The EPA Blog The EPA Blog Fri, 04 Sep 2015 18:50:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This Week in EPA Science Fri, 04 Sep 2015 18:50:02 +0000 By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch Recap graphic identifier

It’s unofficially the last weekend of summer so it’s totally acceptable to lounge around for three days, enjoying every last bit of sun. Take advantage by kicking back and relaxing with this week’s Research Recap.

Here’s what we’re highlighting this week.

  • Are Some People More at Risk from Air Pollution?
    Researchers at EPA and Duke University are using a database called CATHGEN to see how factors like age, sex, race, disease status, genetic makeup, socioeconomic status, and where a person lives can put someone at greater risk from the health effects of air pollution. Ongoing studies are expected to provide more answers to the question of whether air pollution may affect people differently.
    Read more about the CATHGEN studies in the blog Are Some People More at Risk from Air Pollution?

  • Small Business Innovation Research
    This week EPA announced almost $2 million for 19 small businesses nationwide to develop and commercialize technologies that tackle critical environmental problems. This year’s projects focus on air and climate, manufacturing, toxic chemicals, water, building materials, and homeland security research. Each of the 19 companies will receive a Small Business Innovation Research Phase I contract of up to $100,000 to develop their green technology.
    Read more about these businesses in this EPA press release.

Photo of the Week

Two people observe researchers demonstrating an application on a screen

Sharing EPA Science-EPA’s Michael Nye and Bob Sachs demonstrate the soon-to-be released Green Infrastructure Wizard (GIWiz), a user-friendly, on-line tool designed to help communities tap the best available data and resources for managing stormwater runoff. The demonstration was part of a “Tools Café” to showcase EPA research and tools, held this week in conjunction with the fall meeting of The Environmental Council of the States.

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.

]]> 0
In My Grandfather’s Footsteps: A Worthwhile Summer Spent at EPA Thu, 03 Sep 2015 19:08:05 +0000 Every summer, EPA brings in students to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. Andrew Speckin’s blog launched this series. Our second blog is by Sara Lamprise, who has worked in our Drinking Water, Water Quality, Wastewater, and Pesticides programs.

By Sara Lamprise

My grandfather and I share the same spirit. He is what I think of as a practical idealist. Softhearted, with a deep love of nature, he is not one to turn a blind eye to struggles. As ever, he continues to shape my sense of ethics and accountability.

When I was younger, he told me that idle worry is a way of avoiding responsibility. I never heard him say, “I wish someone would …” If he thought it needed doing, he did it, which meant he was usually busy.


Sara’s grandfather, Paul Deshotel, on 70th birthday

As an adult, I’ve wanted to be someone my grandfather would respect. I’ve stayed busy, but not always with things I found worth doing. Countless times I thought, “I wish I could …” or “I wish I was qualified to do something else.” Idle thoughts.

I sat on them. And I definitely didn’t tell my grandfather about them.

Meanwhile, I pestered my friends about plastics in the ocean and the erosion of the Gulf coast and fish that change from male to female. It seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I think my friends caught on before I did. Long story short, I decided to change fields. To do that, I needed to go back to school.

I see a need for skilled people who care about others and the environment. So I’m developing the skills to fill that need. I could have spent my summer learning to fetch coffee … probably. But I wanted a worthwhile experience in a positive environment. EPA was my top choice.

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

Sara Lamprise at Myrtle Beach, S.C., summer 2012

I heard that this was a great program, that even as an intern, my work would be relevant and meaningful. I also heard many times that I would be working with great people. Check and check.

Plus, I respect EPA’s strategy. From my perspective, a critical role of EPA is providing the information to make sound environmental decisions. Information can spur action. It can bring about voluntary changes that are enduring and contagious. I know it doesn’t always work that way, and that’s where enforcement comes in. But information is a good Plan A.

Also, I heard tales of a fish grinder that I really want to see in action. Major selling point.

Anyway, I’m stoked. I figure whatever I work on will be time well spent, and something my grandfather will be happy to hear about.

