Critical Science Gaps in the Cleanup of a Wide-Area Release of Biological Agents
Critical Science Gaps in the Cleanup of a Wide-Area Release
of Biological Agents
Gregory Sayles, Ph.D.
US EPA, National Homeland Security Research Center
ORAU Annual Meeting, March 8, 2018
Questions for Today
What is a wide-area biological incident?
What is EPA’s role in the response?
What are the critical science capabilities we still need?
What is a wide-area biological incident?
• Terrorists can spread Bacillus
anthracis unnoticed in an urban
• The contamination may not be
detected until people get sick
• Winds and other environmental
processes will move the
• Human and vehicular traffic will
also increase the contaminated
• DHS modeling of release in
From DHS’ Wide Area Recovery and Resiliency Program
How “wide” is a wide-
DHS/EPA example of spores in a
EPA Homeland Security Responsibilities
National Response Framework
– Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation and
– Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act
– Clean Water Act
– Safe Drinking Water Act
– Oil Pollution Act
– Clean Air Act
– Resource Conservation and
• Support water systems to prepare for
and recover from attacks and other
by leading efforts to provide States and water
utilities guidance, tools and strategies. EPA is
the federal government Sector Specific
Agency lead for water infrastructure.
• Clean up buildings and outdoor areas
impacted by a terrorist attack or other
disaster by leading efforts to establish
clearance goals and clean up.
• Develop a nationwide laboratory
with the capability and capacity to analyze for
chemical, biological and radiological (CBR)
agents for routine monitoring and in response
to a terrorist attacks.
What do we need?
• Sampling and
• Decon methods
• Waste management
• Effective in the field
• Diversity of approaches
• Readily available
• Cost effective
• Decision support tools
How do biological agents move in the environment?
• People, vehicles
Do they persist?
Where and when do we sample
if spores are on the move?
• Establish exclusion zones
• Design sampling and decon plans
or, where are the spores today?
Characterizing the Environment
For a wide-area cleanup, traditional approaches to
characterization will greatly impede progress:
• Analytical capacity – need rapid, uniformly used, methods
• Sampling capacity – need scalability
• Screening versus clearance?
EPA’s Selected Analytical Methods (SAM) website
• Creating a one stop shop for end users’ sample collection and
Uniformly applied analytical methods
Identifies a single, selected method for each analyte/sample
type in a specific matrix (e.g. soil, water, air)
• Permits sharing of sample load between laboratories
• Increases the speed of analysis
• Improves data comparability
• Simplifies potential outsourcing analytical support
•Can’t clean everything à Waste
•One of the largest challenges of overall
• Huge amounts
• Debris, vegetation?
• Porous materials like carpet?
•Difficult to place highly-contaminated
•Need on-site treatment options so
treated waste can be accepted at landfills
Most past R&D focused on anthrax
Other important biological pathogens:
• Ebola virus (2014)
• HPAI virus (2015)
• Burkholderia (2014-5)
• Yersinia pestis (plague)
• Francisella tularemia
Water System Cleanup
Water and wastewater systems can also become contaminated
• EPA tests methods/technologies work for decontamination of
infrastructure and management of contaminated water for CBR threats.
• EPA develops tools to support response to water system contamination
EPA Water Security Test Bed, Idaho National Lab
Need Decision Support Tools
• Real-time response
Source: Domestic Preparedness website.
“Incident Scale & the Need for
by John Contestabile & Richard Waddell,
January 24, 2018
The views expressed in this presentation are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. Any mention of trade names, products, or services does not imply an
endorsement by the U.S. Government or the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA). The EPA does not endorse any commercial products, services,