, using the Calculator to make low impact development (LID) control recommendations to reduce the stormwater runoff impact of the library site. The LID controls in the Stormwater Calculator include green infrastructure practices, like green roofs and permeable pavement, to mimic natural water flow processes to retain rainfall onsite. They measured the site’s current stormwater runoff and then used the Calculator to test LID controls and future climate scenarios.

The proposal the students developed for the County Library Board included bioswales, rain gardens, and a pair of 1,000 gallon cisterns that would be used to capture runoff from the roof of the new library, thereby decreasing the new facility’s water needs for irrigation. The result of the students’ proposal was a 5.37-inch reduction in annual stormwater runoff from the site. To put that in perspective, over a 20-year period the amount of stormwater captured by the green infrastructure practices in their design could fill 456 18-wheel tanker trucks!

There are additional benefits to using low-impact development in the new Library design: “Low impact design is more affordable, it’s attractive and easily maintained,” Dale declared.

The students presented their proposal to the County Library Board, and it was well received. With the full support of the County Library Board, the architect, and project engineer, the original plans are being re-drawn to incorporate many LID suggestions from the students!

In addition, the students had the chance to present their plans at the Kentucky Board of Education Student Technology Leadership Program’s annual regional competition, where they were selected as a finalist to compete in the state competition in Lexington, Kentucky, in March 2015.

Dale praised the students: “These young people have helped change the mindset on how we use and conserve water in our community. They have helped create a model of development that I can point to as an example of how to build without creating more runoff in our community, preserving the Salt River habitat.”

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 Week in EPA Science

2014 December 5

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

It’s the first week of December which to me means it’s officially the holiday season. My next few weeks will be filled with lots of baking, shopping, decorating and general festiveness.

But don’t worry, EPA research doesn’t stop for the holidays. So spread the cheer, your Recap is here!

  • Designing a Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit for the Federal Government
    As part of his Open Government National Action Plan, President Obama called on Federal agencies to harness the ingenuity of the public by accelerating and scaling the use of open innovation methods, such as citizen science. One such effort, EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox, was highlighted in a White House blog post this week. The Toolbox empowers communities to monitor and report local air pollution.
    Read the White House blog “Designing a Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit for the Federal Government.”

  • Steps Toward a Resilient and Sustainable Future
    EPA’s Alan Hecht, Ph.D. spoke with thought leaders from several organizations about the connection between sustainability and resilience as part of a panel at The Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington last month. Their discussion emphasized pressing global challenges, including population growth, urbanization, and climate change.
    Read more.

  • Indigenous Health Indicators: What, where, when how, and why
    EPA-supported researchers are developing Indigenous Health Indicators to evaluate aspects of community health that are often left out of health impact assessments. The indicator set encompasses community health priorities such as self-determination, natural resources security, and cultural use and practice.
    Read more.

  • Driving Innovation While Ensuring Clean, Safe Drinking Water
    EPA’s Ramona Trovato participated in the announcement of a $4.1 million Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grant to support the establishment of the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
    Read more.

 

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

 

About the Author: 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.

Steps Toward a Resilient and Sustainable Future

2014 December 3

By Alan Hecht, Ph.D.

ResilienceThe connection between sustainability and resilience—defined as the capacity to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change—is an emerging theme among a host of environmental organizations.

I was happy to explore that important connection further with thought leaders from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Council for Science and the Environment, the Ohio State University Center for Resilience, and the United Nations Foundation as part of a panel at The Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington last month.

The event also highlighted the release of a special issue of Solutions Journal devoted to resilience.

Our discussion emphasized pressing global challenges, including population growth, urbanization, and climate change. Such pressures increase the risk of economic and environmental disruptions, including natural disasters, regional conflicts, and technological failures. To reduce their vulnerability, businesses and communities need to improve their resilience, enabling them to cope with stresses and recover quickly from unpredictable shocks.

Together, we talked about how sustainability and resilience are connected. Joseph Fiksel from Ohio State suggested that short-term resilience is a prerequisite for long-term sustainability, but he cautioned that there are trade-offs between resilience and sustainability.

We agreed on the urgency of taking positive action, including development of new business models; technological innovation; flexibility in regulations and policies; breaking down silos in government; and collaborative partnerships between business and government. We were happy to note recent developments in that direction, including the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, pioneered by the Rockefeller (look for a blog about our brand new partnership to support that initiative shortly).

