The Cleanup Job

By Michaela Burns

EPA helps communities prepare and recover from all sorts of disasters. This includes helping communities prepare for and recover from terrorism. Part of that recovery process involves making contaminated indoor and outdoor facilities like houses and public buildings safe for reuse.

EPA scientists have recently published research investigating the cleanup of blister agents, which are chemical compounds that can cause severe irritation and pain in eyes and on skin. The three blister agents studied, sulfur mustard (neat HD), Lewisite (neat L) and Agent Yellow (HL), a mix of sulfur mustard and Lewisite, are chemical warfare agents that are ranked high for potential terrorist use because they can be easily obtained and can have devastating health impacts.

EPA researchers evaluated how effectively certain decontaminants could remove these blister agents from materials used in public structures like wood, metal and glass. The decontaminants used in this effort include, regular bleach, hydrogen peroxide, dilute bleach and EasyDECON®DF200 (DF200), an oxygen-based decontaminant developed by Sandia National Laboratory. Regular bleach and hydrogen peroxide are of particular interest to researchers because they are substances that are universally accessible and potentially decent decontaminants.

Study results demonstrate that the cleanup process depends on a variety of factors such as the type of blister agent being targeted, the material impacted by the blister agent and the type and strength of the decontaminant method. Researchers were able to eliminate neat L from most surfaces using all four decontaminants. This was not the case with neat HD, where regular bleach proved to be far more effective than the other decontaminants, particularly DF200, on all surfaces except for wood. The last blister agent tested was HL. Decontaminants that were effective against the parent blister agents (neat HD and neat L) were also effective against HD mixed with L (HL) samples and neat L mixed with HD (HL) samples.

These research findings could be crucial to future decisions made about decontaminating contaminated facilities and it is just one of the ways that EPA is protecting our future. Check out the study in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

About the Author: Michaela Burns is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap graphic identifierWas your team already knocked out of March Madness? Then you must have plenty of time to catch up on the latest in EPA science. And if they’re still in it, there’s always halftime!

Women’s History Month
March is Women’s History month and this year’s theme is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.” Here at EPA, there are quite a few women scientists and engineers who truly are helping us achieve a more perfect union. We asked some of them to share a few words about what inspired them to pursue a career in science. Read what they said in the blog Women’s History Month: Honoring EPA Women in Science.

Water Reuse and Conservation Research
In honor of World Water Day this week, the White House held a water summit to raise awareness about water issues and potential solutions in the US, and to catalyze ideas and actions to help build a sustainable and secure water future through innovative science and technology. In conjunction with the summit, EPA announced $3.3 million in funding to support water reuse and conservation research. “The research announced today will help us manage and make efficient use of the water supply in the long term,” said Thomas A. Burke, EPA Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator for our Office of Research and Development. Read more about the grants in this press release.

EPA’s Student Competition Lights the Way
A former team that competed in EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design competition was just named one of the most innovative companies of 2016 by Fast Company Magazine. The P3 team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was initially funded in 2006 with a $10,000 grant. The student lead, Patrick Walsh, leveraged that funding, research, and experience to ultimately form the company Greenlight Planet. Patrick Walsh was also named to the 30 under 30 list by Forbes Magazine in 2012. Read more about EPA’s P3 student design competition.

Homeland Security Research
EPA’s Gregory Sayles recently wrote about a homeland security research demonstration. Along with the Department of Homeland Security, EPA researchers demonstrated a toolbox of options to mitigate and decontaminate urban, wide-area radiological contamination stemming from an event such as a dirty bomb detonation or nuclear power plant accident. Read more about the event in the article EPA and DHA Partner in Radiation Decontamination Event.

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

research_recap_GI_soccerAre you watching the Women’s World Cup this weekend? There may be no commercial breaks but half time is fifteen minutes—the perfect amount of time to refill drinks, get a snack, and catch up on EPA science!

Below is what we are highlighting this week.

  • Research to Support Decontamination and Containment

This week EPA researchers, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, held a demonstration to provide responders with a “toolbox of options” for radiological decontamination and containment technologies.

Learn more about the demonstration in the blog Developing a “Toolbox” of Technology Options. 

