July 2017 - Issue 5
Welcome to the Battelle Environment Matters e-newsletter, a publication from Battelle. We are providing this as a service to our environmental clients to keep you informed of the latest news from our researchers and the industry.
Battelle provides objective, scientifically sound solutions for commercial and government clients that balance environmental, human health and economic concerns. Battelle Environment Matters will keep you up-to-date on cutting-edge environmental research and innovations for environmental remediation, restoration, assessment, monitoring and characterization.
Site characterization, remediation and monitoring of complex contaminated sites can generate hundreds of thousands of data points. How do researchers make sense of it all so they can make effective remediation decisions?
Increasingly, big data analytics is coming to the rescue in the form of environmental informatics. Battelle is applying these advanced informatics techniques to support the New Bedford Harbor Superfund cleanup site.
Battelle has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) since the mid-1980s to support site characterization, remedy selection and long-term monitoring at the site. Over just the last 12 years, researchers have collected more than 20,000 sediment, soil and water samples. Some of these samples are analyzed for more than 100 different compounds. These efforts have generated more than 550,000 data points since the beginning of the remediation stage of the project. There are tens of thousands of older data points from the site characterization and modeling stage of the project as well.
With so much data to manage and analyze—and more data points coming in all the time—simple spreadsheet methods just don’t cut it. This is where the science of environmental informatics comes in. Environmental informatics uses advanced data management and analytical methods to help researchers make sense of large volumes of environmental data. Informatics software helps researchers optimize data collection and sample management and find meaningful trends and connections hidden in large data sets.
While “big data” methods are commonly used across domains ranging from finance to national security, what sets environmental informatics apart is the focus on environmental data. Battelle combines analytical expertise with an in-depth understanding of environmental science to design software solutions tailored for management of field samples and analysis of complex environmental data.
Battelle designed and implemented an Environmental Management Information System (EMIS) for all of the environmental measurements and geographic information generated during USACE remediation activities at New Bedford Harbor. The resulting New Bedford Harbor EMIS incorporates an Oracle environmental database, a web application that provides data access for project team members, and data management methods and procedures for data quality assurance and data validation. The New Bedford Harbor EMIS allows researchers and project managers to access and visualize data in ways that support better understanding and decision making. Data can be looked at in different ways across time and space—for example, to see how a particular contaminant of interest has migrated across a time period. The system supports a GIS interface so data can be plotted on a map of the area. Project associated researchers can also query and download data of interest for further analysis in off-the-shelf analytical software packages. The data platform has become the foundation for remediation decision making at New Bedford Harbor. USACE uses it to decide where dredging efforts should be focused and monitor the efficacy and impact of remediation activities.
Environmental informatics methods are especially important for complex, long-term projects like New Bedford Harbor. Superfund sites generate data across years or decades. Database designers must guard against “data entropy” to ensure that older data and newer data remain comparable as staff, labs and methods change. This requires not only individual data points but also metadata (details on how it was collected, quality assurance methods used and measurement precision). In addition to creating and maintaining the New Bedford Harbor EMIS, Battelle also provides training for USACE staff and contractors involved in sample collection, data analysis and data entry to ensure data quality is maintained.
Battelle has also provided environmental informatics services for other large, complex remediation projects, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Battelle continues to develop new methods for data management, analytics and visualization to support effective decision making for environmental remediation and monitoring projects.
The Clear Air Act and its amendments put sweeping reforms in place to reduce the harmful impact of air pollution nationwide, including pollution from smog, air toxics and acid rain. Battelle has been on the front lines of supporting the implementation of this groundbreaking legislation since 1973, when we first started working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to characterize the chemistry of nitrogen oxides in ambient air.
Since then, air pollution has continued to be a critical environmental and public health concern, and Battelle’s role in supporting the Clean Air Act has grown. Our recent work includes technical support to help EPA administer and improve its national air quality monitoring networks, developing and refining air monitoring methods, and building air monitoring management capacity around the world.
Battelle has provided technical and quality assurance assistance for the National Air Toxics Trend Stations (NATTS) ambient air monitoring program since its inception in 2001. This has included support to develop the program’s initial data quality objectives (DQOs) and quality documents and to perform the program’s first Technical Systems Audits (TSAs). Over the past five years, Battelle performed TSAs at all 27 sites and 23 supporting labs across the country. Battelle also implemented and improved a national proficiency testing (PT) program to assess the ability of NATTS labs to produce accurate and comparable analytical results and revised the NATTS Technical Assistance Document. All of this work has led to greater consistency in the performance of the labs involved with this important national air monitoring program. Battelle will continue to provide support for NATTS under a new five-year contract awarded in March 2017.
