Category Archives: S&T Research

Contrasting Decadal-Scale Changes in Elevation and Vegetation in Two Long Island Sound Salt Marshes

Northeastern US salt marshes face multiple co-stressors, including accelerating rates of relative sea level rise (RSLR), elevated nutrient inputs, and low sediment supplies. In order to evaluate how marsh surface elevations respond to such factors, we used surface elevation tables (SETs) and surface elevation pins to measure changes in marsh surface elevation in two eastern Long Island Sound salt marshes, Barn Island and Mamacoke marshes. We compare marsh elevation change at these two systems with recent rates of RSLR and find evidence of differences between the two sites; Barn Island is maintaining its historic rate of elevation gain (2.3 ± 0.24 mm year−1 from 2003 to 2013) and is no longer keeping pace with RSLR, while Mamacoke shows evidence of a recent increase in rates (4.2 ± 0.52 mm year−1 from 1994 to 2014) to maintain its elevation relative to sea level. In addition to data on short-term elevation responses at these marshes, both sites have unusually long and detailed data on historic vegetation species composition extending back more than half a century. Over this study period, vegetation patterns track elevation change relative to sea levels, with the Barn Island plant community shifting towards those plants that are found at lower elevations and the Mamacoke vegetation patterns showing little change in plant composition. We hypothesize that the apparent contrasting trend in marsh elevation at the sites is due to differences in sediment availability, salinity, and elevation capital. Together, these two systems provide critical insight into the relationships between marsh elevation, high marsh plant community, and changing hydroperiods. Our results highlight that not all marshes in Southern New England may be responding to accelerated rates of RSLR in the same manner.

2017/04/23 Service Academies Swarm Challenge Live-Fly Competition Begins

Image Caption: This data visualization portrays the swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles that flew today over Camp Roberts, Calif., while implementing autonomous swarm tactics designed by Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy for the DARPA Service Academies Swarm Challenge. U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force academy teams are competing in an education-focused experiment designed to pave the way for future offensive and defensive swarm tactics for warfighters. Click below for high-resolution image.

Small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other robots have become increasingly affordable, capable, and available to both the U.S. military and adversaries alike. Enabling UAVs and similar assets to perform useful tasks under human supervision-that is, carrying out swarm tactics in concert with human teammates-holds tremendous promise to extend the advantages U.S. warfighters have in field operations.

2017/04/21 World’s Most Powerful Emulator of Radio-Signal Traffic Opens for Business

Image Caption: In this photo illustration, a few dozen of the 256 software defined radio units, which comprise the heart of DARPA’s Colosseum—the world’s largest “channel emulator” for simulating electromagnetic communication in different peacetime and contested contexts—rise up from the original Roman Colosseum after which the electronic testbed is named. Click on image below for high-resolution.

Today is the grand opening of the Colosseum. We are not referring here to the storied concrete Colosseum in Rome, which was completed in 80 A.D. and remains famous for its ancient gladiatorial spectacles. We are talking here about DARPA’s Colosseum, a next-generation electronic emulator of the invisible electromagnetic world. Though it resides in a mere 30-foot by 20-foot server room on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD, the Colosseum is capable of creating a much larger, and critically important wireless world.

A Framework for Assessing Health Risk of Environmental Exposures to Children (Final)

EPA released the final report entitled, A Framework for Assessing Health Risk of Environmental Exposures to Children, which examines the impact of potential exposures during developmental lifestages and subsequent lifestages, while emphasizing the iterative nature of the analysis phase with a multidisciplinary team.

Major findings and conclusions: This report outlines the framework in which mode of action(s) (MOA) can be considered across life stages. The framework is based upon existing approaches adopted in the Framework on Cumulative Risk Assessment and identifies existing guidance, guidelines and policy papers that relate to children’s health risk assessment. It emphasizes the importance of an iterative approach between hazard, dose response, and exposure analyses. In addition, it includes discussion of principles for weight of evidence consideration across life stages for the hazard characterization database.

Key science/assessment issues:This framework addresses the questions of why and how an improved children’s health risk assessment will strengthen the overall risk assessment process across the Agency. This approach improves the scientific explanation of children’s risk and will add value by: 1) providing for a more complete evaluation of the potential for vulnerability at different life stages, including a focus on the underlying biological events and critical developmental periods for incorporating MOA considerations; 2) evaluating of the potential for toxicity after exposure during all developmental life stages; and 3) integrating of adverse health effects and exposure information across life stages.

EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Research Program: Water Systems Research

Water systems challenged by limited resources, aging infrastructure, shifting demographics, climate change, and extreme weather events need transformative approaches to meet public health and environmental goals, while optimizing water treatment and maximizing resource recovery and system energy efficiency. EPA’s water systems research aims to push forward the next generation of technological, engineering, and process advances to maintain safe and sustainable water resources for humans and the environment, while also augmenting and improving water resources. EPA’s water system efforts focus on breaking down traditional barriers between drinking water and wastewater (now referred to as resource water) with an emphasis on research that encompasses the entire water cycle to improve the way we manage water.

Drought Resilience and Water Conservation – Agency-Wide Actions and Research

In many areas of the United States, the frequency and duration of drought events are increasing. This pattern is expected to continue and to shift outside of historical trends, making forecasting our water quality and supply more difficult. EPA is conducting research and working with stakeholders to better understand the impact of drought on water quality and availability, and to provide solutions to help communities conserve water.

Zero Waste is Within Our Reach, But….

By Sarah Levinson

I would have guessed that my fellow EPA employees would be leaders when it comes to recycling and reducing wastes. Turns out we are leaders, but not quite as far out front as I had hoped. In 2015, a presidential Executive Order on Sustainability directed federal agencies to do their best to divert at least half our non-hazardous wastes into recycling and composting, and to work our darnedest to reach zero waste. While we auditwaitiwaitposterat EPA’s New England office have indeed succeeded in diverting more than half our waste to recycling and compost,  our regional office has yet to achieve net-zero waste (defined as sending at least 90 percent of our waste to recycling or composting) despite our best efforts.  We, like many other organizations, face many of the same challenges when it comes to modifying our own behavior.

My job has been to help my colleagues make the “green choice” when managing wastes they generate in the office. By working with a small team of dedicated volunteers, the Green Team as we are known, instituted a composting program and we have done extensive education and outreach to promote both recycling and composting. We have put out recycling guides and compost guides, posted clear signage showing usual items for composting as well as recycling, held informational sessions, provided tips for preventing waste in the first place, and demonstrated the impact that compost amended soil can have on moisture retention and plant growth. We have also reduced paper communications and urged employees to carry reusable shopping bags, even providing the bags in our lobby. We tried to tap into the competitive spirt, running a contest between offices to see which office could divert the most from the trash stream.

Even with all of these activities and ever since we instituted composting which greatly boosted to our diversion rate, our diversion rate seems to have become stagnant. After some thought about this challenge, the Green Team decided that in order to keep improving, we needed to know what was being thrown into our trash. Specifically, we sought to identify “contaminants” that shouldn’t be in the trash.

Consequently, and timed to coincide with America Recycles Day Nov. 15, The Green Team undertook a messy, but

Most of the waste in our trash containers bound for the landfill should have been recycled or composted.

Most of the waste in our trash containers bound for the landfill should have been recycled or composted.

detailed one-day waste audit. Eight dedicated sorters separated 44 pounds of trash in about two hours. To our surprise, although staff had composted and recycled 75 percent of their unwanted materials, we found that two thirds of the material thrown in the trash could still have been recycled or composted. There were apple cores, banana and orange peels, paper bags, plastic containers and glass bottles all in the trash, when these things could have and should have been placed in recycling or the compost collection. It turned out that only a third of the material in the trash was truly trash and furthermore, we found that had staff properly sorted these items, we could have met the goal of zero waste for that day!

So while we didn’t attain our zero waste goal on Nov. 15, we now know that zero waste is well within our reach. Additionally, because we took many pictures of the “contamination” found in our trash, we now are using the photos to conduct targeted education and outreach. We hope that for many, “seeing” the poor choices that they made will turn them into “believing” the errors of their ways and modify their behavior accordingly. Additionally, by looking closely at was in our trash, we are able to strategize and discuss new ideas to implement to further reduce our waste.

I know that the Green Team will persevere with new ideas, and new efforts to guide and motivate behavioral change. I know that the Green Team won’t give up our quest and am confident that it is just a matter of time until we attain our zero waste goal, becoming true leaders in living a more sustainable lifestyle, especially because we have shown it to be possible.

-30-

Sarah Levinson leads the Green Team at EPA’s New England office in Boston.

