South Korea and the Heartland Connected by World Wide Water

By Jeffery RobichaudSouth Korea Meeting photo 1

Here in Kansas, we are the EPA Regional Office that is farthest from an international border. But surprisingly, we still get our own share of out-of-town visitors.

In August 2015, scientists from our Drinking Water Program and Environmental Science and Technology Division sat down with five South Korean representatives from Kunsan National University, the National Institute of Environmental Research, the Korea Environment Corporation, and the country’s Ministry of the Environment. Dr. JeJung Lee, who is our partner in the very cool KCWaterBug, helped arrange the visit and assisted with translations where necessary.

South Korea Meeting Photo 2

What was truly fascinating, yet I suppose not altogether surprising, were the issues we talked about. This group of scientists from across the Pacific wanted to learn more about how our Agency protects and regulates groundwater in the United States. They also met with staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the University of Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey. As it turns out, many of the issues they grapple with are, in fact, the same ones we deal with here in the Heartland.

We first talked about nitrate pollution. Here in the United States, nitrate is regulated in drinking water at public water systems, with a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million, which is rarely exceeded.

South Korea has many more private wells in urban areas, while nearly all individuals in metropolitan settings within the United States get their water from regulated public water systems with protected water sources. We learned that sampling at residential homes is difficult for them to accomplish, because homeowners are afraid of losing the ability to use the water or are fearful that they will be required to pay for treatment.

On the remediation (hazardous waste cleanup) side, our visitors were interested in chlorinated solvents and the concerns and risks associated with the vapor intrusion pathway at sites with volatile organic compounds. A specific area of interest was methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that used to be prevalent in the United States, and its associated vapor intrusion concerns and risks.

On this day, EPA did most of the talking. It would have been nice to have had the time to hear more about how South Korea regulates groundwater nationally, South Korea Meeting Photo 3especially private water well use and construction standards, as well as their experiences with water treatment processes and techniques for drinking water and wastewater. Unfortunately, they had a busy schedule and were sprinting over to the University of Kansas to meet with professors, before moving on to Tennessee to meet with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey.

We will just have to wait for another visit. As you can see in the photo, even with the language differences, we managed to share some laughs!

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. Jeff’s journeys across the Pacific have always stopped just halfway across, and he hopes to someday cross the International Dateline and visit friends in the Far East.

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New Guidance for Vapor Intrusion Investigations and Response Actions

The quality of outdoor air frequently comes to mind as an important public health concern and rightly so. What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, though, is the role indoor air quality plays in public health. With the average American spending nearly 90 percent of his or her time indoors, the quality of air in our homes, schools, offices and other buildings is also critical to people’s health.

Vapor intrusion is a type of indoor air pollution that occurs when hazardous vapors from underground contaminated sources, like ground water, seep into buildings through openings such as cracks in basements. The vapors can build up to the point where the health or safety of residents or workers in an affected building could be at risk. Sensitive and vulnerable segments of the population, like pregnant women and the elderly, can be especially susceptible to indoor vapors. Vapor intrusion is a potential concern at any building—existing or planned—located near soil or groundwater that contains toxic chemicals that form vapors.   Early identification and remediation is critical to protect communities.

To support vapor intrusion investigations and cleanup activities across the country, we recently released two technical guides. One guide, the Technical Guide for Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion Pathway from Subsurface Vapor Sources to Indoor Air applies to all sites being evaluated under federal land cleanup statutes by EPA, other federal agencies, state and tribal governments and brownfields grantees. A companion document, the Technical Guide for Addressing Petroleum Vapor Intrusion at Leaking Underground Storage Tank Sites addresses any site where vapor intrusion related to petroleum contamination from underground storage tanks is a potential concern. Relying on a large body of peer-reviewed science, the guides allow for flexible and effective approaches for a variety of situations. We believe that states, tribes and localities will find them helpful for vapor intrusion assessments, risk management decisions and mitigation actions.

National awareness and concern about vapor intrusion has grown over the last several decades.  At the same time, our knowledge of and experience with vapor intrusion has increased substantially, leading to better approaches for evaluating and managing it. The guides harness this knowledge and present our current recommendations for identifying, evaluating and mitigating vapor intrusion in both residential and non-residential settings.

While vapor intrusion can pose a serious threat to people’s health in certain circumstances if it goes unaddressed, the good news is that exposures usually can be prevented or reduced through relatively simple actions such as changing building pressure and ventilation. In most cases, costs associated with addressing vapor intrusion can be very manageable, resulting in long-term benefits including improved public health and savings down the road, especially when issues are addressed early.

For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/oswer/vaporintrusion/

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.