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RESES Program: 2018

The Regional Sustainability and Environmental Sciences Research Program (RESES) matches EPA scientific and technical expertise with high-priority, short-term research needs in each of the Agency’s ten Regions across the nation. Projects are funded through an internal (EPA-only) annual solicitation for proposals.

Below are highlights of 2018-funded projects.

Emergency Planning with Our States: Interactive Mapping of Flood-Induced Contaminants from Hazardous Waste Sites in EPA Regions 

Flood events can induce transport of contaminated sediments into surrounding areas (e.g., rivers, water reservoirs, etc.) and result in elevated levels of contaminants near hazardous waste sites (Rifai H, 2006; Brody et al., 2014). Many of these sites are within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 100-year floodplain, indicating a relatively high risk of flooding. In addition, these sites are also located in or near communities, potentially posing a risk to nearby populations. However, the potential fate-and-transport of contaminants, particularly in soil/sediment, during a flood event is often poorly understood at these sites. The actions taken to address the issues above are to work in lock step with our regional, state and community collaborators and partners to produce scenario information of spatial distributions of contaminants from the hazardous waste sites as a result of flooding. The project’s primary product will be an interactive map for stakeholders that provides detailed hazardous waste site information, flood inundation, and community socio-economic characteristics. Users (e.g. disaster planners and responders) will be able to explore alternative scenarios of flooding and contaminant transport, as a function of flood return period. The impact of this is to equip stakeholders and decisionmakers with information to preemptively address contaminants, build resiliency, prepare for cleanups, and mitigate potential human health impacts. The methodology developed in this research will provide a framework for developing similar tools at other flood-prone contaminated sites.

Detecting Elevated Temperature Landfills Using Landsat Thermal Imaging

Recently, there have been cases of landfills exhibiting elevated temperatures that impede normal operations and represent potential threats to the containment systems designed to protect human health and the environment. This research analyzes publicly available remote sensing data from Landsat 8, using high-power computers to map and display landfill surface temperatures at landfills across the country, selecting sites with elevated temperatures, sites without elevated temperatures, and sites where an analysis has yet to be undertaken.  This analysis will determine whether remote sensing data can be used to identify landfills with elevated subsurface temperatures.  If successful, the tested methodology will allow the Region and State to quickly diagnose landfills with subsurface reactions and take steps to mitigate the issue, as well as review historical data to identify reactions that have occurred in the recent past.

Predicting/Modeling Improvements in Public Health and Ecosystem Goods and Services Associated with Major Urban Redevelopment and Infrastructure Projects at Sun Valley in Denver

The Sun Valley Community is a low-income community with little greenspace or recreational areas and disproportionately high rates of crime and illness compare to the rest of the Denver area.  This is a scenario found in communities in all EPA Regions.  Solutions to these conditions must be found.  One approach is the revitalization of such communities by increasing greenspace, removing debris, making them walkable, providing areas for recreation, and reducing indoor and outdoor harmful exposures by adding vegetation and replacing deteriorated housing.  The detailed Sun Valley Transformation Plan proposes major changes to improve and increase EGS in the community that are also aligned to desired health outcomes. It is hoped and anticipated that positive changes in EGS within and immediately surrounding Sun Valley will also lead to improvements in public health and well-being for residents. This RESES study will provide strong scientific documentation for the current value of EGS to the community’s overall health and well-being before the transformation begins, and a transparent estimate of probable improvements in both areas (EGS and community health) when the transformation is complete. The results will be useful not only to EPA and other scientific organizations, but also to practitioners at Sun Valley and in other communities seeking documented outcome measurements for the benefits of green design for community revitalization. 

Geophysical evaluation for plume mapping, remediation monitoring, and site characterization at Tribal leaking underground storage tank sites in California and Arizona

Tribal LUST sites are remote and complex making it challenging to characterize contaminated petroleum plumes. Traditional methods are costly and  lack an understanding of the conditions below the surface. This project will investigate two Tribal LUST sites to apply geophysical methods  to better characterize the areas early in the remediation process.  Researchers will use the Geophysical Decision Support System (GDSS) to test the effectiveness before the tool is readily available to the public. Conclusion of the project will show the capability of non-invasive geophysical methods to develop conceptual site models at Tribal LUST sites. IT will also show the effectiveness of the GDSS and the Environmental Geophysics web presence. Success of this project will lead to further the application of geophysics for plume mapping at LUST sites for informed decision making.

Beneficial Use (BU) of Dredged Materials: Opportunities, Community Benefits, and Applied Guidance

Federal navigation channels throughout the US are maintained through operations and maintenance dredging of rivers and harbors. Much of this material is disposed through open water or contained disposal facility placement. While dredged materials may contain contaminants, there is a significant amount of material that is clean and may have beneficial uses in society. Thus, there is increased pressure to identify beneficial uses for dredged material, such as contaminated site remediation and aquatic habitat restoration. Further research needs to be conducted on the social benefits of materials reuse, as well as the identification and implementation of alternative placements for dredged materials. This project will identify barriers and opportunities related to using clean dredged materials to remediate contaminated sites along with providing a tool for municipalities and other agencies to better understand the social and ecological benefits of utilizing dredged materials in cleanups or habitat restoration. The researchers will start with a tool designed for EPA Region 5, apply qualitative research and case study methodology to analyze specific decision contexts in order to refine the tool. The team will also both utilize and add to the EPA ORD Ecosystem Service Model Library and develop a representative case study database, as well as a report to support decision-making for dredged materials. Success of this project will create a foundation of information, a use-refined tool, and a concept map to guide application for different stakeholders in future projects.  

Community Participation in Classifying Odors from Air Pollution Emissions

Many communities within EPA Regions are located near sources that emit a variety of unpleasant odors and air pollutants, which are both a nuisance and may cause concern in communities about potential health impacts from exposure. This project will develop an odor tracking app, which can be used by the public to record observations on odors, and it will have the capability to feed into existing complaint tracking online systems that are supported by state/local entities (where applicable). The expected results include the widespread use of the odor tracking app, a data set on odors that can be used by communities to better understand and address air quality issues, supplemental information on odors that could be included in the Air Quality topic of the EnviroAtlas Eco-Health Browser, and presentations/webinars summarizing project progress for the community and other interested parties. This project will allow communities, and more broadly, the EPA Regions, to obtain more accurate data on odors that would otherwise be challenging to track, and address odor complaints and air quality problems in a more efficient manner.