EPA Regulations and Court Victories Translate Directly into Wins for the American People

Over the past few years we have heard a pretty constant refrain about “EPA overreach” which is shorthand for saying EPA has gone beyond the authority given to it by Congress.   Even though as Administrator both Lisa Jackson and I pledged to follow two guiding principles – the rule of law and scientific integrity – it seemed with few exceptions that nearly every significant step EPA took to protect public health and the environment was met with criticisms of EPA overreach.   So I recently asked Avi Garbow, EPA’s General Counsel, to conduct an analysis of court decisions reviewing the actions taken by the Obama EPA under the Clean Air Act – which were the largest set of actions EPA took.  The purpose of this analysis was to determine whether in fact, the EPA followed these first principles of law and science.

Today I received the General Counsel’s memo summarizing the results of his analysis and in short, the record clearly shows that EPA followed the law and the science.  Overall, EPA won or mostly won, 81% of these D.C. Circuit cases and lost or mostly lost only 10% of the cases, with the rest resulting in mixed decisions.   And during the last two years, 2015-2016, EPA won 90% of the cases.  While we are concerned about any losses in court, we recognize that our rulemakings necessarily involve making judgments about matters on which the law is not settled, and as a result, some court losses are inevitable.

That said, ours is an excellent record on its face. And several other considerations make it even more impressive. About one-quarter of the losses resulted in remands without vacatur, meaning that the rule stayed in effect while EPA took additional action – in most cases, no more than providing additional explanation — to remedy the deficiency.  Furthermore, it should be noted that the judges on the D.C. Circuit are almost evenly split between those appointed by Democratic Presidents and those appointed by Republican Presidents, but Republican-appointed judges upheld EPA’s actions as often as Democratic-appointed judges.

Now as thorough and straightforward as this analysis is, I am sure it won’t quiet those who have claimed EPA overreach.  But, to the many hardworking, selfless EPA career staff who accomplished so much these past eight years, I am hoping they will read the memo and be filled with pride in so many jobs well done.  EPA not only followed science and the law, we identified reasonable, common sense steps forward that not only make our world cleaner and safer, but to support the amazing economic turn around and job growth that has taken place during this Administration.

But most importantly, I hope this analysis provides added comfort to the vast majority of Americans who support the work of EPA and want to know that the actions we have taken to deliver cleaner air, water and land – as well as a more stable planet – will be sustained.   EPA under President Obama’s leadership has a remarkable success story to tell.   My hope is that our record will remind people that government can and does work for them, and it will inspire young people everywhere to consider careers in public service because it is indeed the most noble profession.

Innovation in Government

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

EPA and other federal agencies are tasked with finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and complicated problems. These problems require innovative solutions, which EPA supports through use of crowdsourcing, citizen science, and public engagement.

Two of these efforts have advanced to the semifinalist stage of the 2017 Innovations in American Government Awards presented by the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. The award recognizes and promotes excellence and creativity in the public sector.

Here’s a quick look at the two EPA-connected projects.

CitizenScience.gov and the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science

In 2012, a small group of EPA and other federal agency officials recognized a surge of interest in citizen science and crowdsourcing. This informal group grew to the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, an organization with over 300 members representing over 60 agencies. As co-chair of this rapidly expanding and productive group, EPA participates in and aids high-level federal efforts to facilitate and implement crowdsourcing and citizen science.

One of these efforts is CitizenScience.gov, which was created in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Commons Lab at the Wilson Center, and the General Services Administration. The site includes a searchable catalog of federally-supported citizen science and crowdsourcing projects, a Toolkit to assist with designing and maintaining projects, and a gateway to the Federal Community of Practice. The resources this site provides helps the public and the federal community work together to address the complex problems our nation faces. The group continues to focus on increasing and enhancing in citizen science and crowdsourcing across the federal government.

The Village Green Project

Village Green station in Durham, NC

Village Green station in Durham, NC

The Village Green project is an EPA-led, community-based research effort to demonstrate real-time air monitoring technology, engage the public in learning about local air quality, and collect high-quality data for research.  Working with state and community partners, the Village Green team places park benches in cities across the US that provide local, real-time air pollution measurements using low-cost monitoring sensor technologies. Each solar- and wind-powered system continuously measures two common air pollutants (ozone and fine particulate matter), as well as wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. The measurements are transmitted to a website every minute.

Beyond measuring the air and weather, the Village Green Project is also about engaging with neighbors in the immediate area about their environment and the public on the web. The station can be used as a community gathering place to learn about new technology, the environment, or simply to sit down and read a book. The stations are currently all located in public environments, including elementary schools, public libraries, the National Zoo, a national park historic site, and a public children’s garden. Learn more about the Village Green Project.