  • Agency Researcher Developing Water Quality “App”

EPA researcher Blake Schaeffer was featured in a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch for his work developing an “App” that will tap satellite data to help people monitor local water quality and avoid harmful algal blooms in their favorite swimming spots or fishing holes.

Read the newspaper article App will show level of algae in water.

EPA Research Photo of the Week

Researchers spray a foam developed to remove radioactive cesium and other contaminants from the surface of a building during decontamination demonstrations in Columbus, Ohio.

Researchers spray a foam developed to remove radioactive cesium and other contaminants from the surface of a building during decontamination demonstrations in Columbus, Ohio.

 

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor, writer, and soccer fan working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Research Recap: This week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circleIt’s the first week of September which means it’s the end of summer, kids are going back to school, football is starting, and pumpkin-flavored everything is appearing in grocery stores and coffee shops.

September is also National Preparedness Month, and although EPA researchers work year-round to help local communities across the nation become more resilient and better prepared to respond to disasters, their efforts will be highlighted this month.

  • Yale University’s The Metric blog featured how the Agency’s Office of Homeland Security “is now taking steps to build community capacity on environmental resilience to reduce risk from both natural and manmade risks.” Read Disasters Looming, EPA Focuses on Environmental Resilience.
  • To learn more about how EPA homeland security researchers support such efforts, see the special homeland security issue of our EPA Science Matters newsletter.

Recently, we saw how toxins from harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms can disrupt the nation’s source waters.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author: Writer Kacey Fitzpatrick recently joined the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a student contractor.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Community Resiliency Supports Community Sustainability

By Gregory Sayles, Ph.D.

The three pillars of sustainability

Figure 1. The three pillars of sustainability

Whether it’s the residents of lower Manhattan recovering from flooding and power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, entire municipalities evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, or California’s farming communities adapting to long-term drought conditions, everyone’s talking about “resiliency”—what it takes to bounce back once a community has been impacted by a natural or human-made disaster.

Reducing environmental risks and restoring environmental services are essential components of resilience.

Last week, nearly five dozen scientists, program managers and community liaisons from across EPA gathered for a two-day workshop to parse through scientific and policy definitions of “resiliency” and examine the critical factors that support community resiliency. The group then brainstormed ways to create indicators and an index that communities might use to evaluate their vulnerabilities to disaster, their capacity to bounce back, and the resources they need to prepare for future disasters.

Our discussions taught us that resilience is built on many community functions and qualities, most of them interdependent.  Brian Pickard, of EPA’s Water Security Division highlighted how community drinking water systems are inter-connected to energy supplies and health delivery systems.  If a tornado, flood or hurricane knocks out electricity, drinking water pumping stations crash and critical care facilities such as hospitals need back-up supplies to continue operating.  Hospitals and emergency rooms must have access to emergency water supplies to manage the casualties and injuries that often result following a disaster.

Strengthening community resiliency means becoming better prepared for the next disaster.

How are resilience and sustainability inextricably related?  Sustainability strives to balance three pillars—economic, social, and environmental—in equilibrium (see figure 1).  Disaster disrupts that equilibrium, and with it the path toward sustainability. Resiliency is building in the capability to restore this balance following a disaster.

According to EPA sustainability researchers Alan Hecht and Joseph Fiksel, “sustainability is the capacity for: human health and well-being, economic vitality and prosperity, and environmental resource abundance” while, “resilience is the capacity to: overcome unexpected problems, adapt to change, and prepare for and survive catastrophes.”

Workshop participants agreed to continue developing a discrete set of indicators that can be used to measure community environmental resiliency and present them at a follow-up workshop in July. Our long-term goal is to deliver a Community Environmental Resilience Index to communities, EPA, and other federal partners. The index will help local and national stakeholders assess and improve resiliency and guide planning for disasters.

EPA’s homeland security research program is excited to be working with partners from across the Agency to help communities understand and shape their own resilience.

About the Author: Gregory Sayles, Ph.D. is the Acting Director of EPA’s Homeland Security research program.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Researchers Identify Technologies to Decontaminate Biological Threats

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

EPA and partners advance real world techniques to decontaminate anthrax bacteria.

EPA and partners advance techniques to decontaminate anthrax.