About the Author: Sara Lamprise is working as a Student Intern at EPA Region 7. She is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in environmental science. Sara loves board games, hiking, and any excuse to travel.

]]> 0
Great Lakes Successes – Part 2 Thu, 03 Sep 2015 18:00:47 +0000 We’ve all made remarkable progress in the first five years of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), much of it visible. (see Opinion)

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

The Isle Royale Coaster-Credit Phyllis Green

But behind every official success there are many other successes. Here a few of the unofficial successes that aren’t required for reporting, but are just as important:

  • The Initiative isn’t just about restoration. It’s about protection. Though the agencies don’t plan on removing “restoration” from the Initiative’s name, they understand we have to protect what’s left. Otherwise we’ll be spending much more to restore those things, too. For example, the Initiative has funded work to protect a small population of native coaster brook trout on Isle Royale for its own sake and so that it can be used to restore other populations around Lake Superior. “Thanks to GLRI funding, we are gaining critical information to help restoration efforts,” says Phyllis Green, superintendent at Isle Royale National Park, punctuating the notion that restoration and protection go hand in hand.
  • The Initiative continues to support overburdened and disproportionately impacted communities. For example, in its recent Requests for Applications under the Initiative, we provide extra points for applications that help advance environmental justice, as recommended by the agencies’ Great Lakes Advisory Board. This also helps EPA make good on its commitments under Plan EJ 2014. Check out the most recently-released Requests for Application (RFA). This means projects like the recently-completed Marquette Park Lagoon Stormwater project in Gary, Indiana, will help this important community. This means the agencies will keep cleaning up Areas of Concern, located largely around post-industrialized communities. This means we’ll keep reducing contaminant levels in fish, on which people depend for a food.
  • The Initiative is spending what comes in. This is one indicator that the demand for Initiative support remains high for attacking the most complex, long-standing threats to ecological health. In August, the Government Accountability Office published an examination of the Initiative and confirmed that in fiscal years 2010 through 2014, $1.68 billion of federal funds were made available and as of January 2015, we had allocated nearly all of the $1.68 billion.
  • As important, the Great Lakes community is cooperating in unparalleled ways. Chaired by our Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force of 11 federal departments works with states, tribes, municipalities, environmental groups, business, academia and just about any other interest that helps to restore the Lakes.
Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Marquette Park Lagoon-Banneker Achievement Center

Though there’s still so much more progress needed—a century of abuse doesn’t disappear in five years—there’s little doubt that the first five years of the Initiative have made historic progress.

]]> 0
Safety First! Thu, 03 Sep 2015 13:36:03 +0000 by Virginia Thompson

Stay safe in your local pool.

Stay safe at your local pool.

Swimming at our local pool is one of my favorite summer activities.  As I recently reflected on the accomplishment of logging 1,000 laps annually for nearly a decade, it dawned on me we often don’t give a second thought to the water we’re swimming in.

Ironically, many of us have read the book Safety First to our preschoolers, but we may not think about safety when it comes to ourselves as adults.  This year, my fellow swimmers and I got an unexpected refresher lesson in pool safety.  After a horrific storm in June, our pool was closed for four days because there was no electricity to power the pumps that mix the chemicals to  keep our pool in compliance with our state’s safety standards for swimming pools.

Local social media was abuzz about the pool’s status. Once the electricity came back, pool staff continued pumping the water, and adding appropriate levels of chlorine and other chemicals to ensure the safety of swimmers. When the staff was certain the water could maintain the health standards for a full day and beyond, they allowed us back in the pool.

It was an unfortunate break for those of us trying to earn that recreational swimmer’s badge of honor – the 1,000 lap t-shirt – but no one objected to putting safety first.

Swimming pool staff add chlorine and other chemicals like algicides, to the water to kill bacteria, control algae, and clean the walls and bottom of the pool.  These antimicrobial pesticides, need to be added in Goldilocks quantities  that are “just right” –  with too little chlorine tankstreatment, swimmers can get sick; too much can cause harmful reactions to our skin or lungs from touching, breathing, or drinking the water.

