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RESES Projects by Subject

Contaminated Sites

East Mount Zion Landfill Ecological Revitalization

The East Mount Zion landfill in York County, Pennsylvania was capped in 1999, however the vegetation cover is now dominated by weeds and non-native plants, diminishing its value to the nearby community. Researchers on this RESES project are using ecosystem goods and services (EGS) identification and quantification tools to make decisions on how to revitalize the Superfund site and how to monitor that revitalization.  Through a technical workshop and community engagement with existing EGS tools, the team will be able to identify how best to utilize the site for the benefit of the community and how best to communicate those benefits. Success of this smaller scale project will help develop guidelines for using these ORD tools on larger, more complex efforts.

Hyperspectral Test Evaluation at Gay Mine Site

Mine sites across the country have widespread surface contamination that exceed the maximum limit. One example is the Gay Mine site in eastern Idaho, which has soils contaminated with selenium. For large areas, a more cost-effective, non-destructive, and less labor-intensive technology is needed.  EPA ORD-owned tools can be used to tackle this issue via the analysis of remote sensing imagery. Understanding the spectral reflectance-to-contaminant concentration relationships will help in decision-making and demonstrate a new use of the EPA ORD tools. Approximately 100 locations with known contamination will be assessed using the ORD spectroradiometer. The data collected will be used to develop a model to predict selenium concentration in soils and waste. The community will gain a better understanding of where to focus resources on further characterization and cleanup activities.

Assessment of Biochar Application for the Remediation of Heavy Metal Contaminated Terrestrial Landscapes

There are hundreds of thousands of mercury (Hg) contaminated sites that have contributed to unsafe Hg concentrations in fish. Traditional remediation options may not always be feasible nor desirable. Some efforts have been made to plant vegetation to reduce Hg mobility, but the organic material has the potential to make the contamination worse by increasing the more toxic form, methylmercury (MeHg). The research team will characterize different aspects of the metals in contaminated sites and identify biochars for Hg sequestration with the intent to use these biochars for a greenhouse soil/tailings amendment study. Data collected will be used to understand if the biochars can sequester inorganic Hg, reduce Hg methylation, and promote vegetative growth on contaminated sites. Success of this project will further help remediation efforts for Hg contaminated sites across the country.

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.

Geophysical evaluation for plume mapping, remediation monitoring, and site characterization at Tribal leaking underground storage tank (LUST) 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.

Sustainable Materials Management

Community-driven Application Development Using US Environmentally-Extended Input-Output (USEEIO) Models

EPA has developed an analytical framework for Sustainable Materials Management rooted in the life cycle model of goods and services known as USEEIO. This model can be used at the community level to provide a better understanding of potential environmental and economic outcomes of changes that affect goods and services. However, the implementation faces hurdles from both lack of awareness and the complexity of the model. The researchers will partner with the Georgia Department of Economic Development to inform communities in Georgia about the model, and then work with interested communities and volunteer designers/software developers to create community applications that can assess and identify opportunities for economic growth and environmental sustainability. The end product will be open-source applications that community partners can use or any community could use or further customize to address related needs. Success of this project could foster use of this model and new approaches in communities across the United States.

Learn more about the US Environmentally-Extended Input-Output Models. 
The project page hosted by our Georgia partners is available at: Exit.

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.  

Decision Makers Guide to Waste Combustion & Conversion Facilities

Under-resourced communities may not understand the complete picture of community environmental impacts related to waste combustion and conversion technologies used to manage waste and create energy. This project will develop a Decision Makers’ Guide that synthesizes the technical report evaluating waste combustion and conversion technologies through a life cycle assessment (LCA) and examining the status of conversion technology projects, those that succeeded and stalled. The Guide will support communities in making more informed decisions on waste management infrastructure.

Ecosystems and Public Health

Identifying and Defining Levels of Meaningful Change in Ecosystem Services of the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed

The Chesapeake Bay Program is working with stakeholders to identify and incorporate ecosystem services, best management practices, and communication strategies in the watershed. All the states in the watershed are developing implementation plans to address problems with nutrients and sediment. However, more information is needed to better understand the social, economic, and environmental impact of these management practices. The RESES project will incorporate ecosystem services into the decision-making process with existing ORD tools. This will lead to a better understanding of the ecosystem services in the Chesapeake Bay region and lead to better decisions that pose the most value to individual communities.

Community Revitalization and Resilience

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. 

Local Information for Empowering Environmental Education (LIFE3)

A collaboration between ORD and Region 5 addresses the many communities in the region facing local-scale environmental health concerns driven by pollution, as well as the need for the capacity to assess environmental health risks, identify research gaps, and prioritize regulatory and non-regulatory mitigation approaches. The project’s approach will use SHC tools to map issues in Saginaw and characterize health and environmental quality impacts using measures of community and ecosystem health, while also identifying and addressing research gaps related to environmental health and assessment techniques. The results of the project will include the development of a searchable databased of environmental health impacts and possible solutions, and the EPA and community partners will also collaborate in applying SHC tools to provide and document integrated analysis that supports comprehensive planning to improve community wellbeing. The impact of these results is that they will improve the way in which the Region characterizes conditions, ranks environmental health concerns, prioritizes solutions, implements mitigation actions, and evaluates their effectiveness.

