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This Week in EPA Science

2015 April 24

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

This week people all around the world came together to celebrate Earth Day, but it was business-as-usual here at EPA. Our researchers work year-round to protect human health and the environment and make Earth Day every day.

Dr. Tom Burke, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, highlighted some examples of this important work in the blog Linking Up: Making Every Day Earth Day.

And here is some more research we’ve highlighted this week.

  • Surrounded by Science
    This week was National Environmental Education Week, the nation’s largest celebration of environmental education. Environmental education helps increase students’ awareness and knowledge about environmental issues or problems. This year’s Environmental Education Week theme is looking at how science can help us better understand the natural world.
    Read more about how to get involved in the blog National Environmental Education Week.
  • Measuring Local Air Quality
    The Village Green Project explores new ways of measuring air pollution using next generation air quality technology that has been built into a park bench. After testing the first Village Green station in Durham, N.C., we are now in the process of building and installing new stations with some design improvements and modifications.
    Read more about the project in the blog Expanding the Village Green Project to Measure Local Air Quality.
  • Next week is Air Quality Awareness Week!
    EPA supported research at the Clean Air Research Center at Harvard University explores the health effects of air pollution mixtures across organ systems and during various stages of human life. Recently, the center published a study in the journal Stroke that looked at what may happen to the brain of older adults after long-term exposure to fine particle pollution.
    Read more about the study in the blog Air Pollution and Your Brain.

Our blog will be offline next week while we update and reorganize. Check back in May 4th!

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Air Pollution and Your Brain

2015 April 24

By Michelle Becker

Graphic depiction of the brainNext week is Air Quality Awareness week, which is a time to reflect on how far we have come in our understanding of the health effects of air pollution. We know air quality can affect the lungs and heart and cause serious health problems, as documented in a large body of scientific literature. However, we don’t know very much about the potential effects on the brain.

That is why EPA supports research through its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program to further examine potential health effects of air pollution. The Clean Air Research Center (CLARC) at Harvard University receives funds from EPA to explore the health effects of air pollution mixtures across organ systems and during various stages of human life.

Recently, the center published a study in the journal Stroke that looked at what may happen to the brain of older adults after long-term exposure to fine particle pollution (PM2.5), which is emitted from tail pipe emissions as well as other sources. The study included 943 individuals over the age of 60 with no history of dementia or stroke. They also lived within 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) of a major roadway where levels of air pollutants are generally higher.

Researchers looked at pictures of the brain using a technique called Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to identify the differences in certain brain structures. Then they considered the pictures in connection with the distance participants lived from a major road.

After considering all the data and a number of other factors that might affect the brain, the researchers found that exposure to outdoor PM2.5 was associated with a decrease in total cerebral brain volume and an increase in covert brain infarcts (known as “silent” strokes because there are no outward symptoms).  The impact of being close to roadways was less clear.

So what are the potential implications? A decrease in cerebral brain volume is an indicator of degeneration of the brain, which can lead to dementia and other cognitive impairments. Also, an increase in covert brain infarcts increases a person’s risk for a major stroke.

To give you a better idea about PM2.5 (particulate matter of 2.5 microns in diameter) the average human hair has a diameter of 100 microns. So these air pollutant mixtures are roughly one quarter the diameter of a single hair on your head. That is to say, very small. Yet these small particles pack a big punch when it comes to our health. The study demonstrates an increase of just 2 micrograms per cubic meter can cause brain deterioration.

This study is one of the first to look at the relationship between air pollution and the brain so the evidence is suggestive. The study contributes to a growing body of scientific research that is exploring the cognitive connections to air pollution. So this week while we think about air quality, let’s remember that small things can make a big impact and that science can help us to learn more about air quality and our health.

