By Dr. Peter Jutro
US Environmental Protection Agency
As a young child in New York City, I was fascinated by how a huge city worked and could remain livable. My parents told me that when I was first told to clean my room, my snippy response was, “who cleans the outside?” I remember asking where the garbage went, and being told “they take it away.” Apparently a literal kid, I then asked where “away” was.
Well, after 9/11/2001, I was offered the opportunity to revisit these same questions when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was tasked with helping the City of New York clean-up after the attack on the World Trade Center. Soon after, EPA was called upon to help decontaminate several public buildings that had been contaminated with Anthrax.
EPA has 30+ years of experience in cleaning up the environment. Such clean-up activities have been supported by research and development. However, homeland security threats have identified additional challenges and research gaps needed to efficiently clean up environments contaminated following a chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) incident.
Following the events of 2001 and the threats identified association with an intentional or accidental CBR contamination, several new laws and government-wide Homeland Security Presidential Directives were enacted. EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center was established to undertake the research and provide the scientific information, tools, and support that first responders, practitioners, and policy makers need in order to recover following an attack and to protect our Nation’s drinking water.
Given EPA and the Defense Department’s (DoD) respective missions, our research agendas are similar. However, the use of such information is for different outcomes. The military population is comprised of young, strong, healthy, people selected for stressful duty; they must conduct their mission even in Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear. Also, the military understands that casualties are part of warfare and accepts a level of risk.
On the civilian side, EPA works with other federal agencies including DoD, to protect human health and the environment. We’re part of a team whose mission is more focused on preventing deaths, relieving suffering, recovering from disasters, and ensuring long-term sustainability of ecosystems and the economy. The public demands that we protect all populations, especially those who may be vulnerable and/or risk adverse. Ensuring the public understands the risks is a key component of our work.
EPA benefits from DoD research in many ways. We learn from scientists who once worked on weapons programs. We work collaboratively on ultra-dilute chemical warfare agents for our reference samples, and we develop new protocols and technologies for identifying biological agents. EPA is working with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency on sporicides for cleaning up Anthrax. These are just a few examples of the way that EPA and DoD collaborate on research and development to help protect the nation.
About the Author: Dr. Peter Jutro is the Deputy Director for Science and Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Homeland Security Research Center, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Jutro is stationed in Washington, D.C. EPA and DoD work collaboratively on research and technologies that protect drinking water and advance the state of the art in decontaminating buildings and outdoor areas after a chemical, biological or radiological attack.