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Globally Linking Scientific Knowledge through the Adverse Outcome Pathways Wiki

2014 September 29

By Steve Edwards, Ph.D.

I am thrilled to announce that on September 25th, we and our partners released the online Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki—an interactive, virtual encyclopedia for the development and evaluation of adverse outcome pathways.

An AOP is a conceptual framework that shows what is known about the “pathways,” or links between a chemical and how it: interacts with a biological process, initiates direct changes on a molecular level, and leads to an environmental and human health risks, or “adverse outcome.”

It is important for us to understand and map AOPs in order to incorporate toxicological data into chemical risk assessments and regulatory decision-making.

Our goal for the AOP Wiki was to create an easy-to-use tool that will stimulate, capture, and use crowd-sourced knowledge from the scientific community. Using the Wiki’s user-friendly interface and standardization guidance, we have created a tool to allow scientists from all industries and disciplines to develop, evaluate, and use adverse outcome pathways.

All AOPs within the wiki are constructed using guidance from two reports of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Extended Advisory Group on Molecular Screening and Toxicogenomics (Guidance on Developing and Assessing Adverse Outcome Pathways and the AOP Developers’ User Handbook). What I find particularly helpful about the guidance and wiki design is that it provides a user-friendly experience with consistent terminology and useful widgets for navigation and development. This way AOP developers and other users without extensive experience with Wiki language can take full advantage of the available information.

AOP Knowledge Base

AOP Knowledge Base

Our Wiki is the first publicly released module of the larger AOP Knowledge Base (AOP KB).  This international collaboration will provide a consolidated, comprehensive knowledge base on how chemicals can induce adverse effects. Through quality user engagement, we want the knowledge base to evolve and become the focal point for AOP development and dissemination. Our next step is to integrate the wiki with the other AOP KB modules in development:

  • AOP Xplorer
    A graphic computer module that will allow scientists worldwide to create graphics that highlight how several different AOPs might interconnect and adversely affect the same biological system. (Expected release later this year.)
  • Intermediate Effects Database 
    Will host chemical-related data derived from non-traditional methods.
  • Effectopedia
    Will bring together scientists and studies from different disciplines to share data about different species and biological organization, chemical exposure routes and durations, and much more.

With these tools, we are taking strides toward connectingthe sequence of events that unfold after chemical interaction sparks changes on the molecular level of a biological system, and cascades on until an adverse health outcome. The Advanced Outcome Pathway Wiki is a collaborative effort of the EPA, the OECD, the international scientific community, the European Joint Research Center, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. For more information on this project, please see our fact sheet.

About the Author: EPA systems biologist Stephen Edwards is developing a framework to improve the scientific underpinnings of the Agency’s human and ecological risk assessments. He serves as a senior Agency advisor on the development of predictive toxicology models of disease using genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics.

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 September 26

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleWith more than 300,000 people turning out for the People’s Climate March in New York City and leaders from around the world meeting for the United Nations Climate Summit, climate change has been big news this week.  It was also Climate Action Week at EPA, starting with Administrator Gina McCarthy’s message: Climate Week – It’s Time For Action.

As with so many other environmental challenges, the first steps toward taking meaningful action all start with science. Research lays the foundation for understanding our impact on the environment, and finding sustainable solutions for adapting to, and reducing the impact from, a changing climate.

This week’s Research Recap highlights some of the work that EPA researchers have done to support climate action.

  • Preparing to “Move:” EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change
    EPA researcher Dr. Andy Miller is among the many people studying how climate change is affecting our environment. EPA scientists work behind the scenes to provide the knowledge people need to prepare for climate change and its impacts, so communities will have the best information possible to take action as they prepare their move into the future. Read more.
  • EPA Science Matters – Climate Change Research Edition
    EPA’s Science Matters newsletter features a collection of stories on how EPA researchers and their partners are supporting both the Agency and President Obama to take action on climate change. Our scientists and engineers are providing the science that decision makers, communities, and individuals need for developing strategies and taking action to protect public health and the environment. Read more.

