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EPA Research

EPA Research in New Jersey

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Citizen Science Air Monitoring

Citizen Science using portable sensors helped demonstrate how local industries and the port were exposing vulnerable populations to disproportionate pollution levels, as well as how that type of data could be used and its limitations. ORD staff built local capacity and fostered mutual relationships among the community and local academic partners, which continues.

Members of the Ironbound community in Newark, NJ, suffer from poor air quality resulting from sources of air pollution that surround the community. These sources include New Jersey’s largest incinerator, the Ports of Newark and Elizabeth, and heavily trafficked highways and rail lines. ORD and Region 2 scientists partnered with the community to design, develop, and pilot a citizen science toolbox to enable citizens to collect their own environmental data, improve their understanding of local environmental conditions, and target sites of future air sensor deployments. Based on the success of this project, the project team deployed a new generation of ORD air monitors in the Tallaboa-Encarnación neighborhood of Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, a community which has lived in the shadow of a 3,500-acre petrochemical manufacturing complex for 50 years. ORD is now analyzing the data and will share the results with the community so they can make decisions about how to reduce exposure to harmful air contaminants.

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Challenge: Develop a baseline monitoring network to detect long-term trends
Resource: Technical support to states and tribes through workshops and stream monitoring network development, in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey
Partner: Depts. of Environmental Protection (KY, MA, ME, NJ, PA and WV); Depts. of Environmental Management (AL and RI); CT Dept. of Energy & Environmental Protection; DE Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; Depts. of Natural Resources (GA, MD and Red Lake Nation (tribal)); MA Dept. of Fish & Game; NH Dept. of Environmental Services; Depts. of Environmental Conservation (NY and VT); Depts. Of Environmental Quality (NC and VA); SC Dept. of Health & Environmental Control; TN Dept. of Environment & Conservation; VA Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries; Susquehanna River Basin Commission; TN Valley Authority

“As an interstate agency, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) certainly recognizes the value of the regional partnership EPA has assembled to address the need for collecting the data necessary for detecting changes to water quality and aquatic life communities over time, especially as it relates to any regional trends that may result from climate change effects. The establishment of an effective regional network is a bigger task than any single agency can undertake given the resources involved, and EPA’s staff provided the needed leadership to establish and guide the partnership, as well as the scientific expertise on the study methods for characterizing any future changing conditions.”
– SRBC Executive Director Andrew Dehoff

EPA ORD is working with our regional offices, states, tribes, river basin commissions and other entities to establish Regional Monitoring Networks (RMNs) for freshwater wadeable streams. The objectives of the RMNs are to collect long-term biological, thermal, hydrologic, physical habitat and water chemistry data to document baseline conditions across sites and detect long-term changes. Consistent methods are being used to increase the comparability of data, minimize biases and variability, and ensure that the data meet data quality objectives. Continuous sensors are being employed when possible. RMN surveys build on existing state and tribal bioassessment efforts with annual sampling of a limited number of sites that can be pooled at a regional level. Pooling data enables more robust regional analyses and improves the ability to detect trends over shorter time periods. The collaborations across states, tribes and other entities resulted in the development of RMNs, some of which have collected data since 2012. Recently, EPA Regions 1, 2, 3 and 5, in coordination with their states and tribes, began developing RMNs for lakes and wetlands with the same objectives as the stream RMNs.

RMN data can be used for many purposes, over short and long-term timeframes. These applications include informing water quality and biological criteria development and protection planning priorities, refining lists of biological, thermal and hydrologic indicators, and detecting trends in commonly-used water quality and biological indicators. The RMN data also are important for detecting climate change effects in the context of biomonitoring. There are a number of climate change projections that are relevant to aquatic life condition, including increasing temperatures and changing frequency and magnitude of extreme precipitation events and frequency of summer low flow events. Managers will be able to use the monitoring data to help inform adaptive management.

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Challenge: Northeastern states’ planning for energy and air emissions (completed)
Resource: Energy system database
Partner: Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), an association of eight Northeastern States including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont

"EPA ORD, through its research programs, is well-positioned to support us in better understanding the numerous multi-state origins and inter-state transfer of air pollution and how it evolves as it travels to Rhode Island. No individual state in the Northeast is capable of studying this complicated issue alone."
– RI Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit

The MARKet ALlocation (MARKAL) tool is used to model the nation’s energy system and evaluate different energy technology options for reducing air quality emissions. The tool uses energy and water technology data to create future scenarios or options for optimizing water and energy consumption and management. City planners can run simulations on a variety of policy options to evaluate the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable solutions for providing energy- and water-related services such as heating, cooling, and water and wastewater treatment.

EPA ORD has collaborated with NESCAUM in the further development of a MARKAL model tailored specifically to the energy infrastructure of the Northeast. This NE-MARKAL model was based on ORD’s U.S.-scale 9 region MARKAL/TIMES optimization model database used by decision makers for coordinated energy and air emissions planning. ORD provided expertise and support for the development of state-level model database(s) and implementation of the modeling framework and case studies. The NEMARKAL framework will be used by decision makers to examine energy policy options and their resultant impacts on energy services in the region.

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Challenge: PFAS contamination (ongoing)
Resource: Water, soil and sediment analyses
Partner: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

“EPA ORD’s studies have provided critical information needed to develop PFAS human health risk assessments. In particular, we appreciate your foresight in initiating studies of PFNA several years before it was widely recognized as a potential concern. Also, we especially thank you for your ongoing willingness to share your knowledge of PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) in general, to answer all of our questions about your studies, and to continue working with us on identifying PFAS sources.”
New Jersey DEP Research and Environmental Health, Division of Science, Gloria B. Post, PhD, DABT 

A concern of New Jersey DEP is the ongoing presence of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the drinking water resources of southwestern New Jersey. New Jersey DEP reached out to EPA ORD when they were faced with relatively high contaminant levels of a specific PFAS (perfluorononanoic acid, PFNA). New Jersey DEP continues to study the potential routes PFAS might be following in finding its way into these water resources. The chief questions are where the contamination is originating and whether it is getting into the water through direct discharge or through the air. Previous analysis of water samples suggests that by looking at the ratios of different PFAS, it might be possible to identify a source signature that could help determine the contaminant’s origin. The goals of this study are to confirm that PFAS contamination is occurring, establish specific PFAS source signatures, and evaluate the potential for impacts due to air deposition.

New Jersey DEP has requested that ORD continue to work with them to analyze water, sediment and soil samples for PFAS and their byproducts. In addition, ORD will collaborate with New Jersey DEP to evaluate the data and summarize the study's findings in a joint publication.

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