Bridging the Gap: EPA’s Report on the Environment Provides a Tool for Communicating Health and Environmental Trends
By Kayla Iuliano
One of the big lessons I learned as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health was the key role that effective communication plays in bridging the gap between science and reducing diseases and environmental health risks. Not only was that an important concept to embrace, but I found it refreshing to supplement my studies in epidemiology, toxicology, clinical investigation techniques, and biostatistics with a series of science and health communication courses.
As a participant in the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellowship Program over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to put what I’ve learned into practice with EPA’s Report on the Environment (ROE).
The ROE is a tool to effectively communicate information regarding the environment and human health conditions in the United States. It contains a compilation of objective, scientific indicators compiled from a variety of sources, including federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations.
The science behind the indicators is robust. Each is reviewed by scientific experts to ensure that it is a valid, unbiased measurement. EPA’s Science Advisory Board conducted an independent peer review of the report in July 2014.
Indicators are organized into five different themes—Air, Water, Land, Human Exposure and Health, and Ecological Condition—addressing questions relevant to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. The questions are largely concerned with changes over time, or trends, in the environment and in human health displayed by data within each indicator. All indicators contain background information and an explanation of the data, along with data limitations, sources, technical documentation, and references. By consistently updating the ROE as new data become available, EPA can identify how the environment changes over time. Such changes are displayed in interactive graphs, tables, and maps that allow users to explore the status of environmental and public health conditions in depth.
Many of the ROE indicators display these graphics in one or more exhibits, which provide more information about the indicator by year, location, or another characteristic.
For example, the ROE indicator for Acid Deposition contains multiple exhibits, one of which illustrates the differences in the amounts of wet sulfate deposition over two different time periods. Wet sulfate deposition occurs when burning fossil fuels release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it reacts to form acidic compounds. When these compounds return to Earth via precipitation (commonly referred to as “acid rain”), it can have a deleterious effect on ecosystem health. By toggling back and forth between the two different time frames within the exhibit, users can readily see the changes in wet sulfate deposition across the U.S. between 1989 and 2013—and see the statistically significant decrease in the amounts deposited within that time.
But what about other environmental and health conditions? Acid Deposition is only one of 85 indicators, all of which are sorted into the five-theme structure, allowing users to find any indicator and associated scientific content in the report, using the color-coded banner which appears at the top of every page:
I’ve found the report a great source of objective information due to its reliable data and clear, peer-reviewed methods to analyze and display information. By better understanding the condition and trends of the environment and human health in the United States, EPA can more effectively prioritize areas that need improvement, and encourage efforts that contribute to indicators that show improving trends. If you want to learn more about the status and trends in the environment and human health, EPA’s Report on the Environment is a great source!
EPA’s Report on the Environment is available at: www.epa.gov/roe/.
About the Author: Kayla Iuliano is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and is currently an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Fellowship Program Participant with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA).