Green Heart: Will you be mine?

By Aaron Ferster

As a husband and the father of two girls, I am a big fan of Valentine’s Day. The cards. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Flowers. Maybe even an evening glass of bubbly (or two) once the kids are in bed.  Looking around the crowded metro car on my way to work this morning, it was obvious I’m not the only one. More than a few folks were carrying bouquets, or boxes filled with velvet-icing-topped cupcakes. And everyone was wearing red.

It’s no wonder that public health organizations across the country have picked February—the month marked by Valentine’s Day—to make wearing red a reminder of the importance of heart health. American Heart Month is a call to action to raise awareness about what we all can do to prevent heart disease, the country’s number one cause of death for men and women.

There is a growing awareness of several simple, important steps we can take in that regard: don’t smoke, get regular exercise, and watch our diets.

EPA researchers and their partners have illuminated links between environmental factors, specifically air pollution, and heart disease. Theirs’ and others’ studies show that exposure to air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes, especially for those people with cardiovascular disease.

To help spread the word about these findings and actions people can take to lower their health risks, EPA recently launched the Green Heart initiative.  For example, one important action is to regularly check the Air Quality Index (AQI) forecast for your community. AQI is EPA’s color-coded tool for showing air quality, illustrating how clean or polluted your local air is. It also provides recommendations for steps to reduce your exposure, such as:

  • If you  have heart disease, are an older adult, or have other risk factors for heart disease, take steps to reduce your exposure when the AQI forecast is at code orange or above. These can include reducing your activity level (for example, walk instead of jog), exercising indoors, or postponing your workout or other activity for when the air quality is better.
  • Avoid exercising near busy roads if possible. (This is always a good idea.)
  • And most critical, if you feel symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, stop and seek medical help immediately!

While the Agency, states and tribes are taking actions to reduce air pollution by moving ahead with stronger emission controls on vehicles and industry and more protective air quality standards, there are steps people can take to reduce their own risks from air pollution.

Helping spread the word about what we can do to promote a healthier environment for our own hearts and those of our loved ones is a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. While I won’t skip picking up a box of chocolate on the way home, next year I think I’ll wear green!

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and the editor of “It All Starts with Science.”

Learn more!

Green Heart Initiative at http://www.epa.gov/greenheart/.
Follow us on Twitter at @EPAresearch

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

American Heart Month: Taking Action to Protect Our Health

February is American Heart Month! To help spread the word about heart health, EPA scientists and staff will write each week about the Agency’s Green Heart effort to educate the public about of the connection between air pollution and your heart. Be sure to check back each week to learn more, and for tips on what you can do to stay healthy!

By Wayne E. Cascio, MD

It’s February and Heart Month has arrived and with it a reminder to think about what we can all do to stay well and keep our hearts healthy. As a cardiologist, the month-long focus on the heart gives me a great opportunity to share information with my patients—and now hopefully with anyone who reads this blog—on how they can protect their hearts. It also reminds me to think about the things I do that can hurt or help my heart.

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. for men and women. Less than one percent of Americans have ideal heart health and about 26.5 million have some type of heart disease.

But there are things we can do both individually and collectively to help our hearts. The Global Burden of Disease 2010 study recently published in the medical journal The Lancet describes 67 key factors affecting disability and death in North America. Among the top 20 risk factors, 19 are directly related to individual behavioral or lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise or smoking; or the consequences of those choices.

The remaining risk factor in the top 20 is not associated with individual lifestyle choices, but is more a consequence of our collective actions, namely what we do as a society that leads to air pollution. Air particle pollution (also known as soot) in particular is ranked as the 14th most important.

While in general we have little personal control over air pollution where we live, work and play, there are things we have done as a society that can have lasting positive impacts. The Clean Air Act, for example.

The Act strives to ensure that all Americans are breathing healthy air.  Research by EPA and others shows that improved air quality leads to healthier and longer lives. And thanks in large part to that research, the Agency recently strengthened the annual health standard for fine particle pollution (PM2.5)  (from 15 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter) to  make our air cleaner and healthier.

