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About EPA

About the National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL)

What We Do

EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) supports EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment by developing and applying innovations in exposure science. Exposure science sets the context for understanding and solving real-world problems, and is used to help answer three fundamental questions:

  • Is there a risk?
  • If so, how do we reduce/mitigate/prevent the risk?
  • Have our actions been successful in reducing risk?

Headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C., NERL has an in-house workforce of more than 340 scientists, engineers and staff across six divisions in four locations: RTP, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio; Athens, Georgia; and Las Vegas, Nevada.

NERL is internationally recognized as the leader in environmental exposure science. Our multidisciplinary expertise enables the laboratory to bring cutting-edge research and technology to the field of exposure science to address the Agency’s priority environmental problems.

NERL’s Niches

Below are NERL’s scientific capabilities (i.e., our niches):

  • Analytical/Monitoring Methods Development: Research conducted in either the laboratory or field that is used to develop, refine or evaluate tools to quantify, measure, or sample stressors in the environment or in receptors.
  • Indicators/Indices of Exposure: Research conducted to determine how to combine measurements, data and/or models in a way that succinctly describes or characterizes the state or change of exposure.
  • Exposure/Dose Process Characterization: Research including field and laboratory studies and data analysis conducted to better understand and gain knowledge about fate and transport, exposure and dose in real world instances. This research is primarily hypothesis driven, and includes collection of data to elucidate the important processes in models, inputs to models, and data to evaluate models. This research is applied to both human and ecological systems.
  • Decision Support Tools: Research activities to assemble data, analytical and predictive tools and knowledge into a useable format for analysts and decision makers.
  • Predictive Modeling: Research to develop, evaluate, and apply first principle, statistical, or stochastic models. This includes models for environmental characterization, personal exposure and dose, and mechanistic elucidation but does not include source apportionment models.
  • Source Apportionment/Environmental Forensics: Research where source apportionment or environmental forensics tools are developed and applied in real world instances to identify important sources and pathways for exposure.

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Location:Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Athens, Ga.; Las Vegas, Nev.

Director:Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Ph.D.

Acting Deputy Director: Timothy Watkins

  • Phone: 919-541-2106

NERL includes:

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Atmospheric Modeling and Analysis Division (AMAD)

Location: Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Director: Dr. Rohit Mathur, Ph.D.

  • Phone: 919-541-4541

Focus: Scientists in NERL’s Atmospheric Modeling and Analysis Division (AMAD) develop and evaluate predictive atmospheric models over different spatial and temporal scales to assess risks from air pollution and to inform policy decisions to reduce risk.

AMAD applies air quality models to support key integrated, multidisciplinary research. This includes linking air quality models to other models to address issues involving human health and ecosystem exposure science.

Models developed by AMAD are used by EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the air pollution community to understand and forecast air pollution, and to develop emission control policies and regulations for air quality improvements. AMAD is also extending the application of its predictive modeling tools to address climate change, including the capability to model climate impacts at regional scales and to analyze integrated solutions for addressing climate change and air quality impacts.

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Ecological Exposure Research Division (EERD)

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Director: Mark Bagley, Ph.D.

  • Phone: 513-569-7455

Focus:The research of NERL’s Ecological Exposure Research Division (EERD) informs decisions supporting ecosystem protection and restoration by providing a sound biological foundation for ecological exposure science. This research provides relevant, high impact science that addresses enduring Agency needs, focusing its resources and capabilities in molecular, population and ecosystem assessment methods on achievable results in the area of ecological receptor characterization.

The division’s research is integrated across three areas:

  • Research to characterize ecological exposures through analysis of biological indicators designed to demonstrate contact between biota and specific contaminants or classes of contaminants.
  • Research to estimate the potential magnitude and extent of ecological exposures through characterization and modeling of spatial and temporal distributions, and through investigating the dynamics of resource populations that come into contact with anthropogenic stressors.
  • Research to estimate the potential magnitude and extent of ecological exposures through analysis and modeling of ecological communities and through researching the cascading of ecological exposures and effects within ecosystems.

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Ecosystems Research Division (ERD)

Location: Athens, Ga.

Acting Director: Jay Garland, Ph.D.

