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Vol. 11 No. 2 — February 2003
Feature
Our Environment: Part 3, The Science and Technology 
by Barbie E. Keiser • Consultant

Part 1 of this series appears in the September 2002 issue of Searcher.
Part 2 of this series appears in the November/December 2002 issue of Searcher.

Continuing our discussion of Web-based resources on the environment, the last of the "Our Environment" series focuses on environmental science (and those responsible for scientific research projects). It will cover the collection and analysis of data, as well as the final reports that influence national and international environmental policies. Since much environmental research is conducted under the auspices of the government, searching repositories of scientific research can begin with government portals.

• Instead of using general search engines, use UncleSam [http://www.google.com/unclesam]. Powered by the Google search engine, it restricts your search to U.S. government sites. The UncleSam service encompasses a larger set of URLs than limiting a Google search by "URL contains .gov" does.

• While divine, Inc. [http://www.divine.com] has acquired Northern Light and cut its staff to the barest of bones, at press time USGovSearch continued to operate in both the fee-based and "public library access" mode [http://usgovsearch.northernlight.com and http://usgovsearch.northernlight.com/publibaccess]. This Special Collection consists of over 7,100 "premium" publications (full-text journals, books, magazines, newswires, and reference sources) plus reports from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). That's over 25 million documents, with an average of 250 unique sources added each month. Most documents cost between $1­4. USGovSearch collects millions of Web pages from government and military sites, providing authoritative information by and about the United States.

• Aside from the government agency and publication locators mentioned in Part I of "Our Environment," you can employ others, such as Firstgov.gov or FedWorld.gov. The government has developed several science-specific portals and, though some such as PubSCIENCE, have closed ["News Breaks Weekly News Digest: Department of Energy Discontinues PubSCIENCE," November 18, 2002, http://www.infotoday.com/
newsbreaks/wnd021118.htm
], some remain open:

SciTech [http://www.scitech.gov], also known as SciTechResources.gov [http://www.scitechresources.gov] provides easy access to key government science and technology Web sites.

GrayLit [http://graylit.osti.gov] is self-described as "a science portal of technical reports" from the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), the Department of Energy, and NASA.

• The National Service Center for Environmental Publications[http://www.epa.gov/ncepihom/] maintains and distributes Environmental Pollution Agency publications in all formats. Current inventory covers over 7,000 titles, including the EPA National Publications Catalog.

In the summer of 1999, initial steps were taken for closing NTIS [http://www.ntis.gov], transferring its vast holdings of over 2.5 million government products (more than 750,000 searchable records) to the Library of Congress. Early discussions revealed the limited awareness of those in Congress charged with making decisions regarding the future of NTIS as to the activities performed by the Service or the feasibility of transferring all those activities to one entity, and, in fact, an entity not set up for the sale and distribution of research reports. Further investigation was warranted and NCLIS, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Service [http://www.nclis.gov], was charged with the task of evaluating whether and how NTIS should be discontinued without too much disruption in essential services.

The fate of NTIS appears no longer questionable — interestingly enough, funding for NCLIS has now become the issue. NTIS continues to add items to its database and to make them available for purchase. "Best sellers" include three CD-ROMs (Stream Corridor Restoration, Methods & Guidance for the Analysis of Water, and Test Methods for Evaluating Solid Waste); purchasers can order other items from the Gov.Research_Center [http://grc.ntis.gov]. The GRC provides access and cross-database searching capabilities to AGRICOLA, AgroBase, Energy Science and Technology, Federal Research in Progress, Nuclear Science Abstracts Database, NIOSHTIC, NTIS, and RTECS.

Rather than focus on its traditional print delivery service, the "new and improved" NTIS Web site features more search options, links to full-text technical reports online or, for a "modest charge," will download the document to your computer. NTIS has just implemented a free, new product, e-mail announcement subscription service to alert users of topic-specific information [http://www.ntis.gov/new/alerts.asp?loc=5-0-0]. The service includes Environmental Pollution & Control, which averages 100 summaries each week. The scope of this pollution topic alert includes solid wastes, water, air, radiation, pesticides, and noise pollution and control. The Environment Alert includes material from the EPA, including Superfund, Office of Research and Development, Office of Solid Waste; DOD; DOE; Interior; and Health and Human Services.

While other departments within the government may release scientific papers regarding environmental research or impact studies (e.g., Department of Transportation or Department of Energy), the Environmental Protection Agency remains the center of scientific research for the United States. Anyone working in this subject area should become thoroughly acquainted with the contents of the EPA Web site. Two particularly useful sections are EnviroFacts: Queries, Maps, and Reports [http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/ef_query.html] and Environmental Data Registry http://www.epa.gov/edr/].

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Environmental Science Division [http://www.esd.ornl.gov] features research in six areas (ecosystem and global change; renewable resources R&D; environmental data systems; microbial biogeochemistry and biotechnology; ecological management; environmental process), a selection of science journals, and access to Integrated Assessment Briefs — Oak Ridge National Laboratory [http://www.esd.ornl.gov/iab/index.html], a collection of studies summarizing key projects at Oak, including the Center for Global Environmental Studies.