About the Author: Michelle Becker, M.S, is currently working with the Air, Climate, and Energy research program in EPA’s Office of Research and Development through a Skills Marketplace opportunity. The project has allowed her to increase her scientific communication skills and to learn more about EPA funded research to protect human 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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National Environmental Education Week

2015 April 23

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

I can remember the first time I connected my classroom science lesson to real life. I had baked a cake from scratch all by myself and the smell of chocolate filled the air as I eagerly awaited the ding of the kitchen timer. However upon opening the oven door, I discovered the cake had not risen at all. I held up a picture of what the cake was supposed to look like and exclaimed that this was totally unfair. Then my mom pointed to the forgotten ingredient: baking soda. It wasn’t unfair, it was chemistry!

ThinkstockPhotos-76754172

Science helps explain things that seem like such a mystery at first. That’s why I really like this year’s theme for National Environmental Education Week — Surrounded by Science.

National Environmental Education Week is the nation’s largest celebration of environmental education. It is held each spring around the time of Earth Day and inspires environmental learning and stewardship among K-12 students. Environmental education helps increase students’ awareness and knowledge about environmental issues or problems. In doing so, it provides them with the necessary skills to make informed decisions and take responsible action.

This year’s Environmental Education Week theme is looking at how science can help us better understand the natural world. We use science at EPA to do just that — it provides the foundation for decisions and actions taken to protect our environment and our health.

Through the scientific process, we observe, test, analyze and advance our knowledge of the world. Through environmental education, we can bring learning to life and show how environmental science is a part of our daily lives.

Environmental education is very important to us at EPA. Through our grants program, we award up to $3.5 million each year to school districts, local governments, universities, tribal education programs and other partners to support projects promoting awareness, stewardship and skill building.

So whether you are supporting the climate leaders of the future or the inventor of the next cronut, there are plenty of ways to celebrate environmental education and science this week:

  • Join a national network of educators dedicated to increasing the environmental literacy of K-12 students by registering for National Environmental Education Week here (it’s free!).
  • Check out these hands-on activities for teachers and others to use in the classroom and other educational settings that EPA researchers have developed
  • Ask an EPA scientist about environmental science and see it featured on our blog. Email your question to AskanEPAscientist@epa.gov and I’ll find an answer for you!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Linking Up: Making Every Day Earth Day

2015 April 22

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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Expanding the Village Green Project to Measure Local Air Quality

2015 April 21

By Esteban Herrera, Gayle Hagler and John White

VG Station in Philadelphia, PA

Village Green Station in Philadelphia, PA

We have been busy for a few years with the Village Green Project, exploring new ways of measuring air pollution using next generation air quality technology put into a park bench.  After testing our first Village Green station in Durham, N.C., we are now in the process of building and installing new stations with some design improvements and modifications.

The Village Green Project expansion is being made possible with the support of state and local partners across the country. Five new locations for stations have been selected through a nationwide proposal process open to local and state air monitoring agencies.

Today, EPA announced the partners and location for the new stations and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Philadelphia, Pa. for one of the five stations.

The Village Green Project has many benefits. It enables EPA’s scientists to further test their new measurement system, built into a park bench, and it provides an opportunity for the public and students to learn more about the technology and local air quality.

Each station provides data every minute on two common air pollutants – fine particle pollution and ozone – and weather conditions such as wind speed and direction, temperature, and relative humidity.  The data are automatically streamed to the Village Green Project web page. You can access the data generated by stations as they come on line at www.epa.gov/villagegreen. As members of a team working on the Village Green Project at EPA, we have been doing a lot of coordination and tackled some difficult scientific challenges to get this project launched. But it is all coming together as we get the stations installed. We think it will be a great opportunity for educational outreach and to showcase some new capabilities for communities to learn more about their local air quality. These monitoring stations will enable communities to get information about nearby sources of air pollution that can impact local air quality.

