C-FERST

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrickto-go coffee cup with research recap graphic

You know what would go great with that pumpkin spice latte? Reading about the latest in EPA science!

Indoor Chemical Exposure Research
Many cleaning products, personal care products, pesticides, furnishings, and electronics contain chemicals known as semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs). The compounds are released slowly into the air and can attach to surfaces or airborne particles, allowing them to enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or absorption through the skin.  Because SVOCs have been associated with negative health effects, EPA is funding research to learn more about their exposure and how we can reduce it. Learn more about this research in the blog Indoor Chemical Exposure: Novel Research for the 21st Century.

Empowering a Community with Scientific Knowledge
EPA researchers are working with a small community in Puerto Rico to install and maintain low-cost air monitoring devices. These devices will help community members analyze local pollutant levels and better understand the local environmental conditions. Learn more about the project in the blog Air Sensors in Puerto Rico: Empowering a Community with Scientific Knowledge.

Navigating Towards a More Sustainable Future
With the help of a smartphone, navigating from point A to point B is easier than ever. EPA is bringing that kind of convenience to environmental decision making with the release of Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool (C-FERST), an online mapping tool. The tool provides access to resources that can help communities and decision makers learn more about their local environmental issues, compare conditions in their community with their county and state averages, and explore exposure and risk reduction options. Learn more about the tool in the blog C-FERST: A New Tool to Help Communities Navigate toward a Healthier, More Sustainable Future.

EPA Researchers at Work
EPA scientist Joachim Pleil is the EPA “breath guy” and was involved with the founding of the International Association of Breath Research and the Journal of Breath Research. He started off developing methods for measuring volatile organic carcinogens in air, and then progressed to linking chemical biomarkers to absorption, metabolism and elimination by analyzing human blood, breath, and urine. Meet EPA Scientist Joachim Pleil!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is a regular contributor to It All Starts with Science and the founding writer of “The Research Recap.”

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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C-FERST: A New Tool to Help Communities Navigate Toward a Healthier, More Sustainable Future

By Aaron Ferster

The proliferation of smartphones and mapping applications has made navigation a lot easier than it used to be. Getting from point A to point B usually requires little more than plugging in a distant address and then following a calm, generic voice as it calls out turn-by-turn directions. You can adjust your route, call up pit stops for food or gas en route, or even find alternative destinations on the fly.

My colleagues here at EPA are working to bring that kind of convenience and ease of use to environmental decision making and protecting public health. I’m thrilled to share that they recently reached a major milestone in that direction with the release of the Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool, or C-FERST for short (we pronounce it “see-first”).

screen shot of the tool. a satellite image of a neighborhood.

C-FERST helps you map your local community.

C-FERST is an online mapping tool that provides access to resources for helping communities and decision makers learn more about their local environmental issues, compare conditions in their community with their county and state averages, and explore exposure and risk reduction options. Local maps are a key component, helping users gain both a lay of the land and a perspective for plotting out how environmental conditions and sources of pollution might change from one neighborhood to the next. In addition, the rich tool includes reports, fact sheets, links to other environmental and public health tools, citizen science resources, information about other community projects, and structured guides to help communities plan their projects to assess public and environmental health conditions. There’s even a digital community forum where you can ask other users for help or participate in discussions.

C-FERST is intended to serve the needs of a broad range of users, including the general public, academic and nonprofit institutions, environmental and public health professionals, state and local risk assessors, and EPA staff, including environmental justice coordinators, and regional science liaisons.

Together, people can share a computer to assess local conditions, and plot mutually beneficial actions to reduce risks and advance a healthier, more sustainable future for their entire community.

If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can give C-FERST a try; no special software is required (although a high-speed internet connection and some familiarity with geographic information system mapping software is helpful).

Check out C-FERST at: www.epa.gov/c-ferst.

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is an EPA science writer and the communication lead for the Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities 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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Upcoming Events at EPA

By Michaela Burns

Interested in attending some of EPA’s public meetings or webinars? Here are a few that we are hosting at the end of April.

C-FERST bannerCommunity-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool
Wednesday, April 20, 3:00 p.m. ET
Tune in for a webinar spotlighting the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Tool (C-FERST), an online tool that when completed will help inform communities about their environmental and public health issues. C-FERST will include maps and tables with data on sources of pollution, environmental concentrations, estimated exposures and potential risks, demographics, and community characteristics. Register to attend the webinar and learn more.

Disinfection Byproduct Regulatory Issues and Solutions Webinar
Tuesday, April 26th at 2:00 p.m. ET
water coming out of faucetMark your calendar for this month’s small systems webinar—the topic is Disinfection Byproduct Regulatory Issues and Solutions. Gastrointestinal illnesses with symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, cramps can be caused by pathogens and viruses that are often found in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. This water must therefore be treated with disinfectant in order to be safe to drink. However some disinfectants react with naturally-occurring materials in the water to form byproducts that are associated with health risks.

EPA environmental engineer Michael Finn will review the Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule, a series of regulations aimed at limiting public exposure to these disinfectant byproducts. Jolyn Leslie, a regional engineer for the Washington State Department of Health Office of Drinking Water, will discuss the challenges for small systems dealing with disinfectant byproducts in Washington State and the possible solutions.

Bonus—attendees may have the option of receiving a certificate for participating in this webinar. Register now!

