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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.

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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.

This Week in EPA Science

2014 October 3

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleIt’s the first week of October which happens to be my favorite month of the year. I love October, and fall in general, because the crisp weather and leaves changing color make it the best time of year to be outside. Visiting an orchard, hiking a trail, or just taking a nice evening stroll through the neighborhood – these activities make October a great time to appreciate the environment.

It’s been a good week for EPA science, too. So, if you’re not outside enjoying the change of seasons, check out the latest news about Agency research.

  • Globally Linking Scientific Knowledge through the Adverse Outcome Pathways Wiki
    EPA and partners released the online Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) Wiki—an interactive, virtual encyclopedia for the development and evaluation of adverse outcome pathways. It is important to understand and map these pathways in order to incorporate toxicological data into chemical risk assessments and support decisions made to advance chemical safety. Read more.
  • EPA Chemical Safety Data Summit Held In Research Triangle Park, NC
    EPA’s Chemical Safety Data Summit: Exploring How to Use ToxCast Data was held September 29th and 30th. The summit brought together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss past, present, and future work using the massive amounts of new chemical safety data flowing from new, innovative chemical screening methods such as high-throughput screening technologies. Participants shared techniques and ideas on how to use the emerging wealth of data to inform chemical policy and regulatory decisions. More than 200 stakeholders participated in person and 80 stakeholders tuned in remotely via online webinar. Read more.
  • Going to the Dogs: EPA Researchers Use Dog Waste to Explore New Ways to Monitor Water Quality
    Dog feces left on the ground can wash into waterways, sometimes carrying bacteria that can make people sick. A team of EPA researchers is developing a genetic test to advance new, high-tech and efficient ways to monitor water quality, and figure out how much uncollected dog waste  might be contributing to related health concerns. Read more.
  • EPA’s Exposure Toolbox Update: Check Out the New Features
    EPA-Expo-Box is a one-stop shop risk assessment resource for risk assessors, researchers, public health officials, and others. Originally released in November, 2013 it has been recently updated to enhance the search feature, include additional tools, and provide a form for users to suggest additional tools they would like in the toolbox. Read more.
  • Post Doc Recruitment
    Did you recently earn your doctoral degree? Do you find EPA research interesting? If so, be sure to check out the post-doctoral research opportunities now open with the Office of Research and Development! More than 30 post-doctoral positions are open for scientists and engineers who want to protect the environment and public health. The program offers appointments of up to four years, state-of-the-art facilities, world-class scientific expertise, locations throughout the United States, travel to professional scientific meetings, and active trainee organizations. 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: When not out enjoying the crisp, cool October air, student contractor Kacey Fitzpatrick writes about EPA science for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development.

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

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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 risk, 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.

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 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.