Citizen science

Training Citizen Scientists to Monitor Air Quality

By Amanda Kaufman

Next-generation air monitor developed by EPA researchers

Next-generation air monitor developed by EPA researchers

As a science fellow at EPA, I am working with Agency researchers to help bring local air measurement capabilities to communities. This includes training citizen scientists with next generation air monitors developed by EPA researchers. One such device is the Citizen Science Air Monitor, which contains many sophisticated instruments to measure air quality under its sleek and simple design.

Today, Administrator Gina McCarthy is joining New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, and other community members at Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood Family Success Center to launch an EPA-Ironbound partnership for community air monitoring that is a first of its kind citizen science project. Read the press release.

The monitor does a lot for being so small and portable. It measures two air pollutants—nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter—as well as relative humidity and temperature. Residents of the Ironbound community are using the monitors to measure pollutants in different locations, during different times of the day and under a variety of weather conditions. The community is impacted by many sources of air pollutants.

In January, I traveled to Newark with researchers who developed the monitor to help train members of the Ironbound Community Corporation to use and maintain the monitors and collect data. The training was very hands-on and the participants were enthusiastic. They even turned the exercise for assembling the monitors into a friendly competition.

EPA researchers shared two training manuals that they developed as part of the outreach project. The quality assurance guidelines and operating procedures manuals are available to the public and are part of an online Citizen Science Toolbox developed to assist citizen scientists who are interested in using new air sensor technologies.

While the quality assurance guidelines and operating procedure are specific to the monitor developed for the Ironbound community, many of the concepts detailed in the documents are transferable to similar air quality monitoring efforts using next generation air monitors. The manuals are:

The ultimate goal of the research project is to empower people with information to address their local air quality concerns. I am glad to be a part of this important activity empowering a community to monitor their local quality

About the Author: Amanda Kaufman is an ORISE participant 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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Making Connections for Citizen Science

By Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

Sharing citizen science

Sharing citizen science

Standing on the dais in front of accomplished scientists and professionals, I faced a series of tough questions about my program, but I was accustomed to fielding probing questions from my 12- and 13-year-olds on a regular basis.

Two weeks ago, I presented my project—teaching sixth and seventh graders how to use low-cost environmental sensors—at the Citizen Science Association’s inaugural conference in San Jose, Calif. Citizen science is an emerging field that actively engages community members and formal scientists in data gathering and research. Several EPA colleagues also attended the conference, called CitSci2015.

Last fall, I worked with Citizen Schools (also see Chasing the “Wow” with Citizen Schools and EPA Science) on an after-school class for middle schoolers in northern Durham, N.C., teaching them how we can use low-cost sensors to quantify the environment around us.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Though I was nervous about presenting an education-based project instead of a scientific-based study, I soon realized I had found the right conference. My fellow presenters also shared their educational and student-based citizen science projects. I was able to learn about new ways to engage citizen scientists and foster continued project participation. At the same time, I got to share my experiences and lessons learned about citizen science (and dealing with middle schoolers).

Surprisingly, this was only a single, 75-minute session.

Throughout CitSci2015, attendees shared new and inventive ways to actively involve individuals in quality scientific research. Data quality is always in question with citizen science, and CitSci2015 presented several sessions on how to address this, including talks by fellow EPAers about their Air Sensor Toolbox and the Agency’s vision for citizen science.

Several other talks emphasized the importance of ensuring communities are involved not only in the data collection but in all the steps of the project—from the research question to sharing the results. Chris Filardi, the keynote speaker, underlined this point when kicking off the conference by saying the researcher “should be riding shotgun.”

CitSci2015 created connections and new partnerships between non-profits, academics, state, local and federal governments and private industry. These new connections will help move citizen science and science in general forward by utilizing all available resources, especially communities.

CitSci2015 emphasized that the roots of citizen science have been established through engagements in environmental science, highlighting a continued role for EPA in this growing movement.