Ever wonder about those chemicals? And, where and how pools keep them?  Because storing chlorine and other potentially dangerous chemicals are  is a serious concern for communities, EPA has resources to help people in our communities such as Local Emergency Planning Committees to make sure that the chemicals are handled, used, and stored safely, and that local responders are well prepared if an emergency occurs.

As I make it a point to get to the pool as often as possible as summer winds down, I know I’ll be thinking about everything that goes into keeping our water safe.


About the author:  Virginia Thompson works for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region and is an avid swimmer.



]]> 0
Are Some People More At Risk from Air Pollution? Thu, 03 Sep 2015 13:16:29 +0000 By Dina Abdulhadi

Rearview mirror during an early morning commute.

A study by researchers from EPA and Duke University reflects how traffic-related air pollution can impact the health of people living in nearby communities.

I’m driving in rush hour traffic, waiting for the slow crawl of cars to reach the speed I would be moving had I biked home. My heart rate rises slightly; it’s a beautiful summer day and I’m thinking of the many things I’d rather be doing than sitting in traffic.

The congestion eventually eases though, and I’m home. I breathe deeply, and my heart rate lowers.

The stress I felt had an immediate but temporary effect on my health. For people who live in communities near these congested roadways, however, traffic can have a longer-term impact on heart health. And even then, air pollution does not affect everyone equally.

A new study suggests that women and African-Americans who live near busy roadways may have a greater risk than their white male counterparts for developing high fasting blood sugar levels, a risk factor for heart disease.

The study used a database called CATHGEN, developed by Duke University. It contains health information on nearly 10,000 people who received cardiac catheterization, a common test for heart disease. Researchers at EPA and Duke University are using the participant’s health data to see how air pollution also affects the progression of heart disease.

A large body of research has connected fine particulate matter, a common air pollutant, to health effects, including heart problems. Many studies have even found that consistent exposure to the same elevated level of air pollution can have a stronger impact on blood glucose for women than men. But the race-related disparity is a new observation, researchers conclude in the study.

This study is one in a series that aims to see how factors like age, sex, race, disease status, genetic makeup, socioeconomic status, and where a person lives can put someone at greater risk from the health effects of air pollution. The knowledge gained through CATHGEN studies can be used to develop public health strategies for protecting those at greater risk from air pollution and to support review of the Air Quality Standards under the Clean Air Act.

Ongoing EPA CATHGEN studies are expected to provide more answers to the question of whether air pollution may affect people differently. In the meantime, read this first CATHGEN study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives and titled, Association of Roadway Proximity with Fasting Plasma Glucose and Metabolic Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in a Cross-Sectional Study of Cardiac Catheterization Patients.

Air pollution most strongly effects those already at risk for heart disease, mainly older adults and those with high blood pressure, cholesterol, or history of heart problems. Though I’m young and healthy, days with higher pollution levels can still make me winded while exercising even if they don’t trigger a heart attack. Reading papers like this reminds me to check the Air Quality Index before planning long summer bike rides and makes me appreciate how important environmental quality is to human health.

About the Author: Dina Abdulhadi is a student contractor working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

]]> 0
Great Lakes Successes Take Front & Center – Part 1 Tue, 01 Sep 2015 18:00:46 +0000 It’s official. The first five years of the precedent-setting Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are history. And the Initiative has made history.

The Initiative is the largest Great Lakes-only investment in restoring and protecting the ecosystem in U.S. history. Recently, the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force chaired by U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent its progress report covering the first five years of the program to Congress and President Obama. Not all such reports inspire you to stand up and cheer, but this one should.

When President Obama proposed the Initiative and a bi-partisan Congress stepped up to fund it, the reason was clear. After more than a century of abuse, the integrity of the ecosystem that comprises some 95 percent of the nation’s fresh surface water—the supply for tens of millions of Americans—was unravelling fast. Decades of projects needed to bring back the health of the ecosystem and fulfill our international obligations with Canada had remained unfunded.

