Every day, Abt Associates goes the distance in our science, projects and partnerships to provide solutions to the toughest environmental challenges. From assessing arsenic in baby cereals to advancing clean energy strategies worldwide, science is at the root of what we do. Explore some of our #RealWorldScience work below.
#RealWorldScience in our Homes:
Breakfast the Brain Doesn't Need
Arsenic is a harmful chemical that can be found in certain foods, especially those containing rice. Infants and young children are exposed to higher levels of arsenic from their diets than adults because they commonly eat infant rice cereal, and consume greater amounts of arsenic relative to their body weight.
A report from Abt Associates and Healthy Babies Bright Futures quantified these exposures and found that the adverse health effects and associated economic costs of arsenic are significant. In fact, removing all rice and rice products from U.S. children’s diets during the first 6 years of life could save more than 9 million IQ points per year, resulting in approximately $12 to $18 billion in additional annual earnings. Replacing all infant rice cereal consumed by 0-12 month olds with arsenic-free infant foods would lead to an estimated $1.2 to $1.8 billion in additional annual earnings by saving almost 1 million IQ points per year in the U.S.
Abt also found that arsenic exposure from infant rice cereals approaches or exceeds existing health-based limits for arsenic levels, leaving little room for arsenic exposures from other sources such as fruit juice or drinking water.
Some infants may consume more rice-based products (for example, those on a gluten-free diet or members of certain ethnic groups) and therefore have higher arsenic exposures than average. Parents can help protect their children by providing a varied diet with alternative grains such as oatmeal.
#RealWorldScience in our Communities
Charting a New Direction after Superstorm Sandy
After Hurricane Sandy made landfall in 2012, many residents, state and federal agencies, organizations and institutions--such as schools and hospitals--wanted to find proactive ways to prepare and plan for future weather events. Dr. Susan Taylor and teams from Abt have been working with communities to do just that by looking at natural infrastructure projects. Specifically, Taylor has been working to define the metrics that can offer important quantifiable data on how natural infrastructure provides ecosystem and socio-economic resilience.
“Communities and agencies want to know if we have a wetland or marsh here, how will that help limit the impact of erosion, or just how much is needed to dissipate flood waters,” says Taylor. The science and engineering community generally accepts that these natural approaches work, but we are working on quantifying the benefits."
With the measurements and metrics, communities along the coasts will be able to tap into the best evidence on natural infrastructure and make data-informed decisions on how to design and plan for future extreme weather events.
Dr. Taylor is working with National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF) and the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) over the next five years to collect the metrics developed at over 40 DOI/NFWF Sandy resilience project sites.
#RealWorldScience for Regions
Beach Crabs Reveal the Dangers of Oil to Reproductive Health
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing the largest off-shore oil spill in U.S. history.
An estimated 134 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf waters over 87 days. The effects were immediate and long-lasting for Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, as well as untold numbers of marine and aquatic life. That's the big picture.
But for tiny fiddler crabs, small burrowing crabs that live along the shores of the Gulf, the disaster was about to reveal something critical to our understanding of science and reproductive health.
Of the many scientific tests conducted in the wake of Deepwater, Abt scientists, and our partners, Dr. Jim Stoeckel, Auburn University, and Dr. Aaron Roberts, University of North Texas, looked at the offspring of female fiddler crabs that had been exposed to oil. After the female fiddler crabs’ eggs developed and hatched, the larvae from oiled crabs appeared to be unaffected when compared to the larvae from unoiled crabs.
However, that story quickly changed. Shortly after the larval crabs were exposed to sunlight, they died.
"There was an initial sense that exposure to oil as developing embryos was not acutely toxic," said Abt scientist Dr. Jeff Morris. "But as soon as sunlight came into play, that was not at all the case. This experiment furthered our understanding of what was previously not well understood, and the results will be something that scientists working on future oil spills should be paying attention to."
Accelerating Restoration Support in the EU
In 2004, the European Union (EU) passed the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD), taking a bold step toward providing a broad regulatory framework within which damages to habitats and ecosystems must be remediated. The ELD also outlines an overarching policy goal of compensating the public for losses through environmental restoration.
For more than a decade, Abt's scientists, under the direction of Joshua Lipton, Ph.D. and Jennifer Peers, have developed technical guidance for assessing and quantifying natural resource damages in the EU, and have designed, directed, and implemented assessment case studies in multiple Member States. Both have worked extensively on natural resource damage assessment and restoration (NRDAR) projects in the U.S. Together, they co-edited and wrote the first technical book to describe how to design and implement the types of equivalency analysis broadly prescribed by the ELD.