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Science Bite Podcasts
Science Bite is a podcast series that describes the role EPA plays in advancing scientific research. These podcasts highlight the ways that EPA uses science to inform regulatory policy and protect human health and the environment.
- Following the Smoke: Wildfires and Health
September 1, 2015
Learn about EPA's wildfire research and how studying smoke enhances our understanding of health effects. Listen to the podcast:(2 min, 30 sec, 3 MB, MP3)
Wildfires, especially in the West, are becoming more frequent and more severe as a result of rising temperatures and drought conditions brought on by climate change. EPA researchers are studying the smoke from wildfires to improve our understanding of their health effects. Research results can be used by public health officials and others to help reduce and prevent health problems related to breathing in wildfire smoke.
A study on the 2008 North Carolina peat wildfire provided valuable first clues as to what happens to residents living near a wildfire. Researchers found an increased incidence of hospital visits for heart problems as well as breathing problems related to lung diseases. They also found that more people went to the hospital for treatment in counties with lower socio-economic status.
The impacts of wildfire smoke on heart and lung health are being investigated by Dr. Ian Gilmour and colleagues. They found that there was something unique about the smoke during the wildfire.
“We found that the air pollution particles during the wildfire event were more toxic than particles collected after the fire was controlled. This type of research allows us to compare the health risks of smoke versus other air pollution sources which ultimately can guide public health messaging during wildfire episodes.”
EPA researchers were able to simulate how a warning advisory might impact the health and economic repercussions of wildfires. They found that if people respond to advisories it can protect their health and significantly reduce the economic cost of wildfires that result from hospital visits, productivity losses and mortality. The team is currently working to adapt this model to other wildfire outbreaks.
With new grants from the Department of Interior, EPA scientists are also exploring whether different types of wood and burning conditions create different toxic effects. For example – they are looking at whether smoke from fast burning chaparral brush fires in Southern California is more toxic than smoldering smoke from conifers in the Pacific Northwest.
For more information on the work EPA is doing to protect human health and the environment from wildfires, visit http://bit.ly/epa-wildfires, and be sure to keep listening to EPA Science Bite!
- Clean Cookstove Research
July 6, 2015Learn about EPA's cookstove research, which helps address the public health and environmental impacts of cooking with solid fuels like wood. Listen to the podcast: (2 min, 28 sec, 2 MB, MP3)
The use of open fires and traditional cookstoves to prepare meals is common in less economically developed areas of the world. These cookstoves are fueled by wood, charcoal, dung, coal, and other organic materials that produce harmful air pollutants when burned.
“About 2.8 billion people, including some Native Tribes in the U.S., are still cooking with either open fires or rudimentary stoves. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people die prematurely every year due to household air pollution – mainly from cookstove smoke. To put that into perspective, that's more premature deaths than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.”
That’s Jim Jetter, a researcher at EPA who tests different types of cookstoves by measuring their emissions and energy efficiency. The impact of cookstoves expands beyond health. Use of wood as a cooking fuel can contribute to deforestation in some regions, while the black carbon emitted from these fires contributes to the warming of the climate.
At the EPA laboratory in Research Triangle Park, N.C., cookstoves and solar cookers undergo rigorous testing to support the advancement of cleaner technologies and the development of international standards for cookstove performance.
EPA is also funding research at universities to evaluate how clean cookstove technologies can improve health and the environment as well as to investigate the best strategies for encouraging adoption of cleaner cookstoves and fuel. Bryan Bloomer coordinates this research to make sure the pieces fit together.
“This effort unites scientific experts from EPA and universities around the world to create solutions that better protect cookstove users, their families and the environment.”
EPA collaborates with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, governments, industry, and other organizations globally to help change the way people cook worldwide. The goal: to save lives, protect fragile ecosystems and take action on climate change. To learn more about EPA’s cookstove research, visit http://www2.epa.gov/air-research/clean-cookstove-research. And be sure to keep listening to the EPA Science Bite.
- Measuring Air Quality with a Village Green Park Bench
May 12, 2015Learn about EPA's Village Green Project, a new initiative to help communities learn more about their local air quality. Listen to the podcast: (2 min, 20 sec, 2 MB, MP3)
How can a park bench measure air quality? Well if it’s part of EPA’s Village Green Project, the bench houses next generation air quality monitoring technology that’s tiny in size, but large in capability. Hidden inside the bench are air quality and weather instruments, a miniature computer processor, and wireless communications equipment, while on the bench’s roof, a solar panel and wind turbine provide the power that makes it all work. The end result: a unique bench that does some pretty extraordinary things.
