About the WRHSRC

Regional Focus

The WRHSRC was one of five regional hazardous substance research centers in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) funded the centers from 1989 until 2007 to encourage the development of better and safer methods for assessment and clean up of hazardous substances. Each center had both research and outreach components -- researchers developed new cleanup technologies and outreach staff provided technical asistance to communities affected by hazardous substances.

The research component at each Center targeted a particular environmental contaminant or clean-up approach. At the WRHSRC, researchers focused on in-situ treatment processes for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with an emphasis on chlorinated solvents.

As the Western Center, the WRHSRC's outreach staff provided technical assistance to communities in the USEPA's Region's 9 and 10. States and territories in these regions include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Micronesia, Marianas Islands, Nevada, Oregon, Samoa, and Washington.

Hazardous Substance Problems in the West

There are 184 sites in the Western U.S. on the National Priority List (NPL) - USEPA's list of sites identified for cleanup through the Superfund Program. A major problem at many of these sites is groundwater contamination with substances called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are hydrocarbons that can change quickly from a liquid to a gas. They are used in the production of paints, plastics, adhesives, gasoline, and as degreasing agents. Chlorinated solvents, such as trichloroethyle (TCE), are the most commonly observed contaminants at Superfund Sites.

If these substances leak into the subsurface they can create large plumes of contamination that spread through groundwater aquifers and may eventually contaminate drinking water wells, lakes, and streams. The WRHSRC's research and education efforts were designed to improve cleanup methods and reduce environmental harm from VOC contamination.

Most Frequently Detected VOC's
Type of Samples
Percent Testing Positive
Solvents; Organic Synthesis; Oxygenates; BTEX
Urban Wells Nationally
47%
Solvents; Organic Synthesis; Oxygenates; BTEX
Rural Wells Nationally
14%
** Data from Squillace et al., (1999) (See also related USGS publications at: http://sd.water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pubs/pubs_vocns.html)

WRHSRC Components

The WRHSRC had both research and outreach components.

Research was carried out by 22 environmental scientists and engineers at Oregon State University and Stanford University. Their research goals were to:

  • Develop alternatives and processes for the in-situ treatment of chlorinated solvents and other VOCs in the subsurface.
  • Disseminate the results of research to industrial and regulatory communities.
  • Foster the exchange of information with these communities.
  • Promote a better understanding of the scientific capability to detect, assess, and mitigate risks associated with hazardous substance usage and disposal.

Researchers carried out laboratory experiments, developed mathematical and physical models, and tested new treatment methods in field demonstrations. You can read more about specific research areas on the Research Projects section of this web site.

Outreach was carried out by a team of researchers and technical information specialists at Oregon State University. These individuals have expertise in environmental cleanup, the regulatory process, and community facilitation. They provided assistance to communities through two outreach programs:

  • Technical Outreach Services for Communities (TOSC) served community needs regarding potential health effects and cleanup technologies for hazardous waste sites. TOSC assisted communities to become active participants in the decision-making process, held community workshops and provided educational materials regarding human health, environmental risks, and regulatory concerns.
  • Technical Assistance to Brownfields Communities (TAB) assisted communities in redeveloping abandoned industrial sites. The TAB program provided technical assistance, education and training to municipal officials, community groups, developers, and lenders. By facilitating stakeholder involvement, TAB hoped to speed up the redevelopment process and produce outcomes of greater benefit to the community and the environment.

The Center's organization chart provides more detail about its management structure.