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On a Mission: Finding Life Cycle Environmental Solutions

2015 February 11

A blog post by April Richards and Mary Wigginton highlighting EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program–“the small program with the big mission”–was recently posted by the U.S. Small Business Administration. A portion is reposted below. 

Compostable packing for shipping wine

Read about EPA-supported innovative companies and their products, such as environmentally-friendly packaging (pictured), in the SBA blog post.

We often describe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program as the small program with the big mission, to protect human health and the environment. The mission is big and the areas of focus are broad: air, water, climate change, waste and manufacturing. We strive to promote “greening” it all.

The President’s budget calls to equip the EPA with the best scientific information and research to underpin its regulatory actions and helps the agency find the most sustainable solutions for the wide range of environmental challenges facing the United States today. It supports high-priority research in such areas as air quality, sustainable approaches to environmental protection, and safe drinking water.

Through the years, the EPA SBIR program has supported advances in green technologies such as state-of-the-art monitoring devices and pollution clean-up systems and processes. Recently though, we have expanded to support companies whose ideas are launched from a foundation of life cycle assessment (LCA). This proactive approach means solving an environmental problem in a way that takes into account resources, feedstock, emissions, toxicity and waste.

While clean-up, containment systems, and other “end-of-pipe technologies” are still important for managing pollution and potential contaminants after they have been produced, we want to foster game-changers that reduce or eliminate their production in the first place.

Read the rest of the blog. 

 

 

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

2015 February 6

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

February is American Heart Month but no, not those heart-shaped cards, candy and cookies that seem to be everywhere this time of year. American Hearth month is about real hearts, the ones in our bodies that pump our blood and are critical to our health.

EPA is raising awareness of heart disease and its link to air pollution and other environmental factors as a partner in Million Hearts campaign, a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. To support this, EPA’s Healthy Heart initiative was created to spread the word about the importance of clean air to cardiovascular health, specifically to increase awareness among health care providers, patients with heart disease who are at highest risk from the ill effects of air pollution, and the general public.

Read more about this important issue in this blog by EPA’s Dr. Wayne E. Cascio whose research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

And here is some more EPA research from this week.

  • EPA: Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety
    One of EPA’s highest priorities is making sure our children, our homes, and our communities are safer from toxic chemicals. EPA’s Gwen Keyes Fleming shared some stories of the innovative and collaborative work that Agency researchers are leading to take action on toxics and chemical safety.
    Read the blog post here.
  • Exposing the Missing Link: Advancing Exposure Science to Rapidly Evaluate Chemicals
    EPA researchers are at the forefront of exposure science, developing and testing new paradigms to efficiently generate and collect information about how people encounter chemicals and other toxic substances. EPA’s National Program Director for Chemical Safety for Sustainability, Tina Bahadori, describes how advances in EPA research have transformed exposure science in a very short time.
    Read the blog post here.
  • Researchers Link Smoke from Fires to Tornado Intensity
    Research partially funded by EPA found that smoke from fires set to clear agricultural fields in Central America are exacerbating tornadoes in the United States. News about the study was published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
    Read more about the study here.

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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

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EPA: Taking Action on Toxics and Chemical Safety

2015 February 5

The following was originally posted on EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership.

Innovative-Research

By Gwen Keyes Fleming

For all of their beneficial uses, chemicals can also pose potential risks: manufacturing them can create emissions and waste, and exposure to them can impact our health and the environment. One of EPA’s highest priorities is making sure our children, our homes, and our communities are safer from toxic chemicals.

Last October, Administrator McCarthy asked EPA employees to log into GreenSpark, our internal online employee engagement platform, and share stories of the innovative and collaborative work that they are leading to take action on toxics and chemical safety. I’d like to share some of their exciting work with you.

Developing Innovative Science: EPA’s Office of Research and Development, with support from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, is working to change the way we evaluate chemical safety to make it quicker and easier to understand the potential toxic effects of chemicals on human health and the environment.

Read the rest of the post. 

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

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Exposing the Missing Link: Advancing Exposure Science to Rapidly Evaluate Chemicals

2015 February 2

By Tina Bahadori, Sc.D.

Compilation of images showing close up of hands cleaning, family preparing food, and children brushing teeth

 

Acknowledging that exposure is vital to understanding and preventing human and environmental risks, the National Academies of Science in its 2012 report, “Exposure Science in the 21st Century: A Vision and A Strategy,” called for characterizing exposures quickly and cost-effectively at multiple levels of integration—including time, space, and biologic scales—and for multiple and cumulative stressors. The report further emphasized the importance of scaling up methods and techniques to detect exposure in large human and ecologic populations of concern.