About the author: Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky is an Association of School and Programs of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow, hosted by EPA.

Note: For more insights from CitSci2015, check out the conversations on Twitter: #WhyICitSci, and #CitSci2015. The conference agenda and my presentation can be found on the Citizen Science Association website.

 

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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Citizen Science in our Region

By Patricia Sheridan

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

Citizen Science. Two words that worked their way into the EPA Region 2 vernacular in 2009. Highlighted by the massive explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) oil storage facility near San Juan, Puerto Rico leading the community downwind to actively conduct air monitoring in their neighborhood; and the grassroots community-led air monitoring effort in Western New York using a bucket brigade to successfully champion an enforcement action to reduce benzene emissions at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, citizen science found a home. Citizen Science became one of the Regional Administrator’s top priorities in 2010 to help engage and empower communities to collect their own data and advocate for their own health concerns.

Shortly after, the EPA established a regional Citizen Science Workgroup to drive this effort. Informational interviews were conducted with community groups, environmental justice groups, non-governmental organizations and academia to identify community needs and concerns setting the stage for the inaugural EPA Citizen Science Workshops held in the New York City and New Jersey regional offices in June 2012.

Feedback from the workshops focused on two areas: having citizen science data taken seriously while providing tools to do so, and funding opportunities. The region hosted an EPA MyEnvironment (GIS-based tool) webinar in early March 2013. This was followed by a quality assurance training seminar series on producing credible data held in the regional offices and Buffalo, New York in late spring. As an outgrowth of the workshops, regional grants and national funding sources were identified and secured to support state volunteer monitoring efforts. This was highlighted by four community organizations, two in New York and two in New Jersey, being awarded grants in 2013. The projects involved using sampling equipment loaned from EPA to monitor pathogens and water quality on tributaries of the NY/NJ Harbor.

The region continued its outreach throughout the remainder of the year creating the Region 2 Citizen Science Website to aid community groups and citizen scientists. In 2014, EPA turned its focus to bringing the Citizen Science Program to its territorial and academic partners in the Caribbean where resources are limited and often insufficient to address the immense health and environmental needs of the area. Partnering with EPA’s Caribbean Science Consortium, a two-day workshop was held in late summer at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus. The workshop brought EPA experts, government, academia and community groups to discuss current science activities in the Caribbean, and explore how communities can seek solutions to environmental and public health issues.

The EPA Regional Citizen Science Program welcomes our citizen scientists in an effort to better understand and protect our environment. By involving the community and providing the tools to increase the quality of the data collected and assist in its interpretation, we can work together to achieve our common goals. The key to the success of any and all Citizen Science projects lies in the effective and open communication and coordination between all partners.

About the Author: Pat currently serves as the citizen science coordinator in Region 2, and has been with EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment as an Environmental Scientist in the Superfund and Brownfields Program for over 26 years.

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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Ignite the Passion with Citizen Science

By Grace Robiou

Citizen science is forcing us to rethink how science is performed, for whom science is conducted, and its role in our society.

In essence, citizen science refers to the participation of the public in the activities and tasks of scientific experimentation. The main objective of citizen science is to engage non-scientists by having them contribute ideas to a scientific endeavor. Basically, citizen science motivates non-scientists to develop new knowledge that contributes to a better understanding of the role of science in our society. Just like citizen journalism has gained relevance over the past few years, with blogs and tweets carrying the news of the moment, citizen science is also gaining ground. Most scientific disciplines will soon have some elements of citizen science involvement in their investigations.

Currently, Puerto Rico is home to several citizen science projects. The Citizen Science Program run by Para La Naturaleza, an independent unit of the Conservation Trust for Puerto Rico, is quite advanced. They conduct investigations in archeology, botany, coasts, birds, the land crab, and bats, and so far their work has engaged over 2,100 citizens who participate in the collection of data and the management of different aspects of the studies. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program also has a citizen science program that involves people in monitoring water quality. Other projects include the Sierra Club – Puerto Rico chapter and their tenacious and successful effort to preserve an ecological corridor that spans the northeast section of the island; Basura Cero, a zero-waste initiative; and the Sociedad Ecoambiental, which conducts activities with university students. Junte Ambiental, Mi Puerto Rico Verde, and the Institute for Caribbean Studies, also promote citizen science actively within their networks.

