Citizen science

EPA Offers up to $80,000 to Communities to Develop Air Sensor Data Best Practices

By Ann Dunkin, Chief Information Officer

SMART CITIES AIR CHALLENGE INFORMATION

Application Deadline: October 28, 2016
Announcement of Winners: Around December 1, 2016
Initial award: Up to $40,000 each to two communities to deploy air sensors, share data with the public, and develop data management best practices from sensors
Additional funding: Up to $10,000 each to the winning communities in 2017 based on  their accomplishments and collaboration.

To learn more, visit the Smart City Air Challenge website.

I came to the EPA with a firm belief that data can make a difference in environmental protection. Since I’ve been here I’ve found that communities are leading the way by using data to understand local conditions and operate efficiently. That’s why I’m excited to announce EPA’s Smart City Air Challenge.

This new challenge encourages communities to install hundreds of air quality sensors and manage the resulting data. EPA is offering two communities up to $40,000 each to work with their residents to crowdsource air quality data and share it with the public online. The projects will give individuals a role in collecting the data and understanding how environmental conditions affect their health and their community.

Air quality sensors are becoming less expensive and people are beginning to use them to measure pollution levels in their neighborhoods and homes. They’re developing rapidly, but most sensors aren’t ready for regulatory use. However, by networking these devices, communities can better understand what is happening at the local level. Communities will figure out where to place the sensors and how to maintain the devices. It’s up to each community to decide what pollutants they want to measure.

The prize funds serve as seed money, so communities will need to partner with other parties, such as sensor manufacturers, data management companies and universities. These partners can provide resources and expertise in topics where communities lack experience. In doing so, communities will learn how to use data analytics, which can be applied to other aspects of community life.

What does EPA get out of this? We’ll learn how communities collect, store and manage large amounts of data. We’ll also get a better understanding of the quality of data communities collect using sensors for non-regulatory purposes. We’ll see how communities transfer data from sensors to databases and visualize the results. Finally, the sensors will produce as much as 150 gigabytes of open data a year —data anyone can use.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy often says communities are “incubators for innovation.” We’re hoping the challenge will inspire communities to come up with innovative approaches for managing data so their residents and other communities can benefit. Show us how it’s done.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Citizen scientists test Warwick, RI, water

By Amy Miller

It’s not every day you can get your training as a citizen scientist with the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency standing beside you. So residents of Warwick were pretty excited when Curt Spalding, administrator for EPA’s New England office, showed up for their one-day session on how to join professional scientists in keeping their region’s ponds healthy.

EPA scientist Hillary Snook, Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian participate in day of training for citizen scientists.

EPA scientist Hilary Snook, Regional Administrator Curt Spalding and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian participate in day of training for citizen scientists.

Spalding was pretty happy himself to be out there in the field, watching the work citizens are doing so they too can help out in reducing the amount of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in local waterways. Curt is a big advocate of the program and loves the idea of hands-on citizens involvement, noted Hilary Snook, EPA New England’s lead scientist on this project.

Hilary and other EPA scientists have been traveling around New England this summer in a shiny white mobile lab, teaching citizens how they can play a part in monitoring for this bacteria, which is clogging our region’s and nation’s waterways. The team has already been to several locations around New England including White Pond in Concord, Mass. whose town beach was shut down for the entire 2015 season due to cyanobacteria.

Curt decided to tag along on the trip to Warwick, where a handful of citizens joined local, state and federal representatives for what turned out to be a rainy day of training at Gorton Pond, just behind the Warwick police station.

Warwickvisit2EPA’s new mobile laboratory was outfitted with the computers, microscopes and monitors that provide the on-site training. The mobile lab is designed to take people through all of the main parts of the program, with hands-on experience right at their local body of water.

A video presentation introduced the program to the group, with a so-called “Mi-Fi system” providing direct connection to webpages used for the program. Microscopes inside the vehicle let citizens identify samples taken from Gorton Pond and then upload them to citizen science databases.

Hilary showed volunteers how they could upload EPA’s bloomWatch app to their own devices then and there to submit photos of blooms.