 

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a writer on the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Progress in Strengthening Our Government-to-Government Relationship with Tribal Nations

By: JoAnn Chase and Ethan Shenkman

EPA has long honored tribal rights to sovereignty, self-governance and self-determination. These principles are enshrined in EPA’s Indian Policy, signed by Administrator Ruckelshaus in 1984 and reaffirmed by every EPA Administrator since. Thanks to the unique partnership between our offices — EPA’s American Indian Environmental Office (AIEO) and EPA’s Indian law team in the Office of General Counsel — we have made great strides in bringing these principles to life and weaving them into the very fabric of this agency.

One important example is our work to ensure tribal nations have the tools they need to protect waters on Indian lands. Under the Clean Water Act, tribes may apply to EPA for the ability to administer certain regulatory programs on their reservations, just as states do. To date, over 50 tribes have used this special status to issue their own water quality standards under the Act. We worked closely with the Office of Water to streamline and simplify the process for tribes wishing to apply for this status, so that more tribes can take advantage of these opportunities. In addition, we worked together to expand the scope of authorities that tribes can assume by providing a new pathway for tribes to engage in water quality restoration. Tribes who take advantage of these new authorities will be able to issue lists of impaired waters and develop “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) for those waters – critical regulatory tools for ensuring the protection of their waters, and the ecosystems and communities who depend on them.

EPA has also made tremendous strides under this Administration in living up to the ideals of true government-to-government consultation with tribal nations. In 2009, President Obama issued a Memorandum directing federal agencies to develop a plan for implementing the tribal consultation obligation in Executive Order 13175. In 2011, we issued the Policy on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribes, which sets a very high bar for ensuring meaningful, government-to-government consultation on EPA actions that affect tribal interests.

When we consulted with tribal leaders across the country, we listened, and we learned. It became clear that we needed to do more to ensure that we consistently consider tribal treaty rights when making decisions that may affect tribal natural resources. We recognize that treaties between the United States and tribal nations are the Supreme Law of the land, and that we have a solemn obligation to ensure that our decisions do not compromise those commitments. As a result, with terrific input from tribal nations, in February 2016, we issued a groundbreaking Treaty Rights Guidance as a supplement to our tribal consultation policy.

The new guidance ensures that EPA staff will engage in a critical inquiry with tribes about treaty rights (and similar federally-protected reserved rights) when the agency is making decisions focused on specific geographic areas where tribal hunting, fishing and gathering rights may exist. Under the guidance, EPA will “consider all relevant information obtained to help ensure that EPA’s actions do not conflict with treaty rights, and to help ensure that EPA is fully informed when it seeks to implement its programs and to further protect treaty rights and resources when it has discretion to do so.”

EPA’s treaty rights guidance was well received by our tribal partners. The White House Council on Native American Affairs was then asked by tribes to consider embracing the concept more broadly. As a result of conversations that we at EPA had with our federal partners, in September 2016 we signed an interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve coordination and collaboration in the protection of treaty rights and similar tribal rights. We are delighted that nine agencies have thus far signed on to the MOU, most at the Secretarial level, and EPA and the Department of Agriculture are co-chairing a working group to implement this commitment moving forward.

These are but a few examples of the tremendous progress we have made in strengthening EPA’s government-to-government relationship with tribal nations – progress that is owed to the outstanding dedication and talents of the employees of our respective offices, and to the steadfast support of EPA’s Administrator and senior leadership. Nor could this progress have occurred without the close collaboration and partnership of our tribal counterparts. We are grateful for the opportunity to have served our shared mission of protecting human health and the environment for the benefit of future generations.

Day of Service Along the Delaware River

by Tom Damm

Signing up for the clean up

Signing up for the cleanup

Actions of all sizes are helping to restore the Delaware River and its surrounding areas.

There are broad steps, like the recently approved Delaware River Basin Conservation Act that will help coordinate and advance protection activities.

And there are more focused ones, like this week’s trash cleanup at the Bristol Marsh in Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania.

On Monday morning – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service – a dozen EPA employees, plus family and friends joined other volunteers, mainly high school and middle school students, to spruce up this critical resource along the main stem of the Delaware River.

With trash bags in hand, the nearly 90 volunteers – almost double the expected number – combed the marsh for discarded items.

