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Vast New Database System Streamlines EPA Science Assessments

EPA releases HERO database, providing transparent access to scientific studies used in making decisions to protect the environment and human health.

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"Americans have a right to know the background of decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods. We're taking a big step forward in opening government to the people." This is how EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced the launch of the Health and Environmental Research Online (HERO) database in March 2010.

"The HERO database strengthens our science and our transparency -- two pillars of our work at EPA. Giving the public easy access to the same information EPA uses will help open the lines of communication, increase knowledge and understanding, and open the doors of EPA," Jackson said.

HERO is an open, accessible on-line database providing a wealth of scientific literature and information. The goal of the EPA scientists who designed the database is for it to provide easy access to all the scientific literature used in EPA’s health and environmental risk assessments.These scientific assessments serve as the foundation for key Agency decisions. HERO allows EPA scientists to search through and evaluate thousands of published research studies, and it allows the public access to the scientific studies EPA officials use in making regulatory decisions.

The access provided by HERO marks a significant milestone for EPA in the Agency’s open government directive to conduct business with transparency, participation, and collaboration. Now everyone has an easy way to search and analyze the scientific literature underlying the risk assessments used to support EPA decision-making. The database includes more than 300,000 scientific articles including the authors, titles, dates, and abstracts. The database is constantly growing as more studies are added.

One example of how scientists and the general public can use HERO is to analyze EPA’s periodic review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) required by the Clean Air Act. The Act requires EPA to set NAAQS for wide-spread pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. It requires periodic review of both the science upon which the standards are based and the standards themselves.

Mining the Scientific Literature

The growth of scientific literature is outpacing the ability of scientists to keep up without some technological help. The HERO database allows scientists to effectively categorize and integrate vast amounts of information and to strategically incorporate often conflicting and redundant evidence.

HERO includes peer-reviewed literature used by EPA scientists to develop the Integrated Science Assessments (ISA) that feed into the NAAQS review. ISAs are a special type of risk assessment. EPA is now using HERO to develop ISAs, thus providing easier access for scientists and the public to the many thousands of studies considered in the recent ISAs for particulate matter and for carbon monoxide. 

Search strategies are developed by experienced information science professionals who work with the scientists to ensure the most complete results.

HERO’s design allows for it to be updated constantly as new studies are published. A team of information specialists use advanced search techniques to keep studies on relevant topics feeding into HERO. This enables EPA scientists to keep on top of the rapidly-growing body of literature, meeting their mission of assessing the state-of-the-science to protect human health and welfare.

EPA researchers and specialists are incorporating public input to enhance HERO's functionality. Visit Health & Environmental Research Online (HERO) to submit a comment, or to subscribe to HERO News, a periodic newsletter that informs HERO users of new features.

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