EPA Research Tribal bannerTribal Science Webinar Series
Tuesday, April 26th at 3:00 p.m. ET
Checkout this month’s Tribal Science Webinar. Speakers will discuss the environmental work in the Strong Heart Study, the largest and longest study of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors in American Indian communities. Cynthia McOliver, an EPA environmental health scientist, will be joined by Ana Navas-Acien, a physician-epidemiologist with a specialty in preventive medicine and public health, and Joseph Yracheta of Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc. Register soon!.

Water Research Webinar
Wednesday, April 27th at 2:00 p.m. ET
Scientists doing water researchJoin EPA’s Dr. David Mount for this month’s Water Research Webinar. Dr. Mount will give a presentation on the effects of inorganic ions on aquatic organisms. Natural geochemical weathering introduces several inorganic ions to natural waters. These ions become part of the basic chemistry of surface waters. The problem begins when land uses, such as energy and mineral extraction, increase concentrations of these geochemical ions. The ecological effects of increased ion concentrations are being explored through several inter-related research efforts. This webinar provides an overview of EPA’s research in this area, and some of the implications for predicting ecological risks and informing management decisions. Register to learn more.

Computational Toxicology Communities of Practice Meeting
Thursday, April 28th at 11:00 a.m. ET
Shafer_Lab_02Interested in the latest research on neurotoxicity? Then you don’t want to miss this month’s Computational Toxicology Communities of Practice Meeting. Drs. William Mundy and Timothy Shafer will present EPA research focusing on new approaches to characterize neurotoxicity from exposure to chemicals. Contact Monica Linnenbrink (linnenbrink.monica@epa.gov) to register.

 

About the Author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for 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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Making a Visible Difference through Citizen Science

By Laura Stewart

About the author: Laura Stewart is an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the EPA Region 10 office.

My first citizen science project was in 1999; working on a United Nations-funded project in Swaziland. In a poor community near a paper mill, we worked to address environmental and local health concerns due to the plant’s emissions. As a result of the youth-led project, the factory extended the height of its smoke stakes to disperse the emissions, which improved air quality. Seeing this interplay between environmental science and social justice changed my life.

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland "bucket brigade."

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland “bucket brigade.”

Today, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, growing to an estimated 9 million jobs by 2022.

Despite this projected growth, diversity in these fields is decreasing. Since 1991, 12 percent fewer women are earning computer science degrees. According to a National Science Foundation report, 8 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans earned bachelors degrees in engineering, and currently people of color make up less than 20 percent of staff in the nation’s environmental organizations.

I believe these trends are creating the potential for a fundamental problem in trying to solve environmental and health challenges – how can we make a visible difference in low-income and minority communities when people from those communities are not taking part in STEM? I believe using citizen science at the community level provides a great answer to this problem.

Citizen science is the involvement of regular people in the discovery of scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists come from all walks of life, harnessing the power of information towards a common goal.

Here at EPA, I’m working on a community-based research project testing the beta version of a new EPA resource, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). C-FERST is a web-based environmental information and mapping tool that EPA researchers are developing where communities can identify, understand, and address local-scale sources of environmental exposure, thus becoming a part of the expanding pool of citizen scientists:

  • In Tacoma, Washington we used C-FERST with local government, a nonprofit organization, and a local college to look into food access, houselessness and infant mortality.
  • At Portland Community College, students assessed disproportionate impact, environmental justice concerns and air quality.
  • At Concordia University, social work students used the tool to interpret the real-life implications of environmental data for an upcoming project that focuses on creating safer, healthier, and more educated communities.
  • At Groundwork Portland, youth in a summer employment program used the tool for a livability study. By using C-FERST information about brownfields and air quality, students were able to inform their field research and advocate for equitable development practices in one of their city’s urban growth corridors.
  • In Seattle, we partnered with Antioch University to train their Masters of Urban Environmental Education graduates to use C-FERST to develop culturally-responsive curricula. As part of a STEM summer program at Garfield High School in Seattle, C-FERST was used to teach high school and middle school children of color about environmental justice issues including food justice, urban blight, and transit access. Students learned to conduct a community assessment, create and upload GIS map layers, and envision interim uses for vacant properties in their community.

Citizen Scientiest Groundwork Portland

I believe citizen science dares us to recognize how power imbalances affect the unique experiences of communities and people’s abilities to positively change their communities. Citizen science gives us the opportunity to return that power back into the hands of communities, potentially changing lives, not just the immediate results from science projects, but engaging members of these communities in the long term power of STEM disciplines and what they can bring to their communities.

What is your community doing to make a visible difference through citizen science?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sister Blog: EPA Seeking Feedback on Beta Tool to Address Community Environmental Issues

(Reposted from EPA’s Environmental Justice in Action Blog.)

By Dr. Valerie Zartarian and Dr. Andrew Geller

Communities and individuals are faced with exposure to many different kinds of pollution, like lead, air pollution, water pollution, and toxics in fish. People want to understand their health risks and how to prevent them. As communities move to protect their neighborhoods, the issues can seem too numerous, with too few experts and limited access to information that can limit meaningful involvement.

In EPA’s Office of Research and Development we are designing the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST) and related research to address these challenges. C-FERST is being developed to increase the availability and accessibility of science and data for evaluating impacts of pollutants and local conditions, ranking risks, and understanding the environmental health consequences of your community. (Keep reading at Environmental Justice in Action.)

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.