The Village Green Project is an EPA initiative to put science in the hands of citizens by making local air quality information readily available. The Village Green stations measure two common air pollutants -- ozone and fine particle pollution. The bench also measures weather conditions. The data is posted every minute to a public web page, allowing people who visit the stations to access the data online using their smartphones.
The first Village Green bench has been operating since 2013 outside of a public library in Durham, North Carolina, and has produced a steady stream of data for use by teachers, citizen scientists, researchers and others. Additional Village Green benches are being introduced into more communities this year with the support of state and local partners to further test this unique air monitoring system under different environmental conditions and provide more opportunities for communities to learn about local air quality.
Dr. Gayle Hagler is one of the engineers that helped design and build the Village Green bench.
"We see these stations as allowing for new data to be collected in places where it would be hard to put in power systems. We see this as an enormous step from what tools we’ve had in our toolbox for air monitoring historically. We’re envisioning that students could be able to use the data in science projects, community members would have more information on local air pollution issues and this small park bench would be a place where scientists and community members could come together."
Find out more about the Village Green Project and these pollution-sensing park benches on the web at: epa.gov/villagegreen and be sure to keep listening to EPA’s Science Bite.
- Connecting Climate Change, Electricity and Water Resources (with MARKAL)
Listen to learn how scientists at EPA are exploring the connection between climate change and two things we rely on to power our everyday lives: water and electricity. Listen to the podcast: (2 min, 13 sec, 2 MB, MP3)
Today we are going to talk about how scientists at EPA are exploring the connections between electricity production, climate change, and water resources.
One thing that most people probably don’t realize is that electric power plants use a lot of water to produce energy. In fact, electricity generation accounts for about 45% of withdrawals from rivers, lakes, and streams in the U.S. That makes generation of electricity the largest demand on the nation’s fresh water supply. Now here’s the connection: as climate change affects weather patterns, especially in areas subject to drought like the Southwest, changes in water resources could become a challenge for energy production in the future.
EPA scientists use a computer model called MARKAL to study how energy and water are connected. The model allows them to peer 30-40 years into the future to study possible ways that we might produce and use energy if technologies and policies change. Dr. Rebecca Dodder, an EPA scientist working on the project explains why this is so important:
“The model helps us explore future water and climate challenges related to electricity production. We can look at different mixes of fuels and technologies for generating electricity, then test cost-effective strategies that can both reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and also reduce the amount of water needed by the electric sector. A good example would be renewables like wind power, which use no water for their day-to-day operations.
Because water and electricity are both essential to our everyday lives, it is important to consider how the use of one can impact the other. As the climate changes, this connection could influence the future of energy production in the United States.
Continue to explore research related to Air, Climate and Energy by visiting www2.epa.gov/research and be sure to keep listening to EPA’s Science Bite!
- DIY Air Quality Monitoring
Learn about how EPA supports citizen scientists and those using low-cost, next generation air sensor technology. Listen to the podcast: (2 min, 14 sec, 1.5 MB, MP3)
Podcast transcript: Welcome to the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Bite. Today we'll be talking about DIY Air Quality Monitoring.
One of EPA's primary responsibilities is to protect the air we breathe and the environment from poor air quality conditions.
With the average adult breathing over 3,000 gallons of air a day, it's important to know what's in that air and what may threaten its quality.
Communities and citizen scientists want to know more about their local air quality, where they live, work and play. New air sensor technology, both low in cost and now available for the individual consumer to purchase, is becoming a popular way to learn more about air quality. EPA has developed the Air Sensor Citizen Science Toolbox - a set of resources and tools to help you collect accurate information about the air quality around you. Dr. Ron Williams is one of the lead scientists that worked on developing the toolbox.
"The Toolbox provides technical resources as well as information about the scientific basis for next generation air monitoring and key tools that are freely available to all."
The Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox along with its full suite of resources can be found online by visiting B-I-T-DOT-L-Y-SLASH-airsensorstoolbox Exit. To learn more about the latest EPA science tools and tips, keep listening to the EPA Science Bite!