While EPA continues to work to keep your air clean, there are steps you can take to reduce your personal exposure to air pollutants. For one, don’t smoke and avoid the smoke of others. Second, if you have heart disease consult the Air Quality Index (AQI) as part of your daily routine. The index provides information on air quality and how to avoid unhealthy exposures when air pollutants are high. Simple things like limiting or avoiding exercise outside during high pollution days can help to protect your health and your heart.

So keep in mind during this month of the heart, healthy lifestyle choices including a healthy diet and regular exercise, keeping an eye on your local air quality report, and supporting actions to support clean air are all things we can do for a healthy heart.

About the Author: Cardiologist Wayne E. Cascio, MD is the Director of EPA’s Environmental Public Health Division, a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio’s research explores the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

For more Information:

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

They Are Not “Little Adults”

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

When I look at children today, they seem to be more advanced for their age. I’ve seen it in my own children. Even judging from my youngest who is now almost 11, many times she says things that are so insightful that show a wisdom well beyond her years.  I also marvel to see how children nowadays embrace technology with gusto. While I’m at step one trying to decipher the latest electronic gadget, my children usually are ten steps ahead of me. I’m not exaggerating.

So, while we often find children more precocious at an early age, this does not mean that we should treat them as “little adults.” In fact, their bodies are still developing. Consequently, they are more vulnerable to environmental risks. They breathe more air, drink and absorb more water and nutrients in proportion to their size and weight. Therefore, any exposure to chemicals and contaminants will have a greater impact on their developing organs and bodies. That applies to the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the area where they play and learn.

During the month of October, we celebrate Children’s Health Month to increase awareness on how we can better protect our children from environmental risk factors where they live and play. So, what can you do to protect children from environmental risks?

Let’s start with some tips to protect children in the area where we have the most control, our home.

  • Keep household chemicals and pesticides out of the reach of children to prevent poisonings
  • Read the label first when applying pesticides, household products, and medications, too
  • If you live in a home built before 1978, test your home for lead
  • Wash your children’s hands before they eat, wash their bottles, pacifiers and toys often

When your children go outside to school or to play, protect them from too much sun by having them wear hats and protective clothing. Children after six months may use sunscreen with SPF 15 or more. Apply it generously and often. If they have asthma, check the air quality index before they go outside. Learn about their asthma triggers to reduce their asthma attacks. Make sure they have an asthma action plan.

With these simple steps, you can ensure that your children will have a healthier environment during Children’s Health Month and year round.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Enjoying Outdoor Activities Safely

By Lina Younes

As many families across the United States and Puerto Rico are getting ready for the unofficial kickoff of summer activities, there are some things to keep in mind to stay safe and healthy.

First of all, whether you are going to the beach, going camping, engaging in sports, gardening, or simply walking outside, remember to protect yourself from the sun and its powerful ultraviolet rays! Even on cloudy days, those powerful UV rays can harm you. So, what should you do before enjoying the outdoors this weekend or any day of the year? First check your UV ray index.  Two, put on sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Remember to reapply it every two hours and even more frequently if you have been in the water. Also, you should wear a hat, protective clothing, and sunglasses.

If you are prone to allergies or you have asthma, it is a good idea to check the air quality index in your community. If there is a higher level of air pollutants in your area at a certain time or you belong to one of the sensitive groups, try to limit your outdoor activities until the AQI improves

Are you planning a trip to the beach? Check out our new interactive tool to monitor the water quality at beaches called BEACON 2.0. You will find updated information on local beaches for the lower 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, the US territories and tribes.

While you’re engaging in outdoor activities, there is another thing to keep in mind. What do you do to prevent insect bites? Well, apply insect repellents to your exposed skin and clothing as indicated on the product label. Don’t apply this product to eyes or mouth. Don’t let children handle the repellents either. You should apply it for them.

And after having fun under the sun, remember to reduce waste and whenever possible recycle.