Environmental siting Assessment for Solar Power Infrastructure - A Partnership with City of Brownsville on Economic Opportunities

Localized assessment of solar energy economic feasibility will benefit the structuring of residential solar energy deployment globally. In the U.S. growing interest in rooftop residential solar among city managers has spurred the development of photovoltaic (PV) feasibility maps of the technical and economic solar potential within cities. The City of Brownsville, Texas was interested in evaluating solar feasibility for their city but lacked information to make informed policy decisions on PV development. This paper presents novel and systems approaches for determining the technical and economic feasibility of solar development for homes in the Brownsville using LiDAR and local information. Residential technical and economic potential was assessed by optimizing the internal rate of return (IRR) and an average residential building demand profile to determine ideal size and placement of solar arrays. Results showed that residential structures in Brownsville have the technical potential to generate approximately 11% of the total energy provided by the local utility; however, average IRR was only 2.9% with a payback period of over 15 years. Five neighborhoods in the City of Brownsville were identified with spatially clustered homes that had relatively higher IRRs compared with other areas in the city. Despite the high technical potential, modeled results indicate that perspective home owners interested in solar development may require additional incentives to improve the economic feasibility of PV in Brownsville. This study provides a demonstration of an interdisciplinary systems approach and methodology that can be adopted internationally to evaluate the feasibility of solar development in other areas.

Decision for Integration for Strong Communities (DISC)

Communities want to be more sustainable and maintain public health, community vitality and ecosystem services. Smaller communities, however, often lack the essential information and resources to accomplish this goal. While there are tools that can be used for sustainability assessment, they require a tremendous amount of time and resources that smaller communities don't have. The objective of this project is to identify indicators from existing tools to assess sustainability, engage target communities, create a model to display these indicators, and test it so that communities can properly utilize it. This project will give them a snapshot of their current status and provide them vital information to work toward achieving their sustainability goals.  This will allow them to make useful, targeted investments, informed decisions, and lead them to information, resources and examples to meet their own community goals.

Air and Water Resources

Investigation of the Factors Influencing Fate and Transport of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) and the Development of a PFAS Impact to Groundwater Tool to Protect Our Groundwater Resources [2019 project]

The EPA and state environmental agencies have models to determine soil remediation criteria in order to protect groundwater. However, these models are not well-suited for PFAS compounds due to their complex behavior that cannot be explained by a single property such as the soil organic carbon content. This research will investigate soil/groundwater properties, such as mineralogy and pH, in order to better understand the behavior of PFAS and determine key predictive factors that control the movement of these chemicals.  Knowing these factors, environmental practitioners will be able to predict PFAS concentrations that negatively impact groundwater quality. States can then use this information to set enforceable soil cleanup standards that prevent further groundwater contamination and thereby protect human health and the environment in our communities.

Enhanced Post-Flooding Risk Communication to Reduce Indoor Air Health Hazards

With record-breaking hurricanes in the United States, there have been more flooding events which create unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions. After disasters such as hurricanes, failure to remove contaminated materials and lack of resources educating people on what they can do to protect their health can have long-term health risks. Region 4 will partner with ORD, Florida Department of Health, University Florida, and Louisiana State University Extension Office to create an interactive outreach tool that promotes community resilience after a flooding occurrence. The tool will utilize interactive videos or infographics to cover important steps for residents to take before returning to their homes. The project will be beta tested in Florida with Hurricane Michael victims but will have impacts across the nation in supporting communities after natural disasters.

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.

Sensor Pod Loan Trial for Investigating Regional and Community Air Pollution

EPA Regions and the communities they serve want to understand the pollutant concentrations in the air they breathe and want to be aware of potential pollution exposures in microenvironments where they live and work. Fixed regulatory monitoring networks might not be able to capture these local-scale conditions. This project will give Regions (and/ or their local partners) the ability to investigate local and regional air quality using lower cost sensors through a sensor pod loan trial. With the results, ORD will be able to assess the need for a larger and more permanent program and the success of the actual sensor technology for future projects. The information from this study will provide educational opportunities for the communities to learn about air quality and will uncover a better understanding on local air quality and community health.

A Deeper Look at Ouachita River: Approaches to River Maintenance for Sustainability & Resilience to Flood Impacts

Waterways across the US are being impacted by reduced funding for river maintenance which in turn is impacting surrounding communities that benefit from their eco-system services. For example, Ouachita Parish community in Louisiana was heavily impacted by historic flooding that damaged the Ouachita River. This RESES projects aims to apply a Structure Decision Making (SDM) approach to assess community sustainability goals and how to best prepare for future extreme events. The SDM approach will help the community better understand social, economic, and environmental data that can be used to engage stakeholders on complex decisions. The project will provide a detailed analysis of trade-offs among multiple EGS benefits for stakeholders to use for flood risk reduction on the Ouachita River. Success of this project will emphasize the effectiveness of the SDM approach and how it can be used in other communities across the country for ecosystem benefit analysis.