B.A. Leven, L.E. Erickson, R.B. Hayter, S.C. Grant, J.P. McDonald

Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center, 101 Ward Hall, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506-2502, (913) 532-6519


The EPA Hazardous Substance Research Centers (HSRCs) provide a national program of basic and applied research, technology transfer, and training. Five multi-university centers, each located in a pair of federal EPA regions, focus on different aspects of hazardous substance management. These centers, representing 29 (total) universities across the country, actively seek partnerships to develop and implement cost-effective environmental cleanup technologies with stakeholders.

The five HSRCs were competitively established and are funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. A variety of funding mechanisms and a flexible organizational structure allow the HSRCs to leverage funds and resources with numerous federal, state, local, and private organizations. In addition to core research and technology transfer activities, the HSRCs administer three special programs that enhance the technology development and implementation cycle -- Research and Re-education for Displaced Defense (R2D2) personnel, Minority Academic Institutions (MAI, including Native American), and Technical Outreach Services to Communities (TOSC). Advisory committees consisting of representatives from academia, government, and industry ensure funded work serves unique needs and meets high technical standards.

Information presented describes technology development activities and partnering opportunities in the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain region relevant to DoD and other federal facilities.

Key words: development, implementation, partnership, training, technology


For the past eight years, the EPA Hazardous Substance Research Centers (HSRCs) have provided a national program of basic and applied research, technology transfer, and training. Five multi-university centers, each located in a pair of federal EPA regions, focus on different aspects of hazardous substance management. These centers initially transferred results of program activities in the form of scientific publications and conferences. Over time, research activities matured and new programs developed to transfer information to a broader audience of users - to include practicing environmental professionals and community groups. Preliminary estimates show that a dollar spent on HSRC research results in $10 to $100 in cleanup savings. The HSRCs currently seek to transfer results of previous and current activities through these programs and through more focused partnerships with federal, state and local organizations.

This paper describes core activities and related programs at the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain HSRC. Opportunities for focused partnerships exist through conferences, workshops, student job placement, and collaborative research/demonstration projects. Collaborative projects aim to develop and implement cost-effective applications of research at the laboratory, pilot and field scales. Project opportunities are presented in the following focus areas: plant-based remediation systems, bioremediation optimization; and zero-valent metals in groundwater interceptor trenches.

The HSRC Program

The HSRC Program was created as a resource to Superfund to develop better, cheaper, faster and safer methods to assess and clean up contaminated sites. Five multi-university centers were competitively established by the EPA in 1988 through enabling legislation in the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) § 311(d). Funded research began in 1989, under the oversight of the EPA Office of Research and Development. Each center consists of a group of consortium universities, headquartered by a lead institution, in a pair of federal EPA regions. General focus areas at each center include in situ bioremediation (Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic), contaminated soils and mining wastes (Great Plains/Rocky Mountain), industrial waste (Northeast), contaminated sediments (South and Southwest), and groundwater cleanup and site remediation (Western). Each center has advisory committees which rank proposals from participating universities for funding, and ensure that funded work serves unique needs and meets high technical standards. A more complete description of each centerís participating focus areas and contact information is located on the Internet at: http://maven.gtri.gatech.edu/hsrc/html/regional.html.

Core Activities of the HSRCs are 1) basic and applied research, and 2) technology transfer. Research project descriptions for all five centers are located at http://maven.gtri.gatech.edu/hsrc/html/abstracts.html. The Great Plains/Rocky Mountain HSRC (GP/RM HSRC) has funded over 90 research projects and over 15 technology transfer and training projects over its eight-year history. More information on these GP/RM projects is available in the 1996 annual report and on the Internet at urls: http://www.engg.ksu.edu/HSRC/programs.html, and http://www.engg.ksu.edu/HSRC/Publications.html , respectively. An overview of the GP/RM Center and all associated activities is at Internet address: http://www.engg.ksu.edu/HSRC/ .

The results of research and technology transfer projects are published in technical science and engineering journals, and presented at conferences. The GP/RM HSRC also maintains an information repository, conducts annual conferences and is establishing an electronic journal on the Internet. Also, three special programs were established to accomplish HSRC core activities in collaboration with minority academic institutions (MAI), the Department of Defense (DoD), and community groups at cleanup sites.