Since the terror attacks in 2001, most of us have adjusted to life with more security at airports, we’ve become accustomed to seeing police with guns protecting our train stations, and we probably didn’t even think twice about the “eyes in the sky” watching everyone during the Super Bowl a couple weeks ago.

Yet probably not many of us think about what might happen if there was an attack with a biological threat, like weaponized anthrax, and we probably don’t want to think about it either.

But there are people who think about it everyday. In fact, researchers in EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program don’t just think about what happens IF, but what happens AFTER. For more than a decade now, they have been researching the best methods to identify and decontaminate threats from chemical, radiological, and biological agents.

In fact, researchers tested several anthrax decontamination technologies during a multi-year project called Bio-Response Operational Testing and Evaluation, or BOTE. The project evaluated decontamination techniques in real-world situations so that the most promising techniques could be put into practice if necessary. BOTE tested not only the effectiveness, but it also examined the costs associated with each method and the expense of managing waste from cleanup – something local governments and building owners would need to understand in the aftermath of an event.

The three technologies tested included:

  • fumigation with vaporized hydrogen peroxide
  • fumigation with chlorine dioxide
  • a treatment process using a pH-adjusted bleach spraying technique

The results of the study found that the effectiveness of each of the three technologies differed based on certain conditions, such as the amount of humidity and temperature in the room. While no one method is a perfect solution, each method has advantages and disadvantages, so the information gained from this project will be important in guiding any future decontamination decisions and will ensure a more effective response to any biological incident. The knowledge was already put into good use when Capitol Police were looking for ways to decontaminate mailroom sorters after a 2013 ricin incident.

BOTE involved more than 300 participants and will provide state and local leaders, on-scene coordinators, waste managers and building owners with guidelines for effective decontamination in the event of a biological threat. Hopefully we’ll never have to really use it, but better to be prepared than not.

About the author:  Lahne Mattas-Curry is a frequent blogger covering water issues, but has recently expanded to share how researchers and engineers keep us safe from all the bad stuff, specifically in events of terrorism—chemical, biological, or radiological—or natural events like hurricanes, earthquakes and nuclear accidents.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Gaining from Net Zero

This week, EPA is hosting the 7th annual international conference on decontamination research and development in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

To help spread the word about the conference, which brings top experts from around the world to advance collaboration and share information on cleaning up contamination—especially chemical, biological, and radiological agents—we are posting “EPA Science Matters” newsletter feature stories.

Gaining from Net Zero
EPA scientists join forces with the U.S. Army sustainability initiative to advance decontamination technologies

Soldier power washes a vehicleEPA scientist Jeff Szabo, Ph.D. and his colleagues are using vehicle cleaning operations on the Kansas Fort Riley military base as an opportunity to advance research into decontamination techniques and technologies. Their work has grown out of a unique partnership between the Agency’s Office of Research and Development and the U.S. Army to support the Army’s Net Zero program, a sustainability initiative focused on reducing energy and water consumption, and waste on military bases.

At Fort Riley, soldiers use high pressure water cannons to clean military vehicles returning from training exercises with a thick coating of dirt, mud, and grime. The resulting wastewater running off the vehicles drains into large sedimentation basins to let large particles of dirt settle out. That’s where the research opportunity materialized.

Realizing that similar cleaning operations would be necessary following a large-scale event involving biological, radiological, or chemical contamination, EPA scientists set up a field station to explore decontamination techniques they could apply in real-world scenarios. The scientists and engineers use safe biological agents as surrogates for more dangerous ones to test advanced oxidation and disinfection technologies. They add these surrogates to both the dirty water from the vehicle cleaning operation and to equal quantities of clean water. By comparing results for removing surrogates from both dirty and clean water, the scientists learn how removal technologies will fair under conditions involving vehicles returning from emergency response and remediation operations.

“This situation mirrors a problem we conduct research on at EPA: If we have large volumes of contaminated water flushed from a drinking water system, or washed from a building or outdoor area, what treatment options are readily available and how do they perform?  The vehicle wash facility at Ft. Riley generates ‘real world’ wastewater that we would encounter when washing a military vehicle, and could be used as a surrogate for dirty water washed from cars or buildings during a contamination event in a city. Not all water that becomes contaminated is the clean stuff flowing through pipes on the way to our faucets,” Szabo explained.