VG Station in Washington, DC

Washington, DC

The five station locations being installed in 2015 as part of the local and state partnership are:

  • Philadelphia, Pa. – the station is located in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia owned by the National Park Service.
  • Washington, D.C. – the station is located in a children’s area at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
  • Kansas City, Kan.- the station is located outside of the new South Branch public library in Kansas City.
  • Hartford, Conn. – the station will be located outside of the Connecticut Science Center and will be installed in the summer or early fall of 2015.
  • Oklahoma City, Okla. – the station will be located in the children’s garden of the Myriad Botanical Gardens and will be installed in the summer or early fall of 2015.
VG Station in Kansas City, KS

Kansas City, KS

So what is next? We are excited about the expansion of the Village Green Project and hope to learn how some of the new system features perform, such as a combined wind and solar power system we’re using for more northern locations.  We hope the project will provide more knowledge about how to build and operate next generation air quality measurement systems for use by communities.  Please stay tuned for more updates from the Village Green Project team members as we continue our learning journey.

 

About the Authors: Esteban Herrera is an environmental engineer and project lead for the Village Green Project. Gayle Hagler is an environmental engineer who studies air pollutant emissions and measurement technologies. John White is leading the effort of expanding AirNow’s capabilities to handle one-minute data, including data from the Village Green stations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

This Week in EPA Science

2015 April 17

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

April 18 marks the start of National Park Week and you can visit any of America’s National Parks for free this weekend! But before you get outside to enjoy the spring weather and the great outdoors, be sure to catch up on the latest EPA science.

Here’s what we’re highlighting this week.

  • Arrested (Watershed) Development
    In areas urban areas, a lot of rain water doesn’t get absorbed. Instead, it flows across the watershed, picking up pollutants and nutrients as it goes. EPA scientists helped address the growing concern for these pollutants by testing the waters in streams throughout the northeastern United States.
    Read more about their research in the blog It’s Arrested Urban Watershed Development
  • The White House Announces Actions to Protect Communities from the Impacts of Climate Change
    As part of the Administration’s overall effort to combat climate change and protect human health, the White House announced a series of actions to support improved understanding, communications, and reduce health impacts of climate change. EPA’s Village Green stations were specifically mentioned for “Improving Air Quality Data.” The efforts of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition, which launched the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, were also highlighted in this announcement.
    Read the full announcement from the White House in this fact sheet.
  • Meet some of EPA’s amazing researchers
    Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an environmental scientist? If so, check out these great videos that give an inside look at what EPA Ecologist Robyn Conmy and EPA Biologist Joe Ebersole do in the lab.
    Watch the videos on EPA’s YouTube Channel here:
    Faces of EPA: Robyn Conmy
    Faces of EPA: Joe Ebersole

Coming up next week:

  • Earth Day Seminar on Mega Trends
    April 22nd from 3 to 5 pm
    EPA is partnering with the World Environment Center and the Wilson Center to host an Earth Day seminar on Mega Trends — long term trends that will have the most profound impacts on society. Panelists will share their views on such topics as: projected trends and impacts from climate change; extreme weather; urban growth; and energy, land, and water use.
    Find out more about the event and how to attend in the blog Creating “Years of Sustainable Development”

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

It’s Arrested Urban Watershed Development

2015 April 16

By Annie Zwerneman

They say April showers bring May flowers – but what happens to the rain that doesn’t end up watering plants?

In areas where the natural vegetation has been replaced by buildings, pavement, and other types of human development, a good deal of that rain water doesn’t get absorbed. Instead, it flows across the watershed, picking up pollutants and nutrients as it goes. In large urban areas, the natural systems can quickly become overwhelmed, leading to trouble in the form of impaired water bodies downstream, increased erosion, and damaged ecosystems.

EPA interns sampling a stream near Providence, RI.

EPA interns sampling a stream near Providence, RI.

EPA scientists helped address the growing concern for these pollutants by testing the waters in streams throughout the northeastern United States. A team of EPA researchers, led by Nathan Smucker and Anne Kuhn, set out to understand how we can better manage pollution that negatively affects valuable freshwater resources.

Smucker, Kuhn, and their team selected sites to research that were evenly distributed throughout the heavily urbanized Narragansett Bay watershed. Specific sites were picked in order to capture a complete range of low to high development in watersheds that drain to the bay.

