It All Starts with Science

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

research_recap_GI_soccerAre you watching the Women’s World Cup this weekend? There may be no commercial breaks but half time is fifteen minutes—the perfect amount of time to refill drinks, get a snack, and catch up on EPA science!

Below is what we are highlighting this week.

  • Research to Support Decontamination and Containment

This week EPA researchers, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, held a demonstration to provide responders with a “toolbox of options” for radiological decontamination and containment technologies.

Learn more about the demonstration in the blog Developing a “Toolbox” of Technology Options. 

  • Agency Researcher Developing Water Quality “App”

EPA researcher Blake Schaeffer was featured in a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch for his work developing an “App” that will tap satellite data to help people monitor local water quality and avoid harmful algal blooms in their favorite swimming spots or fishing holes.

Read the newspaper article App will show level of algae in water.

EPA Research Photo of the Week

Researchers spray a foam developed to remove radioactive cesium and other contaminants from the surface of a building during decontamination demonstrations in Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers spray a foam developed to remove radioactive cesium and other contaminants from the surface of a building during decontamination demonstrations in Columbus, Ohio.

 

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

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor, writer, and soccer fan 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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Developing a “Toolbox” of Technology Options for Responders Following a Radiological Contamination Event

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

Clean up crews in hazmat suits.

EPA researchers and partners are developing a “toolbox of options” to support decontamination and containment operations.

This week EPA researchers, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, kick-off a week long demonstration to provide responders with a “toolbox of options” for radiological decontamination and containment technologies.

Decision-makers need a variety of options when responding to a radiological accident—which can include events like a dirty bomb, or a nuclear accident like what happened at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Some technologies are more effective, but less available, and others are more readily available but less effective. Depending on the circumstances, it’s important to have a plan in place for the best outcome. Decisions that are made during the first hours and days immediately following a radiological incident can have a profound impact on the cost and amount of effort needed for remediation activities.

That’s where this science comes into play.

Researchers will take a look at technologies that looked promising in the lab, but in a wide-area urban scale environment (don’t worry, there will be no live radiological contamination used in the demo) in Columbus, Ohio. The purpose of the demonstration is to show how the technologies can be applied at a city-wide scale using readily available equipment, and what impact the technologies might have on the surfaces to which they are applied.

Banner about EPA's wide-area demonstration in Columbus, Ohio

Technology Demonstration banner, Columbus, OH.

Researchers will be demonstrating stabilization technologies—like fire retardant, wetting agents and chloride salt—to reduce resuspension and tracking of radiological contaminants minimizing the effects on human health and the environment. These technologies are available to responders in large quantities and are quickly and easily deployable and help reduce the dose to responders and the public.

When responding to an event, responders drive vehicles in and out of hot zones so that they can work. Researchers will be testing a variety of vehicle decontamination technologies with waste water containment options so that responders aren’t tracking contamination from the hot zone to “clean” areas. These technologies are readily available and easy to deploy so that responders can set up a staging area quickly and efficiently without spreading contamination.

One of the main goals after an incident is getting the community back to basic operations while keeping people and the environment safe. Researchers will be looking at technologies that can be applied shortly after an event that help restore infrastructure to a level that will allow public services to be provided.

Researchers will also look at highly efficient technologies that are focused on surface radiological decontamination. Currently, these technologies may not be available in quantities that are needed immediately after a wide radiological release, but they could be used in specific instances inside critical infrastructure, including police and fire stations, electrical substations, or a nuclear power plant.

Finally, they will test on-site waste water treatment focused on safe reuse of water which may be used in decontamination operations.  Being able to reuse wash water can ease the burden on storm and sanitary sewer systems, as well as reduce the burden of wash water requirements on the city’s water supply.

This demonstration will provide necessary information supporting a “toolbox of options” that responders can use while planning for any kind of radiological contamination incident. It will provide decision-makers with a foundation as to what works in specific situations and provide information for response planning.

Learn More:

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is the Strategic Communications Lead for Homeland Security Research at EPA and blogs about EPA’s research responding to chemical, biological, or radiological and natural disasters.

