Innovation in Government

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

EPA and other federal agencies are tasked with finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and complicated problems. These problems require innovative solutions, which EPA supports through use of crowdsourcing, citizen science, and public engagement.

Two of these efforts have advanced to the semifinalist stage of the 2017 Innovations in American Government Awards presented by the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. The award recognizes and promotes excellence and creativity in the public sector.

Here’s a quick look at the two EPA-connected projects.

CitizenScience.gov and the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science

In 2012, a small group of EPA and other federal agency officials recognized a surge of interest in citizen science and crowdsourcing. This informal group grew to the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, an organization with over 300 members representing over 60 agencies. As co-chair of this rapidly expanding and productive group, EPA participates in and aids high-level federal efforts to facilitate and implement crowdsourcing and citizen science.

One of these efforts is CitizenScience.gov, which was created in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Commons Lab at the Wilson Center, and the General Services Administration. The site includes a searchable catalog of federally-supported citizen science and crowdsourcing projects, a Toolkit to assist with designing and maintaining projects, and a gateway to the Federal Community of Practice. The resources this site provides helps the public and the federal community work together to address the complex problems our nation faces. The group continues to focus on increasing and enhancing in citizen science and crowdsourcing across the federal government.

The Village Green Project

Village Green station in Durham, NC

Village Green station in Durham, NC

The Village Green project is an EPA-led, community-based research effort to demonstrate real-time air monitoring technology, engage the public in learning about local air quality, and collect high-quality data for research.  Working with state and community partners, the Village Green team places park benches in cities across the US that provide local, real-time air pollution measurements using low-cost monitoring sensor technologies. Each solar- and wind-powered system continuously measures two common air pollutants (ozone and fine particulate matter), as well as wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. The measurements are transmitted to a website every minute.

Beyond measuring the air and weather, the Village Green Project is also about engaging with neighbors in the immediate area about their environment and the public on the web. The station can be used as a community gathering place to learn about new technology, the environment, or simply to sit down and read a book. The stations are currently all located in public environments, including elementary schools, public libraries, the National Zoo, a national park historic site, and a public children’s garden. Learn more about the Village Green Project.

 

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

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Scientists Participate in Study to Determine Causes of Poor Air Quality in Utah Valleys

By Ann Brown and Karen Stewart

Winter in Utah brings to mind crystal clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains, and a long ski season. But during the winter in Utah’s northern valleys, cold air inversions trap pollution emitted from multiple sources, including vehicles, industry, and agriculture. This allows for the mixing of atmospheric chemicals that leads to the formation of PM2.5, which is harmful to health at high levels.

The area’s more than two million residents experience levels that exceed air quality standards an average of 18 days during the winter. It has contributed to a 42 percent higher rate of emergency room visits for asthma and a 4.5 percent increase in the risk for coronary events like heart attacks.

EPA research trailer set up in the snowy mountains

EPA scientists packed up their research trailer with air monitoring instruments and traveled to Logan, Utah to assist with the study.

In January, EPA scientists packed up their research trailer with air monitoring instruments and traveled to Utah to assist in determining how to solve the area’s air pollution problem. They are participating in the Utah Winter Fine Particle Study, one of the most comprehensive efforts to date to analyze the area’s pollutants and determine the chemical processes in the atmosphere that lead to the formation of PM2.5. The study is being conducted by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other research organizations.

Starting this week, EPA and its partners in the study are taking daily measurements of air pollutants in three valleys using sophisticated ground-based instruments and remote sensing monitors. EPA scientists are providing their expertise in air quality measurement and have developed new and advanced technology to better monitor air pollutants. At the same time, NOAA’s research aircraft is flying over the region to measure air pollutants in the upper atmosphere.

The study will help to identify key emission sources and evaluate other factors—such as meteorology, geography, snow cover, and time of day—that may play a role in the formation of PM2.5. Once data is collected, Utah can use the information to determine the most effective strategies to reduce PM2.5 levels during the winter months and improve air quality for public health. The study is also expected to help other states with similar mountain valleys make decisions on how to protect air quality for their residents.

About the Authors:

Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program

Karen Stewart is an Oak Ridge Associated University contractor with EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

Science is the foundation of everything that EPA does to protect our health and our environment. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently discussed the important role of science at EPA—read her blog Why Science Matters and then check out some of our latest research below.

A Science-based Public Health Approach to Reducing Lead Exposure
One of the top great public health achievements in recent history has been reducing childhood lead exposure. However, the events in Flint underscore the continuing public health challenge of protecting our most vulnerable communities. EPA is taking a coordinated public health approach to dealing with lead so we can continue our progress in reducing lead exposures. Learn more about it in the blog A Science-based Public Health Approach to Reducing Lead Exposure.

Partnering to Protect Public Health
EPA signed two new Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Association of Public Health Laboratories. These MOUs will help us share our science and research with thousands of communities, including those who need it most – city and county health departments. Learn more about the new partnerships in the blog Partnering to Protect Public Health, One Community at a Time.

