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February 20, 1997

Ground-water Web site a "hit" in environmental technology field

What World Wide Web site is getting more than 20,000 hits per month – and climbing – but does not contain the word "erotica?" Answer: The Ground Water Remediation Technologies Analysis Center page. Or, as it is more commonly known in the environmental business, GWRTAC.

"It's going fabulously," said Ed Berkey, president of the Center for Hazardous Materials Research and co-director of GWRTAC. "I think it's one of the prime environmental technology web sites and becoming increasingly popular." GWRTAC was launched at the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center in Harmarville in 1995 after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a call for proposals to create a center to provide "relevant, useful and timely information" on technologies for cleaning up contaminated ground water.

Industrial and agricultural activities involving chemicals and other pollutants have left polluted ground water throughout the world that can seep into the water supplies of homeowners and municipalities, poisoning them and killing aquatic life.

The EPA wanted to create GWRTAC because experience from a variety of sources has shown that wide accessibility to timely and accurate information about environmental technologies can substantially accelerate their use.

Among the respondents to the EPA's call was the National Environmental Technology Applications Center (NETAC) of the Center for Hazardous Materials Research. The center was established about two years ago through the University's technology transfer program.

The hazardous materials center is a nonprofit organization that does research, training and education, and provides technical assistance, in the environmental field, according to Berkey, who along with being co-director of GWRTAC is an adjunct faculty member at the University.

Working with Pitt's environmental engineering program, NETAC won the national competition sponsored by the EPA and was awarded a three-year grant totaling $750,000 to operate GWRTAC.

"I think it is a recognition of the growing role that the Pittsburgh area has in the environmental technology field," said Berkey of GWRTAC. "It's a recognition that we are one of the major environmental technology centers in the country." Currently, GWRTAC contains information on over 170 individual projects covering such remedial technologies as treatment walls, thermal enhancements, cosolvents, surfactants, electrokinetics and hydraulic/pneumatic fracturing.

The center also offers a vendor database containing information from more than 70 vendors who supply either ground-water remediation services or related specialized equipment, recent developments in the ground-water field, upcoming events, links to related web sites, and reports on ground-water remediation technologies and related topics.

Reports range from summaries to detailed descriptions and include technology evaluations, technology overviews, technology status and miscellaneous reports.

"There is information on emerging ground water remediation technologies, information on field and bench-scale tests that can be used to understand how new technologies are evolving" said Berkey. "You can download technical documents that describe how a technology works. There are answers to questions about where information is located and how it can be accessed. We also provide links to about 25 other environmental technology sites." Information available through GWRTAC comes from center staff who monitor a wide range of publications in the ground-water field, individuals, organizations in the remediation community and an e-mail list of over 800 contacts worldwide who are encouraged to advise the center's staff on new developments in the field.

GWRTAC's staff includes professionals knowledgeable about ground-water remedi-ation, environmental and regulatory issues, technology transfer and commercialization.

In addition, GWRTAC uses consultants and specialists from Pitt and other universities, as well as from the private and the public sectors, to prepare and review the technical information that it disseminates through the Internet and other means.

GWRTAC also benefits from a steering committee comprised of senior level individuals from industrial companies, remedi-ation firms, research and development organizations, government agencies and universities.

Although material can be obtained and questions answered by phone, 1-800-373-1973 and 826-5321, extension 215 or fax at 826-5552, Berkey said most communication with GWRTAC has been through e-mail at or the World Wide Web at "It has really been amazing to me how quickly the Internet has come to be the primary source of communication," Berkey noted.

Regular GWRTAC users include engineers, businesses, the owners of property that might need remediation, consultants helping to design remediation systems, vendors who sell ground-water remediation equipment, academic researchers, government regulatory agencies, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

Both Berkey and the center's other co-director, Fred Pohland, professor of environmental engineering in Pitt's School of Engineering, are hoping to obtain financial support from the users to continue the center after the EPA grant expires in another year.

"The idea is to make it self-supporting," said Pohland, "meaning that in addition to EPA we would likely look for other sources of support, including charges for services." "We're looking at other agencies beside EPA to pick up some of the funding, especially when the information is of benefit to them, for example the Department of Energy or Department of Defense, the Army and Air Force," said Berkey. "EPA does not want to be the sole investor. We're also exploring ways to charge customers for individual pieces of information downloaded from the web site."

–Mike Sajna

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