The data collected by volunteers is useful for EPA and other environmental agencies trying to clean waterways and reduce bacteria levels. The system is simple enough that everyone from middle school students to academics and lake associations can participate.

EPA hopes added information will help determine where cyanobacterial blooms exist, whether they contain potential toxin producing species, and whether the existing blooms are toxic.

Through the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, volunteers were invited to get involved at three different levels. Besides the bloomWatch app, they can learn how to take water samples and then study them under a microscope. Some volunteers took home a kit that includes a microscope. Finally, volunteers can collect samples and then send them to EPA for further study using the program’s established protocols.

Citizen scientists in New England join volunteers around the country and world who are helping in this effort. Cyanobacteria blooms are caused mainly by nutrients, particularly phosphorus. With climate change and heavier rainstorms, more nutrients are running off the land into freshwater lakes and ponds. The toxins that can be produced by these bacteria can cause skin rashes and liver damage.

All of which means it’s important to Curt, it’s important to EPA and it’s important to all of us to address the increasing occurrences of harmful cyanobacteria blooms in our nation’s and region’s lakes and ponds.

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Amy Miller works in the office of public affairs at EPA New England

 

More information is available at: https://blog.epa.gov/blog/tag/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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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

Need an excuse to hang out inside? Here’s something to read while you stay out of the heat. Check out the latest in EPA science.

Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division
Late this spring, a self-operated wildlife camera captured several photos of adult gray foxes carrying food items from surrounding wild lands onto the grounds of EPA’s Western Ecology Division Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon. Find out what they were up to in the blog Foxes and Ecosystem Services at Western Ecology Division.

Investing in our Children’s Futures
To protect children from environmental threats and help them live healthier lives, EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences created the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers (Children’s Centers). Read about the five new Children’s Center grants in the blog Investing in our Children’s Futures.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program
As cyanobacteria bloom incidence continues to increase, EPA strives to create and improve methods for bloom prediction, monitoring, and management. The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program will help generate region-wide data on bloom frequencies, cyanobacteria concentrations, and spatial distribution through three coordinated projects. To learn more about the program read the blog The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program: One Program, Three Opportunities for You To Get Involved!

If you do decide to head outside, don’t forget the sunscreen! Here’s a little lesson in sunscreen chemistry.

Suncreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story
It’s not surprising that sunscreens are detected in pool water (after all, some is bound to wash off when we take a dip), but certain sunscreens have also been widely detected in our ecosystems and in our wastewater. So how is our sunscreen ending up in our environment and what are the impacts? Find out in the blog Suncreen and Sun Safety: Just One Piece of the Story.

And coming up next week:

Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health
Monday, August 22nd at 1:30 p.m. EDT
There are over 20 wildfires currently burning in the United States. Join us for a twitter chat with EPA research cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio and health effects scientist Susan Stone, along with experts from the U.S. Forest Service and the Centers for Disease Control, to discuss wildfire smoke and health.

To join the twitter chat and ask questions, please use ‪#‎WildfireSmoke and follow @EPAAir. Get more details in the blog Let’s Talk About Wildfire Smoke and Health.

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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The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program: One Program, Three Opportunities for You To Get Involved!

By Sara Ernst

If you ever have noticed a waterbody wigreen water on the edge of a laketh a layer of green scum coating its surface or a slick green film resembling a paint spill, you likely have witnessed a cyanobacteria bloom. Cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, are tiny organisms found naturally in aquatic ecosystems and numerous other environments. Typically, these organisms are harmless and go unnoticed; however, under certain conditions, cyanobacteria can form a dense mat or bloom on the surface of the water that may produce harmful toxins. These blooms and associated toxins pose a significant threat to humans, animals, and the ecosystem. They can cause illnesses, skin irritations, or worse and can threaten drinking water supplies and recreational opportunities. As cyanobacteria bloom incidence continues to increase, EPA strives to create and improve methods for bloom prediction, monitoring, and management.

The Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program, covering the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, will help generate region-wide data on bloom frequencies, cyanobacteria concentrations, and spatial distribution through three coordinated projects: bloomWatch, cyanoScope, and Cyanomonitoring. Each project relies on the general public, citizen scientists, and trained water professionals to locate potential blooms and report applicable information, so we can improve cyanobacteria monitoring and learn more about harmful blooms in the Northeast.