 

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

 

  • THE PATH(FINDER) FORWARD
    EPA’s innovation team is tapping the creativity of agency employees through Pathfinder Innovation Projects which provide space for bold ideas that have the potential for transformational scientific change. The program is an internal competition that provides seed funding and time for EPA Office of Research and Development scientists to pursue high-risk, high-reward research. Read more.
  •  Reigning in the Rain with Satellite and Radar
    Accurate rain totals are the basis of watershed modeling for evaluating the water cycle. EPA scientists were involved in a study aimed at providing options for watershed modelers. With options of using land-based or radar data, scientists will be able to conduct more accurate watershed assessments, providing important information for keeping our watersheds healthy. Read more.
  •  LIVE! from the Lake Guardian: Bringing science to the classroom
    A group of sixth graders from Charleston, IL took a virtual tour of the U.S. EPA vessel that was collecting samples in Lake Erie. Students and teachers watched as EPA researcher Beth Hinchey Malloy talked about living and working on a boat and showed them around. Eight classes across the Great Lakes region got a first-hand look at the research vessel this week and video chats with EPA scientists will continue throughout the school year. 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 and writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a frequent contributor to “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.

Reigning in the Rain with Satellite and Radar

2014 September 25

By Marguerite Huber

When it rains, it pours!background_water_puddle

Actually, that phrase is not necessarily true. A rain shower can consist of just drizzle, a steady rain, a downpour, or even all three! Either way, accurate rain totals are the basis of watershed modeling for evaluating the water cycle.

Meteorological data (precipitation, temperature, humidity, etc.) required for watershed assessments have traditionally come from land-based weather gauge stations. They collect weather data from all over the country. Unfortunately, not all watersheds have meteorological stations. Some watersheds have too few, are too far away, or aren’t working properly to correctly represent precipitation totals or their distribution within the watershed. You can check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website to see how many weather gauge stations are in your watershed!

For accuracy, the best options for watershed modeling applications in the U.S. are rain gauges and weather radar data, but precipitation amounts can vary throughout the watershed. Where land-based stations are lacking, remote sensing and radar satellite data are increasingly being used to augment data in space and time.

EPA scientists were involved in a study aimed at providing options for watershed modelers. They did this by comparing precipitation data from radar-based stations to data from ground-based stations to see the effectiveness of using either one for watershed modeling, especially at locations where gauge stations were insufficient.

Because ground-based gauges are the norm, the scientists evaluated the efficacy of using radar or gauge precipitation data to support watershed modeling.

Researchers evaluated two areas in Wisconsin using hourly precipitation data from 2002-2011: the Manitowoc River Basin and Milwaukee area, which are approximately 84 miles apart.

National Climatic Data Center precipitation data from gauges on the ground were compared to two different types of satellite and radar data: North American Land Data Assimilation System and NEXt generation RADar Multi sensor Precipitation Estimates. Both were used to evaluate the reliability of radar and gauge precipitation data.

Results showed gauge and radar data at Milwaukee to be similar, while the Manitowoc River Basin had large differences in precipitation occurrence and totals, which strongly suggest radar data as being more reliable.The gauged precipitation at Manitowoc River Basin also poorly correlated with radar data, which can detect more frequent precipitation, drizzle, and small storms.

In the end, the researchers concluded that the use of radar precipitation data can be an acceptable alternative to the gauged data in Manitowoc River Basin. The results also show benefits from automating the collection process of radar data as an additional option in watershed modeling.

With options of using land-based or radar data, scientists will be able to conduct more accurate watershed assessments, providing important information for keeping our watersheds healthy.

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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Preparing to “Move:” EPA Research Supports Taking Action on Climate Change

2014 September 23

By Andy Miller, Ph.D.

Large crowd of climate change marchers in New York CIty

Climate change march in New York City, September 21, 2014.

The issue of climate change is generating a lot of headlines again this week. The “People’s Climate March” in New York City, followed by the Climate Summit at the United Nations are sparking renewed interest in “taking action on climate change,” echoing the White House’s Climate Action Plan that President Obama released last summer.  To lend our voices to the chorus, it’s also Climate Action Week here at EPA.