- Bio-Response Operational Testing and Evaluation (BOTE)
Learn about EPA’s BOTE research project, which is designed to support efforts to respond effectively to public health disasters. Listen to the podcast: (1 min, 16 sec, 1.1 MB, MP3)
Podcast transcript: Welcome to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Minute. When a public health disaster strikes, it may be too late to figure out who knows what and what authorities should do.
That’s why an EPA-led exercise called the Bio-Response Operational and Testing Evaluation, or BOTE, was so important. The project brought together six federal agencies to contain a mock anthrax outbreak in an office building. The two-phase exercise included a forensic investigation, a public health assessment, and clean-up.
Shawn Ryan of the EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center says BOTE forced people to work together.
“The biggest thing about the BOTE project is that it was a shining example of the benefit of putting together multidisciplinary teams to develop solutions for complex environmental challenges. …it really broke the mold or the stove pipe model of researchers working on research in the lab and trying to transition those products to practitioners or operational assets in the field.”
The Agency also tested new de-contamination methods, and developed a new software tool to help future teams make better decisions when a real-world outbreak happens.
- Stormwater Calculator
Discover what EPA’s new online Stormwater Calculator tool can teach you about green infrastructure, reducing stormwater pollution and saving money. Listen to the podcast: (1 min, 11 sec, 1.1 MB, MP3)
Podcast transcript: Welcome to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Minute. Architects or builders who want to know how much stormwater will run off their site can either guess, or pay a consultant. But a new EPA tool is providing an easier and cheaper solution with a few online clicks.
The EPA stormwater calculator allows users to see how adding different kinds of “green” infrastructure can cut stormwater pollution. That’s according to Michael Tryby of the Agency’s Urban Watershed Management Branch.
“Its designed to allow you to do a comparison; of a do-nothing scenario just leaving your site the way that it is, or installing about half a dozen different low-impact stormwater controls.”
Tryby says the calculator also projects runoff under future climate conditions. The next step is to add a financial cost estimator, and integrate the calculator with existing builder software programs. The new calculator is already saving builders money, while showing the benefits of reducing stormwater pollution.
- Coral Reef Health
Find out how EPA’s science-based process merges environmental, social and economic concerns to address the health of a coral reef at Guánica Bay in Puerto Rico. Listen to the podcast: (1 min, 31 sec, 1.4 MB, MP3)
Podcast transcript: Welcome to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Minute. A new science-based process is helping protect a vital coral reef, while giving local residents more power to save jobs and livelihoods at the same time.
The reef at Guanica Bay in southwest Puerto Rico is threatened by soil erosion from nearby farms that smothers the coral, promotes harmful algae growth and destroys marine life. A dying reef also affects the local tourism and fishing industries. But solutions aren’t easy. That’s why EPA researchers used a structured decision-making process to merge environmental, social and economic concerns.
Susan Yee, ecologist at the Gulf Breeze Ecosystem Center, says the idea was to look at the big picture.
“So when we came in, we really wanted to go and talk with the stakeholders - the people in the community and get a better understanding of what are some of the potential consequences of this management plan on coral reefs, on the economy, on the community and try to start to understand some of the potential tradeoffs.”
As a result of the dialogue, decision makers also agreed to restore a local waterway, improve coffee farming practices, and upgrade sewage disposal – all benefits for people who live in the area. Yee says the EPA will expand the process to additional reefs in Puerto Rico.
- Heart Disease and Air Pollution
Learn what EPA research reveals about the connection between Omega-3 rich food, such as fish or olive oil, and protecting your body against the effects of air pollution. Listen to the podcast: (1 min, 22 sec, 1.2 MB, MP3)
Podcast transcript: Welcome to EPA’s Science Minute. We know that olive oil and fish are good for you, but did you know that they also may protect against air pollution?
Researchers have known that particulate matter can cause problems with the inner lining of blood vessels, or the endothelium. That’s a risk factor for clogged arteries and heart attacks. At the same time, olive oil and fish oil have beneficial effects on these same blood vessels. Two separate EPA studies exposed volunteers to particulates while giving them small daily doses of either fish oil, olive oil or nothing. Scientist James Samet says the two compounds had different effects; both were healthful.
“So if you put the two studies together, it seems that olive oil protects the vasculature, fish oil can protect the heart against the adverse health outcomes of particulate matter.”
The results suggests that a small amount of olive oil and fish oil can be a safe, low cost and effective way of counteracting the effects of some forms of air pollution. The next step is to replicate the studies, and to see if the oils also protect against ozone.