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Research

Homeland Security

Introduction

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, EPA was directed to tap its collective scientific and technical expertise to help protect human health and the environment from the effects of terrorist incidents involving chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) contamination.  EPA was charged with helping to decontaminate buildings and large public areas, protect our Nation’s water supply, and rapidly provide reliable information to key decision-makers, stakeholders and impacted communities on analytical methods and human health risks. 

EPA's homeland security research helps provide the science and technology that directly supports the Agency's leadership role in remediating CBR contamination, homeland security attacks, or accidental releases. The program also conducts research on drinking water and wastewater systems, as the Agency is the sector lead for water infrastructure. Many of EPA's homeland security research products and technologies have broader environmental and health protection applications.

This section highlights some of the many accomplishments that EPA scientists and engineers made during  2010 to advance homeland security research, including:  testing the effectiveness of various decontamination technologies during the recovery phase after a terrorist event involving radiological contamination, receiving a prestigious R&D 100 Award for threat-detection software developed to help protect the Nation’s drinking water supplies, developing performance specifications for materials to mitigate the spread of radioactive contamination following a dirty bomb explosion, and more.

EPA Leads National Exercise for Response and Recovery from 'Dirty Bomb' Scenario

Agency scientists provided key support for the Liberty RadEx exercise—major simulation of testing, clean up, and recovery phases that would follow a deliberate radiation attack.

In 2010, EPA emergency response managers from Regions 3, 4, and 5 led an extensive training exercise to prepare for responding to and recovering from a terrorist attack in an urban setting involving the detonation of a "dirty bomb" containing radiological materials.

The Liberty RadEx Exercise (LRE) (PDF) (24 pp, 1.1MB, About PDF) was a National Tier 2 Full‐Scale Exercise sponsored by EPA and co‐sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Radiation Protection and the City of Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management. Over 1000 individuals participated in LRE representing, 35 federal, state, and local agencies; nine community groups; 14 private businesses; two universities; and scientists and observers from six foreign countries. They were involved in both field drills and training exercises held from April 27 to 29 in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Most exercises to date have focused on crisis response during the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, EPA researchers supported Region 3 in the planning and design of LRE as an exercise for developing and practicing the critical remediation and recovery actions that are needed in the weeks and months after the initial lifesaving phase of a response covering a large population and geographic area.

The scenario in LRE was built around the potential aftermath of a suicide attack, launched from a van, loaded with 3,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate mixed with diesel fuel and radioactive Cesium-137. EPA researchers participated in multiagency planning workgroups providing expertise and technical support o help define the critical, long-term issues that would have to be addressed following such an explosion. They ensured that the latest research and technology were available to all participants in the exercise.

During LRE, EPA scientists and engineers also served as "controllers" or "evaluators". Controllers challenged participants by adding complexities known as "injects" (such as sudden changes in the incident or the discovery of new information) to practice simulations and exercises. Evaluators determined whether all activities were performed successfully and in accordance with plans, policies, procedures, and agreements.

The drill also provided a real-world opportunity to apply, demonstrate clean-up technologies in the field that had previously been tested in research laboratories. For example, during the drill, participants were able to apply strippable coatings for radioactively contaminated surfaces, in a subway station and a decontamination foam (PDF) (3 pp, 339K, About PDF) at the Philadelphia Fire Department Training Academy's building.

EPA researchers and their partners used LRE events to further develop and test a new tool that integrates contaminant plume maps with Geographic Information System data. This tool estimates the quantities and activity levels of contaminated waste and debris, including building debris and outdoor materials such as asphalt and soil. Officials in charge of cleanup decisions applied these estimates to evaluate trade-offs between decontamination and disposal options.

EPA researchers also learned valuable lessons about their role in the response to a large incident as part of the overall EPA response community, providing technical support to the exercise players as they would provide technical support to the incident command in a real event. Lessons learned from LRE help to inform how all levels of government, business, and community organizations can work together to meet the challenges associated with long-term cleanup and community recovery following a dirty bomb attack.

EPA Researchers and Partners Win R&D 100 Award for CANARY

Award-winning software helps nation protect drinking water supplies.

EPA researchers and their collaborators from the Department of Energy were recognized with a 2010 "R&D 100 Award" Exit EPA Disclaimer from R&D Magazine for CANARY—software they developed to improve the security of drinking water systems. The software, in conjunction with a network of sensors, can rapidly detect contamination, providing critical information to support decisions and actions taken to protect human health from tainted drinking water.

R&D 100 Awards are given annually to the 100 most technologically significant products introduced in the past year. 

CANARY software is being piloted in five U.S. cites (Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and San Francisco) and Singapore using data sets that are unique to each system. Based on data analysis performed by CANARY, the pilot utilities can better detect when they need to alert their customers to a hazardous level of contamination in their drinking water supply. This in turn enables them to incorporate new guidelines into their emergency response and consequence management plans.

