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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development address strategies for using research to anticipate environmental problems and to set priorities for the future). A fourth topic, methods for testing for long-term chemical toxicity, was chosen after additional discussions with NIEHS and ATSDR. The workshops were held over 9 months during 1989. ecosystem risk assessment, March 2-3, in Warrenton, Virginia; waste reduction, May 8-9, in Annapolis, Maryland; anticipatory research, June 14-15, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; and chemical toxicity, December 13-15, in Washington, D.C. Each workshop involved the participation of the members of the committee and 20-40 additional persons with particular knowledge of the subject matter; participant lists are in Appendixes A-D. The draft report of each workshop was circulated to the workshop participants and members of the committee for review and comment (and ultimately reviewed through a peer review process). When the workshops had all been held, the BEST committee developed overall conclusions about opportunities and needs in applied environmental research and development. Its conclusions are summarized in the next chapter, and summaries of the individual workshops appear in the appendixes that follow it. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS On the basis of its workshops and its deliberations, the Committee on Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development formulated five general conclusions and recommendations. More detailed suggestions for research priorities in particular fields of research appear in the appendixes that follow. Research is an essential foundation for environmental protection: it is not a luxury to be deferred when budgets are tight, and it should not be conducted merely in support of existing regulatory programs. Applied research can have at least four important functions in support of environmental protection and management. First, it can enable understanding and anticipation of environmental problems, identification of their causes, and estimation of the magnitude and importance of their effects. Second, it can help in generating new solutions to those problems through innovations in technologies and incentives for change in human behavior. Third, it can provide a basis for public policy; regulatory agencies must have evidence to justify proposed regulations to protect public health and the environment. Fourth, research can provide feedback on the effectiveness and impact of environmental policy and management, so that they can be corrected where necessary. Applied environmental research has never been supported adequately by EPA. It has been disproportionately vulnerable to budget cuts and has suffered severe budget reductions (in real dollars) during the 1980s, even while EPA's mandates have expanded. Of the four functions that applied research can have, EPA has disproportionately emphasized its use in providing evidence to justify regulatory proposals. Environmental research must be more stably and adequately supported across all four of its functions. Applied research should be directed toward the most serious environmental hazards, toward their root causes and the most promising opportunities to reduce them, and toward topics that are amenable to good applied research; it should not be driven merely by current regulatory priorities or news media coverage. Regulatory priorities are inevitably shaped by laws, by judicial decisions and consent decrees, by participants in the workshop on long-term chemical toxicity, discussed in Appendix C. The BEST committee decided for two reasons, however, not to sponsor a workshop on this topic. First, it believed that substantitive research needs recommended by the earlier NRC committee were still valid and that questions of internal organization and structure aimed at implementing these recommendations could not be addressed usefully by a workshop of outside experts. Second, another NRC committee, the Committee or Environmental Epidemiology, has recently been established to provide a more systematic assessment of the whole field of environmental epidemiology and will undoubtedly develop more comprehensive recommendations than a single workshop could yield.
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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development political salience and news media coverage, and by other factors that are not directly related to environmental or human health hazard. All too often, however, those same factors drive research priorities as well and are compounded by organizational imperatives, such as the maintenance of established research staff and program capabilities. One result is a tendency toward heavy investment in well-studied, continuing regulatory problems (such as criteria air pollutants), and in ''crash' programs on new problems that attract political attention (such as acid rain and hazardous waste sites). The results often are serious underinvestments in research on other important questions that have not yet attracted as much attention (such as waste reduction, basic understanding of ecosystems, and long-term chemical toxicity). Applied environmental research differs from basic research in that it attempts to understand and remedy practical problems. Its priorities should therefore pertain to the relative severity of such problems and the likelihood of solving them. However, this approach does not mean its priorities should be shaped primarily by current regulatory demands, because these demands themselves are rarely based either on systematic assessment of relative risks and opportunities or on any careful assessment of the likelihood that the results of research efforts would help to produce substantially better environmental conditions. An effective program of applied environmental research would include a process for setting research and development priorities largely independent of immediate regulatory priorities. Priority setting would be guided by relative risks, amenability to research, and the quality of research proposed It would also be guided by the need to provide a balance among the four functions of research identified above: to promote understanding, to find solutions, to inform policy, and to evaluate policy effectiveness. A process for setting research and development priorities that met those four goals well would provide the greatest possible overall benefit to regulatory programs, even though regulations directed at hazards that were less severe or less amenable to research solutions would receive less research attention than other topics. Several research topics meet the criteria noted above and should be considered for addition to environmental agencies' research agendas. Topics identified by the committee include applied social science