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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.

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Driving Innovation While Ensuring Clean, Safe Drinking Water

2014 November 24

By Ramona Trovato

Across the country, 94 percent of the 150,000 public drinking water systems are considered small systems, meaning they serve fewer than 3,300 people.  While many of these small systems consistently provide really good, safe and reliable drinking water to the people they serve, they face enormous challenges in their ability to maintain, replace, and improve their technologies.

EPA' Ramona Trovato (Associate Assistant Administrator, Office of Research and Development) and Curt Spalding (New England Regional Administrator)

EPA’ Ramona Trovato (Associate Assistant Administrator, Office of Research and Development) and Curt Spalding (New England Regional Administrator)

To address this issue, I recently participated in the announcement of a $4.1 million Science to Achieve Results, or STAR, grant establishing the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS) Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Along with Governor Deval Patrick, Chancellor Subbaswamy and EPA’s New England Regional Administrator, Curt Spalding, and others, we recognized the need for innovation in the water sector, specifically for small drinking water systems.

In New England, where the WINSSS is located, a total of about 10,000 systems are small which is about 90% of the region’s drinking water systems.

One of the biggest challenges is financial resources. Aging infrastructure needs to be maintained and replaced when there’s a leak. They also need to find ways to improve their infrastructure, but there just isn’t a lot of money for capital improvements.

State primacy agencies also find it difficult to support the high number of small systems across the country. Small systems operators also need to stay up to date with treatment alternatives, regulations, health implications, and emerging contaminants. Many small systems would perform better using new and innovative technologies that are more affordable, last longer, and require less maintenance. Another challenge is access to tested and reliable technologies.

The WINSSS Center will ultimately help small systems produce safe drinking water and operate in the most efficient manner possible while providing information and access to these technologies.

The Center will:

  • Create standardized cross-state testing requirements so that new technologies can get to market faster at a less expensive cost.
  • Develop novel approaches to treating groups of contaminants so that we’re not treating one contaminant at a time. This will reduce costs and is more effective than treating contaminants individually. 
  • Create tools to simplify operations like an asset management application to help systems operators log all their assets and provide monitoring and notifications for maintenance.
  • Develop a database identifying technologies that are suitable for small systems use – taking into consideration energy use, regulatory requirements and system acceptance.
  • Build a network to share information with other small systems around the country.

The Center—and another we’ve funded at the University of Colorado, Boulder—will meet today’s urgent need for state-of-the-art innovation, development, demonstration, and use of treatment, information and process technologies in small water systems.

About the Author: Ramona Trovato is the associate assistant administrator 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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This Week in EPA Science

2014 November 21

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap Graphic Identifier: Thanksgiving Edition

I come from a big family so on holidays – Thanksgiving in particular – the kitchen can get pretty hectic. This inevitably ends with someone breaking, spilling, or burning something.

While a burnt turkey would be a major disappointment to some of us, it’s the least of kitchen worries for nearly half of the people in the world, who rely on the use of open fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels to cook their food. Cookstove smoke is a major contributor to dangerous indoor air quality, affecting the health of millions.

EPA is an international leader in clean cookstove research and we’ve highlighted some of those efforts this week.

  • Clean Cookstoves Research: An Opportunity to Benefit Billions
    Bryan Bloomer, Ph.D. joined EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other prominent leaders this week at the first ever ministerial- and CEO-level Cookstoves Future Summit, “Fueling Markets, Catalyzing Action, Changing Lives,” in New York City.
    Read more.
  • EPA Clean Cookstove Research
    EPA provides independent scientific data on cookstove emissions and energy efficiency to support the development of cleaner sustainable cooking technologies. EPA also conducts studies to understand the health effects from exposure to emissions from cookstoves.
    Read more.

And here’s some more research that has been highlighted this week.

  • Highlighting the Health-protective Properties of Alaskan Berries (your Elders already knew)
    Regions of the Alaskan arctic tundra are considered to be on the ‘front lines’ of climate change. The climate exerts a decisive impact on terrestrial plants, including the wild indigenous berries that thrive even above the tree line, the most hostile environments throughout the state.
    Read more.
  • UMass Amherst Receives $4.1 million EPA grant for Drinking Water Research
    EPA award a grant of $4.1 million to the University of Massachuessets, Amherst to establish the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSS), which will develop and test advanced, low-cost methods to reduce, control and eliminate various groups of water contaminants in small water treatment systems.
    Read more.

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

 

About the Author: Student contractor 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.

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Clean Cookstoves Research: An Opportunity to Benefit Billions

2014 November 21

By Bryan Bloomer, Ph.D.

I have long appreciated the ability to cook and heat my home with minimum risk of exposure to toxic indoor air pollution. But I am also painfully aware that more than 3 billion people around the world rely on inefficient, unsustainable and dangerous cookstove technologies for their everyday cooking, heating and lighting needs.

Display of clean cookstoves.

EPA’s Bryan Bloomer examines clean-burning prototypes at the Cookstoves Future Summit in New York City.

That is why I am so pleased to join EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other prominent leaders this week at the first ever ministerial- and CEO-level Cookstoves Future Summit, “Fueling Markets, Catalyzing Action, Changing Lives,” in New York City.

Traditional cookstoves typically burn biomass fuels such as wood, dung, crop residues, charcoal or the fossil fuel, coal. This causes a wide range of negative health effects to the people, primarily women and children, exposed to the smoke they emit. And there’s more. The use of traditional cookstove technologies also depletes natural resources, contributes to deforestation, and releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change at regional and global scales.

This is why clean cookstoves research is a top EPA priority. Our goal is to transform the sustainability and health impacts of the energy infrastructure in ways that will not only improve the health of billions, most of them disadvantaged women and children, but improve the global environment as well.

We conduct and support cooperative research to identify gaps and deliver practical solutions from a wide array of stakeholders. The Agency is leading an international clean cookstove research effort, helping to support the development of international cookstove standards, conducting trusted independent research on the energy efficiency and emissions of cookstoves, and improving our understanding of the negative health impacts from exposure to cookstove smoke.

In March 2012, EPA announced the funding of six universities to address residential burning and its effects on human health worldwide. This group of researchers is developing innovative technologies to quantify the impacts of cookstove emissions on climate and air quality.

Moving forward, we and our many partners in this global effort will focus on translating these results into the field, primarily bringing innovative, consumer-driven and life-saving technologies to individuals worldwide.

Turning research results into welcomed solutions is the topic of this week’s Cookstoves Future Summit. The summit presents a unique opportunity to further develop a thriving and sustainable clean cookstove market. Such a market will mean substantial progress toward preventing the more than 4 million estimated indoor air pollution related deaths due to traditional cookstoves and fuels.

The clean cookstoves challenge encompasses a number of health, social and environmental issues. Such a pressing and compelling problem presents us with a significant opportunity to improve livelihoods, empower women and protect the environment for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Bryan Bloomer is the director of the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He works with grant managers that support scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program, to improve EPA’s scientific basis for decision 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.

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Highlighting the Health-protective Properties of Alaskan Berries (your Elders already knew)

2014 November 19

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

By Mary Ann Lila

I was ecstatic when the EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program put out the request for applications for the study of tribal resources and climate change. My office mate was a rural sociologist, so we put our heads together and wrote up a plan for research that we’d been hoping to tackle for years: wild Alaskan berries.

Native Alaskan elder and researcher examine a wild plant.

“Wildcrafting” with a Native Alaskan.

Regions of the Alaskan arctic tundra are considered to be on the ‘front lines’ of climate change. The dramatic consequences of climate-related shifts are most evident around coastal areas. For example, the retreating glaciers, and the shrinking sea ice that diminishes hunting territory for walrus and polar bears.

But in the arctic, the climate also exerts a decisive impact on terrestrial plants, including the wild indigenous berries that thrive even above the tree line, the most hostile environments throughout the state. Frequently these berries (mossberries, salmonberries, bog blueberries and more) also proliferate around Alaska Native communities, where they are one of the only wild edible resources from the land (most other foods are obtained from the sea or as shipped-in commodities).

Berries that have adapted to flourish in the arctic are able to survive environmental insults by accumulating a cornucopia of defensive, natural plant chemicals.  The chemicals help to buffer the berries against the ravages of climate extremes, but once ingested, these same chemicals can be healthy. They help Alaskan natives resist many insults of chronic diseases, including the power of the berry to inhibit diabetes symptoms.

