Berkeley Lab Research News


SELECT Environmental Software Will Help Develop Cost-Effective Clean-Up Plans

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By Allan Chen, [email protected]

April 29, 1996

BERKELEY, CA. -- Cleanup of environmentally contaminated sites can be significantly more effective and less expensive if more realistic, comprehensive health-risk assessments and cost models are included in remediation strategies. This is one of the preliminary findings of the SELECT project, a team of scientists at the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) working on a computational framework for determining cost-effective environmental remediation strategies.

The SELECT project at Berkeley Lab brings together all of the components of a cleanup into a single framework. An environmental cleanup begins with the characterization of the nature and extent of the site's contamination. The next steps are evaluating the effectiveness of remediation options; assessing the exposure to contaminants under these options; and evaluating the resulting human health risks. Finally, the developers of the cleanup plan must assess the cost of various options. Policymakers can make informed decisions about the most effective and cost-wise alternative by comparing the human health risk reduction to the cost of remediation options. The knowledge to facilitate development of cleanup plans incorporating all of these steps will be part of the SELECT software.

"The SELECT project is ideal for a national laboratory," says Thomas McKone, an environmental engineer who is the project's new leader. "While universities are strongest at single-investigator research, the national labs are an ideal place to bring together all of the pieces of a cross-disciplinary problem. An area like hazardous waste research requires the cooperation of scientists in many fields--chemists, geologists, ecologists, computer scientists, engineers, etc. And when you bring in health risk assessments, you need toxicologists, biochemists, statisticians, public health experts and many others."

McKone holds a joint appointment with Berkeley Lab's Energy and Environment Division and with UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. He is a member of two National Academy of Sciences committees, the Committee on Toxicology, and the Committee on Health Effects of Waste Incinerators. McKone comes to Berkeley Lab after having spent five years developing a computer model called CalTOX for the California Environmental Protection Agency.

CalTOX is designed to assess health risks from contaminated soils and is one of the modules for SELECT. "CalTOX is being merged into SELECT to add the dimension of variability of conditions at the site and uncertainties in information," says McKone.

To bring the needs of potential SELECT users into the development process, McKone and his group are talking to researchers and policymakers working on a variety of remediation problems. The Air Force's Center for Environmental Excellence, the Berkeley Environmental Restoration Center, which is working with the Navy on the closure of the California's Alameda Naval Air Station, DOE's Savannah River facility, the Consortium for Environmental Risk Evaluation at Tulane University, and the California Environmental Protection Agency are all interested in using SELECT in various remediation efforts.

When it is fully up and running, SELECT will be in a form that can be made available through the Internet. Users will submit site information through their own computers and call up 3-D simulations of contaminant transport through time, graphs of pollutant concentrations, exposure tables, health information about many environmental contaminants, and cost spreadsheets. A demonstration of the SELECT prototype is available now on the World Wide Web.

The SELECT project got a big lift with Berkeley Lab's recent acquisition of the National Energy Research Supercomputing Center.

"We're excited about collaborating with NERSC," says McKone, "Making public access to SELECT possible will require putting the software on a much bigger, faster machine." SELECT is also designed so that developers can update it with the best existing models. The development team will use NERSC's computational power to improve SELECT's ability to simulate physical, chemical and biological processes, providing its users with better science to guide policy decisions.

The Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified research and is managed by the University of California.