EPA Office of Research and Development

Linking Up: Making Every Day Earth Day

By Tom Burke, Ph.D.

Today marks my first Earth Day as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. This is the one day of the year when people around the world unite to celebrate our planet, and I’m thrilled to be at a place where strengthening the links between a healthy environment and healthy communities are at the forefront of everything we do.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

I began my day today checking in on the month-old eaglets up near Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. The chicks are flourishing and provide a wonderful metaphor for the remarkable progress that has been made since the first Earth Day 45 years ago. What started as a collective unease about the state of local waterways, polluted lands, and haze-obscured views across urban neighborhoods was soon amplified in screaming national headlines about rivers on fire, and Rachel Carson’s best-selling book Silent Spring outlining the dangers of the indiscriminant use of the chemical pesticide DDT.

Such events helped spark the realization that when it comes to our environment, we are all in this together. And it was science—much of it led or conducted by EPA researchers—that taught us how to turn environmental concerns into action.

By understanding how particulate matter and other pollutants in the air relate to asthma rates and longevity, between lead exposure and childhood development, and between disease and contaminated water, local public health officials know what steps they can take to better protect people.

That track record for responsive science is why EPA labs are always among the first called when environmental emergencies strike, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or when harmful algal blooms threatened Toledo’s drinking water supply. EPA expertise is counted on to help local officials identify hazards, know what tests to conduct, and when to issue or lift health advisories.

And what’s more, that same expertise is also driving innovative research that is not only helping communities become more resilient today, but developing the tools, models, and solutions to lower risks and advance sustainability for the future. Just a small sampling of examples include:

  • Our researchers have teamed up with colleagues at NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop ways to tap satellite data to monitor water quality and better predict harmful algal blooms.
  • Empowering scientists and communities alike to tap a new generation of small, inexpensive, and portable air sensors to track air quality through The Village Green Project and others.
  • Our Healthy Heart campaign helps cardiac healthcare professionals use existing and emerging research to educate their patients about the link between air quality and their health—and to take action to avoid exposures during “ozone alert” days.
  • Advancing sophisticated computational toxicology methods and technologies through partnerships such as Tox21 to usher in a new paradigm of faster and far less expensive chemical screening techniques.
  • Providing data and mapping tools such as EPA’s EnviroAtlas that help community planners and other citizens identify, quantify, and sustain the many benefits they get from the natural ecosystems that surround them.

I started my own career conducting environmental investigations and epidemiological studies, and working closely with county and city health officials. These officials are on the front lines of environmental health and our communities depend upon them. Providing support by linking them to the data, tools, and innovative solutions mentioned above is one of my top priorities as EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for our Office of Research and Development.

That will take a continued commitment to communications and translation of our science to action, all part of keeping the critical link between a healthy environment and healthy people at the forefront of our thinking. Sharing our work with public health professionals is one way we can work together to make every day Earth Day. And that’s something we can all celebrate.

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke


About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development as well as EPA’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, he served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


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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Progress in Communities: It All Starts with Science

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

By Lek Kadeli

This week is the 43rd Anniversary of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and we are marking the occasion by revisiting how our collective efforts on behalf of the American people help local communities become cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable. As the Assistant Administrator for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I can’t help but see a strong undercurrent of science and engineering in every success story.

Over the past four plus decades, EPA scientists and engineers, along with their partners from across the federal government, states, tribes, academia, and private business, have supplied the data, built the computer models and tools, and provided the studies that have helped communities take action to advance public health and protect local environments.

In every area of environmental and human health action, EPA researchers have helped local communities make progress. Read more…

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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On Vacation with EPA Science

By Elizabeth Blackburn

Rafting (lge)My family is always giving me a hard time about the difficulty I seem to have completely disconnecting from work. Not only does my ever-present, e-mail-spewing smartphone mean I can keep in touch with my colleagues from virtually any location and at any time, but my job can be really interesting!