Will climate change have an effect on this revered native resource? On the one hand, moderating temperatures may allow berry harvests to occur more routinely. On the other hand, the moderating climate may lead to competing species invading berry habitat.  And perhaps most importantly, will the berries fail to accumulate protective plant chemicals at such high concentrations? The answers aren’t immediately clear, and only long-term, sustained studies will begin to unravel the true impacts of climate change on the berry resources.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

In our work, the Tribal communities around Point Hope, Akutan (in the Aleutian Islands) and Seldovia have been gracious hosts to the analyses, and have been receptive to learning more about how science tests demonstrate the power of the berries against disease targets.

Not only have the Elders joined in the science based studies, but they’ve gladly contributed the background traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) about how berries have been historically valued and used in their communities, as a control of blood glucose and a healthy metabolism. Elders have been happy to show the youth in the Tribal communities, with their own eyes, that modern science agrees with, and validates TEK.

About the Author:  Mary Ann Lila is the Director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. Her research team has worked for nearly a decade in Alaska with the berries and other native wild plants, which she considers to be the prime example of how plants’ adaptations to harsh environments ultimately protect human consumers of that plant.

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

2014 November 14

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

“Official” winter may be more than a month away, but all I have to say is brrr! After spending the last four years at college in sunny South Carolina, I’m a little unprepared for the chilly weather in Washington DC. Especially this many days before Thanksgiving!

Thankfully, there are plenty of indoor activities to get you through the cold days ahead – like reading our weekly EPA Research Recap!

Here’s some EPA research that has been highlighted this week. I suggest enjoying them with a hot cup of tea.

  • EPA’s Bio-Response Operational Testing and Evaluation Video
    EPA has released a video on its Bio-Response Operational Testing and Evaluation (BOTE) project which helped EPA and partners advance real world techniques to decontaminate anthrax bacteria.
    Watch it here.
  • Picturing Algal Blooms in Local Waterways
    This summer, EPA teamed up with the National Environmental Education Foundation 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. Out of hundreds of entries, three were chosen as winners.
    Read more.
  • EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat
    About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers, providing an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive. The lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House’s Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.
    Read More.
  • A Tool for Tribal Communities
    EPA and partners developed the Tribal-Focused Environmental Risk and Sustainability Tool (T-FERST) to help Native American Tribes address some of the unique environmental and related public health challenges they face. It serves as a source for a plethora of environmental and geographical information and allows for the continual input of data by its users.
    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.

A Tool for Tribal Communities

2014 November 14

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

By Diane Simunek

The following story was shared at a recent workshop:

On a warm summer morning an elder, his dog, and his grandson go down to the river. The dog jumps in for a swim; a few days later the dog falls gravely ill. After reexamining the river the elder identifies that the illness was caused by harmful algal blooms in the water. On closer inspection, it was easy for him to figure out what had caused the dog’s illness. Preventing the algae from blooming again, however, poses a more challenging question.

This scenario was one of many examples used at the “Train the Trainer” workshop held by the United Southern and Eastern Tribes (USET) last October to teach tribal communities how to use the Tribal-Focused Environmental Risk and Sustainability Tool (T-FERST), a web-based, geospatial decision support tool.

EPA partnered with USET to develop the tool to help Federally Recognized Tribes address some of the unique environmental and related public health challenges they face. It serves as a source for a plethora of environmental and geographical information and allows for the continual input of data by its users.

There are some 250,000 rivers within the United States.

There are some 250,000 rivers within the United States.

As part of the workshop, the students were asked to propose short- and long-term solutions to the formation of harmful algal blooms. Using T-FERST, they looked at satellite imagery to identify where nutrient pollution (which sparks harmful algal blooms) was coming from. Within the watershed, and upstream, they saw cattle grazing, a wastewater treatment plant, and a large housing development—all known sources of excess nutrients. For the immediate future the students suggested installing warning signs around the river to prevent potentially dangerous exposures to unsafe water. For the long-term, they planned to take water samples to determine where the highest concentrations of nutrients were coming from, giving them insight into where to take action to cut off the source of nutrient pollution.

These are the types of questions that can be answered using the web-based geospatial data provided by T-FERST. The tool provides tribes with the best available human health and ecological science. In addition to the wealth of information already available, the platform was designed to allow new data to be continuously input by users.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

November is Native American Heritage Month.

So far, beta tests are very encouraging. “Tribal communities have already encompassed the tool and taken ownership of it. It’s really great to see their eagerness,” says Ken Bailey, EPA’s lead scientist for the Tribal-Focused Environmental Risk and Sustainability Tool.

Bailey and his colleagues expect to publically release the tool in early 2015. With more than 550 recognized tribal nations and 250,000 rivers within the United States, T-FERST will be helping to protect Tribal members and their environment in the near future.

