It All Starts with Science

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap graphic identifierLooking for your next summer read? Look no further—catch up on the latest EPA environmental science right here!

Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change
EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop program focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change. World-class scientists, engineers, and policy experts demonstrated their research and led hands-on activities to encourage innovative thinking.

Read more about the workshop in the blog Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change.

Private, Government Collaboration Advances Air Sensor Technology
Researchers from EPA and Aclima Inc., a San Francisco-based technology company, worked together on a pilot project in Denver, Colorado to assemble a real-time view of pollutant levels and meteorological conditions at the street level. The project involved mapping pollutants measured by three Google Street View cars outfitted with Aclima’s mobile platform of air pollution sensors.

The study even got the attention of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. Read more about the project in the EPA Science Matters story Private, Government Collaboration Advances Air Sensor Technology.

 

Photo of the Week

aclima_google_car

Street View vehicles equipped with air quality sensors clocked 750 hours of drive time and gathered 150 million data points, correlated with data from EPA stationary measurement sites. EPA provided scientific expertise in study design and instrument operations. Image courtesy of Aclima.

 

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.

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Cooking Up Solutions to Climate Change

By Natalie Liller

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop

June 15-19th, 2015 marked EPA’s 5th annual Science of Climate Change Workshop—and even more importantly, it summoned the latest group of talented high-school-aged students to learn about the science behind taking action on climate change. This year, the program focused on climate science and the impacts of climate change. World-class scientists, engineers, and policy experts demonstrated their research and led hands-on activities to encourage innovative thinking.

The program’s goal is to reach out to students with a keen interest in science and climate change and equip them with the knowledge and resources to go out into their homes, schools, and communities to raise awareness and to encourage others to act. EPA’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Outreach Program, under the leadership of Director Kelly Witter, is engaging these young, bright, and enthusiastic students to extend their knowledge on climate change and build their confidence to become the scientific leaders of their generation.

EPA's Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

EPA’s Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D. shares the latest cookstove innovations.

As a part of their week-long education, the students were able to see sustainable energy being harnessed while speaking to the scientists and engineers about their work. During one session, the students learned about the technology behind biomass-burning cookstoves and solar ovens with Seth Ebersviller, Ph.D., an EPA Post-Doctoral Fellow. With this first-hand exposure, the students constructed their own solar ovens using recycled pizza boxes and aluminum foil and then baked cookies. These excited students were able to take their knowledge on solar power and apply it to an everyday need—cooking.

Unfortunately, it is not all “milk and cookies.” There is a monumental need for change on a global scale to combat the effects of climate change, present and future. Witter believes that students will be the largest advocates for climate awareness because “they understand and appreciate the science.” She hopes that through this program the students will take their “enthusiasm and passion for protecting the environment and share it with their peers to make a difference and help slow the impacts.” And they are doing just that—six program students are already working on educating their peers with hopes of creating a Climate Club chapter at their respective schools. Cassidy Leovic (Riverside High School) said that the goal of the clubs will be to “inform peers on what they can do,” focusing on energy conservation and sustainable food choices. EPA is thrilled to see these students taking action and looks forward to seeing them continue to foster this enthusiasm and change in the coming years.

About the Author: Natalie Liller is a sophomore at Appalachian State University, majoring in Political Science, Pre-Legal Studies and Environmental Science. This summer she is interning at EPA to focus on educating students on environmental science and climate change.

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

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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

The dog days of summer are upon us. Need a break from the heat? Check out some of our cool EPA science!

Here’s what we are highlighting this week.

  • A Small Program with a Big Mission
    EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team recently attended the 2015 National SBIR/STTR Conference and met with environmental entrepreneurs and successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.
    Read more about the conference in the blog Seeding Environmental Innovation.
  • Report on the Environment
    EPA’s Report on the Environment is a tool to effectively communicate information regarding the environment and human health conditions in the United States. It contains a compilation of objective, scientific indicators compiled from a variety of sources, including federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.
    Read more about the report in the blog Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment.

Photo of the Week

Biologist Peggy Harris of EPA's dive team helps to survey coral reef conditions off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. EPA studies coral reefs because they are great indicators of water quality and the overall health of coastal watersheds.

Biologist Peggy Harris of EPA’s dive team helps to survey coral reef conditions off the southern coast of Puerto Rico. EPA studies coral reefs because they are great indicators of water quality and the overall health of coastal watersheds.

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.

Seeding Environmental Innovation

By April Richards

EPA's Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research team at the conference.

I love my job, but every so often it’s a good idea to get one’s professional batteries re-charged. Recently our EPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) team had the chance to do just that when we attended the 2015 National SBIR/STTR Conference. We spent three days getting our annual dose of inspiration by meeting environmental entrepreneurs, the managers of the other 10 federal SBIR programs, and many successful SBIR awardees who have gone from an innovative seedling to a growing green business.

The conference kicked off with a celebration of successes—the announcement of the annual Tibbetts Awards. Small Business Administration (SBA) officials, SBIR program managers and awardees gathered in one of the stunning 19th century rooms of the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Surrounded by marble walls, 800-pound bronze sconces and elaborately tiled floors, we recognized the companies, individuals and organizations who received one of the 32 “Tibbies” awarded this year. PCI Corporation, a past EPA SBIR company, was among this year’s winners.

While it was gratifying to see one of EPA’s SBIR companies recognized, I was inspired personally by the special recognition of Roland Tibbets, the “Father of SBIR.” The SBIR program was an innovation in 1976 when Tibbetts piloted the program to champion small business’ access to federal funding for research and development. SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet honored Tibbett’s memory saying, “His work revolutionized the innovation landscape in this country and further improved its economic vitality.”

After the awards, conference participants attended workshops and panel discussions on nuts and bolts, future directions, and SBIR success stories. During the conference keynote address, the SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet highlighted one of those success stories. She briefly told the story of one EPA SBIR awardee, Ecovative Design, that is using mushrooms to create sustainable building materials and said, “That’s what SBIR is all about!”

I wanted to stand up and cheer, “That IS what EPA’s SBIR Program is all about – seeding innovation AND making a difference for the environment.” But I just smiled like a proud parent, remembering how every day EPA helps small businesses translate their innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems.

Later in the day, we got down to the business of talking to small business owners. Over two days we spoke to over a hundred entrepreneurs about their ideas for environmental technologies and how the process for SBIR funding works.

The most asked question – “Is my idea a good fit for EPA’s program?” EPA’s next solicitation opens this summer and includes a broad range of topics. My hope is that our presentations and one-on-one communications will help the next group of small businesses navigate their way to success.

I like to say that EPA’s SBIR is a small program with a big mission. Now that we’re back in the office, re-inspired and re-charged, we’re more ready than ever to get back to the awesome work of seeding innovation to protect the environment.

 

About the Author: April Richards joined EPA in 2001 and is Program Manager for the Agency’s SBIR Program.  She appreciates the practicality and commercial edge that small businesses bring to environmental protection.

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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Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment Provides a Tool for Communicating Health and Environmental Trends

By Kayla Iuliano

One of the big lessons I learned as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health was the key role that effective communication plays in bridging the gap between science and reducing diseases and environmental health risks. Not only was that an important concept to embrace, but I found it refreshing to supplement my studies in epidemiology, toxicology, clinical investigation techniques, and biostatistics with a series of science and health communication courses.

As a participant in the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellowship Program over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to put what I’ve learned into practice with EPA’s Report on the Environment (ROE).

The ROE is a tool to effectively communicate information regarding the environment and human health conditions in the United States. It contains a compilation of objective, scientific indicators compiled from a variety of sources, including federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

The science behind the indicators is robust. Each is reviewed by scientific experts to ensure that it is a valid, unbiased measurement.  EPA’s Science Advisory Board conducted an independent peer review of the report in July 2014.

Indicators are organized into five different themes—Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition—addressing questions relevant to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment.  The questions are largely concerned with changes over time, or trends, in the environment and in human health displayed by data within each indicator.  All indicators contain background information and an explanation of the data, along with data limitations, sources, technical documentation, and references.  By consistently updating the ROE as new data become available, EPA can identify how the environment changes over time.  Such changes are displayed in interactive graphs, tables, and maps that allow users to explore the status of environmental and public health conditions in depth.

Many of the ROE indicators display these graphics in one or more exhibits, which provide more information about the indicator by year, location, or another characteristic.

For example, the ROE indicator for Acid Deposition contains multiple exhibits, one of which illustrates the differences in the amounts of wet sulfate deposition over two different time periods. Wet sulfate deposition occurs when burning fossil fuels release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it reacts to form acidic compounds. When these compounds return to Earth via precipitation (commonly referred to as “acid rain”), it can have a deleterious effect on ecosystem health. By toggling back and forth between the two different time frames within the exhibit, users can readily see the changes in wet sulfate deposition across the U.S. between 1989 and 2013—and see the statistically significant decrease in the amounts deposited within that time.