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

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap GI jurassic

It’s summer blockbuster season and you know what that means—get ready for action packed movies about superheroes, robots, and genetically-modified dinosaurs. What does that have to do with this blog? It all starts with science!

Before you head out to see the latest sci-fi flick, check out some EPA science that we’re highlighting this week.

  • Visit a Unique Air Monitoring Bench this Summer

EPA has developed an air-monitoring system that can be incorporated into a park bench. The Village Green bench provides real-time air quality measurements on two air pollutants – ozone and particle pollution – and weather conditions. The data is also streamed to a website and can be obtained at the benches using a smart phone. There are several benches throughout the country that you can visit!

Read more about the project in the blog Visit a Unique Air Monitoring Bench this Summer.

Photo of the Week

EPA scientists use  “mesocosms"

EPA scientists developed innovative ways to use large outdoor “mesocosms” (pictured) that were originally designed for ozone exposure research to explore and model several other issues of concern for the Agency, including:

  • The potential ecological consequences of gene flow from genetically-modified crops to non-agricultural plants.
  • The effects of herbicide drift on plant communities.
  • The potential impacts of escaped non-native grasses and other plants grown for use as biofuels on native plant and soil communities.

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

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

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

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

Visit a Unique Air Monitoring Bench this Summer

By Ann Brown

Benjamin Franklin look a like at a park bench

A special visitor at the Village Green bench in Philadelphia.

What do a national zoo, library and national historic landmark have in common?  A Village Green air monitoring bench being tested by EPA researchers and made possible with the support of partners.

State and local partners are hosting a Village Green bench for a one-year research project and are instrumental to EPA’s study to advance air monitoring capabilities to communities. In April, EPA announced grants to partners to receive a Village Green bench and participate in the study.

The Village Green bench contains sophisticated air quality measurement equipment that provides real-time air quality measurements on two air pollutants – ozone and particle pollution – and weather conditions. The data is streamed to a website and can be obtained at the benches using a smart phone.

The partners are monitoring and maintaining the air monitoring systems and meeting regularly with scientists to discuss the project. The benches also provide an opportunity for partners to provide educational outreach on air quality and emerging air measurement technology.

I asked three partners who received the solar and wind-powered benches this spring to talk about their interest in getting a bench and participating in the Village Green Project.

Home of the birthplace of a nation
Alison Riley
Voluntary Programs Coordinator, Department of Public Health, Air Management Services

Philadelphia has long been a center for research and education, so it’s no surprise that Philadelphia’s newest air monitoring bench fits right in among our city’s storied historic and academic institutions. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Air Management Services, is partnering with the EPA and the U.S. National Park Service to operate and test a bench in Independence National Historical Park at 6th and Race Streets, just across from the Constitution Center. We think this is an ideal location since hundreds of people come to the park to see the Liberty Bell and other historical landmarks and learn about our nation’s birthplace. The bench will help visitors learn about the relationship between air quality, traffic, and weather.

A community gathering place
Douglas Watson
Meteorologist, Kansas Department of Health and Environment

The South Branch Library, a new library in Kansas City, Kan., provides an excellent location as it is a place where residents in the community gather. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, EPA and Unified School District 500 joined forces to bring this innovative research project to the community. The bench provides an opportunity for citizen scientists, students, community organizations and others to learn more about air quality and how events such as weather changes and air pollution can change local conditions.

A place that connects people and wildlife
Julia Robey Christian
Public Information Officer, District Department of the Environment

Visitors from around the country come to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to see the world famous giant pandas, Asian elephants, tigers, and other spectacular wildlife. Now, while they are learning about those animals and their connection to the natural world they can also explore something they can’t see: air pollution. Thanks to a partnership between the District Department of the Environment and EPA, the Zoo is now home to one of these benches. The bench is enabling visitors to the Zoo to learn how clean air is important to a healthy environment for people and wildlife.