A grant was provided by Congress for collaborative research, development, technology transfer and training with faculty and students from historically Black, Hispanic and Native American institutions. This program led to establishment of the Haskell Environmental Resesarch Studies (HERS) Center, an autonomous organization under Native American leadership at Haskell Indian Nations University. In the GP/RM HSRC region, MAI funds were leveraged with HSRC, DoD, state and private funds to provide three years of activities through HERS and Lincoln University (a historically black college), which included: (1) a video seminar program with 127 institutional participants; (2) summer cooperative research activities for faculty and students; (3) assistance to students and faculty to attend conferences; (4) one multiyear joint research, training and technology transfer project; and (5) information dissemination via the bi-monthly Earth Medicine newsletter, a library repository, and an Internet home page. HSRC funds were also combined with DoD funds to conduct Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training and phytoremediation workshops for minority students.

The Technical Outreach Services for Communities (TOSC) program provides neutral, fundamental science information on hazardous substance problems facing communities. The goal is to empower citizens groups at potential cleanup sites to participate substantively and constructively in the decision-making process. Information is provided primarily in an educational format through workshops, briefings, written handouts and other means, using university educational and technical resources. The scope of support is tailored to individual community groups, and may include: interpreting and summarizing reports; clarifying the regulatory process as it relates to the site; and addressing site contamination issues including extent of contamination, contaminant dynamics, exposure and health considerations, ecological considerations, and potential remediation technologies. To date, the program has provided support to over ten sites.

The DoD provided two years of funding to the HSRCs to support the Research and Re-education for Displaced Defense (R2D2) program. The GP/RM HSRC serves as national coordinator for this program, which enables displaced defense workers to obtain specialized environmental training while participating in center project activities. Its goals are to: (1) fund research focused on hazardous substance and waste issues at DoD sites; (2) develop and implement new cleanup technologies for the marketplace; and (3) provide tuition reimbursement, financial support, specialized training, and job placement assistance for students who were impacted by DoD downsizing. At present, 80 DoD-related research projects are underway nationwide, 46 of which have potential commercial applications. This program has supported 73 displaced DoD students, and to date 34 have completed baccalaureate and/or advanced degrees while serving as research assistants on these projects, as interns, or as program associates for other HSRC activities.

Funding Sources and Expenditures

The EPA has been the primary funding source for all HSRCs. Approximately $1.0 million of EPA funds per year provides a base for core research, technology transfer and center administration activities. Non-federal matching funds of at least 20% have been required for HSRC projects. Federal interagency agreements, purchase requests, separate contracts and contributions from participating universities also support HSRC projects. As an example, the GP/RM HSRC has effectively tripled available funds over its eight year history by leveraging approximately $8 million in base funding with $18 million from other EPA, DoD, Department of Energy, state and private organizations. As illustrated in Figure 1, co-funding organizations enjoy the full results of HSRC results for a fraction of the total costs.


Approximately 70% of total funds support research projects and 10-20% support technology transfer activities at all HSRCs. A unique feature of HSRC research is that all projects must contain a technology transfer plan -- even for the most basic research. The goal is to develop and test real-world applications of research as early in the technology development cycle as possible and perform demonstration and training through technology transfer projects. On a national scale, topics of defense-funded HSRC projects, and their positions in the technology development cycle, are illustrated in Figures 2 and 3, respectively. Note that all projects have an applied component (6.2 or higher) and that approximately 44% have pilot (6.3) and/or full field-scale (6.4) work components.

Figure 2 -- DoD FUNDED PROJECTS AT ALL HSRCs -- by Tri-Service Environmental Technology Needs in the Cleanup Pillar. However, many of these projects are also relevant to Compliance and Pollution Prevention Pillars.

Figure 3. FUNDED PROJECTS -- by Technology Development Cycle Components. Codes are as follows: 6.1=Basic Research; 6.2=Applied Research and Exploratory Development; 6.3=Applied Technology Development (or pilot scale); and 6.4=Full-Scale Production.

Select Technologies and Potential Applications

As illustrated above, the HSRCs perform work on a broad spectrum of topics. Co-funding from federal, state and private organizations can tailor the scope of the applied aspects of these projects, or develop new technology transfer projects to solve real environmental problems at the field, pilot or bench-scale, using technologies not currently commercially available. In the following examples, the history of several research focus areas at the GP/RM HSRC is presented because of the large potential benefit to cleanup sites in EPA Regions VII and VIII. Where possible, reference citations for these focus areas are posted on the Internet, for ease of access. Information on many other GP/RM HSRC research areas is available through the center's Internet sites, from repository resources listed above, and from center staff.

Plant-Based Remediation Systems

Over the last several years, GP/RM HSRC researchers have been characterizing solar-driven pump-and-treat processes which capture, dissipate, and/or degrade contaminants in plant-soil-ground water systems (Davis, et al., 1997; Cunningham, et al., 1996; Narayanan, et al., 1996; Schnoor, et al., 1995; Erickson, et al.; 1994). Evapotranspiration of plants captures and transports groundwater with contaminants to plant-soil systems. Processes occurring in plant-soil systems include phytoremediation, microbial degradation, and direct evaporation/diffusion into the atmosphere through the soil profile. Phytoremediation involves uptake of water and contaminants into plants, where they may accumulate, degrade, and/or volatilize into the atmosphere. Microbial breakdown of contaminants occurs rapidly in rooted soil zones (the rhizosphere) by introduction of oxygen and nutrients through plant roots. Plants and the revegetation process also help prevent the spread of contaminants by chemical stabilization of some metals, and by preventing water and wind erosion (Lambert et al., 1997; and Green et al., 1997). The extent and rates of these processes depend on a number of site specific variables, including the type of contaminants, vegetation, climate, and geological conditions. Work to date shows that remediation with plant-based systems is especially effective with recalcitrant compounds such as chlorinated and/or aromatic organics in soil and groundwater (Schwab and Banks, 1997; Newman, et al., 1997; and Sikora, et al., 1997 ).

Models summarizing plant-soil system processes, based on laboratory, greenhouse, and field studies, are being integrated into WINDOWS-based software for use by environmental professionals in assessing feasibility and optimizing the design of vegetation remediation systems at field sites. This approach uses historical rainfall and temperature data in a systems framework to predict both contaminant concentration in space and time, and mass entering and leaving a site -- given specified ranges of key characteristics at a site. Predictions of effectiveness of a vegetative remediation design are expressed as expected values and variability of the anticipated system performance. In this fashion, prediction of system performance can be used to design a remediation system which maximizes processes leading to contaminant degradation at minimal cost, to meet an acceptable level of risk associated with contaminants (or liquids) passing through the system.

The software is currently being made more user friendly and it is being calibrated to engineered vegetation-based systems at a landfill where ground water is impacted by trichloroethylene, and at a land application site for petroleum-impacted materials. The software may also be adapted to optimize design of evapotranspiration landfill cover systems, which are a unique type of engineered vegetation system that prevents downward movement of surface water into underlying wastes by holding water in soil pore spaces by capillary forces until it is evapotranspired by plants.

Optimization of Bioremediation Systems

In addition to work with plants to enhance microbial degradation of contaminants in soil and groundwater, a large amount of HSRC research is underway on other types of bioremediation. For example, GP/RM HSRC researchers are optimizing biological processes via prepared-bed land treatment, cometabolism, and other processes.

Prepared-bed land treatment systems involve microbial breakdown of contaminants in soils stacked in successive layers across a treatment area. HSRC researchers have determined optimal concentrations of amendments and oxygen for breakdown of polynuclear and chlorinated aromatic compounds (Hurst et al., 1997 and 1996; Sims et al., 1993). Significant cost savings have been demonstrated due to reduced pretreatment requirements and reduced time between placement of successive layers of materials at a wood and pole treatment Superfund site. A guidance manual and computer software to optimize prepared-bed land treatment of materials contaminated with a variety of compounds is nearing completion.

HSRC researchers are also developing optimal reactor configurations, mechanical components, growth media, and flow substrates for treatment of slurries and water contaminated with chlorinated compounds (Foeller and Segar, 1977; Segar, et al., 1997; Gu, et al., 1997). The reactor design work may also be applicable to other types of bioreactors.

Biofilm Barriers for Waste Disposal

A problem for much of the western United States is the lack of suitable (clay) earthen materials to build impermeable covers, liners, and walls. Biofilm barriers, currently under development at Montana State University and the University of Wyoming, provide an attractive alternative. This technology involves the reduction of porosity and permeability of relatively coarse-grained materials by controlled growth of microbes (Chen and Cunningham, 1997; and Turner, et al., 1997). Laboratory-scale research recently completed demonstrates that cell material and polymer exudates from growing microbes reduced the hydraulic conductivity of a relatively permeable silty sand to a level suitable for waste containment barriers. These barriers appear to resist breakdown by acidic, basic, and saline solutions. Proposed work includes construction and testing of large-scale barriers, and the use of genetically engineered bacteria, nutrients, and other chemical input to maximize biofilm growth rates and effectiveness. Potential applications of this technology are in the waste management and disposal, mining, and petrochemical industries.