The amount of time, equipment, and training needed to participate varies for each project. The simplest reporting tool to use is bloomWatch, a smartphone app that enables participants to help track cyanobacteria blooms by taking and submitting photos. All you need to do is download the app and you’re in business! bloomWatch teaches you what to look for, provides on-screen instructions on how to take good photos of blooms, and prompts you to answer some questions about the sighting. After submitting the photos and sighting details through the app, you can also send a bloom report to your state’s environmental agency.

The cyanoScope project helps scientists and water resource managers learn more about where and when blooms occur and what types of cyanobacteria are present across the region. With the appropriate gear and training, cyanoScope participants collect water samples of possible blooms, view the samples under a microscope, take photos of cyanobacteria, and upload the photos and sighting details to the cyanoScope project on iNaturalist.org. The cyanoScope community then helps to identify the cyanobacteria present.

The Cyanomonitoring project builds on bloomWatch and cyanoScope; it is the most involved project, and therefore contributes the most detailed information. In this project, professionals and trained citizen scientists use specific gear to monitor cyanobacteria concentrations in lakes and ponds to help determine where, when, and why cyanobacteria are blooming in those areas. Participants also assist in tracking regional trends resulting from climate and land use changes and assess waterbody and human health vulnerability to toxic cyanobacteria.

By participating in any of the three projects, you can contribute valuable data that will help scientists learn more about cyanobacteria blooms and how best to monitor them in the future. Interested in getting involved? Visit http://cyanos.org/ for more information on the Northeast Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program and each of the coordinated projects!

 

About the Author: Sara Ernst is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor who works as the Science Communications Specialist in the Atlantic Ecology Division of 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_250

Check out some of EPA’s gold-medal-worthy research that we’re highlighting this week.

Algal Blooms
Are you wondering why that water is green? It’s algae! EPA’s Wayne Cascio and Elizabeth Hilborn explain the environmental conditions that drive algal blooms and their health effects in the blog Why is the Beach Green?

EPA and the Chickasaw Nation
Last week in Ada, Oklahoma, EPA’s Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center hosted the 50th Anniversary dedication of the Center. A highlight of the celebration included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between EPA’s groundwater remediation and ecosystem restoration scientists and the Chickasaw Nation, a federally recognized American Indian Tribal Nation located in Oklahoma. Learn more about the research agreement in the blog EPA and the Chickasaw Nation: Working Together to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability and Quality of our Water.

Collaborating with Local Communities to Measure Air Pollution
Managing air pollution is a big job, but it can be made easier when the whole community gets involved. We call it “citizen science” — where people without a background in research can use scientific tools to address problems in their environment. To support this fast-growing field, EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is funding six grants to evaluate how effective low-cost, portable air sensors are when used in communities. Read more about the grants in the blog Collaborating with Local Communities to Measure Air Pollution.

Scientists vs. Rockstars
Meet EPA Physical Scientist Dr. Rebecca Dodder! Dr. Dodder recently received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for her innovative approach to evaluating current and emerging environmental challenges and opportunities related to energy production and use in the United States. As part of the recognition, Dr. Dodder was invited to visit the White House and hear from President Obama. Read about the experience in her blog Scientists vs. Rockstars.

Want to meet more of our researchers?
Meet EPA Chemical and Environmental Engineer Endalkachew Sahle-Demessie! Dr. Sahle-Demessie works on various projects, including nanomaterials and water resources, in EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory.

Meet EPA Research Ecologist Ken Fritz! Dr. Fritz works in EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory where he investigates stream ecosystems, including ones that are dry at times.  He works to supply the research that will inform policy and decisions that affect aquatic ecosystems.

And check out more of our researchers at work.

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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Collaborating with Local Communities to Measure Air Pollution

By Michaela Burns

I am no stranger to air pollution. Since I grew up in New York City, my walk to school every morning put me in constant contact with car exhaust and smoke rising from the vendor stations that lined the sidewalks. None of these experiences ever struck me as odd. They were just a part of the city’s charm! We had the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and we had air pollution. On particularly smoggy days, when I could barely see the city from my window, I always comforted myself with the fact that it was a problem far out of my league. After all, I was just an ordinary kid, not a scientist — what could I do to help? Nothing of course.

