CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has received a $5.5 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to operate the Western Region Hazardous Substance Research Center, a research and training center that plays a key role in efforts to clean up toxic wastes across the West.
The funding will aid the research of more than 15 OSU faculty members and researchers in the colleges of engineering, science and agricultural sciences, and also support a large multi-state outreach program that helps communities understand pollution problems and solutions being proposed for cleanup.
OSU's proposal was made in collaboration with Stanford University, which has housed this center since 1989. The proposal was selected by the EPA from 27 others submitted by more than 60 universities. The center represents two regions of the EPA, includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, and is one of only five of its type in the nation.
"The center provides us with the opportunity to perform interdisciplinary research on methods to clean up subsurface contamination with chlorinated solvents," said Lew Semprini, director of the center and professor in the OSU Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering.
The OSU and Stanford programs in environmental engineering have particular strength in work with chlorinated solvents that can contaminate soil and underground aquifers, Semprini said. The universities have developed innovative techniques - some biological, some chemical - to degrade and detoxify such compounds on the site, reducing cleanup costs and recovery time.
"OSU and Stanford have a track record of getting technologies out of the laboratory and into the field, and working together on field demonstration projects," Semprini said. "We'll now have a new funding base to perform basic research on innovative treatment processes, which can lead to interdisciplinary proposals with other departments.
"This center has the potential to generate the data needed to support field demonstrations of the cleanup technologies at military bases and other cleanup sites," he added.
A focus of the center's work, researchers say, is trichloroethyline, or TCE, a suspected carcinogen that was widely used as a degreaser in the 1950s and 1960s at sites ranging from dry cleaning stores to private industry and military bases. Cleaning up a single pound of TCE from underground aquifers can cost up to $10,000, and a single 50-gallon barrel of it can generate a plume that contaminates 10 billion gallons of water above the drinking water standard.
The research goal of the center is to develop low cost methods to destroy the contaminants in place, eliminating the need to bring the contaminants to the surface for treatment.
The outreach programs of the center assist communities affected by hazardous waste contamination and groups interested in bringing contaminated sites back to commercial productivity.
"Here is a program that helps communities participate in recovery efforts after discovery of chemical contamination," said Ken Williamson, an OSU faculty member directing this program.
Having this center at OSU should help the College of Engineering attract high quality graduate students and faculty as it works toward a goal of becoming one of the top-25 engineering programs in the nation, said Ron Adams, dean of the College of Engineering.