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.

ROE graphic 1

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:

ROE graphic 2

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).

 

 

 

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.

Changing Times: EPA’s Report on National Trends

By Gaelle Gourmelon

Some things in my childhood memories look different when I revisit them as an adult. That tall slide in the playground? It’s really only four feet high. The endless summer bike rides to the beach? They now take ten minutes. Sometimes, however, things seem different because they’ve actually changed. I recently went to a favorite childhood beach and saw that the dock was now stranded in the water, no longer reachable from the beach. Undeniable evidence of the changing coast.

But what evidence do we have to observe real changes over time when it comes to our national environment? What data can we use to determine if our environment has meaningfully changed?

To help answer these questions, EPA released the draft Report on the Environment 2014 (ROE 2014) for public comment in March, and it will undergo external peer review on July 30-31, 2014.

The ROE 2014 is not an intimidating, technical tome; it is an interactive website, full of national-level environmental and health indicators and is designed to make it easier to find information on national environmental trends. It’s not a giant, unwieldy database. Rather, it’s a summary of important indicators that paints a picture of how our environment is changing.

Why use indicators?

Just like having a high temperature indicates you are sick, environmental indicators help us understand the health of the environment. ROE indicators are simple measures that track the state of the environment and human health over time.

For example, if we want to understand the nation’s air quality, we can measure indicators such as lead emissions, acid deposition, and particulate matter concentrations to give us clues about overall changes. These indicators can help us make informed decisions about conditions that may otherwise be difficult to measure.

Report on the Environment

An exhibit for the acid deposition indicator gives us a clue about the changes in the quality of outdoor air in the US.

 

What’s included in the Report on the Environment?

Data for the ROE indicators come from many sources, including federal and state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations. EPA brought together scientists and other experts to determine what data are accurate, representative, and reliable enough to be included. With feedback from the public and our partners, we selected 86 indicators that help to answer questions about air, water, land, human health and exposure, and ecological condition. The ROE 2014 also includes new indicators on aspects of sustainability.

Why do we need the Report on the Environment?

EPA designed the ROE to help answer mission-relevant questions and help us track how we’re doing in meeting environmental goals. But because the ROE 2014 is an easy-to-use, interactive website, scientists, decision-makers, educators, and anyone who is curious about the environment and health can view the most up-to-date national (and sometimes regional) data, too. The ROE shows trends and sets up baselines where trend data do not yet exist. It also highlights gaps where we don’t have reliable indicators.

How can I participate in the external peer review meeting?

EPA is committed to proactively engaging stakeholders, increasing transparency, and using the best available science. By releasing the draft ROE 2014 for public comment and peer review, we benefit from stakeholder and scientific engagement to support the best conclusions possible. The draft ROE 2014 website will be reviewed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board in a public meeting on July 30-31, 2014. For additional meeting details, visit the July 11, 2014 Federal Register Notice and the SAB meeting website.

How can I stay connected with the ROE?

Everyone can use the ROE to inform their discussions of environmental conditions and related policies in the U.S. The information it provides helps you understand your environment, and encourages you to ask more questions about your environment and health. Now, it’s time to investigate. Things might have changed more than you think.

Sign up to be notified about the upcoming release of the final Report on the Environment 2014; you can also receive periodic updates and highlights.

About the author: Gaelle Gourmelon was an Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Fellow working on EPA’s Report on the Environment project from September 2012 through May 2014. Her background in biology and environmental health has fueled her passion for reconnecting people with their natural and built environment.

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.