Be sure to check out one of these benches if you live in the community or plan a trip to one of these cities this year. You can visit two other air monitoring benches this summer in Oklahoma City, Okla. and Hartford, Conn. thanks to partnerships with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Stay tuned to learn more about these two benches, which will be installed in popular visitor locations in the communities.

Lean more at epa.gov/villagegreen.

About the Author: Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research program.

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

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

Today isn’t just National Doughnut Day—it’s also World Environment Day! The United Nations Environment Programme created World Environment Day to raise global awareness to take positive environmental action to protect nature and the planet Earth.

Need a quick way to do just that? Take a couple of minutes to read Research Recap and stay up to date on what’s happening in environmental science!

Check out the latest in EPA science (preferably while eating a doughnut).

  • Indoor Air Quality in Schools
    Evidence has mounted regarding the contributions of poor indoor air quality and inadequate classroom ventilation toward student illnesses, absenteeism, and decreases in academic performance. A new EPA Science to Achieve Results grant will focus on high schools, a relatively under-studied school environment with numerous data gaps.
    Read more about the project in the blog Indoor Air Quality in Schools – Concerns and Need for Low-Cost Solutions.
  • Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Study
    The EPA released a draft assessment of the potential impacts to drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing for public comment and peer review. Read the full press release here.
    Learn more about the study here.
  • Hurry: The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge Ends June 8th
    Nutrient pollution is one the most expensive problems associated with aquatic environments. EPA, with U.S. Geological Survey and Blue Legacy International, has launched a competition looking for talented designers, coders, data scientists, sensor experts, and anyone interested in complex problems to analyze and organize existing nitrogen and phosphorus water pollution data.
    Learn more about the challenge at InnoCentive.

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

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

 

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

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

Indoor Air Quality in Schools – Concerns and Need for Low-Cost Solutions

By Richard Corsi

University of Texas at Austin IAQ Research Team Goes Back to High School.  From left to right: Associate Professor Atila Novoselac, researcher Sarah Wu, Professor Kerry Kinney, Professor Richard Corsi, and Research Engineer Neil Crain.

University of Texas at Austin Research Team Goes Back to High School. From left to right: Associate Professor Atila Novoselac, Researcher Sarah Wu, Professor Kerry Kinney, Professor Richard Corsi, and Research Engineer Neil Crain.

I am excited to be directing a new multi-year U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant related to Healthy Schools titled, Healthy High School PRIDE (Partnership in Research on InDoor Environments). My team is focusing on high schools, a relatively under-studied school environment with numerous data gaps.

Evidence has mounted regarding the contributions of poor indoor air quality and inadequate classroom ventilation toward student illnesses, absenteeism, and decreases in academic performance. Teachers are also affected, with higher rates of work-related upper-respiratory problems compared to the rest of the working population. Importantly, this problem has not been improving and there is a growing base of literature that suggests that we are failing our children in an environment that is critical to both their health and future success.

Our team  will complete detailed studies of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system performance and air flow characteristics in classrooms, a topic of great importance with respect to student health, comfort, and performance, and one that is often oversimplified. We will characterize HVAC system performance and increase knowledge of how HVAC operation affects pollutant migration through both occupied and hidden spaces of buildings that can be sources of pollution.

Most homeowners, businesses, and school districts dispose of their used HVAC filters in the trash bin and they are ultimately buried in landfills.  Our team sees them as valuable biological samplers.  We will collect used HVAC filters from high schools and perform analyses to characterize microorganisms that were in classroom air.

My students and I have been exploring oxygen-containing compounds that I hypothesize are in-part responsible for upper airway irritations that can distract students in classroom environments. These compounds are often overlooked in studies of indoor air quality in schools, and their abundance and sources will be central to our study of high schools.

Most school districts have budget constraints that preclude an ability to significantly improve indoor environmental conditions in classrooms.  I am excited that our team will also test low-cost engineering solutions to indoor environmental quality issues in participating schools.   Our findings should be of value to both participating schools, and hopefully school districts across the country.