ROE graphic 1

But what about other environmental and health conditions? Acid Deposition is only one of 85 indicators, all of which are sorted into the five-theme structure, allowing users to find any indicator and associated scientific content in the report, using the color-coded banner which appears at the top of every page:

ROE graphic 2

I’ve found the report a great source of objective information due to its reliable data and clear, peer-reviewed methods to analyze and display information.  By better understanding the condition and trends of the environment and human health in the United States, EPA can more effectively prioritize areas that need improvement, and encourage efforts that contribute to indicators that show improving trends. If you want to learn more about the status and trends in the environment and human health, EPA’s Report on the Environment is a great source!

EPA’s Report on the Environment is available at: www.epa.gov/roe/.

 About the Author: Kayla Iuliano is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is currently an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Fellowship Program Participant with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA).

 

 

 

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 Fitzpatrick

research_recap_250Science was celebrated around the world this week as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made the first ever visit to Pluto, sending high resolution pictures of its surface billions of miles back to earth.  And science was happening here on the ground too!

Check out the EPA science we’re highlighting this week!

Making it Easier to Be Green
EPA recognized the winners of the 20th Annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards for innovative green chemistry technologies that turn climate risk and other environmental problems into business opportunities. Winning technologies are responsible for annually reducing the use or generation of more than 826 million pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving 21 billion gallons of water, and eliminating 7.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent releases to air.

Read more about the awards in the EPA Connect blog American Innovators are Cracking the Code to Solve Environmental Problems.

Food-Energy-Water Nexus
EPA’s Director for Sustainable Development Alan Hecht will join other distinguished experts on a public webinar to discuss “Mega Trends and Food-Energy-Water Nexus.” The webinar will explore emerging trends and the challenges and opportunities in meeting food, water and energy goals in developed and developing nations on a changing planet.

Read more about the webinar in the blog NEXUS-FLEXUS: Exploring the Intersection of Big Challenges and Innovative Solutions.

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.

EPA Research Photo of the Week

EPA’s Russell Long installs a small air quality sensor on the NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower in Erie, Colorado.

While not quite as distant as New Horizons, EPA’s Russell Long did have to go pretty high up in July, 2014 to install a small air quality sensor on the NOAA Boulder Atmospheric Observatory tower in Erie, Colorado. The work was part of a collaborative air quality study called DISCOVER-AQ, conducted with NASA and other research partners. Image by EPA photographer Eric Vance.

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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NEXUS-FLEXUS: Exploring the Intersection of Big Challenges and Innovative Solutions

By Alan Hecht

Illustration of interlocking rings of food, water, and energy.The world today faces a host of daunting and inter-related challenges which collectively impact us in an equally diverse set of ways: thwarting economic growth, threatening public health and social wellbeing, and undermining existing environmental protection efforts.

For example, as a result of climate change we face more frequent extreme weather events, extended droughts, and increased health risks due to deteriorating urban air quality. Other dynamic problems include burgeoning urban communities, aging water infrastructure, land loss and ecosystem decline due to sprawl, and projected increased demands for energy, water, and food. It is estimated that by 2030, population growth and consumption together will spark the need for 40% more fresh water, 50% more energy, and 35% more food worldwide.

I recently blogged about such “mega trends” and how colleagues and partners from within EPA and beyond are embracing sustainable development to meet these urgent challenges. Administrator Gina McCarthy in her short dialog of issues for 2015 noted that “envisioning and responding to future problems is a critical need” that Agency science and public dialog could fulfill.

That is why I’m thrilled to be representing EPA at a public webinar organized by the Security and Sustainability Forum on Mega Trends and Food-Energy-Water Nexus on July 30, from 1:25 pm to 2:45 pm (EDT). Joining me will be Dr. Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and Robert Engelman, Senior Fellow and former President of the Worldwatch Institute.

The webinar will explore emerging trends and the challenges and opportunities in meeting food, water and energy goals in developed and developing nations on a changing planet. Discussions will focus on the innovations in science and technology needed to improve the practices of farmers, engineers, resource managers, and policy-makers to meet human needs in a far more sustainable manner.

