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This Week in EPA Science

2014 October 24

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleCompetition can bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Anyone who’s been watching the World Series or following football this season knows what I mean.

But when it comes to competing for sustainability, everybody wins! Read about the student teams selected to compete for this year’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Awards and more in the research highlighted this week.

  • EPA Announces Winning P3 Student Teams
    Since 2004, the P3 Program has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing over $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students. Read more.
  • EPA Supporting Next Generation of Environmental Scientists Through 105 Fellowship Grants
    EPA announced that 105 graduate students across the nation will receive $8.6 million in Science to Achieve Results fellowship grants to conduct research on topics ranging from climate change and public health to water quality and sustainability that will have cross-cutting impacts in the environmental science field. Read more.
  • Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure
    The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions? Read more.
  • Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection
    EPA’s Alan Hecht, Ph.D. offers a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for in the paper Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future. EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation. Read more.
  • Green Infrastructure Research
    Check out the latest issue of our newsletter EPA Science Matters Newsletter: Green Infrastructure Research and join EPA researchers on October 29 from 2:00-3:00pm ET on twitter to talk about green infrastructure! Questions should be sent to the hashtag #EnvSciChat.

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: 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.

Sustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection

2014 October 24

By Alan Hecht, Ph.D. Resilience

When most people consider “resilience,” they think about bouncing back from some sort of unwelcome catastrophe. Whether it’s “super storms” devastating coastal communities and disrupting millions of people along the east coast, wildfires in the mountain and western states, or natural disasters and related, human-caused emergencies such as the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, recent events have magnified the importance of being prepared to ride out hard times.

For many, that has meant storing caches of nonperishable food, water supplies, and plenty of extra batteries. An emergency plan and meeting spot for all family members is also a great idea. But what is the best way to define resiliency for society as a whole? Can we incorporate actions into plans that not only make our communities more resilient to future catastrophes, but make us more prosperous and healthy now?

My colleagues and I at EPA have been exploring ongoing research to consider resiliency in a broader context, linking it with programs that help us and our partners identify challenges and advance a more sustainable future.

In January of 2013 EPA in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, the National Council for Science and Environment, and Dow Chemical hosted a workshop on resilience and sustainability. Papers from this workshop are now highlighted in a special issue of the Solutions Journal.

What's the best way to define resiliency?

What’s the best way to define resiliency?

In a featured paper in this issue: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future, we share what we have learned and offer a new, forward thinking definition of resilience for communities, companies, and others to consider and strive for: “the capacity for a system to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change and uncertainty.”  Along with my co-authors Joseph Fiksel (who also served as the journal’s guest editor) and Iris Goodman, we explore a variety of solutions for strengthening both resilience and sustainability in urban communities and industrial enterprises.

We are not alone. The concept of resilience and its relationship to sustainability is now attracting a great deal of attention:

  • EPA is looking at research tools and approaches that address and advance community resilience and climate adaptation.
  • Policy makers, business executives, and community leaders are incorporating resilience into their planning operations.
  • Major companies are systematically strengthening the resilience of their global supply chains.
  • A network of urban planners, architects, designers, engineers, and landscape architects are developing creative and practical strategies to increase the resilience of cities.

These and many other leading organizations are taking steps today to prepare for the next “super storm” threatening their operations, while helping us find ways to achieve a sustainable future for us all. Read more about how leading government, non-government and business organizations are working toward a sustainable future in the face of climate change and global urbanization: Resilience: Navigating toward a Sustainable Future.

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.

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Turning Back Time: Repairing Water Infrastructure

2014 October 21

By Marguerite Huber

I am about to turn 25 years old—the quarter century mark! Yikes! While I may start to feel “old” when I consider that number, I am in considerably better shape than some of the pipes and sewer mains that make up the country’s water infrastructure, some components of which are more than four times my age.

Homes, apartment buildings, and businesses in nearly every neighborhood and city across the country are connected to miles and miles of pipes carrying wastewater and drinking water. That’s a lot of pipes to take care of!

Large bulldozer and crew at work on  a city street.

Aging water infrastructure: fixing old, leaking sewer pipes in downtown Washington, DC.

The estimated costs of fixing old, leaky, and cracked pipes through the traditional methods of digging them up and patching or replacing them could cost water utilities in excess of $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Innovative, lower cost technologies that could provide alternatives would have enormous impact, but how do utilities know where to turn before they make investments in long-term solutions?

To answer this question, scientists and engineers from EPA’s aging water infrastructure research program reported on innovative and emerging technologies in their study, Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Demonstration and Evaluation Program (Matthews, et. al., 2014). They and their partners conducted field demonstrations to test these new technologies, such as those that aim to repair existing pipes “from the inside out,” under real-world conditions.