As a researcher working on climate change, I’m hopeful that such events, coupled with people’s own personal experiences, mean we are moving beyond the old “discussions” about climate change that have played out in the media by what seem to be a gang of professional arguers.

More and more people are experiencing higher temperatures, heavier downpours, rising sea levels, longer droughts, and bigger wildfires—all impacts that scientists have expected as the climate changes.  Even though we can’t say for certain that any one of these is caused by climate change (see my previous post, What Does Climate Change Have to do with Weather…and Baseball?), taken together they provide increasingly strong evidence that the climate is changing and we need to prepare. And people are beginning to respond in meaningful ways to the reality of climate change.

So how do we know how to prepare?  A good analogy to me is my recent move across the country. The basic preparation steps are similar: I looked for information about our new location, talked with experts who move people for a living, and made plans.  When I started the actual process, I packed things one or two at a time, thinking about what I had to pack last and unpack first.  It’s the same with preparing for climate change.  We look for information and talk with experts, and then we make plans.  We take actions one at a time, keeping in mind how those actions will affect other actions and don’t try to do everything at once.

Newspapers with articles and photographs of climate change march in New York City.

Taking action on climate change is big news.

EPA’s researchers are among the many people studying how climate change is affecting our environment to provide information to those who are making decisions.  We study how rivers and coasts will change, and provide that information to towns, cities, states, and tribes so they can decide how they want to prepare for those changes and ensure their local communities will be resilient and healthy.  EPA is doing research so we will continue to have healthy air as summers get hotter and drier.  And we are working to develop the information needed by local water treatment facilities to deal with extreme rainfall events, so that our drinking water stays clean.

Knowledge, plans, and informed actions—these are at the heart of Climate Action Week.  EPA science works behind the scenes to provide the knowledge people need to prepare for climate change and its impacts, so communities will have the best information possible to take action as they prepare their move into the new conditions brought on by our changing climate.

About the Author: Andy Miller is the Associate Director for Climate in EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program that conducts research to assess the impacts of a changing climate and develop the scientific information and tools to act on climate change.

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 PATH(FINDER) FORWARD

2014 September 22

Crossposted from “GovLoop”

Student contractor and frequent “It All Starts with Science” contributor Dustin Renwick was selected as a featured blogger on GovLoop, an online community of government workers and those interested in public service. Below is his post about EPA’s “Pathfinder Innovation Projects” that was originally posted as part of that series. 

By Dustin Renwick

 

Graphic of satellite and text, "Wouldn't it be amazing if we could measure water quality without getting in a boat?

 

 

What makes you yell with excitement?

Roger Hanlon, a marine biologist, captured video of an octopus in camouflage mode. Hanlon hit the surface screaming. “They thought I was having a dive accident,” he says in the video. “It was a eureka moment.”

We like eureka moments on the innovation team, and we look for ways to increase the chances those moments happen more often. Consider it engineered serendipity.

Pathfinder Innovation Projects (we call them PIPs) provide space for bold ideas that have the potential for transformational scientific change. PIPs tap the creativity of agency employees.

The PIPs program is an internal competition that provides seed funding and time for EPA Office of Research and Development scientists to pursue high-risk, high-reward research. Any scientist or post-doc can submit an innovative idea, and external panels of experts help us spot the proposals that have the most potential.

We challenge our researchers to consider the question: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if EPA could … ?”

EPA has answered with almost 300 proposals in four years.

In the program’s first three years, we’ve had scientists measure coastal water quality from space, test glowing tadpoles that indicate endocrine disruptors in water, and build systems to better mimic human lungs for airborne chemical toxicity screens.

And we just announced the awardees for the fourth year.

PIPs allow us to examine and nurture the pitches that challenge current thinking or could leapfrog the current science in that field if successful. At a more general level, the program demonstrates the power of acknowledging that good ideas with broad impact can come from anyone in an organization.

  • Has your office tried a program to spark innovation internally?
  • What insights have you gained from these kinds of programs?

About the Author: Student contractor Dustin Renwick is a member of EPA’s Innovation Team in the Office of Research and Development. He is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program featuring posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!).