Small sample of the junk pulled from the marsh

Small sample of the junk pulled from the marsh

Along with the commonplace bottles, cans and paper litter, we had some unusual finds: a buoy, a One Way sign, flip flops, even a bedframe, unearthed as if it were an archeological discovery.

The effort to give the marsh a clean slate, organized by the Nature Conservancy and the Heritage Conservancy, was well worth it considering all the marsh returns for the favor.

The freshwater tidal marsh, a wetland rarely found in Pennsylvania, supports a wide variety of plants, birds and animals.  It also provides spawning and nursery areas for fish and improves water quality by filtering pollutants and adding oxygen.

The marsh promotes recreational activities like bird watching, nature study and fishing and protects the riverfront from the impacts of flooding and stormwater pollution while trapping trash that floats in from the Delaware.

Hauling out a tire

Hauling out a tire

A range of efforts – some that will take many years, others just a few hours on a holiday morning – are making a difference for the Delaware and its 13,600-square-foot basin that provides drinking water for more than 15 million people and contributes billions of dollars to the regional economy.

From major new initiatives to the removal of societal junk from Bristol Marsh, many hands are at work in the cleanup.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

EPA Scientists Participate in Study to Determine Causes of Poor Air Quality in Utah Valleys

By Ann Brown and Karen Stewart

Winter in Utah brings to mind crystal clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains, and a long ski season. But during the winter in Utah’s northern valleys, cold air inversions trap pollution emitted from multiple sources, including vehicles, industry, and agriculture. This allows for the mixing of atmospheric chemicals that leads to the formation of PM2.5, which is harmful to health at high levels.

The area’s more than two million residents experience levels that exceed air quality standards an average of 18 days during the winter. It has contributed to a 42 percent higher rate of emergency room visits for asthma and a 4.5 percent increase in the risk for coronary events like heart attacks.

EPA research trailer set up in the snowy mountains

EPA scientists packed up their research trailer with air monitoring instruments and traveled to Logan, Utah to assist with the study.

In January, EPA scientists packed up their research trailer with air monitoring instruments and traveled to Utah to assist in determining how to solve the area’s air pollution problem. They are participating in the Utah Winter Fine Particle Study, one of the most comprehensive efforts to date to analyze the area’s pollutants and determine the chemical processes in the atmosphere that lead to the formation of PM2.5. The study is being conducted by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other research organizations.

Starting this week, EPA and its partners in the study are taking daily measurements of air pollutants in three valleys using sophisticated ground-based instruments and remote sensing monitors. EPA scientists are providing their expertise in air quality measurement and have developed new and advanced technology to better monitor air pollutants. At the same time, NOAA’s research aircraft is flying over the region to measure air pollutants in the upper atmosphere.

The study will help to identify key emission sources and evaluate other factors—such as meteorology, geography, snow cover, and time of day—that may play a role in the formation of PM2.5. Once data is collected, Utah can use the information to determine the most effective strategies to reduce PM2.5 levels during the winter months and improve air quality for public health. The study is also expected to help other states with similar mountain valleys make decisions on how to protect air quality for their residents.

About the Authors:

Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program

Karen Stewart is an Oak Ridge Associated University contractor with EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory.

Supporting Economic Recovery in Former Automotive Communities

By: Greg Rudloff

The Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response trust (RACER) was created by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court to clean up and position for redevelopment former General Motors (GM) properties. EPA and state environmental programs work with RACER to review, approve and undertake response actions to address contamination at each property. Here are a few of our success stories.

Drawing of buildings, a road, and a parking lot

Artist’s concept of the M1 Concourse facility

One redevelopment project is the RACER Pontiac Validation site located in Pontiac, MI. This 87-acre site is a former GM automotive manufacturing and assembly facility. We issued a Prospective Purchaser Agreement (PPA) in 2013 to assist with sale and redevelopment of the property.

 

Photo of a gray building lined with garage doors

Banks of automotive condos under construction

In 2015, ground was broken for the construction of an auto enthusiast’s development which includes a performance track, more than 250 private garages, restaurants, and an auto-focused shopping village and office space. Over 135 units have been sold and we expect more than 100 workers to be employed at the facility. The facility opened in August, 2016.