When a child or even an adult analyzes a water sample that came from the river that runs just steps from his or her home, or takes a nature walk to identify the species, a personal transformation occurs within that individual. Public participation in science makes individuals aware of their surroundings and turns people into defenders of their environment.

Science is, and must be, a passion shared among members of society. Science can change the world. Through citizen science, you can participate, too. Do you want to join us?

About the author: Grace M. Robiou is the chief of the National Water Quality Standards Branch. A lawyer by profession, she’s been working at EPA for over 26 years.

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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Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox

airsensorid

By Amanda Kaufman

There is a growing interest by citizens to learn more about what’s going on in their community: What’s in the air I breathe? What does it mean for my health and the health of my family? How can I learn more about these things and even be involved in the process? Is there a way for me to measure, learn, and share information about my local air quality?

Researchers at EPA have developed the virtual Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox to help citizens answer these types of questions and more. With the recent release of the Toolbox web page, citizens can now visit http://go.usa.gov/NnR4 and find many different resources at this one simple location. As a citizen scientist myself, I am very excited to learn that there are funding opportunities for individuals and communities to conduct their own air monitoring research projects. The Funding Sources for Citizen Science Database is just one of the many resources on the Toolbox webpage.

One of the resources available as part of the Toolbox is the Air Sensors Guidebook, which explores low-cost and portable air sensor technologies, provides general guidelines on what to look for in obtaining a sensor, and examines important data quality features.

Compact air sensor that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor local air quality.

Compact air sensor that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor local air quality.

To understand the current state of the science, the Toolbox webpage also includes the Sensor Evaluation Report, which summarizes performance trials of low-cost air quality sensors that measure ozone and nitrogen dioxide. Future reports to be posted on the webpage will summarize findings on particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compound (VOC) sensor performance evaluations.

As they are developed, more tools will be posted on the webpage, including easy-to-understand operating procedures for select low-cost sensors; basic ideas for data analysis, interpretation, and communication; and other helpful information.

I believe the Toolbox is a great resource for citizens to learn more about air sensor technology at a practical level. It will provide guidance and instructions to citizens to allow them to effectively collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate air quality data. The ultimate goal is to give citizens like you and me the power to collect data about the air we breathe.

About the author: Amanda Kaufman is an Environmental Health Fellow from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). 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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Citizen Science Pathogen Monitoring in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Watershed

By Jim Ferretti

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

NY/NJ Baykeeper Lab

What’s the deal with bacteria?
Bacteria (along with soil erosion/runoff, and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus) are the leading types of pollution in our nation’s waterways. Pathogenic, or disease-causing microorganisms are associated with fecal waste and can cause a variety of diseases (typhoid, cholera, Cryptosporosis, etc) either through ingestion/contact with contaminated water or ingestion of shellfish. Not all bacteria are harmful (yogurt contains live bacteria cultures), but the presence of some indicator bacteria such as fecal coliforms and enterococci are a clue that potentially more harmful bacteria and viruses may be present in the water as well.

There are many different types of general pathogens that are dangerous to humans, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Measuring all of these potential harmful organisms is not practical, cost effective, and measuring methods are often complicated. Instead, specific surrogate bacteria (i.e., Fecal Coliforms, E. coli, and Enterococcus sp) that can be cultured or detected easily and can be related to the risk of human illness are used as “indicator” bacteria, because their presence indicates that fecal contamination may have occurred. The higher the number of indicator bacteria would increase the risk of finding increasingly more harmful assemblages of more harmful types of organisms in the water.