EPA’s work with industry partners gathered reliable performance and cost data on technologies that line the inside of the aging pipes to fill in the holes and cracks, prolonging their life. They shared what they learned with water and wastewater utility owners, technology manufacturers, consultants, and service providers.

They tested two types of liner technologies. One was a cured-in-place method that essentially is a pipe-within-a-pipe. The second was a spray-in-place method that uses a computer-controlled robot to apply a new pipe liner.

The researchers provided reliable information on the performance and cost of the emerging technologies. Stakeholders can benefit from the work: water and wastewater utility owners can reduce the risk of trying out unproven technologies by using technologies that have undergone evaluation; manufacturers and developers will realize the opportunity to advance technology development and commercialization; and consultants and service providers will have the information they need to compare the performance and cost of similar products.

Overall, these innovative technologies can be efficient and economical alternatives to full-blown replacements of water infrastructure. I hope I have similar options when I pass the century mark myself!

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

Literature Cited: Matthews, J., A. Selvakumar, R. Sterling, AND W. Condit. Innovative Rehabilitation Technology Demonstration and Evaluation Program. Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology. Elsevier BV, AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 39:73-81, (2014).

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 October 17

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

Celebrations in October usually elicit carving pumpkins, eating candy, and dressing up, but did you know that October is also Children’s Heath Month? EPA is celebrating by making this week Children’s Health Action Week.

EPA researchers work all year to protect children from environmental threats and promote environmental health wherever they live, learn, and play. This week we’ve highlighted some of those efforts.

Recipe for Fun: Just Add Water

For many kids, favorite summer activities, like sprinting through waves or leaping over sprinklers, involve lots of water. EPA researchers are continually working to keep these water-based activities fun and safe!

Read more.

Small, Curious, and Growing

Pound-for-pound, children eat, drink, and breathe more than their adult counterparts, potentially compounding exposure rates to pollutants and other unwanted things that might be lurking in our food, water, and air. EPA has always made protecting children’s environmental health a top priority.

Read More.

Children’s Health: An Investment in Our Future

In 1998, EPA helped establish the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program, one of the most successful public health research programs in the world and their work has led to groundbreaking research results.

Read more.

Science Matters: Children’s Health Research

Read more about children’s environmental health research in our newsletter.

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.

Recipe for Fun: Just Add Water

2014 October 16

By Marguerite Huber

Child playing running through a sprinkler

Fun: just add water

The combination of my current job—sharing results from EPA safe and sustainable water research—and this week’s focus on “Taking Action on Children’s Health” rekindled some happy, watery memories for me.

As a kid, the key ingredient to my two favorite summer activities was water. I loved going to the beach and playing in the sprinkler in our backyard on hot summer days. When we went to the beach I would splash in the waves, dig through the sand, and create elaborate sandcastles. When we couldn’t make the trip to the beach, my friends and I would spend hours running through the sprinkler in my backyard.

While it’s not quite as much fun as sprinting through waves or leaping over sprinklers, I am learning how EPA researchers are continually working to keep such water-based activities fun and safe for those lucky enough to devote their summers to such pursuits (children!).  For example:

  • A major focus of EPA clean water research is protecting the nation’s drinking water to help keep families safe, whether they are consuming it, or using it to simultaneously water the lawn and keep their children cool and entertained.
  • The “Virtual Beach” software suite developed by Agency researchers and modelers uses data on beach location, local hydrology, land use, wave height, and weather to create models that can predict bacteria and other waterborne pathogen outbreaks at saltwater and freshwater beaches before they happen.
  • Research focused on understanding nutrient pollution includes developing innovative ways to use remote sensing and satellites to monitor for harmful algal blooms that could threatened both drinking water sources and the safety of the water at your favorite beach.
  • EPA scientists are even studying links between exposures to harmful bacteria and beach sand, working to provide beach managers with an early warning to pass along to parents if needed.

Children's Health MonthOur mission at the EPA is to protect public health and the environment. Supporting that mission, our research helps protect vulnerable populations and life stages, especially children. A healthy environment for children is one in which environmental conditions ensure that they have the opportunity to reach and maintain their full potential. Since children are different from adults in how they interact with their environment, their health may be affected by these interactions differently as well. I’m glad to know that EPA’s work is keeping happy memories alive.

For more information please visit our Health and Water Research page.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a student contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She frequently blogs about water research for “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.

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Small, Curious, and Growing

2014 October 15

By Aaron Ferster

Children's Health MonthBam! I remember jumping out of my chair at the sudden, reverberating sound of something smacking the empty metal file cabinet I had left in the middle of the living room, meaning to move it into a safe, tidy corner before becoming distracted. I listened for signs of trouble as I sprinted downstairs to find my daughter preparing to strike again. She wound up and head butted the side of the cabinet, then gazed up smiling from ear to ear as she shared the thrill of making something go “thud” with her head.

