EPA Region 3
Topic: Environmental Science Center
Date: November 3, 2010
Cindy Caporale: We see ourselves as being very important to provide science to those making decisions.
Lena Kim: That’s Cindy Caporale, chief of the mid-Atlantic laboratory at EPA’s Environmental Science Center at Fort George Meade, Maryland. I’m Lena Kim, and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.
When you enter Fort Meade, between Baltimore and Washington, you can’t miss seeing a very large, modern red brick building. The Environmental Science Center, or ESC, houses laboratories for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region as well as EPA’s national pesticides program. Cindy Metzger manages the Office of Analytical Services and Quality Assurance.
Cindy Metzger: We’re unique in the agency in that we are an EPA-owned facility. Of course, we’re on a military facility and it also combines a regional organization as well as a headquarters organization. So, we have many unique opportunities to partner with the other organizations and to work closely with our HQ’s partners in various projects.
Lena Kim: It doesn’t take long, speaking with Cindy, to see that the ESC serves many customers and that customer service is a high priority.
Cindy Metzger: Our primary customers at the regional lab are the program offices that are located in the regional office in Philadelphia. These include hazardous waste clean-up, the air protection programs, water protection programs as well as the enforcement program and the Office of Regional Counsel up in the regional office. We provide analytical services for each of those programs when they are conducting clean-up activities or enforcement investigations. We also provide quality assurance support in that we review the data that’s generated by laboratories--either the laboratory here or the laboratories that we place contracts with. We review their data to make sure that it is accurate and provides the appropriate quality of data for decision making for those sites or those cleanup activities.
Lena Kim: Just as EPA partners with the states and others, the Science Center’s customers are clearly not limited to EPA’s programs.
Cindy Metzger: One of our more important activities is our shared responsibilities with the states and enforcing environmental regulations. Our role in that is to ensure that the state environmental and public health laboratories are performing EPA-approved methods and are conducting their tests in an approved manner. We perform laboratory inspections of the state laboratories to ensure that they are following and complying with all the regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act. We also provide technical assistance and training in methods and instrumentation for the states.
Lena Kim: We asked Cindy about any memorable projects the ESC has recently supported.
Cindy Metzger: One interesting incident that we were involved in was a recent train derailment of a CSX train into the Anacostia River in the District of Columbia. We provided the laboratory support and other technical assistance to the clean-up crews that were working for the DC Department of the Environment. We helped them in method selection and deciding what kind of detection limit that they need to look for--what kind of clean up levels they should be looking for. And we helped them design a sampling scheme for the monitoring and clean up of the river. We also provided all of the analytical support for the incident remediation and follow-up activities as well.
Lena Kim: The Environmental Science Center is not only a major tenant on a sprawling Army base, but a committed member of the Fort Meade community.
Cindy Metzger: One of the things that we think is very important in working within the Fort Meade community is to conduct outreach activities that may or may not necessarily be involved with our environmental protection mission. Two things that the employees in the facility are currently involved in is to provide monthly dinners to Sarah’s House, which is a local homeless shelter for families that are placed in transitional housing. We also have a very robust program with Sarah’s House where we collect a lot of food and clothing items. We sponsor back-to-school supply collection days as well as other activities. We are participating in Fort Meade’s adopt-a-school program--we recently adopted a local elementary school where we will be participating in their Earth Day activities, providing one-on-one tutoring, working on their career day activities, science fair judges, judging and other things with the school. We also do that with other schools as they request it. We also provide lab tours for middle school and high school science classes as well as internship opportunities with college students.
Lena Kim: Working within the ESC’s multi-faceted organization is Cindy Caporale, chief of the laboratory branch. (And no, not all ESC people are named Cindy.)
Cindy Caporale: The responsibilities of our branch are to provide analytical services to a variety of programs--Clean Water Act, (Safe) Drinking Water Act, streams, and Chesapeake Bay. We also do work with Superfund, for Superfund sites providing analytical services for their site certifications for putting sites on the NPL (National Priorities List) list. We also do RCRA and TSCA and compliance, and we provide some enforcement work for our field inspectors that go out and do RCRA and TSCA inspections and every once in awhile we will do some work for CID.
Lena Kim: Listeners, a quick acronym breakdown for you: RCRA regulates hazardous waste, TSCA regulates toxic materials, CID is EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and the NPL is the Superfund National Priorities List. Back to Cindy, who feels strongly about the need for quality assurance in all sampling and lab activities.
Cindy Caporale: Well, we feel that the work we do in the laboratory provides data for our regional counterparts to be making decisions, and because of that we spend a great deal of time ensuring the quality of our data. We follow a rigorous quality system program, both internally as well as being accredited through the national environmental laboratory accreditation program. And by doing so we consistently put steps in place to view our data to ensure that the results that we provide are accurate and correct and could stand up in court.
Lena Kim: Cindy’s pride in her staff is evident when talking about her team.
Cindy Caporale: The analysts who work in the lab have a variety of experience; some of them have been here since the agency began. And so they have a wealth of knowledge about different projects or enforcement cases that they can apply to the data that they are gathering now. And then we have some fresh--brand new out of school--that we get into the lab, get them used to the equipment, provide training both on how to run the instruments but also how to support the programs. So we take the experience of being at an instrument and running samples and producing results. And help them decide how to sample or what methods to pick and what the results actually mean. Um We also provide services to review other peoples’ data and determine whether or not there’s missing pieces or that the quality control is not followed properly. We see ourselves as being very important to provide science to those making decisions.
Lena Kim: Thank you, Cindy Metzger and thank you, Cindy Caporale for talking with us about the Environmental Science Center. For more information about the ESC, go to www.epa.gov/region3 and click on “ESC” in the quickfinder at the top.
Because EPA relies so heavily on scientific data to make regulatory and site clean-up decisions, we’ll soon sit down for a conversation with our quality assurance manager. And thanks to our listeners for joining us on Environment Matters.