The science team focused on how important components of stream food webs and water quality were affected by urbanization. In conjunction with other EPA research in the region, they found that riparian vegetation was integral to reducing negative impacts on algae and macroinvertebrates associated with watershed development. Stream ecosystems and food chains are further impacted when riparian vegetation is destroyed by development or erosion. Their research showed that if vegetation buffers are maintained next to streams, some of the negative effects of watershed development can be reduced.

Results from the research and literature review analysis will provide insight into preventative actions for decision makers that are building or developing on watersheds and aid with managing stream resources in watersheds with existing development. By identifying how past development has affected stream ecosystems, we can predict what might happen as ongoing development occurs, and we can work proactively on strategies to keep ecosystems intact and pollution at bay.

About the Author: Annie Zwerneman is an intern for the 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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Creating “Years of Sustainable Development:” Anticipating and responding to Mega Trends

2015 April 16

By Dr. Alan D. Hecht and Barb Walton

Taking ActionLate last year, Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs pronounced 2015 the “Year of Sustainable Development,” reflecting the United Nations’ efforts to identify goals and agree on greenhouse gas emission targets for the decades ahead.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions and anticipated yet unquantifiable impact on climate change is one of many major global trends that governments at all levels and corporations need to address.

The full suite of such “global mega trends” challenges all of us to find ways to achieve “years of sustainable development.” EPA, the World Environment Center and the Wilson Center are hosting an Earth Day seminar (April 22 from 3 to 5 pm) on Mega Trends to encourage discussion of the following:

  • What major long term trends (mega trends) will have the most profound impacts on society?
  • How can Government, business and civil society best prepare and respond to these trends?
  • What science and innovation would help reduce risk and prepare for the future?
  • What issues require public dialogue to improve policy decisions and promote better business-government cooperation?

Joining us to share thoughts and lead the discussion will be Jennifer Turner of the Wilson Center, Banning Garrett, adjunct faculty at Singularity University, and Terry Yosie of the World Environment Center.

Together, we will share our views on such topics as: projected trends and impacts from climate change; extreme weather; urban growth; and energy, land, and water use.

EPA has been leading the responsive to a number of such emerging issues, notably to climate change, the management of new chemical wastes such as endocrine disruptors and nanomaterials, the evaluation of biofuels, and the effectiveness of green infrastructure. Our Climate Change Adaptation Plan recognized drought as a major vulnerability to human wellbeing.

EPA has also launched new academic grants requesting proposals for new strategies to improve the Nation’s readiness to respond to the water scarcity and drought anticipated in response to climate change.

Working closely with other agencies, we are also sensitive to the stresses and interactions of energy demand and water use. Accordingly, the Agency has developed a set of principles and actions to advance energy-water use in a more sustainable way.

And on urban growth, EPA is attuned to the potential impact on human health and on disadvantaged communities. EPA has identified 51 communities where it will work to respond to past, present and future issue affecting society wellbeing.

The challenge of achieving sustainable development requires multiagency cooperation, business-government partnerships and full public understanding of the potential impacts.  To prepare for Earth Day in 2030 and for Years of Sustainable Development, we need to:

  • Set Clear Sustainability Goals
  • Focus on states, cities and communities
  • Promote business innovation
  • Support “Nexus” among government programs
  • Overcome traditional legislative silos in programs
  • Overcome business-government conflict and create effective collaborations and partnerships.
  • Be flexible and innovate within the existing legal framework.
  • Promote innovation in science and technology.
  • Enhance public understanding and support.

We and our partners are meeting those challenges. To learn more and join the discussion, I invite you to attend the Wilson center event in person or by video. For more information, please visit: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/promoting-years-sustainability-responding-to-mega-trends.

About the Authors: Alan D. Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development at EPA. Barb Walton is the Assistant Laboratory Director for the Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Lab.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

This Week in EPA Science

2015 April 10

By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch recap cherry blossoms

Will you be in Washington DC this weekend among the hundreds of thousands of tourists at the National Cherry Blossom Festival?

If so, you’re in luck! Just a short metro ride away is the 11th Annual EPA People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design competition for sustainability. Come to Oronoco Bay Park in Alexandria to take a break from the crowds and see some of these very bright student teams demonstrate their innovative designs.