As the director of science communications for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I get a firsthand look at just about every science story that flows from the Agency’s world class scientists and engineers, as well as from a partnership community uniting EPA researchers and other innovators from across the government, academia, business, and beyond. I get a “sneak peak” at an incredible breadth of stories covering everything from tiny nanoparticles, to children’s environmental health, ecosystems assessment, and global climate change adaptation.

With all that going on, you can understand why I find it hard to unplug. Even so, I made a commitment to do my best on a recent family trip. I traveled clear across the country with my husband to visit our son, who lives in the “other” Washington (Washington State).

There, thousands of miles from the office, surrounded by some of the best rafting opportunities anywhere in the world, I came across something that brought my mind right back to work: dam removal. That’s something that our scientific divers have been blogging about right here on It All Starts with Science.

Dam removal has a special place in my heart as there was a dam removed on the river my son—a rafting guide—works on. In fact, we rafted a portion of the White Salmon that had been previously underwater. The canyon was magnificent and it was awesome to see steelhead trout swimming upstream and jumping up waterfalls that they had previously been unable to reach because of the dam.

So, not only did I get to enjoy a somewhat harrowing raft trip with my family, but I got to share what I do and why I like it with a captive audience. For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to join us on the raft, check out this morning’s blog from our scientific divers about their latest observations and findings. It answers some of the same questions I had about dam removal and what they are learning.

While I’d love to share more about my family vacation and the glorious Pacific Northwest, I’ve got to get back to work. (Oh goodie!)

About the Author: Elizabeth Blackburn is the Director of Communications for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and an avid fan of wild and scenic rivers anywhere.

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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EPA-Expo-Box: A Novel Innovation for Risk Assessors

By Dahnish Shams

Illustration of a toolbox

Click on the image to go to the EPA-Expo-Box website.

As a college student, I always found Wikipedia to be one of the simplest, yet most innovative resources created in the last decade. Wikipedia’s ability to compile and aggregate different information in a single spot on the internet makes it a unique web resource to accomplish any number of tasks across a wide variety of disciplines and settings.

Now—post graduation and working as a student contractor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development—I’ve found out that EPA scientists have developed their own innovative, encyclopedia-like resource for exposure assessment information. Links to databases, models, guidance documents and other resources are organized by topics such as exposure assessment approaches, chemical classes, environmental media, routes of exposure, life stages and populations, and more.

This new website, EPA-Expo-Box (short for EPA Exposure Toolbox), has compiled links to more than 800 exposure assessment tools all in one user-friendly format.

For example, imagine a scientist examining an outdoor air or water pollutant. This scientist could use EPA-Expo-Box’s Media Tool Set to help identify information needed to assess how this pollutant may be interacting with the environment, and tools needed to estimate exposures among the people who may come into contact with the air or water. This scientist could access resources on potential sources, fate and transport, or measured concentrations of the chemical in the air or water. With 800+ resources readily in hand, risk assessors can make informed scientific decisions to better protect the public and the environment from harm.

Prior to EPA-Expo-Box, there were no comprehensive publicly available resource for exposure assessment tools and information.  Recognizing this need, EPA scientists set out to design an online “one stop shop” for   resources that an exposure assessor may need. This free resource fills a specific niche in the risk assessment community. As an interactive scientific resource, it contains links to databases, models, guidance documents, and reference materials, along with step-by-step assistance for conducting exposure assessments to help guide users through the exposure assessment process.

Because it is completely online, users can access all of the tool sets at the touch of a button on their laptop, tablet, or smartphone. This versatility gives EPA scientists and others access to exposure assessment information regardless if they are in the field or in a laboratory. Like any good resource, EPA-Expo-Box is simply a handy tool to have when you need it most.

The other advantage of an online-only platform?  When new resources become available, updates can be made quickly and easily. No longer will users have to wait for the next edition or version to get the most up to date information. The dynamic nature of EPA-Expo-Box is increasingly crucial in the ever changing field of risk and exposure assessment.

Day in and day out, it is versatile and dynamic innovations like EPA-Expo-Box that better help EPA and others access information they need to more effectively evaluate potential risks to human health and the environment in the communities in which we all live and work.

About the Author: Dahnish Shams is a student services contractor working with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment in communications.

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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