Together, we will explore several important and interrelated concepts:

  • Food-water-energy-land nexus which emphasizes the need for a systems approach to problem solving.
  • Resilience which emphasizes the capacity for complex, adaptive systems (e.g., cities, companies) to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change from extreme weather events and other potential disruptions as a key to stemming the impact of emerging mega trends. Resilience is now a prerequisite for achieving sustainable outcomes.
  • Achieving Sustainability which describes outcomes that respond to mega trends, adopting a nexus and systems approach, and building a resilient response. We must go beyond the traditional risk paradigm that has driven much of our environmental protection actions over the past decades and instead adopt a systems approach that accounts for the combined economic, social, and environmental impacts. We must make decisions that recognize the linkages (nexus) of air-water-land use and social wellbeing.

Please join me and my fellow panelists as we discuss these important concepts and how innovation and public dialog can offer solutions to today’s daunting mega trends.

Sign up for the webinar on the Security and Sustainability Forum website: www.ssfonline.org.

About the Author: Alan Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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

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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_GI_shark

It’s another beautiful summer Friday! Lounging at the pool? Stuck in a long car ride? Waiting for the next Shark Week program to begin? Perfect time to catch up on the latest in environmental science!

Here’s the EPA research we’re highlighting this week.

  • Citizen Scientists Train to Monitor Air Quality
    Citizen Science is rapidly expanding with the availability of low cost, portable sensors and other technologies that provide just about everyone with the ability to gather data and conduct their own research. EPA recently hosted Community Air Monitoring Training: A Glimpse into EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox to advance citizen science for monitoring local air quality.
    Read more about the event in the blog Training Prepares Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality.
  • Texas A&M, North Carolina State Receive EPA Grant for Cardiac Health Related Study
    EPA awarded a $6 million grant to fund a collaboration between Texas A&M (College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences) and North Carolina State University (the Bioinformatics Research Center) to investigate the effects of environmental toxicants on human health, especially potential adverse effects on the heart.
    Learn more about the project in the Texas A&M press release.

Did Shark Week not have enough bite for you? Check out our EPA Science Bites!

  • Science Bite is a podcast series that describes the role EPA plays in advancing scientific research. These podcasts highlight the ways that EPA uses science to inform actions that protect human health and the environment.

Listen to EPA’s Science Bite podcasts here.

Photo of the Week

Gina McCarthy at Village Green station

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visits our Village Green air monitoring bench at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

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.

Training Prepares Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality

By Amanda KaufmanAir Sensor Training graphic identifier

Citizen science is at the forefront of many discussions and community efforts to understand local environmental conditions. The movement is rapidly expanding as science resources and tools are becoming available that provide citizens the ability to plan and conduct research on their own. As a citizen scientist myself, I have noticed a recurring theme – citizens often lack the knowledge and/or resources to conduct successful air quality monitoring projects. To help empower citizen scientists, EPA is hosting the Community Air Monitoring Training: A Glimpse into EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox on July 9, 2015.

This training event is unique in that it represents communities and tribal groups from across the United States interested in implementing citizen science projects to learn about their local air quality. Thirty individuals and 1,000 registered webinar viewers will receive training from EPA and other leading citizen science professionals associated with emerging air quality technologies.

Our featured speakers will share information on the state of emerging sensor technologies, data quality issues to consider before conducting research, and success stories of how such technologies are being applied. Citizen science experts from outside EPA, including Caren Cooper from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Liz Barry from Public Lab, and Erin Heaney from the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, will share their citizen science success stories and provide tips on how others can conduct successful citizen science projects.

The morning presentations are being videotaped with plans to make training videos available on the Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists web page, so check back later this summer. The Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists is an online resource that provides information and guidance on new low-cost technologies for measuring air quality. The toolbox features resources developed by EPA researchers that can be used by citizens to effectively collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate air quality data. One such resource, the Air Sensor Guidebook, explores low-cost air sensor technologies, provides general guidelines on what to look for in obtaining a sensor, and examines important data quality features. Other resources include sensor evaluation reports and standard operating procedures for select low-cost sensors currently available commercially. We hope these resources will provide valuable information to individuals and communities as they embark on new air monitoring projects.

When I first suggested the idea of a citizen science air monitoring training to colleagues, I never imagined that we would get such a strong response to it. My dream to help communities conduct successful air monitoring projects is coming true and I couldn’t be happier. My hope is that the training will give participants the tools they need to investigate air quality concerns in their communities and to educate others about the importance of clean air to public health and the environment.

The Community Air Monitoring Training Webinar is on Thursday, July 9th from 9:00 AM EDT – 12:30 PM EDT.

About the author: Amanda Kaufman is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) participant. She is hosted by EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy national 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 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.

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.