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Your Environment. Your Health.

Using GIS Tools to Analyze, Compute, and Predict Pollution

Superfund Research Program

This webinar series featured grantees using Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies as cost-effective tools to better understand complex exposures to environmental hazards. These computer hardware and software tools are primarily used to integrate and manage multifaceted and varying sets of data within a geographic framework for mapping and modeling. The display of environmental health data using GIS tools is also helpful in explaining disease or disability patterns in terms of relationships with social, built, and natural environments. A variety of GIS analytical tools are available to help scientists, engineers, planners, and policy makers make better determinations and decisions about the environment.

Session I – Exposure Assessment in the Field and Links to Human Health
February 6, 2014, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. ET (rebroadcast of the November 12, 2013 webinar)
An archive of this webinar is available on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clu-in Training & Events Webpage.

  • Moderator: Michelle Heacock (http://www.niehs.nih.gov, Health Specialist, Superfund Research Program
  • Presenter 1: Ingrid Padilla, Ph.D., University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and David Kaeli, Ph.D. , Northeastern University
    • Presentation title: Application of the PROTECT Data Management System to Assess Relationships Between Environmental Chemical Exposure and Population Birth Outcomes in Northern Puerto Rico
  • Presenter 2: Alison Sanders, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Presentation title: Mapping metal levels in private wells and assessing the association with congenital heart defects in North Carolina

Preterm birth, the leading cause of neonatal mortality in the U.S., may be associated with exposure to legacy and emergent contaminants in the environment. Puerto Rico has one of the highest rates of preterm birth, as well as density of Superfund Sites in the United States. As part of NIEHS’s Superfund Research Program, the Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) is exploring the relationships between exposure to hazardous chemicals and preterm birth in northern Puerto Rico. Particular attention is given to chlorinated volatile organic compounds and phthalates, although biomarkers of phenols, metals, and parabens exposure are also being explored as precursors of preterm birth. Identification of associations between contaminants and preterm birth requires collection and integration of complex multi-disciplinary datasets. The first presentation described the data management system being developed by PROTECT to integrate, manage, analyze, and relate environmental, demographic, exposure biomarkers, and birth outcome data. The discussion centered on the applicability of the system, built on a foundation of Earthsoft’s EQUIS®, to assess the extent of groundwater and tap water contamination, identify other modes of exposure, define patterns in biomarkers of exposure and birth outcomes from an ongoing birth cohort, perform relational queries, and map spatial patterns that can be directly visualized with ArcGIS.

Toxic metals are widespread environmental contaminants that are known human carcinogens and/or developmental toxicants. The levels of metals in private well water are federally unregulated. The second presenter described two studies that used GIS mapping in North Carolina to examine 1) the spatial patterns of arsenic levels private wells, and 2) the association between private well levels of arsenic, cadmium, manganese, and lead and birth defects prevalence. The studies used a statewide database of private well contaminants collected by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health as well as data from the North Carolina Birth Defects Monitoring Program.

Session II – GIS Tools for Hazardous Site Tracking
December 6, 2013, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET
An archive of this webinar is available on EPA's Clu-in Training & Events Webpage.

  • Moderator: Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., DABT, Program Administrator, Superfund Research Program
  • Presenter 1: Meredith Golden (Columbia University), Tricia Chai-Onn (Columbia University)
    • Presentation Title: The Superfund Footprint Mapper: Step by Step
  • Presenter 2: Peter Salpas Ph.D., (Salpas Consulting)
    • Presentation Title: Oak Ridge Environmental Information System: No Longer Just a Database

During the first presentation, presenters from the Columbia University Superfund Research Program discussed the Program’s “NPL Superfund Footprint: Site, Population, and Environmental Characteristics” Mapper, funded by NIEHS. The Mapper permits academic researchers, government regulators, and community stakeholders to visualize critical data about the area and inhabitants near Superfund sites to better assess the vulnerability of affected populations and prioritize cleanups. The ATSDR Geographic Research, Analysis and Services Program (GRASP) polygon shape files define the boundaries for most of the sites; the remaining sites are designated by EPA CERCLIS point data indicating the site centroid. The Mapper includes over 32 socio-demographic variables including race, education, linguistic isolation, and women of childbearing age. Using U.S. Census Grids population data, these characteristics are aggregated to provide a more accurate profile of populations living within 1 and 4 mile “buffers” surrounding more than 1700 NPL sites across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. School locations with student enrollment are mapped. Environmental data such as Brownfields, fault lines, and Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data indicate additional potential health risks for residents. As the Columbia SRP Research Translation Core considers updates and enhancements to the Mapper, the team invited feedback from those who would like to use the Mapper to better understand, assess, and remediate environmental health issues near Superfund Sites.

In response to the presence of radioactive and hazardous contaminants, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) was put on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) National Priority List (NPL) in 1998. The Federal Facility Agreement between DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the State of Tennessee that was implemented in 1992 for the ORR requires that all environmental sampling data and State environmental permit data be contained in a single database called the Oak Ridge Environmental Information System (OREIS). Since then, OREIS has been the ORR database for storing and retrieving historical and environmental characterization data used for risk assessments to support source remediation decisions under watershed Interim Records of Decision (RODs). In preparation of the first watershed final ROD on the ORR and with over 14 million data records in the database, recent enhancements have been made to OREIS that have transformed it from a data storage and retrieval tool to a dynamic Geographic Information System (GIS) interface designed to facilitate the user’s ability to visualize, obtain, and manage post-remediation data in order to document permit compliance and remediation effectiveness, and to make risk-based groundwater and ecological decisions in future watershed final RODs. In the second presentation DOE subcontractor, Peter Salpas of Salpas Consulting discussed these most recent changes and gave an overview of OREIS.

Session III – Community Engagement
December 13, 2013, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. ET (rescheduled from October 7th, 2013)
An archive of this webinar is available on EPA's Clu-in Training & Events Webpage.

  • Moderator: Heather Henry ,(http://www.niehs.nih.gov Program Administrator, Superfund Research Program
  • Presenter 1: Andy Larkin, Ph.D. candidate, Oregon State University
    • Presentation title: Making models personal: increasing the impact of atmospheric pollutant models by predicting pollutant levels at Android and iPhone locations
  • Presenter 2: Lex van Geen, Ph.D., Columbia University
    • Presentation title: The unrealized potential of field kits to reduce toxic exposures: Case-studies from Bangladesh (arsenic in groundwater) and Peru (lead in mine tailings)

In the first presentation, Andy Larkin an SRP trainee from Oregon State University, discussed how he is integrating fine particulate matter, coarse particulate matter, and ozone air pollutant data into models for the state of Oregon that use Androids and iPhones to make personal and easy to understand air quality predictions. The predicted pollutant concentrations at smartphone locations are displayed on phones as interactive Google maps and graphs, and users are warned if predicted concentrations within 10km exceed custom set warning levels. The predicted pollutant levels at all participant locations are anonymously collected and used to create 3D exposure projection maps for the entire sampling population.

In the second presentation, Lex van Geen, Ph.D., an SRP researcher from Columbia University, illustrated how field kits could play a much greater role in reducing community exposure to contaminated water or soil. The health risk of human exposure to certain contaminants is often spatially highly variable. This is the case for groundwater that is naturally contaminated with arsenic in many shallow aquifers across South and Southeast Asia, and for soil contaminated with lead from mine tailings. Highly localized knowledge of contaminants from field kits can drastically reduce exposure at a relatively low cost, where laboratory analyses of contaminated water or soil and sensitive field instrumentation are not available.

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