Other examples include the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience which provides recommendations for how the Federal Government can effectively respond to the needs of communities dealing with extreme events and other impacts of climate change. New tools are available, including a web-based “Climate Resilience toolkit” that provides access to dozens of federal tools designed to help community decision makers.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has also announced a $1 billion program for disaster recovery, called the National Disaster Resilience Competition. This initiative will make $1 billion available to 67 communities that suffered a Presidentially Declared Major Disaster between 2011 and 2013. The money will fund “the implementation of innovative resilience projects to better prepare communities for future storms and other extreme events.”

In the research arena, the National Science Foundation has launched a grant program on Resilient Interdependent Infrastructure Processes and Systems (RIPS).  It aims to (1) foster an interdisciplinary research community (2) enable the design of disaster-resistant critical infrastructure systems, and (3) create the knowledge to support infrastructure innovation.

Finally, here at EPA we are developing metrics and indicators for resilience and sustainability, as well as related decision support tools. Many other federal agencies are engaged in coastal protection, enhancement of ecosystem services, and reduction of stresses due to the energy-water-food “nexus.”  To be effective, agencies will need to reach across traditional boundaries and take an integrated, systems approach toward managing these issues.

Today’s problems and pressures are daunting, but events such as “Superstorm” Sandy have served as a wake-up call. It is evident that we have begun the first steps to creating a resilient society, one that is fit for the long and winding journey toward sustainability.

About the Author: A leader in sustainability research, Alan Hecht, Ph.D. is the Director for Sustainable Development 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 — Thanksgiving Edition

2014 November 28

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap Graphic Identifier: Thanksgiving EditionWith Thanksgiving comes a long list of to do items: last minute grocery store runs, finding the perfect pumpkin pie recipe, cleaning the house before guests arrive, and of course roasting that turkey.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget what this holiday is really about! That’s why for this special edition of Research Recap, we’ve asked our researchers what they’re thankful for in the field of environmental science.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

  • “I’m thankful for having my dream job where I get to work on exciting research projects to help support our environmental protection mission.”
    Terra Haxton, Environmental Engineer

 

  • “I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to be part of the greatest environmental protection organization in the world. We are not perfect, we are not always appreciated, and we often do not even recognize our own achievements. But we are the front line of environmental protection.”
    Heriberto Cabezas, Senior Science Advisor, Sustainable Technology Division

 

  • “I’m thankful for having an interesting job.”
    Paul Lemieux Associate Division Director, National Homeland Security Research Center

 

  • “I am thankful for the resources and organizational support to pursue research and development of green infrastructure technologies in urban core areas of the United States, and have the opportunity to interact with citizens and generally demonstrate our work in communities.”
    Bill Shuster, Research Hydrologist

 

  • “I am thankful that when I turn on a faucet, reliably clean water comes out! It is easy to forget all the science and engineering happening behind the scenes.”
    Gayle Hagler, Environmental Engineer

 

  • “I am most thankful for living and working in a country that has dedicated scientists, citizens, and programs that wonder over the environment and are always striving protect it from past and future harm. “
    Felicia Barnett, Environmental Engineer

 

  • “I’m thankful for my EPA colleagues who are smart, hardworking and excited about their research to understand and improve the world around us.”
    Jana Compton, Forest Ecologist

 

  • “I am thankful for our chemical safety for sustainability research team that has accelerated the pace of chemical screening and the transformative advances in our high throughput and computational exposure science research.”
    Tina Bahadori, Exposure Scientist and National Program Director

 

  • “I’m thankful to be working with colleagues who are passionate about their research.”
    Paul Mayer, Ecologist

 

  • “I’m thankful for the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary and multi-organizational research community where we strive to understand how human exposure to various types of stressors (both chemicals and non-chemicals) affects human health and well-being. And how we can translate what we learn to help others in their decisions.”
    Nicolle Tulve, Research Physical Scientist

 

  • “I am thankful for the grace, vibrancy and inherent resilience of the natural world. The natural systems of our environment have a great capacity to adjust, recover and retain so much beauty, and for this I am grateful.”
    Jordan West, Aquatic Ecologist

 