Common sources of bacteria in surface waters are from combined sewers (which can overflow in a rainstorm and dump untreated sewage directly into our waters) and runoff of animal waste (including wild animal droppings) from farmland and city streets.

Indicator Bacteria and Citizen Science
During the summer months, bacteria concentrations are measured at least once a week at most of our New Jersey and New York bathing beaches. There are many other waterways that are used for boating, fishing and even swimming that are also susceptible to bacterial contamination. Citizen scientists offer a great resource to fill data gaps, produce data that will be usable by the states for assessment purposes, engage their community and raise awareness of potential environmental issues.

There are a few common types of laboratory tests that are performed to measure bacteria, such as growing them on a filter, growing them in test tubes, or growing them in special trays until a color endpoint is observed. Many of these tests are outside the technical expertise of many citizen science groups.

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

Site Map of the NY/NJ Harbor Watershed Area used for the Citizen Science Pathogen Study

The EPA has been involved in Citizen Science since 1988 (formally called Volunteer Monitoring). The number of Citizen Science groups across the nation and particularly in our region has risen sharply in recent years. In an effort to empower citizens in their community through collection of high quality data, the EPA has recently been involved in a technical role in a Citizen Science Pathogen (Bacteria) Study involving two citizen science groups from New York (Bronx River Alliance and Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance) and two from New Jersey (Friends of the Bonsal Preserve and the NY/NJ Baykeeper). The goal of this grant based program from the Harbor Estuary Program and administered through the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission was to train citizen science groups, assist them in preparation of a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) or a plan that details all facets of their study, provide equipment and testing guidance manuals, perform on-site lab and field assessments, and provide a means to enter data into the national water quality data repository, WQX (formerly STORET).

Citizen Science Equipment Loan Program
Not only is this project important to the communities that are involved, this effort has provided the framework for future citizen science groups to conduct similar projects. Citizen scientists and communities may use the existing Quality Assurance Project Plan, Field and Lab Data Sheets, Excel spreadsheets for reporting, and technical guidance documents for sampling and analysis from this project that can be readily modified to fit their own pathogen monitoring program.

Another major hurdle for many citizen based science groups is the cost of equipment needed to collect the data. The cost for the lab equipment for a group to start a pathogen and water quality program similar to the one describe here is approximately $10,000. This cost is prohibitive to many citizen science groups so EPA is in the process of establishing an equipment loan program. The equipment loan program will offer citizen science organizations the opportunity to conduct water quality and/or pathogen studies with the benefit of borrowing on a short term basis (three to four months) lab equipment (incubators and sealers) and field equipment (water quality parameter meters and GPS units) plus the available technical documents (QAPP, testing guidance, and datasheets). Minus the cost of equipment, the actual per test cost for measuring bacteria is approximately $5-6 per sample.

So, prepare your QAPP, enroll in the equipment loan program, and have your group get out there and monitor!

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

 

 

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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Modeling Cyanobacteria Ecology to Keep Harmful Algal Blooms at Bay

By: Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead

Sign on beach warning of harmful algal bloom

U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Dr. Jennifer L. Graham

Despite a lengthy history of research on cyanobacteria, many important questions about this diverse group of aquatic, photosynthetic “blue-green algae” remain unanswered.  For example, how can we more accurately predict cyanobacteria blooms in freshwater systems?  Which lakes have elevated risks for such blooms?  And what characteristics mark areas with high risks for cyanobacteria blooms?

These are important questions, and our ecological modeling work is moving us closer to finding some answers.

The gold standard for understanding cyanobacteria in lakes is direct measurements of certain water quality variables, such as levels of nutrients, chlorophyll a, and pigments.  This of course requires the ability to take on site (“in situ”) samples, something that is not possible to do for every lake in the country.  Our modeling work is focused on predicting cyanobacterial bloom risk for lakes that have not been directly sampled.