Addressing the Impacts of Looming “Megatrends”
The world faces serious challenges due to a growing number of what scientists and other have defined as megatrends—long-term changes that affect governments, societies, and economies over long periods of time. EPA is preparing for these changes through science, innovation, and extensive collaboration throughout the government and business communities. Read more about these efforts in the blog EPA is Poised and Ready to Help Communities Address the Impacts of Looming “Megatrends”.

Living Close to Roadways: Health Concerns and Mitigation Strategies
Living close to roadways can pose health risks related to pollution from traffic. EPA researchers are looking at ways to mitigate these risks, including placing vegetation barriers along roads to reduce pollution. Read more about this research in the Science Matters story Living Close to Roadways: Health Concerns and Mitigation Strategies.


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

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A Science-based Public Health Approach to Reducing Lead Exposure

By Tom Burke, PhD, MPH

One of the top great public health achievements in recent history has been reducing childhood lead exposure. However, the events in Flint underscore the continuing public health challenge of protecting our most vulnerable communities. Lead exposure has very real health effects, including effects on the developing brain. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead, which can include behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia.

Over the past 50 years, EPA has worked with federal and state partners to reduce or eliminate the use of lead in gasoline, paint, plumbing pipes, food cans, and many other products. More recently, EPA has cleaned up lead-contaminated waste sites and established standards for dealing with old, lead-based paint. In addition, the public health and medical communities have worked together to increase awareness, identify those who are at risk, and provide blood lead testing for communities. Because of these collective actions, blood lead levels – the amount of lead measured in people’s blood – have declined by more than 90% since the mid-1970s. This is truly a public health achievement.

The median concentration of lead in the blood of children between the ages of 1 and 5 years dropped from 15 µg/dL in 1976–1980 to 1.2 µg/dL in 2009–2010, a decrease of 92%. The concentration of lead in blood at the 95th percentile in children ages 1 to 5 years dropped from 29 µg/dL in 1976–1980 to 3.4 µg/dL in 2009–2010, a decrease of 88%. The largest declines in blood lead levels occurred from the 1970s to the 1990s, following the elimination of lead in gasoline. 

Lead in children ages 1 to 5 years: Median and 95th percentile concentrations in blood, 1976-2014. Click the image for a larger version.

Despite an overall decline in lead exposure around the country, some communities still experience high levels of lead exposure from old, lead-based paint, corroding lead pipes, and industrial waste sites. As we’ve worked to reduce exposures from these sources, our understanding of the health effects of lead exposure has increased. We now know that exposure to even small amounts of lead can be harmful. Thus, it remains a priority to continue reducing lead exposure, especially in these vulnerable communities.

EPA is taking a coordinated, public health approach to dealing with lead so we can continue our progress in reducing lead exposures. This approach outlines a common set of public health principles, listed below, that will guide the Agency’s work related to lead.

  • There is no known threshold for the effects of lead.
  • The best way to reduce a child’s exposure to lead is to address all potential sources of exposure.
  • Reducing and minimizing sources of lead exposure is a long-term goal.
  • Children’s vulnerability to lead exposure through any source varies with their age.
  • When evaluating new actions, EPA uses a common set of science-based analytical tools to measure the impacts on children’s and adults’ blood lead levels and health.
  • While the public health goal is to eliminate exposure, national sampling of blood lead levels helps to track progress and identify children and communities at highest risk for effects.

EPA’s activities have been a cornerstone of the Nation’s progress in reducing lead exposure. However, our work is not done. Through this coordinated public health approach, EPA and partners will continue to identify and address environmental sources of exposure and prevent the harmful effects of lead in our communities.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. He served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health prior to coming to EPA. Before his time at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Burke was Deputy Commissioner of Health for the State of New Jersey and Director of the Office of Science and Research in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Partnering to Protect Public Health, One Community at a Time

By Tom Burke, PhD, MPH

One of the really cool things about my job is seeing how EPA science is making a difference – for EPA, states, tribes and local governments, international agencies, and communities. Our research looks at the many aspects that make up a healthy environment and community, like clean air and water resources, and healthy homes, schools, and workplaces. All of these things are critically important for public health. Schoolchildren depend on pollution-free air when they are running around on the playground. Families enjoy swimming in clean lakes and rivers on summer vacation. And we all expect to wake up each morning in a home that is free from harmful substances. That’s why EPA scientists are continuously studying the health effects of air pollution, testing water to make sure it’s safe, and evaluating the risks of chemicals used in household products or that make their way into the environment.

But our science is only useful if it’s shared with the people who need it most, and it’s most powerful when we’re partnering with others. At the local level, county and city health officials play an important role in protecting and promoting healthy communities. Our state and local health laboratories also play a critical role in monitoring and detecting health threats to maintain our health and safety.

Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck looks on as Tom signs the MOU

Dr. Tom Burke and Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, sign the MOU.

Tom and Scott shaking hands after signing the memorandum

Dr. Tom Burke shakes hands with Scott Becker, Executive Director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, after signing the MOU.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce that we’ve signed two new Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL). NACCHO works to improve public health by supporting over 2,800 public health departments across the U.S. APHL works to strengthen state and local governmental health laboratories to assure effective surveillance, detection and response to health threats. These MOUs will help us share our science and research with thousands of communities, including those who need it most – city and county health departments. We’ll also be able to improve our ability to respond to environmental public health issues by collaborating with state and local public health labs. At the same time, NACCHO and APHL can inform EPA scientists about local environmental health challenges their members are facing, help us improve our tools by providing early feedback, and share information that can help inform public health decision-making.

