EPA) Office of Research and Development makes funds available via Regional Applied Research Effort (RARE) grants to EPA regions for research topics that are deemed to be of significant interest and/or impact to the region.
Last year, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management’s Superfund Branch (SFB) submitted a proposal for a regional study designed to determine the background concentrations of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in urban settings, where
long-term anthropogenic, population and industry-driven activities have likely increased the overall levels of PAHs in surface soil that cannot be directly attributed to a specific release.
PAHs are a combination of chemicals that are found naturally in the environment, but they can also be man-made. Most environmental PAHs are products of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. They can also result from burning trash, cigarette and tobacco smoke, and even grilling meats (overcharring of foods). PAHs can linger for long periods of time in the environment and enter the body through breathing contaminated air, ingesting contaminated food or water, or through skin contact with contaminated soils or products.
The presence of anthropogenic sources of PAHs has a real, but presently undefined, impact on concentrations levels, making remedial and management decisions more complicated in already chemically-complex urban settings.
“Being able to differentiate between something that has occurred due to population over the years, versus a release from a facility or spill, will enable our division to make better site decisions and may positively affect state and private industry remediation if it can be shown that levels are the result of simply being an urban, more highly-developed area,” said Tim Hubbard, assistant director of the Division of Waste Management. “The project should also positively affect the residents of the communities, which will be a part of the project, as it should result in more community education and awareness of environmental
conditions in these areas and along with that information, how they and their families can live safely there.”
Upon SFB’s submittal to EPA for consideration, the project garnered support from the southeast Region 4, as well as the interest and backing of the Science and Ecosystem Support Division. With their input, the proposal also incorporated (1) analyzing
for arsenic and lead, both metals that commonly appear in highly urbanized and historically populated locations; and (2) creating a sampling plan and sampling parameters designed to be utilized by other regions or states that serve as the framework for a nationwide database of urban background numbers.
In October 2014, Kentucky’s proposal was chosen from among numerous proposals submitted with the second-highest number of votes. SFB was awarded nearly $174,000 to be dispersed in 2015 and 2016.
The study is anticipated to begin sample collection and analysis this summer, with sampling to continue through 2016 and final reporting to be completed by the end of 2016. The final deliverables of the project are considered to be the study design, quality assurance planning, sampling parameters and baseline network for urban background studies across the United States, as well as the analytical results and statistical review of sample data for PAH, arsenic, and lead concentrations of cities across the southeast region.