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 September 19

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleFor most of the U.S., access to clean drinking water is as easy as turning on the faucet. In fact, a lot of hard work has gone into making sure our waterways are healthy and the water we drink is safe. Forty years ago, Congress passed Safe Drinking Water Act and since then EPA has contributed an incredibly vast amount of research to protecting human health by safeguarding the nation’s public drinking water supply—you might say it’s an ocean’s worth.

We and others highlighted a lot of water-related EPA research this past week. And an EPA-grantee was named a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awardee! Below is this week’s “EPA research recap.”

  • Prescription for Trouble? Studying Pharmaceuticals in Wastewater.
    Due to human excretion and people flushing unused pills, pharmaceuticals can end up in the wastewater stream, presenting a challenge to the nation’s wastewater treatment plants. EPA researchers are studying pharmaceuticals in wastewater to help protect the nation’s waterways. Researchers designed a model to estimate potential concentrations of active pharmaceuticals in treated wastewater. Read more.
  • Tri, Tri, Tri Again for Clean Water
    Recently, the Washington DC area experienced storms and heavy rainfall that caused a combined sewer overflow and sent a mixture of sewage and stormwater into the Potomac River. This caused the swim portion of the Nation’s Triathlon to be canceled due to unsafe water quality. EPA works to promote green infrastructure practices to help minimize and prevent stormwater events that can threaten public health, all while protecting the quality of rivers, streams, and lakes. Read more.
  • EPA engineer led effort to reduce wastewater pollution along the Arizona-Mexican border
    Raw and partially treated sewage has flowed persistently for years across the border from Nogales, Mexico into neighboring Nogales, Arizona. Through a decade of hard work, Thomas Konner, an EPA engineer, was instrumental in leading the U.S. effort to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure along the border and greatly improve the water quality and the environment. Read more.
  • Green Island and the Hyporheic Zone: Why Restoration matters
    Large river floodplains present diverse benefits to communities, yet management strategies often fail to consider the broad suite of ecosystem services provided by these systems. EPA is evaluating the benefits associated with restoring large river floodplains, specifically levee setback and revetment removal. This effort will provide scientific support for community-based environmental decision making and support restoration efforts. Read more.
  • Detection of Silver Nanoparticles in Vadose Zone Environments
    Use of nanoparticles is quickly increasing within the global marketplace as a result of their beneficial use in science, medicine, engineering and technology.However, very little is known about the effects that the increased and widespread use could have on the environment. EPA and Oklahoma State University have partnered to research and determine the effects. Read more.
  • EPA Grantee Tami Bond Named 2014 MacArthur Fellow
    The University of Illinois professor did a comprehensive study of how human-produced soot (black carbon) is affecting the atmosphere, illuminating how it is one of the leading contributors to climate change and standardizing how researchers measure and describe it. Bond received her first EPA “Science to Achieve Results” (STAR) grant in 2003, and currently has two other projects supported by the program. Read more.

Looking forward, next week is “Climate Action Week” and we’ll be featuring how EPA researchers are working to support taking action on climate change.

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: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a member of the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor.

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.

Teaming Up with Science Teachers

2014 September 19

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

“One afternoon my high school physics teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up a lot faster than you realize, and you might have a knack for this.’ That comment sort of lit off a bell for me.”

If you ask an EPA researcher to share what first inspired them to pursue their current career, there’s a good chance they will point to a teacher or professor who sparked their budding passion in science, technology, engineering, or math with an interesting class experiment or some words of wisdom.

EPA's Gayle Hagler, Ph.D. shares her science at a science and engineering festival.

Environmental engineer Gayle Hagler shares her science. Learn more about how to incorporate her’s and other EPA science into the classroom.

EPA environmental engineer Dr. Gayle Hagler, who will be returning the favor in one of the webinars below, can remember the exact day that her teacher inspired her. “One afternoon my high school physics teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up a lot faster than you realize, and you might have a knack for this.’ That comment sort of lit off a bell for me.”