For the past 20 years, Battelle has provided similar services for EPA’s pollutant air monitoring programs, including programs for particulate matter (PM), particle bound lead (Pb), and several gases including ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). These long-term monitoring programs have shown that the landmark Clean Air Act legislation has led to dramatic decreases in the concentrations of these pollutants over time. However, research shows that there is no safe level of exposure to pollutants such as fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. Battelle continues to develop new methods to accurately measure these pollutants at lower concentrations than previously measured in the past.
Battelle’s long-time support to EPA’s air monitoring programs is as critical as ever. Recently, Battelle optimized the AirQA.org website to enable EPA and regional staff to assess the performance of the entire national network of sites and labs involved with measuring PM2.5, Pb, CO, SO2 and NOx in ambient air. We are presently developing web tools that will allow program managers to visualize performance results, observe trends over time and make effective decisions for corrective action so they can continue to improve data quality and decision-making.
In 2015, EPA rolled out extensive changes to the Photochemical Assessment Monitoring Stations (PAMS) program, including its expansion to 40 spatially separated sites across the continental U.S. Battelle plays a key role in supporting the changes to the PAMS network, including performing a comprehensive update to all of the program’s technical and quality assurance practices. Soon, Battelle will begin creating PT and TSA programs, leveraging our relevant experience with NATTS.
Battelle is supporting EPA by updating, refining and developing new air monitoring methods to increase the accuracy of measurements at lower contaminant concentrations. Of particular interest is formaldehyde, which presents one of the greatest risks for cancer among the air toxics. Formaldehyde and other carbonyls are also important to the formation of ground-level ozone. As a result, they are measured in both the NATTS and PAMS networks.
At the same time, we are working with The Ohio State University to design, construct, test and evaluate a new real-time, continuous instrument based on submillimeter wave spectroscopy that will measure formaldehyde and other carbonyl compounds in ambient air.
In addition to assisting with air monitoring and methods development, Battelle’s air quality team is helping to increase the technical capacity for air quality management in countries around the world. Under the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), the U.S. is helping Central American countries improve their air quality management programs. As a partner in a cooperative agreement with EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA), Battelle provides training and technical assistance on emissions inventory development, air quality regulations, sampling and analytical methods, instrument calibration, data interpretation and quality assurance to environmental agencies in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The goal is to provide regulators, researchers and technical staff in each country with the resources and training they need to carry their air monitoring programs forward independently.
For more than four decades, Battelle has been on the forefront of moving air quality monitoring forward by developing new, innovative methods and technologies, providing technical guidance and support, and facilitating international capacity-building programs. As air quality standards continue to evolve, our researchers will be there to support the important work of improving our nation’s, and the world’s, air quality.
Top: Participants from across the CAFTA-DR region with Battelle and EPA facilitators at the air quality dialogue workshop in April 2017.
Middle: Battelle’s Ian MacGregor performing a TSA at a NATTS field site.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan put childhood lead exposure back in the spotlight. But Flint is far from the only community where children are at risk. Millions of children across the U.S. are living in communities where they are exposed to unsafe levels of lead.
Determining where children are most at risk isn’t an easy task. With limited resources at the national and local level, the public health community needs to identify communities where children are more likely to be exposed to lead so they can target resources where they are most needed.
Battelle developed a predictive model to help pinpoint at-risk communities at the census tract level. The new model, which will be highlighted in an upcoming article in Environmental Justice magazine, will enable parents, pediatricians and public health officials in areas without existing blood-lead level data to determine where children might be at higher risk for lead exposure based on readily available census information.
Blood-lead levels have been steadily dropping across the U.S. since the mid 1970s. The Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Protection Act and Clean Air Act reduced lead levels by addressing two of the primary routes of lead exposure: ingestion of lead-based paint chips and dust and inhalation of lead in the ambient air resulting from the combustion of leaded gasoline. As a result, average blood-lead levels for children have dropped by more than 80% since 1976. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 4 million U.S. households with children are living in areas where they are exposed to high levels of lead. The same report estimates that half a million children ages 1-5 still may have elevated blood-lead levels.
In Flint, families were exposed to high levels of lead in drinking water caused by a combination of highly corrosive water and aging lead service lines. However, most children in the U.S. with elevated blood-lead levels are exposed through dust and soil contaminated by lead-based paints present in older housing. Neighborhoods near freeways and old industrial sites may also have elevated levels of lead in the soil originating from combustion sources. These environmental conditions are highly correlated with poverty and minority status, making lead exposure a critical environmental justice issue.
According to the CDC, there is no safe exposure level for lead. Lead is toxic for people of all ages. But it is lead’s effects on developing children that are most devastating. Even at low levels, lead exposure in children under the age of 6 is linked to lower IQ, developmental delays, learning difficulties and behavioral problems. The damage done by childhood lead exposure cannot be corrected even once the source of exposure has been removed.
