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.
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
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/
some remain open:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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/
Brownfield Sites Land and Buildings
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.
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
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.