Science Wednesday: Putting Science into Action for Cleaner Communities

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

After reading statements like “further research is needed” or “researching is ongoing” in articles about science and the environment, I am often frustrated. If only it were possible to have all the answers at our fingertips. Strong science to inform environmental decisions is crucial, and in the world we live in, it seems like these decisions can’t be made quickly enough. We are all anxious to hear what science has to tell us and what new solutions it may offer.

The EPA Office of Research and Development’s recently-released Land Research Progress Report struck me as a heartening example that not only are scientists working hard to obtain results but that these results are substantial and have already been used for practical outcomes.

Taking a look at the report helped me understand exactly what work is being done and how extensive, multifaceted, and successful the Land Research Program has been. The program is one of twelve interdisciplinary research programs at EPA, and it focuses on cleaning up and revitalizing land contaminated by hazardous waste. Main areas of research include landfills, contaminated sediments, groundwater contamination, and underground storage tanks among others

The report tracks research results and impacts from 2005-2009. For each area of research, it offers a detailed account of exactly where and why changes have been implemented, and what further efforts are underway. Figures given in the report such as, “Over the last five years, ORD scientists have partnered with over 40 landfill managers to transfer technology on alternative landfill covers. This resulted in installation cost savings totaling 200 million dollars,” drive home the idea that science is being turned into action. It also highlights some important innovations, such as the groundwater research program developing a patented technology and applying it to a clean-up site.

While there is, no doubt, a long way to go in cleaning up our communities and managing hazardous waste issues, it is refreshing to see clear evidence that the research being done is having an impact. The long timelines required by scientific research projects can often be frustrating, but reports like this one make the results visible and serve as welcome reminders that progress is being made.

About the Author: Cathryn Courtin is a student at Georgetown University in the Science, Technology, and International Affairs program. She is spending her summer working as a student contractor at EPA’s Office of Research and Development.