Black and white photo of several planes under construction

WW II Bomber Plant

 

A redevelopment project involving the preservation of history is the RACER Willow Run facility located in Ypsilanti, MI. This facility was a former bomber manufacturing plant that was constructed in 1941. After WWII, operations at the plant switched to the production of automobiles and operations continued until 2010. The facility was demolished in 2014-2015 except for the southeast corner. In 2014, we issued a comfort letter to facilitate the purchase of a 3.4-acre parcel containing the undemolished portion of the plant. On December 5, 2014, we issued a PPA to further facilitate the purchase of the parcel. On October 30, 2014, the Yankee Air Museum completed the purchase of the parcel. Construction is currently underway to enclose this portion of the plant for redevelopment as a historical aircraft museum.

Digital illustration of a hangar filled with different types of aircraft

Yankee Air Museum Concept

Photo of a worker in protective gear operating equipment

Interior of Fuyao plant

A redevelopment project that created a significant number of new jobs is the RACER Moraine facility located in Moraine, OH. This 465-acre former GM facility operated from the 1920s to 2008. Many of the buildings have since been demolished. In 2014, we facilitate Fuyao Glass America, Inc.’s purchase of 95 acres of the facility for construction of an automotive glass plant. In July, 2015, Fuyao unveiled the first automotive windshield produced at the former GM Moraine plant. Fuyao has hired 1,400 new employees to date, and plans to hire an additional 500 employees.

Greg Rudloff has worked at EPA’s Region 5 office since 1991. He has spent his EPA career in the Land and Chemicals Division supporting the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Program as both a Permit Writer and a Corrective Action Project Manager.  In recent years, he has also served as the RACER Coordinator for the corrective action program.

Planning Catalyst Cleanups to Spur Broad Community Revitalization

By: Mathy Stanislaus

At EPA, we recognize that successful, sustained community revitalization occurs when neighborhood stakeholders, local governments and the private sector work together on a shared plan for community-wide improvement. That is why we created the Area-Wide Planning (AWP) grants program for brownfield sites; a legacy I’m particularly proud of.

The Brownfields AWP grant program is an innovation initiated by the Obama Administration to empower communities to transform economically and environmentally distressed areas, including communities impacted by manufacturing plant closures, into vibrant future destinations for business, jobs, housing and recreation. These grants allow communities to develop revitalization plans that best meet their vision and needs, and execute them in a manner that benefits the community and does not displace long-term residents. In developing this national grants program, we learned from our state counterparts. Our AWP program was inspired by New York State’s Brownfields Opportunity Area (BOA) Program.

For 2017, EPA is investing approximately $3.8 million in 19 communities from across the nation to assist with planning for cleanup and reuse of brownfield sites. Each recipient will receive up to $200,000 to engage their community, conduct research activities and complete a plan for cleaning up and reusing their key brownfield sites.

photo of a grafittied building behind an overgrown field

Several communities selected to receive funding for 2017 have been affected by manufacturing plant closures. They are looking to make environmentally sound cleanup decisions on these properties and reopen them for business, sparking additional redevelopment in surrounding areas. Some of the notable projects involve improving community housing, transportation options, recreation and open space, education and health facilities and renewed infrastructure, which will lead to increased commerce and employment opportunities.

For example, these planning projects include the area around a former electronics manufacturing plant in Indianapolis, Indiana and a closed paper mill in Bucksport, Maine. One area selected in Wayne County, Michigan is anticipating a coal-fired power plant closure and is aiming to get ahead of the economic disruption that it will cause to its community. Others have recently felt the effects of climate change related natural disasters such as flooding in Norfolk, Virginia and Burlington, Iowa.  Communities in Indianapolis and Maine have been working to recover from both natural disasters and plant closures.

The AWP program helps coordinate federal investments, like infrastructure and economic development, that help environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities. Aligning federal resources allows agencies to better meet communities’ needs and lets communities reap the benefits of collaborative investments for area-wide revitalization. This coordination allocates resources based on community-directed plans rather than historic practices of individual infrastructure funding criteria, which can result in urban sprawl.

For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has committed to prioritizing communities who use the outcomes of the AWP process to inform further transportation projects in their Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant selection process. Carlisle, Pennsylvania is one example of this collaboration. In addition to the Area-Wide Planning grant the Carlisle Borough received in 2013, they received a $5 million TIGER grant in 2016 to help them advance the brownfields revitalization efforts laid out in their area-wide plan. Since 2013, Carlisle has also leveraged more than $10 million through state, local and private funding.

This is the fourth round of grants awarded under our Brownfields AWP program. So far, EPA has awarded a total of over $11 million to 64 grantees. To date, AWP grantees have leveraged over $385 million in additional public and private funding, as well as other EPA resources, to help address key brownfield sites within their communities.