Furthermore, if a military vehicle is contaminated with a biological warfare agent in the field, results from this project will help advance technologies and treatment processes to decontaminate the vehicle and the wastewater produced.

After the research is complete, data on treating large volumes of real world “dirty” water will be available to cities, states, and Department of Defense facilities that may have to treat large volumes of contaminated water.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Stand-by Science: EPA Helps the Nation Be Better Prepared for Emergency Response

EPA researchers are helping to increase the nation’s laboratory capacity to support large-scale emergency response operations. The following “Science Matters” feature illustrates one example of that work. Since 2004, EPA researchers have brought homeland security experts together from across the Federal government to develop a compendium of methods to be used for analyzing environmental samples, and to address site characterization, remediation and clearance following homeland security events. 

Close up of researcher with purple safety gloves uses a pipette with red liquid. In 2010, a clam boat off the coast of Massachusetts dredged up some most unwelcome bounty: old, World War I era munitions. Shortly after the haul, one of the crew members came down with symptoms consistent with exposure to mustard gas, a chemical weapon and nerve agent.  Almost immediately after the sickened deckhand was rushed to the hospital (he survived), EPA scientists and engineers moved in to help analyze the suspected culprit in the old munition, and assist with decontamination and cleanup operations.

“We knew mustard gas was the target to test for because both clinical symptoms and test results from the crew member were available before any environmental samples even arrived at our laboratory,” said Ernest Waterman, Laboratory Branch Chief at EPA’s New England Regional Laboratory in Chelmsford, MA.

For the clean-up effort, the regional lab was able to perform all the environmental sample testing in-house. However, Waterman says, “Had there been a need to send samples to other labs around the country it would have been important that all the labs use the same method of analysis.  At the time, there were no plans in place on how to achieve that, so I think it would have taken some time to ensure that we were, in fact, all going to analyze the samples in the same way. If this had been a large-scale event, we would not have been able to move as quickly as we would have liked.”

To help in such scenarios, EPA homeland security researchers have developed a library of selected methods, the Selected Analytical Methods for Environmental Remediation and Recovery, or SAM for short. The guide helps labs around the country quickly and efficiently select the appropriate environmental testing and analysis methods to use after a wide-scale event.  It’s part of a research program that for nearly a decade has been helping the nation be better prepared for an accidental or deliberate release of chemical, biological or radiological agents.

Teams of experts worked with EPA reviewing and revising lists of chemical, biological and radiological substances that could cause mass harm. EPA’s focus is to make sure laboratories nationwide have the capability to test for these substances and that the testing can be done the same way across all the laboratories, so that one lab’s results can be easily compared with another.

SAM is not a plan on how to handle an emergency, but rather a library of selected methods that laboratories can use as a guide to run their tests. The testing protocols cover several hundred harmful substances ranging from mustard gas and ricin to plutonium and others that could cause the plague or typhoid fever.

“The nice thing about SAM is you can click onto the method and it provides resources that labs can use in a major incident or accident,” said Dr. John Griggs, director of EPA’s National Analytical Radiological Environmental Laboratory in Montgomery, Ala., and coordinator of the radiological section of SAM.

“At regular intervals we go and see if we need to add other radionuclides and then select appropriate methods based on information received from Homeland Security or intelligence. It’s an ongoing process.”

In the case of an act of terrorism or other major incident requiring coordinated, large-scale laboratory response, labs need to analyze many samples taken from the air, water, soil, and indoor and outdoor surfaces. Using the selected methods identified through SAM should  increase the speed of analysis and improve data comparisons among labs across the United States.

“When an incident produces multiple samples,  a large network of labs will be required to conduct the analysis simultaneously,” said Kathy Hall, a health physicist at EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center in Cincinnati, Ohio and a coordinator for SAM.  “What we are looking at is ways we can produce comparable results when we use state and commercial labs to analyze samples.”

EPA is preparing the 142 private and government labs that are part of the Environmental Response Laboratory Network with a list of selected methods to help keep the sampling and analysis consistent when it’s most important.

Lear More

To access SAM2012, please visit: www.epa.gov/sam

EPA Homeland Security Research

EPA Science Matters Newsletter Homeland Security Issue

 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.