To realize this vision, our EPA researchers are leading the forefront of exposure science, developing and testing new paradigms to efficiently generate and collect exposure information. In one area, for example, we are rapidly estimating levels of exposure and developing models to evaluate chemical exposures across consumer products and chemical life cycle.

Just last year, our scientists published several scientific peer-reviewed journal articles about these pivotal efforts and publicly released their exposure estimation tools for anyone to use and to evaluate their utility. Put together as a suite of exposure science tools, the following three examples showcase how advances in our research have transformed exposure science in a very short time.

  • ExpoCast is a tool that implements a collection of models and data to provide high-throughput exposure estimations for thousands of chemicals. Evaluating both farfield and nearfield exposure routes, our tool has been used to develop exposure estimates for approximately 1,900 chemicals; these estimates can be used to prioritize chemicals with the greatest likelihood for exposure.
  • Stochastic Human Exposure and Dose Simulation High-throughput model (SHEDS-HT) produces estimates for thousands of chemicals in a more rapid and cost-effective manner. SHEDS-HT accounts for multiple routes, scenarios, and pathways of exposure to understand the total exposure to these chemicals while retaining population and life stage information.
  • Chemical Product Categories Database (CPCat) catalogs the use of over 40,000 chemicals used in different consumer products. The database compiles chemical use information from multiple sources while product information is gathered from retail stores’ public Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

To further advance the vision for exposure science in the 21st century, EPA invited the academic research community through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program to develop and apply new methods and technologies to efficiently collect data that will support a more comprehensive understanding of the science. Recently, we awarded grants—totaling $4.5 million—to five universities to conduct innovative research to advance methods for characterizing real-world human exposures to chemicals associated with consumer products in indoor environments. I am greatly looking forward to the work produced by these ambitious research teams because the data collected and research results will provide much needed and otherwise absent exposure information, and will help advance the relevance and applicability of current models.

Since innovation and transformation occur most rapidly in collaborative environments, on February 3-4, 2015, we will be hosting an EPA Exposure Science in the 21st Century Grants Kickoff meeting to publicly announce the grant recipients and to germinate and facilitate collaborations among EPA exposure scientists and the grant recipients.  

The grant recipients include these transdisciplinary teams:

  • University of California, San Francisco—Principle Investigator: Tracey Woodruff Ph.D.
  • Duke University—Principle Investigator: Heather M. Stapleton Ph.D.
  • University of California, Davis—Principle Investigator: Deborah H. Bennett Ph.D.
  • Virginia Tech—Principle investigator: John Little Ph.D.
  • University of Michigan—Principle Investigator: Xudong Fan Ph.D.

To quantify, manage, and prevent risk, we need both exposure and toxicity information. To this end, EPA’s Toxicity Forecaster (ToxCast) which screens thousands of chemicals for potential health effects has proven to be an invaluable resource. Combined with our advances in high-throughput exposure estimations, we are beginning to have a better understanding of the landscape of chemical exposures and how to prioritize them for potential environmental and human health risks.

Our research is still evolving—we hope to maintain this accelerated pace and continue to advance the leading edge of the science. But to ground our research in pragmatic and health protective solutions, we recently requested a new study by the National Academy of Science to provide guidance on how best to integrate these advances into risk-based evaluations.

I believe the time is ripe scientifically—with advances in biotechnology, computational biology and chemistry, informatics, and allied fields—to change the face of chemical risk assessments for existing chemicals, for selection of safer alternatives, and for innovating and designing modern materials and products. I am confident that our research in exposure science will provide the missing link that has long hindered these advances.

About the Author:  Tina Bahadori, Sc.D. is the National Program Director for EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program.  Learn more about her on EPA’s Science Matters: Meet our Scientists web page.

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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Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Hearts – Don’t Forget About Air Pollution

2015 February 2

 

Healthy Heart graphic identifier

By Wayne E. Cascio, MD

Each February during American Heart Month our attention is once again drawn to the importance of promoting heart health.  Heart attacks and strokes are on the decline thanks to the dedicated efforts of many health care professionals and organizations and scientists on the frontlines of cardiovascular research and health education. Yet, while progress is being made, cardiovascular diseases still account for the largest number of deaths each year in the US (one death every 40 seconds) and impose an enormous emotional, physical and economic burden on individuals, families and our communities. This underscores the importance of continued vigilance in the fight against heart disease and stroke.

Most Americans by now can recite the major heart healthy lifestyle factors: regular physical activity, a healthy diet and weight, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, and no smoking.  Yet, too few know that exposure to air pollution is a risk factor for heart disease, even though scientific evidence is clear that air pollution contributes to heart disease.

Just last December cardiologists and health scientists on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology published a paper in the European Heart Journal  adding their voices to a growing chorus of environmental health scientists and physicians calling for increased public awareness of the link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.

EPA’s Healthy Heart initiative  was created in 2013 to increase environmental health literacy among health care providers, patients with heart disease who are at highest risk from the ill effects of air pollution, and the general public.  Heart patients and caregivers can access information about protecting their heart from air pollution on the Healthy Heart web page. The site includes links to local air quality forecasts on the airnow.gov web page.

Individuals are empowered to take action to protect their hearts from air pollution. They can adjust their daily activities to keep air pollution exposure to a minimum when outdoor levels are high. They can avoid exercise near a busy road and reduce activity level on high pollution days (for example, go for a walk instead of a jog.) Adding these steps to other healthy lifestyle activities can protect hearts and save lives.

And while much scientific progress has been made to uncover the heart-air pollution link, many questions remain that require more science. EPA and other scientists across our country and around the world are hard at work to learn more about why some people are so susceptible to polluted air and what sources may be contributing the most to heart attacks and strokes, among other questions.  One such effort is the CATHGEN Air Pollution Study, being conducted by EPA in collaboration with the Duke University School of Medicine. This multi-year study and others under way are anticipated to fill big gaps in current scientific knowledge on the health impacts of air pollution.

About the Author: Cardiologist Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio’s research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

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

2015 January 30

By Kacey FitzpatrickTeam Research Recap

From the field, to the NFL Environmental Program, to the 120 million pounds of avocados that will be consumed – this year’s Super Bowl is all about green. Across the country, both teams and their fans are “greening” sports — saving energy, cutting waste and preventing pollution. You can read more about EPA Green Sports here.

Still not enough green for one weekend? Here is some more environmental science news in this week’s Research Recap.

  • Researchers Find New Way to Monitor Toxicity in Subsistence Foods
    The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium will launch a traditional food and water monitoring website recently developed through an EPA General Assistance Program grant, in response to widespread concerns in rural Alaska communities.
    Read more about the program in this article.
  • Connecting Students to the Natural World around Them
    Teacher Gerry Reymore was a recipient of the 2014 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.  This award recognizes K-12 teachers who use innovative methods to teach environmental education. He shared his plans for the funding in a blog post this week.
    Read the blog post here.
  • New Paper from a Pathfinder Innovation Project
    Pathfinder Innovation Projects challenge EPA scientists to answer the question, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could … ?” In the paper Systematic Proteomic Approach to Characterize the Impacts of Chemical Interactions on Protein and Cytotoxicity Responses to Metal Mixture Exposures, researchers provide a novel approach to characterizing and predicting the toxicities of metal and other chemical mixtures.
    Read the paper here.

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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

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

This Week in EPA Science

2015 January 23

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

This week in his State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that climate change is the greatest threat to our future.  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy showed support of his statement in her blog, Climate Action Protects the Middle Class, where she discussed how EPA is taking action and delivering on a key part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

EPA researchers support both the Agency and President Obama in taking action on climate change by providing the science that decision makers, communities, and individuals need to protect human health and the environment in the face of a changing climate.

You can learn more about the work EPA researchers have done to support climate action here.

And here is some more research we’ve highlighted this week.

  • EPA Releases Final Connectivity Report in Support of the Clean Water Rule
    On January 15th, EPA released the final report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence. Researchers found that the scientific literature clearly demonstrates that streams, regardless of their size or frequency of flow, are connected to downstream waters in ways that strongly influence their function.
    The report can be read here.
  • EPA Funded Research Finds BPA Exposure during Pregnancy Causes Oxidative Stress in Child, Mother
    A study done by the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at University of Michigan was published in the journal Endocrinology, which found that exposure to the chemical BPA during pregnancy can cause oxidative damage that may put the baby at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease later in life.
    Read more about the study here.

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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

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

This Week in EPA Science

2015 January 16

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

With the chilly forecast ahead, there’s only one thing better than spending this long weekend enjoying the great outdoors: reading about environmental science from the warm comfort of your couch.