So do you have any big plans for this Memorial Day weekend? Planning any green activities? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Walking Today for a Healthier Tomorrow

By Lina Younes

As I mentioned in an earlier blog this year, I had decided that 2012 was the year that I was going to incorporate healthier habits into my daily living. I have not only made a conscious effort to eating healthier, but I definitely have become more active. So when I got an email at work about a “Walk to Wellness” event, I immediately signed up for it.

Just last week, we had our Walk to Wellness event at EPA in collaboration with other federal agencies. Over 100 employees came together to enjoy some outdoor activities and walk. We had a nice 1.5 mile route established for us from EPA headquarters, through the Ellipse, near the White House, and back. Although there was a possibility of rain, we were lucky to have an overcast day with temperatures that were just right. Not too hot, not too cold, just perfect for a nice walk.

Walking is an excellent way to get energized without having to go to the gym. You can actually walk anywhere. Since I’ve been trying to increase my daily activities, I got a pedometer to measure my progress. I look for any opportunity to just get up and walk. Need some suggestions? How about walking over to your colleague two cubes down to ask a question instead of simply shooting an email? How about going up or down a flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator? Once you take simple actions like this, you realize that those steps start adding up.

If you’re going to engage in outdoor activities, remember to check the Air Quality Index. Even when it’s overcast, use sunblock or a hat to protect yourself from dangerous UV rays. You can even check out the UV index forecast in your community to reduce the risk of overexposure while exercising outdoors.

It’s all part of getting healthier. Have you done anything special to become more active lately?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Lessons from Wildfires and Air Pollution

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Martha Sue Carraway

I grew up in the eastern part of North Carolina, near the coastal area and the Great Dismal Swamp. This is home to wide open spaces, long views, and clean air. During a visit Down East this past weekend, I was sitting indoors watching an icy rain fall. But just the day before, spring was everywhere, with new buds and green sprouts widely present. Spring does come a bit earlier down here than in my adopted home in the Triangle. It’s a good place to start my piece on the Green Hearts Campaign.

I began working at the EPA Human Studies Facility in 2007, and was happy to have a job that would allow me to use my background in medicine (I am a lung doctor) and science to study how air pollution harms people by affecting the cardiovascular system. Near the end of my first year, in June 2008, a very large wildfire broke out in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. This was the first of a number of significant fires in eastern North Carolina over the past years, and they seem to be increasing. Smoke from this low burning, smoldering fire cast a haze over the clean skies of eastern North Carolina.

PamlicoSoundsunriseImagine my excitement when scientists at the Clinical Research Branch came together with investigators across EPA to study the health impacts this fire was having on the residents who lived nearby. Because I was away for a few days for my parents 50th wedding anniversary during the planning, I narrowly missed the chance to have an air pollution monitor sited in my home town of Windsor! I enjoyed participating in this project and gathering data about the frequency of emergency department visits during the time of the fire. We found that in areas heavily affected by the wildfire smoke, people were more likely to go to hospital Emergency Departments to seek treatment for symptoms of heart failure and respiratory problems. We hope that some of the lessons learned from this fire will help keep people safer during future fire events. It is rewarding to know that the work we do at EPA impacts people near my home. I am happy that my parents and friends have learned about the air quality index that can help inform them when the air is not healthy anywhere in the USA.

About the author: Martha Sue Carraway is a Pulmonologist and works as a Medical Officer and Principal Investigator at the U.S .EPA Clinical Research Branch, Environmental and Public Health Division, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Find out more about our study of the Pocosin Refuge wildfire

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Science Wednesday: Exercise? Oh yeah

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection.Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Susan Stone

Do I need to exercise? You bet. We all do, because exercise is so important for health. I especially need to exercise to get my weight into a healthy range. That additional weight, and my mild asthma, puts me at greater risk from air pollution. And eventually, my age will add to that risk.