The Initiative changed all that. In the 25 years before the Initiative, only one of the then 31 Areas of Concern—waterfront communities with ecological or health impairments—had been taken off the cleanup list. In the first five years of the Initiative, the Presque Isle Area of Concern (AOC) in Pennsylvania has been taken off the list and cleanup has been completed in five more for ultimate delisting. Waukegan Harbor, once called the “world’s worst Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) mess,” is now a case study in persistent restoration action prevailing over persistent toxic pollution. In other AOCs, people who once thought cleanup would never be completed are now finding hope that it will be completed, and in their lifetime.

Asian carp. Asian carp, which can eat many times their body weight in plankton—one base of the food chain—could further undermine the Great Lakes ecosystem if they ever get in and become established. Within months after my appointment in the summer of 2009, a newer monitoring technique called “environmental DNA” was turning up genetic material from two kinds of Asian carp—silver and bighead—further upstream toward Lake Michigan than previously expected. We used the Initiative, whose first funding came through only months before, to provide emergency funding to plug holes in the permeable Chicago Area Waterway System. That, and tenacious work by representatives from agencies in the United States and Canada, has meant that in the past five years, these equally tenacious fish have not made it to Lake Michigan to become established.

With the shutdown of the Toledo metro area’s water supply from toxic cyanobacteria having taken place a year ago, the thick, almost florescent green growth is a reminder along too many coastlines that phosphorus doesn’t just fertilize crops on land. Too much of it washing downstream fertilizes dangerous algal growth in the water. Under the first five years of the Initiative, the amount of farmland acreage under conservation program management in three priority watersheds—the Maumee and Western Lake Erie Basin, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay watersheds—has increased by more than two thirds from previous levels.

That’s the official report. Check it out at

But if you want to know some of the unofficial successes under the first five years of the Initiative, check out the next post for Part 2.

]]> 0
Reforesting: a new tune for community resiliency Tue, 01 Sep 2015 15:00:22 +0000 Untitled-2

About the author: Carolina Diaz de Villegas is a recent graduate of the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University, where she, Kiara Rodriguez, and Michelle Bravo have been providing technical assistance to the Town of Medley as part of projects developed under EPA’s College/Underserved Community Partnership Program.

As many of you may already know, the Everglades — home to countless native plant and animal species — is not only one of Florida’s greatest treasures, but also the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States. Unfortunately, the Everglades ecosystem faces constant threats from urban and agricultural expansion.

In an effort to shift to a more sustainable way of life, efforts are underway to counteract decades of human driven land use by reforesting the small town of Medley, Florida – one tree at a time.

Medley is home to about 1,100 residents in northwest Miami-Dade County. For nearly 85% of the residents, Spanish is their first language. Residents have to drive several miles to get to the closest grocery store. Medley also is home to approximately 1,800 businesses, bringing the weekday population to nearly 60,000. More than 80% of the city is covered in impervious paving due to this industrial activity. As a result, this largely industrial town has become a food desert with heavy air pollution. An urban food desert typically has plenty of convenience stores, liquor stores, and fast food joints, but little or no access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

With the support of Medley Town Mayor Roberto Martell and EPA’s College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP) , my fellow Florida International University students and I are working with local residents to address these issues.

We began by planting native trees at Medley’s Lakeside Retirement Park. We also planted a variety of native flowers and shrubs near the entrance to attract not only passersby but also pollinators. The change is so dramatic that students have informally dubbed the area the “Medley Botanical Garden.”


Click on picture to watch video

Since education is the key to progress, we worked to help local community members better understand the importance of trees and living a sustainable lifestyle in their urban landscape. My colleague Kiara Rodriguez and I talked about the importance of these principles to kids in the local afterschool care program. We taught them about carbon sequestration, the importance of recycling, and even climate change — a term most had never heard before! We also visited the Community Center during its Saturday food distribution and spoke with the elders about these topics.