Dr. Hagler and other Agency researchers are joining forces with The National Science Teachers Association, the world’s largest organization of science teachers, to share their personal stories about the work they do helping to protect human health and the environment.

The Association’s online learning center offers free, 90-minute, web-based, interactive, live seminars featuring scientists, engineers, and education specialists from their partner organizations. The goal is to unite science teachers with nationally acclaimed experts to help them develop fun and exciting ways to engage their students in science.

Check out these three webinars presented by EPA researchers to learn more about tools you can use in and outside the classroom.

 

  • Do-It-Yourself Air Monitoring: Explore the Atmosphere and Turn on Light Bulbs!
    Date: Thursday, September 25, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    How many tiny particles are in one cubic centimeter of air? What’s the difference between “good” ozone and “bad” ozone? In this webinar, Dr. Gayle Hagler will explore what’s in the air we breathe; how and why scientists measure air pollution, and the growing popularity of citizen science. You will learn a fun hands-on activity for students to build their own air monitor that uses the latest micro sensors to measure particle pollution, commonly known as dust, and turn on light bulbs based on the level in the atmosphere! Learn more.
  •  Get Energized: Interactive Generate! Game Explores Energy Choices and Environmental Quality
    Date: Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    How do we understand the costs and benefits of the energy choices we make? What happens if the mix of energy sources changes in the future? What does this all mean for our climate, air, water, and overall environmental quality? In this webinar, Dr. Rebecca Dodder will present some of tools EPA scientists are developing to help states, communities and Tribes make decisions about energy use now and in the future. It will also introduce an interactive board game developed by EPA scientists called Generate! that encourages students to explore energy choices and the environment. Learn more.
  • Exploration and Discovery through Maps: Teaching Science with Technology
    Date: Thursday, November 13, 2014
    Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
    Are you interested in using maps to engage students in science? EPA’s EnviroAtlas tool uses a combination of maps, analysis tools, fact sheets, and downloadable data to help users understand the interactions between people and the environment. Users of all skill levels can access hundreds of maps embracing a range of disciplines including biology, chemistry, geography, and environmental science. In this webinar EPA researchers Anne Neale and Jessica Daniel will give you a first-hand look at all the resources EnviroAtlas has to offer. Learn more.

 

Below are a few more things our researchers shared on “EPA Scientists@Work” about how teachers inspired them.

I had a wonderful 10th grade high school chemistry teacher who instilled in me a love for chemistry. I knew after that class that chemistry was what I wanted to study in college.

In the early 1960s, there was a television show called Gilligan’s Island, and the character I most identified with was the professor. He was making coconut radios and figuring out meteorological events and developing new things, all in the hope of getting them off the island. The professor was a role model. Here was a guy on an island without any tools and he was trying to make a difference. I wanted to be the guy who could look at problems and find solutions involving the use of science.

I knew around the start of high school. I took a lot of math courses and, thanks to some great teachers, I was really motivated to learn more math and science. By the time I was in the tenth grade, I narrowed it down to chemical engineering.

When I was in fifth grade, I had an outstanding teacher. He did all kinds of hands-on experiments in the classroom. In one particular experiment, he separated the class into three groups where one group washed their hands with soap and water, one group washed their hands with just water, and one did nothing. The group who only washed their hands with water had by far, the most bacteria on their hands. The water just mobilized the bacteria off of their fingers. Those experiences really got me interested in science.

I was very curious as a child and always wanted to know why and how things work. My “aha moment” was probably during my freshman year in high school when one of my science teachers told me that I should study engineering—specifically chemical engineering—since I was a good math and science student.

Probably junior year of high school. My teachers were inspirational role models, and I enjoyed all of my classes. By senior year I was intrigued by practical applications of math and science, and started to think about engineering as a career path.

I’ve been interested in science since my 9th grade earth science class. It was the first time I got to do experiments and see that I could learn different things about the world through experiments.

A lot of my interest in science came from my dad, who was a physicist and professor at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. I always wanted to be like my dad.

Do you have a similar memory of a favorite science teacher or class? Please share in the comments below!

About the Author: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a member of the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor. When asked about her own science education, she replied: “I had a really cool forensics science class in school!”