We are using remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) data to model bloom risk for all lakes in the continental United States.  The work is also starting to shed light on some of the landscape factors that may contribute to elevated predicted bloom risk.  For example, we know that different regions have different predictive risk.   We are also learning about how lake depth and volume, as well as the surrounding land use impact cyanobacteria abundance.

In addition to our national modeling efforts, we are collaborating with others on smaller scale and more focused studies at regional and local scales.  First, we are partnering with other EPA researchers to develop time-series models using data gathered frequently and over a long time by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  By using these data, we expect to tease apart information about annual timing and the intensity of blooms.  We can also explore aspects of seasonal variability and frequency. Lastly, we are starting to explore ways to use approximately 25 years of data collected by Rhode Island citizen science as part of the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch program.  We hope to mine these data and uncover indicators of harmful algal bloom events.

With all this work, we and our partners are adding new chapters to the long history of cyanobacteria research in ways we hope will help communities better predict, reduce, and respond to harmful blooms.

About the Authors: EPA ecologists Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead are looking for ways to decrease the negative impacts of cyanobacteria and harmful algal blooms on human health and the environment.

NOTE: Join Betty Kreakie, Jeff Hollister, and Bryan Milstead for a Twitter chat today (June 26) at 2:00pm (eastern time zone) using the hashtag #greenwater. Please follow us @EPAresearch.

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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Act On Climate: Become a Climate Citizen Scientist for Earth Day 2014

By Rebecca French

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (www.globalchange.gov).

Image credit: U.S. Global Change Research Program (www.globalchange.gov)

Did you know that everyone can participate in climate change research? Public participation in scientific research—“citizen science”—has a long and proven track record. And you and your family can join in on the fun!

Using data from a 114-year-old citizen science project, the Christmas Bird Count, EPA scientists have identified an important indicator of the impacts of climate change: on average, North American bird species have moved northward and away from coasts during the winter—some species some 200 to 400 miles north since the 1960s. I grew up in Connecticut, so that would be like my family moving our house to Canada.

Collecting information on this climate change impact would not be possible without the thousands of volunteers who count birds every year. But this is just one of many climate citizen science projects.

One type of citizen science – volunteer environmental monitoring – can be an integral part of understanding the impacts of climate change. The EPA’s National Estuaries Program (NEP) is a network of voluntary, community-based programs that safeguards the health of important coastal ecosystems across the country. Estuaries are particularly vulnerable to climate change, so getting involved with your local NEP can make a real difference.

EPA also supports many citizen science programs through the Volunteer Water Monitoring Program, and EPA’s Region 2 office has launched a citizen science website with resources to support community-based citizen science projects for water, air, and soil.

The projects above can get you involved on a local scale, but there are also climate citizen science projects that go national and even global using a type of citizen science called “crowdsourcing.” Below are some of my favorite crowdsourcing citizen science projects that combine volunteers and the internet to build national data sets for climate change research:

  • Project Budburst, Nature’s Notebook and NestWatch all require you to get outdoors and record your observations of the natural world, such as when plants are flowering or birds are laying eggs. Kids will love these, so bring your family with you.
  • Participating in Old Weather or Cyclone Center can be done from your couch with a computer and an internet connection. The scientists behind these projects need human eyes to analyze images of ship’s logs or storms. When it comes to image analysis, the human eye is still the best technology out there.

You and your family can volunteer for these climate citizen science projects for Earth Day this year to act on climate. Your contributions will be used by scientists to understand climate change impacts on weather, plants and even birds’ nesting habits.

Take some time for Earth Day this year to contribute to climate change research and learn how these projects have partnered with the public to advance climate science. Maybe you will be inspired to create your own citizen science project. Oh yeah, and have fun too!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Rebecca French is an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the EPA 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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Participate in the 2014 Long Island Sound Volunteer Alewife Survey

By Victoria O’Neil and Mark A. Tedesco

The alewife is an important source of food for many valued fish and birds.

The alewife is an important source of food for many valued fish and birds.