  • Phone: 706-355-8099

Focus: NERL’s Ecosystems Research Division (ERD) promotes sustainable ecosystem health and informs decisions that support environmental protection by applying the best biological, chemical and geophysical science as the foundation for ecosystem exposure research.

The core of our program involves assessing and quantifying fate and transport of contaminants in the environment and how physical changes affect the environment. These problems are addressed through a continuum of field studies, bench-scale experiments, laboratory investigations and analyses, and modeling approaches. One of our key challenges is to ascertain and predict how environmental stressors (physical, chemical, and biological) propagate through complex ecosystems to reach important ecological receptors.

ERD employs a multi-disciplinary approach in our fate and transport studies and embraces the concept of sustainability. Our goal is to ensure that process-based research feeds directly into integrated modeling studies that are conducted in environments ranging from single media to complex, interacting multi-media over a range of spatial scales. To accomplish this goal our workforce is focused on an interconnected paradigm of process science – analyzing and connecting processes to models – and integrated environmental modeling.

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Environmental Sciences Division (ESD)

Location: Las Vegas, Nev.

Interim Director: Brian Schumacher, Ph.D.

  • Phone: 702-798-2242

Focus: NERL’s Environmental Sciences Division (ESD) has a national and international reputation in the fields of landscape ecology; remote sensing of the atmosphere and biosphere; watershed modeling; development and application of sampling approaches and methods; state-of-the-art analytical techniques for characterizing contaminants in the environment; and integration and analysis of multiple complex and spatially extensive datasets. Located on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the division applies a multidisciplinary, multimedia approach in both laboratory and field settings. Core research capabilities and strengths include:

  • Development of approaches for observing; measuring and assessing; and predicting environmental parameters at local, regional and national scales;
  • Assessment of the condition, vulnerability and sustainability of ecosystem processes, functions and services;
  • Development, evaluation and application of state-of-the-art analytical tools to identify and quantify chemical contaminants in biological and environmental samples; and
  • Laboratory, field and statistical research to improve acquisition and interpretation of environmental data.

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Human Exposure and Atmospheric Sciences Division (HEASD)

Location: Research Triangle Park, N.C. and Las Vegas, Nev.

Director: Timothy Buckley, Ph.D.

  • Phone: 919-541-2454

Focus:  Scientists in NERL’s Human Exposure and Atmospheric Sciences Division (HEASD) conduct research that informs their development of methods, measurements and models that elucidate the processes and factors that determine the fate and transport of pollutants from their source into the environment and to human receptors — ultimately leading to an understanding of the relationship between exposure and dose.

This research is fundamental to evaluating and predicting the role of environmental contamination on human health to inform sound science-based decisions that protect public health.

Core research capabilities and strengths include:

  • Development of sampling and analytical methods for measuring environmental concentrations of organic and inorganic pollutants in multiple environmental and biological media;
  • Measurement studies to understand atmospheric processes and human exposures to pollutants occurring through multiple environmental media and pathways; and
  • Development and application of models built from empirical evidence (prior two bullets) that describe the fate, transport, and apportionment of contaminants within the environment and human body from their source to target tissue.

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Microbiological and Chemical Exposure Assessment Research Division (MCEARD)

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Director: Jay Garland, Ph.D.

  • Phone: 513-569-7334

Focus: NERL’s Microbiological and Chemical Exposure Assessment Research Division (MCEARD) conducts multi-disciplinary, problem-driven research to develop:

  • Immunological approaches to assess human exposures to bacterial, viral, and protozoan pathogens;
  • Culture- and molecular-based detection methods and spatiotemporal measurements of
    bacterial, viral, and protozoan pathogens;
  • Sensitive analytical methodologies for measuring chemical contaminants in aqueous and solid matrices, utilizing state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation and techniques;
  • Understanding of waterborne pathogen and indicator microbial ecology in both natural and engineered water systems;
  • Microbial risk assessments for alternative, innovative approaches for water/wastewater treatment based on resource recovery (energy recovery, nutrient extraction, water reuse);
  • Quantitative microbial risk assessments that link with other sustainability indicators to provide integrated sustainability assessments of alternative systems.

The Division conducts its multidisciplinary research program with a broad skill mix of scientists that includes science expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, analytical chemistry, water methods and microbial processes.

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