The CDC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have monitored childhood blood-lead levels since 1976. These research efforts are supported by state programs that collect and report blood-lead level data from pediatricians. However, these data are spotty: not all states participate in the program, and those that do may collect data unevenly. In addition, these data only identify children at risk after they have already been harmed.
Battelle worked with the EPA to create a predictive model that could be used to identify neighborhoods where children are at risk for lead exposure at the census tract level.
To build a predictive model for childhood lead exposure, Battelle used census data from three states (Michigan, Massachusetts and Texas) that also had robust blood-lead level data available. Using these data, researchers created and validated a regression model that could be used to estimate childhood lead exposure in census tracts where blood-lead level data are not available.
Researchers used data from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, including age of housing, race/ethnicity, income, home ownership levels and levels of educational attainment. The regression model was created by correlating each of these factors to blood-lead level data in Michigan and validated using data from Texas and Massachusetts. The model showed that the variables that have the most predictive power for estimating childhood lead exposure are percent of pre-1960 housing, percent of population below poverty and percent of population that is non-Hispanic black.
This model can now be applied to census tract data across the U.S. to identify communities at highest risk for childhood lead exposure. Battelle is working with EPA to develop spatial maps for the entire country. These maps could be used by local public health agencies to determine where to target intervention efforts. Pediatricians and parents could also use the data to determine whether children are living in high-risk areas.
Battelle has been working with the EPA, CDC and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) since the 1980s to characterize, monitor and reduce childhood lead exposure. Our subject matter experts helped draft HUD’s lead-based paint abatement guidelines. For the CDC, we designed and implemented a system for collecting, consolidating, quality checking and disseminating childhood lead exposure monitoring information. Battelle has also supported rulemaking, risk assessment and risk management for the EPA’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program for 30 years. Through these and other projects, Battelle has helped the federal government realize tremendous reductions in the number of lead poisoning cases in the U.S. and in overall childhood lead exposure levels. Our research teams continue to be involved in federal, state and local programs to reduce lead exposure risks.
The Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) compiles cutting-edge technical guidance on complex environmental issues to enable better environmental decision making. Battelle researchers are contributing to development of guidance documents and training materials for several critical ITRC topics.
ITRC is a coalition of public and private entities—including state environmental regulators, industry representatives, academic institutions and other stakeholders—working together to “reduce barriers to the use of innovative environmental technologies that reduce compliance costs and maximize cleanup efficacy.” In order to further science-based decisions for environmental challenges, ITRC creates technical guidance documents that compile the best and most recent information on environmental topics. These documents, which are designed to guide regulatory and remediation decisions, cover dozens of critical and emerging environmental topics ranging from biofuels to vapor intrusion. Each guidance document is created by a team of experts from industry, academia and state regulatory agencies.
Battelle has been an active member of ITRC’s Industry Affiliates Program (IAP) since 2008. Through the IAP, Battelle researchers provide support for the development of ITRC technical guidance documents and training programs. Battelle researchers are currently providing leadership on and contributing to several ITRC teams including Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPLs), poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and more.
Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPLs)
These heavy contaminants, which include chlorines and bromines used for dry-cleaning and industrial processes, do not dissolve readily in water. Because they are heavier than water, they sink rather than float. This makes them challenging to remediate and trace in the environment. Battelle Remediation Engineer Dr. Heather Rectanus contributed to the development of several of the DNAPL series guidance documents, including Mass Flux and Mass Discharge (MASSFLUX-1), Integrated DNAPL Site Strategy (IDSS-1) and Integrated DNAPL Site Characterization (ISC-1). Heather is currently a trainer for the IDSS and ISC guidance documents. The training teams are charged with development of training materials, including online courses and classroom training, to disseminate the knowledge distilled in the guidance document to regulators and industry stakeholders.
Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Battelle is also contributing to the development of fact sheets for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a large class of chemicals found in firefighting foams and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging and water- or stain-resistant fabrics. Emerging research on the health impacts of PFAS exposure has made it a contaminant of concern, but there is little guidance available for PFAS characterization, monitoring or remediation. Battelle researchers Dr. Ramona Darlington and Andrew Barton are members of the ITRC PFAS Team developing fact sheets on PFAS testing, monitoring, treatment and toxicity that will provide a basis for a future guidance document.
Over the last five years, Battelle staff members have been recognized for their contributions to ITRC teams. Heather was named IAP Team Member of the Year for her work on the Integrated DNAPL Site Characterization Team in 2013 and serves on the Characterization and Remediation in Fractured Rock Team, which won Team of the Year in 2015. Dr. Kate Kucharyzk and Pam Rodgers served on the Bioavailability in Contaminated Soil team, which won Team of the Year for 2016. Also in 2016, Les Clarke earned recognition as an Outstanding Team Member on the Quality Consideration for Multiple Aspects of Munitions Response Sites team for his role as a chapter lead.