Environment is one of the themes of the superbly organized U.S. Geological Survey's Web site [http://www.usgs.gov/themes/environ.html]. In addition to Recent Highlights, the site covers in detail Anthropogenic and Natural Contaminants; Ecosystems and Management; Energy and theEnvironment; Global Change; Policy and Guidance. Its Environment-Related Fact Sheets are a great starting point for those just beginning to study the issues.

Conference presentations by government-funded researchers and write-ups of their projects in scientific journals contribute to the body of literature devoted to environmental research. Quasi-governmental research facilities are often at institutes located on university campuses. The Web sites maintained by these groups can contain research papers and datasets as the results of scientific inquiry. These are often presented within larger databases with contributions from other research projects underway but funded by the same governmental bodies.

The first in this series of articles (September 2002) contained a methodology for finding journals concerned with the environment, including scientific journals (e.g., CISTI and Enviro-Science). Remember that government agencies and universities often carry journals on their own Web sites (e.g., Journal of Environmental Engineering& Science at http://www.nrc.ca/cgi-bin/cisti/journals/rp/rp2_desc_e?jees).

The Web can serve as an efficient tool to help identify toxic substances and monitor their usage on both a global and local basis. Since safety is of prime importance when handling toxins, there is no end to the number of sites (and type of information contained) dealing with transporting and disposing of hazardous materials. A select few from each category (government, academic, organizations, and commercial sites) appear in Table 2 on page 18.)

In addition to identifying pollutants, we need to monitor their effects on our environment (air, water, soil) and health. Governmental agencies around the world and organizations associated with specific types of pollution can assist in identifying scientific studies related to their areas of concern. (See Table 3 on page 19)

Once identified, tracking the effects of environmental risks on public health becomes the essential task. The advent of the Web has been a boon to those who wish to take control of their health and well-being, understanding conditions, and possibly trying solutions. As with the sites mentioned in tables 2 and 3, some are designed for scientists, physicians, and others with expert knowledge; others target the general public. Table 4 at left contains a selection of environmental health sites on both ends of the spectrum.

Specific Environmental Concerns and Regional Issues

In addition to the general concern about chemicals and pollutants, a variety of materials (e.g., asbestos) and structures (e.g., leakage from aboveground or underground storage tanks of natural gas and LPG) pose special concerns for the environment. Each has an entire set of resources that needs exploring: scientific research; engineering, including standards; legal, including government regulations; health; and even insurance. Table 5 at right focuses on some of the materials currently raising enormous concern.

The same holds true for regions that have environmental concerns specific to their location, such as the tropics (e.g., the Organization for Tropical Studies at http://www.ots.ac.cr), the rainforest (e.g., World Rainforest Information Portal at http://rainforestweb.org/), the Florida Everglades (e.g., Florida Center for Environmental Studies at http://www.ces.fau.edu), etc. Such regions have vast sets of resources available for study and research concerning each. No one article can deal with all of these topics and areas in equal measure; using the tools and methodology outlined in this piece will give researchers a head start with their investigations.

And Not a Drop to Drink

Water problems fall into two major categories: Either there is not enough water to drink in a particular locale or the water available is so impure that drinking it leads to enormous health problems. Web sites abound describing the state of water resources, cleanup of polluted water, and new desalinization techniques used to "create" new sources of drinking water. (See Table 6 on page 22.) Interim steps for conserving water during periods of drought appear on the Web sites of localities affected.

The Role of Business in Clean-Up Efforts

The Superfund Program, enacted in 1980 and administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "investigates and cleans up hazardous waste sites throughout the country." The principle was simple: Polluters should pay for cleaning up their own mess. The Trust Fund currently supports the cleanup of abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites through a tax imposed on the chemical and petroleum companies. The federal cleanup occurs when those responsible for the contamination at a site designated as a Superfund site (usually companies, through their insurers) cannot be found, cannot perform the cleanup tasks required, or cannot pay for the effort.

The Bush administration has announced "plans to cut cleanup funds at 33 of the country's biggest toxic waste sites." According to a recent New York Times editorial (July 6, 2002), private industry has paid for two-thirds of the 800-plus sites cleaned up thus far and will end up paying for a similar percentage of the roughly 1,200 sites remaining on the EPA's national priority list."

In reviewing Superfund issues, start with the General Accounting Office, which has issued numerous studies regarding the cleanup of these sites. Reach the GeneralAccounting Office(GAO) Reports through Access GPO [http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces160.shtml]. The database goes back to reports issued in fiscal year 1995. For a look at the guidance provided to EPA remedial project/site managers, try the memorandum on the Web presenting 11 risk management principles and how they play out at contaminated sediment sites [http://www.epa.gov/superfund/resources/principles/9285.6-08.pdf].