Our research will also be a learning experience. High school students will complete workshops related to indoor environmental quality and team-based projects on indoor air quality at the University of Texas at Austin.  And Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teachers at our participating high schools will use our study as examples for discussions in their classrooms related to indoor environmental science and engineering, and data analysis and visualization methods.

It actually feels great to be going back to high school!

About the Author: Richard L. Corsi is the E.C.H. Bantel Professor for Professional Practice and Chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.  He teaches courses related to fluid mechanics and indoor air quality, and has completed extensive research related to the sources, chemistry, and passive control of indoor air pollution.

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

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap Graduation

Finals are over, graduations have commenced, and summer vacation is right around the corner. Think you’re totally done with science forever? Ha—think again!

Make your teachers proud and keep up with the latest in environmental science by reading about EPA research here every week.

Here’s what we’re highlighting this week.

  • Supporting Small Business Innovation Research
    “Seeding America’s Future Innovations” is a national effort to spread the word about the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Together, these programs provide $2.5 billion of contracts and other awards to small, advanced technology firms to spur discoveries and facilitate the commercialization of innovations.
    Read more about “America’s Largest Seed Fund” in the blog On the Road from Cajun Country to the Heartland to Seed Small Business Innovation Research.
  • Hacking for Change
    Hacking has become a buzzword with negative connotations, but people across the country can use the same computer savvy often associated with security breaches for good. On June 6th EPA will take part in The National Day of Civic Hacking via the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge – hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, and Blue Legacy International.
    Read more about the event in the blog Become a Civic Hacker.
  • Creating a Healthier Environment for Students
    Nearly seven million U.S. children have asthma. EPA and University of Texas at Austin (UT) are researching gaps in information between environmental factors and student health. UT Austin’s project, Healthy High School PRIDE (Partnership in Research on Indoor Environments), is investigating a wide range of environmental parameters such as noise, lighting and indoor air quality in Texas high schools.
    Read more about the project in this press release.
  • Science to Safeguard Drinking Water
    Toxins from harmful algal blooms are increasingly contaminating source waters, as well as the drinking water treatment facilities that source waters supply. EPA researchers are helping the treatment facilities find safe, cost effective ways to remove the toxins and keep your drinking water safe.
    Learn more about this research in the video Science safeguards drinking water from harmful algal blooms.

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

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

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

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

Become a Civic Hacker

By Dustin Renwick

Blue circle with "Hack for Change" in the middleHacking has become a buzzword with negative connotations, but people across the country can use the same computer savvy often associated with security breaches for good. Civic hacking allows people to connect with every level of government, improve their communities, and test their talents for coding and problem solving.

This kind of hacking brings together people with different interests and skills who can tap open data sets and build technology-based solutions.

The National Day of Civic Hacking includes anyone interested in collaboration and community – from die-hard hackers to people with no technology background. This year’s event takes place on June 6.

EPA will take part via the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge – hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), EPA, and Blue Legacy International. But that’s just one of a collection of opportunities from more than 30 federal agencies who have shared social and civic problems that will benefit from public participation.

The civic hacking day brings together virtual and real-world communities. Last year’s event boasted meet-ups in more than 100 cities in 40 U.S. states and 13 countries across the world.

Look for an event in a city near you, or check out the challenge listings. Some of the themes for this year are climate and health. Nutrient pollution – excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our waters – remains a costly, complex environmental problem that affects communities and their local watersheds.

USGS, EPA, and Blue Legacy released the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge to seek compelling, innovative visual representations of open government data sources. These visualizations should inform individuals and communities on nutrient pollution and inspire them to take actions that might prevent excess algal production and hypoxia in local watersheds.

First place will receive $10,000, and the Blue Legacy Award will receive $5,000. Register for the competition and submit your entry by June 8.

Be sure to see if any other challenges fit your skillset for the national event on June 6, and join people across the world in hacking for change.