Below is a summary of the support that Battelle researchers provide for active ITRC teams:
Earlier this year, the Department of Defense updated its quality systems guidelines for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). In May, the Battelle Norwell Laboratory became the second analytical laboratory to be accredited for PFAS analysis in solids and non-potable water under the new standard.
The most recent edition of the DoD Quality Systems Manual, QSM 5.1, included a number of changes in the technical standards and quality systems for PFAS analysis. The DoD released the updated QSM in January 2017. Battelle received accreditation for PFAS analysis on May 26 under the DoD Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP). The ELAP accreditation indicates that the laboratory has met the rigorous DoD quality control standards for PFAS analysis in solids and non-potable water under QSM 5.1 Table B-15. These standards outline specific quality processes for sample preparation, instrument calibration and analysis when working with PFAS.
Battelle has provided environmental services to the DoD for decades, including environmental monitoring, remediation and restoration at U.S. Army and U.S. Navy sites. In November 2016, Battelle was awarded ELAP accreditation for testing of specific analytes in soil, sediment, water and tissue matrices, including organochloride pesticides, PCB congeners, and PAH. The new PFAS accreditation further expands the scope of work Battelle is able to provide for DoD clients.
PFAS is a growing concern on many military bases and industrial sites. PFAS compounds have long been used in firefighting foams, water- and stain-resistant materials, non-stick cookware, food wrappers and many other consumer products. PFAS has been found in groundwater in communities surrounding military bases where firefighting foams were used in training exercises. Emerging research on its toxicity and environmental persistence has raised new concerns about PFAS exposure in these communities. These concerns have made accurate PFAS analysis a priority for the DoD.
Battelle provides ongoing support for several U.S. Navy sites contaminated with PFAS, including the former Navy base at NAWC Warminster. In addition to analytical capabilities, Battelle provides field sampling and site characterization services, remedy selection and optimization, risk assessment and long-term monitoring. Battelle researchers are currently working on development of a passive sampler for accurate detection of trace levels of PFAS in groundwater, surface water and sediment pore water. Battelle is also working to better understand the fate and transport of PFAS in the environment.
The Fourth International Symposium on Bioremediation and Sustainable Environmental Technologies was held May 22-25, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Miami Hotel. It brought together attendees from 26 countries, including environmental professionals representing universities, government site management and regulatory agencies, research and development, and consulting firms, and commercial service providers. Battelle has organized the biennial conference since 2011. This year’s conference was co-sponsored by AECOM, CDM Smith, EOS Remediation, FRx, OBG and Regenesis. View co-sponsors.
The technical program, consisting of more than 500 platform and poster presentations split into 55 technical sessions, focused on advances in bioremediation and green and sustainable remediation (GSR) practices. Six major research tracks covered topics ranging from innovative biological bioremediation approaches to munitions response. A series of sessions discussed biodegradation and remediation of crude oil in various environments and the management of petroleum hydrocarbon sites. Another series focused on applying GSR practices to all stages of remediation, from remedy selection and optimization to long-term monitoring and management strategies. The sessions addressed key industry developments and challenges such as the use of advanced tools for assessing and monitoring bioremediation and natural attenuation, as well as the challenges of applying bioremediation at various types of complex sites and under extreme climatic conditions. Other sessions addressed biodegradation of emerging contaminants, biofuels and the evaluation and mitigation of vapor intrusion.
The four-day program was anchored by three panel discussions on current topics in bioremediation, including using combined remedies at a Superfund site, sampling and analysis of per- and polyfluoalkyl substances (PFAS), and using geology to follow groundwater flow. There were also two keynote presentations. Dr. Larry Brand of the University of Miami presented Harmful Algal Blooms in South Florida: Environmental Causes and Humans Health Consequences. Dr. David Tsao of BP presented Evaluating Bioremediation Agents as an Oil Spill Response Alternative.
The conference was co-chaired by Battelle’s Andrew Barton and Stephen Rosansky. In addition, Battelle subject matter experts presented technical work and chaired or moderated several of the sessions. Battelle presentations included:
The U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Training Facility uses 300 gallons of water per day for live agent training exercises. The wastewater left over at the end of each day is heavily contaminated with volatile organic compounds, semi-organic compounds and high levels of chlorine and bleach. Now, this toxic brew can be cleaned and recycled thanks to a new program Battelle helped design under support to Louis Berger and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The recycling program uses a multi-stage process to remove contaminants and separate the remaining liquid into usable water and a harmless brine byproduct. Recycling will eliminate the need for expensive off-site disposal of contaminated wastewater. The system, which was recently tested at the CBRN Defense Training Facility, can recycle 1,500 gallons of water each week.
Read more about the program in this U.S. Army article.
Kavitha Dasu is working to shed light on a persistent environmental problem: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These compounds are among today’s most widespread and persistent environmental pollutants, but there are still many unanswered questions about their toxicity and their fate and transport in the environment. Read More
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