Cleaning up brownfields sites results in significant benefits for communities. Studies have shown that residential property values near cleaned up sites increased between 5 and 15 percent. Data also shows that brownfields clean ups can increase overall property values within a one-mile radius. Preliminary analysis involving 48 brownfields sites shows that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup.

I’m proud of the success we’ve seen across the country and hope to see the continuation of communities utilizing the AWP grant funding to work together with neighborhood stakeholders, local government and the private sector, for a shared vision for community-wide revitalization.

Recognizing Our Sustainable Materials Management Award Winners

By Rachel Chaput

EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Program represents a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire life cycles. It represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By looking at a product’s entire lifecycle, we can find new opportunities to reduce environmental impacts, conserve resources and reduce costs.

The group of winners all helping to divert solid waste from landfills. Keep up the great work!

The group of winners all helping to divert solid waste from landfills. Keep up the great work!

Each year, EPA issues SMM awards at the national and regional levels, to recognize our best performers within the program. On January 11, an awards ceremony was held at our Region 2 office in New York City, to distribute the awards.  Links to the award announcements can be found below.  Region 2 would like to announce our regional award and certificate winners for three SMM challenges, and thank them for their great efforts and contributions toward improving our environment and our lives.

The Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) Partners pledge to improve their sustainable food management practices and report their results. FRC Endorsers educate others about the value of the FRC program. Organizations are encouraged to follow the Food Recovery Hierarchy to prioritize their actions to prevent and divert wasted food. In 2015, Region 2 FRC partners diverted 30,077 tons of food from the landfill through their collective activities.

The EPA WasteWise program encourages organizations to achieve sustainability in their practices and to reduce select industrial wastes. Participants demonstrate how they reduce waste, practice environmental stewardship and incorporate sustainable materials management into their waste-handling processes. Region 2 WasteWise partners diverted 925,352 tons of municipal solid waste from landfills during 2015. Regional WasteWise winners:  Kearfott Corp., Curbell Inc., and Brown’s Superstores: Shoprite at Brooklawn.

The Federal Green Challenge (FGC) challenges EPA and other federal agencies throughout the country to lead by example in reducing the federal government’s environmental impact. In 2015, Region 2 FGC partners diverted 7,678 tons of municipal solid waste from the landfill, and saved 59,536,360 gallons of potable water and 18,371,639 kWh of energy through their conservation activities.

Click here for a list of the Food Recovery Challenge regional award winners (scroll down for Region 2): https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/food-recovery-challenge-results-and-award-winners#2016Regional

Region 2 has one national FRC winner, the Town and Village of New Paltz.  Follow the link and click on ‘Town of New Paltz’ for more information about New Paltz’s good work: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/about-2016-food-recovery-challenge-award-winners.

Click here for both national and regional Federal Green Challenge Award winners: https://www.epa.gov/fgc/2016-federal-green-challenge-awards.

For information on WasteWise and national Award winners, visit: https://www.epa.gov/smm/wastewise#awards

About the Author: Rachel Chaput has worked with the Region 2 office of the US Environmental Protection Agency for 24 years.  Before working in Sustainable Materials Management, she worked in Indoor Air programs and managed the Asthma grants program for ten years. 

Engaging Indigenous Peoples on Environmental Justice at the UN Permanent Forum

IMG_0061%20-%20PF%20Blog[1]

About the Authors – Ethan Shenkman is the Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Jim Grijalva is a Professor and Directs the Tribal Environmental Law Project of the Northern Plains Indian Law Center at the University of North Dakota School of Law. Danny Gogal is the International Human Rights Coordinator and the Environmental Justice Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Program Manager for EPA, and resides in the Office of Environmental Justice.

At the EPA, we see providing meaningful engagement for our most vulnerable and underserved communities as a fundamental part of fulfilling our mission to protect this country’s environmental quality and public health. This work includes engagement with federally recognized tribes and indigenous people.

At the United Nations 15th Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice was able underline the importance of this principle by hosting a panel to highlight the agency’s 2014 Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples. The policy seeks to better clarify and integrate the principles of environmental justice throughout the Agency’s work with federally-recognized tribes and other indigenous peoples.

During the panel, “Environmental Justice and Indigenous Peoples,” the Policy was commended for its efforts to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on environment and public health with federally-recognized tribes on a government-to-government basis as well as opportunities for all members of indigenous communities.

