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2012 EPA Research Progress Report

Innovation Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow

A message from Lek Kadeli
Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator
U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development

This report highlights just a small sample of the research results that the scientists and engineers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development delivered in support of the American people in 2012. While just a snapshot, it reflects the enormous positive impact of what a group of dedicated, highly-skilled, and passionate researchers can accomplish when they work together to cultivate an atmosphere of innovation and common purpose in providing solutions to environmental health issues.

No other environmental research organization in the world offers the collective depth and breadth of expertise represented by EPA’s research staff. From assessing the promise and potential risks of emerging technologies using tiny nanoparticles thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair, to exploring the dynamics and far-reaching challenges of global climate change, EPA brings together experts from a diversity of environmental and human health fields.

Collectively, this body of experts, together with partners throughout the scientific community, provide the firm, scientific foundation the Agency needs to fulfill its mission on behalf of the American people: to safeguard human health and protect the environment.

EPA researchers are at the forefront of a movement to advance environmental and human health science into the next generation. Their goal is not only to support efforts to reduce pollution and lower the risks posed by environmental exposure and contamination, but to advance the science needed to achieve a more sustainable and prosperous future.

In doing so, they are helping to fundamentally change the business of protecting human health and the environment from one focused on what should not be done, to one based on growth and opportunity. Together with their partners, EPA researchers are part of a growing community of scientists and engineers embracing an entrepreneurial spirit aimed at delivering the knowledge, tools, and solutions needed to meet today’s most pressing environmental challenges in ways that simultaneously spark economic growth and lay the groundwork for the a new wave of American jobs.

This spirit of innovation is exemplified throughout this report, which highlights some of the research results and impacts achieved by EPA scientists and engineers and their partners during 2012. A few examples follow.

    • Developing remote, mobile air monitoring sensors and technologies that will improve local air quality monitoring and are expected to help oil refineries and other industries save some $500 million over the next ten years. (See New Technology to Improve Local Air Quality Monitoring, Reduce Costs.)

    • Working with partners from the Department of Health and Human Services to launch the “My Air, My Health” initiative. My Air, My Health provided the incentive to inventors, software and app developers, and engineers to develop personal, portable sensors for air quality and human health. (See Sparking Innovation for Clean Air.)

    • Testing a novel, proof-of-concept coastal water quality monitoring system that taps data gathered from the International Space Station’s Hyperspectral Imager for Coastal Ocean (HICO) through an EPA Pathfinder Innovation Project. (See Supporting Innovation.)

    • Advancing the science and engineering of “green infrastructure” techniques such as rain gardens, rain barrels, and green roofs that mimic natural conditions to help urban water systems develop new ways to reduce stormwater and remove excess nutrients from runoff. This work will help communities improve local waterways while avoiding costly upgrades and replacements to sewer systems and other “gray” stormwater infrastructure. (See Tapping Green Infrastructure and A Tool for Urban Stormwater Management.)

    • Working with collaborators from Rutgers University and a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection team to use a remote-controlled, submarine-like “autonomous underwater vehicle” to monitor water quality off the coast of  New Jersey, helping collect important data while reducing costly helicopter flights. (See Gliding beneath the Surface.)

    • Developing new tools to help communities protect the health of their residents while advancing a more sustainable future, such as a sophisticated geographic information-based mapping tool called the EnviroAtlas (see Developing the EnviroAtlas to Support Community Decisions), and an on-line tool that helps illustrate the connections between natural ecosystems and human health. (See The Eco-Health Relationship Browser.)

    • Combining advances in exposure science, biology, mathematical and computer modeling, and computer technology to advance the EPA’s Computational Toxicology research and advance new, efficient, and fast high-throughput screening efforts. (See EPA’s Computational Toxicology Research; Chemical Evaluation Dashboards for Decision Makers, and ToxCast Partnership to Advance Chemical Testing, Reduce Animal Testing.)

    • Growing EPA’s widely-used Integrated Risk Information System (“IRIS”) Program with a progress report to the U.S. Congress, highlighting continued improvements such as proactive stakeholder engagement and increased transparency, and the completion of several critical IRIS assessments, including dioxin (noncancer) and tetrachloroethylene (perc). (See Growing IRIS: Advancing EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System.)

    • Enhancing the nation’s ability to detect, respond to, and recover from a deliberate or accidental release of chemical, biological, or radiological agents through updates and improvements to tools such as I-WASTE and the Wide Area Recovery and Resiliency Program (see Supporting Emergency Response and Recovery), and the Selected Analytical Methods for Environmental Remediation and Recovery. (See Read to Respond: Improving the Nation’s Emergency Preparedness.)

EPA’s overall research strategy unites six complementary, highly-coordinated and Transdisciplinary research programs: Air, Climate, and Energy; Sustainable and Health Communities; Safe and Sustainable Water Resources; Chemical Safety for Sustainability; Human Health Risk Assessment; and Homeland Security Research.

This report highlights some of the many achievements EPA researchers and their partners have achieved working together across these programs throughout 2012. This report is dedicated to their service and exemplifies the innovative work they do everyday to support the American people and advance a healthy and sustainable future for the nation.  

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