This summer, supported by grants from our university, we planted more trees and created two “All-in-One” food gardens. Because much of the land surface around the Medley Lake retirement center is covered by paving and other impervious surfaces, we created an aboveground garden that uses harvested rainwater. We planted several summer crops and are working with the community center to supplement the garden soil with food waste from the cafeteria. The project has many benefits – it produces fresh food for a community in the middle of a food desert, it uses a water-efficient method for watering, and it will reduce food waste by generating compost to supplement the garden.

Here we are standing proudly next to some of our newly planted trees, along with our professor Dr. Tiffany Troxler.

Here we are standing proudly next to some of our newly planted trees, along with our professor Dr. Tiffany Troxler.

My fellow student Michelle Bravo led other volunteers who built a pergola that is a central feature of the developing Medley Botanical Garden. Ms. Bravo is conducting research that showed that a botanical garden could both improve the health of elderly residents and increase carbon sequestration with the new trees planted. In a continued commitment to Medley, other Florida International University students will be working with the town to develop an economic development plan.

By increasing the amount of green mass available for carbon sequestration, we are helping Medley in the ongoing battle against climate change on a local scale, while also increasing awareness about these issues in future generations.

]]> 0
Making Hazardous Waste Regulations Work for Today’s Marketplace Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:00:41 +0000 The pace of technology and change in the modern world can be dizzying. As new medicines and treatments are developed, new types of waste emerge. However, our hazardous waste generator regulations were written in the 1980s and haven’t changed much over the years.
Well, today we’re taking steps toward changing that. I’m excited to announce that we are proposing two rules to provide businesses with the certainty and flexibility they need to successfully operate in today’s marketplace.

Over the last 35 years, we’ve heard from states and the regulated community that our hazardous waste generator regulations, which were designed for manufacturing, don’t fit all sectors and especially not the healthcare sector. We’ve listened and these two proposals make a number of updates and improvements to the existing regulations. We have proposed over 60 changes to the regulations to improve the effectiveness of and compliance with the hazardous waste generator program. This includes rearranging some of the generator regulations that had outgrown their original numbering system so it will be easier for facilities of all sizes that generate hazardous waste to find everything they need to know in one place.

The second rule will make it easier for healthcare providers to comply with hazardous waste rules while protecting the nation’s water. We’re proposing to remove the traditional manufacturing-based hazardous waste generator requirements and instead provide a new set of regulations designed to be workable in a healthcare setting while ensuring safe management and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. The primary focus for nurses, doctors and pharmacists is providing healthcare – they are not experts in hazardous waste identification and management. This rule seeks to reduce the burden and increase compliance by proposing a more flexible, common sense approach for healthcare providers and the elimination of unnecessary management practices.

Pharmaceuticals entering the environment, through flushing or other means, are having a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems and on fish and animal populations. Our proposal is keeping pace with today’s environmental issues by banning the sewering, or flushing down the toilet or sink, of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals from healthcare facilities. It is projected to prevent the flushing of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually making our drinking water safer.

In order to keep our world safe and healthy, regulations should not only effectively manage sources of environmental harm, but also be flexible and clear enough for newcomers to understand. The updates and tailoring of the hazardous waste generator regulations by these two proposed rules increases compliance, which then increases environmental benefit. The new rules respond to the needs of both the environment and businesses, benefitting both sides.

Our proposals will be available for public comment online in the coming weeks once they are published in the Federal Register. We’d love to hear your thoughts. To review these proposed rules now, visit:

]]> 0
A Plug for Trash Free Waters Mon, 31 Aug 2015 16:58:54 +0000 By Annette Poliwka

Ocean samples collected on board the Mystic found plastic throughout the 3,000 mile journey.

Ocean samples collected on board the Mystic found plastic throughout the 3,000 mile journey.

