Office of Research and Development
How We Conduct Research
EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) plans and conducts research to address the highest priority science needs of the Agency. ORD's Strategic Plan provides the direction for planning and conducting the research.
The national research programs in ORD provide strategic research planning to address EPA's most critical science needs to address existing and emerging environmental issues and to support the Agency's national goals. The programs are responsible for the development of comprehensive research strategies and multi-year research plans. These documents identify the research needed to respond to environmental issues, identify key gaps in scientific knowledge, and provide a guide to implement the science.
The research planning involves extensive outreach to stakeholders to obtain input, and collaboration with EPA's program offices, which establish standards to protect public health and the environment, and the Agency's regional offices, which support and enforce the implementation of regulations.
The research receives extensive external review to ensure the science conducted at ORD is relevant and of the highest quality.
ORD conducts targeted research in the following program areas:
- computational toxicology
- drinking water
- global change
- human health
- pesticides and toxics
- water quality
- human health risk assessment
The research is conducted and coordinated in ORD’s seven laboratories and research centers and two offices located across the country.
The organization also supports high-quality research by the nation's leading scientists through its STAR grant program to improve the scientific basis for decisions on national environmental issues. To foster innovation and research excellence, ORD collaborates with academic institutions and other scientific organizations to advance its science through the establishment of research centers and partnerships.
Risk Paradigm and ORD Science
ORD's research is organized to provide the sound science needed to support risk assessment and management policies and practices. To understand how ORD conducts its research, it helps to be familiar with the "risk paradigm," an important Agency organizing principle. The risk paradigm consists of two interrelated phases, risk assessment and risk management.
Risk Assessment is the process used to evaluate the degree and probability of harm to human health and the environment from such stressors as pollution or habitat loss. In ORD, risk assessments are conducted by ORD's National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA). For more information about risk assessment: http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/nceariskassess.cfm?ActType=RiskAssess
The risk assessment process, as proposed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1983, consists of:
Hazard Identification - identifying adverse effects (e.g., short-term illness, cancer) that may occur from exposure to environmental stressors. This research is conducted by ORD's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) and grantees through the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER).
Exposure Assessment - describing the populations or ecosystems exposed to stressors and the magnitude, duration, and spatial extent of exposure. Exposure research is conducted by ORD's National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) and grantees.
Dose-Response Assessment - determining the toxicity or potency of stressors. These assessments are conducted by ORD's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and grantees.
Risk Characterization – This final step in the risk assessment process integrates the individual hazard, dose-response, and exposure information. It provides an evaluation of the overall quality of the assessment and the degree of confidence the authors have in the estimates of risk and conclusions drawn, as well as communicates risk information to decision makers and others.
ORD's National Center for Computational Toxicology (NCCT) uses emerging technologies to improve quantitative risk assessment. Its three strategic objectives are to improve linkage across the source-to-outcome continuum, develop approaches for prioritizing chemicals for subsequent screening and testing, and produce better methods and predictive models for quantitative risk assessment.
Risk Management entails determining whether and how risks should be managed or reduced. It is based on the results of the risk assessment as well as other factors (e.g., public health, social, and economic factors). Risk management options include pollution prevention or control technologies to reduce or eliminate the pollutant or other stressor on the environment. The environmental or public health impacts resulting from risk management decisions must then be monitored so that any necessary adjustments can be made. Risk management research is conducted by ORD's National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) and National Homeland Security Research Center.
ORD's Office of Science Policy (OSP) ensures that the scientific information generated by ORD and elsewhere is most effectively and appropriately used to inform EPA decisions.