Working together, we can focus on issues that we all care about – like promoting health and equity, improving the quality and length of all lives, and creating a safe and healthy environment.

We’re at our best when we’re working together. These partnerships with NACCHO and APHL will strengthen our efforts to improve the health of American families and protect the environment one community at a time, across the country.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. He served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health prior to coming to EPA. Before his time at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Burke was Deputy Commissioner of Health for the State of New Jersey and Director of the Office of Science and Research in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA is Poised and Ready to Help Communities Address the Impacts of Looming “Megatrends”

By Alan Hecht and Aaron Ferster

The world faces serious challenges due to a growing number of what scientists and other have defined as megatrends, long-term changes that affect governments, societies and economies over long periods of time.  Many of these large-scale changes are driven by the environment. A 2015 report from the National Science Foundation, America’s Future: Environmental Research and Education for a Thriving Century: A 10-year Outlook, notes that “we’re experiencing a time in which human society and technology are increasing the pace and rate of environmental change in ways for which no precedent exists, and which have significant potential consequences.”

The destruction left after a major storm

EPA research is dedicated to helping communities become more prepared and resilient in the face of looming environmental megatrends.

The biggest impacts from these changes are felt most in cities, where the majority of people live. Cities today are struggling with the very real economic and quality of life impacts of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and other super storms, extended droughts, extreme heat days, and flooding.

And the extended forecast is not promising. Scientists project that in the decades ahead, droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains could be drier and longer than dry conditions seen in those regions during the last 1,000 years. Maps of potential rising sea levels show that nearly two million U.S. homes could be inundated by 2100, displacing many more millions of people and resulting in staggering property losses totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.

EPA is poised to respond to these predictions through science, innovation, and extensive collaboration throughout the government and business communities.

EPA researcher Alan Hecht and co-authors identify several key actions for working toward a more resilient and sustainable society in their recently published paper, Responding to Megatrends for a Resilient and Sustainable Society.

These actions include:

  • Anticipating future changes and adopting foresight management;
  • Applying systems thinking in problem solving;
  • Developing and using decision support tools;
  • Advancing green design and infrastructure;
  • Advancing environmental education and the understanding of future threats and the links between the environment, the economy, and human well-being; and
  • Expanding stakeholder engagement and cooperation, especially between businesses and government.

Taking action to anticipate and meet even the most daunting environmental challenges is at the core of EPA’s mission. Over the past forty-plus years, our role has evolved to a science-based leader in innovation and collaboration. A new challenge for EPA now is to act with the foresight needed to deal with present and future megatrends in ways that increase resiliency and advance sustainability.

For society as a whole, the challenge ahead is to respond to emerging trends, build a resilient and sustainable society, and recognize the need for widespread cooperation to ensure the security and prosperity of present and future generations. A new era of environmental management and education is needed.  We must plan for future challenges and disprove Benjamin Franklin’s classic adage “It is not until the well runs dry that we know the worth of water.”

About the Authors: Alan Hecht is a Senior Sustainability Advisor in EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Community national research program. Aaron Ferster is the communications lead for that program, and an EPA science writer.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch_recap_250

Does your New Year’s resolution happen to be something like read more EPA science stories? Well then you’ve come to the right place—here’s the latest.

Washington Post Interview Highlights Science at EPA
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was interviewed by The Washington Post to discuss the accomplishments and frustrations of her tenure. She reflected on the water crisis in Flint, the importance of continued domestic and global leadership on climate change, and the need to protect the integrity of the science at EPA and other federal agencies. Read the article Outgoing EPA chief: Science is ‘fundamental to absolutely everything we do.’

Final Analysis of Metals Released from Gold King Mine in the Animas and San Juan Rivers
EPA posted the final fate and transport report for the Gold King Mine (GKM) release. The report is a scientific analysis that focuses on understanding pre-existing river conditions, the movement of metals related to the GKM release through the river system, and the effects of the GKM release on water quality. Learn more about the Fate and Transport Analysis.

Blue-green Algae Detection Project
EPA researchers Dr. James Lazorchak and Dr. Joel Allen are working with the Thomas More College and Northern Kentucky University on a blue-green algae detection project. The team set up a wireless camera on the banks of the Ohio River, where it will take a picture each hour and transmit it to a website where the pixels are examined to determine the ratio of green to blue-green algae. Learn more about the project in the article Ohio River research underway at TMC Biology Field Station to determine amount of harmful algae in water.

Killifish Research
EPA biologist Dianne Nacci was interviewed by CBC’s As It Happens about her recent research showing killifish adaptations to polluted water. Dr. Nacci co-authored the study which found that over just a few decades, distinct populations of killifish independently developed similar genetic adaptations that make life possible in the most unlikely environments. Check out the study published in Science.

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

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.