The winter of 2014 has been a cold and snowy season, but spring is almost upon us. Soon the temperatures will begin to rise, and the northeastern United States will awaken: the snow will melt away, the ground will begin to thaw, and the early spring blooming plants such as Forsythia and Amelanchier will emerge from hibernation to produce their showy blooms. As much a signpost of spring is the annual migration of the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) to local rivers and creeks.

The alewife is a member of the herring family whose species range from the Canadian Maritimes to the Carolinas. Alewives, also known as river herring, are anadromous fish that, like salmon, spend the majority of their lives out at sea and only enter freshwater systems to spawn. A relatively diminutive fish (adults average 12 inches in length), these silvery, iridescent creatures are built for speed, with a sleek and slender frame allowing them to move quickly through the water.

Over the next few weeks, from mid-March through May, thousands of these tiny fish will begin their journey from the open ocean to our Long Island Sound estuaries, rivers, and creeks. Their journey from ocean to estuary to freshwater river will take several weeks and they will cover hundreds of miles. Along the way, they will serve as an important high energy food source for tuna, whales, cod, dolphins, harbor seals, ospreys, eagles, river otters, herons, raccoons, and egrets. Upon reaching the same rivers and creeks from which they hatched, the alewife adults will spawn millions of golden-green eggs. While the adults leave the rivers soon after spawning to return to the ocean, the eggs will hatch into juveniles that will stay and grow in the freshwater systems throughout the spring and summer. As the temperatures begin to cool in the early fall, the young alewives too will leave and migrate to the open ocean. In three to five years, this cohort will mature and return to their natal river to spawn.

Over the last hundred years, alewife populations have decreased throughout their range, including New York. Spawning runs in Long Island Sound tributaries have been lost or severely diminished due to overfishing, habitat degradation, poor water quality, and, most importantly, the installation of impassable structures, such as dams, weirs, and culverts, that prevent fish from reaching their spawning grounds.

Citizen scientists can collect valuable data on the migration of the alewife to Long Island Sound rivers and creeks to spawn.

Citizen scientists can collect valuable data on the migration of the alewife to Long Island Sound rivers and creeks to spawn.

Alewife runs were probably once a common phenomenon along the north shore of Long Island. Without a comprehensive survey in recent decades the current extent of the spawning run on Long Island is uncertain. The Long Island Sound Volunteer Alewife Survey aims to fill this knowledge gap by providing biologists, managers, and researchers with basic information on the alewife runs. The survey helps determine if and where a run exists, the timing and length of the run, and how many fish are making the run.

The Volunteer Alewife Survey effort on Long Island began in 2006 through the Environmental Defense Fund and the South Shore Estuary Reserve. The effort was initiated to support a major multi-stakeholder effort to restore diadromous fish (i.e., fish that spend their lives in fresh and saltwater) to Long Island’s south shore. Today, the effort is headed up by Seatuck Environmental Association and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and monitoring has expanded to sites in the Peconic estuary and Long Island Sound. Data collected by citizen scientists in this program has assisted with the installation of fish passage projects around the island.

To become an alewife citizen scientist, volunteers with no prior alewife monitoring experience, attend a one-hour training session to learn about alewife life cycle, ecological importance, identification, and survey protocol. At the session, volunteers can choose or be assigned to a creek to monitor near their home. These citizen scientists are then encouraged to make observations from set vantage points downstream of the first significant impediment to migration along the waterbody. From mid-March through late-May, volunteers will visit their designated waterbody at least once a week for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time. During their visit, they will record the date, weather conditions, water temperature, if fish are present or not, an estimate of how many fish are present, duration of their visit, and any notable evidence of alewives (i.e., scales or carcasses left on the creek bank by a predator). Citizen scientists are encouraged to bring a camera or phone with them to take photos and videos of any alewife they may see. All of this information is then uploaded to an online database that is later accessed by biologists and researchers.  For more information visit: http://seatuck.org/index.php/feature-1/174-2014-alewife-survey

About the Authors: Victoria O’Neil is the New York Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and is housed in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Habitat Protection in East Setauket, NY.

