Science Wednesday: “OnAir”: News and Views on Latest Air Science Research

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

I joined the Air Team at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research this past July. Fresh out of a dual masters program in Environmental Science and Digital Media Journalism at Columbia University, I was excited to start and, frankly, to have a job at all.

I read up on EPA extensively, but still wasn’t sure what to expect. What was EPA going to do with a science journalist?

I was thrown head first into a whirlwind of scientific papers and air quality regulations. I was stalked by a rapidly multiplying army of acronyms (Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres = ALOHA) and struggled to keep the identities of all the Barbaras in our office straight (there are at least three).

But soon I began to get a clearer picture. NCER provides funding to conduct research that health care professionals and policymakers use to protect public health. While unlimited funds would be nice, the finite allowance means having to determine what science is most critical.

As it turns out, the air research funded by NCER is pretty exciting. Results have emerged showing that air pollution increases mortality risk, air pollution exposure can lead to heart attacks, the diabetes community may be more susceptible to air pollution risks than others, and air quality improvements thus far have lengthened human lives by seven months— just to name a few.

So… why am I here?

This exciting science needs to be communicated so that folks without a PhD in atmospheric chemistry can understand these groundbreaking results. We want the research to be as transparent and accessible as possible so that everyone can understand the science behind the air they breathe.

I am beginning a tour of research labs across the country. To start, I’ll be visiting the five EPA-funded Particulate Matter (PM) Research Centers, where scientists work together across disciplines to address the health risks of air pollution. I’ll also be visiting EPA’s own scientists and labs, where innovative in-house research on air pollution is taking place.

I’ll use Science Wednesday as a venue for sharing some of what I find— interesting projects, intriguing personalities, and exciting results.

I’ve recently returned from my first visit to the Southern California Particle Center; posts from the trip are coming soon.

image of authorNext stop… Harvard.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.