My love of recycling, or better said, my hatred of trash led me to a research expedition through the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, a portion of the Atlantic Ocean that traps man-made debris.

My interest in recycling really began in the 7th grade, when I realized how the newspaper my father read stacked up on the porch until I could carry it to my parochial grade school for recycling. Yes, those were the days when we learned about current events by reading the paper, not our tablets. And those were the days prior to curbside recycling in major cities. I knew there had to be a better way, and I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up: protect the environment. I guess you could say, I’m living my dream.

The 5 Gyres Institute sails around the world collecting samples and conducting analysis of plastic pollution in our oceans. My experience began with a flight to Bermuda where I boarded a 172 foot, three-masted schooner named the Mystic. The boat had already sailed from Miami to the Bahamas, and our final destination was back to New York City! I was in the middle of paradise, along with other “Zero Wasters,” researchers and dedicated environmentalists, collecting samples of plastic pollution and figuring out how to prevent them from getting into the water in the first place.

The research included sampling the sea surface for the 3,000 mile journey. Micro-plastics, which are smaller than a grain of rice, were found in each sample. In the middle of paradise, in the middle of the ocean, and in the middle of the New York City harbor, we were consistently finding plastics. What is often described as an “island of trash,” is more of a “plastic smog.” The sun and waves shred larger pieces of plastics into micro-plastics, which can be a variety of colors and sizes. Fish can’t distinguish between a 3mm piece of plankton and a 3mm piece of plastic. We caught a fish and dissected it, finding plastics in its stomach. This is a human health concern, as plastics can transfer toxins into fish and up the food chain.

A water sample taken this summer in the NYC Harbor contains a wide variety of plastic pollution.

A water sample taken this summer in the NYC Harbor contains a wide variety of plastic pollution.

As we sailed to New York City, the samples of plastics we collected were bigger and more easily identifiable than what we found in the open ocean. This makes sense, as 80 percent of the plastics in our oceans are land-based, and it takes time to break down into micro-plastics. The samples also stunk of sewage!

Our use of plastics affects our waterways, the fish we eat and the general health of our oceans. Researchers have found that experiences, rather than material consumption, make people happy. So rather than buying the next new gadget, spend time doing something interesting, with someone you love. Your wallet and our oceans will be happier, too.

We can all help prevent waste by buying less and reusing what we have. If you live in New York City, recycle with the blue and green bins. Compost with the brown bin, or bring food scraps to Green Markets all around the city, year-round.

]]> 0
This Week in EPA Science Fri, 28 Aug 2015 20:26:11 +0000 By Kacey Fitzpatrickresearch recap with birthday cake

Happy birthday Research Recap! This weekly blog series turned 1 today—celebrate by reading below for the latest in EPA science.

  • Air Sensor Toolbox for Citizen Scientists
    Small, hand-held air quality sensors are now commercially available and provide citizens the ability to plan, conduct, and understand local environmental air quality as never before. EPA released training videos to share tools used to conduct projects involving this technology and to educate interested groups and individuals about best practices for successful air monitoring projects.Read more about the training in the blog Release of Community Air Monitoring Training Videos.

  • Virtual Beach software making an impact
    Virtual Beach is a software suite that uses location, hydrology, land use, wave height, and weather data to create models that predict waterborne pathogen outbreaks at beaches.  Using this software, beach managers should be able to issue same-day beach closures or health advisories to protect the health of swimmers and the surrounding community.  On August 24, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researcher reported that Virtual Beach recently correctly predicted an outbreak at a city beach. It helped the city issue a timely advisory, and avoid unnecessary advisories.Read the full story in the article ‘Virtual Beach’ for real-water safe fun.

Photo of the Week

diver hands samples up to people on boat

Dive tenders Lisa Macchio and Tim Siwiec take solid phase microextraction devices from EPA diver Brent Richmond at the Pacific Sound Resources Superfund site. EPA divers placed and retrieved these devices which absorb site contaminants over a period of time to determine if the cleanup is working.

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.

]]> 0