Zero-Valent Metals in Interceptor Trenches

Reactive barriers using zero-valent metals to treat chlorinated compounds and nitrates in groundwater are becoming increasingly popular. However, the primary process for breakdown of contaminants, abiotic reduction with elemental metals, can produce harmful reaction products. Researchers at the University of Iowa are investigating and confirming that a combination of elemental metals with bacterial populations will result in faster and more complete dechlorination and nitrate removal (Weathers et al., 1997). Opportunities exist to apply this work to address biofouling issues, or the unwanted plugging of treatment walls from growth of microbes, at Dover Air Force Base. Other potential applications exist for different types of reactive and sorption barriers.


Research at the GP/RM and other national HSRCs has developed several other promising technologies. An extensive project is underway at the University of Utah to survey potential chelating agents for extraction of metals from soil, and to test the most promising candidates for ease of recovery and reuse, and degree of biodegradability (Chen et al., 1995, Okey et al., 1997). Examples of promising technologies at other national HSRCs include natural attenuation in groundwater systems (Great Lakes/Mid-Atlantic HSRC), in-place sediment capping methods (South and Southwest HSRC), field analytical screening instruments, pneumatic fracturing, and electrokinetics (Northeast HSRC), and downhole well oxygenation techniques for groundwater treatment (Western Region HSRC).

Technology Transfer Partnerships

The HSRCs are working to build on the technology transfer mechanisms established over previous years. In addition to use of publications, repositories, Internet sites, and conferences, the HSRCs seek focused involvement of federal, state, and private partners in conducting conferences and workshops, placing students in jobs and internships, collaborative research/demonstration projects, and technology transfer to specific problems. Organizations can increase information exchange to their affiliates and save costs by combining annual conference events with the GP/RM HSRC annual conference, usually held in mid-May. Organizations who hire student interns or graduates from GP/RM HSRC universities will gain state-of-the-art technologies and problem-solving techniques.

A variety of opportunities for collaboration on research and technology development projects exist. The GP/RM HSRC is particularly interested in identifying sites where our research is relevant and useful. The scope of applied portions of ongoing research projects can be tailored to solve specific problems at field sites. Also, new technology transfer projects can be created which combine applications of several research projects to meet the needs of a specific site. HSRCs can also tailor work to address less applied aspects of projects underway by research organizations. Available center funds can be combined with monies from other federal, state, and private organizations to reduce costs to any one group.

Considerable effort has been made by center investigators and center staff to provide technical information and assistance to enable new technologies to be applied at specific sites. Over $200 million has been saved compared to conventional technologies by helping others implement innovative technologies at field sites.

During its history, center investigators have participated in a variety of partnerships. The easiest form of cooperation involves working together toward an objective with each partner already having sufficient funding to participate. The TOSC program, for example, allows center professionals to work with community leaders and interested citizens without having to find funding for HSRC participation. Several cooperative conferences and workshops have been organized such that several organizations contributed to the planning and/or program.

Another form of partnership involves center investigators assisting those with a contaminated site. In this case partnerships often include the site owner, a consulting engineering firm, and center professionals. The site owner often provides most of the funding; however, center funds may be used as well. Where it is in the public interest to investigate the performance of an innovative technology at a field site, center funds can be used for this purpose.


Chen, B., and A. Cunningham, 1997. Modeling of Subsurface Biobarrier Formation and Persistence, Proceedings of the 12th GP/RM HSRC Conference on Hazardous Waste Research, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, in press.

Chen, C., E. MacAuley, and A. Hong, 1995. Selection and Test of Effective Chelators for Removal of Heavy Metals from Contaminated Soils, Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, 22, pp. 1185-1197.

Cunningham, S.D., T.A. Anderson, A.P. Schwab, and F.C. Hsu, 1996. Phytoremediation of Soils Contaminated with Organic Pollutants, Advances in Agronomy, 56, pp. 55-114.

Davis, L.C., M.K. Banks, A.P.Schwab, M. Narayanan, L.E. Erickson, and J.C. Tracy, 1997. Plant-Based Bioremediation. In Bioremediation Principles and Practice, S. K. Sikdar and R.L. Irvine, eds. Technomics, Lancaster, PA, in press.

Erickson, L.E., M.K. Banks, L.C. Davis, A.P. Schwab, N. Muralidaharan, and K. Reilley, 1994. Using Vegetation to Enhance in situ Bioremediation, Environmental Progress, 13, pp. 226-231.

Foeller, J., and R. Segar, 1997. Trichloroethene (TCE) Cometabolism in Fluidized-Bed Bioreactors, Proceedings of GP/RM HSRC 12th Annual Conference on Hazardous Waste Research, Manhattan, KS, in press.

Green, R., L. Erickson, R. Govindaraju, P. Kalita, and G. Pierzynski, 1997. Modeling the Effects of Vegetation on Heavy Metals Containment, Proceedings of the GP/RM HSRC 12th Annual Conference on Hazardous Waste Research, Manhattan, KS, in press.

Gu, J., G. Preckshot, S. Banerji, and R. Bajpai, 1997. Effects of Some Common Solubility Enhancers on Microbial Growth, manuscript submitted to the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Hurst, J., R. Sims, J. Sims, D. Sorenson, J. McLean, and S. Huling, 1997. Soil Gas Oxygen Tension and Pentachloralphenyl Degradation, Journal of Environmental Engineering, American Society of Civil Engineering, 123(4), pp. 364-370.

Hurst, J., R. Sims, J. Sims, D. Sorenson, and J. McLean, 1996. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Biodegradation as a Function of Oxygen Tension in Contaminated Soil, Journal of Hazardous Materials, 51, pp. 193-208.

Lambert, M., G. Pierzynski, L. Erickon, and J. Schnoor, 1997. Remediation of lead, zinc, and cadmium-contaminated soils In R. Hester (ed.), Contaminated Land and its Relcamation, Issues in Environmental Science and Technology, Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge UK. p. 91-102.

Narayanan, N., N.K. Russell, L.C. Davis, and L.E. Erickson, 1996. Experimental and Modeling Studies of the Fate of Trichloroethylene in a Chamber with Alfalfa Plants. Proceedings of the HSRC/WERC Joint Conference on the Environment, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, pp. 474-481. World Wide Web address: http://www.engg.ksu.edu/HSRC/Publications.html.

Newman, L., C. Bod, N. Chou, R. Crampton, R. Cortelucci, D. Domroes, S. Doty, J. Duffy, D. Ekuan, D. Fogel, R. Hashmonay, P. Hileman, D. Martin, I. Muiznieks, T. Newman, M. Ruscaj, T. Shang, B. Shurtleff, S. Stanley, S. Strand, X. Wang, J. Wilmouth, M. Yost, and M. Gordon. 1997. Phytoremediation of Trichloroethylene and Carbon Tetrachloride: Results from Bench to Field. Proceedings of the GP/RM HSRC 12th Annual Conference on Hazardous Waste Research, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, in press.

Okey, W., S. Lin, and A. Hong, 1997. Predicting Stability Constants of Various Chelating Agents Using QSAR Technology, ACS Symposium Series, in press.

Schnoor, J.L., L.A. Licht, S.C. McCutcheon, N.L. Wolfe, and L.H. Carriera, 1995. Phytoremediation of Organic and Nutrient Contaminants, E.S. & T., 29, pp. 318a-323a.

Schwab, A.P., and M.K. Banks, 1997. Phytoremediation of Petroleum Contaminated Soils. In Bioremediation of Contaminated Soils, American Society of Agronomy Monograph, in press.

Segar, Jr., R., S. Leung, and S. Vivek, 1997. Treatment of Trichloroethene (TCE) Contaminated Water with a Fluidized-Bed Bioreactor, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, in press.

Sikora, J., L. Behrends, S. Coonrod, and W. Phillips, 1997. Phytoremediation of Explosives in Groundwater at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant Using Innovative Wetlands-Based Treatment Technologies, Proceedings of GP/RM HSRC 12th Annual Conference on Hazardous Waste Research, Manhattan, KS, in press.

Sims, J., R. Sims, R. Dupont, J. Matthews, and H. Russell, 1993. In situ Bioremediation of Contaminated Unsaturated Subsurface Soils, EPA/540/S-93/501.

Turner, J., 1997. Biofilm Treatment of Soil for Waste Containment and Remediation, Proceedings of 1997 International Containment Technology Conference and Exhibition, DOE/EPA/DuPont Company, in press.

Weathers, L., G. Parkin, and T. Alvarez, 1997. Utilization of Cathodic Hydrogen as Electron Donor for Chloroform Cometabolism by a Mixed Methanogenic Culture, Environmental Science and Technology, 31, pp. 880-885.