Once I started working at EPA, I found out that I had been completely wrong. Managing air pollution is a big job, but it can be made easier when the whole community gets involved. We call it “citizen science” — where people without a background in research can use scientific tools to address problems in their environment. To support this fast-growing field, EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is funding six grants to evaluate how effective low-cost, portable air sensors are when used in communities.

APM4C Blog Picture

EPA researcher Eben Thoma adjusts an SPod monitor.

EPA grant winners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will use community-based air sensors to measure air quality and volcanic smog (“vog”) exposure on the Island of Hawai‘i (“the Big Island”). Up the coast at the University of Washington, researchers plan to deploy air sensors in student-directed studies examining heavy wood smoke impacts in their rural community. The team will work in partnership with Heritage University, whose students represent the local population of predominantly Yakama Nation and Latino immigrant families, to identify effective ways to communicate pollutant results to a broader audience. And this is just a sample of the diverse group of projects being done to help make air sensors more available to the public across the U.S. Other efforts include:

Carnegie Mellon University. Researchers will investigate the accuracy and reliability of existing air sensors, as well as their efficacy when put to use in Pittsburgh communities.

Kansas State University. Researchers will investigate if communities in South Chicago become more engaged in learning about their environment if they are provided with low-cost air sensors and the information generated by them.

Research Triangle Institute This research team will investigate how low-cost sensors can be used to help the Globeville, Elyria, Swansea (GES) community north of Denver, Colorado measure and understand data indicating the air quality in their neighborhood. The team will also evaluate the effectiveness of how information is presented to enable residents to understand their exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants and potentially empower them to take action to protect their health.

South Coast Air Quality Management District. This research team will provide local California communities with the knowledge necessary to select, use, and maintain low-cost, commercially available air monitoring sensors and to correctly interpret sensor data. The group will communicate the lessons learned to the public through a series of outreach activities.

By supporting the development and deployment of air monitoring technology, EPA is empowering ordinary citizens to take action against air pollution. Looking out for your community can be as easy as using our air sensor toolbox for citizen scientists to find out how to monitor the air quality in your neighborhood. With tools in reach, there’s no reason not to become a citizen scientist today!

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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Puerto Rico Water Quality Monitoring Day

Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from streams in Puerto Rico.

Volunteers collect macroinvertebrates from streams in Puerto Rico.

By Rachael Graham

On April 9, 2016 more than 1,200 volunteers participated in Puerto Rico Water Quality Monitoring Day to measure…..you got it – water quality!

Over 150 sites throughout the island were sampled by volunteers from 30 municipalities as part of a worldwide effort to gather data using citizen science efforts. The data they collect will be uploaded and become part of a global data set for the World Water Monitoring Challenge.

This was the eighth year of the program coordinated by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program (SJBEP). Prior governmental and NGO sponsors for this event included EPA Region 2 Caribbean Environmental Protection Division (CEPD), Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (PREQB), the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Puerto Rico Water and Environment Association (PRWEA). For 2016, EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science & Assessment partnered with SJBEP and CEPD and sent two biologists to provide technical assistance and training on additional water quality parameters for citizen science.

For the Water Monitoring Challenge, group leaders were trained to use a standardized water quality kit to measure dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and turbidity in weeks prior to the event and then pass this training on to their individual team participants. In 2016, EPA added two other important water quality parameters as a pilot – E.coli and benthic macroinvertebrates.

Approximately 20 volunteers collected samples from 21 locations throughout the San Juan Bay Estuary watershed for analysis for Escherichia coli (E. coli), a common fecal bacteria found in sewage and animal waste. Each participant set up a test to measure E.coli that does not require any equipment and can be incubated at room temperature, called a Compartment Bag Test (CBT), which has everything required to measure E.coli in one small kit. EPA and SJBEP personnel took split samples of the volunteer samples and measured a more rigorous test for E. coli to compare results. The objective was to test the CBT method to see if it can differentiate between low, moderate and high levels of E.coli. Since rapid tests, like the CBT, are simple to conduct and require no laboratory equipment, they allow citizen scientists to screen their drinking water and ambient water for relative levels of fecal bacteria more readily. If successful, the CBT may be turned into a kit and provided on a wider scale for next year’s monitoring event.

Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality.

Macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality.

Approximately 90 citizen scientists collected macroinvertebrates from streams in three different areas of the island – Rio Piedras, Rio Mameyes, and a tributary of the Rio Grande de Arecibo. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are creatures that lack a vertebrate, an internal skeleton like mammals. Macroinvertebrates in streams and rivers include insects (caddisflies, beetles, dragonflies), crustaceans (shrimp, crayfish, crabs), mollusks (snails, mussels, clams), and worms. Volunteers were trained on invertebrate ecology, general habitat and water quality requirements, taxa identification, and use of macroinvertebrates as indicators of healthy and poor water quality. The volunteers used the SJBEP field protocol to collect macroinvertebrates and make a determination of the water quality at the stream site. Additional samples were collected with kick nets to compile a taxa list of macroinvertebrates observed. PREQB was present for the demonstrations and would like to incorporate benthic macroinvertebrate data as a way to determine stream health.

To learn more about citizen science projects in EPA Region 2, visit: https://www3.epa.gov/region02/citizenscience/.

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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A Picture is Worth… Scientific Data

By Jeri Weiss

I climbed up Heifer Hill in Brattleboro, Vt., on a beautiful summer afternoon and spun slowly around, taking in the spectacular view. It was August and the trees were all leafed out and the meadow was lush.VtPanorama I couldn’t help thinking about what this might have looked like 10 years ago. What will it look like 10 years from now? What will it look like this fall? As it turns out, I will soon be able to get answers. The Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in Brattleboro will have a tool to tell us all this story.

Bonnyvale, working with EPA New England, is setting up “a picture post” on April 22 to celebrate Earth Day. The picture post, one of dozens in New England and hundreds across the country, will guide visitors in how to take photographs from the exact same spot all times of the day and all days of the year. These picture posts are basically fences post with octagonal tops that show which way is north and invite anyone walking by to add their observations.

This Digital Earth Watch project, developed jointly by NASA and six other institutions, is run by the University of New Hampshire. Picture Post was created as a tool for non-scientists to monitor their environment and share observations. Using a digital camera, visitors take nine pictures – one in each direction and one up at the sky – and then upload them to Digital Earth Watch network. It’s even easier if you have a smart phone and can use the picture post app.

I learned about Picture Post as I was exploring ways any of us can participate in scientific discoveries at the Brattleboro Citizen Science workshop, which EPA helped organize earlier this month.

When I heard about Bonnyvale’s work I was intrigued, so I looked for a picture post closer to home. According to UNH’s Picture Post web page, two such posts sit on either side of the Fresh Pond reservoir in Cambridge, just 10 minutes from my home. It appeared the last time they were used was nine years ago. Last weekend I walked along the trail circling the reservoir, but found only one picture post remaining. I spoke with Fresh Pond Reservation Ranger Jean Rogers who told me one of the posts was removed when the Reservation created an outdoor community classroom and plans are being made to put it back up.

freshpond2007After a bit of hunting, I found the second post. I took a set of pictures, loaded them up to the web site and was able to see some big differences from the pictures taken nearly a decade ago. The once small, scrawny trees now grow outside of the frame. On the web site (and to the right) you can compare the pictures and even watch the scene animated as it scrolls through the photographic history from that post.

Picture posts not only provide information to Bonnyvale’s students or the Rangers at Fresh Pond, but also give freshpond2016valuable data to scientists. Researchers working with Digital Earth Watch network use the photographs to document the plants, clouds, and seasons—and how they are changing in response to a warming climate. It such a simple way for anyone with a camera to contribute to scientific research. Ten years from now we will be able to see the changes in places we care about, whether it’s the top of Heifer Hill, a spot on my walk around Fresh Pond or from a picture post in your neighborhood. http://picturepost.unh.edu

 

Jeri Weiss is a drinking water specialist at EPA and helped organize the Citizens Science Workshop.

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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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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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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