Mark Tedesco is director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by the EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public. Mr. Tedesco has worked for the EPA for 25 years. He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

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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It Doesn’t Take a Fireman to Spot a Fire: Fighting Pollution with Citizen Science

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Shameika Jackson. Velma White and Ronesha Johnson are active reporters
to the map from Shreveport, LA.

By Molly Brackin

We have a saying at the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB); “it doesn’t take a fireman to spot a fire.” Likewise, you don’t need to be a scientist to know something is wrong when you spot a black smoking flare that lasts an hour or you smell foul chemicals in the air. Since 2000, the Bucket Brigade has worked with communities and thousands of residents throughout Louisiana that neighbor oil refineries and chemical plants. Our mission is to support our communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.  To accomplish this, the Bucket Brigade model is to equip communities most impacted by pollution with easy-to-use tools that monitor their environment, inform residents, and can be used to improve industry accountability.

Untitled-1In early 2010 LABB introduced the iWitness Pollution Map to help Louisiana residents track pollution and associated health effects in their communities. Today there are over 11,000 reports of possible petrochemical pollution on the map.  The iWitness Pollution Map is an open-source online map that allows anyone with a phone to document and share their experience with pollution via voicemail, text, email or by using the online form.  Visitors of the map are able to see reports in real-time, identify possible pollution hotspots by viewing the geographic location of the reports, and sign up to get alerts.The map helps to validate a community’s experience with petrochemical pollution, but more importantly the map monitors incidents of the industry’s potential pollution impacts on the local community.

In a system that allows industry to self-report their emissions and accidents, citizens are extremely important watchdogs. There were over 1,200 citizen reports of pollution from the 17 oil refineries and two associated chemical plants in Louisiana in 2013 alone. Using the iWitness Pollution Map, citizens have reported smells, flaring events, roaring sounds coming from the facilities, and health effects among other things:

 “It’s extremely stinky outside right now, very chemically smelling.  I don’t know exactly what type of smell it is, but is very chemical and it seems to be coming from the plant off Scenic Highway.  I guess it is around 6pm in the evening.  It’s raining and no feel of anything but just definitely very smelly, very unnatural.  It’s thick outside.”– January 13th, 2013, Baton Rouge, LA

 “…That plant over there, that flare is going just like a train.   It been doing it all night long.  And I can hear it all on my porch on Broadway now.”-July 28th, 2013, Shreveport, LA 

“When I had gotten off of work at 2:30am there was a weird smell in the air. At 10am the smell woke me up it was all outside & inside my home, which brought on a migraine & nausea! I don’t know what the chemical is or if it’s even safe for us to be in our home right now. We live on the Westbank in Algiers. If someone could give us some information on this that would be fantastic. The news & fire departments are saying it’s a mystery & others say it’s coming from the Chalmette refinery.”– April 3, 2013, Algiers (New Orleans), LA

A mural painted by community members in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

A mural painted by residents in Baton Rouge reads: “Standard Heights: Clean Air is Our Right!”

From consistent citizen reporting to the iWitness Pollution Map, the results of the data we have gathered provides crucial statements of real life everyday experiences from residents, which counter the claims of some local industries that their chemical releases have resulted in “no offsite impact.”  LABB triangulates the reports to the map with other available information (i.e. air monitoring data, facility self reports) and shares the analysis with impacted communities, federal and state enforcement officials, first responders and the media.

Some communities in Louisiana are overburdened by industrial pollution on a daily basis, but if no one reports it, it’s as if nothing ever happened.  Thanks to these innovative tools, communities impacted by pollution have a visible, public platform to get their experiences documented and their voices heard!

Molly Brackin is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, where she serves as the Monitoring & Evaluation Associate. She holds a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans, where she specialized in hazard mitigation and disaster planning.

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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