  • “I’m thankful that I get to work with some amazingly brilliant people who are deeply committed to improving the environment and dealing with some of the major issues we have on the horizon, e.g. climate change.”
    Betsy Smith, Associate National Program Director for Systems Analysis, Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program

 

  • “I’m thankful for being part of the EPA family that provides the scientific foundation for decisions that protect human health and the environment. I am also grateful to work with highly talented and dedicated individuals!”
    Valerie Zartarian, Senior Exposure Scientist

 

  • “I’m thankful for having a wonderful family, living in a nice city and working with all of the great people at EPA in Cincinnati. I’m thankful that so many thoughtful people at EPA are looking out for public health in the United States.”
    Jeff Szabo, Environmental Engineer

 

  • “Being able to say, without irony or sarcasm, that we are doing the people’s work.”
    Ted Angradi, Research Biologist

 

About the Author: Student contractor Kacey Fitzpatrick is thankful for her new job writing about EPA research for the Agency’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.

Indigenous Health Indicators: What, where, when how, and why?

2014 November 25

November is Native American Heritage month. Throughout the month, we are featuring blogs related to Tribal Science

By Jamie Donatuto

The Youth Canoe is practicing for the Canoe Journey in the Skagit Bay, near Snee-oosh beach. Photo credit: Caroline Edwards

The Youth Canoe is practicing for the Canoe Journey in the Skagit Bay, near Snee-oosh beach. Photo credit: Caroline Edwards

For going on 15 years, I have been fortunate enough to be employed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, a Coast Salish Tribe in Washington. Like most tribal employees, I “wear many hats,” meaning that when an environmental health-related project comes up, I will likely be involved in some way. This makes for an ever-engaging work environment.

Some of my most meaningful learning experiences have come from working with community members, who have graciously shared their knowledge with me about the many, deeply-held connections between environmental and cultural health.

As an example, the annual Swinomish Blessing of the Fleet is a community gathering that occurs at the start of the fishing season and asks for the protection of the fishers. This celebration honors the aquatic natural resources that protect and sustain the people, especially the salmon. Also called the First Salmon ceremony by some Coast Salish communities, this gathering illustrates the strong relationships between people and the natural environment, as demonstrated through the culture.

While community members intimately understand the many connections between humans, the environment, their culture and community health, it is difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with tribal communities. It is even more difficult to equitably include the impacts that environmental changes may have on community health.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

Larry Campbell, Swinomish Elder and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, and I have worked together for many years developing a set of indicators, the Indigenous Health Indicators, meant to evaluate aspects of community health that are often left out of health impact assessments. The indicator set encompasses community health priorities such as self-determination, natural resources security, and cultural use and practice. The indicators can be tailored to individual communities and may be useful for a number of purposes, including baseline community health assessments, climate change impact assessments and planning, natural resource damage assessments, and health risk analyses. Larry and I enjoy working with other tribal communities and are excited to share our work and learn from communities.

The Swinomish Canoe Family sings a blessing song for the salmon and for the safety of fisherman.

First Salmon Ceremony and Blessing of the Fleet. The Swinomish Canoe Family sings a blessing song for the salmon and for the safety of fisherman. Photo credit: Caroline Edwards

At the moment, much of my focus is on our EPA-supported project, “Coastal Climate Impacts to First Foods, Cultural Sites, and Tribal Community Health and Well-being.” This work involves both biophysical and social science. We are building a wave model to assess potential sea level rise impacts to Swinomish shorelines—areas with important aquatic habitats such as juvenile salmon, crabs and clams. These areas have been considered culturally important to the Tribe for countless generations and are still regularly visited today.

Based on the model’s findings, we will work with Swinomish community members to evaluate possible community health impacts for use in the Swinomish Climate Change Impact Assessment and Action Plans. We applied for the EPA grant with several years’ worth of background research and pilot-testing, the internal capacity, and the desire to move forward in our community health and climate change research. These new projects, coupled with the fact that we have some of the most dedicated employees working with a great community, are rewarding.

About the author: Dr. Jamie Donatuto is an Environmental Health Analyst with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, a federally recognized Tribe whose homeland is located in the Salish Sea (part of the Pacific Northwest). She and her colleague, Swinomish Elder Larry Campbell, collaborate on developing culturally meaningful and appropriate community-based indicators of indigenous health.

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.