Environmental Protection Agency - FY 2009

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is pleased to submit the following statement on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 appropriation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research and education programs. The EPA relies on sound science to safeguard both human health and the environment. The EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) sponsors innovative research that provides the solid underpinning of science and technology for EPA regulatory and public outreach activities. ORD conducts research on ways to prevent pollution, protect human health, and reduce risks from a variety of hazardous chemicals and microbes. The work at ORD laboratories, research centers, and offices across the country helps improve the quality of air, water, soil, and the way we utilize resources. ORD's mission is to: 1) Perform research and development to identify, understand, and solve current and future environmental problems; 2) Provide responsive technical support to EPA's mission; 3) Integrate the work of ORD's scientific partners (other agencies, nations, private sector organizations, and academia); and 4) Provide leadership in addressing emerging environmental issues and in advancing the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management.

The ASM is very concerned with the diminishing budget for EPA’s research and development programs. Optimal EPA oversight clearly depends upon the Agency’s access to scientific expertise and its ability to respond quickly to our changing environment. Investments in research and development programs support both access to expertise and development of the best responses to environmental demands. The FY 2009 budget request for the ORD is $541 million, a 1.3 percent, or a $7 million, decrease from FY 2008, and a 3 percent decrease from FY 2007. These decreases are part of a longer term pattern of erosion that is deteriorating the scientific foundation that is essential for EPA to make decisions on and formulate regulations designed to protect human health and the environment. The ASM urges Congress to provide at least $595 million for the ORD in FY 2009, the same as the funding level provided in FY 2006.

STAR Grants and Fellowships

The proposed budget decreases for ORD include a reduced level of spending for the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. The ORD budget proposes only $61 million for STAR, a 2 percent reduction from FY 2008, which is substantially less than the FY 2002 level of $102 million, even without correcting for inflation. The proposed decreases would continue seven consecutive years of cutting this important program. The funding request for STAR includes $55 million for the STAR Grants, and $6 million for the STAR Fellowships. The ASM urges Congress to increase funding for the STAR grants program to at least the FY 2002 level of $102 million.

The STAR Grants fund research in numerous environmental science and engineering disciplines through a competitive solicitation process and independent peer review. The program engages the nation's best scientists and engineers in targeted research that complements EPA's laboratory research and research conducted by our partners in other federal agencies.

Reductions in the STAR program will severely limit the ability of EPA to draw upon critically needed scientific expertise from the academic community, a valuable source of research insights and personnel for EPA programs. Reductions will also limit US competitiveness in the areas of environmental research, training, and development of new technologies for solving environmental problems.

The STAR program revitalizes all areas of EPA research and fosters workforce development in environmental science and technology through fellowships. In December 2006, EPA reported results from several STAR funded studies on biomarkers, which are substances or processes that can be measured in biological samples, such as blood, that indicate toxic exposure or predict disease. Extramural researchers confirmed that easy to collect saliva can be used to assay pesticide exposure in children and adults; other grantees used biomarkers to demonstrate that specific insect management techniques effectively reduce prenatal pesticide exposure. STAR recently supported a grant that will potentially provide managers with both an enhanced forecast of harmful algal blooms and information needed to formulate bloom management and prevention strategies. Such forecasts are important because the frequency and intensity of toxic cyanobacteria blooms has increased in recent decades, causing a plethora of acute, chronic, and fatal illnesses in animals and humans.

Clean and Safe Water

Congress has mandated that the EPA ensure the safety of our drinking and recreational waters, an enormous regulatory and assessment task that relies on sufficient EPA funding and personnel resources. The ASM is concerned with the proposed 2.8 percent cut to the Drinking Water and Water Quality programs at ORD. The Drinking Water Program suffers the greatest, with an 8 percent proposed decrease from FY 2008. Cutting the research program for safe drinking water is unacceptable at a time when more than 10 percent of the US population served by community drinking water systems does not receive drinking water that meets all applicable health-based standards.

The potential for health problems from microbial contaminated drinking water is demonstrated by localized outbreaks of waterborne disease. Many of these outbreaks have been linked to contamination by bacteria or viruses, probably from human or animal wastes. For example, in 1999 and 2000, there were 39 reported disease outbreaks associated with drinking water, some of which were linked to public drinking water supplies.

The ASM supports the following priority research areas included in the FY 2009 budget request for drinking water and water quality: 1) Studies on aquifer storage and recovery on the safety of drinking water and the impacts of subsurface carbon dioxide (CO2) storage on drinking water quality; 2) Revising aquatic life guidelines, recreational water criteria, the effects of emerging contaminants, nutrients, biocriteria, and multiple stressor effects on stream biota; 3) Watershed management work that supports diagnoses of impairment, mitigations, and pollutant load reduction from headwater streams and isolated wetlands; and 4) Improving the control of microbial releases from publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) during periods of significant wet weather events. It is also imperative that the EPA continue to develop analytical methods for accurately measuring contaminant levels in drinking water and surface water; ensure proper certification and assessment of laboratories that analyze drinking-water samples; and conduct research that strengthens the scientific basis for standards that limit public exposure to contaminants. Topics of growing concern include, among others, the dissemination into the environment through water and wastewater treatment systems of diverse anthropogenic compounds, such as pharmaceuticals and estrogens or estrogen-like compounds. These compounds are now ubiquitous, but their fates in the environment and impacts on humans and other organisms are inadequately known.