People with asthma are at greater risk from exposure to ozone. It can cause difficulty breathing and make them more likely to respond to asthma triggers, like pets, that may not normally cause a reaction. Particle pollution can aggravate asthma, too. It also can trigger heart attacks, stroke and irregular heart rhythms, all of which I want to avoid. And the risk of a heart attack or stroke starts to go up at age 45 in men and 55 in women. So I want to minimize my air pollution exposure, for several reasons. But I really need that exercise at the same time.

Figuring out how to get that exercise and reduce exposure to air pollution can be a challenge. So checking the Air Quality Index (AQI) has become part of my daily routine.

Here’s what I do. I love to take walks in my neighborhood. It’s a pretty walk, with hills and a pond. My normal route is a couple of miles in the shape of a figure eight. The middle of the eight is closest to my home. On days when ozone levels are high, I’ve noticed that sometimes I get what feels like a stitch in my side that makes breathing painful. It doesn’t go away even when I get warmed up. So when ozone levels are high, I take it easier. If I get to the midpoint of the figure eight and feel good, I keep going. If the stitch in my side is there, I pack it in and go home or exercise indoors.

Ozone levels typically are lower indoors, but particle levels can be high even inside. So if the AQI indicates that particle pollution levels are in the unhealthy ranges, or if I smell smoke, I’ll go exercise at a gym, or take a walk through the buildings at work. But even though I’m indoors, I take it easier and pay attention to any symptoms.

Exercise? Oh yeah. It’s important for good health, and it’s a great stress-reliever. And with a little planning, you can exercise outdoors, even if you’re considered at greater risk from air pollution. Even if you’re not, check the AQI every day. It’s a healthy habit.

About the author: Susan Stone is an Environmental Health Scientist and likes to walk in her neighborhood every day, weather permitting. She checks the AQI on her computer, but you also can download a free app for iPhones and Android phones. Visit Airnow to find out how.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Go Red and Now Green for Heart Month

By Wayne Cascio

Since 2004, when the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign began, the arrival of February has always renewed my commitment as a cardiologist to educate my patients and the public about the steps they can take to prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Go Red has produced measurable gains in the public’s knowledge about heart disease among women and men. Yet, did you know that over 800,000 still die in the U.S. each year from heart disease?

Most of us now know that we can reduce our risk from heart disease by eating a healthy diet, remaining physically active, not smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and taking aspirin when appropriate. Yet there is another risk factor that many may not have considered: air pollution. That brings in the Green Heart for February.

Exposure to air particle pollution affects heart and blood vessel health adversely and causes deaths. The good news is that falling air pollution levels over the past 30 years correlate with increased longevity. Still, exposure to air pollutants, particularly among those most vulnerable, continues to contribute to at least 40,000 deaths from heart disease in the U.S. each year. So, 5% or more of heart disease deaths are possibly related to air pollution exposure.

Now, as a researcher at EPA, I am involved in a different way to address heart disease than during my practice to treat patients. EPA researchers are studying the impacts of air pollution on our health with a focus on those with heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. These studies have and are advancing our understanding of the health risks of air pollutants and who is most vulnerable to them.

Research and public education are important in the fight against heart disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and their partners launched a national initiative called Million Hearts™ to decrease heart attacks and strokes by 1 million over the next five years. To support and complement this effort, EPA initiated the Green Heart campaign to increase awareness among public and health professionals and individuals that air pollution is a risk for those with heart disease.

By adopting a heart healthy lifestyle, managing high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, stopping smoking and using aspirin when appropriate, and checking daily air quality, a significant public health benefit can be achieved.

A very valuable tool for helping to monitor your daily risk to air pollution is EPA’s Air Quality Index. You can also learn more about environmental risk factors and steps to decrease exposure and risk in educational materials prepared by EPA.
I hope that you will share this red and green valentine message with a friend or loved one and help to save a life from heart attack.