research (especially in the area of waste reduction) coordinated research of ecosystems and landscape change, anticipatory research program development, and improved methods for predicting long-term chemical toxicity. Whatever the reasons—inadequate budgets, the momentum of existing research programs and personnel, pressures associated with regulatory priorities, resistance within EPA to new subjects of research, opposition from budget officials outside the agency, or some combination of these—important topics of applied environmental research have not received adequate attention. This failure constitutes a serious barrier to EPA's effective performance of its mission, and it must be remedied. The subjects considered by the BEST committee illustrate the general problem. Waste Reduction. For 2 decades, EPA's primary tool for environmental protection has been the mandatory imposition of pollution control technologies. Its research program therefore has been overwhelmingly devoted to the environmental transport and fate of pollutants, their health effects, and the development and assessment of pollution control technologies. EPA has recently announced a fundamental change in emphasis, asserting that further progress in environmental protection will require systematic incentives for waste reduction (that is, for actions that will reduce or prevent the generation of waste materials and the use of energy through changes in input and production processes and through on-site recycling). The implementation of such incentives, however, requires not only changes in technological research priorities, but also research in the applied social sciences. It requires understanding of the economics of material and energy use, and of the human behavior patterns and influencing factors that drive economic patterns; and it requires empirical evaluation of the effects of policy incentives, both those intended to reduce waste and those that might inadvertently increase it. Understanding of environmental processes, health effects, and pollution control technologies is also necessary, but by itself it is insufficient to meet the goal of environmental protection. In other words, waste reduction must be rooted
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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development more broadly in a systematic approach to human use of materials and energy, not just in improvements in engineering or regulatory efficiency. Most of the research needed to implement this new strategy remains virtually unaddressed by federal programs. One reason might be the relative novelty of waste reduction as a policy objective, but others include historical emphasis on regulatory support and pollution control technologies, the absence of social science research programs or staff expertise in the agencies, and a persistent prejudice against social science research on the part of budget officials. If EPA is to be effective in encouraging market-oriented and other nonregulatory incentives for waste reduction, applied social science research must be made an explicit and integral element of its agenda. Ecosystem and Landscape Change. Many of the most important environmental problems now facing the nation involve long-term, large-scale environmental degradation, such as the effects of complex chemical pollution, regional air pollution, coastal degradation, wetland and other habitat losses, and loss of biotic diversity. Ecosystem studies have existed for at least 2 decades, but so far the response of ecosystems and landscapes (large spatial units with interacting ecosystems) has been assessed in a piecemeal, fragmented manner that has usually failed to provide adequate estimates of uncertainties associated with environmental threats. The piecemeal character of the past studies leaves us with insufficient information to distinguish between human-caused perturbations that would have serious adverse consequences and perturbations that would be either beneficial or unimportant. Addressing these inadequacies requires a coordinated research program to identify key ecosystem level characteristics of structure and function and to use them as environmental indexes to provide better information about the relationships between natural variability and anthropogenic perturbations in ecosystems. Such a program requires a core of common concepts, indicators, and standardized methods directed to the management objectives of ecosystem and landscape health and sustainability and an integrated, large-scale, long-term national program for regionally focused ecosystem monitoring, research, and risk assessment. Anticipation of Future Environmental Problems. While our ability to predict the future is limited, most current environmental problems have been known to scientists for some time. Nevertheless, EPA and society often react to environmental problems only when they become public crises. Timely research might have helped either to anticipate the crises or to provide more effective means to deal with them. However, many such problems are not amenable to direct, short-term attack, and require sustained anticipatory research to understand them and develop appropriate responses. Better baseline data, for example, would provide clearer understanding of the relationship between natural variability and human impacts. Earlier research on the effects of policy interventions would provide better understanding of the most effective responses. It is just that sort of research that has commonly been missing in research missions that emphasize support of current regulatory mandates, rather than exploration of emergent problems and trends. There is a serious need, therefore, for federal agencies to support research to identify and anticipate future environmental problems. Such research should include efforts to broaden the range of ideas and approaches in environmental research, and to increase interaction among the many disciplines relevant to environmental protection. It should also strengthen the connections between applied research and the incremental accumulation of more fundamental understanding. EPA has created such research units at least twice in its history-the Washington Environmental Research Center in the early 1970s and the Office of Exploratory Research in 1978—but in each case their success was limited. Budget cuts have had extremely detrimental effects throughout EPA's research program during the 1980s, but programs devoted to anticipating future problems seem to be especially vulnerable to budget cuts and to competition from research programs driven by more immediate pressures. The committee believes that such budget decisions represent false economy and that serious attention should be directed to the establishment of stable programs for research ha anticipation of emergent environmental problems. Long-Term Chemical Toxicity. Humans are exposed to thousands of chemical compounds,
