WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department are working together to protect the environment and bolster homeland security.
During an April 7 interview on the Pentagon Channel podcast “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military,” Peter Jutro, deputy director for science and policy at EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center, noted that while the EPA and Defense Department missions differ, they have common goals.
EPA benefits from the Defense Department’s research in several areas, he said, including historical contamination incidents, risk communication and collaborative work on protocols and technologies for identifying biological agents.
“We really do depend on (the Defense Department), and there’s a lot of work that’s being done with DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency,” he said.
EPA has two homeland security responsibilities: acting as the lead federal sector for protecting the nation’s drinking water, and dealing with decontamination if a homeland security incident occurs.
“We’re always on the lookout for ways to make cleanups and recovery more cost effective,” Jutro said. “There’s a lot of this brand-new, over-the-horizon technology, and for this, we really depend on (the Defense Department).”
The two also work together on dual-use tools, models, technologies and methods – “things that can be used for homeland security but will have broader, environmental protection or defense uses as well,” he added.
The environmental agency and the Pentagon also have been working together on developing standard analytical methods for homeland security incidents.
“This is a close collaboration on laboratory methods for measuring chemical, and biological and related agents that might be used in an attack,” Jutro explained. “If there’s an incident in the United States, the number of environmental samples that will have to be analyzed is huge. What we need are standard methods to be sure that all the testing results are both accurate and comparable.”
This allows both government agencies to work together to ensure that lab results won’t depend on which laboratories analyze the samples.
The EPA has worked with the Army in creating a small-model water system for testing chemical-warfare agents. Some things cannot be put into the EPA’s model system, Jutro said, and the one developed with the Army allows EPA scientists to run tests that only can be done on a well-protected military facility.
The agencies also worked together to share information extensively and openly on research, he said. “We are trying to make sure that we’re not duplicating each other unnecessarily, or doing more duplication than good science calls for,” he explained. This also helps to ensure that all needs are being met among the various agencies, he added.
“As we move forward, we see a lot of opportunity and many unanswered questions,” he said. “The way forward depends upon the excellent work that’s already been done by a large number of really remarkable EPA research scientists and engineers in collaboration with their colleagues from elsewhere.”