Underwater with EPA Divers

by Sean Sheldrake, EPA Region 10 Dive Team and Alan Humphrey, EPA Environmental Response Team (ERT)

In Rodney Dangerfield’s 1986 classic “Back to School” the older college student is called upon to win a high diving competition with his infamous and highly choreographed “Triple Lindy” maneuver. This high dive involves twists, turns, somersaults, and all manner of intricate movements. While EPA does not have a high diving team, we do have a scientific diving program to undertake its mission underwater to protect human health and the environment – and choreography is absolutely part of their training.

EPA scientific divers are often called upon to perform all manner of scientific dive missions on behalf of EPA. Divers in the Gulf Coast areas may conduct invasive species or coral reef health surveys, while divers in Oregon may be studying eelgrass health in estuaries. Divers in the northeast survey for invasives in inland waters and survey artificial reefs to determine their effectiveness. EPA’s Region 10 (Pacific Northwest area) and Environmental Response Team divers primarily conduct work in contaminated water in support of various cleanup projects for EPA and the Clean Water Act.

Northwest divers and the Environmental Response Team often partner on polluted water scientific diving projects all over Region 10’s vast area of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Those collaborations very recently included those on the Willamette River in Oregon. Two divers from Region 10, and one Environmental Response Team diver partnered recently to conduct solid phase microextraction device (SPMD) work with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Like past work where divers installed miniature wells into the river bottom to measure the creep of toxic polyaromatic hydrocarbons, this mission was to place sampling devices into the river bed that mimic the way bottom dwelling creatures, such as crayfish absorb chemicals. The miniature glass fibers within the sampling device will actually absorb chemicals just as the body of the crayfish would — and can be more easily analyzed at the lab. The data will determine whether a multi-million dollar cleanup is working, if it is done very carefully.

Read more about the latest in EPA scientific diving at www.facebook.com/EPADivers

About the authors: Sean Sheldrake and Alan Humphrey both serve on the EPA diving safety board, responsible for setting EPA diving policy requirements. In addition, they both work to share contaminated water diving expertise with first responders and others.