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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development a substantial but unknown number of which might have toxic effects in the concentrations at which people are exposed to them. Effects other than acute poisoning can be difficult to identify when they occur over long periods or after a period of latency. Dose-effect relationships (even of some chemicals that are known to be toxic at high doses) generally are not known well enough for confident assessment at the low doses characteristic of ordinary human exposure. Many compounds have not been wen investigated for toxicity at all Despite the major resources that have been devoted to chemical toxicity testing by government agencies and by corporations, there is a serious need to develop faster and more effective methods of predicting long-term chemical toxicity. Meeting this need will require better cooperation and coordination among investigators, disciplines, and data bases and across testing approaches; strategic planning to optimize the design of studies that use multiple testing methods; and development of more extensive experimental and epidemiological data on human exposures to validate models based on testing in other species. For example, a previous NRC committee recommended that EPA develop a long-term plan for research on air pollution and that population-based studies, in the form of a program in epidemiology, should be an integral part of that plan (NRC, 1985). The EPA Science Advisory Board's research strategies committee reached aim conclusion (EPA, 1988), as did participants in the workshop on long-term chemical toxicity. Only through such a program can EPA attempt to validate its inevitably heavy reliance on extrapolation from laboratory animal models by comparison with human data and thus reduce the uncertainty as to long-term impact of the chemicals on humans. The most fundamental need in applied environmental research today, which transcends all specific topics, is to build a stronger science base-including research programs, traineeships, facilities, funding, and institutional arrangements, but especially people—for environmental protection. The topics discussed above are important examples, not a comprehensive list, of the subjects on which both more and better research is needed to support environmental-protection decisions. Others could easily be added—indoor air pollution, noncancer health hazards to sensitive populations, and methods for restoration of damaged ecosystems, for example—and new problems undoubtedly will continue to be identified. The great environmental priorities of the coming century—stabilizing human populations and developing sustainable relationships between their economic wants and needs and the ecosystems that support them—will require far more serious and creative research commitments than now exist, either in EPA or elsewhere. The truly fundamental need, both pervading and transcending specific research topics, is for a commitment to environmental research itself—to improving our knowledge of environmental processes and human impacts on them. Society takes for granted the need for such research commitments in other important sectors, such as military technology, space exploration, commercially exploitable technology, and the prevention and cure of disease. One can no longer assume that environmental conditions favorable for human life and well being can be maintained without a comparable serious commitment to environmental research. Four ingredients are essential for implementing an improved long-term environmental research and development program: high-quality research institutions, the production of highly qualified environmental scientists and engineers, adequate funding, and an advisory capacity to link research effectively with policy and management decision making. Research Institutions. The first need is for a set of institutional arrangements that promotes high-quality interdisciplinary and anticipatory research on environmental conditions, trends, and intervention strategies. Both EPA laboratories and universities have important barriers and disincentives to such arrangements, which must be addressed and corrected. Scientists in federal laboratories often are too narrowly engaged in generating data to support regulatory decisions and too isolated from the norms, ideas, and evaluations of the larger community of environmental scientists. University scientists often are too narrowly focused on questions of disciplinary interest and too isolated from the practical policy and management questions that their research might help answer. Both could
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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development benefit from increased support for interdisciplinary and cooperative research investigations, and from more vigorous use of existing mechanisms for interaction, such as Intergovernmental Personnel Act arrangements. In addition, more information should be exchanged among government, academia, industry, and other nongovernmental organizations. Environmental Scientists and Engineers. The second necessary ingredient is a community of highly qualified environmental scientists and engineers and a deliberate and effective strategy for maintaining it. Environmental research must be given sufficient priority, visibility, and support to attract the best of today's scientists and engineers—particularly the best young scientists and engineers—from all relevant fields of the natural and social sciences and engineering. There are good environmental scientists and engineers in the field today, but they are scarce in some key disciplines, and there is a serious general need for more first-rate talent devoted to environmental research. During the 1960s, for instance, before EPA was created, the U.S. Public Health Service provided strong and crucial support for university-based environmental research and professional training. It supported strong multidisciplinary research centers based at universities and, equally important, environmental-health traineeships to attract and support the next generation of promising environmental researchers and professionals. Many of today's leading environmental scientists, engineers, and other professionals are alumni of such traineeships. The only such program existing today, however, is limited to the research agenda of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. NIEHS promotes high-quality interdisciplinary and anticipatory research. It is dedicated to high-quality, long-term research in its own laboratories, but, in contrast with EPA, it also provides stable research funding for extramural research. It also provides research and training support and visible and attractive career opportunities to talented young scientists, beginning with an excellent predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowship program. In the important field of health consequences of environmental chemical exposures, therefore, NIEHS exemplifies the sort of research commitment that is needed. But NIEHS's research agenda is directed primarily at biomedical research on the health effects of environmental toxicants. NIEHS' program in practice does not include all important environmental determinants of human health, let alone the broader areas of ecology, engineering and human behavior that are important to EPA's mandate. A similar commitment is needed across the full agenda of environmental research and development needs. Research Funding. The third essential ingredient is adequate, dedicated, and continued funding—the necessary support for any program. As noted above, funding in the environmental field is far too little and is often vulnerable to interruption or redirection. Advisory Mechanism. The fourth critical ingredient is a means to assemble promising ideas continually—an advisory body through which emergent problems and strategic research priorities can be identified, important insights recognized and targeted for research support, and important findings disseminated to other scientists and to policy makers. Scientifically based advisory panels should play a larger and more visible role in fostering improvements in environmental science. A recent report on the mission and functioning of EPA's SAB, for example, noted that its overall purview is science for environmental protection, not merely ensuring the quality of the science base for regulation. Its current functions include reviewing regulatory science, research programs and the technical bases for various applied programs and advising EPA on infrastructural and technical management issues, emergencies, and broad strategic matters. The report recommended an increase of the SAB's functions to include providing scientific forums and pursuing outreach, advising on implementation and communication, and helping EPA to anticipate problems and act more strategically (EPA, 1989). The Committee on Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development urges that in addition to those specific functional changes, the SAB give explicit and continuing attention to the development of the overall science base of environmental protection. That includes not just science and other research within
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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development EPA, but the broader field of the environmental sciences from which EPA's science programs must be drawn—setting research priorities, conducting quality evaluations, assessing the quality and needs of environmental-science education and training, encouraging institutional arrangements necessary for multidisciplinary environmental research, and identifying important barriers to the progress of applied environmental research and development. The SAB is uniquely situated to provide oversight and leadership in this effort, and the BEST committee believes that such a mission would be an appropriate extension of its current mission and a major service to the field of environmental science. REFERENCES Brown, G.E. Jr. and R. Byerly, Jr. 1981. Research in EPA: A congressional point of view. Science 211:1385-1390. CEQ (U.S. Council on Environmental Quality). 1985. Report on Long-Term Environmental Research and Development. Washington D.C.: Council on Environmental Quality. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1980. Environmental Outlook 1980. Office of Research and Development. EPA-600/8-80-003. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1987. Unfinished Business: A Comparative Assessment of Environmental Problems. Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1988. Future Risk: Research Strategies for the 1990s. Report of the Research Strategies Committee, Science Advisory Board. Report No. SAB-EC-88-040 and-040A-040E. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1989. The Mission and Functioning of the EPA Science Advisory Board. Final Report to the Board from the SAB Subcommittee on the Mission and Functioning of the Science Advisory Board. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. GAO (U.S. General Accounting Office). 1979. Improving the Scientific and Technical Information Available to the Environmental Protection Agency in its Decision Making Process. CED-79-115. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office. GAO (U.S. General Accounting Office). 1987. Air Pollution: EPA's Process for Planning, Budgeting, and Reviewing Research. GAO/RCED-88-47BR. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office. GAO (U.S. General Accounting Office). 1988. Environmental Protection Agency: Protecting Human Health and the Environment Through Improved Management. GAO/RCED-88-101. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office. 246 pp. NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences). 1988. Conference on Environmental Health in the 21st Century. Environ. Health Perspect. 86:175-309. NRC (National Research Council). 1975a. Principles for Evaluating Chemicals in the Environment. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. 454 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1975b. Decision Making for Regulating Chemicals in the Environment. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. 231 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1977a. Analytical Studies for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Perspectives on Technical Information for Environmental Protection, Vol. I. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. 108 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1977b. Analytical Studies for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Decision Making in the Environmental Protection Agency, Vol. II. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. 249 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1977c. Analytical Studies for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:. Research and Development in the Environmental Protection Agency, Vol. III. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. 99 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1977d. Analytical Studies for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Environmental Monitoring, Vol. IV. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. 181 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1985.
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Opportunities in Applied Environmental Research and Development Epidemiology and Air Pollution. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 224 pp. NRC (National Research Council). 1986. Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Problem-Solving. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 388 pp.
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