About the Author: Diane Simunek 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.

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Picturing Algal Blooms in Local Waterways

2014 November 13

By Marguerite Huber

Mother duck and ducklings swim through algae-topped water.

Patricia M.’s photo of some wood ducks swimming through algae in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

For years now, I have been learning about algal blooms: from seeing and studying them first hand in a lake and watershed management course in graduate school, to watching bloom events unfold and writing all about them here at EPA.

But you don’t have to be studying algal blooms or work at the EPA to see them. Algal blooms can occur in lakes, rivers, and oceans, where there is an excess of nutrient pollution, sunlight, and slow-moving water. Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problems.

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. Contestants used Facebook, Instagram, and #AlgalBloomPhoto14 to enter their photos of algal blooms in their local waterways. The submissions from all over the country will help build a photo library that can be used to educate others about algal blooms and their impacts. Out of hundreds of entries, three were chosen as winners.

Along with the winning image of the duck family above, here are a couple more of my favorite entries.

Green covered pond in Central Park, NYC

Brad W.’s photo of Central Park in New York City.

 

A green lake is not something you probably would expect to see on a stroll through Central Park.

 

Beachgoer under an umbrella

Dick R.’s photo of Tainter Lake in Menomonie, Wisconsin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surrounded by sand, water—and algae!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can pick your own favorites from all the entries and the finalists as well!

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.

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Catch the Latest Buzz from EPA Connect…

2014 November 12

The following excerpt is cross-posted from “EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA leadership.”

EPA Researchers in Duluth Profiled by White House for Protecting Honey Bee Habitat

Bee in a bright yellow flower

By Lek Kadeli

About 10 years ago, EPA’s Research Laboratory in Duluth, Minnesota, turned 1.9 acres of manicured lawn back into native prairie, seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. This lab, recognized across the scientific community, centers its research on the effects of pollution and chemical exposures on the environment—particularly aquatic ecosystems, fish and wildlife.

EPA research lab surrounded by pollinator habitat.

EPA research lab surrounded by pollinator habitat.

The results of restoring the prairie have been inspiring. The lab saves $3,500 in maintenance costs every year, and EPA staff get to see butterflies, birds and spring and summer blooms that brighten their workdays. Instead of the periodic roar of lawnmowers, they can stroll the grounds during their breaks in quiet solitude, maybe even catching an occasional glimpse of deer, fox and other wildlife.

These 1.9 acres of prairie have also provided an important place for bees and other pollinators to thrive—and this relationship between the pollinators flying about and the habitat of native plants recently caught the attention of the White House. EPA’s Duluth Lab was highlighted in the recently-released White House document, Supporting the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The document supports President Obama’s memorandum recognizing the critical role pollinators play in food production and our economy.

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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This Week in EPA Science

2014 November 7

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

This morning I heard “Jingle Bells” on the radio and an announcement alerting me of the exact number of days I had left to shop. My coffee cup has made the switch from standard white to holiday red and all that pumpkin spice hype has been replaced by demands for gingerbread and peppermint.

Sometimes it seems like we skip right from October to December! But there is still a lot to celebrate in November, including Native American Heritage Month. Over the next few weeks, we’re highlighting some of the research we and our partners have done to advance Tribal environmental health and science.

  • Tribal Environmental Health Research Program
    For more than a decade, EPA’s Tribal Environmental Health Research Program has supported studies to better understand the health effects of environmental contaminants on tribal populations. The Agency has awarded funding in a diversity of research areas that explore environmental risks, particularly cumulative chemical exposure and global climate change, affecting tribes. Read more.
  • Technical Models Informed by Indigenous Cultural Values
    EPA-supported researcher Len Necefer is developing a technical decision tools to help tribal policy makers make more informed decisions on future energy resource development. The tool will track and display culturally-relevant outcomes from different environmental decisions. Read more.

And here’s some more EPA research that has been highlighted this week.

  • On a Roll with “SustainableJoes”
    Stephen Szucs of SustainableJoes.com is traveling from Canada to Key West on a solar- and pedal-powered trike called an ELF. He made a stop in North Carolina last week to visit with EPA officials and talk sustainability with them at an event at a local school. His “Rethink” tour aims to create the world’s largest sustainability network. Read more.
  • Visualize Air Quality with RETIGO
    EPA scientists recently 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.

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.