CANARY software evaluates standard water quality data such as free chlorine, pH, and total organic carbon over time, and uses mathematical and statistical techniques to identify the onset of anomalous water quality incidents. Before using CANARY for the first time, historical utility data must be used to determine the natural variation of these water quality parameters. This allows the water utility to adapt CANARY to work accurately at multiple locations within the water distribution system and helps utility operators to understand any expected false alarm rates associated with CANARY and contamination incident detection.

The CANARY software allows for:

  • The use of a standard data format for input and output of water quality and operations data;
  • The ability to select different detection algorithms (CANARY contains three different mathematical approaches for analyzing the data);
  • The ability to select various water utility and location-specific configuration options;
  • An online operations mode and an offline evaluation mode;
  • The ability to generate data needed to establish performance metrics (e.g., false alarm rates)

CANARY assists water utilities in understanding the significance of large volumes of water quality data. It can automatically review incoming data regarding anomalous conditions and alert the water utility if further action is required. Not only can CANARY detect anomalous conditions resulting from contamination incidents, but it can detect unexpected “normal” events, such as a sensor malfunction or a pipe break.

The CANARY software is not intended to replace commercially available software but to supplement existing software and motivate commercial development of similar products. It is hoped that the release of CANARY also will lead to additional research and development in this field.

As a free software tool, CANARY is available worldwide to drinking water utilities striving to provide safe water to their customers. To date, more than 600 users in 15 countries have accessed the software.

Rapid Detection Methods Help Speed Recovery From Radiological Contamination

EPA researchers developed new methods to expedite analysis of water samples.

In 2010, EPA published a compendium of methods for rapidly detecting selected radionuclides in drinking and surface water. The methods were developed for laboratories that would support EPA's response and recovery actions following a radiological or nuclear incident such as the detonation of an improvised nuclear device or a radiological dispersal device (“dirty bomb”).

EPA homeland security researchers collaborated with the Agency’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air to develop the rapid analytical methods.   The new methods reduce the sample processing time from days or weeks to just 8 to 38 hours.

Methods were developed for five radionuclides that could be used in a radiological dispersion incidentare and are difficult to detect in the field using hand-held instruments. They are:  americium-241, plutonium-238 and plutonium-239/240, isotopic uranium, radiostrontium (strontium-90) and radium-226

In addition to expedited analysis, EPA researchers developed the new methods to provide quantitative results that meet measurement quality objectives for the intermediate and recovery phases of a nuclear or radiological incident.   

Laboratories can now get results back to the field more quickly, helping responders and decision-makers develop cleanup strategies.  In addition, after cleanup has been completed, the new methods provide data that can be used for determining when the site is safe again for public use. 

The new methods will be added to EPA's "Selected Analytical Methods (SAM) for Environmental Remediation and Recovery" (PDF) (222 pp, 1.6MB, About PDF) in the fall of 2011.

For more information, please visit:  http://www.epa.gov/nhsrc/news/news081910.html.

Performance Specifications for Materials for Mitigating Radioactive Contamination

EPA researchers develop performance specifications for coatings and other products that can be applied.

After a dirty bomb (a radiological dispersal device) has been detonated, wind, weather, and both vehicle and pedestrian traffic can increase the spread of contamination.   As contaminants migrate and bind to nearby surfaces, they can become more difficult to decontaminate

Working in collaboration with American Society for Testing and Materials Exit EPA Disclaimer, (ASTM) International Subcommittee E54.03 on Decontamination, EPA researchers developed performance specifications (ASTM E2731) for materials available to mitigate the spread of radioactive contamination following a dirty bomb detonation.  The materials—“coatings and other products”—can be applied to exterior surfaces in an urban environment to mitigate the spread and binding behavior of radiological contamination. 

Adequate preparation and development of effective mitigation and decontamination technologies will ensure the most rapid and effective recovery from a radiological event, as well as provide a measure of deterrence.  Products described in the ASTM Standard would be principally used by federal, state and local government emergency responders and response planners, decontamination service providers, and those interested in protecting and recovering from radiological terrorism.

Provisional Advisory Levels for Interim Recovery Actions

EPA researchers advance the development of health-based advisory levels for high-priority hazardous chemicals and warfare agents.

During 2010, EPA researchers advanced the development of health-based provisional advisory levels (PALs) for high priority hazardous chemicals and chemical warfare agents in ambient air and drinking water. 

To date, EPA has developed PALs for more than 100 priority chemical agents. A total of about 1,800 acute, short- and long-term values have been derived for potential ingestion and inhalation exposures.

The development and application of PALs will facilitate effective risk management and risk communication decisions to minimize the adverse impact of threat agents to the general public. PALs also will be used for emergency exposure planning at federal, state and local levels.