The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 42,000 members, appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The ASM represents scientists who work in academic, industrial, medical and governmental institutions worldwide. Microbiologists are involved in research to improve human health and the environment. The ASM's mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of basic life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, and for economic and environmental well being.
The following testimony will outline the ASM's funding recommendations for EPA research and development programs for FY 2002.
The EPA's scientific research and development programs are critical to researchers in the fields of applied and environmental microbiology. Research on environmental microbiology is essential for improving air, water, and soil quality; for assuring the safety of potable water supplies; for providing safe means for waste disposal; and for cleanups of environmental contaminants. The ASM believes that sound public policy for environmental protection depends on adequately funded programs of intramural and extramural research based on a system of peer review to assure that support is awarded to research programs having both quality and relevance. The EPA has begun its own peer review system based upon the National Science Foundation model. Critical peer review of both the intramural and extramural research programs of the EPA are necessary for ensuring the quality and scientific validity of studies that are funded.
Safe Water and Water Research
Control of water pollution in the United States over the past two decades has focused on chemical risks, overshadowing the significant risks associated with microbial pollutants. Waterborne microorganisms pose increasingly greater threats to public health, due to changing patterns in water use, increased water pollution, the nation's aging water treatment systems, and out-moded risk assessment protocols. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year in the United States up to 900,000 cases of illness and possibly 900 deaths occur as a result of waterborne microbial infections. Disease causing microbes are responsible for a variety of maladies from diarrhea (Cryptosporidium) to respiratory distress to heart disease. In 1993, the Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee cost that community well over $55 million. The 1997 Pfiesteria bloom in the Chesapeake Bay area caused $43 million in economic losses. The ASM believes it is imperative to provide support to EPA efforts to address risk associated with microbial contamination, such as, the Waterborne Microbial Disease Program (WMDP). The WMDP is an internal EPA effort to examine the coverage of current programs related to waterborne microbial disease and develop an integrated strategy that will assure current and future regulatory programs adequately address microbial public health concerns. The ASM has recommended that EPA work with the CDC, National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and other federal agencies, as well as universities and other key nongovernment groups to provide the needed reliable science.
The ASM also recommends that biological research could be strengthened within EPA by initiating an independent scientific assessment that:
- Focuses on the appropriate and necessary human and financial resources needed for research, development, and implementation of water protection programs focused on waterborne microbes.
- Identifies the education and training programs needed to improve surveillance of our waters and our human population for outbreaks.
- Determines which programs and methods must be developed or expanded to monitor the microbial threat in the nation's water systems.
Science to Achieve Results Program
The EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is an important mission-driven, extramural research initiative. This program funds important environmental research proposals from scientists outside the federal government and is a valuable resource for the EPA in finding solutions to many complex environmental problems. Grants made under the STAR program last from two to three years and provide about $150,000 of scientific support per grant year. The STAR program funds projects in specific focal areas including global warming, drinking water, ecology of harmful algal blooms, water and watersheds, ecological indicators, and pollution prevention, which have significant microbiological components. ASM applauds the EPA's new initiative to develop multi-year plans (e.g., for Particulate Matter and other programs) that will relate STAR and intramural research products to the Agency's strategic goals for different program areas. These plans will help provide a framework for the Agency to consider, and to explain the balance of R&D performers in individual research areas.
ASM recommends that 20 percent of the STAR budget remain open for exploring broader issues not covered by targeted RFA's. This mechanism captures the creativity of the scientific community to foresee EPA relevant needs and solutions.
Graduate Environmental Fellowship Program
The EPA's Graduate STAR Environmental Fellowship Program has been an outstanding success in attracting some of the best young talent to environmental research. ASM strongly endorses this program and, based on its success, suggests that the funding be increased for FY 2002. Both the public and private sectors will benefit from a steady stream of well-trained environmental specialists. The fellowship program has had a major impact in attracting exceptionally talented young scientist to pursue careers in environmentally related fields. ASM also encourages the EPA to fund additional environmental microbiology fellowships in such research areas as bioremediation, global warming, and molecular methods to detect water contamination. The Fellowship Program will provide the critical expertise this nation will need to face today's challenges in industrial pollution, microbial contaminated water systems and general environmental quality. ASM also believes this program is critical to maintaining the highest level of competence in environmental science to address the challenges yet unseen.
During this year's appropriations process, the ASM urges Congress to consider these needs and provide the necessary incremental funding. The ASM appreciates the opportunity to comment and would be pleased to provide additional information.