The ASM supports the proposed $1 million increase for the Water Quality program. Continued investment in this area can build upon the successful outcomes already obtained. Increased research is needed to protect the nation from waterborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite causing gastroenteritis in humans, has become the leading cause of recreational water associated outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness. In 2003-2004, this parasite accounted for 61.1 percent of gastrointestinal outbreaks associated with disinfected swimming venues such as swimming pools and water parks. This is likely due to its high resistance to free chlorine, the main barrier to infectious disease transmission in pools. Since 2005, cryptosporidiosis reporting has increased substantially.

EPA researchers have aggressively sought improved techniques for water quality assessment, building “toolkits” of assays and computational models that can be used by local and state public health officials. Recent examples include a new rapid DNA analysis test to quantify Enterococci and Bacterioides bacteria in water. This new test reduces the time for detecting these sewage contaminants from 24 hours to just two hours and makes possible same day decisions on beach warnings or closings. Other current ORD research efforts include developing laboratory cell lines and assays to measure chemical interactions with human hormone receptors and using new genomics technologies to assess risks from widely used conazole fungicides.

Renewable Energy and Wastewater Infrastructure

The EPA is a stakeholder in ensuring a sustainable environment, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Renewable energy research is essential to ensuring sustainability. The ASM encourages EPA to pursue collaborative efforts with the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In order to provide safe and secure drinking water for its citizens, the nation must improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of its water distribution systems from sources to end users. Energy efficiency is an important but often overlooked consideration. At present, the nation’s water distribution infrastructure consumes approximately 5 percent of total electricity use. The development of non-fossil fuel energy sources to work water distribution systems cannot only contribute to a more secure water supply, but can also contribute to the nation’s energy security. Coupling microbial activity during wastewater treatment to electricity generation provides one example for increasing energy efficiency.

Researchers, supported by the NSF and the USDA, have made great strides in advancing the technology of microbial fuel cells to benefit wastewater treatment plants. Microbial fuel cells work through the action of bacteria, which can produce electricity in fuel cells. In the process, the bacteria consume organic matter in the wastewater and improve water quality. This approach uses the bacteria that naturally occur in wastewater, requiring no special bacterial strains or unusual environmental demands. The benefit of microbial fuel cell applications is that while they generate electricity, they purify wastewater, a goal of wastewater treatment facilities that usually requires the consumption of energy.

The ASM urges Congress to support a collaborative relationship between the EPA, DOE, NSF, and USDA to explore energy production from waste treatment, and to develop mechanisms for improving energy efficiency in water distribution.

Climate Change

Climate change affects all of earth’s life, including microbes that often dominate the living mass of many ecosystems. Extreme temperatures can lead directly to loss of life, while climate-related disturbances in ecological systems, such as changes in the range of infective parasites, can indirectly affect the incidence of serious infectious diseases. In addition, warm temperatures can increase air and water pollution, which in turn harm human health. The impact of these changes on microbial activities is often unpredictable, but microbes play major roles in water quality, environmental integrity and human health, it is essential that the EPA retain and expand its ability to support research on climate change and subsequent impact on both beneficial and pathogenic microorganisms.

The ASM is concerned with the proposed 15 percent cut to the Global Change research program at ORD because it is clear that certain diseases and pathogens are sensitive to climate changes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in 2007 that noted that the global population at risk from vector-borne malaria would increase by between 220 million and 400 million in the next century. Other “vector-borne" diseases, such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis, carried by mosquitoes and other insects serving as biological reservoirs and vectors are also projected to spread into new areas due to global warming. While most of the increase is predicted to occur in Africa, some increased risk is projected in Britain, Australia, India, and Portugal. Climate change may increase the risk of other infectious diseases, particularly those diseases that appear in warm areas and are spread by pathogens having a water habitat. Warming of US costal waters in recent years has caused shellfish-borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis caused by the aquatic bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus to become an increased risk to humans by consuming these infected shellfish. In addition, algal blooms could occur more frequently as temperatures warm, particularly in areas with polluted waters, potentially causing diseases such as cholera that tend to accompany algal blooms to become more frequent.

Conclusion

Sound science is necessary for the protection of human health and the environment. The ORD is an integral component for conducting research needed to answer many of the challenges we face, such as climate change, renewable energy, and clean and safe water. The ASM urges Congress to provide at least $595 million for the ORD and $102 million for the STAR program in FY 2009.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers the FY 2009 appropriation for the EPA.

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