Environmental Protection Agency - FY 2007 Testimony

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 appropriation for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ASM is the largest single life science organization in the world, comprised of more than 43,000 members. ASM members are involved in research to improve human health and the environment and work in academic, industrial, medical, and governmental institutions worldwide. The ASM’s mission is to enhance the science of microbiology, to gain a better understanding of life processes, and to promote the application of this knowledge for improved health, and for economic and environmental well-being.

The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the environment. The ASM believes that sound public policy for environmental protection depends on adequately funded intramural and extramural research programs based on scientific peer review to assure that support is awarded for both quality and relevant research. At laboratories located throughout the nation, the EPA works to assess environmental conditions and to identify, understand, and solve current and future environmental problems; integrate the work of scientific partners such as nations, private sector organizations, academia and other agencies; and provide leadership in addressing emerging environmental issues and in advancing the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management. It is essential that the EPA science and technology programs are adequately supported.

The FY 2007 request for the EPA’s science and technology funding is $788 million, 8 percent above FY 2006. Science and technology programs are important to addressing complex environmental problems, and the ASM urges Congress to support the Administration’s overall request to increase funding for the EPA’s science and technology programs by $58.5 million. The EPA depends on excellent research programs to evaluate risk, develop and defend protective standards, anticipate future health and environmental threats, and to identify solutions to environmental problems.

Waterborne Pathogens
Although the American public enjoys safe drinking water, waterborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites continue to be reported. Surface water and groundwater sources can be contaminated with many different types of chemical substances and microorganisms. Furthermore, the disinfection process itself creates a number of potentially toxic chemical byproducts. The EPA conducts the necessary research to provide a strong scientific foundation for standards that limit the public’s exposure to drinking water contaminants and disinfection byproducts. This research supports major regulatory activities including the Microbial/Disinfection Byproduct Rules, and future decisions on unregulated pathogens and chemicals. The EPA has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) includes a process for identifying new contaminants, which are reported in a Contaminant Candidate List (CCL). The first CCL was published in March 1998. The EPA uses this list of unregulated contaminants to prioritize research and data collection efforts to help determine whether a specific contaminant should be regulated.

In addition to releasing the most recent CCL in February 2005, the EPA provided an update on its work to improve the CCL process for the future that is based, in part, on recommendations from the National Research Council and the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. Goals for the future include:
  • evaluate a wider range of information; 
  • screen contaminants more systematically; and 
  • develop a more comprehensive CCL by expanding the number of contaminants being reviewed for inclusion on the next CCL.

The EPA is currently working on the third CCL and anticipates its draft release in 2006. The increasing numbers of contaminants and candidate contaminants that must be monitored and regulated require adequate funding. Research focuses on filling data gaps, developing analytical methods for measuring the occurrence of chemical and microbial contaminants on the CCL and developing and evaluating cost-effective treatment technologies for removing pathogens from water supplies, while at the same time minimizing microbial/disinfection by-product formation.

Under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 (BEACH Act), the EPA protects the quality of the nation’s coastal and Great Lakes region recreational water. Swimming in some recreational waters can pose a risk of illness as a result of exposure to microbial pathogens. The EPA’s safety improvement strategy includes the general reduction of pathogen levels in recreational waters by:

  • reducing pollution from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs); 
  • addressing major sources discharging pathogens under the permit program; and 
  • improving management of septic systems.

The EPA is conducting research on waterborne pathogens, arsenic, disinfection byproducts, and other chemical contaminants to protect the nation. The ASM supports the Administration’s request to increase Drinking Water and Water Quality research by $9.8 million in FY 2007.

Indoor Air Quality
Every breath we take, indoors and out, we inhale not just life-sustaining oxygen but dust and smoke, chemicals, microorganisms, and particles and pollutants that float on the air. The average human inhales approximately 10 cubic meters of air daily. Because most people spend about 22 hours each day indoors, poor indoor air quality (IAQ) affects both public health and national productivity. At present, a shortage of IAQ research leaves much unknown about cause-and-effect specifics, but there is little doubt that contaminated buildings are attracting more attention as occupants develop often vague symptoms followed by remediation, litigation, and other costly outcomes.

