Category Archives: Earth Science

Tillamook Estuary Case Study: Local Drivers Influencing Coastal Acidification

US EPA initiated a study in the Tillamook estuary and watershed focused on the impact of changes in watershed land use, ocean conditions, and weather on estuarine water quality and ecosystem goods and services production within the estuary. This project is a collaboration between Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, US EPA Region 10, USGS-Menlo Park, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Agriculture, and US Navy Research Laboratory. One component of this study focuses on identifying the sources of nutrients, microbial contamination, and organic matter input to the estuary and the role of local drivers on expression of coastal acidification and hypoxia within the bay. This presentation provides a summary of the components of the study including field sampling and modeling.

Smoke Sense – a crowd sourced study of health impacts of wildland fire smoke exposures##

Exposure to particles and gasses found in wildfire smoke are linked to a range of health outcomes, affecting wellbeing and productivity in the affected communities. The impacts of the most severe outcomes are well documented in scientific literature; but less is known about the health burden due to the less severe outcomes, which affect a wider population and may substantially contribute to the public health burden and economic productivity in the communities. This abstract presents the protocol and the results of the Smoke Sense Study – the first crowd sourced study of health impacts during wildland fire smoke events in the U.S.. This study improves understanding of the low severity health impacts in populations and determines health risk communication strategies that influence individuals’ behaviors and reduce the public health burden during significant smoke episodes. The results of this study are anticipated to facilitate the development of health risk communication strategies which are a key element to reducing public health burden during smoke events.

Water Network Tool for Resilience (WNTR) User Manual –

The Water Network Tool for Resilience (WNTR) is a new Python package designed to simulate and
analyze resilience of water distribution networks to a variety of disaster scenarios. WNTR can help water utilities to explore the capacity of their systems to handle disasters and guide the planning necessary to make systems more resilient over time. WNTR has an application programming interface (API) that is flexible and allows for changes to the network structure and operations, along with simulation of disruptive incidents and recovery actions. WNTR can be installed through the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) GitHub organization at https://github.com/USEPA/WNTR.

A Novel Coupling Pattern in Computational Science and Engineering Software

Computational science and engineering (CSE) software is written by experts of certain area(s). Due to the specialization,existing CSE software may need to integrate other CSE software systems developed by different groups of experts. Thecoupling problem is one of the challenges for software integration. In this paper, we identify a novel coupling pattern when trying to integrate two CSE software systems. We describe the coupling pattern in detail and show the complexity of resolving such kind of coupling patterns. Our work contributes to area of CSE software since there were few previous studies addressing the coupling problem in CSE domain. Our work will further inspire future research in solving the coupling problem during CSEsoftware integration.

Basal gene expression predicts ozone-induced pro-inflammatory response in GSTM1-null individuals

Air pollution exposure causes increased cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality and has been linked to the deaths of 7 million people every year by the World Health Organization. Approximately 40% of the population lack expression of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione S-transferase mu 1 (GSTM1) due to a genetic polymorphism. These GSTM1-null individuals are more susceptible to experiencing exposure-induced adverse health effects; however, individuals within the null population exhibit a range in the magnitude of their inflammatory and oxidative stress responses to toxicant exposure. Despite its prevalence and penetrance, the mechanisms underlying the differential susceptibility in GSTM1-null individuals have not been well explained and thus we are unable to effectively predict their magnitude of exposure response. We hypothesized that the relationship between basal and induced expression of exposure-responsive genes would vary between GSTM1-null and sufficient individuals. To test this hypothesis, we exposed fully-differentiated primary bronchial epithelial cells from a panel of GSTM1 null and sufficient human donors to either filtered air or the model oxidant pollutant ozone in an air-liquid interface culture model. We quantified both basal and induced expression of the ozone-responsive genes IL-8, IL-6, COX-2 and HMOX-1 and analyzed induced expression as a function of basal expression. In doing so we determined that the basal and induced expression of IL-8 (R2=0.998), COX-2 (R2=0.812), and HMOX1 (R2=0.615) were strongly correlated in GSTM1 null donors, but not in GSTM1 sufficient donors. While neither GSTM1 genotype nor basal expression alone is sufficient to predict ozone-induced gene expression alone, we demonstrate that the use of the use of both parameters may predict the induced expression of certain ozone-responsive genes. As a result, our findings suggest that these readily obtainable data may predict individuals that will be more responsive to oxidative and pro-inflammatory stress induced by exposure to ozone, and potentially other toxicants. Predicting variability in the response of known susceptible individuals to toxicant exposures will promote public health by facilitating the enhanced protection of at-risk populations.

Wildfire smoke exposure and cardiopulmonary hospitalizations among those over age 65 in the United States

Background: The health implications of excess PM2.5 due to wildland fire smoke are not well understood. Very few studies have assessed the effect of wildland fire smoke from multiple fires across the US.
Methods: We estimated daily concentrations of PM2.5 due to wildland fire smoke across the entire US, using Community Multi-scale Air Quality data. We examined the relationship between wildland fire smoke and hospitalizations among Medicare recipients from 2008-2010. Daily counts of hospitalizations from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services were used to calculate the proportion of Medicare recipients from US counties who were hospitalized due to any cardiovascular or respiratory outcome, or due to asthma, bronchitis, or wheezing. The relationship between hospitalizations and wildland fire smoke was assessed using Poisson regression to estimate the marginal effect of PM2.5 exposure on wildland fire smoke days and non-wildland fire smoke days. To account for variation by county, the analysis was performed on each county individually, followed by a meta-analysis to obtain a summarized estimate of the effect of PM2.5 and hospitalizations,
Results: A total of 6,103,970 hospital admissions were recorded during 2008-2010 among Medicare recipients, of which 1,151,565 (19%) occurred on wildland fire smoke days. Measured as percent change in hospitalizations per 10 µg of PM2.5, the marginal effect of asthma, bronchitis, and wheezing hospital admissions on smoke days was 1.4% (0.58, 2.20), and 3.1% (1.9, 4.3) for non-smoke days. For cardiovascular hospitalizations, the effect on smoke days was 1.1% (0.66, 1.6) and 3.9% (3.2, 4.6) on non-smoke days. Similarly, respiratory hospitalizations were 0.83% (0.34, 1.3) and 3.4% (2.6, 4.2) on smoke days and non-smoke days, respectively.
Conclusions: Exposure to wildland fire smoke was associated with cardiovascular, all respiratory, and asthma, bronchitis, and wheezing hospitalizations among Medicare recipients.
This abstract does not necessarily reflect EPA policy.

Developing Sediment Remediation Goals at Superfund Sites Based on Pore Water for the Protection of Benthic Organisms from Direct Toxicity to Non-ionic Contaminants

This document contains a methodology for developing interstitial water remediation goals (IWRGs) for nonionic organic pollutants (toxicants) in sediments for the protection of benthic organisms. The document provides the basis for using the final chronic values (FCVs) from EPA’s aquatic water quality criteria (AWQC) for the protection of aquatic life to set the IWRGs for toxicants in sediments. Concentrations of the toxicants in the sediment interstitial water are measured using passive sampling. This document also discusses how to evaluate the consistency between passive sampling measurements and sediment toxicity test results. When these data are consistent, one can be reasonably assured that the causes of toxicity to benthic organisms in the sediment have been correctly identified and that the developed IWRGs for the toxicants will be protective of the benthic organisms at the site. The consistency evaluation is an important step in developing defensible IWRGs.

Correlation of Traditional Water Quality Parameters with Metal Concentrations in Permeable Pavement Infiltrate

EPA constructed a 4,000-m2 parking lot for research and demonstration of three permeable pavements [permeable interlocking concrete pavers (PICP), pervious concrete (PC), and porous asphalt (PA)] at the Edison Environmental Center in Edison, NJ in 2009. Infiltrate samples from each permeable pavement were analyzed for 22 metals along with traditional water quality parameters [pH, chloride (Cl), total organic carbon (TOC), and suspended solid concentration (SSC)] from January 2010 to October 2015. Regression models were calculated to determine whether metal concentrations in permeable pavement infiltrate were associated with water quality parameters.
Most metal concentrations in the permeable pavement infiltrate had limited or no association with water quality parameters. However, some of metals did associate with specific parameters: Al and Mg concentrations (dissolved) showed relatively strong association with pH. Dissolved Ba, Ca, Cr, K, and Sr concentrations in all three permeable pavement infiltrates, and Mg concentrations in PICP infiltrate were moderately associated with Cl concentrations, whereas Na concentrations (dissolved) in all permeable pavement infiltrate were strongly associated with Cl concentrations. The association between dissolved metal and Cl concentrations was weaker for PC infiltrates than PICP or PA infiltrates. Ba, Cr and K were not detected in deicing salts applied in this research. Total concentrations of Cr, Cu, K and V in PA infiltrates, and of Cr, Si and V in PC infiltrates showed moderate association with TOC concentrations. Al and Fe concentrations (total) in surface runoff had strong association with SSC while Al, Cu, Fe, Mg, Mn, Si in PICP infiltrates, and Al, Ca, Sr in PA infiltrates had moderate association with SSC.

Nutrient Removal and Resource Recovery: Effect on Life Cycle Cost and Environmental Impacts of Small Scale Wastewater Treatment

Many communities across the U.S. are required to upgrade wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) to meet increasingly stringent nutrient effluent standards. However, increased capital, energy and chemical requirements of upgrades create potential trade-offs between eutrophication potential and other life cycle environmental and cost impacts. This study investigates these potential trade-offs within the context of a Southwestern New York Community considering upgrading a 1 million gallon per day conventional activated sludge system to incorporate advanced biological treatment and anaerobic digestion (AD), including co-digesting an increased quantity of the Community’s high strength organic waste. The life cycle assessment explores methods to upgrade the WWTP, while simultaneously transforming it to recover useful energy for heat and electricity, nutrients for compost, and water for irrigation.
Plant operational data and engineering design documents were used to develop novel life cycle inventory for the legacy conventional activated sludge and the upgraded WWTPs. For both treatment systems, comparative results were calculated in eight environmental impact categories. Scenario analyses were employed to test the effect of co-digestion, AD operational performance, end-of-life emissions, composting methods, and landfill gas capture rate on impacts per cubic meter of wastewater treated. Low, medium, and high life cycle cost estimates were calculated for upgraded treatment system scenarios.
Baseline results show that improvement in effluent quality comes at the expense of 20-30 percent increases in global warming, particulate matter formation, smog formation, fossil depletion, and acidification potential. Accepting additional organic waste and realizing peak AD performance can lead to net environmental benefits for most assessed impacts, and can result in a cost payback period less than the AD system lifespan. Such benefits are attributable to AD biogas recovery for energy generation and avoided fertilizer production from land application of compost. Global warming potential impacts were sensitive to the fraction of incoming carbon and nitrogen lost as greenhouse gases during end-of-life processing, which determines whether accepting supplemental organic waste yields a net benefit or burden. This research provides guidance for small communities around the country considering WWTP upgrades, and demonstrates the positive potential of resource recovery strategies to increase effluent quality while reducing other environmental impacts

LIGO: Einstein Was Right

Still from animation of merger of two black holes A century ago, Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time that result from the universe’s most violent phenomena. A hundred years later, NSF-funded researchers using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) have detected gravitational waves.

More at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/ligoevent/?WT.mc_id=USNSF_51


This is an NSF News item.

LIGO and Virgo make first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars

Aerial view of the LIGO detector in Hanford, Washington.

Watch the Press Conference live at the https://www.youtube.com/c/VideosatNSF/live website.

For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves — ripples in space-time — in addition to light from the spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been observed in both gravitational waves and light.

The discovery was

More at https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=243382&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click


This is an NSF News item.

Smoke Sense – a crowd sourced study of health impacts of wildland fire smoke exposures

Exposure to particles and gasses found in wildfire smoke are linked to a range of health outcomes, affecting wellbeing and productivity in the affected communities. The impacts of the most severe outcomes are well documented in scientific literature; but less is known about the health burden due to the less severe outcomes, which affect a wider population and may substantially contribute to the public health burden and economic productivity in the communities. This abstract presents the protocol and the results of the Smoke Sense Study – the first crowd sourced study of health impacts during wildland fire smoke events in the U.S.. This study improves understanding of the low severity health impacts in populations and determines health risk communication strategies that influence individuals’ behaviors and reduce the public health burden during significant smoke episodes. The results of this study are anticipated to facilitate the development of health risk communication strategies which are a key element to reducing public health burden during smoke events.

Environmental quality modifies the relationship between county-level leisure-time physical inactivity and obesity in the U.S.

Background/Aim
More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, making them vulnerable to multiple poor outcomes including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and death. Physical inactivity is a well-established mechanism contributing to obesity that can be promoted or hindered by numerous environmental factors. We aim to examine how cumulative environmental quality may modify the inactivity-obesity relationship.

Methods
We used county-level Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data for our exposure (2009 leisure-time physical inactivity (LTPIA)) and outcome (2010 obesity). We linked BRFSS data to the Environmental Quality Index (EQI), a composite measure of variables from five environmental domains (air, water, land, built, and sociodemographic) across all U.S. counties from 2000-2005. We estimated the county-level association (N=3,137 counties) between LTPIA and obesity across tertiles of the EQI using multi-level linear regression models, with random intercept for state, and adjusted for county percent minority and rural-urban status. Because obesity is modified by sex, we modeled overall as well as sex-specific estimates from the BRFSS data. We report estimates as prevalence differences (PD) and 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Results
Before stratification, adjusted associations between LTPIA and obesity were 0.51% (0.48, 0.54) overall, 0.44% (0.42, 0.47) for males, and 0.56% (0.53, 0.60) for females. In stratified results, the PD increases substantially from the best (PD=0.34% [0.29, 0.40]) to worst (PD=0.64% [0.60, 0.69]) tertile of environmental quality in the overall population. We observed similar trends in males from best (PD=0.24% [0.19, 0.29]) to worst (PD=0.60% [0.56, 0.65]) quality environments, as well as in females from best (PD=0.45% [0.39, 0.51]) to worst (PD=0.65% [0.61, 0.70]) quality environments.

Conclusions
We found that poor environmental quality exacerbates the county-level association between physical inactivity and obesity. Research and programs aimed at improving obesity through physical activity may benefit from considering this relationship. This abstract does not reflect EPA policy.

Dietary Intervention to Mitigate the Health Effects of PM Exposure in Humans

Exposure to ambient air pollution is a major cause of global morbidity and mortality. This presentation will highlight previously published, ongoing and planned studies conducted at the Human Studies Facility that have examined the efficacy of nutritional supplementation in modulating pulmonary, cardiac, vascular and hematologic effect of exposure to gaseous and particulate pollutants in human volunteers. These studies provide mechanistic insights into the mechanism of action of air contaminants and provide a potential interventional approach for the mitigation of the health effects induced by exposure to air pollution.

Redox Toxicology of Ambient Air Pollution

Ambient air pollution is a leading global cause of morbidity and mortality. Millions of Americans live in areas in which levels of tropospheric ozone exceed air quality standards, while exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5) alone results in 3.2 million excess deaths annually worldwide. Evidence from epidemiological and clinical studies points to a link between inhalation of air pollutants and adverse cardiovascular and pulmonary outcomes. Laboratory studies support an inflammatory basis for these effects, as exposure to a wide variety of environmental agents leads to inflammatory signaling and gene expression in human lung cells. Investigations aimed at elucidating the mechanisms of signaling activation in cells exposed to broadly disparate ambient air contaminants converge on protein sulfenylation and a loss of protein tyrosine phosphatase activity as key initiating events that are dependent on an accompanying elevation in intracellular concentrations of H2O2. Interventions with ectopic expression of catalase and metabolic inhibitors implicate both mitochondrial respiration and redox cycling as potential sources of the H2O2 response. Studies using various model particles show that in addition to bearing adsorbed electrophiles, surface moieties on carbonaceous particles can directly present radical and non-radical oxidative stress to cells. Investigating the redox toxicology of environmental electrophiles (e.g., ozone, metal ions, quinones) presents unique pitfalls and potential artifacts that can confound methodological approaches, including fluorogenic live-cell imaging and extracellular flux analyses. Nonetheless, an increasing body of evidence points to oxidative dysregulation of intracellular signaling in the initiation of the inflammatory effects of air pollution inhalation. THIS ABSTRACT OF A PROPOSED PRESENTATION DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT EPA POLICY.