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works in conjunction with the Innovation 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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On the Road from Cajun Country to the Heartland to Seed Small Business Innovation Research

By Greg Lank

Group holds up a sign that reads "SBIR Road Tour"

On our “Seeding America’s Future Innovations” tour

In April, I had the pleasure of representing EPA on a bus tour during the second leg of “Seeding America’s Future Innovations,” a national effort to spread the word about the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The two programs are coordinated by the Small Business Administration and administered by EPA and 10 other federal agencies. Together—“America’s Largest Seed Fund”—they provide $2.5 billion of contracts and other awards to small, advanced technology firms to spur discoveries and facilitate the commercialization of innovations.

We traveled from the Cajun country of Long Beach, Mississippi and Ruston, Louisiana through Texas and into the heartland, including Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Wichita, Kansas and finally Columbia, Missouri.  At every stop, each representative shared an overview of their agency’s SBIR program, including existing opportunities and exciting success stories of now thriving businesses have come out of the program.

Following the presentations, companies had the rest of the morning to sit down with representatives from the SBIR program of their choice for one-on-one meetings and to get answers to their questions.  The primary question that every company asked me was if their technology would fit into one of EPA’s SBIR topic areas. And I learned that there is broad interest in water resources and energy recovery—exciting topics where innovation can lead to the recovery and reuse of resources that are presently lost in the waste stream.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Everyone was humbled and honored to pay their respects at The Oklahoma City National Memorial

In between locations the Road Tour stopped at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR). Everyone was humbled and honored to pay their respects at The Oklahoma City National Memorial, which honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and others affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. At NIAR, I was fascinated to see the testing that goes into making air travel safe globally.

Each packed-house tour stop proved to be a phenomenal platform to collaborate, educate and learn.  Collaboration occurred between federal agencies, academia and innovators.  Finally, all who attended functioned as educators and students.  Not only were we able to educate the attendees about our programs, but meeting them provided us with the opportunity to learn about the exciting innovations coming down the pike from our Nation’s best and brightest. The next tour will be the north central tour from July 13-18. That will be followed the final tour, August 17-21 through the Pacific Northwest.

To learn more about EPA’s SBIR program, visit www.epa.gov/ncer/sbir.

About the Author: Greg Lank is a mechanical engineer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He manages grants and contracts for the SBIR and People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) programs, which facilitate the research, development and deployment of sustainability innovations.

 

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

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

While astronomical summer doesn’t start for a few weeks,  I consider it summer as soon as I make the switch to iced coffee. For many, the season kicks off this weekend with pool parties, barbecues, and trips to the beach.

Stuck in traffic? Waiting for the burgers to be flipped? In line for your iced coffee? Perfect time to catch up on the latest in EPA science!

Here’s this week’s recap.

  • EPA’s 2015 Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award Winner Named at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
    The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Joshua Zhou, a high school sophomore from Chapel Hill, NC, won EPA’s 2015 Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award for his sustainable and affordable solution to water pollution.
    Read more about the winner in this news release.
  • EPA’s International Decontamination Conference
    Last week, researchers from all over the world descended upon EPA’s Research Triangle Park campus in Durham, NC for the International Decontamination Conference. Decontamination is one of the critical challenges that the United States would face in recovering from a major disaster involving chemical, biological, or radiological agents. EPA researchers and their partners are working together to meet that challenge.
    Read more about the conference in the blog Experts Agree: Planning is the Key to Success.
  • A Healthy Environment for Healthy People
    Dr. Vivek Murthy, the newly-commissioned 19th Surgeon General of the United States, brings enormous passion and understanding of the challenges that face the nation and the world. Importantly for EPA and the American people, this includes the recognition and acknowledgment that our health and the environment in which we live are inexorably linked.
    Read more about “America’s Doctor” in the blog Public Health and the Environment: We’re All in this Together.
  • Bike to Work 2015: Pedaling Toward Sustainability
    May is National Bike Month! Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Lek Kadeli, is a regular bike commuter between his home in Virginia and EPA’s headquarters in downtown Washington, DC. Last year while at an environmental conference he had the opportunity to pedal around Shkodra, Albania, confirming his belief that there is no better way to get to know a place than from a bicycle.
    Read more about biking to work in the blog Bike to Work 2015: Pedaling Toward Sustainability.

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

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

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

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