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National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC): Laboratory Science

EPA has defined pollutants in a series of regulations that cover specific media, such as water, air and hazardous wastes. These regulations sometimes require highly specialized testing. At NEIC, chemists use sophisticated laboratory instruments to do this testing in order to support the enforcement mission of EPA.

Applied Research and Methods Development

Due to the unique and unusual variety of evidentiary samples received by the NEIC, standard analytical methods typically used for monitoring the environment, may not be adequate for enforcement purposes. In such cases, new methods must be developed, or existing methods must be modified, to produce appropriate analytical data. Method development is an ongoing process that requires NEIC all of the knowledge and experience of NEIC scientists and engineers.

NEIC is pursuing several “next generation” approaches to environmental monitoring to go beyond the traditional inspection approach of monitoring specific contaminants known to be discharged from specific industrial processes. These next generation techniques look for classes of contaminants that may be polluting nearby communities and affecting human health or the environment. This pollution may be air-borne industrial chemicals or water-borne pharmaceuticals discharged from sewage treatment plants or animal feeding locations.

Next Generation monitoring approaches include:

  • The field analysis of air plumes by a mobile sensing unit that can detect low levels of gases, such a methane and benzene, which are often associated with energy extraction
  • The laboratory analysis of passive air sampling tubes that collect whatever organic pollutants cross the fence line of an industrial facility
  • Analyzing fish to determine how pharmaceuticals that simply pass through wastewater treatment systems are affecting their lifecycles