About the author: Wayne Cascio, MD is the Director of the Environmental Public Health Division of NHEERL, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Cascio is a cardiologist and environmental health scientist studying the effects of air pollution on the heart and blood vessels.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Leave the Car!!!

bakeLast month, I challenged myself to lower my carbon footprint so I decided to work out my first big step: overcoming car dependency.  I live in the San Juan metropolitan area, where you have everything so near that sometimes using the car is ridiculous.  First of all, I tuned up my old bike and skateboard.  I started going almost everywhere with them:  grocery store, drugstore, university, concerts, and even on Friday nights hanging out with my friends.  I used my car only to go to work, because the distance between work and my apartment is significant.   But I realize that other options where available, like the bike/train program, which gave me the opportunity to use the train with my bike and cut a run of approximately 45 minutes to one of 10 minutes to work.   Unfortunately, it was no easy feat.  Here in Puerto Rico the infrastructure to support the use of bicycles is almost zero.  Even though, there are many recreational cyclists here, there is still a lot to be learned about promoting the use of the bicycle as transportation means.  While we have a local Cyclist Bill of Rights, it is not enforced all the time.  Cyclists, recreational or not, are a big group, and agencies need to provide the necessary infrastructure to guarantee our safety.

We all know that cars & trucks are among the largest sources of air pollution.  Vehicles emit about one-third of all volatile organic compounds and half of the nitrogen oxides and air toxics that contribute to poor air quality.  They release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and known contributor to climate change.

Our Agency has taken various steps to help employees reduce their impact on the environment. EPA offers its employees a Transit Subsidy which is an excellent way to promote the use of mass transportation.  Also programs like Flexiplace, Alternate Work Locations and Compressed Work Schedules give us the opportunity to limit or eliminate our commute days, thus lowering our carbon footprint.
For now, I am working towards becoming car independent.  I strive to lower my carbon footprint by making this and other changes in my daily routine.  While I am changing my life, I am improving my health and contributing to making Earth a better place.

About the author: Alex Rivera joined EPA in 2007.  He works as an environmental engineer in the Municipal Waters Division of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Air Quality Awareness Week: Thanks, George

About the author: Alison Davis is Senior Adviser for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards in Research Triangle Park, NC.

With our weather in North Carolina getting suddenly hot, I’ve been thinking more about how air quality affects my daily plans. And I realized that I’d never learned the nitty-gritty of what goes in to that “Code Orange” forecast I get when air quality is expected to worsen.

image of George Bridgers, AQI forcaster, sitting at desk with his computerSo the other day, I stopped by the N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to see George. George (his last name is Bridgers) is one of four meteorologists at the DAQ who issue the daily air quality forecasts that tell me whether ozone levels might make me wheeze – or whether I’m in the clear.

From what I’ve picked up during my years at EPA, I know that forecasters at state and local agencies nationwide use weather models, information on pollution and their own experience to predict the next day’s ozone and particle pollution levels. So I went to see George figuring a forecast would take just an hour or two.

Boy, was I wrong.

“It starts from the moment I wake up,” George told me. “Are there storms I didn’t expect? Is the wind blowing? Is it sunny?”

Turns out George doesn’t just issue the next day’s forecast; he also spends time checking to see if yesterday’s forecast held overnight. If anything changed — weather conditions being the most likely — he might need to issue an update. Plus, what happened yesterday affects air quality tomorrow. During a period of stagnant weather, for example, pollution can build up over several days – and the forecast can go from yellow to orange to red.

Once George is satisfied that yesterday’s forecast was good, he starts looking at a long list of tools to develop tomorrow’s forecast. Weather forecast models. Satellite images. Air monitoring data. Models that estimate how pollution travels on the air. It’s an impressive list that reminds that me of just how much the nearly 300 air quality forecasters across the country have to understand in order issue AQI forecasts every day.

But I’m most struck by George’s dedication. He still remembers sweating it out over a code purple forecast he issued years ago, for example – and how worried he was about getting it right.

So when you check your air quality forecast (and you will, right?), know that in nearly every state, there are people like George, using science, experience and dedication to help you protect your health.

April 27 – May 1 is Air Quality Awareness Week.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.