 

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.

Prescription for Trouble? Studying Pharmaceuticals in Wastewater.

2014 September 18

By Marguerite Huber

EPA researchers are studying pharmaceuticals in wastewater to help protect the nation’s waterways. Image courtesy of U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

EPA researchers are studying pharmaceuticals in wastewater to help protect the nation’s waterways. Image courtesy of U.S. FDA.

Approximately 1,800 drugs are approved for prescription use in the United States. Have you ever thought of what happens to all those drugs once they have left you (or your medicine cabinet)? Due to human excretion and people flushing unused pills, these pharmaceuticals can end up in the wastewater stream, presenting a challenge to the nation’s wastewater treatment plants.

To estimate potential pharmaceutical concentrations in wastewater, EPA scientists conducted a survey of wastewater effluent from 50 large U.S. municipal wastewater treatment plants between January and April 2011. They then used the data to evaluate an EPA model designed to estimate potential concentrations of active pharmaceuticals in treated wastewater.

The model generates preliminary estimates of associated risks, and provides a basis for prioritizing the pharmaceuticals that generate the greatest concern for future research efforts.

EPA scientists used pharmaceutical marketing data to choose the 56 pharmaceuticals with the highest number of minimum daily dose equivalents dispensed in the U.S. each year. You may recognize acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and hydrocortisone from the list.

The 50 wastewater treatment plants were chosen based on a number of factors, but together they produce about six billion gallons of treated wastewater a day that is released into rivers and streams. In all, these facilities serve more than 46 million people.

The researchers then analyzed treated wastewater samples from the selected plants to determine the concentrations of the 50 high-priority active pharmaceutical ingredients they identified from the marketing data.

Overall, the survey found low concentrations of pharmaceuticals present in every water sample the researchers analyzed.

Based on the screening data, the researchers estimated that risks were low for both healthy adults and aquatic life from pharmaceutical exposure in wastewater effluent for most drugs. They also found that even under the extreme scenario of someone consuming half a gallon of treated wastewater per day over the course of a year, they would get the equivalent of less than a daily dose of any pharmaceutical currently in use. For most pharmaceuticals, it would be less than one daily dose over the course of a lifetime.

Additionally, based on what the survey revealed about pharmaceuticals in wastewater effluent, the researchers determined that risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria developing in aquatic environments is low.

Mitchell Kostich, an EPA Scientist who worked on the study, said Agency researchers plan to now focus on the handful of pharmaceuticals that are most frequently used, and appear at levels for which risks to aquatic life cannot be ruled out. With the help of the model and additional data, they expect to be able to predict the maximum wastewater concentrations of any pharmaceutical in current use.

Interested in more about this topic? Join our Water Research Webinar: Pharmaceutical Residues in Municipal Wastewater on Wednesday, September 24th from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (EDT), and check out our previous post, A Prescription for a Healthier Environment!

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.

Tri, Tri, Tri Again for Clean Water

2014 September 15

By Marguerite Huber and Dustin Renwick

From the left, cyclist Marguerite Huber, runner Dustin Renwick, and would-be swimmer Sarah Edwards.

From the left, cyclist Marguerite Huber, runner Dustin Renwick, and would-be swimmer Sarah Edwards.

When athletes register for a race, they invest money, time, and energy. My fellow EPA blogger, Dustin Renwick, and I signed up to be a part of a relay team competing in the Nation’s Triathlon here in Washington, D.C.

Dustin ran the 10k, I biked the 40k, but our swimmer didn’t even get wet.

Our teammate, and all of the other athletes, did not get to participate in the swim portion of the race because it had been cancelled due to unsafe water quality.

The night before the event, the local area experienced storms and heavy rainfall that caused a combined sewer overflow that sent a mixture of sewage and stormwater into the Potomac River just north of the triathlon swim starting line.

The District Department of the Environment informed race officials of the unhealthy conditions late that evening and due to the high levels of bacteria such as E. coli, they agreed to cancel the swim.