Although IAQ issues are often viewed as a problem of modern buildings, connections made between air and disease date to ancient times. Long before the germ theory of disease and its indictment of pathogenic microorganisms, humans associated foul miasmas like “sewer gas” with infectious diseases such as malaria. Initially, prevention of disease transmission by infectious pathogens became the principal concern of early public health advocates. Today we understand that airborne non-pathogenic organisms, fragments of microbial cells, and by-products of microbial metabolism also cause problems. The ASM believes that more research is needed in this area for the safety and protection of human health and urges Congress not to support the Administration’s request for a $6.4 million reduction in FY 2007 for Air Quality research at the EPA.

Computation Toxicology
The EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) has initiated a research program on Computational Toxicology to better understand the relationships between sources of environmental pollutant exposure and adverse outcomes. Computational toxicology integrates computing and information technology with the technologies of molecular biology and chemistry and is used to improve the EPA’s prioritization of data requirements and risk assessments for toxic chemicals. Strategic objectives of this program are to: (1) improve understanding of the linkages in the continuum between the source of a chemical in the environment and adverse outcomes, (2) provide predictive models for screening and testing and (3) improve quantitative risk assessment.

The ASM supports the Administration’s request to increase research funding for this program by $2.7 million in FY 2007. Part of this increase will support a biologically based system to reduce the uncertainty in the prioritization and categorization of chemicals, and develop computational models of biological processes relevant to the induction of toxicity for high priority environmental contaminants. As a result, the Agency would be less reliant on default assumptions of risk assessments and able to accurately characterize the uncertainty associated with risk predictions.

STAR Grants Program
The EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) manages the STAR grants program, which is a competitive, peer-reviewed, extramural research grants program intended to increase access to the nation’s best scientists and engineers in academic and other nonprofit research institutions. Research sponsored by the STAR program allows the EPA to fill information gaps that are not addressed completely by its intramural research programs, and to respond to new and emerging issues that the agency’s laboratories are not able to address.

The EPA FY 2007 budget requests $65 million for the STAR grants program, a 5 percent reduction from the FY 2006 level, and 36 percent below the peak funding level of $102 million in FY 2002. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has urged the continuation of and investment in the STAR program. In 2003, the NAS released a report titled, The Measure of STAR: Review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants Program, which argues that the STAR grants are a critical means for the agency to access scientific expertise that it does not have in-house, and to respond quickly to emerging issues.

Since its inception in 1995, the STAR research projects have resulted in articles in highly respected, peer-reviewed journals, and have already helped to improve our understanding of the causes, exposures and effects of environmental pollution and microorganisms in the environment. The ASM urges Congress to increase funding for the STAR grants program to the FY 2002 level of $102 million. The STAR program focuses on critical research areas, including the health effects of particulate matter, drinking water, water quality, global change, ecosystem assessment and restoration, human health risk assessment, endocrine disrupting chemicals, pollution prevention and new technologies, children’s health, and socio-economic research.

STAR Fellowship Program
As part of its STAR program, the EPA offers Graduate Fellowships for master's and doctoral level students in environmentally related fields of study. The STAR fellowship program was initiated in 1995. Approximately 1,100 STAR fellowships have been awarded since the inception of the program. The purpose of the fellowship program is to encourage promising students to obtain advanced degrees and pursue careers in an environmental field. This goal is consistent with the immediate and long-term mission of the EPA, to protect public health and the environment.

The EPA budget requests a $3.4 million reduction to the STAR Fellowship Program in FY 2007, or 37 percent below the FY 2006 level. This reduction will affect approximately 37 graduate students pursuing degrees related to environmental sciences. The ASM urges Congress to restore funding for the STAR Fellowship Program. The STAR fellowship program has proven to be beneficial to both the public and private sectors by providing a steady stream of well-trained environmental specialists to meet environmental challenges in our society. It has also provided new environmental research in physical, biological, health sciences, and social sciences and engineering.

Well-funded research is needed to address emerging issues affecting the environment and human health. For the EPA to fulfill its mission to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment, the ASM urges Congress to support the Administration’s overall request for increased funding for the EPA’s science and technology programs in FY 2007.

The ASM appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony and would be pleased to assist the Subcommittee as it considers its appropriation for the EPA for FY 2007.