Here’s this week’s Research Recap so you can do just that.

  • Advancing Species Extrapolation: EPA’s “Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility”
    EPA researchers are creating an online tool that will help predict potential chemical risks across different species. The tool, Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility or SeqAPASS, provides an example of how EPA researchers are leading the effort to usher in a new generation of faster, more efficient, and less expensive toxicology practices.
    Read the blog post. 
  • Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries
    EPA’s Lek Kadeli shared his thoughts on the scientific report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence released this week. The state-of-the-science report shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways such as rivers and lakes.
    Read the blog: “Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries” 
  • Study: Pollution Controls Really Work
    In the United States, pollution control legislation passed in 1990 began to take effect for various pollutants in 1995.  An EPA researcher recently took a look back to see exactly how effective these controls have been over the last 20 years. The study and its findings were featured in Conservation Magazine.
    Read “Study: Pollution Controls Really Work”

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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

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

Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries

2015 January 15

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

Aerial photograph of river and wetland

EPA recently released a scientific report about the connectivity of U.S. waters.

By Lek Kadeli

You may have noticed along a favorite hiking trail that some streams only appear after rainfall, or maybe you’ve seen wetlands far from the nearest river. You probably didn’t think about the importance of those smaller water bodies. But a new scientific report we’re releasing today shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

Our researchers conducted an extensive, thorough review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies to learn how small streams and wetlands connect to larger, downstream water bodies. The results of their work are being released today. The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, is a state-of-the-science report that presents findings on the connectivity of streams and wetlands to larger water bodies.

Read the rest of the post. 

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

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

Advancing Species Extrapolation: EPA’s “Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility”

2015 January 12

By Carlie A. LaLone, Ph.D.

Graphic illustration of molecule with shapes of animals in front. I have been working with a team of EPA colleagues to create an on-line tool, Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility (SeqAPASS), that will help both researchers and regulators readily use available protein sequence and structural knowledge to extrapolate chemical toxicity information across species. When complete, this innovative research tool will help predict potential chemical susceptibility to wildlife, including plants and animals.

Through the years, scientists have come to understand that the sensitivity of a species to a chemical is determined by a number of factors including chemical exposure, absorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination, and the organism’s life-history. Additionally, an important consideration for species susceptibility is the presence or absence of proteins that interact with chemicals. Those that interact can be referred to as “protein targets.” Researchers take advantage of such protein targets to develop or improve drugs and/or pesticides, however it is known that chemicals in the environment can interact with these protein targets in other non-target species leading to unintended adverse effects.

Chemicals such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides have relatively well-defined protein targets and a majority of these proteins are curated in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) protein database maintained by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. The database contains information on millions of proteins from thousands of different species. Using this massive and continually expanding database, SeqAPASS helps identify whether a protein target is available for a chemical to act upon in a particular species, which could therefore potentially disrupt important biological processes. This method can be used, for example, to explore whether a pesticide developed to control a pest species would be predicted to affect other, non-target species such as pollinators or protected (threatened or endangered) species.

Overall, SeqAPASS provides us with a fast, efficient screening tool. Using it, we can begin to extrapolate toxicity information from a few model organisms (like mice, rats, zebrafish, etc.) to thousands of other non-target species to evaluate potential chemical susceptibility.

SeqAPASS provides an example of how EPA Chemical Safety for Sustainability researchers are leading the effort to usher in a new generation of toxicology practices that aspire to reduce the number of animals used, decrease costs, and increase the efficiency of chemical toxicity testing. The 21st century chemical toxicity testing strategy incorporates these ideals and has given rise to adverse outcome pathway (AOP) development and rapid, high-throughput chemical screening programs such as EPA’s ToxCast program.

We plan to make SeqAPASS publically available later this year. I am very passionate about the work we are doing and hope that future external engagement will enhance the SeqAPASS tool capabilities and its applications. As this project continues to evolve to incorporate the latest bioinformatic technologies for protein comparisons across species, we hope that SeqAPASS can be used to inform risk assessments, particularly in instances where toxicity data is lacking.

This research has been published in Aquatic Toxicology, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B and Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Another paper has been drafted to coincide with public release of SeqAPASS via the internet.

About the Author:  Carlie LaLone is a Postdoctoral Associate for the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center in Cooperative Training Partnership with EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is the project lead for the development of the Sequence Alignment to Predict Across Species Susceptibility (SeqAPASS) tool.

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.