Danny

Ethan Shenkman, Jim Grijalva, and Danny Gogal at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

EPA’s Danny Gogal described the historical development of both the agency’s tribal program and its environmental justice program; Ethan Shenkman explained what the EPA is doing to ensure that the rights of Indian tribes and indigenous communities are adequately considered in Agency decision-making, which can help promote effective environmental governance; and, Jim Grajalva from the University of North Dakota’s School of Law reported on the multiple successes as well as remaining challenges of the EPA’s Indian and tribal program and how the role of non-governmental and grassroots organizations can assist tribes and indigenous people in protecting their environments.

The panel provided a unique opportunity for all of us to connect with representatives from federally-recognized tribes and other indigenous peoples, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, and various federal agencies.

Participants stressed the significance of ensuring the meaningful involvement of not only the leadership of federally recognized tribes, but also state-recognized tribes, indigenous and tribal community-based organizations, and individual members of tribes. This is in keeping with the environmental justice principle that the people most directly impacted by environmental laws and policies must be central to the development and implementation of those laws and policies.

This engagement and consideration is exactly what the EPA is working to strengthen. By promoting sound environmental governance through opportunities for public participation, access to information, implementable and enforceable laws and strong accountability mechanisms, we believe that the EPA continues to make significant progress as the result of the Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples.

For example, the EPA recently held discussions about uranium mine cleanup plans, including voluntary alternative housing options, with the Navajo Nation’s Red Water Pond Road community. Such direct engagement with indigenous communities promotes better governance by providing full access to information and meaningful public participation.

Permanent%20Forum%20-%20Blog[1]And recently, the EPA released EJ 2020 Action Agenda, its five-year environmental justice strategy, which includes specific actions and measures for how the EPA intends to work collaboratively with federally recognized tribes and other indigenous peoples.

The UN Permanent Forum serves as a valuable venue for UN Member States and indigenous peoples throughout the world to share best practices, policies, programs and activities. Through these dialogues, we are able to improve the environment and public health conditions while protecting indigenous culture and quality of life.

We look forward to continuing this conversation and to sharing more at the 2017 Permanent Forum on progress made to provide for environmental justice for tribes and indigenous peoples in the United States, so other countries can learn from our successes as well as our shortcomings.

Water Recreation and Illness Severity

Abstract Background: The health endpoint of prior studies of water recreation has been the occurrence gastrointestinal (GI) of illness. The use of this dichotomous health outcome fails to take into account the range of symptom severity among those with GI illness, as well as those who develop GI symptoms but who do not satisfy the definition of GI illness. Methods: Data from two large cohort studies in the US were used to assess the use of ordinal and semi-continuous measures of GI symptoms, such as the duration of GI symptoms and responses to those symptoms such as medication use, interference of symptoms with daily activities, and utilization of health care service. Zero-inflated negative binomial and logistic regression models were used to assess associations between severity and either the degree of water exposure or water quality. Results: Among 37,404 water recreators without baseline GI symptoms, we observed individuals with relatively low severity that satisfied the case definition of GI illness while others with high severity did not satisfy that definition. Severity metrics were associated with water exposure, and, among swimmers, with a rapid molecular test of water quality. Conclusions: The dichotomous definition of GI illness outcome could be improved by considering symptom severity in future studies. Modeling ordinal and semi-continuous outcomes may improve our understanding of determinants of the burden of illness rather than simply the number of cases of illness attributable to environmental exposures.

Environmental Assessment of Different Cement Manufacturing Processes Based on Emergy and Ecological Footprint Analysis

Due to its high environmental impact and energy intensive production, the cement industry needs to adopt more energy efficient technologies to reduce its demand for fossil fuels and impact on the environment. Bearing in mind that cement is the most widely used material for housing and modern infrastructure, the aim of this paper is to analyse the Emergy and Ecological Footprint of different cement manufacturing processes for a particular cement plant. There are several mitigation measures that can be incorporated in the cement manufacturing process to reduce the demand for fossil fuels and consequently reduce the CO2 emissions. The mitigation measures considered in this paper were the use of alternative fuels and a more energy efficient kiln process. In order to estimate the sustainability effect of the aforementioned measures, Emergy and Ecological Footprint were calculated for four different scenarios. The results show that Emergy, due to the high input mass of raw material needed for clinker production, stays at about the same level. However, for the Ecological Footprint, the results show that by combining the use of alternative fuels together with a more energy efficient kiln process, the environmental impact of the cement manufacturing process can be lowered.