After a 50-year Partnership, EPA Wraps Up Presence on the University of Las Vegas Campus
Published January 28, 2021
EPA’s long and rich history on the campus of the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV) wrapped up on September 30. The Agency has had a mutually beneficial leasing arrangement with UNLV since EPA’s inception in 1970. During that time, both EPA and UNLV grew from emerging organizations to leaders in their communities. The scientific partnership between EPA and UNLV led to many fruitful interactions that resulted in mutually beneficial scientific outcomes including publications, patents, and the mentoring of new scientists and volunteers.
This partnership allowed researchers to develop new science that helped EPA respond to catastrophic national events. In 1979, EPA researchers helped with radiation monitoring and cleanup of the Three Mile Island accident in Harrisburg, Pa., when there was a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor. In 2001, researchers assisted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks by mapping the dust plumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, scientists analyzed dispersant agents that were used for cleaning up the spill. They also mapped the spill and used geophysical methods to monitor the impact of the spill in Louisiana.
EPA scientists who worked at UNLV also conducted national-scale research projects that upheld the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment. While the research began at UNLV, this science is ongoing. This work includes studying separation and particle sizes of heavy metals in recycled tire crumb rubber, which is used in synthetic fields and playgrounds. Other examples include examining the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water sources, and conducting geophysics research to monitor and characterize groundwater and surface water interactions. This research allows scientists to better trace contaminants to rivers, streams, and bay systems by using a fiber optic distributed temperature system.
Other projects have addressed chemical contaminants resulting from human activities. Scientists studied pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), which contaminate the environment when they are improperly disposed of or partially metabolized in the human body. Their research helped detect PPCPs and determine better disposal practices. Another project identified hazardous vapor intrusion in homes and buildings, which occurs when radon and volatile organic chemicals move from contaminated groundwater through the soil and into homes and buildings.
Researchers also studied how to improve various aquatic resources. Scientists analyzed the ecological, economic, and human health impacts of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and identified treatment and management processes. They also assessed proper functioning conditions of streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands across the nation to improve the ecological functions and health of these natural resources.
Additionally, during its partnership with UNLV, EPA established a remote sensing program that was instrumental in identifying pollutants and assessing ecological conditions. Introduced in 1971, scientists used helicopters and mobile labs to start the National Lake Eutrophication Study. Over the course of the study, researchers sampled, analyzed, and assessed the tropic condition of more than 800 lakes and reservoirs throughout the United States. Aerial sampling continued throughout the ‘70s, allowing researchers to track air mass and obtain three-dimensional profiles of air pollutants.
Further, EPA scientists working at UNLV helped establish various EPA tools and services that are essential to EPA’s work, such as EPA’s Site Characterization and Monitoring Technical Support Center and EnviroAtlas. In support of these research efforts, EPA had many dedicated administrative and technical support staff working at UNLV over the years.
“The research conducted by EPA scientists on the campus of UNLV had a tremendous impact while addressing some of EPA’s and the Nation’s most significant environmental challenges,” says Tim Watkins, Director of EPA’s Center for Environmental Measurement and Modeling.
Over the past few years, EPA has been consolidating lab operations to government-owned research facilities in other geographic locations. This consolidation effort is in compliance with a 2016 federal law directing federal agencies to decrease their leased space and reduce the federal government’s footprint.
Vacating the leased space on the UNLV campus and relocating research laboratories to existing federally owned facilities is expected to save approximately $2.1 million annually in leasing costs; $500K a year in utility costs; and reduce EPA’s leased space footprint by 72,778 square feet.
In 2018, EPA relocated staff from the UNLV campus to federally owned facilities in Athens, Ga.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Durham, N.C.; Gulf Breeze, FL; and, Newport, Oregon to allow time to conduct an environmental due diligence assessment of the vacated facilities — a process performed to ensure the space is safe for future use by UNLV.
Watkins said, “We are truly appreciative of how our staff who relocated from Las Vegas to other EPA locations approached this significant change in their personal and professional lives. We are grateful that they will continue to make significant contributions to our organization in their new locations.”