That was more than ten years ago now, but I’m sure any parent can share exact moments of when their wandering toddlers showed them just how different they are at experiencing the world. Every new encounter is an opportunity to explore the world through taste, touch, and smell. And while the vast majority of those behaviors—from crawling on the ground to tasting new found items—are both normal and healthy stages of development, some can lead to trouble.

From a public health standpoint, particular childhood behaviors may increase their risk of encountering environmental contaminants and hazardous chemicals. Pound-for-pound, children also eat, drink, and breathe more than their adult counterparts, potentially compounding exposure rates to pollutants and other unwanted things that might be lurking in our food, water, and air. Additionally, because their bodies and internal systems are still developing and growing, the earliest stages of life can be the most vulnerable to long-term health impacts.

For all those reasons, EPA has always made protecting children’s environmental health a top priority. As Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr. pointed out in his blog kicking off this week’s focus on “Taking Action on Children’s Environmental Health,” Agency scientists and their partners have been working for years to better understand—and reduce—environmental risks to infants and children in all stages of development.

Science Matters Childrens Health IssueI invite you to learn more about that research and how it is improving the lives of children “wherever they live, learn, and play” in the special issue of our EPA Science Matters newsletter.

News, audio clips, and other examples highlighting the highly successful EPA partnership with the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program, are also available at http://go.usa.gov/f2eJ. That site includes feature stories of how research results are being put into action, publications compiling the first decade of findings, and information about past and upcoming program webinars.

I’m happy to report that my daughter was quickly persuaded to substitute a big wooden spoon for her head before proceeding to treat me to an afternoon of sporadic cacophony. That was an easy, and obvious action I could take to protect children’s health in my own home. Check out the sources mentioned above for some far more important and far-reaching examples. I promise to try and keep the noise down.

 About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the father of two teenage daughters.

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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Children’s Health: An Investment in Our Future

2014 October 14

By Dr. James H. Johnson Jr.

Group of children at school

Children’s health is our best investment.

Although children make up 30 percent of the population, they are 100 percent of our future. As a former college professor, I’ve had the distinct honor of serving as an educator and mentor to many, many young people, and there is no greater personal or professional pleasure than watching that kind of investment grow.

Children's Health MonthToday marks the beginning of Children’s Health Action Week at EPA, and I’m thrilled to kick off a number of blog posts we will be sharing about what is without a doubt one of the greatest investments we make in our nation’s future: children’s environmental health research.

In 1998, EPA, together with our partner at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), established the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program (Children’s Centers), one of the most successful public health research programs in the world. The program funds multi-disciplinary, community- and university-based research centers that together serve as a network of top experts and practitioners in children’s environmental health.

The Children’s Centers program fosters collaborative research that connects scientists, social scientists, pediatricians, public health professionals and community organizations all focused on a single overarching goal: to improve the health and environments of children. Together, their work has led to groundbreaking research results. Examples include:

The Centers are explicitly designed to match researchers with public health experts and caregivers so that the results of their work quickly and effectively reach those who can put it into practice and protect children wherever they live, learn and play.

For the past 16 years, EPA has invested over $130 million (matched by NIEHS) to fund more than 30 Children’s Centers.

This week, EPA is not only celebrating the great strides we have made in children’s health research, but we are also recommitting ourselves to our overall mission of ensuring safe and healthy lives for all children. The Children’s Centers are providing the research that will help parents and mentors achieve that. It is a rewarding investment.

Please join me in celebrating children’s health week and 16 years of scientific achievement by learning about how EPA and its partners are providing a better world for our children, today.

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

 

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 October 10

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleHappy Friday! Like most people, I love Fridays—and not just because that’s when Research Recap is posted. This Friday is especially happy because it’s a long weekend which means an extra day to relax and recharge. Did you know that mental breaks actually increase productivity and encourage creativity?

Before you head out for the long weekend and give your mind a much needed break, check out this quick recap of the latest news in Agency research.

  • Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA
    Taylor Katz spent his summer interning at EPA contributing to the Agency’s Report on the Environment. The Report is a compilation of information on the best available indicators of national conditions and trends in air, water, land, human heath, ecological systems, and sustainability. Read more.
  • Happy Cities, Happy People
    The 2014 EcoDistricts Summit took place in Washington DC. The three-day conference consisted of a variety of themes like collaboration, health, innovation, technology, sharing, green building and digital tools. Diane Simunek, a Student Contractor with EPA, was able to attend and share her experience. Read more.
  • EPA Awards $4 Million Grant for Research of Drinking Water Purification
    In early September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted $4 million to the University of Colorado, Boulder to establish a national center to improve drinking water treatment facilities for small towns and rural communities. Known as DeRISK, or Design of Risk Reducing, Innovative Implementable Small System Knowledge Center, this new center will develop sustainable methods to reduce water contaminants. Read more.
  • Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki
    The Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki has been released is now open to the public. It is important to understand and map AOPs in order to incorporate toxicological data into chemical risk assessments and regulatory decision-making. The goal was to create an easy-to-use tool that will stimulate, capture, and use crowd-sourced knowledge from the scientific community. Read more.