Although boating, kayaking, and paddle boarding are allowed in the Potomac River, “primary contact recreation activities,” like swimming, have been banned in the river within the District of Columbia since 1971, when District health officials and EPA sought to protect people and publicize the health hazards of local water bodies.

Since then, clean-up efforts have resulted in a cleaner Potomac. Special swimming events, such as the Nation’s Tri, could apply for exceptions to the rule as of 2007. Event organizers are required to monitor and analyze water quality samples prior to the event and submit a contingency plan in the event the District Department of the Environment determines the river is unsafe for swimming.

Despite the progress, sewer overflows can still harm river quality. The Nation’s Triathlon had to cancel the swim in 2011 as well.

Judging by social media reactions, most athletes felt the Nation’s Tri race officials made the right choice in cancelling the swim. Safety is important, no matter how many hours of training you have put in.

But the disappointment of several thousand athletes is only a symptom. This situation really calls attention to the need for improvement in our stormwater infrastructure.

The 772 cities in the U.S. that have combined sewer systems can all be challenged by heavy rains that rush over urban impervious surfaces and into their sewers. This results in stormwater and untreated waste polluting our water bodies.

EPA has worked to promote green infrastructure practices to help minimize and prevent stormwater events that can threaten public health, all while protecting the quality of rivers, streams, and lakes. Green infrastructure techniques such as green roofs, permeable pavement, and rain gardens help slow down runoff and help water more naturally filter out excess nutrients and other pollutants on its way into the ground.

These kinds of activities help protect human health and the environment. Hopefully one day soon, as race contestants, we can count on completing the bike, run, and swim through our nation’s capital and in similar events across the country.

About the Authors: When student contractors Marguerite Huber and Dustin Renwick are not biking or running through the District, they can be found helping the science communication and innovation teams (respectively) 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.

Research Recap: This Week in EPA Science

2014 September 12

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleOne thing I’ve learned since starting work here at EPA is that we love to use acronyms. I even keep a running list in my notebook which I sometimes discretely check mid-conversation. For example, I work in EPA ORD IOAA Comms (translation: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Immediate Office of the Assistant Administrator, Science Communications).

Read below to find out why a discussion at EPA involving PARIS isn’t necessarily about the city in France, and learn about more research that’s been highlighted this week.

That being said, here is today’s Research Recap: this week in EPA science, or as we like to call it: R.R. – T.W.I.E.P.A.S. (Just kidding!)

 

  • PARIS III: EPA’s Solvent Substitution Software Tool

EPA researchers have developed a software tool called “Program for Assisting the Replacement of industrial Solvents, version 3.0, “ or PARIS III, that helps companies find alternate chemical mixtures or solvents that still improve their industrial processes but are not as harmful to our environment. The tool is provided by the EPA for free, and can be effective and efficiently used to help individuals find better and more benign solvent mixtures for many different common industrial processes.

Read more.

Download the tool.

 

  • Digitally Detecting Waterborne Illnesses

EPA researchers are bringing current methods of monitoring human pathogens in drinking water into the digital age. This advancement would offer a whole new set of opportunities, including greater statistical power to detect if the pathogen is present and, if so, to determine its concentration.

Dr. Eric Villegas, a scientist working on the project explains, “Digital PCR can perform up to a million reactions in the same amount of time that standard techniques take, improving how we model the detection of waterborne pathogens.”

Read more.

 

  • EPA Announces Funding to Create Two New Drinking Water Innovation Centers.

Two EPA-funded innovation enters will develop and test advanced, low cost methods to reduce, control, and eliminate groups of water contaminants that present challenges to communities worldwide.

“These centers will help to develop innovative and practical solutions for challenges faced by smaller drinking water systems, which make up the majority of public water systems in the United States,” said Lek Kadeli, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Read more.

 

  •  EPA, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality renew partnerships with Hampton University, Norfolk State University

The goals of the partnership include promoting an increase in the number of minorities with careers in environmental science and environmental engineering, and promoting a greater understanding of the causes and effects of air pollution. The partnership will also continue an EPA-funded program called LEAP—Linking Environmental and Academic Programs—at both universities.

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: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick recently joined the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor.

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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