"Brownfields are defined as real property of which the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant." Since development of abandoned properties is a positive move for communities, the Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative was created "to empower states, cities, tribes, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields," turning them into "greenfields." This not only increases the value of properties restored, but has become a big business for those involved in the cleanup.

EPA Brownfields Cleanup and Redevelopment Homepage [http://www.epa.gov/brownfields/] has an exceptionally useful navigation bar that includes Pilots/Grants, Liability and Cleanup, Partnerships and Outreach, News and Events, and Laws and Regulations. The site contains fact sheets on such topics as redevelopment initiatives, small business liability relief, and tax incentives.

Brownfields Technology Support Center [http://www.brownfieldstsc.org/] "is a cooperative effort to provide technical support to federal, state, and local officials on items related to use of technology for site investigation and cleanup."

Brownfield Redevelopment is just one of a number of pages within theNational Governors Association Center for Best Practices [http://www.nga.org/center/divisions/
1,1188,T_ENVIRONMENT_EMERGENCY,00.html]
.

Brownfield Sites — Land and Buildings for Redevelopment
[http://www.brownfieldsites.com/
cgi-bin/WebObjects/Brownfieldsites.woa]
is billed as a hub for the U.K. brownsfield industry. Site includes news, resources, sites; information on funding; links to insurance sites; auctions; issues; products information (direct from suppliers); a business services directory; and recent press releases.

• Through the Brownfields State and Local Gateway [http://www.statelocal.gov/brown.html] you can link to news, conference schedules, Brownsfield contacts in the EPA, HUD's Brownsfields Environmental Justice Web page, the Brownsfield Center at Carnegie Mellon, and the National Conference of State Legislatures Brownsfield Program.

The sites included in Table 7 on page 23 deal with remediation efforts required, by type of contamination, and the technology, business concerns, products, and consulting organizations to best manage the process.

Human Problems Require Short- and Long-Term Solutions

Web sites provide information concerning the amount of solid waste we produce and options for its disposal, including incineration or transport to another location (often fraught with political problems as barges move across state lines, or even overseas). In addition to the recycling and waste management sites mentioned in Table 8 at left, researchers should look for sites dealing with the disposal of medical waste, plastics, computers, and other special products and materials.

Protecting Ourselves Through Early Risk Assessment

Assessing risks in the environment is a logical first step towards prevention. Corporate risk managers have begun moving beyond mere compliance with regulations to making reduction of risk one of their primary responsibilities. One excellent resource for environmental risk management is the Risk Management Internet Services (RMIS) Library [http://www.rmlibrary.com/frames/frmenvir.htm], containing air quality research studies, databases of online company environmental safety and health reports, an e-mail discussion group for environmental professionals, and a bulletin board discussion group for water quality professionals. Guidance on establishing ISO 14000 and British Standard 7750 specs for an environmental management system is provided with examples of environmental industry requirements and model risk management program plans presented by industry sector. The site also links to EPA hotlines for EMF, indoor air quality, pesticides, underground storage tanks, superfund, radon, etc., and EPA Updates/What's New pages. Education, EPA judgments and enforcement, hazardous waste, guidelines on pollution prevention in the workplace, radiation, radon, recycling reference materials, remediation, solid wastes, toxicology, water and wastewater are just some of the topics covered in the library's resources and professional guides.

Once the potential risks are identified, corporations can indemnify themselves against the kind of liabilities they suffered in the past. Pollution insurance, available in the early part of the 20th century, became known as Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL) Insurance as asbestos and other class-action suits arose, with awards that had significant impact on corporate bottom lines.

• "The Insurance Research Council (IRC) is an independent, nonprofit research organization supported by leading property and casualty insurance companies and associations. It provides timely and reliable information based on extensive data collection and analyses, examining important public policy matters that affect insurers, customers, and the general public." While not its primary focus, the Council has studied the issue of Environmental Impairment Liability (EIL), though the studies available on its Web site [http://www.ircweb.org/PublicPolicyIssues/PPIndex.htm]covering pollution liability were written in the mid-'80s.

• The American Insurance Association does list Asbestos and Environmental Impairment as a priority issue [http://www.aiadc.org/Industry/Issues/Asbestos.asp?Nav=1.33.34]. The Web site gives a brief overview of "the asbestos litigation problem" and several other Committee positions on the subject.

What's Next?

During the course of investigating environmental risks, it has become clear that the workplace is one area where health and safety concerns can and should be addressed more broadly and intensely than possible here. Currently, I plan to write another article to focus on resources for occupational (and other) safety matters, such as ergonomics, injuries (including sports injuries), and workers' compensation; products liability (including jury verdicts); transportation; building and construction; and mining.

It has been a long journey to the end of this series, so long that some of the sites listed in earlier articles have changed. I hope that the table above will catch us up, though changes will probably have occurred between the time of the edit and the time you read this issue. But that, as all searchers know, is life on the Web.

 

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