Read about the competition and more in this week’s Research Recap.

  • Join us for a weekend of innovation
    The EPA P3 Competition is an annual event for teams of graduate and undergraduate students to design solutions for environmental and sustainability challenges. Over 40 teams from colleges and universities across the country will be showcasing their ideas for green technologies and competing for the EPA P3 Award and a Phase II grant of up to $75,000.
    Read more about the competition in the blog post Come See Innovation this Weekend!
  • How Dr. Ken Olden became a “Nifty Fifty”
    As the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, Dr. Ken Olden now has the opportunity to address the issues he’s wanted to change since he was a kid. He recently shared his experience with students at the Capital City Public Charter School as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty (times 4)”.
    Read his story in the blog You Can Make A Difference: How I Became a “Nifty Fifty”.
  • Going above and beyond to track blooms
    EPA has joined NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to use satellite data to monitor algal blooms. The new multi-agency effort will build on previous NASA ocean satellite sensor technologies created to study the global ocean’s microscopic algal communities.
    Read about this exciting new partnership in the blog Tracking Blooms from the Sky.
  • Calling all data miners!
    Nutrient pollution is one the most expensive problems associated with aquatic environments. EPA, with U.S. Geological Survey and Blue Legacy International, has launched a competition looking for talented designers, coders, data scientists, sensor experts, and anyone interested in complex problems to analyze and organize existing nitrogen and phosphorus water pollution data.
    Read more about the competition in the blog Visualizing Our Waters.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

You Can Make A Difference: How I Became a “Nifty Fifty”

2015 April 9

By Ken Olden, Ph.D.

 

EPA "Nifty Fifty" scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

EPA “Nifty Fifty” scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

Is there something in this world that you would like to see changed? Disease, hunger, health care—I believe we all have things we want to change. That desire for change is how I got to the position that I am in today.

I grew up on a farm along the Appalachian Mountains in rural Tennessee, among the worst poverty in the United States. We were poor, hungry, and I didn’t like the environment in which we lived. I looked around my community and I knew that if we wanted something to change, one of us would need to break out and become a leader. So I thought, why not me?

I decided then that I needed to work hard, go to college, and keep going until I acquired the education to become part of the leadership class. I shined shoes before and after school for 15 cents a pair—that’s how I paid for my first year of college.

I started at Knoxville College in 1956 and earned a B.S. in Biology. Then I earned a M.S. in Genetics from the University of Michigan. After that, I earned my Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from Temple University in 1970.

I made history when I became the first African American to direct one of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Today, as the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, I have a platform from EPA, one of the nation’s top environmental and health organizations, for addressing the issues and problems I’ve wanted to see changed since I was a kid.

Picture of Capital City Public Charter School

Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share these experiences with students at the Capital City Public Charter School. I was asked to speak at the school as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty (times 4)” program. The program is linking 200 noted science and engineering professionals with middle schools across the Washington, DC area. My fellow “Niftys” and I are sharing stories about our science and career paths throughout the current school year.

I asked the students if there was anything in the world they would like to see changed. One student wanted to change how people perceive hip-hop. Another wanted equality for women in the workforce. Every student agreed that there was something they wanted to see changed.

My question back to them was: “Why not you?”

You have your lifetime ahead of you to make a difference. Everything that has been discovered to date—it’s all just the beginning! There are just as many possibilities for discovery now as there was when I was in middle school. You can make those discoveries and you can make a difference.

I didn’t like seeing health disparity or people living in unhealthy environments when I was their age, and I wanted to change things. I set out in 1956 to make a difference and at 76, I can say I have lived a good life—I have had the opportunity to make a difference. Now it’s their turn.

About the Author: The Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, Dr. Ken Olden has published extensively in peer-reviewed literature, chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international meetings, and has been an invited speaker at more than 200 symposia.

Dr. Olden has won a long list of honors and awards including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained extraordinary accomplishments, the Toxicology Forum’s Distinguished Fellow Award, the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award, and the National Minority Health Leadership Award. From 1991-2005, he served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.