If you have any comments or questions about what I 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.

Happy Cities, Happy People

2014 October 7

By Diane Simunek

Have you ever wondered what makes you happy? Is it the warm cup of coffee you enjoy in the morning or the feeling of coming home after a hard day’s work? Maybe it’s riding a bike around your neighborhood or watching your kids joyfully run around a playground. There’s no easy way to pinpoint what exactly makes you happy, but understanding the many complexities of what does is exactly what Charles Montgomery aims to do. Montgomery is the author of the award-winning book, Happy City, and he was also one of the keynote speakers at the EcoDistricts Summit that I was recently fortunate enough to attend.

In the spirit of creating happier and more sustainable cities, Montgomery discussed his research as exploring the intersections of urban design and the science of happiness, to create a new vision for future cities. His opening remarks set the tone for the summit ahead.

During our "urban lab" field trip.

During our “urban lab” field trip.

The three-day conference consisted of a variety of approaches for sharing information amongst the diverse attendees. I attended educational seminars, discussion groups, and a research forum. I met urban planners, lawyers, government officials, scientist, and students, all working toward a similar cause. I even went on a field trip that used DC as an “urban lab” where we saw the Linnean Park urban stream restoration project, visited the Sidwell Friends “Green” Middle School, and explored the RiverSmart Washington stormwater reduction project. The energy was invigorating and the conversations never ended.

What struck me most was the quantity of overlapping and complementary efforts being made, and hearing about the successes already achieved. When looking at these projects from start to completion, it’s clear that “It All Starts with Science.”

EPA research is only the beginning of the process, and it is sometimes easy to lose sight of how much positive impact the tools that we develop have down the road. For example, EPA researchers attending the summit demonstrated the EnviroAtlas, a user-friendly mapping tool. The number of requests for collaboration afterwards was astonishing. Research is important and EPA is working hard to provide it for our communities.

The summit ended with keynote speaker Jason Roberts, co-creator of The Better Block. He said “stop cheerleading, start championing” and although cheerleading is great, I think we can all agree doing is even better. Just like EPA is doing research, I encourage everyone to do their part, working towards a happier and more sustainable society. You can even start thinking about what makes you happy during your next cup of coffee.

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.

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.

Usability Testing, the Report on the Environment, and My Time at EPA

2014 October 6

By Taylor Katz

As a student of Environmental Health at George Washington University, I was excited to be asked to contribute to the Agency’s Report on the Environment (ROE). The Report is a compilation of information on the best available indicators of national conditions and trends in air, water, land, human heath, ecological systems, and sustainability.

What makes the 2014 edition so unique from past versions, is that the 2014 Report on the Environment is entirely online. Through interactive graphs, maps, and charts, the website presents trends and measurements of physical and biological conditions within clearly defined geographic areas. Focal points are the Report’s six theme areas: Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, Ecological Condition, and Sustainability. It’s a hotspot for all things environmental and ecological health related.

EPA's Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

EPA’s Report on the Environment presents interactive maps and other graphics.

Because the Report can be a valuable resource for scientists, decisions-makers, and the public, the team that produced it wanted to ensure that users can find the exact information they want, when they need it.  That’s where I come in.

I was asked to help improve the Report on the Environment website by conducting usability tests with EPA employees. To do this, we created two tests—one focused on the site’s indicators, and the other on navigating the site.

Five EPA employees participated in each test, and we gave each eight tasks to perform. For example, task one was: “your supervisor has assigned you to put together some information for a report about mercury. To start, you want to know the mercury levels in the U.S. population. Where would you look for this information?” As participants verbally communicated how they navigated through the site, we observed which tasks participants commonly struggled to complete. We recorded the results of each participant, which will ultimately help the team ensure the website is the best it can be.

Looking back on my summer, usability testing gave me more than just knowledge regarding the Report on the Environment. By meeting different EPA employees from different backgrounds, I gained an appreciation for the fact that everyone at the Agency has a core value of improving the environment and human health.

Working here allowed me to better understand the ins and outs of what really goes on at the EPA. I was able to familiarize myself with different offices, while also witnessing the real life applications of information that I study in textbooks and attend lectures on. This work helped me realize that regardless of one’s research or specialization, it takes the whole organization to produce a great product.

About the Author: Taylor Katz is currently a student at George Washington University and was a summer intern at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.

 

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.